CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Four: Ruined Lunch
Wednesday and Thursday were Lily’s day-off. Whenever she had time to spare, she spent them with her children. Her duty at the hospital was taxing and demanded her attention. On critical days, she sometimes spent the night at work and would not come home until a day or two later. Her dedication was astounding, but she was also a responsible mother.
When Janus was lost, she was left with almost no time to mourn. She had initially given up her job to focus on raising Valeriana and Jareth, but the family needed a breadwinner. The money left by their father was not enough to sustain them for a lifetime, after all.
Right now, they were having a relaxing time in front of the television watching the Lord of the Rings. There was a pile of chips and ranch dressing for a sauce on the side. Times like these were times Valeriana treasured greatly. She didn’t know how much she took these moments for granted until her father passed away.
“I heard from your brother, Valery,” said her mother as she nibbled on a chip. “You haven’t left your room since Xandra left.”
She chugged down her cup of soda and uninterestedly hummed in reply. “I don’t feel like going out, anyway.”
“Honey, you can’t stay cooped up in there forever. I know it’s hard, but you’ll get used to it.”
She stayed silent.
Xandra wasn’t the only reason. She was approaching a week after meeting the demon, the lady, and the thief. She hadn’t seen that woman ever since they parted ways after that incident. Valeriana wasn’t set on meeting her once more, either. She learned her lesson. If ever, she even wanted to avoid it. This thought alone locked her up for days.
Luckily for her, when she had come home from the airport several days ago, her mother had gone to work and her brother was playing his video games in his room so no one noticed her arriving. She remembered grabbing the medicine kit from the kitchen, rushing to her bedroom, and attending to her wounds after throwing over a fresh set of clothes. Her shoes and clothes were discarded.
She was able to hide her injuries by avoiding company and they were mostly healed. The only one she talked with had been Xandra through chats and video calls. Her mother was tolerating her eating in her room alone, thinking it was because of the separation anxiety issues she was facing—which wasn’t entirely false.
People came and go. She knew that all too well.
Still, she held on. Hoping they would never leave.
When Thursday rolled in, she was dragged out of bed by her mother and forced to dress up for a day out. Jareth’s Xbox was torn from the socket and his personal TV turned off. He was complaining loudly while Valeriana reclined on the sofa with a bag of sour candies. The look on her face was contorted into an indiscernible frown of some sort. No one would be able to tell if it was their mother’s insistence on leaving the house or the junk food she was preoccupied with.
“Mom!” Jareth whined as he dragged his legs down the stairs. Their mother followed him, constantly pushing at his shoulders so that he would not stop.
“Mom!” Lily echoed, rolling her eyes as she laughed. “Stop complaining, Ruth. Don’t make me regret I put male on your birth certificate.”
Valeriana smiled as she chewed on the sour candy, her face turning sour. Ruth was supposed to be Jareth’s name should he have been a girl, but he wasn’t. The doctor was mistaken with his sex when he was in the womb only to correct himself later on.
“Don’t call me that. I don’t wanna go.” He stuck his head through the gap between the railings and cried out. “If you pull me, you’re gonna pull my head off too!”
“Come on, cookie monster. Such a drama queen,” Valeriana said, throwing the bag of sour candies on the table and standing to retrieve her brother. “You’ve been doing nothing but play your games ever since summer started.”
“Exactly my goal!” he yelled. “And you can’t stop me!”
Valeriana pulled his shoulders only for him to scream.
“Nooo! That hurts, that effin’ hurts. My head is stuck! My head is stuuuck!”
“Idiot.” Valeriana laughed with their mother at the dilemma he put himself in. She reached out and tried to guide his head out. “You did that to yourself.”
“Wait, be gentle.”
After getting Jareth out of his headlock situation, Lily drove to Mass-av. It wasn’t a short drive, but it wasn’t too long either. They stopped in front of their favorite restaurant which had a few renovations over the years. Valeriana stared at the establishment and felt the nostalgia as they entered. They did not come here as often as they did during her pre-teen days.
