CASeries #2: LEGEND
Asthore sat before the Twelve, her eyes dried and puffy from all the crying, yet she strangely maintained her composure before them. Probably because she was holding on to the soul crystal Tod had left behind. They had taken cover inside the ruined family manor of the Loquin family while Marcy served them fresh tea and snacks after a long day. Just outside, under the cover of the night, Laz, being a Celestial Knight, had taken the initiative to command the knights sent as aid by the local government and was spearheading the scout of the city to fully check its current state. Courtney joined him, seeing as she was part of the noble family that was responsible for the place. The Twelve, on the other hand, had taken up the meeting room on a vacated wing and sat themselves on all the seats. A few of them chose to remain standing, specifically Zion and Tamara.
“Alright, it’s time to clear everything up. Everything has been horribly confusing.” Elfre quipped, sighing as she tried to wrap her mind around what happened.
Corvan decided to start. “Based on my own deductions and past knowledge regarding demon nature . . .”
“Oh, right. You read that book about demonology.” Valeriana whispered to herself, holding her palm close to her chest.
“Demons specialize in illusions, deceit, and manipulation of energy,” he told them. “But they also have the abilities of ‘trapping’, similar to the concept of spider webs, hence they put up alternate dimensions that suit their needs along with their chosen ‘victims’, however, perhaps it didn’t work that way much on Tod’s favor. You should understand, Valeriana. It is similar to what happened during that incident in the bath.”
Valeriana perked up as she heard her name being called and nodded eagerly, although she seemed lost at the moment.
This was when Charles came in. “Based on primary investigations, everyone in the city fell ‘asleep’ while Asthore and Tod themselves played under the illusion of a slowly crumbling city. The black snow that fell on that day had purposely done that job, putting all the citizens to sleep in exception for a few chosen to play out significant roles. Otherwise, they would’ve been chosen to fall asleep as well.”
“Wasn’t it possible they were immune to the spell which was casted?” Rowe suggested.
“No, that’s impossible.” Valeriana chimed, making all eyes turn to her. “Well, I heard Aden say that the demon did the same to them during the first time they led a revolt. He made them all fall asleep.” She shyly cowered from everyone’s gaze, feeling her heart hammering at the sight of their scrutiny.
“So he deliberately pulled them with him.”
“Also, regarding that report of a city being overrun by demons . . .” Charles trailed off.
“Probably hearsays—exaggerations.” Zevlin concluded.
“He might’ve done it to attract people though, and used their souls for his puppets.” Genevieve added, shrugging.
“Didn’t he use the souls of the people in the city?” Raziel asked, his brows furrowing. “What of those skeleton zombies?”
“No. Probably not.” Corvan replied, propping his ankle to his knees. “He was much too dedicated in protecting the city and its citizens that he could not risk their lives in his schemes. Regarding the skeletons, I have no idea where he’d taken them from.”
“But the illusion was so . . . real.” Tamara muttered.
“When you are in a demon’s lair, you see what you want to see while seeing what the demon wants you to see.” Charles told them vaguely, his glasses glinting as he fixed them on his face.
“Huh? Wait. Can you explain that?” Tamara looked as though her brain would explode any moment.
Rowe decided to take over. “To put it simply, you are given an illusion, you see what ‘everyone’ sees. However, to add into the intricateness and complexity and make it more believable, you see what you want to see in addition to what you’re already seeing. Do you understand? So, in the situation of the rebels, if someone somehow ‘realized’ his wife was dying, the others would automatically check on their families and see if the same thing was happening. Because of the fear of it happening, the illusion puts that fear to life. Is that what you meant, Charles?”
“It has never been worded better.” The fourth answered.
“So it had become a psychological thing, huh? Wasn’t Tod somehow scared it would turn the rebels into emotional wrecks before the plan was put in motion?” Tamara grunted, leaning against the wall as she gave them a questioning look.
“Not if he wasn’t putting ideas in their heads at the same time.” Brindon softly interjected, seeming breathless after he spoke such a long sentence.
“In the end, the matter was concluded after Valeriana and Corvan put their plan in motion. If it weren’t for you two’s efforts, the whole thing would’ve not worked out the way it did.” Charles grumbled with a slight tone of disappointment. “You played a key role in Asthore’s ‘enlightenment’, hence, everything ended smoothly.”
