CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 11 ♦ The Seventh Beast
Valeriana felt lost. She had been determined when she entered Varialon, but now, she felt what Barver, the wine merchant, told her about. City Invisible, City of the Lost—it made sense. But what did that name entail? It didn’t say the Lost City. It said City of the Lost. It was not too wrong. What would a person be called if she could not find her way? Lost, of course.
Despite the negativity of it all, she felt nostalgia in the mix as well. She had been this way when she first entered Valemnia nearly half a year ago and she had already adjusted well. Who knew history would repeat itself?
Valeriana felt a rush of chills climb down her spine and limbs as she hauled the mirrors, taking them down and storing them in a trunk after wrapping them with a thick fabric. She was working with one of the roustabouts named Carrier—like the air conditioner brand—who watched over the Hall of Mirrors. The first-string performers were also going about doing their own thing to help.
After they were done hauling, they stacked up the trunks and tied them up securely and pushed them against a stable corner.
“We’re all done, you’re free,” said the man and shooed her away. “I’m sure you’d like to do some sightseeing. I suggest going outside and enjoying the show, but make sure to hold on tight.”
With that, he walked off, whistling joyfully while Valeriana watched him leave. She left the tents after him and stepped into the cold night. There was nothing, save for the stars, the bright, big moon, and the flaring torch lights that trailed the hill to light up De Cirque.
Everything was lively despite the further deepening of the night.
“Hey, Valery—Val . . . right?”
She turned to look at the caller and found Lundie, now in more casual and loose clothes, walking to her direction, in his arms was a small box.
“Val is fine,” she said.
“You finished yet?” he asked.
“Yes, just got done.”
“I’m going uphill to observe. Maridie will also be there. Want to come watch with us?”
“Sure.” She began walking with him. “What exactly are we going to watch?”
“The best part about it is the surprise.”
“Oh well.” She shrugged.
“You got in so fast,” he told her with a chuckle, brushing back the burst of light ash on his head. “Any particular reason why Lady Arisce accepted you so easily? Trust is earned the hard way around here since we touch on very sensitive matters.”
The grass crunched under their feet.
“She knew my father,” Valeriana replied. “They go a long way back.”
Lundie’s brows furrowed as he gazed at her with wonder. “You’re a breacher.”
She didn’t affirm his thoughts and instead smiled lightly.
“I sort of already knew with how you were ranting in the Big Top back there, but I needed something to confirm it.” He sighed. “The world outside is another sensitive topic, some people are not very fond of the idea,” he said.
“Why is that?”
“Because it’s hard to believe that beyond these skies is a bigger world. That aside from this small city, there is an even bigger civilization. That we come from somewhere that is not the lands we are born into.” Lundie shook his head. “Varialon is a troubled city. Since we’re treated as entertainers, people don’t take us very seriously.”
“How come they don’t believe?” She frowned. “It’s right there, staring them in the face.”
“It’s just the way it is,” he said. “People who’ve never seen something will never believe it unless they see it themselves, the words and accounts of other people are not enough to make them believe. They believe it’s a myth.”
“But the gods come here, don’t they?”
“That hardly changes anything. Even if the gods are around, they don’t show themselves very much.”
“Is there a chance I can meet them?”
Lundie stopped which made her do so as well. “Are you serious? You can’t just ask if you can meet them!”
“You can, but . . . it’s near impossible.”
“I have to try. It’s what I came here for.”
They reached the hilltop, just beside the Big Top. The height offered a view of the distant village, the twinkling lights that glittered from the houses away. Maridie was sitting on the grass with her legs lined close, staring up at the skies. Their appearance made her turn their way and wave joyfully, brown hair bouncing in large curls.
“Lundie! Newbie!” she exclaimed.
“I got some snacks!” Lundie said, bringing over the box in his hands to Maridie.
“Yes!” Maridie laughed. “Come on, come on, it’s about the start soon!”
Valeriana didn’t bother asking what ‘it’ was. She sat on the grass beside Maridie with a small smile, crossing her legs in yoga position as the other girl took the box from Lundie and opened it to reveal sweet treats. She offered some to Valeriana who did not bother acting modest, picking one off and popping it into her mouth.
It was a bit too sweet for her taste, but to not be rude, she forced it down.
Lundie spread out a small cloth on the ground before he moved to sit. However, mischievous as Maridie was, she snatched it right off split second before his rear landed.
“Maridie!” Lundie scolded fiercely as he jumped up as though he was set on fire.
His trapeze partner was laughing madly at his reaction. Lundie made a face, but uttered nothing else aside from her name. He desperately dusted off his pants and snatched the cloth right back. This time, he held it down as he sat so that Maridie would not be able to do what she did.
Valeriana smiled at their antics. They reminded her so much of Genevieve and Zevlin.
Maridie continued stuffing herself with the treats Lundie brought, the brown curls falling on her eyes as she turned to Valeriana and offered more of the food. “Want more?”
“No, thanks.” She shook her head.
“Thanks for saying no,” she said. “Now I have more for myself.”
