CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 23 ♦ Set in Motion
Valeriana was further pulled into the backstage by Arisce before they came upon a table with refreshments. She took a seat on a chair by the wall whereas everybody else, like the usual, seemed like they had their asses set on fire. She knew what they were feeling, even so. She had gone through a performance without prior notice and her knees were still shaking.
“Drink,” Arisce said, handing her a cup of water. The ebony hair glowed brown under the golden lights. Her hair was, by far, the darkest she’d seen on Valemnia—Varialon. To think she was not a demon at that rate made her a little bit confused.
Valeriana accepted and greedily downed it.
“Some people may still be adamant on not believing, but it’s already a start,” Arisce said as she stood tall and proud looking over the members of De Cirque, the pipe between her fingers. “You’ve told a story with so much heart and personality; it is refreshing. When we handled the storytelling portion, we made it seem a little too surreal for the people to believe but your stories seem much more personal and real. Are they?” She looked at Valeriana.
“Yes.” Valeriana nodded, examining the woman’s dress in her trademark tea-length cut. It was themed the same with the clothes she was given but with white, balloon sleeves that reached her elbows.
“Perhaps the best storyteller is the one who not only knows the story but saw it. I do not know about Lord Aleser but this is a start, not to mention that speech you gave at the very end—it was made ever . . . more real, for the lack of a better word.” Arisce brushed a hand down the silken folds of her dress. “As a consequence, people will start suspecting you are a breacher. If you continue to perform like this, the non-believers are going to come after you,” Arisce said. “We have tackled this issue before with great sensitivity to prevent rousing more enemies but perhaps it is time we take a firmer stand.”
She looked at the guards posted near the walls. There was no doubt they were being watched and listened to.
“So what do you plan for the rest of the night?” Valeriana asked, casting a brief glance at Aoute who started fidgeting with knives.
“What we do best,” Arisce replied.
While she didn’t know what that exactly meant, she had a hint on what she was referring to. Valeriana still did not know the troupe enough to know how the screws turned in their heads but she’d gotten enough impression to know that they were up to some groundbreaking trouble.
She’d had enough encounter with crazy people in her life and was quite crazy herself. However, some people kept redefining what the word actually meant. She was surprised with how many things it could equate to.
“Arisce, what about Runner and Beard?” she whispered.
“Something will be done, my dear. If we managed to pull you out from the crowd, rest assured the same will be done to the other two,” Arisce said. “I made a pact with Aleser that he will hand you over if I manage take you without anyone noticing. And that you all had to take part in the show with one at least taking a major part in the performance.”
“That’s a really . . . complicated arrangement. You didn’t have to pick me for that part. Beard’s better at this than I am.”
“Although Beard is great with impromptu performances, I still wanted you,” Arisce said with a smile.
Valeriana massaged the bridge of her nose. “And if I screwed up?”
“I would’ve found some other way.”
“What about the trapdoor?” she leaned in to whisper. “I just had to be conveniently sat on a trapdoor?”
“What can I say?” Her icy blues glowed knowingly. “I had help,” she mouthed.
Realization dawned on her. “Oh.”
“Excuse me,” one of the guards said as he cut between Valeriana and Arisce. “I’ve been told to get the miss back to her seat and in under no circumstances is she to remain here longer than necessary.”
“Define necessary.” Arisce gave him a sharp glare.
He stammered at the weight of her gaze. “It—this . . .”
Her face broke into a bright smile. “I’m playing with you, honey. Go ahead and guide her back.” She patted him on the shoulder. “It seems Aleser will not give me any chances.” The woman sighed.
Valeriana did not struggle and obediently let herself be ‘guided back to her seat.’ She petted Tyson and felt a stream of contentment from their newly forged intimacy. She did not want to part with him very soon as he reminded her of Avaro so much and that he, himself, was a magnificent creature she felt taken by. Unfortunately, she needed to go.
The new segment had finally started with the flying trapeze starring Lundie and Maridie. Aliyah had already jumped back onto the stage after the curtains were dragged off, hence, the seat was left vacant for Valeriana to fill.
Her eyes automatically gravitated towards the balcony where Aleser and Deli were. She knew she felt someone looking. It turned out it was not one but two people watching her at the same time. Aleser seemed unperturbed. There was, however, a hidden turmoil in his eyes. It wasn’t of the conflict with conscience she was hoping for. It was the conflict with rage. Deli, on the contrary, had a frown but there was praise.
Valeriana held their gaze for a bit before she casually returned her attention back to the performers. Feeling chilled, she settled back on her seat and watched the show at the edge of it. After the looks she was getting from the leader and Lady Commander of the Fire Faction, she didn’t think she would be able to enjoy the rest of the night.
The show tonight posed more danger for Lundie and Maridie as there were no net to catch them. In fact, they were not on the stage, but on the ceiling. That might the reason why they opted for a synchronized performance instead of trying to cut each other down from above. Although their usual aerial combat performance had a lot of thrill, tonight’s performance had a lot of showmanship. How they made such arrangements before the start of the show was beyond Valeriana.
Indeed, crazy was De Cirque.
The show went on smoothly with no sign of trouble. The audience were enjoying themselves, clapping at the antics of the performers and gasping in awe at their life-endangering stunts. Valeriana was not as enthusiastic as the rest, not to mention her ‘escorts’ were too serious.