“Valeriana.” Corvan firmly addressed, calling the girl’s attention. “What of the ‘thing’ you have done to the half-demon?”
Even Asthore looked up from her daze, the topic seeming to have caught her attention.
“Well, I . . .” Valeriana shot Rowe a troubled look, not exactly knowing what she was supposed to say regarding what happened.
“She helped in the ascension of Tod’s soul to the other side.” Rowe told them, smiling proudly. “She has a natural talent with spiritual aspects. It makes it obvious she’s one of my people. Having that made known, be aware she is now under my protection.”
Valeriana was grateful to Rowe for covering for her, but was mildly shocked by his declaration. “Um . . . are you serious?”
“A noble is all about his words, especially a Nevan.” Rowe said. “Well then, have we settled all the issues regarding the mystery of this city? Now, Lady Loquin.” The gentleman turned to the distraught lady, his eyes glistening. “After you have finished weeping your hearts out, I hope you will be strong enough to face the people of your city. After all . . .”
A knock resounded on the door. Attention fell on the small boy that ran up inside the room, dressed in a miniature version of Corvan’s grandest clothes. Needless to say, Sunny displayed the perfect picture of a little prince.
“Thowie! Look!” He giggled.
Asthore managed the littlest smiles as the boy climbed up to her lap. She fondled the slicked back hair and stood up, her torn dress falling about her.
“If it was all an illusion, then, is there a possibility that boy’s mother is alive?” Valeriana wondered, feeling saddened.
“It is possible. However, if his mother died before the incident . . .” Rowe trailed off.
“I think, milady,” Marcy began. “That we should fix the way you look. Your people are here.”
Asthore was in disbelief at her servant’s statement. “What? Why are they here?” She hastily tried to smooth down her frizzy hair and scratch off the dirt on her skin.
“They demand to see their leader. However, what are we to do now?” He asked.
“Alright,” she nervously breathed, pausing to ponder what she was supposed to do. “Um . . . assist the . . . uh . . .” She waved over to the Twelve. “Guests. I think we’re going to have an impromptu celebration. I have something to declare to the City of Loquin. Let it be known.”
“That is ridiculous! We have nothing prepared for a celebration, we—”
“Tod has prepared a feast at my demand earlier.” Her voice broke. “The banquet hall is brimming with food.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t an illusion?”
“Haven’t you wondered where Keelan was?” Tamara pointed out. “Cause if it wasn’t real, he would be here.”
“Well, you have all the proof you need!” Aneeka exclaimed, making everyone else laugh.
Asthore pointed to Valeriana and motioned her forward, instigating the girl to point at herself to confirm if she had been referring to her. “Yes, you.” She cleared her throat. “I mean . . . Miss Valeriana. Please accompany me.”
Zion held back a girly squeal. “This oughtta be good!”
“Marcweller, please . . .”
“I’m on it, milady. Come now, Sunny.”
“Come on, you guys! We’ve gotta prepare, too! It’s time to celebrate!” The twins chorused jumping and dancing the whole while.
It was just a few moments later when the Twelve gathered in the ballroom, watching the people file in through the open doors. It seemed as though the earlier demand to see the city lady had turned out into a different scenario.
“We just wanted to talk to Lady Asthore . . .” A woman squeaked. “We have no desire at all to . . .”
“Please, we insist.” Rowe brilliantly smiled, bending down to kiss the lady on the back of her knuckles. “Won’t you stick around for a bit even just for a few hours? You don’t need fancy clothes . . . you are all beautiful the way you are.”
The ladies squealed at his statement while the men started seething. Aneeka spread out her fan and huffed out loudly.
“You cannot fool us with this celebration and all this!” A man bellowed. “You cannot bribe us with—”
“Whoever said anything about bribing when this entire celebration is meant for the rebirth of your city?” Corvan’s voice thundered, forcing silence to rule the entire room at the sound of his words. “Of course, I understand that it is impossible to enjoy yourself with the current situation. In order to erase your worries regarding your family members who were taken into the custody of the government, they shall all be released for this celebration alone.”
Delighted chatter floated midair as Charles approached Corvan with a slightly irked countenance. “How do you plan on explaining yourself with this sudden announcement, Corvan? Without even prior notice? This will only resort to trouble.”
“Then trouble it is,” he said. “You do not need to take credit for anything. If they ever demand the reason, you can use my name and come up with anything. Post some men around the entire mansion to secure the vicinity for the recent proclamation. This is, after all, supposed to be a jovial event.”
