The sea air hit her nostrils with a sting causing them to flare and take in a sharp breath as she pushed open the cabin door. She was still unused to life at sea, the fresh air, the temperatures, the sun . It was all so different from what Jenna had become accustomed to in Prox the past few years.
Tugging her cloak around her tighter the redhead tossed her hood up and moved swiftly across the deck, being careful of where the surf had come up over and covered the wooden flooring. Saturos was at the helm guiding the ship south, around Hesperia, past Atteka, and north after the southern tip of Gondowan he had said.
Jenna knew nothing of the places and names they spoke, learning of them only through maps and schedules as she was prepared for this mission back home.
She shook the thought of Vale from her head, getting sentimental now would only make the remaining time before she got there all the harder, and climbed up to the crow’s nest. There Menardi leaned casually against the railings, pink scales a stark contrast to the expanse of blue sea all around them.
The Proxian woman gave a simple nod to Jenna, grabbing her scythe and disappearing down the ladder as quickly as Jenna has ascended it, allowing her to begin her daily shift as the guard watch.
With a long sigh Jenna leaned against the railing as Menardi had done, idly scanning the surrounding waters for any hint of monsters. Not that there were many in these seas to begin with. There had been a few nests pocketed around the sparse icebergs of the Northern Sea, but further south there was less to worry about. Besides, what monsters would be dumb enough to even come near a ship with this much Psynergetic power on board?
Jenna knew she never would have all those years ago.
“Where are you taking us?” A much younger Jenna looked in horror at the ship docked in this strange corner of Angara--north of Loho she would later discover.
“I told you already,” The dragon woman--Menardi--snapped as she pushed Jenna forward, towards the ship. “We’re taking you to Prox.”
Jenna had heard that word a lot since these strange people had saved her and the others from the river. Prox, in a land to the far north, even further than this strange place beyond the protective mountains of Vale.
“If you want to return to Vale, you’re going to co-operate . We can’t exactly bring you back.”
The logic was cruel, at best. No matter how many times Jenna heard it, those few sentences paraphrased over the three weeks, she felt her heart twinge in pain, the kind that comes from being separated unwillingly from things you love.
And what choice had she? None as far as these dragon people--Proxians they were called--were concerned, and her parents had come to accept this too. Yes, they owed their lives to Saturos and Menardi, but it was their actions that endangered them in the first place.
They didn’t want Vale knowing.
So now they were no better than prisoners
As she staggered forward, Jenna looked back at the ragtag group--Saturos, Menardi, her parents, and Isaac’s father- - and decided she could only hope for the best.
Jenna took her first steps upon the ship, doing her best to not cry. For Felix, she told herself, if I want to see Felix again, I’m going to have to prove that it wasn’t a mistake keeping me.
Jenna watched her family step on the ship as well and moved towards them, murmuring softly, “I will take us home. I promise.”
“Oh Jenna,” Lunete hugged Jenna tightly, “It’s not your fault, my dear. We’ll be fine, so long as we stick together.”
Lunete’s complacency worried Jenna more than Jenna would let on. But that was neither here n or there; once they were all on the ship, and had begun sailing away, Jenna leaned against the side of the boat, watching the coast become further and further away.
She didn’t leave her spot until Angara was out of sight.
A week and a half later, Jenna finally made the call. She looked out the spyglass, not being able to mistake the fuzzy shape for a glare from the ocean any longer. She climbed down from her spot in the crow’s nest, heading towards Saturos to show him.
“Right there. You said we should hit Idejima today or tomorrow, yeah?”
Saturos took the spyglass from her and peered through it facing northward. Without a doubt that was the Venus Lighthouse standing tall in the distance, dwarfing all that surrounded it.
Handing the instrument back to her he gave a quick nod, “Provided the pace holds and no distractions come our way we should make a landing tonight.”
Jenna turned her gaze back north to the yellow spire emerging from the earth, folding the spyglass back up and stuffing it in a pouch, “And what is this Idejima place? Have you been there before? Is it a town?”
Saturos had taken hold of the wheel again guiding the ship toward their target, “No, a simple peninsula. It is secluded enough to hide our ship without anyone stumbling across it. I have never been there, nor has Menardi, Prox has sent teams out to the Lighthouses to investigate before. They were the ones who found Idejima the safest and closest place to Venus.”
