Chapter 9: In Which Aria Stays At The Tavern

Aria sat on a stool next to Cleo at the tavern bar staring down at her food. They were eating a meal of cheese, apples, and bread, however, she hadn’t touched her food and this was the second day in a row the child had not eaten a thing. She had been very quiet over the past few days, not wanting to play or talk, and Cleo was worried she was becoming depressed locked up for weeks in the tavern, with darkbloods making all sorts of noise right outside their doors.

Eldrin and Vaella had dropped off Aria months ago, and in the beginning, they visited often. Now, however, the war raged on with no end, darkbloods roaming the streets freely and infecting anyone unfortunate enough to be caught on the streets alone, and every known fighter was on the front, disposing of any darkblood they could. There was no fight left in the people of Evermore, only the will to survive, and for the people left hiding in their homes and businesses in Evermore, the curfew in full effect, that meant waiting for the town to be saved, or waiting for the darkbloods to suffocate them once and for all.

Cleo sighed, putting a piece of bread back down on her plate and smoothed down Aria’s curls softly, “Aria, you need to eat something. You love apples. Come on, try a bite,” Aria didn’t move or look at her and Cleo frowned, knowing she wouldn’t be able to make her smile this time. Yesterday she had tried singing which usually brought a smile to Aria’s face, however, this time, Aria barely glanced up. Cleo knew exactly what Aria needed and it was something not easily given, Aria needed and wanted her mother and father, and they hadn’t been seen by the two of them in over a month.

Cleo sighed, trying again, “Why don’t we take a bath later and you can play in the bubbles as long as you like, I’ll even put three times the amount of bubbles in and we can watch them fill the whole bathroom, how does that sound?”

Tears welled up in Aria’s eyes and she started to cry, “I want my mommy.”

Cleo looked over at the specially made candle behind the bar thoughtfully, her heart breaking. All of the houses in Evermore were equipped with them; they were made by a fire magic user named Wen Weaver, and she made them able to shoot small bursts of fire into the air when lit which would alert the Council and its armies of danger and were only to be used in such instances. Cleo knew that if she lit the candle and placed it outdoors that Vaella or Eldrin would not trust their armies alone to investigate, they would come themselves.

“I could get in really big trouble for doing this but I don’t care anymore,” Aria looked up as Cleo left the bar and grabbed the candle off the shelf. She took a deep breath, nervous, and lit the candle, placing it carefully outside of the window before shutting it quickly as to not alert the Darkbloods. She looked at Aria, who stared at her wide-eyed, and smiled softly, “Now we just wait.”

Cleo sat down next to the child once more and the pair waited not five minutes in silence before the door burst open and Vaella herself stood looking around frantically, a team of elves spread behind her. She looked tired but strong and held her bow and arrow out, ready to send an arrow flying, “What’s going on? Where is my daughter?” Seeing no immediate danger, Vaella shut the door and put her bow down, “Cleo, what’s happened?”

“Mommy!” Aria jumped down from the stool and ran up to Vaella, wrapping her tiny arms around her legs and hugging her tightly, without another word.

Vaella picked her up, hugging her just as tightly and looked at Cleo, angrily, “Cleo, there is no danger here is there? What is going on?”

Cleo looked at her just as angry and shook her head answering shortly, “No, there’s no immediate danger.”

Vaella breathed a frustrated sigh of relief, kissing her daughter’s head, before saying in a low voice, her brown eyes shooting daggers at her as she tried to control her temper, “Cleo, you know you’re only supposed to use those candles if there is a threat to the residence. You cannot just use it to call upon someone whenever you wish! I almost had the whole army surrounding the tavern and Eldrin is beside himself with worry. Why did you light the candle?”

Cleo stood her ground, crossing her arms, “I lit it because your child needs you. Do you know how long it has been since she’s last seen you or Eldrin?”

Vaella turned to her soldiers, waving them away, and they left the tavern, closing the door softly, before surrounding the area, looking for any darkbloods that may have been alerted to their location. She looked down at Aria, trying to think, “It can’t have been that long. I miss her too but there’s a war going on, a war we are losing I might add, I can’t just leave whenever I want to.”

Cleo scoffed, shaking her head, “You don’t even know how long it’s been since you’ve seen your daughter! It’s been forty seven days Vaella! I don’t want to be harsh but I’ve been here every day and night listening to her cry for you without knowing if you were ever going to return,” Cleo sighed, watching the look of guilt and sadness fall across Vaella’s face, and softened her tone, “I’m sorry Vaella. I don’t mean to let my anger get the best of me. I didn’t know how else to get your attention, which is why I lit the candle. She needs her parents and I don’t mean to replace them anytime soon, that’s all.”