Charles breathed deeply. “Perhaps I can talk with Courtney for something.”
“Who knew you had this side to you?” He added.
“A leader should know what the people want and what the people need.”
People weren’t dressed up properly for the occasion, so a few panicked. However, the presence of the Twelve eased the brewing turmoil. In no time at all, they got the atmosphere ‘party-like’, displaying their clear abilities as good hosts. Moments after, the insurgents flooded into the ballroom and ran straight into the waiting arms of their family. It was a tender moment of reunion.
Courtney soon entered the room with a look of frustration. She approached the young lord with a frown. “You should really stop making me take responsibility for your reckless whims, first-ranker.”
Corvan gave her a glance before wandering off somewhere after a short statement. “You are free to thank me later.”
A soft melody soon filled the place and couples were dancing across the polished marbled floor, some still displayed restlessness and anxiety, but they were slowly being eased into the atmosphere. It was as though the events of previous hours were completely nonexistent.
“Tch.” Zion huffed, watching Corvan converse lightly with someone else. Heck, his smile even looked natural! “He’s not being a jerk. What a fake!”
“Excuse me,” a shy woman said.
Zion flashed her his best smile. “How may I help you?”
“Do you dance?”
“What’s a man who can’t dance?” With that, he swept her off her feet and glided across the room.
The music was loud and joyful that it reached Valeriana and Asthore. The fifth could scarcely hear, but the minuscule vibrations of sounds were evident enough for her to observe.
“Thank you for your help,” Asthore said, reaching up to twist her hair into a messy, but stylish bun. Her dress fluttered around her in the most charming way. “Your suggestion with the dress was wonderful.”
“You’re welcome.” She smiled. “Rather than letting you wear the puffy monstrosity. I mean, considering this was an impromptu party, no one dressed up properly. You should make it simple, just enough to look the part of the Lady.” Valeriana winked.
“Now, it’s your turn.” Asthore chirped, pulling the fifth and forcing her to sit down in front of the dresser. She grabbed a brush and started raking it through Valeriana’s locks.
“Was . . .” The girl swallowed. “Was Tod . . . okay?”
“What do you mean?”
“His soul . . .”
“Oh . . . um . . .” Valeriana wasn’t sure how she was going to phrase it. “His soul . . . was beautiful.”
Yes, that was probably it.
“I mean, it was not perfect. But, beneath that darkness I saw that beautiful light. That crystal was also a proof of it.” She could still feel the warmth in her hands. She didn’t regret the incident one bit, despite being confused and all after the ‘mole’ thing. “I think it was his heart more than anything . . . he was probably shining for you.”
“Really?” Asthore’s cheeks warmed. “Then, I’m good. Let’s get you in a dress.”
“What? Wait! Wait! No!”
The door opened and figure walked in. “I heard screams.” Someone intoned, a voice Valeriana knew all too well.
Hastily, she looked up to meet the eyes of the former fifth. A chill ran down her spine as she thought of the possibilities regarding the sudden presence of her archenemy, but she was only greeted by an impassive look.
“Courtney, how nice of you to join us.” The city lady said.
“What are you up to?” She closed the door behind her.
“Picking a dress, of course.”
Wordlessly, she went straight into the closet and starting raking through the countless gowns hanging inside. As Valeriana began wondering what she was up to, the other girl took out a soft, blue gown and held it out to her companions.
“How about this?” She suggested.
“Uh . . .”
“That’s a very wonderful choice indeed!”
The crowd turned and eyed the top of the staircase, whispering things among themselves. Zion dragged his gaze to where everyone was looking and practically melted on the spot.
“Valeriana . . .”
Valeriana, dressed in a free-flowing gown and her hair in an up-do, stood beside Asthore with a small smile. Her companion herself was clothed in a lovely manner, the pink tint of the fabric complimenting her fair skin and blue eyes. The glittering chandeliers and the warm lighting within the room was grandiose. Leave it to Marcweller to whip up a celebration in just a few moments. Courtney was with the two, opting for a pastel yellow dress.
How odd to see those two together. But, it was better than nothing. When the Twelve saw this, they could not help but smile.