Jenna nodded along silently, she had learned of the multiple expeditions Prox had undertaken since discovering the Northern Wastes were receding. They had sent many to Vale even before she was born. Why had Vale not believed them?
Then again, would she have believed them?
“Inform Menardi and Alex, begin packing, be sure everything is ready,” Saturos punctuated the last word by turning to Jenna. “We do not need to waste any more time.”
A quick nod and Jenna had disappeared into the cabin to give the order. There were maps and books strewn about the common room table, notes and locations and marks stuck to each of them or sitting between the pages. Alex was lounging in a nearby chair studying a book, she wasn’t sure what it may have been as the cover was almost completely blank. Perhaps a notebook of his own?
“Alex, we’ll make landing tonight, get packed.” Jenna spoke quick and tried to move below deck to the bedrooms as fast as she could so as not to deal with Alex’s patronising tone. Unfortunately rather than following from behind her, his voice came from the bottom of the stairs.
“Of course, dear Jenna.” He smirked as he pushed open the door into his own room.
Jenna groaned in frustration, Prick . She found it really difficult to tolerate the Imilian and his insufferable holier-than-thou attitude, she would have objected to him coming on the journey if not for his wealth of knowledge about Alchemy and his experience with the Mercury Lighthouse.
Rapping once, twice, thrice, upon Menardi’s door, Jenna called out to her mentor, “Menardi, Saturos says we’ll be at Idejima by night, be ready.”
The woman called back a response in some slow Common Weyard tongue, they had all taken to try and learn it, and Alex being fluent in more dialects than they knew frustrated them to no end. He was even adept at Valean, how he had learned so many of Weyard’s tongues and secrets was beyond any of them.
Head shaking, Jenna continued down the corridor to her room and quickly packed her belongings as effectively as she could. In her head she ran through the checklist again, again, and again. Tent, clothes, armour, compass, whetstones, utensils, knives, rope, pot, plate, canteen.
Satisfied she had not forgotten anything she hauled her rucksack onto her back and carried it upstairs, only to find herself incredibly irritated as Alex warped in with his beside him.
“What, do you wait for me to pull this shit?” Jenna dropped her bag with a resounding thud for emphasis.
Alex let out a light chuckle, “Such language, Jenna, I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
Jenna rolled her eyes and pushed past the Mercury Adept and out onto the deck. A wave crashed against the ship tossing surf across the floor and almost covering the young Mars Adept as she strode across it.
“Alex and I are packed, I’m sure Menardi will be too soon enough.” She spoke quick and to the point.
Saturos nodded, gesturing to the large cranks either side of the wheel, “Drop anchor. I will make ready and we can go over the travel plan before resuming course.”
Jenna hurried to both anchors and released them as soon as she could. Saturos was already inside by the time the first anchor had hit the seabed. The young girl paused as the second anchor dropped, looking out north across the sea and to Venus Lighthouse.
Venus. Her brother’s element. Isaac’s.
How were they? How had life in Vale been since she and the others had vanished? Did they think her dead? Would she even recognise them when she reached Vale? Would they understand?
“Jenna!” Menardi’s voice snapped both her reverie and her gaze, flipping around to face the woman, “We’re going over the travel plans. Come.”
The journey north through Gondowan and Angara was largely uneventful. The group was sure to steer clear of populated centres and generally tried to set up a camp rather than find a roadside inn unless provisions were running low.
The weeks seemed to breeze by as they moved north. Jenna was unused to the unfamiliar terrain of a desert as they passed through, the sand and heat such a huge difference from what she had become accustomed to. Thankfully it was a short and easy journey, with only the occasional large animal attack.
They continued north passing by several small villages and towns and the biggest city Jenna had ever seen--Tolbi, she learned-- and passed countless amount of travellers and merchants selling wares along a land-locked sea. Jenna was a little overwhelmed if she was honest. She saw so many different people, so many different styles of weapons, armours, clothes, foods, and decorative charms of all shapes and sizes. She had never known Weyard could be so… diverse .
They continued on passed another grand city, it seemed to be where all the merchants were congregating--Kalay, Alex informed her-- and stopped for a quick resupply for the short journey north to a small town named Vault.
“You two can stay in Vault tonight,” Saturos dropped his pack and pointed northeast from the river to the town.
