CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 20 ♦ The Parade
“You’ve only been out for thirty minutes at most. Can’t even last an hour?” Beard’s deriding tone greeted Valeriana as she was shoved into the room. The girl ended up stumbling inside, her hand reaching to pull off the oversized helmet from her head. “My acting had been really great, too. You put all my good, bestselling show to waste.”
“You know what they say.” She shrugged. “Life has its ups and downs. You can’t expect every attempt to be a victory. You have to lose sometimes and be on the disappointing end.”
“De Cirque has had a history of botched performances,” he said, mirroring the shrug she just gave him. “And yours is the first incident.”
Valeriana frowned at him. “Well, I’m sorry then! I wasn’t exactly the best undercover person there is. I did knock someone else out on my own.”
“So what do you want me to say?” he asked with a quirk of his thick brows and a twitch of the feet resting on his knee. He tapped on the upholster of the settee he was leisurely occupying. “Good job, kiddo? You can try again next time? If there will ever be even one.”
Two soldiers came in to retrieve their comrade stashed away in the other room while Aleser came in with a tight smile. He left the door wide open in his wake, the heavy steps turning lighter as they came to a stop before them. Runner sank on the armchair looking like a scolded child but kept his head up firmly, unwilling to seem cowardly. Valeriana sighed and gave the boy a small smile, hoping it would, in the least, offer him some strength. At the moment, she had nothing else.
“I see you’ve been busy entertaining yourselves while I was away,” Aleser said calmly. “Honestly, I do not know how you managed to do this but good job! That was a fantastic show. It is sad no one is watching.”
“If you had let us go, there will be several people laughing their rears off with how this banshee over here failed to live up to expectations and ended up screaming her way back into this room like—yes—a banshee.” Beard casually picked on his teeth, unabashed by the domineering presence of Aleser. He was an equally big man himself—a bit bigger than the Fire Faction’s so-called leader. If he stood, he would tower and stare the other man down.
Valeriana stifled the urge to a throw a punch at these two men. It seemed that, no matter where she went—Valemnia, Earth or Varialon—and stayed, her wits would be insulted the hell out of her. Still, she kept quiet and instead pursed her lips as she started pulling on the straps of the armor.
“That, I can see,” Aleser’s voice rang lowly. She knew his eyes had drifted to her but she refused to look up and meet them, pretending to be busy with getting out of the armor she stole from the poor guard.
Speaking of the guard, he was easily dragged out by his comrades—half naked, of course.
“So I wanted to ask a question before I fail to visit you,” he said. “That room only ever shows the things you want to see—but only what you’ve seen.”
Valeriana slid out of the leg guards. She swallowed. She knew she was the one being talked to.
“That means you can only look at places you’ve been to, the people you know by heart, and never what you don’t know.” There was a pause. “I always knew that some members of De Cirque were breachers. However, breachers had only shown the progressive cities of Farstead and the like. Even then, they did not forge a connection as powerful as yours—to have been able to nearly initiate a conversation. That world you journeyed to didn’t seem to be a part of Valemnia.”
Beard and Runner’s curious gaze shifted to the girl. Valeriana stopped.
“I wonder who you truly are, Valeriana. I do not think you are as complicated as I first thought you to be. You’re even more.” Aleser’s voice strengthened just as the Lady Commander appeared at the doorway, carrying with her a grim face. “Tell me your element. Or is it really even an element?”
Beard and Runner’s faces twisted into shock as Valeriana’s stomach coiled, the last piece of armor sliding off of her. Deli took long strides into the room.
It was a good thing both Beard and Runner knew to say nothing that would give her away.
“Aleser,” Deli said. “I think you will have to do this some other time.”
Moon silver eyes gazed at green ones. “Alright. I will be back for further inquiry.”
They both left through the doors, the Lady Commander shooting Valeriana and her companions warning looks over her shoulder.
Valeriana sighed. After a brief moment, they were, once again, caged birds.
But what Valeriana didn’t understand was why on Valemnia, Varialon, and Earth did Aleser not know about her Direct Control. Obviously, Deli had already long since found her out. Both her and the other woman had avoided physical contact since then except when truly necessary. Even then, Deli had been very cautious.
What exactly did this say about Deli and Aleser?
“What is that man talking about?” Beard kept his voice down as he asked, hoping no one else was eavesdropping. “What is it really even an element mean? I thought it was wind. You even used it to nearly slice off our faces!”