She wondered how long the casual charade would be going until there was a slight commotion that the performance did not cause. When she tried to see what it was, she found the large doors leading to the procession hall thrown wide open. While De Cirque paid no heed to it and continued performing, everyone else were distracted.
“Who came?” she heard someone say.
“I don’t—oh, that’s . . . I think that’s—those are people from the Spirit Faction. But what are they doing here?”
“Spirit Faction?” Valeriana muttered, questioningly glancing at the members onstage as well as Aleser and Deli.
Aleser was beyond irritated as he looked down from the balcony while Deli was the prime example of dubious. The Fire Faction leader nearly broke his teeth grinding his words through them until the Lady Commander left his side, later reappearing through some curtains. She approached the Spirit Faction people with a couple of guards stiffly close on her tail.
Deli stopped before the latecomers and gave a brief bob of her head. The gesture was reflected along with a smile by the man who stood at the forefront of the group. He was dressed in a trimmed coat that reached the knees, silver embellishments dancing across the fabric. A dark blue sash sat around his shoulders and accentuated the bright white of his clothes.
Valeriana’s brows quirked. If the Lady Commander had to pay her respects to these people, they were obviously not just anybody.
But what did the Spirit Faction want to barge in like this?
Deli shifted on her feet to point to the path that led to balcony where, Valeriana noticed, more chairs were set up beside Aleser who looked ready to kill someone. She chuckled but found herself reassuming the straight face when she saw Arisce appear out of nowhere.
“What is going on?” she inquired. “Hey, what’s going on?” she asked her escorts.
“I didn’t know there would be a diplomatic visit,” said the escort on her right.
“What do you mean?” She gave him a questioning glance. “Who are they?”
They treated her like a passing breeze. Valeriana’s nose flared as she breathed, her eyes narrowing at the two men she sat with.
“This is the reason why I hate Arlandians!” she exclaimed, unable to hold back the sentiment from echoing in her throat.
They looked at her.
“You know what? Everything about the fire people is that when they want to be rude, they are rude, or when they don’t care, they’re still rude!” she complained. “You two are no exception. I don’t like to stereotype and overgeneralize but this is what I’m seeing all the goddamn time and you two are not making my opinion any better,” she spat. “So are you going to answer my question or I’m going to label you two as the rudest people—okay, I know somebody worse but if you don’t want to stand next to him and have me tell Aleser or Deli about you, then at least answer my godsdamned question!”
There was silence. They just gave her questioning glances.
“What? Do I need to use violent threats and insults for you to give me the answer I want?!” If she wasn’t keeping her voice down, she would’ve murdered the ears of everyone around her. However, even with just her inside voice, they were already wincing.
No wonder Beard insisted on calling her a banshee.
“That’s the second-in-command of the Spirit Faction,” said one of her escorts. “The same rank as the Lady Commander.”
“There, was that bad?” she gritted. “Why would they be here anyway?”
“If we knew, we wouldn’t be asking the same question,” the other one told her. “Even so, this is none of your business. You should continue watching.”
“You make it sound as though it’s your business. Honestly, lackeys like you don’t need to act so pretentious.”
“Bro, I don’t recommend you go there,” she cut him off. “Because if you intend on insulting me, I assure you I have more bullets for that kind of gun than you do. And FYI, this is every bit my business because De Cirque . . .” she gazed at the people on the stage. “I am a part of this.”
That shut them up. She huffed and sat back, deciding to ignore the rest of the events to the best of her abilities. Even so, she gave occasional glances to keep track of it—which was not really ignoring. Rather, she was ‘acting’ as though she didn’t care. She had a hint that the reason why Arisce came forward meant that it had something to do with the show and De Cirque. In fact, Arisce might’ve orchestrated all of it. With the kind of personality the woman had, it was not beyond her.
When the new addition to the audience got to sit, the performance resumed with no hitch. The awkward atmosphere was even easily overcome by Jester who cracked a joke that made everyone laugh. Everything went smoothly after that.
Beard was later pulled onstage to her relief. However, Runner was still nowhere to be found. This made Valeriana nervous.
The culmination of the show was speedily approaching and the intensity of the performances made it obvious. Although Aoute was not given the main spotlight in the show, he was given the chance on the joint performance. It consisted mostly of many smokes and fires—colorful sparks and floating, crystalline waters that worked alongside many tools like Aoute’s knives and the ribbons of Lundie and Maridie. Even the elusive star performer, Cat, worked alongside the others to bring the stage to its prime for closing. It was a rainbow of performance that was oddly synchronized and contrasting, swallowing the entire stage like a feast for the eyes. The coveted beasts of De Cirque later made their appearance and roused the awe of the audience—fear and amazement.
Combined with the many effects and harmless but flashy explosions, the finale swelled and burst like a ripe fruit. In the end, they brought everyone to their feet. Valeriana was no exception. The amount of chills she was getting from the show made her rise along with many people.
However, despite the success of the show, Valeriana’s heart was left trembling at the thought of closing the curtains—which she remembered had fallen on Aliyah at the beginning of the show.
She’d not seen Runner once.
Even if her fear was unfounded, she was still unsure how De Cirque would escape the snare of the Fire Faction.
What exactly would become of this night?