CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 26 ♦ Freedom at Last
Runner was one of the first few to be sent with the extraction team. The weakest ones in the group were prioritized while the others with more experience in combat and self-defense were expected to hold the enemy back as much as possible to allow a safe retreat. Most of the work were being done by Lundie and Maridie since, at the moment, they were tasked with most of the defense.
“Need any help?” an older man asked Aoute as he hovered above the surface of the water, his foot hanging on a loop at the tip of the rope.
“Nope!” He monkeyed past him and climbed up the ropes with ease, using the man’s head as a stepping stone.
“Oy!” He looked at the boy ascending to the roof above him, shuddering at the wet shoe on his face. “Oh well, suit yourself.” He brought out a large bowie knife and exchanged blades with a guard who went after the boy. “You are faced with a sentry of the lines! Haha!”
The fire people were weak when faced with their opposing element, hence, they were having a hard time fending off the attacks from the two. Valeriana was starting to regain her hope. Seeing Deli at war with Raegan, even so, made her heart plummet.
Screams were heavy in the room. Members of the Fire were heavily suppressed by the water that increased inch after inch every minute. Lundie and Maridie, further assisted by Arisce and her strings, were nearly unbeatable.
The exchange was quite unbelievable between the two commanders. Valeriana had seen the Twelve fight but these two were on a whole other level. Instinct-wise, their movements were nearly instant. In terms of speed and skill, everything was executed at the snap of a finger with frightening precision and accuracy.
Deli’s defense was impenetrable and her attacks were equally swift and powerful—no effort or energy wasted with every move. Her sword’s blade was thinner than what Valeriana had gotten used to, tipped so sharp and narrow like a needle.
Raegan, on the other hand, took pride in his borderline selfless assaults. His style was ridiculously aggressive, leaving his defense a bit discounted. There were several times that Deli’s blade came a little too close for comfort.
“This is truly foolish of you, Lord Raegan,” Arisce stated, her voice so soft that only the people near her heard what she said.
“It’s even more foolish of you, Lady Arisce,” Raegan replied to the shock of some. Valeriana had to raise her brows as well. To think he heard it all the way from where he was while immersed in a fight with Deli was mindboggling. “I apologize for being too anxious for your safety. You’re just a little bit too ridiculous at times.” He parried a blow from the Lady Commander and struck at her hard, the blades screaming upon contact.
“If I wasn’t ridiculous, I wouldn’t be running a circus now, will I?” She shook her head. “You should’ve gotten used to it by now.”
She seemed calm as she tugged on the strings around her fingers, carefully manipulating them so that they specifically targeted her enemies.
“Arisce!” Aleser bellowed, the flames turning even brighter. “I have had quite enough of you and your damnable fools.”
The troupe leader coolly turned to face him, her strings whipping straight for the man. They were not thicker than a spider’s web but they were as sturdy as a forged blade. With a strong tug of her hand, they netted around him. Aleser, in response, pulled out a one-sided blade with an angled hilt and a sheepsfoot tip. It spun in his fingers like a top, effectively cutting the strings that Arisce threw at him.
There was not as much as a look of panic on Arisce except for a slight raise of her brow. Her arms made wide sweeps, her body a large turn, and her fingers complicated, strong curls. In just a few seconds, the strings made a swift comeback, turning into thick bundles of two. This time, Aleser was unable to cut through them. They bit at his skin and left net-patterned wounds on both his clothes and flesh.
Arisce was relentless and struck another attack his way, giving him no room to counter. His weapon was thrown off to the other side of the room, sinking low within the rising depths which had now reached the floor of the stage.
“Never attack someone whose specialty is long-distance at long distance. You may pride yourself as the leader of the Fire Faction but you are nothing more than an immature child with a crown and a blade.”
Valeriana felt that that not only burned him a bit but also fueled his rage.
“Everyone,” Arisce’s calm voice reverberated. “Get out of the way if you do not wish to be burned to crisp.”
“Fall back! Fall back!”
People skidded down the ropes and dropped beneath the water just in time. The white flames flared and condensed into a thick stream of fire that went straight for Arisce. Some of the lines caught flames, as warned, and in seconds, they were reduced to ashes.
“Arisce!” Valeriana bellowed as she dunked under the water for safe measure. Lundie and Maridie instinctively shuffled out of the flames’ reach. Arisce, however, didn’t seem to have any intention of doing the same.
The searing heat nearly burned Valeriana. The waters were left lukewarm as well for the brief seconds the fire appeared.
To her shock, Tyson stepped between Arisce and the fire, opening his mouth as though to swallow it all. The daunting white flames seemed harmless against Tyson as it rushed straight into his throat. Aleser went still with disbelief, his jaw slacking.