Valeriana did not know how to go about the situation. She didn’t want to lie. These two were the only people she could trust in this place. Making an enemy out of them by forging lies after lies when the truth was in their faces wasn’t a good idea.
“It’s true,” she whispered. “I’m a Direct Controller.”
Both boys had to launch back on their seat.
“How is this possible?” Beard inquired. “You can control the winds.”
“That’s another story,” she said.
“How many stories are there?” Beard deadpanned.
“How do I know? I’m just living my life,” she said. “And it’s gone through a lot of stories. Do you really expect me to recall each one of them?”
“Telling us one would be nice,” Runner said with a smile.
Valeriana stared at the two. “I don’t intend on getting sappy and stuff,” she said. “I just want to get over this and—do you hear that?”
She paused, trying to make out the subtle sound of music from a distance. A blaring horn confirmed her thoughts. Faint drumbeats followed after and a chorus of other instruments playing a high-pitched and joyful theme. There were also xylophones tinkling in tandem with a wave of vibrating bass.
“What’s going on?” Valeriana muttered, exchanging looks with the two.
They stood and rushed to the large window waiting in the bedroom, attempting to get a peak of whatever was happening outside. Past the tall walls bordering the Fire Faction’s headquarters were spinning torches—thrown high into the air before landing back in graceful and smooth motions. Ribbons flitted a crowd of eels in the sea while confetti floated down like snow. It only took a few moments before riotous cheers resounded.
“What’s going on?”
“It’s the Parada,” said Beard with a large smile. “The first part of De Cirque’s routine to encourage people to see the show tomorrow night.”
Valeriana’s heart jumped to her throat as her head snapped to the direction of Beard and Runner. “Are you saying De Cirque came to perform here? I thought the original plan was Prevnia!” she exclaimed.
“Well, apparently, that is not the case now.” He crossed his arms while a smirk pulled on his lips.
“That must be why Aleser was so . . .” she trailed off. “What word do you use?”
“Manic?” Runner suggested.
She smiled at the boy. “You’re armed with good vocabulary,” she told him.
“It’s probably just that I know which word to use,” he replied, mirroring the smile.
“Which is kind of my point.”
There was a brief pause as they all exchanged glances.
“So what do we do?” she asked.
“Wait for an invitation,” Beard replied, turning to his side of the room and reclining on the bed.
“Aleser will not let us go that easily,” Valeriana stated firmly. However, she faltered a moment after. “Will he?”
Beard shrugged. “Why don’t we just find out?”
“I can’t—” She stopped. “I can’t wait here and do nothing. I’m sorry I’m restless but I still haven’t gotten what I needed back!”
“You wasted your chance.”
“I wasn’t prepared for it.”
“You don’t prepare for anything. You never can,” he told her. “One thing you always have to remember is that everything comes by like a slap on the face! You won’t even know how it happened!” He leaned forward. “But the one thing you can do; dive for it the moment you see it. Run for it like everything in this entire world will fall to pieces if you don’t! Even if you have to crash through a wall and swim through a million oceans doing it!”
With that, Beard slumped back to his pillow and closed his eyes. Valeriana stared at him a few seconds longer, his words echoing in her head like a broken record. Runner came up to her side to offer consolation, holding her hand and giving her a smile.
It truly was her fault. She missed a valuable chance because of her incompetence. On the bright side, she did discover something interesting about the Fire Faction. She even had the opportunity to see her brother.
“It’s okay, banshee.”
She glared at him. “I am not a banshee!”
Valeriana moved to sit on the edge of her bed, listening to the wild and cheerful music being played by the distant parade. Runner shuffled to sit on his makeshift queen-sized bed and moved to lie down.
“I’m going to sleep, Val,” Runner said. “I don’t think I can last very long with this stomach. I wasn’t able to eat properly.”
“It’s alright,” she told him. “I don’t feel like it, yet. You go ahead.”
Runner turned to his left side and pulled the covers around him. “Okay, good night. I want to be able to help well tomorrow.”
Perhaps these two were so used to being around the troupe that they knew the workings of it to heart. It was reasonable to stay calm and wait despite the troubling sense of urgency that boiled in Valeriana. However, mixed with the disappointment of the earlier attempt, she wanted to go back out and try again.
Beard said to wait for an invitation. Her biggest bet was that this concerned the performance. Whatever plan Arisce had set to help them somehow surely would not be small—if she was reading this right. That meant she needed to get the necklace that had the key and the Wylden Cosmos soon as well. If not, she was afraid she would never get the chance of getting them back.
She still had another question in mind.
“What is that lady up to?” she muttered.