CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Seven: The Court's Trial
“Wake up the girl, someone please.”
Someone started shaking her and tapping on her face. Valeriana’s eyes fluttered open and landed on the bright light overhead. It took a while to process what was happening. She looked around warily and tried shifting to a more comfortable position when she realized her torso down to her ankles tightly bound by thick ropes against a chair. The muscles on the back of her neck were cramping and hurt whenever she moved her head.
“What the hell!” she exclaimed.
“Keep it down, now.”
She paused as the command resonated throughout the whole room.
Crap, my head hurts.
Valeriana fixed her gaze to the sound of the voice. The room was circular and had an arching dome supported by flying buttresses. The design was gothic and dark. The walls were a smooth gray and were riddled with flaring lamps. There were elevated seats behind a long, curved table in which five, cloaked figures sat within considerable distance from one another.
After looking around, she realized she was in the middle of the room, bright light awash from above. There were two men behind her, eyeing her every move. As she continued scanning, she caught Seraphina standing still like a pillar, shoulders as stiff as a board, head hanging low with her hands joined together by a rope so tight they had turned blue. Her hair which had been dirty and greasy looked even more unkempt—not even a bird’s nest could compete.
“Seraphina!” Valeriana blurted. “You’re okay . . . but what—”
A hand clamped on her shoulder to keep her still.
“So you do know her.”
She grimaced at her own carelessness and nearly threw herself out of balance. However, instead of showing her idiocy at slipping, she tried to redirect the attention, lifting her gaze to the people behind a judging panel.
“I am the court leader, Lord Aeron LaVallene. Here with me is Sir Berias, Lady Aleara, Sir Zeke, and Lady Josephine.”
Their cloaks were the color of silky white, trimmed with gold. Silvery threads embroidered patterns onto the cloth, making them look domineering and . . . formidable. Valeriana silently huffed at the train of thought—at least they weren’t brown.
“You guys look like you’re a part of a cult,” she commented.
Hearing this, the figure at the center started laughing. Valeriana trashed, desperate to free herself from the chaffing ropes that bit at her skin. They snaked around her, squeezing her torso to the point of suffocation. Her arms and legs cramped—numb from the restricted flow of blood. They trembled when she tried to move and she felt the discomfort that shot in like cold needles inching up their length.
While it was good news she knew someone in the room, sad news was she didn’t look freer than she was.
“What’s with the ropes?!” she squirmed in her seat, trying to loosen the pressure around her. When she tried shaking her wrist free, she realized they were starting to feel raw. Her ankles, although had socks, weren’t in a better condition either.
“Instead of going peacefully, you were violent. We’re only taking countermeasures.”
“What did you expect me to do? Come with you with a smile on my face! Hell no! I’m not some idiot! And why the heck do I have to be tied all over! You could’ve just cuffed my hands and feet together, you know. I don’t get why it should be my whole body except my face! This is kidnapping—you have no right to bind me like and take away my freedom! Law states that—”
“Will someone gag this girl!?”
One of the cloaked figures cut his hand in the air and someone walked forward, winding a cloth around her mouth tightly. The cloth muffled most of her screams. They no longer came out shrill and sharp.
“She’s too noisy,” someone commented with a relieved sigh.
“At least we know now this whole thing won’t be boring,” added another.
“She’s an aggressive one. Well, then, let’s proceed.”
The other one yawned.
Their faces were hidden within the slips of darkness gifted by their silken hoods. Only their voices along with the silhouettes of their form beneath the cloth gave them identity. Other than that, they were erringly similar.
There was a slight pause. “So let me begin! Here in front of us is the human individual who witnessed the Celeste’s pursuit of the Loupe Garou, who escaped from the Holy Gates and was responsible for the death of many in the human dimension.”
“Witness? This is new,” one of them commented.
Valeriana rolled her eyes.
“Celeste Emmett himself confirms it, and Lady Seraphina does not deny it.”
“Has there been any record of humans being able to see demons?” a woman’s voice echoed. “I do not remember anything of that sort.”
“This is the first time I’ve encountered something like this,” someone else commented. “Humans will become aggressive and hostile towards anything that threatens their survival. If the knowledge of demons being active in their city becomes known to their people . . .”
As of the moment, Valeriana could not figure out who was speaking. Their exchange of words was fast.
“Their reaction will be uncertain.”
“We want to know the reason why you attempted to hide this from us, Lady Seraphina. You are in no position to decide what is supposed to be done in such situations,” Aeron calmly said.
The voice was masculine, so with that hint, Valeriana alone was sure he was a man—a middle-aged one at that. Despite her being unable to see how he looked like, the smile was thick in his voice.
“She doesn’t deserve it,” Seraphina told them.
Berias growled. “What if this gets out? If there was anything you should’ve done, you should’ve ended her life!”
“I’m sorry. But I disagree.” Seraphina frowned. “She would not have told anyone.”
“What proof do you have to back up your words?”
They all turned towards Valeriana, who was still gagged.