Valeriana chuckled at her reply and lifted her head to look at the stars. There were millions of them, scattered like glitters. Valemnia was beautiful to begin with. Its people’s affinity with the elements and interaction with beasts have brought it much closer to nature than Earth. The air in Varialon differed by a margin and it contained a presence she was unable to pinpoint.
Even so, whatever ‘it’ was that they kept telling her to ‘enjoy’, she didn’t want to miss a second.
“Can I call you Val since you don’t have a name, yet? Valeriana’s a little mouthful,” Maridie said.
“She’s a breacher,” Lundie said.
“Wha—really? No wonder!” Maridie leaned closer, excited and curious. “Oh gods, are there new stories? Lady Arisce tells us a lot of them!”
“I don’t know much about the oral tradition,” Valeriana stated as she scratched her scalp. “And I’m afraid my experiences may not be as common as any other Valemnian.”
“Oh, that’s fine. Any stories will do.”
“Well, if it’s just stories, I have a load of them.”
Maridie began stuffing herself once more to the point that her cheeks bulged and the food began leaking from her firmly closed lips. There was silence, save for the whispers of the breeze and the crickets singing in the night.
The ground trembled, catching her completely by surprise. Her fingers grasped the blades of grass along with the dirt as she shifted to a more stable position to accommodate the sudden shift in the weight.
“Whoop! There we go!” Maridie began.
“Wha—what is this . . .”
The sky above shifted much to her shock and she felt movement below. The hill seemingly detached itself from the ground with sharp crunches that made her heart pound. She assumed it was an Earthquake, but judging from the look on her companions’ face, it wasn’t. And they knew it would happen.
Was this the surprise?
“De Cirque’s seventh beast,” Lundie declared with a proud smile.
“He carries us on his back,” Maridie finished for him.
“A beast this big?” she gaped at them in shock. “What kind of beast is it?”
“The huge kind,” Maridie replied, which made her deadpan. “Miss Arisce called it a Giando when we asked her and it’s very reclusive. It allowed us on its back but it would cyclically rest anywhere it deemed comfortable before moving. It’s kinda great, actually. And nobody dares approach us when it’s not performance night because we pretty much have a guardian.”
“So that’s why those people attack during the shows whenever they get the chance. What’s the next town you’re going to perform in?” she queried.
“Prevnia,” Lundie replied. “But I heard we’re going fishing first. John needs to soak under the sun.”
“Our Giando, of course.”
“Why would you pick such a common name?” Valeriana questioningly stared at the two.
“It’s common?” Maridie raised a brow. “We thought it was pretty strange.”
Valeriana had to facepalm at her reply, laughter shaking her shoulders. “Right.”
She focused back on their ‘takeoff’ and found a large head akin to that of a turtle rise as tall as the hilltop they were on. Its head was riddled with trees with bits of rocks crumbling from every move. It made a painfully slow turn, heading to the direction of the distant sea. Large steps made them shake, but it wasn’t startling enough to make them fall off.
“This is cool,” Valeriana said.
“We should be in the beach by morning,” said Maridie. “Have you any room, yet?”
“No.” Valeriana shook her head.
“Come with us, then.” Lundie stood, taking the cloth he sat on with him. “Lady Arisce should have something for you.”
It did not take long before they reached the tent Lady Arisce was staying in. The path was a bit hard to trek considering the trembling going on with each giant steps John was making. The moment they reached the tent, Lundie and Maridie bid her their goodbyes and went their separate ways. She was left standing awkwardly outside the woman’s tent, debating whether or not she should continue.
“Come in, Valeriana. Why are you standing out there?” a soft voice rang.
Valeriana grinned sheepishly as she lifted the flaps and entered, scanning the room twice for any signs of a blade rushing to her face. When there was none, she let her guard down a bit and watched the woman as she strung several beads to form an intricately woven necklace.
“How did you find De Cirque today?” Arisce asked.
“It was . . . overwhelming, sort of,” she replied.
“Sit down. Do you want food?”
“No. I just want to rest.”
“Then I’ll bring you to where you’ll be staying.” She stood, leaving the necklace she was making in a box, sitting with an organized section of beads and strings. She closed them tight and put them on the floor under the table before she gestured for Valeriana to follow. “Come.”
She was led two tents down from Arisce. The tent wasn’t so small to be cramped, but it was personal and was enough for a single person. Inside, there was a wooden bed dressed in fresh, clean sheets, a single table and a chair. There was even a small couch.
“It’s not lavish,” Arisce said. “But this should do.”
“Yes, it’s alright.” Valeriana nodded. “Thank you very much for taking me in. It means a lot.”
“It’s not a problem. Anything for an old friend.” The woman smiled. “Now, there is one thing I need to know about.”
Valeriana gazed into her icy blue eyes. “What is it?”
“What did you come to Varialon for, specifically?”
“I came to look for a god,” she replied straightforwardly. The way it rang in her ears made her cringe. She sounded absurd.
“Aether. I need his blessing. He’s the last one,” she said. “That I know of.”
“For what reason?”
To her shock, Arisce made her way to the bed and sat down. She beckoned Valeriana with her finger and patted the open spot beside her.
“I need to know how I can help you, Valeriana. You need to trust me with the truth.”