Jenna raised an eyebrow as she looked back from Saturos to Vault, “Two? You’re not joining us this time?” Whenever they had decided to stay at an inn during their journey the two warriors had gone with them, hooded and cloaked while Alex dealt with the innkeepers and merchants.
“This is our last stop before Vale,” Menardi pointed northwest to a formation of mountains, “Mt. Aleph and Vale are a week’s walk from here, even less if we don’t dawdle.”
Both Jenna’s and Alex’s eyes followed Menardi’s fingers to the mountain range. Rising above all the others was the peak of Mt. Aleph. Jenna’s jaw locked a little as she chewed the inside of her lip. She wanted to say it looked familiar. That was her home . She wanted to say she recognised every peak and every rock that she could see from here… but she couldn’t.
“We’ll need to restock our supplies and provisions now, and we would rather not risk the chance of a trail should things go less than admirably in Sol Sanctum,” Saturos said simply as he set up a fire pit. “We will likely not have the chance to stop here again if we are followed from Vale.”
Jenna grimaced a little. She didn’t much mind the thought of staying in an actual bed tonight, but staying the night with just Alex? That seemed like some cruel punishment.
“It will only be until early morning,” Saturos continued. “There is a small forest northwest of Vault, we’ll meet there at sunrise. Be sure to get as many supplies as you can, and if possible compare maps of the surrounding area in the event ours are outdated.”
Jenna was nodding along to the orders, used to such things, before the uncharacteristic silence of her travelling partner for the night roused her suspicions. Alex was still staring toward the peaks surrounding Mt. Aleph, his gaze seeming oddly focused upon it.
“You get all that, Alex?” It was rare to catch the Imilian off guard, but Jenna took great delight in the fact that Alex snapped back to reality rather than keeping his usual calm composure.
“I’m sure it was no different than any other time we’ve been allowed the luxury of an actual bed,” Alex remarked, his usual tone of obnoxious superiority returning as though nothing had happened.
Within the hour the two had passed through the gates to Vault and gone through it’s various shops to fill their bags with whatever they could carry. Alex was unusually quiet, occasionally stealing glances toward Mt. Aleph whenever he could.
They booked into the inn, gathering news about local events and areas. Apparently a merchant lord would be coming through Vault within the next week or two on his way to Vale to sell rare items from Eastern Angara if they were looking for items or for coin as bodyguards for his caravan.
They were warned away from the north where a town of thieves was settled, but all seemed to match up with the maps and knowledge they had of central Angara.
They checked in for the night and Alex regained his insufferable edge now that they had settled, thankfully there were separate rooms so she could escape him for the most part.
By sunrise they had regrouped with Saturos and Menardi and were on their way to Vale.
“Jenna, your mask.”
Jenna blinked once or twice as she broke her gaze away from the familiar gates of Vale to look at Menardi. The woman gave a raised eyebrow and an impatient tapping of her foot as a response before Jenna caught up with what was said.
“O-oh!” Hands quickly scrambled through her bag as she searched for the mask she had been given by Menardi’s sister before leaving Prox. Pulling the smooth wooden mask from her bag, she idly traced her fingers over the coloured stripes before pulling the strings around her head and tightening them, tugging her hood above her hair to best hide her identity.
Giving a quick nod to confirm it was secure and that she was ready, the two Proxians hiked the hoods of their cloaks up to cover their more alien features as best they could before allowing Alex to lead them into the town.
Jenna… wasn’t okay.
She wasn’t ready.
She had been envisioning this moment in her head repeatedly over the last months, she had been preparing for it and doing her best to psyche herself up for it.
But nothing prepared her for this .
The crushing familiarity of it all.
How nothing at all seemed different, even though she, her parents, Kyle, and so many others had their lives changed forever that day. Vale had continued on, all the same. She recognised so many faces. Something she certainly hadn’t expected.
Children still ran around and played near the inn--she almost swore that was little Daniel and Audrey-- and the older Valeans congregated at the north of the plaza. The tables were set up outside the inn, people were sitting around sharing laughs as waitresses brought them drinks and shared in the stories of the day.
The Psynergy Stone still stood proud and shining at the centre of the plaza pond.
“Alright! I’m as full as I’m going to get. Let’s go save Felix!”
Jenna shook her head, doing her best to physically shake the thoughts of her last night in Vale out of her.