“People of Loquin.” Asthore said, her voice demanding attention. “Things have been very . . . eventful this last month, following the death of my father, your late leader. And I know that people regarded me as unfit of handling the position as city lady because of my immaturity and irresponsibility. And for that reason, a very dear . . . person has sacrificed his life for me in order to teach me the values of all the things I’ve taken for granted.” She clutched the crystal to her chest. “It has been a nightmare, seeing what could have happened should I have continued what I did. However, I now know exactly what I should do—continue the legacy my father had left behind. Because, I now know in my heart that would have been what he wanted me to do. And for that, I hope you can give me a chance to make everything right . . . to make this city the best it can be.”
“But what about our husbands?! Our sons!” Cried a woman. “After this event, they’ll be taken away! We don’t want to be separated!”
The others agreed in chorus.
Asthore was dubious before she tightened her expression. “Those men taken by the Evereeshan knights . . . I will to restore their freedom. They are not in any fault in exception for trying to fight for what they thought was right. I will take responsibility. I am to blame.”
The delighted expression on the people’s face could be seen.
“But they will be under strict probation until the next month.” She added. “I hope no one is against this.”
When no one spoke, Asthore smiled. “I then offer you my apologies again. Aden Cassius. Is he here?” she asked.
The said man stepped forward at her call. He was eyeing her untrustingly. “What need do you need of me, Your Excellency?” Contrary to his form of address, he did not seem to mean respect.
“I have done you all wrong. Will you not be the head of this city’s defenders? Step up against me should I do anything wrong and tell me what I should do, speak to your people for me. Be their voice.”
Aden looked shocked at this. “But I . . .”
“Accept it, Sir,” she said. “I’ll need someone to keep me in place.”
The people started hooting.
“Do it, Aden! Do it!” They cheered.
“It . . . would be an honor.” He bowed.
“Alright. I know this is not enough to compensate for a lifetime of sins and mistakes, but for tonight, please, enjoy!”
As the people of Loquin started enjoying themselves, the Twelve grouped in one corner and waited for the three ladies to descend the staircase. Once they reached the bottom, the fourth-ranker stepped forward with a diplomatic smile.
“I think it would be an honor to stick around and enjoy ourselves some more, but it’s about time we return to the academy. We have already missed a lot of lessons, and missing more would not be good at all.” Charles told her. “We offer you our thanks!”
“Oh yeah,” Valeriana whined. “I’ve been away for like a month . . . thanks for all of this though, Asthore.”
“Do you really need to leave so soon?”
“Yes, many responsibilities await the Twelve. Not to mention that Summer Festival is coming up!” Raziel yawned ‘fashionably’.
“Almost forgot about that one . . .” The twins groaned.
“Hey, Valeriana!” Zion singsang. “Wanna—”
“Don’t bother.” The twins began dragging him with them, making him yell at the top of his throat in protest.
“Why do you always have to stop me, you idiots! I just wanted to talk to Valeriana and—”
“We ship Corval!” They exclaimed.
“Why you—Elfre! Elfre help me!” Zion cried.
Valeriana blew out a small sigh as the group filed out of the ballroom. She looked down at the tiny dark mark on her left palm and clenched her fists as she stood up, deciding to head out as well. After saying her last goodbyes to Asthore once again and watching everyone else pay their respects to the lady of the city, she surreptitiously weaved through the crowd.
“Valeriana,” Rowe called to her, somehow managing to follow her through the sea of bodies. The second-ranker approached and leaned in to whisper. “I don’t know what’s going on . . . but I give you my word I’ll help you figure it out. However, do not speak of this to anyone. If they know, I cannot guarantee how they might react.”
Valeriana nodded at him hesitantly before watching the seriousness melt away from his face. He gave her a bright smile before ushering her with him.
“Well, the academy awaits.”
“Wait a moment, Valeriana. May I speak to you?” Corvan advanced and waved to Rowe. “You can go ahead of us, I just need to tell her something.”
“Suit yourselves.” Rowe gave them a knowing look before meaningfully glancing over at the girl.
Corvan dragged Valeriana with him out of the crowded area as well, but they stopped just outside the door. The faint blaring of the classical music was still evident.
The fifth looked up at the first in mild confusion, but did not say anything in exception for a simple, “What’s up?”