Vaella stared at her a moment, her anger leaving her, and sighed, kissing her daughter once more,“ It’s okay Cleo, you’re not in trouble, I’ll stay with her tonight, you go get some rest,” Vaella walked Aria upstairs to her bedroom without another word and sat her down in front of a dollhouse the mayor had made for her for her birthday last year, “Aria, I know it’s hard having to stay here with Cleo for this long, but mommy and daddy have to fight in the war, we’ve talked about this.”

Aria looked up at her, tears filling her eyes, “I want to go home mommy.”

Vaella sighed, fighting not to show her emotions, “I know, please don’t cry. We can’t go home and you know that. I need you to be a big girl for me Aria and mind Cleo for a little bit longer until your father and I can come get you.”

Aria looked up from her doll she had been walking across the floor in front of her, hopeful, “Tomorrow?”

Vaella laughed, leaning over and hugging her, “Probably not tomorrow, but soon. We aren’t going back to our old home remember? We are going to a new one and Kyrah is almost done creating it. In a few weeks we will be moving all of the children there. You’ll get to see our new home before daddy and I have, won’t that be exciting?”

Aria nodded, frowning, “Why can’t everyone go at the same time? Why do the children have to go first?”

Vaella smiled, hugging her tight, “The children are going first because they are too little to fight and the Fae King wants to turn all of you into darkbloods so you can be with him instead. You won’t be alone. You’ll have all your friends there with you from school and Cleo will be there.”

Aria stared at her doll on the ground, “I thought you killed the darkbloods? Are you going to kill me if the Fae King turns me into a darkblood like you had to kill that other little girl?”

Vaella picked Aria up and stood her on the floor in front of her putting her hands on each side of her face, tears in her eyes “Who told you about that? How did you know what happened to…” Vaella trailed off, suddenly trembling, and changed the subject, “Aria, you listen to me right now. We do not talk like that, do you hear me? Nothing like that is ever going to happen again because we are going to get all of the children out soon, okay? And don’t forget, baby, you can’t get sick like everyone else does. Mommy would never..” She trailed off, staring at her daughter, then sighed, kissing her forehead, “Don’t talk about that again okay baby?”

Aria nodded, still frightened by her mother’s words, “Yes mommy.”

Vaella stared at her daughter as she sat on the ground again, picking her doll up once more, and her mind wandered to the little girl that Aria had spoken of.

Her name was Penny and she was the Constable’s daughter. She was a bright and bubbly eight year old with long black hair and soft brown eyes that sparkled with fire when she used her magical abilities of pyromancy. She could talk your ear off if you let her, and many did, as she could often be seen skipping throughout town, saying “hello” to every townsperson she saw along the way and the townsfolk gladly allowed her to stop and talk for awhile.

No one knew if it had been her usual warm greetings bringing unwanted attention to herself or if she had just been at the wrong place at the wrong time, however, one quiet Autumn day when the leaves had just begun to fall from the trees, the child was infected by a darkblood. It seemed as if the whole town came running when the child’s screams pierced the soft evening. Penny was standing on the playground, with a few other children milling about along with her, including Aria, when a darkblood was seen by the child standing not three feet away from her. Penny was standing on the playground, with a few other children milling about along with her, including Aria, when she chased a ball to the edge of the playground, freezing at the sight of the darkblood emerging from the bushes.

Hearing her screams, Vaella ran to the playground and immediately drew her bow and shot the darkblood, however it was too late, the darkblood had picked up the child before being struck with the arrow, dragging Penny down with him as he fell.

The crowd that had gathered shrieked at once, moving forward to try to save the child and Vaella shouted at them, her voice trembling but stern, “Don’t! Unless you want to be infected too.”

Aria ran up to her mother frightened, clinging to her Ranger’s cape, and without taking her eyes off of the darkblood and child, Vaella swiftly picked Aria up, holding her close with one hand, while she branded a long knife with the other pointed towards the pair on the ground.

Time itself seemed to stand still as the crowd anxiously waited for something to happen. The darkblood, shot and killed instantly by Vaella’s arrow, lay motionless with the child next to him, who still breathed, yet did not stir. The town was silent, most of it now gathered around the playground, the knights and elves forming a circle in front of the townspeople, separating the crowd from the scene. Vaella stood in front of her warriors, still holding her daughter in one arm and a weapon in the other as her mind raced to decide what to do. Murmurs of “do we kill her?”, “which barrier is down?”, “what do we do?”, and “this time it’s a child” rang throughout the armies as they waited for Vaella’s instruction, their weapons at the ready, scanning the area for more darkblood attacks.