Of course, such a thing was easier said than done. Every inch around them only served as a painful reminder to what Jenna no longer had--the safety and comfort of Vale, a family whole, and a life much simpler and peaceful than the one Jenna lived now.
Thankfully--or perhaps, not so thankfully--Jenna and Alex were sent ahead to get rooms from the inn. And as if sensing Jenna’s distress, Alex did most of the talking, his smooth voice--using the right words, but enough of an accent to sound foreign , as to not alarm those who ran the inn.
Jenna had known how much that had bothered her, how Alex sounded just like her, despite Vale having been a secret. Alex breathed a soft, sheepish laugh, as Jenna tuned in enough to hear, ‘--and we misread our map that badly to end up this way.’
All intentional. Alex had that charismatic way about him, where it made you want to be liked by him. Jenna hated it; it made her feel slimy on the inside, like she was nothing more than a pawn to Alex, but she had known him for a long time; it was only natural that she saw through his manipulations.
Rooms were secured for them, eventually. Jenna stayed quiet as she watched Vale from her window. Idly in some corner of her mind she registered that Alex had gone. Saturos and Menardi had still not returned, gone to speak with Kraden she knew, but none of it really clicked with her.
Vale was entirely separated from her with this piece of wood on her face. It would be so simple to just tear it off, rip the strings binding it to her and run to her brother and her friends and rejoin her previous life.
Jenna found her hand on the mask, maybe to act on the thought, maybe to try and steady herself, maybe to just try and feel something. She reached it out to touch the window, staring down at the Psynergy Stone in the center of town.
Breath she didn’t know had been caught in her throat was sucked down all at once in a gasp before escaping again.
That must have been them. It was unmistakable. The three of them were moving quickly through the plaza toward the inn.
Had Garet not broken this habit yet? She made sure to tug her cloak and hood tighter around herself, doing her best to hide any possible trace of her identity. She stood pensively at the window, trying all at once to seem at ease and to not, her body stiff and loose all at once as she tried to act as casual as she possibly could.
“Excuse me, miss?” Gods, even Garet’s voice sounded so familiar to her, throwing her into a whirlpool of memories.
She did her best to turn to him, silent, in acknowledgement.
And there they were.
The three most important people to her at one point in her life, maybe still. Her brother, hair still loosely falling about his head and tied just under his shoulder--gods and elements an old ornament of hers was used--and hand on his hip in his usual pose.
Isaac just in front of him; a gloved hand in his constant bedhead of hair as it rubbed back and forth, blue eyes scanning over Jenna’s cloaked form curiously. He still had that scarf dangling from his shoulder. How many times had he wrapped her in that very scarf as they spent time together?
Garet was at the front, mouth wide in a toothy grin that she didn’t know she had missed so much. He had grown the most of them, he was always the biggest of the four of them but now his arms were easily twice the size of hers. As if he needed to be any bigger with a flame of hair springing up from his head adding at least another foot to his already towering posture.
Garet’s hand was extended in greeting before any more words were spoken. She glanced to it behind the mask, doing her best to hide any and all gestures, hesitating for a moment, maybe a second, before grasping it in a quick handshake.
“What business have you with me?” The mask and Proxian accent she had picked up no doubt helped to hide whatever recognisable traits of her voice there may be, but she still did her best to make it deeper and alter it.
“I’m Garet,” he said brightly. “I’m the Mayor’s son. On behalf of Vale I’d like to welcome you. It’s kinda my unofficial job to make sure I do, kind of a preparation for when I become mayor.”
“Garet, no one has ever asked you to do this.” Isaac quipped.
“And there’s really no way this prepares you for being, Mayor,” Felix added. “Studying like your father asks you would do that better.”
Jenna was glad for the mask hiding the wide and painful smile behind her mask. They were still so much the same.
She honestly wanted to cry.
“Excuse my friends’ rudeness, ma’am,” Jenna could see Garet resisting the urge to yell at the two boys. “I do hope you enjoy your stay. If there’s anything you need just ask for me and I’m sure we can work something out for your party.”
With that and a wave and a nod the boys were gone.
Jenna stood still, watching them disappear down the stairs and away from her, tears rolling down her face.