“I do hope you realize how big the part you played in this case is,” he told her, a strange glimmer in his emerald eyes. “Don’t go tearing yourself up over trivial matters like being worthy. You may not play a big part in the most practical fights, but that only means you’re being reserved for bigger things. It may have been hard trying to find yourself, but maybe you should be patient and see first. Remember you are the fifth-ranker . . .” The young lord paused, taking in the sight of her teary eyes and reddening face. He became flustered as big, salty drops dripped from her eyes. “W-what are you crying for? I was trying to—”
Before he could continue, Valeriana jumped on him and gave him a bear hug, squeezing the daylights out of him. He struggled under her iron-like grip until he eventually gave up fighting and gradually, but reluctantly, returned the embrace.
“You may not seem like it but you’re such a big softie!” Valeriana grinned up at him before latching her fingers with his and squeezing comfortingly. “Thank you.”
He blushed before shaking her off. “Enough.”
“Hey! Do you wanna share a carriage back to the port?”
The young lord had to think for a few moments, initially wanting to decline, but with the look in the girl’s eyes, he found it hard to refuse. “Alright.”
“Whoa! Really?!” She laughed, the smile reaching her ears. “Do you promise to do that fireball thing please?”
“Do not make me change my mind. Unless you want to share with Zion, I am sure he would love—”
“Nah! I thought nobles were all about their words! Can’t take back what you said! Na-uh!” She skipped away from him cheerfully, his next words falling deaf into her ears. “I’ll ask for some hot chocolate and marshmallow so we can drink on the way!”
“But I—you . . . good child of Arland, what in the world?” He held back an unbecoming groan and let out a sigh instead. “I feel like I just dug my own grave . . .”
“I want to apologize for assuming such things before.” Asthore quipped, having overheard their conversation from the room as she broke free from the constraints of heavy socializing a moment after. “I have taken a liking to you because you resembled Tod to some extent.” She looked at the direction Valeriana disappeared to. “He had the same eye and hair color as you did.”
Corvan bit back his disbelief at the looks she was giving. “Nonsense.”
“No wonder you didn’t want to marry me?” She laughed quietly. “It’s no wonder. A strong woman like that may break down a few times, but she has shown me her strength back then . . . I have her to thank—”
His face hardened. “Enough.” The tone of his voice possessed an icy sharp edge. “Do not assume such impossible things.” He proceeded to walk away.
“I see. Nobles have it hard when it comes to matters of the heart,” she told him as he walked off. Visibly, he slowed as though listening. “Like you said, duties must come first before one’s own welfare. What I can recommend you to do, Lord Corvan, is to follow what you want. No one wants an unhappy leader.”
On the other side of the room, a certain old man could not help but feel elated to find such a cozy atmosphere within the manor after such a long while. Rowe approached the older man, tipping his head forward to show his respect.
“Lord Rowe. What brings you here?”
“I would just like to thank you for your hospitality and your aid in our . . . activity,” he said. “And to ask one last question.”
“And that is?”
“Why was it so wrong for Tod and Asthore to be together? I know nobles are required to mingle with someone of their own stature, but I hardly see any—”
“It is much deeper than that, milord.” Marcweller said. “I have served the Loquin family for decades and the richness of this city in terms of history cannot be undermined. Lord Caleb’s father, Lord Malev, was not originally entitled to the position. He was only supposed to handle it in place of the late Lord Frederick when he left for a journey. However, Lord Frederick never came back and he remained in power. The power was passed down to Lord Caleb. However, it turned out, that Lord Frederick had an heir to a noble he met during his travels to the Arlandian continent—his daughter, Emerald. Lord Caleb was comfortable with his seat of power and did not want to give way so he banished Lord Frederick’s daughter. Having no means of claiming the rights, Lady Emerald left. After a while, I heard, that she bore a son—a boy she named Tod.”
Rowe was shocked. “Tod is the real heir of this city?”
“No wonder,” he said. “But would it have not been beneficial if he let Asthore and Tod befriend one another? Why let it end in such a tragedy?”
“Tod came to reclaim what was his, Lord Rowe. Lord Caleb thought his daughter was being taken advantage of, which wasn’t totally untrue.”
“I see. Thank you very much for answering the question.” He then turned. “But wouldn’t the little lady need to know?”
“It is better if the past is buried,” he said. “After all, it was his last request.” He paused once, looked away, and sighed deeply. “Things could have not turned out better. I do hope he’s happy.” Marcweller gazed out of the window, a contented smile on his face.
To see the author’s comments on the novel’s plotholes and planned revisions, click on the next chapter.