CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 21 ♦ Another Chance
Valeriana had trouble trying to sleep that night; even after the music died down. There were many things going through her head for her to properly beckon sleep. Nonetheless, she was able to contemplate about the things that happened that day, especially her botched attempt on escaping. Despite her failure, she did manage to take a lesson out of it. The only remaining problem was how to get back what was hers.
She left the windows open, enjoying the night breeze while under her blanket. Beard and Runner were already fast asleep with the former snoring harder than a docking boat. He was one of the reasons why she had trouble sleeping. Runner, however, slept like a dead log.
Valeriana sighed as she stared at the ceiling, watching the moving shadows casted by the thin curtains. She wondered how Arisce planned on going about whatever this was. After all, they basically entered the lion’s den—enemy territory. If there was one thing one should never do, it’s to fight the snake on the ground.
She tossed on her bed, pulling the covers up to her chin as her restlessness, coupled with her anticipation for tomorrow’s events, kept her feet and hands flexing against the fabric. The thoughts were sending her stomach turning, warding off the littlest bit of drowsiness that slipped through.
“I’m so annoyed at myself. Why am I like this?”
She sat up and rubbed her face before lying back down again. As of now, she would normally feel like killing someone if it meant she could have some warm tea and cookies—or milk. But that was not the case. She felt like committing mass murder with a few familiar faces among the victims—namely Aleser and Deli. If the gods and that goddamn goddess of fate Aristeon were there, all the better.
Something flew through the open window just as a strong breeze swung by. Valeriana had to blink, following the silhouette raptly. It glided to the floor with a barely noticeable thump. Valeriana slipped out of bed and knelt on the floor, grasping the paper airplane and working through the folds.
‘Invitation,’ was written in beautiful cursive on the very center.
“Shiznits,” she muttered. “When Beard said to wait for an invitation, I was expecting something else. What the hell.”
“That’s not how it works.” Beard’s dazed comment made her jump.
“Stop! Stop doing that!” she exclaimed, turning to glare at the man as he rose from his sleep.
“Stop doing what?” he retorted and approached her, an expecting hand jutting out as the other rubbed at his lids. “Give it to me.”
She handed it to him with no second thoughts. There was no reason to continue holding onto it. She didn’t understand what it meant.
Valeriana paid close attention to Beard as he nudged Runner out of his sleep. The poor boy’s lids were so heavy they stuck together, his eyes moving rapidly beneath as he rouse to awareness. He stretched on the bed and blinked inquiringly at Beard, his lips curling as though he would burst out crying from getting interrupted.
“What is it?” he groaned.
“We need your fire,” Beard told him.
“Did it come?” He rubbed his eyes as he held out a finger. A small flame licked at the boy’s fingertips and Beard bid no thoughts setting the ‘invitation’ aflame. Valeriana scooted back when Beard tossed it in the air, watching as the flame, which bore resemblance to Raziel’s hair, devoured the paper and became tinged green. In no time at all, it felt as though Maleficent appeared in the room and disappeared when the fire did.
Valeriana had never seen green fire from anyone but Aliyah.
“There we have it,” Beard said. “That’s our invitation.”
“Well what the hell did that even mean?”
“Before you ask questions, why don’t you think first?” he shot back as he turned to climb back to bed. Runner had already fallen back asleep as though nothing happened.
“I’ve been doing that for the last few hours. Don’t you think my mind gets tired, too?”
“Well, I’m tired to explain it myself. You’ll just have to push your brain, I suppose.”
Valeriana did not hold back and kicked the man back to his bed. “Alright, go and sleep! That’s what you’re good at doing at, anyway!”
Beard did have a point at times but she felt that he pushed it too far as well. While she wanted to stay positive, she didn’t know how to reign in her anger when it came out. She shouldn’t feel ashamed of getting angry and getting irritated but she felt bad about it. Taking her anger out on Beard wasn’t right though he pushed her buttons.
Everybody needed to be a bit negative at times. She was no exception. She might be purifying demons but that didn’t mean she didn’t need purging.
The rest of the night was quiet. She sulked on her side of the room, wanting so much to run into the dreamstate and fight it out with Delaney. Unfortunately, she might just end up more frustrated. Delaney’s weapon handling and close combat were unparalleled. While she was not limited by physical exhaustion, she still needed to improve her endurance. Otherwise, everything she knew would go to nothing.
