CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 25 ♦ Can’t Be Tamed
Valeriana heard from Deli that Aleser planned on locking the place down before the show ended to halt De Cirque’s attempt at escaping. However, she saw no movement from the Fire Faction. Even her escorts seemed a bit uncomfortable. Their hands clicked with applause but their eyes continued shifting around the room. It was as though they were keeping a lookout for something—whatever it was.
She turned to the members onstage and found them smiling vigorously at the audience. They didn’t seem to worry at all. Even Aliyah’s face, which was normally twisted into a scowl, was thick with a smile—so thick it was plastic.
Valeriana’s enthusiasm in her applause withered and she ended up grimacing at the stage, waiting for any signs of trouble.
After a while, the guests started vacating the hall. The room was bathed with a furor of noise as the clutter of a hundred feet tided towards the exit. A layer of voices guided the people to a hasty departure, further adding to the stressing prelude to war. Despite this, both parties remained on an anxiety-inducing standstill.
“This way! No one remains!”
Valeriana’s escorts made no move to leave and they kept a strict watch over her that forced her to do the same. It felt like it did not happen fast enough, but very soon, it all faded to silence as everyone but the members of the Fire Faction and De Cirque stayed—and a few from the Spirit Faction.
She finally saw Runner being closely guarded by his own escorts at the farthest seats on the corner of the room. The poor boy didn’t look comfortable at all despite the silent smile he flashed her way—a failed attempt at reassurance.
“I must say it was an honor for you to be here, Lord Commander,” Aleser’s nerve-grating voice boomed as he stood. “The door is not very far—”
“Why the rush, Lord Aleser?” The Spirit Faction’s Lord Commander chuckled as he leisurely got up from his seat, fingers brushing the collarbone-cut blonde locks.
Aleser laughed as well. It just did not sound pleased and seemed rather sarcastic. “We are both busy men and I do not wish that this be the reason for you shirking your duties.”
The dark-skinned man gracefully tucked his hands into his long, fluted sleeves as he smiled brightly. “Shirking? I assure you, I did not come here on personal terms. Although seeing De Cirque’s performance was an added bonus, I came here to talk about matters concerning our cities. Being town neighbors, milady think it is quite appropriate that we further foster our relationship.”
The fake smile turned even more plastic that Valeriana cringed. It was clear how much Aleser did not want that man to be there. However, his presence was the reason why, perhaps, the Fire Faction hadn’t made their move.
“I don’t think—”
“But I am further made curious by how much I missed in this performance. I heard someone debuted just now. How late I must’ve been,” he said. “Pray tell, Lord Aleser, what did I miss?”
Aleser bit his lip and restlessly shifted on his feet. He clenched his fists and tucked them into the large pockets of his green coat as though doing so would hide the simmering ire that boiled in his veins. “I assure you it’s nothing special.”
“I heard it was about tales of the other world,” he insisted. “Arisce mentioned it to me a while ago when she greeted me. You know how much I’m fascinated by these matters.” He chuckled. “I must admit something selfish, milord. I have always been a big fan of De Cirque and hearing that they would be performing here, I jumped at the chance when milady told me to come. You know how different their performances can be for each town. Always a surprise.”
Aleser sighed impatiently, redness tinting the skin from his neck up.
Deli stepped forward as the Fire Faction lord seemed to want to burst at any given moment. A small and tender smile was on her lips. “I believe tonight isn’t quite the right time, Lord Commander,” she said. “How about I lead you to the doors? I’m sure milord would love to make some time for you some other day.”
The look of relief on Aleser’s face at Deli’s interference prompted a snort from Valeriana which in turn earned her a scowl from her escorts. She paid them no heed and gave a long look at the members of De Cirque instead. Numerous guards had already circled them, forcing them into a small circle. While the most experienced members looked unperturbed, the others were still unable to hide their distress.
“I’m afraid that cannot be done,” the Lord Commander stated. “You see, the reason I came here is, yes, to further the relationship of our factions. However, the specific reason as to why I came here is to not let it fall further apart. So I recommend your men halt or the borders will be broken.”
The threatening coldness in the man’s voice caused the room’s temperature to drop several degrees. Valeriana’s confusion, on the other hand, had spiked so high she had to stop a few seconds to properly wrap her mind around what was happening.
The Fire Faction guards around them moved in alert but the Lord Commander’s elite men stood poised and ready for battle, their blades drawn from their sheaths and bodies bent with vigilance. Men from either parties ended up on a staring contest, watchful of any signs of attack and preparing to initiate combat the moment they were bidden to.