The waiter at the front immediately recognized them and opened the doors with a chime. His pleasant, mellow voice rang out softly.
“Mrs. Kerrigan, what a surprise! Welcome! It’s been a while.” Valeriana recognized the familiar, kind face of the man and smiled. “How’s it been going lately?”
“Oh, everything’s been fine, Rody,” Lily replied.
“Table for three?” he said, retrieving three copies of the menu from a rack against the wall beside him.
He looked down at Jareth and ruffled his hair as he led them through the restaurant. There were a few diners, but it didn’t look too busy. “You’ve grown, young man! You too, Valeriana. You must be in college already.”
“Oh, um, I actually just graduated from high school,” she answered him politely.
“Very good, very good! Just like my daughter, Erika.” Rody chuckled, placing the menu on top of the table against the window. “She recently graduated from high school this year as well. I’m sure she’s as beautiful as you are now.”
Valeriana smiled up at him.
“That’s good news!” Lily said. “What a proud father you must be!”
“Yes, of course!”
Whenever they would come by, this waiter would be the first to greet them. He was a jolly and benevolent server, and a very good entertainer as well. He never failed to make them enjoy their meals, which made their time absolutely worth it. He was quite talkative, but his homesickness often showed on his face whenever he told his stories. This man was very open with his love for his family back in his country.
It made her think. What exactly was the difference? Having no father or having a father, but distant—one who was across oceans and not by one’s side?
“Oh yes, I’ll be having my vacation a few days from now! I’m finally going home!” he said enthusiastically as he took out his notebook and pen for taking orders. “I’ve been looking forward to this for years now. I would have you taste the specialty of my country. I’m hoping you’ll want to try a few exotic treats.”
“Really? Like what sort?” her mother asked.
“Lengua de Gato.” He snapped his fingers. “Dried mangos, and peanut brittle. All specialties from different provinces!”
“Oh, you shouldn’t bother. Congratulations anyhow,” Lily told him, chuckling. “You’ve been raving about that ever since.”
“Of course! Will you have the usual?” he asked.
“Well then!” he clicked his pen. “I’m taking that’s a shrimp scampi in Alfredo sauce and fresh orange juice.” He looked knowingly at Lily who laughed and nodded. “Salmon with butterlemon sauce, a side of mashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables? Peach iced tea with less sugar?” His eyes met Valeriana for a moment and he was met with an approving smile. “And, lastly, herb-crusted parmesan chicken fillet with the same sides? Still Peach iced tea but with extra sugar.”
Jareth gave him a thumbs up. “Yep!”
“Oh, and Rody, get me that steak,” Lily said.
Valeriana glanced at her mother. That was the dish her father often got for himself. It seemed as though they would be holding up traditions, after all.
“Got it. Are you not getting the sweet pudding cake a la mode?” He gave Jareth a questioning glance.
“Of course!” answered her brother.
He sought the approval from Lily before writing it down. After all, she called the shots.
After Rody finished getting the orders, Valeriana found herself exchanging glances with Jareth and smiling ruefully.
“Alrighty, I’ll be back in ten minutes. For now, I have this for you.” He set down the kiddie crayons and the kiddie coloring and gaming paper with the tic-tac-toe and figure tracing activities which made them laugh.
“No, you didn’t,” Jareth told him.
“Yes, I did. You’re still kids in my eyes.”
He then left them with that and entertained the other customers after punching in their order. Valeriana was in a round of tic-tac-toe with Jareth who was glaring at her indignantly. For some reason, he could not beat his sister in this game no matter how hard he tried. Lily watched her children with a contented smile.
“Alright, I give up,” Valeriana said.
She set the crayon down and left him grunting in frustration. It was only a moment later that he took out his phone and started playing Minecraft in the highest volume.
Valeriana casually looked out the windows with a sigh as Lily scolded Jareth about turning down the sound. The sun was glaring outside and it was hot out. Despite the light being sharply reflected off the glass of the store across the street, Valeriana squinted and focused when she caught a familiar figure pass.