“You know that your actions may come with a corresponding death penalty? Attempting to hide very important information from the court and lying about what happened that day is considered treason! Not to mention you turned against your own comrade for the sake of this . . . pathetic human being!”
Seraphina went silent.
“If you cannot give me any proper reason, we have no choice but to have you executed.”
This took Valeriana aback. She shook her head to free her mouth of the gag but she was unsuccessful. Helpless, she watched the woman closely and saw her shoulders roll back. Seraphina lifted her head and stared up at the members of the court. In spite of the hesitance, there was power in her voice.
“If that is what you decide to do . . . then I shall consent.”
“I expected more fight from you, Seraphina. Why are you so . . . docile?” Lord Aeron asked.
Seraphina did not answer.
“Alright, change of plans.” The man shifted on his seat, leaning forward. “If you kill her now, I’m willing to give you another chance. I’ll turn a blind eye on this incident and I’ll brush it off as if it never happened.”
Valeriana nearly choked on her gag.
“I’m giving you a chance to escape this situation.” He purposely paused. “But a fault will be a fault, and it cannot go unpunished. Choose, then. Is it her life? Or yours?”
Valeriana’s heart lodged in her throat.
Someone slipped a dagger between Seraphina’s chained hands. The room fell quiet. Valeriana’s breathing became ragged as the woman turned. Her gaze dropped to the knife as the lady knight took her first step towards the girl.
She struggled, but it was futile. At that moment, she felt nothing but helplessness, disbelief, and denial.
Seraphina stopped before her and their eyes gravitated to one another once more. There had been no rollercoaster or airdrop rides that made her stomach churn in such way, where her heart slithered up to her throat and the fear boiled through her blood.
However, the moment blue met blue, the anxiety faded. “It’s alright, Valeriana, you won’t be harmed,” she whispered, her eyes kind and calming. Seraphina gently cut off the ropes and her fingers rejoiced at the freedom. Warmth flooded her appendages, the numbness swept away by cold prickles. She never realized her eyes were heavy with tears until she blinked after the longest while. A huge, fat drop rolled down the side of her face—as warm as her reddened cheeks. She ripped off the gag covering her mouth and brushed off her tears.
“Wha—” Berias’ words were cut off when the lady spoke before he could even ask.
“I’m sorry.” Seraphina turned and faced the Court Members. “I absolutely have no intention of killing this girl. I won’t change that decision until the very end,” she said.
The man named Aeron laughed. The sound boomed throughout the entire room, echoing in Valeriana’s ears.
“Old man . . .” Seraphina muttered.
“Alright. I was only jesting.” Aeron snorted. “Nobody will die.”
Valeriana’s face creased. “What the hell. You think that was a bloody joke?”
“What are you up to again, Aeron?” Aleara asked.
“I was interested in seeing how things would turn out, especially what your reactions would be and what you were going to do. If you had killed this girl, then so be it.”
Valeriana could only look at the court leader with shock, unsure how exactly the wheels turned in his head. One thing for certain was that it was definitely in reverse and probably something worse.
“Is my life that disposable for you?” She growled. “I don’t understand half of what’s going on, but whatever or whoever you guys are, if you think killing a person is okay then you’re all twisted pieces of—”
“Don’t mind him,” Josephine tiredly told the girl. “Sometimes he says unnecessary things just because he enjoys seeing how people will react. He is a twisted piece of—”
Before she could finish the sentence, the court leader quickly interjected with a deafening force behind his voice. It had been so loud that Josephine’s last word was indiscernible. “I don’t exactly know what you saw in this girl, Seraphina,” Aeron said, chuckling. “But what I’ve seen just now was truly admirable. You have moved me! Since it is that way, I’m willing to propose a new arrangement.”
“I don’t even have a single idea what’s going on . . .” Valeriana trailed off.
“But just a couple of reminders before we move on. Always remember, Celeste. You cannot take matters into your own hands. Circumstances will always change and I trust you’ll make the best decisions. Despite the way things had turned out so far, our world is at stake. If we make the wrong move with regards to our connection with the human plane, only gods can tell what will happen. This is a very delicate matter, you must remember that.”
“Yes, court leader,” Seraphina answered.
“But, Aeron! You cannot forget how this woman tried to—”
“Yes, yes. I know, Berias.” Aeron leaned into his fist. “However, I do not believe that killing this girl will result in anything beneficial. Or killing them both.”
“Then what’s up with all that—”
“We were having fun!” Aeron exclaimed.
“In spite of all the madness that has happened in this room, I agree with Lord Aeron,” Lady Aleara said.
“We still cannot let this go unpunished!” Berias countered.
“I was getting to that.” Aeron sighed heavily, clearly displeased with the other man’s insistence. “A punishment will be given.” He fell silent and started thinking. “Since you are the one standing up for her now, you are going to take full charge and responsibility for her safety. I declare you her guardian. Do you accept?”
“Yes.” Seraphina’s eyes gleamed with relief and a hint of joy.