Perhaps her assumptions about Arisce orchestrating everything was right. However, according to her knowledge, the Spirit Faction and De Cirque did not associate themselves with one another. The troupe was not, in anyway, affiliated with any of the ruling factions and organizations within all of Varialon. They were notorious for having stood on their own feet for years now with a steady foothold on each town—except for the towns they didn’t have very good relationship with, of course.
She might just be outdated. Having spent a little over five nights with Aleser, some things were bound to change. If there was one thing she knew, a big change was possible over the course of a few minutes—seconds even. Then again, Arisce valued the independence of De Cirque over everything else. If it was really the case, how did things come to be?
“What did I say, Commander Raegan?” Arisce’s forceful voice reverberated. “Although I do appreciate the help you’re giving, this doesn’t give you the reason to stick your nose where it doesn’t belong.”
“That definitely hurts,” Raegan commented as he dropped a brief glance at Arisce from the balcony. “But I do not think you can get out of trouble this time without a little bit of help, milady. I hope you have it in you to admit that.”
“Unfortunately not, Lord Commander,” Arisce replied. “And I don’t need to. De Cirque has survived so far without relying on any faction. It doesn’t have to change.”
Raegan rolled his eyes. “See here, that’s where you’re wrong. It isn’t exactly the courtyard after these walls,” he said, waving his hand to make a point. “I have encountered no less than a hundred guards on my way here and I’m quite certain you will have trouble trying to navigate the maze they call the House of Fire. The men you intended would break in and help you out I believe lack in numbers. You may be able to get out of this but not all of you will!” he exclaimed.
“I beg to differ. I will not lose any men or women for the matter. Each and every member of this circus, be it man or beast, will leave in one piece—breathing.”
Arisce’s firmness and confidence was moving. It wasn’t enough to erase Valeriana’s doubts, even so.
Aleser crossed his arms as he watched the exchange. “Have you ever heard an escape plan being discussed in front of the enemy?” he inquired, his head tipping to De Cirque’s direction.
“We haven’t even gotten to the specifics yet,” Raegan said.
“You plan to?”
“Maybe. Shut it,” the Lord Commander bit at him.
Aleser staggered back, dumbfounded at the disrespect. Even Deli seemed a little baffled at the audacity displayed by Raegan. It soon switched to a look of acceptance. It seemed as though she was expecting these turn of events somewhat.
“Lady Arisce, please be reminded I will get a whipping from milady if you refuse to accept my help,” he said. “And I will be happy to accept the punishment.”
“What exactly is this?” Aleser demanded. “I thought the Spirit Faction and De Cirque did not associate themselves with one another!”
“Lord Aleser,” Raegan began.
“Lord Commander Raegan,” Arisce cut in as well. “Do not meddle.”
“You think you have this under control?” Raegan said.
“I don’t think you realize that I don’t only have men getting ready to break in and get us out,” Arisce stated. “And you have underestimated my circus far too much.”
The front doors burst wide open as a man yelled the news, “Water!”
As he said it, water came flooding in. The chairs tided along the flow, toppled over by the sheer force of the waves. Valeriana gasped at the suddenness, chilled as the cold water splashed on her legs. Shocked cries reverberated along with hers as the people around her panicked.
“John is our seventh beast, but not our only guardian,” the troupe leader’s voice resonated. “We have many more.”
Her words sent every hair on Valeriana’s body rising. Deli and Aleser’s face were wrinkled with disbelief and alarm. The water, seeming to have a life of its own, struck at the guards belonging to the Fire Faction. They were sent ricocheting to practically all directions, leaving only the members of De Cirque standing.
“Deli!” Aleser yelled. “What are you all standing there for? Take them down!”
A battle ensued between the Spirit Faction and the Fire Faction members. Raegan’s men quickly clashed with Aleser’s, causing a flurry of clangs and cries to erupt. Raegan exchanged glares with both Deli and Aleser before his strong hand propelled him past the banisters. He soared a good few feet before landing with a splash on the lower floors, half his body in the water as he landed with a kneel. He rose gracefully, his fingers running down his locks. He sighed.
The water has already reached inches past the knees. Not even the man’s calf-high boots deterred the uncomfortable entry.
Valeriana did not dawdle. She elbowed her escort on the left at the stomach, forcing him to double over. The other one immediately reacted, jumping forward to restrain her. She gave him no chance to cage her in and drew the dagger from under her dress, arming herself as she faced him.