But she didn’t have the jade sphere, so she settled on thinking about the ‘invitation’ while the sleep was evasive. Eventually, without her knowing, she finally drifted to sleep.
“Banshee!” they screamed in her ear.
She jumped and nearly fell out of bed. “What the hell!” she bellowed, raising a fist at the two. “Why do you always always have to scare the hell out of me?”
Beard and Runner’s stridulous laughter poured into every corner of the room. Valeriana felt a headache creeping in—stemming from the sleep that she lacked and the glaring sun through the open windows.
“Isn’t it funny?” the bearded man rasped.
“To you, maybe,” she irately replied, rubbing her eyes and taking deep breaths.
“We screamed in your ear,” he continued. “Get it, Banshee?” The laughter tided even higher.
Valeriana inched off of bed and calmly reached for her discarded boots. She played it cool, wanting to catch Beard and Runner off guard. In a heartbeat, she jerked a boot above her head and hurled it at the two. It came flying. Then the second one came. Accompanying the flying boots was the namesake they gave her—a grating scream of frustration and anger as she chased them down with her fists. Her companions were still laughing as they evaded, running around the living room and knocking over the furniture.
“You two goddamned bastards, you are testing my patience!” she hollered. Valeriana had a large pillow ready in her hands while Beard and Runner were using a round table as barricade. “Just you wait! I will castrate you! I will gut you! I will—”
“Stop,” said a voice just as the door burst open.
And that, they did.
She had a feeling, though, that that was meant for her.
It was Deli. “Settle down,” the Lady Commander said, three steps from the door. “I think I have no need to inform you of the things that happened last night since it was very blatant. I have just come to tell you that tonight, De Cirque will be performing. However, the most unfortunate news has come to our attention.”
“That being?” Valeriana raised a brow as she dropped her threatening stance and relaxed into a casual pose.
“They wish to perform in the biggest building in the town since it seems that there is no space for your Giando in Mardiya. That means no Big Top. Not to mention they need the permission of the ruling faction to perform.”
Valeriana exchanged glances with Beard. “Is there really no space or a space just cannot and don’t want to be made at all?” she inquired softly.
“A little bit of both,” Deli replied.
“Then what’s the biggest building in town?” she continued.
“Isn’t it obvious? That’s obviously where you’re staying at. The event will be held in the procession hall. It’s big enough to host the entire town. We use it to gather the townspeople.”
Valeriana sweated. She doubted if Arisce even planned on going through with this.
Beard seemed to have the same thoughts.
“And a little more.” Deli waved her hand and some footmen toed into the room to drop some boxes in front of them. “A little gift from Lord Aleser. Please wear these tonight.”
Beard stood up and opened his box. Within a moment, his face turned grim. “I don’t like formal wear.”
“I’m afraid you have little choice in the matter.”
Valeriana looked into her box and found her brows knitting. Aside from a neatly folded red and gold dress tucked neatly inside, there was a collar as thin as lace with a dangling pendant engraved with the mark of fire—the faction’s symbol—and a mask of black trimmed with silver. “What is this for?”
“Your costume,” she replied. “You really think you won’t be performing?”
What in the world? Valeriana gazed at the Lady Commander with a tight frown. What exactly were they thinking?
“And Valeriana,” Deli began, her eyes glinting. “Lord Aleser invites you to his office.”
The fifth-ranker stood and started following the woman out of the room. She gave a brief glance at Beard and all he gave her was a nod of encouragement. She didn’t know what that meant—if truly, it was just encouragement or there was something behind it. To remove the ambiguity, she gazed at his eyes. And true to her expectations, they were sharp.
Right then, she knew what he was trying to say.
This was it. It depended entirely on her if she would turn it into a chance.
She fell into a step behind the Lady Commander, watching the guards stiffen and salute as they passed by. Wherever the ‘office’ was, it didn’t lead to the same path they took. On the other hand, she did recognize the intricate patterns on the walls.
But what was she supposed to do? She couldn’t just run off hoping it would lead her to an exit. She got lucky one time trying escape the jail back in Valemnia but that didn’t mean there would be a second chance.
Eventually, the amount of stationed guards lessened. Valeriana sweated, her fingers turning clammy as she ran a few scenarios through her head. She hid her bubbling fear. She forced it down. The last thing she wanted was to seem like a coward.
