CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 15 ♦ Hostage
“Don’t let his words get to you,” was the first thing she heard after they were left in the room. Beard had been cautious, watching both the Lady Commander and the leader of the Fire Faction take their leave. However, even after they were left alone, he remained vigilant.
“It’s alright. I know myself. I may be stupid, but I’m not a fool,” she said.
“Is that possible?” Beard frowned.
She glared at him before turning to Runner, who was still scared stiff from where he sat.
“Anyhow, you shouldn’t say that,” Beard said. “The know yourself part, I mean. If there’s one thing this city is good at shaking it’s the person’s knowledge of his own self. While the effect is subjective, it’s still pretty much the same.”
Valeriana sighed. “It wouldn’t be called City of the Lost if it wasn’t good in making people feel that way. Still . . . Beard, I didn’t want to hear him explain further because it’s obvious he has a screw loose. Although I should be listening some more, I get this bad feeling whenever I heard him talk.”
“He does give that impression,” Beard agreed.
“I’m absolutely against handing over the beasts, I can reassure you that,” she told him. “But I don’t get where he’s coming from. Why is he so intent on getting them aside from becoming more powerful? And yeah, opening a way back?”
“What he said carried some form of truth,” he told her. “It is indeed possible.”
Valeriana shifted on her seat, invested on knowing. “What are you saying?”
“There’s a reason why Lady Arisce gathered them before. She was planning on doing it herself back then.”
She frowned. “What changed?”
“The consequences. It was too much for her to take the risk,” he said. “Although it is possible to use the beasts in opening a path, it also meant destroying the balance in the city and destroying the city itself.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Yes, if there weren’t any people living in it.” He shook his head. “If ever the gates do open through this method, it can only bring back a very small amount of people at a time. Even then, it’s dangerous. You can be transported anywhere—in the middle of the sea, in a volcano. It cannot be determined.”
“That’s nuts.” Valeriana had to hold her head. “Then how do you leave this place?”
“That’s the answer we’ve been trying to seek for many years, yet, we cannot come up with anything else. There’s still another way and we haven’t found what that is. We just cannot travel down this path.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry you have to go through this straight out. I suppose we should’ve been more inconspicuous.”
“It’s alright. You were trying your best to throw off anyone who tried to follow us, we just didn’t expect them to have been a step ahead.”
“It’s going to be okay,” he told the both of them. “Lady Arisce works magic. Let’s leave it to her.”
“You don’t expect us to stay here?” Valeriana lowered her voice. “We’re just going to sit around and wait for them to get us out?”
“We cannot be reckless, Valeriana,” he said. “You cannot forget we have Runner with us.”
He made sense. The boy was still young, approaching his pre-adolescent years.
“I can handle it,” said Runner, voice trembling and eyes laced with tears. “I told Lady Arisce I can handle it. She let me come because I told her I can. I can’t let her down.”
Valeriana stroked the boy’s shoulder to offer comfort as she turned Beard. “Is this his first time?”
“He’s been to things like this a bunch of times,” Beard told her. “But this should be the first time he got into this kind of situation. But more than him, I feel sorry for you. This should be your first time.”
“You’re worried about me? I got sidetracked by bandits when I first came.”
“I beat the hell out of them, of course!” she proudly declared.
Beard huffed. “Really.”
“Is that so hard to believe?”
“No. Those thieves aren’t worth anything, anyway. They try to get by with intimidation and mostly target small merchants who can’t afford mercenaries during their travel. If you think that’s amazing, your standards are horribly low.”
Valeriana indignantly glared at Beard. “And being kidnapped by the enemy is impressive?” she bit back.
Beard chuckled. “Aha, I lose to that one. You’ve got quite a mouth on you, banshee.”
“Of co—who are you calling banshee?”
“Didn’t you just see yourself when you yelled at that man?” His eyes twinkled with amusement. “Your voice was so high, you nearly broke my ears.”
“Break your ears?” Her nose flared as she crossed her arms. “You’ll know how hard I can break them if you don’t stop. Honestly. Shouldn’t you be doing some thinking right now? Like, I don’t know! Getting out of this place?”
“Why are you panicking? If you’re in so much rush, you won’t perform really well.”
“Perform? What is this? A show?”
Beard smirked. “Everything in De Cirque is a show, Valeriana,” he said.
Her brows shot to her hairline.
“What was the first thing you learned when you came to us?” Beard continued.
“That you guys are crazy.”
“Other than that.”
She sighed. “Make do with what you have.”
“Exactly. And what do we have right now with us?”
“I don’t know. I’m not that smart to think up of plans like this. Gods, if Charles was here, I expect something cool to come out of his mouth.” She held her head, troubled at how fast the whirring in her head was going.
“We have food.” Beard stood and grabbed a bunch of cakes off the plates. “So we eat.”
Valeriana’s jaw dropped open in shock. “Are you serious?”
“Am I?” He threw them in his mouth and started chewing.
“I think he is,” Runner said. The young boy brightened before he went for the food as well and started stuffing himself full.
Valeriana did not know what to do except stare at them while they ate. She could not wrap her mind around how casual the two of them had become. Even if she wanted to take part in their feast, her stomach was quiescent.
Her thoughts drifted back to De Cirque and Lady Arisce. She had left behind most of her things as she thought she wouldn’t need them. The sword she usually carried was too eye-catching while she wore a dress and it pretty much ruined the ‘undercover’ thing so she opted for a small knife in her boots—it was obviously confiscated. Her jade sphere was also left behind, thankfully. She had no issues even if the members of De Cirque probed around. They would think of it as a normal ‘ball’ like she’d done when she first got it.