The glinting blade looked keen in her hands as she swooped in for an attack. Her escort seemed rather confused seeing her with it that he was distracted for a moment. She took advantage of his confusion and cut a wound open on his chest. Drops of blood stained the blade—a haunting sight of red accentuating her field of vision. Valeriana bit her lip as she withdrew the weapon and decided to kick him back instead. She realized it wasn’t her to take things too far. She didn’t want to unnecessarily hurt anybody. Violence wasn’t her preference although she could get a bit ferocious and sadistic at times.
Deli quickly went after Lord Raegan, the water sputtering at the force behind her landing. Unlike Raegan, she was up on her feet within a snap of a finger, blade drawn and ready for a fight.
A few moments of silence. Lord Commander to Lady Commander.
“Running away, are you?” Aleser viciously seethed as flames the haunting color of white appeared around his fists.
Valeriana’s eyes shot wide with shock. Those white flames were things Corvan only dreamed of wielding. They were rumored to possess heat even hotter than normal flames.
“Holy shiznits,” the fifth-ranker found herself saying. After all this time, she thought it was a myth.
The other guy she elbowed came upon her so suddenly she had no time to react. She was embraced from behind and it was, in no way, romantic. Arms locked in her limbs and restrained movement. The hold tightened. She struggled to breathe under the pressure around her ribs and arms. Her elbows dug into her sides. It was painful and increasingly growing uncomfortable.
“Agh!” She lifted her legs for a jump and dropped back down, causing a huge splash when she landed. She hurled the man on her back right over her head and to the side. Although she lacked the strength to overpower him, she had enough momentum to throw him over.
It worked. His huge frame toppled over. The sad thing was she came with him, having clumsily lost her balance as well. Water licked at her face and torso, gluing her hair onto her skin. She gasped before partially being pulled under the surface. She rose a moment later, pulling back the hand holding the weapon and striking her opponent at the forehead with the back of it.
That knocked him out. “That’s becoming my signature move,” she muttered to herself.
“Delilah,” she heard Aleser grit out. “I want his head!” He pointed at Raegan.
Raegan scoffed. A small blade popped to existence when he clenched his fists, clawing past his rigid knuckles. “Pretty ambitious, are you now? I appreciate your Lady Commander more. At least she’s not very cocky. In terms of strength, we’re on pretty much the same level. Don’t expect too much.”
They clashed but Valeriana did not have time to watch further after seeing their blades cross. Looking around, men had sieged them from all sides. They had a battle of their own to fight.
Members of De Cirque had jumped down the stage to join in the fray. The only ones who remained on top was Arisce with her strings as well as Lundie and Maridie. What they had in their hands shocked the girl.
Pearls. Not just any pearls. Ocean pearls. Things only undines possessed.
Now she got why there was so much water. Unfortunately, it was one question answered accompanied by even more questions. Her brows wrinkled and her eyes narrowed.
She wasn’t able to spend more than few moments gawking as Runner’s cries for help forced her to move.
She readied her dagger for an attack. Thankfully though, it seemed Lundie and Maridie got her back. Before the escorts could do anything, they were knocked over by the waves and forced off.
“Runner!” Valeriana clamored to get to the boy after seeing his escorts get taken down, evading a few bodies sent flying her way. “Come on, honey.” She beckoned him, discarding her heeled shoes in the water and choosing to splash her way to him barefooted.
He hurried to her as well, the water splattering around him as he went.
“Are you alright?” she asked him, grabbing his face and looking into his eyes.
He nodded nervously.
“Good, good. Stay here with me. I’ll protect you,” she told him. She tried to move forward, only to realize that the water had gotten so incredibly high. “Arisce!” she exclaimed. “What is going on?”
“Stay where you are, you’re in good hands. We just have to wait a few more moments.” Smoke curled around her eerily, heels clicking as she stepped forward.
The windows were broken. The beautiful glass art on the ceiling were shattered as well, sending a debris of shards raining from above. Valeriana ducked and shielded Runner. The shards felt like sharp needles on the skin.
“I’m sorry for the mural!” someone yelled as they were roped down from the ceiling.
“Fool!” someone yelled back. “It’s not a mural!”
“Whatever it is!”
“Reinforcement is here,” Arisce said with a smile. “Foolish as they may be.”
Valeriana facepalmed. She only hoped they weren’t foolish enough to have them all killed.