Tyson’s eyes glowed gold. A frightening energy built up around the celestial beast. He then opened his mouth and gave a bloodcurdling roar. A haze—something so very hot that Valeriana’s skin nearly boiled—escaped with the sound.
Everybody retreated for the second time that minute.
“Deli!” Aleser grunted. His back hit the banisters before he tipped back and tumbled down the edge. His clothes, which had been especially made to be fireproof, was surprisingly set aflame.
Deli did not have the opportunity to save him at all as she had her hands full with the battle with the Spirit Faction’s Lord Commander. Aleser shortly landed in the water with a loud splash and her blade unceasingly crossed with Raegan’s in a raging flurry of exchanges.
Valeriana kept being surprised that evening. The water, she noticed, had already reached her waistline and felt a little scalding.
The escape resumed and so did the battle. New lines were lowered while the broken—and incinerated—ones were dropped.
“The hell!” the fifth-ranker exclaimed. She heard Tyson’s growl and found him looking her way. His eyes seemed to say something. “Tyson,” she said as she warily shifted her eyes in case someone attacked, climbing up the stage to his side. “What is it?”
“It’s our turn to go,” Arisce said with a slight turn of her head towards the broken glass ceiling. “Come on, Valeriana. We’ll have to ride him.”
Valeriana nodded and climbed the back of the beast with Arisce. Tyson made no protest and promptly unfurled his wings.
“What about—oh.” Lundie and Maridie had already hooked themselves up on the remaining ropes, the pearls remaining bright and vigorous in their hands. In just a breath, they swiftly rocketed to the broken ceiling where hands were waiting to assist.
“Raegan, I suggest you and your men come. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck here,” Arisce told the Lord Commander.
“It’s alright,” he replied. “We have our own way out. Go on and escape.”
“Then I shall no longer insist,” she said. “Come on, Tyson.”
The twin-tailed lion rose and speared to the sky.
Everything that happened after the escape was a blur. De Cirque’s members were able to leave as a whole, with everybody in one piece. They rode away on colorful balloons to the direction of their Giando—things that were equally ridiculous and befitting of the circus’ name. The trip took no more than ten minutes as the wind flew swift and blew in the right direction.
De Cirque’s framed giant guardian beast had remained on the sea near Prevnia along with some of the other members.
Valeriana had a rather hard time trying to get over the events that happened the last few days—what more the last few hours—even when things seemingly resumed to normal the moment they landed. People trudged back to their rooms to clean up and get some proper rest, relieved and equally tired.
Tyson surprisingly managed to endure carrying both Arisce and Valeriana the entire way through, proving he had quite some strength in his wings. The moment they alighted, however, the poor beast collapsed on the ground, overwhelmed by fatigue. Having to perform, reflect Aleser’s blow, fight a couple of rounds with his men, and finally the ride—it would no doubt be taxing, even for a celestial beast.
“You can’t stay out here,” Valeriana told him. “Come on and stand. Walk with me for just a bit more. I’ll get you settled with the others.”
Tyson growled, his throat vibrating as he struggled to get to his feet. When he found some strength in his legs, Valeriana readily supported him.
“You can lean on me,” she said.
The stables never felt so far. When they arrived, Tyson crashed into his bed on the corner and closed his eyes. Valeriana was soaked with sweat. The exhaustion was starting to catch up as well.
Her knees wobbled and she fell beside Tyson.
“Dear gods, are you two alright?” Nuri asked.
“I’m fairly okay,” Valeriana replied. “Not too sure about Ty, though. He did quite a lot of work.”
“I wish we were there,” Kaai said. “But Deli did not let us come.”
“Yes, I didn’t see you there.” Valeriana tried to sit up but could not find the will to. “It makes sense because you two are very large and unable to fly. Escaping would’ve been quite hard with how things turned out. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. I still have to talk to somebody.”
“Good night, then.”
“It’s good to see you’ve returned.”
She forced some strength into her legs and got up, traipsing to the place she knew she desperately needed to go.
“Arisce,” she called before she entered.
The fire was going, casting a soft sheen of gold on the woman as she sat and smoked in silence.
“Did I come at the wrong time?” she asked.
Arisce’s cold blue eyes met her azure ones. “Valeriana. How is Tyson?”
“I worked him quite hard tonight,” she replied. “How about you?”
“You really had to ask that?” Valeriana deadpanned.
“Are you dry, then?”
“Still a bit damp.” She flicked her skirt.
“Sit.” She gestured to the settee.