She still wore Cifaro around her finger. While she still didn’t have much control over the element through the Gilerad’s affinity, she could still rely on it as last resort. Her ‘secret’ with the Direct Control matter was pretty much out of the bag and they would be led thinking she had no element. What she didn’t know was whether or not that green-eyed brunette would tell Aleser.
It would honestly be better if she did. It wasn’t like she could stop it. It might work to their advantage.
“Hungry?” Beard offered her a cake.
She shook her head. “I don’t like sweets.”
“How very unfeminine.”
“Seriously?” Valeriana grunted. “Stop commenting on how girly or ungirly I am, okay?”
“Because it’s insulting,” she said.
Valeriana stood and gazed around. The front door had been locked tight when the Deli and Aleser left. However, there was one more door standing on the other side of the room. She passed by the two boys who’d busied themselves with the food and reached for the knob. To her surprise, it was unlocked.
“What’s this room?” she thought aloud. She caught Beard and Runner perking up in attention as it clicked open.
“It’s oh . . .”
There were seven, comfortable, single beds queued up in the room, dressed in thick duvets and equipped with large, fluffy pillows. There was a large window set up on the farthest wall which welcomed a warm stream of sunlight to come through. She approached it, sweeping aside the peach wool curtains.
She felt disappointed after seeing it barred. “Ah, crap. I guess I shouldn’t have expected so much.”
Still, she went for the windows and pulled on them to see if they were locked. They weren’t. She unclasped the handles and let the breeze whip into the room like an excited lover.
“I’m surprised they actually let us have this much freedom—yeah, not so much freedom, but it’s understandable,” she muttered to herself.
“Is this room ours?” she heard Runner’s excited cheers. “Since it’s only going to be us three, can I push three beds together and make it mine?” he exclaimed. “That way, you guys can have two yourselves!”
Although he was asking, Runner didn’t bother waiting for their answer. He’d already gotten to work, pushing three of the beds in the middle together to create a king-sized one. Beard went to the other end of the room and lounged on the bed at the outmost corner.
Valeriana sat on the bed right beside the window, enjoying the cool breeze. The skyscraping towers were encased in the frames like a large painting she could not reach. Although this situation did not make her feel like a ‘prisoner’ very much, she still felt like a caged bird.
If these people thought that giving their captives a nice room with good food would not make them feel like captives, they were wrong. However, if this was for other plans, such as bringing down their guards, they should start thinking twice.
Although Valeriana did not know about the extent of her strength, she wasn’t bound to give up very soon.
Hours passed and the skies eventually darkened. Beard and Runner had fallen asleep on their beds while Valeriana remained wide awake. Her frazzled nerves were to blame. She felt jittery as though she drank ten cups of black coffee. On the other hand, there was the gnawing hunger that came with a mild pang of regret for not taking part in the feast earlier.
She trudged out of the room with the stirring beast in her stomach, eyeing the plate that had been full of cakes earlier. A small pout pulled on her lips, the frustration rising. She felt so bad about feeling so prideful before. Those cakes looked even tasty—hopefully they hadn’t been too sweet.
Footsteps edged the main door and keys jingled as the locks were turned. Valeriana took a step rearward warily as the entrance hatched, revealing Deli, the Lady Commander that had taken them captive.
“Where are you companions?” she asked, a light frown on her face. The dark brown hair had been piled neatly on top of her head in soft curls. The strong chin and the green of her eyes were bright—much like the name of the faction she belonged to.
“They’re sleeping,” Valeriana replied. “What is it?”
“You’ve been invited to dinner. Since your friends are sleeping, you’ll be the only one partaking, I suppose,” she replied, tugging on the pearl-white gloves that hugged her fingers.
Valeriana opened her mouth to yell.
“Don’t make so much noise.” Deli moved towards her. “Any excessive violence shall be rewarded with a punishment with equal severity,” she said.
“You call yelling violence?”
“Your voice can be incredibly damaging with the way you raised it a while ago, so yes, it is considered violence in your case.”
Valeriana felt insulted, but could not deny the truth of it.
“And the lord dislikes noises,” she told her, moving forward and towards her. “So if you do not wish to be treated badly, please do not displease him.”
“I’m the only one coming,” Valeriana stated. “Won’t my friends have anything to eat?”
“They will,” Deli said. “Just after you take your meal. So comply. You will not feel discomfited.”
“I already am right now, you know. How can you tell that to someone you just took captive?”
“I meant it in another way,” the Lady Commander said. “Now raise your hands. I was not able to thoroughly inspect you a while ago with the presence of men.”
“A little bit too late for that, don’t you think? I could’ve hidden my other things somewhere else,” she told the woman but did as she was told.
Her hands started patting her down—from her waist, her hips, the sleeves of her arms, her legs, and down to her thighs. “It’s just to ensure that you don’t do anything funny to Lord Aleser,” Deli said, standing back and rounding the girl.
Valeriana followed her and caught the woman’s eyes dropping to her neck, eyeing the chain the lined the bottom of it. Deli unhesitatingly tugged on the chain, unafraid of making contact as she was wearing gloves.
“Hey!” Valeriana protectively held the necklace down, hiding it between the fabric of her dress and skin. “What are you doing?”
“Making sure that whatever that is isn’t anything harmful.”
“It’s not harmful,” the fifth-ranker insisted. “Leave it alone.”
“I shall not until I see it.”
“Show it to me,” Deli demanded. “That is not a request.”
Deli did not wait for Valeriana’s consent, yanking her hands away. She harshly drew out the necklace, matching the fifth-ranker’s glare with a sharp one of her own. One hand pushed at Valeriana’s shoulders, keeping her still and in place as a key and a ring clicked and jingled at the suddenness.
Needless to say, the shock on the Lady Commander’s face could not be painted.