A hush fell over the crowd as a low growl rumbled from the ground and the child began to stir, standing on all fours before stumbling to her feet and glaring at the people now surrounding her. The crowd shifted uneasily, afraid of being attacked, and the elves raised their weapons higher, Vaella’s name travelling through the crowd as they waited for their order. Vaella stared at the child, trembling, and held Aria closer, a wave of shock hitting her. She had killed hundreds of darkbloods herself, and ordered just as many to be killed by her army, but they had never been asked to kill a child before. The darkbloods had never seemed to pay any attention to the children, and although it was still a danger and the children were kept close and away from the threat, nothing like this had ever happened before in Evermore.

Penny then fixed her eyes on Vaella, staring at her, before looking at Aria. She looked back at Vaella then, and nodded once, smiling and baring her teeth, her eyes fixed on them.

Vaella took in a quick breath, her body tensing as she gripped Aria tighter to her, her grip tightening on her knife, whispering, “The darkness knows.”

Penny snarled at the knife, seeming to know if she advanced, Vaella would attack, then backed away, cornered. The darkblood child hissed at the crowd and Vaella fought back tears, hoping the child’s mother was not in the crowd, and shook her head slowly, signalling the lowering of weapons, raising her knife higher in a silent understanding to the darkblood child that if she attacked her or her child she would kill her. The darkblood child seemed to know that she was outnumbered and did not attack but instead ran through the crowd as they parted, not wanting to be touched, and disappeared into the trees. It was only then that Vaella put away her own weapon and she shook with anger and shock as she held her own child, safe in her arms, and wondered how she was ever going to be able to tell the Mayor, or Penny’s parents, what she couldn’t stop from happening this afternoon at the playground.

“Mommy? Are you listening to me?” Vaella blinked, her mind no longer in the past, and found a very stern looking child with her hands on her hips looking at her. Vaella laughed softly, and shook her head. Aria looked more like Eldrin than herself, however, Vaella could see so much of herself in her daughter, especially when she looked angry.

“I’m sorry honey, I’m just really tired.” Vaella yawned. Sitting down for this long reminded her body that she was tired and hadn’t slept or stopped moving for a long time.

Aria handed her mother her favorite stuffed animal, a worn red dragon with blue wings and claws that Cleo had made her, “How long has it been since you’ve last slept this time?”

Vaella frowned, thinking, and ran her hands over the dragon, “Oh I don’t know, probably about six months though, when is the last time you slept?”

Aria pretended to think like her mother had and looked up at the ceiling, expecting to find the answer there, “Oh I don’t know, probably a thousand years though.”

Vaella laughed, reaching over to tickle Aria who jumped back squealing, “That’s not possible, you aren’t even one hundred yet, but it’s very dark and very much past your bedtime which means it’s time for bed.”

Aria stamped her foot on the ground, pouting, “I don’t like bed. I don’t want to go to bed yet.”

Vaella let a small smile escape, knowing exactly where she got her stubbornness from, before she cleared her throat and looked at her daughter sternly, “Aria Tamara Longborn, right now, let’s go,” she got up and sat on the bed, making sure Aria knew she wasn’t planning on leaving her as soon as she fell asleep, “Look, I’m going to bed too. I’ve already left the streets so I might as well stay a bit don’t you think? I’m not leaving right now, I promise. Now, listen to your mother and get to bed.”

Aria studied her before deciding she was telling the truth and yawned, her eyes heavy. Vaella helped her into her pajamas, a soft purple nightgown that Aria called her “princess dress”, watched her brush her teeth, then held the dragon out to her and Aria took the dragon and climbed into bed, curling up around her animal before looking up at her, “Mommy, are you going to die?”

Vaella frowned, running her fingers through her daughter’s hair, the curls tangled after the long day, “One day I will, perhaps, but that’s not something you need to have on your mind or be afraid of. Why are you asking that?”

Aria shrugged, holding her dragon tightly, her eyelids heavy with sleep, “Cleo said I have to be ready when you and daddy die because then you’ll come and find me and take me to the Fae King since I’m a moon.”

Vaella smiled softly, looking down at her, “You’re immune not a moon. You don’t have to worry about that Aria, mommy and daddy won’t look for you if we..” She trailed off, not wanting to finish the sentence, then sighed, wishing her daughter wouldn’t have to think of her parents delivering her to the darkness, “It’s time for bed, now go to sleep.”

“Cleo always sings to me before I go to sleep.”

Vaella laughed, then began to sing Aria’s favorite lullaby, “Leave her Johnny, leave her. Oh, leave her Johnny, leave her. For the voyage is long, and the winds don’t blow, and it’s time for us to leave her.”

Before the song was over, Aria fell asleep almost instantly, her tiny arm wrapped around her blue dragon. Vaella watched her sleep for a moment, her mind away from the war raging outside the tavern for the first time in a long time, and brushed back Aria’s unruly curls from her face before kissing her on the forehead, blowing out the candle, and falling instantly asleep herself.  

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