An eccentrically dressed blonde . . . holy crap. She braced herself in her seat and looked at her mother in alarm. They didn’t seem to notice her reaction. She tried to cover her face and seem inconspicuous, however, the woman suddenly looked over.
“Ugh. Why now of all times?” she muttered.
Valeriana hesitantly met her eyes. The woman beckoned her with her head to come. After that, she walked off.
She wanted to ignore it, but the feeling in her guts made her feel restless. Valeriana looked at her mother and brother. This was supposed to be a family day out. Why did she have to be disturbed now?
This was exactly why she didn’t want to leave the house!
“Mom, uh . . .” She tried to find a good excuse. “I’m sorry, something came up.”
Lily raised her brows. “What happened?”
“It’s . . . urgent, I think I’ll have to step out for a while.”
“I’ll explain later. I’m so sorry, mom. I’ll text you.”
Before she could speak, Valeriana had slid off her seat and dashed for the door. Lily was dumbfounded as she watched her daughter run. Within moments, she was out of the restaurant and it was too late to stop her.
The woman saw Valeriana walk out of the restaurant and automatically followed. Valeriana crossed the street after which they started walking side by side.
“What are you doing?” she asked. “How did you even find me?”
“I did tell you we will meet again.”
“Why now?” Valeriana said, not bothering to slow down. “I was having lunch with my family.”
“I sincerely apologize for ruining your time, but this matter cannot wait. Now, listen to me,” the stranger told her, grabbing Valeriana by the arm and stopping her. “As you already know, demons have escaped into your city. If they are not caught soon, they may cause extensive damage and take the life of your people, just like what happened with you.”
“So what do you expect me to do?” Valeriana asked. “Help you kill those?”
“Just help me find them. You leave the battle to me,” she replied. “I lost sight of the others while in pursuit of one earlier. Even though I have managed to kill the first few, I am not very familiar with your city, so I’m in dire need of your help.”
The girl could only look at the stranger in disbelief. “Wait! No way am I going near those things again!” she exclaimed, pulling her limb free from the woman’s grip. “It almost cost me a foot last time.”
People shot glances their way.
Valeriana looked around consciously. She leaned forward and began to whisper. “This is not exactly the best place to talk about this. Besides, why exactly are you asking me? And those clothes! You’re standing out too much!”
The woman looked at herself. “It cannot be helped,” she answered. “But you do not understand. You need to help me find those demons.”
Valeriana crossed her arms. “Demons. As in with s. You’re saying there are more of these guys?”
“Like before, I had to hunt at least a dozen of them,” she answered. “But this time, I have no idea where to look.”
“Well, that’s your problem and not mine. You managed to do it before, you can do it again,” Valeriana said. “I have my own problems I have to mind too, you know! My mom is gonna scold me so bad.” She sighed.
“Then, think of this as a means of repayment,” the lady offered.
“For saving your life.”
“Ah, damn it. Why can’t you go hunt your demons on your own?”
“I beg you, Valeriana. I swear upon the name of the first king, I will not let you get hurt,” she pleaded calmly. “On my own, I do not know how to navigate this complex maze you call a city. And my unfamiliarity with the surroundings makes it dangerous for me as well.”
Valeriana played the scenario in her head. “Okay. Fine. I’ll help you. I don’t want anyone freaking out seeing a woman randomly swinging a sword.”
Her face broke into a relieved smile. “You do not know how very grateful I am for this.”
“So um . . . what do I call you?”
“Seraphina,” she said. “My name is Seraphina.”
“Weird name. Alright, Seraphina. How exactly are we going to look for those things?” she asked.
“Demons feed on negative energies. My guess is they are somewhere where they have what they need.”
“What negative energies?”
“Energies caused by fear, panic, jealousy, and among other things,” Seraphina answered. “Mostly fear.”
Valeriana’s face wrinkled as she wracked her mind for the right place. “Dude that’s actually everywhere.”
“But there should be some place they are most prevalent.”
“I can’t think of anything . . . how about we walk around and see any possible places? It’ll give us time to think.”