Deli was nonchalant but a frown was ever present between her eyes. Valeriana gazed at the Lady Commander’s back and breathed in deeply. The air was sharp and the sound came off harsher than she expected.
Deli’s head snapped to her direction. “Stop that.”
“Stop what?” she replied dryly. “Breathing? You guys are merciless.”
“You know what I mean,” Delilah hissed and increased her pace.
Valeriana mirrored the frown on the commander’s face and lengthened her strides, trying to keep up with the other woman. The way Deli was acting made it seem as though the ‘invitation’ by Aleser was a death sentence—not only to Valeriana but to her as well. Despite feeling troubled by the other woman’s strange behavior, she did not dare halt.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked.
She was answered by silence.
“You’re not taking me to Aleser, are you?”
“Shut it.” She looked around for a moment before throwing a door open and pushing Valeriana inside. “Quickly enter.”
Fire lit up at the snap of Deli’s finger as the door shut close behind them.
“What the hell?”
The room was bland and the furniture could hardly be called decent—a large bed, a simple chair and table, a cabinet, and a large window blinded by a cut of layered silks. The wallpaper was old and chipping, clubs of dust hanging from the ceiling.
“This looks worse than where we’re staying. And we’re supposed to be prisoners. Is this your room?” Valeriana inquired.
“I only have a few moments,” she said, approaching the cabinet and pulling open the door. She fished out a small dagger and tossed it at Valeriana.
She caught the weapon, startled. “What is this?” the fifth-ranker queried.
“You will be escorted by two guards each,” she told her. “There will be sixty men stationed around the halls leading to your room. In total, there will be five hundred men in the vicinity. You will be guided out at exactly six in the evening to be assembled among the crowd. The show should last until midnight. Whatever Arisce’s plans are, you will need to move fast.”
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“I will be by Aleser’s side the entire night,” Deli rambled on, ignoring her. She took a scroll from the corner and tossed it to Valeriana as well. “He plans on locking down the entire building to take you all captive before the show ends. I’m sure this is quite well within expectations. He will want the beasts. Arisce should know they’re walking right into a trap. This is plain ridiculous. De Cirque should’ve never come to Mardiya.”
Valeriana’s mind was thrown in disarray.
“That map will show you the loopholes and routes where you and the troupe can escape. There will be men posted at every exit, but there are several ways to escape the building,” Deli continued.
“Secret passages?” She stretched it open and a hurricane of lines came at her eyes all at once.
“Those will not be safe.”
“Then how? Vents? Do you guys even have those?”
“Bypassing the formation,” she said. “You can only target the vulnerable points in the security. I have purposely stationed men together who either cannot get along or are very unreliable. It only takes one person to take down a group. Let’s just hope they drag each other down.”
“Whose side are you on, anyway? You’re supposed to be the Lady Commander!” Valeriana exclaimed.
“Do you not think I know that?” Deli gazed at her heatedly, her nostrils flaring as her green eyes blazed with irritation.
“Elón ad vortem,” she reiterated.
Valeriana went still with shock. “You’re a Celeste. Holy crap, you’re a breacher?”
“I cannot allow Aleser to take the beasts.”
“Don’t you think that’s a bit hypocritical?” she said. “You should’ve never let that guy get a bullet for his gun. In the first place, you shouldn’t have taken us!”
“Do you really think I can do that?” she asked. “I need to continuously foster the image of my loyalty to the faction. If I keep on purposely letting you people go, what will become of my position?” Deli growled and approached her. The woman towered with intimidation. “What I did not expect is for Arisce to do this. Sometimes I wonder the sanity of that woman. Being crazy might be a theme of the circus but this is plain madness!”
“Well . . .” Valeriana trailed off.
“Keep that dagger and map hidden, do you understand me? There will be a time window you can use to escape. Do not let the chance pass you by.”
“What time window?”
“You’ll know it when you see it.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll leave my fate to Aristeon,” she whispered. “Now, come on, let’s go back.” Deli went for the door.
“Wait,” Valeriana said. “I need you to return them to me. Why did you even take them?”
“Pray you will see me again,” Deli said. “Because it won’t be until this whole ordeal is over and done with will you get them back.”
“I need them.”
“For what?” Valeriana gritted out.
Deli stopped and gave her a cold stare. “Revenge.”