Sneaking past the guard about an hour after Felix, Isaac, Garet, and Kraden was far too easy. A peaceful life in Vale had not prepared the Sanctum for a raid--nevermind a second one--upon the safety of Mount Aleph. Plus, Alex’s Psynergy of Warp had allowed for it to be even easier to sneak across the guard’s line of sight.
Despite the sinking feeling in her stomach, Jenna continued on, right behind Saturos and Menardi, who had led the party of four in. Alex was the rear guard, for the event any monsters beyond overgrown animals or animated slime, or mushrooms, had dared to attack. The weakest link in that event was Jenna, but even then, Jenna was still stronger than any monster inside the sanctum.
It was the traps they truly needed to worry about. It seemed that Felix’s group had disarmed most of them, however, and it made life easier for Jenna, Saturos, Menardi, and Alex. That is, of course, if they managed to keep pace with the boys and Kraden while staying out of sight.
The ancients obviously didn’t want any interlopers at all getting through the sanctum. Every time the group got through a room the ancient mechanisms sprang to life and reset any and all objects and traps to bar access to anyone who followed behind. They did their best to keep up with the others to prevent getting trapped and losing track of the party.
For hours they trekked, through room after room, watching the boys solve puzzle after puzzle, fighting off tiny monsters and a mechanical beast that Saturos claimed they had destroyed during their first raid, and ascending and descending stairs after stairs until Jenna wasn’t sure if she was far above or below Vale.
“Menardi,” Saturos said his companion’s name in a hushed voice as they reached a new room.
“I know, Saturos.”
Both of their eyes were fixed upon a mural of the sun upon the floor of a large open room. Both Jenna and Alex exchanged a glance as the two knelt by the floor offering hushed words in Proxian. Jenna picked up a few, recognising them as those used in the funeral rites of Prox.
She allowed her compatriots to finish their prayers in peace, moving deeper into the room to try and keep up with her brother and the others. Peering through an opening into a largely similar room she found Kraden pacing around alone.
She could hear him muttering and mumbling to himself, picking up scattered words about Alchemy and the ancients as he examined the counterpart to the room she was in.
A bolt of lightning.
Jenna jumped back as lightning struck a corner of both the murals of the moon and the sun at once. Alex was at Jenna’s side in an instant and then both of them were out of the room with Saturos and Menardi pressed cautiously against the corner of the wall leading to the Sol room.
“Just like the first time,” Saturos growled. Menardi cursed beside him in Proxian.
“What happened?” Jenna asked in a hushed voice.
“That’s exactly what happened three years ago,” Saturos explained as they watched the room behind them. The mural of the sun was shifting into a moon. “We went deeper into the sanctum and found statues surrounding matching runes in these rooms.”
“Saturos and I returned here as the others were tasked with solving the puzzles.” Menardi added on, “Suddenly we were surrounded by lightning and quakes. We tried to reach the others but the way to them was barred, we had no choice but to run.”
“We lost our entire party to this infernal trap.”
“But, it seems it’s been deactivated by your former friends,” Menardi smiled wide as she watched the Sol mural transform completely to Luna.
The group watched pensively as Felix and the others returned from the other rooms, doing their best to overhear any snippets of conversation. Mostly Kraden was talking at an excited pace, facts, theories, and possibilities spilling from his mouth as he examined the room and the light focused upon the north wall.
The boys approached it and in a flash it opened up into a portal twice the size of them, swirling silently against the wall as Kraden marvelled at the sight, more theories spilling from him.
One by the one the team disappeared into the portal, floating for a brief moment and then disappearing through the vortex.
Jenna and the others waited a moment for Garet--the last of the four-- to go through the portal before advancing into the room, cautiously examining both the adjacent room and the portal.
“Wait,” Jenna paused spinning around to get a full view of the room, “where’s Alex?”
The two Proxians took quick glances around the surrounding area to locate their Mercury aligned companion.
“We can’t wait for him,” Menardi said impatiently, moving up to the portal. “He’s smart enough to figure out where we’ve gone. We can’t allow the Valeans to keep the Stars from us any longer.”
“Alex can fend for himself,” and with an air of finality Saturos stepped into the portal, followed quickly after by Menardi.
Jenna stepped up to the portal after them, staring deep into the swirling oval, wondering what awaited her on the other side.
Confrontation, no doubt.
Jenna inhaled through her nose and walked into the portal.