“Aside from that, you are also under suspension. Regarding what happened, I think you need some time to think. Is that enough?”
“I will happily accept this punishment, thank you.”
“Now, what will we do to this human while she stays in Valemnia?”
“Why don’t we send her to prison? For twenty-five years?” Berias suggested.
Valeriana went pale. “What?!”
“Send her to slavery?” he suggested again.
“Stop it, Berias.” Lady Aleara growled. “You’re spouting nonsense. And you say you are worthy of your position within the court? What biased judgment!”
The man named Berias grunted.
“I understand the fact that you despise the human race, but we cannot be so rash as to condemn each one of them. Do not mix your own feelings and personal grudges when doing your job because then you won’t be doing it at all,” she calmly stated, her voice soft and comforting that it nearly brought the girl to tears. “First, I personally think we must ask for the side of the young one. What is your name, dear? What was it you were doing that you’ve had yourself in there of all places?” she asked.
The room fell quiet. Maybe if she tried reasoning out with them, they would think about letting her go without any problem.
“My name is Valeriana. Valeriana Kerrigan,” she told them.
“Hm?” Lord Aeron suddenly intoned. “I see. I see.” He nodded his head, a hint of smile and amusement vibrating with his words.
She gave him a questioning glance.
“Dear me, do continue.” He flicked his wrist a couple of times.
“I was . . . on the way to meet a friend when a thief snatched away my bag. I chased him. That’s how I ended up there.”
“How did you see the beast?” Aeron asked.
“With my eyes?”
“No. You know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t,” she replied, not knowing the answer herself.
“Answer the question properly!” Berias growled.
“I don’t know!” she exclaimed. “If you’re going to ask anyone, ask my mother! She’s the one who gave birth to me!”
“Why you insolent little—”
“Berias!” Lady Aleara scolded.
“Quit holding me back, you damn old lady!” he yelled through gritted teeth, scowling at Lady Aleara’s direction.
“What did you just call me? You dare call me old?”
“I did! Do you have a problem with it?”
“You know what? I’ve had it! Let’s take this outside!” The lady rolled the flaring sleeves of her hooded cape and rose from her seat, seeming to want to solve their problem with violence.
“Silence!” Lord Aeron looked between the two and flattened his palms on the wooden table in front of him. “Sit down! If you want to fight, do it later!” He then gestured to Valeriana. “Continue.”
Valeriana looked between each of them, confused. “That’s when I saw the demon. Seraphina saved me from being killed. After that, she left.”
“What were you doing before you were brought here?”
“I was having lunch with my family and uh . . . basically nothing. I just recently graduated from high school, you see. I’ll be attending college after summer ends,” she said.
There was a pause as they all seemed to be contemplating.
“What do you think?” The man turned to the other five for some suggestions.
The silence inside the room thickened and Valeriana curiously awaited their answer.
“We can’t exactly be rash about this,” Sir Zeke, for the first time maybe, spoke.
The others nodded in agreement before they all turned towards Valeriana. She couldn’t see the way they looked under the shadow of their cloaks, but there was a feeling that didn’t settle nicely with her.
“The presence of a human would probably rouse the people of Valemnia if her presence was made public, but we can’t exactly hide it either since it may cause trouble if found out,” Lady Aleara said.
“Then send me home,” Valeriana suggested, hoping they would consider it.
“A simple and a nice idea.” Lord Aeron chuckled. Valeriana felt a smile coming. “But completely impossible.”
Her face fell. “Why not?”
“We cannot let you go at the moment because this isn’t exactly the usual situation we have to deal with. Even if we do let you go, how are you supposed to explain to your people about how you went missing so suddenly?”
She rolled her eyes. “Even if I tell them the truth, I’ll be labeled crazy. They might even send me to an asylum.”
Lord Aeron chuckled. “What will you tell them?”
She paused. “That I went somewhere no else can find me because I was depressed or something.”
He hummed. “Although I admire your efforts, this matter will take more than just a simple covering up. It’s best if you stay here.”
“Oh come on!” She whined. “I wanna go home!”
“Until a final decision is made, you are to be detained as a prisoner,” the court leader said.
Valeriana gaped at them in shock. “What did you say?”
“Take her away!” Aeron ordered, sweeping out his hand.
“We advise you not to take off that necklace whenever you are standing in the grounds of Valemnia. It gives you the ability to tolerate the power pressure. Without it, you’ll crumble to ashes,” Aleara said.
Valeriana felt her stomach twist in trepidation as she looked down at the necklace that hung around her neck. Flaring hips and curved legs of gold, delicate fingers grasping a jade button close to her chest. It was a beautiful image and quite intimate in a motherly sense.
“Hey! I still have many questions!”
The two men beside her dragged an unwilling Valeriana away. Even after being taken outside, they could still hear the sound of her incessant shouting and screaming. Seraphina sighed as she watched the poor girl and advised the guards to handle her gingerly. Still, regarding the fight she was putting up, the request didn’t seem plausible.