Valeriana plopped on the open seat with a loud sigh. “I don’t know if I should ask or say anything. I know I have the answer to all my questions. I just need an answer to confirm all my thoughts,” she said. “And I know you’re very tired after what happened today.”
“I will always have time for you,” she said. “So what is it? What troubles you?”
Valeriana stared at the woman, petting a few beats of silence pass. “I don’t know what to say. I had a lot of questions but now they sort of just left me.”
“We’ll start with what you’re feeling right now.”
“I’m confused,” Valeriana told her. “And I am restless. This is all crazy. I want to go back home.”
“Where is your home?”
She sighed. “I have many. But for now, I want to return to Valemnia. Aleser told me about his plans for the beasts,” she whispered. “He mentioned they may have the key to returning home.”
“He wasn’t lying,” Arisce told her.
Valeriana frowned. “What is it now?”
“The key are the elements. A perfect balance of them, to be precise,” she said. “But I doubt that the beasts are actually the key.”
“Years ago before De Cirque, I sailed on the Sea of Celine in a desperate attempt to find a border. I needed to return,” she began. “I wasn’t disappointed.”
“There’s a border?” Valeriana leaned forward. “But I thought the sea would only lead you back to the city.”
“You don’t find it by sailing. Sort of.” Arisce shrugged. “The border is under the sea.”
Valeriana staggered back. “With Sebastian?”
“Who in the world is that person?”
“He’s a crab. Anyway, how’d you find it?”
“A storm—a fateful one, if I must say. I lost my ride and sank low in the depths. I thought I was going to die. Then an interesting twist happened—quite a ridiculously well-timed thing, too. I was found by John. I called him a Giando because of his size and age but his kind of beast doesn’t exist in Valemnia.”
“How are you so certain?”
“He possess attributes from all elements,” Arisce said. “I nay not know everything about the beast but I’m quite sure John’s kind will be given appropriate attention.”
Valeriana was shocked to silence.
“I thought before that he was the key but I was wrong. There is something missing.”
“What? And how did you find it?”
“Over the course of three decades, I have repeatedly went back to the borders. They open once every ten years.”
“When is the next time it will open?”
“One year or so.”
“That’s too long!”
“Pretty short considering how much time you’ve been here,” Arisce said. “You’ll have to bear with it. If you’re forgetting, you have to focus on doing what you came here for and I suggest you start now because you’re running out of time. I still have yet to know what will open the borders.”
Valeriana felt a headache coming in.
“Know what’s your goal, Valeriana. Do not allow anything to make you lose sight of it.” She casually stood and retrieved clothes from the cabinet.
“Yeah, I know.” She sighed.
“Lucky for you, I’m here to help. Leave the borders to me. Look for the answer to your problems.”
“How?” she grumbled.
“You busy yourself so much with asking so many questions,” Arisce said with an unimpressed cock of her brow. “For once, why not just shut that trap you call your mouth and do it.”
Valeriana rubbed the corners of her ‘trap’ and realized she was right. “Now I’m frustrated.”
“And why is that?”
“I feel so inadequate. Like I’m not cut out for this.”
“I see you love to complain and whine as well. You waste such a lot of time dwelling on the things you think you cannot do that even I feel frustrated,” the woman commented. “Leave your doubts to the worms. Can you not see it holds you back?”
“I guess it’s in my blood.”
The woman hummed. “Then drain it. Give yourself a change of pace. Perhaps your heart is getting tired pumping your insecurities.”
The sarcasm made Valeriana snort. However, she wasn’t offended. Arisce was brilliant. “Wow.”
“Regardless of my comment and your useless, snarky remarks, you don’t need to be cut out for anything,” Arisce said, mist curling from her lips.
“I wasn’t being snarky,” she interrupted.
And she was ignored. “The matter all depends on how you cut yourself. But I rather not do that. I prefer the term adding to my cache. You never cut yourself for something but you do grow to become better.”
“Why the word cache?”
“Because anything out in the open calls for trouble,” she said. “Which reminds me. Your training resumes tomorrow. No breaks will be given after that leave you took. You’ll need to work twice as hard.”
“I was kidnapped!”
“Giving out excuses?” The woman raised a brow. “After the kind of work you put the circus through?”
Valeriana’s lips twisted into a snarl. “Whatever. I’ll work tomorrow, I won’t slack off. So I’m off to bed. I still need to bathe and get changed. This is making me feel icky.”
“Wake up early unless you prefer the alarm.”
“It comes with a bath anyway.”
“And cleaning duty.”
The fifth-ranker huffed and escaped to her room. She was dreading her days more with Arisce and De Cirque than she did with Aleser.