CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 27 ♦ Get to It
Arisce’s ‘personalized training’ came with learning Valemiuer, improving control over Cifaro’s winds and Direct Control, perfecting combat and swordsmanship, and learning to perform with De Cirque. The ‘performance’ included simple tricks such as sleight of hand, climbing ropes, scaling walls, and some swimming lessons. Basically, training covered whatever she could learn and what could be taught.
While Valeriana was suffering in the hands of Arisce miserably, there was one thing that uplifted her spirits. Her number one chore in the circus became beast duty—that is, tending to the beasts. Whereas she’d been seeing no progress with herself whatsoever in training, Tyson seemed to open up a bit more to Valeriana—though in a very reserved way. He was more welcoming to touches and was a bit more responsive compared to his harsh ignorance and borderline hostile behavior from before.
Whatever it was that caused this sudden closeness, Valeriana was unsure. She didn’t intend on asking questions, though.
“You get a break three times a week,” the woman said.
“What—” she halted. She wanted to ask what she was supposed to do with her time but Arisce’s warning glance made her stop short. “I’ll go and search for Aether and clues about his whereabouts,” she said.
“Good. Now you’re learning to make use of your time wisely. Get back to work. I’ll check on your progress every week.”
The work seemed to pile up endlessly. Valeriana tired herself day-by-day finishing her chores. But before she could get to the bottom of her list, the obligatory vacation days came. She was given no choice but to temporarily leave her work behind to face the work she seriously needed done.
At the morning of the fifth day since their escape from Mardiya, Valeriana woke up at the crack of dawn. She readied a horse, packed some food, and prepared to set out. By the time she was done with the preparations, the sun had risen high. Undoubtedly, any city would be buzzing with activity. It was the perfect time to leave.
Arisce, surprisingly, appeared to see her off. John had swam close to the shore to let her go so they were coasted on the narrow waters.
“Three days, Valeriana,” Arisce said. “You need to be here in time for the next show.”
“Yeah, I know,” she told her. “I don’t where to start, though. I can’t complain about that now, though, can I?” Valeriana whispered as she climbed up to back of her ride, muttering a greeting into his ear to let him know she was going to ride him. “But I’ll find something.”
“What are you planning?” she asked.
“I plan on going around Lavanya to look for some clues and Alivio if I have the time. Considering those towns are ruled by the Spirit Faction, that would be the most obvious choice now, right? I don’t think three days will be enough, though.”
“You can stay out longer if you find something,” Arisce said.
“But you have to make up for it when you return.”
“I figured as much.” She pulled on the reigns, trying to steady the energetic trotting her horse was making. He seemed eager to go. “Well, then, I guess this is goodbye for now.”
“How do you plan on paying for things?” Arisce raised a brow. “I don’t suppose you have a way of earning money?”
Valeriana sighed. “I’ll find a way.”
“I don’t think you’re aware that members of De Cirque earn something off of their service and performance.” She brought out a neat pouch from the pockets of her skirt and handed it to Valeriana.
“I didn’t know.” She took the pouch and looked inside to find some money—enough for a few days to survive, perhaps. If she used it wisely. Valeriana felt herself being freed from a burden and a grateful smile tugged on her lips. “Did you deduct food expenses and whatever there is in here?”
“Don’t worry yourself about such trivial things.” Arisce dismissively waved her hand. “Living, everyday necessities are sponsored by the circus and the willingness of your fellow members. You help with them as well so consider it paid.”
“That’s a relief. So my salary will be deducted if I don’t show up to perform?”
“You can guess. You might not have a salary at all.”
“I’ll make sure to be back in time,” she said.
“You’ll be in need of something else,” Arisce said. “You can’t go around without a proof of identity now, can you?” The woman tossed her a silver-plated medallion embossed with a dancing clown and at the back of it was her name. “Never use that in the towns under the Fire Faction and Wind Faction. I will also have to warn you to avoid the Water Faction territories as much as possible. If ever you do need to enter those towns, use this.” She threw another, this time, plated with gold and embedded by five crystals of different colors—red, blue, green, white, and yellow. At the back of it was not her name, rather, there was no name at all. “Only bring that out when you’re desperate. We don’t prefer trouble.”
“Alright.” She kept the two medallions in her coat’s inner pocket, patting them to make sure they’re in place. “I’m pretty much limited to Earth and Spirit, then?”
“See you in three days, Sloan.”
She rode away on Blackie. His name was given to him by members of the circus and was reminiscent from their simplistic preferences—or probably just their lack of creativity. The horse himself showed his disapproval at being called so but it was too late to change it.
Just like how the name Banshee somehow stuck.
It was one of the most unbearable developments in the circus. Her name was taken after a screeching demon.—so much for a cool ‘rebirth.’
She zoned out along the way, thinking about Deli and her reason of revenge for taking the necklace. It seemed foolish and stupid. How exactly would it help her serve revenge? She could not help but think she was fooled for trusting the woman—carried away by her words and the mention of being a Celeste. Perhaps Beard was right when he questioned if she could be trusted. However, whether or not Valeriana made a foolish decision depended on the Lady Commander.
Lavanya, along with Alivio, were under the Spirit Faction. Considering their relationship with Arisce, which the troupe leader didn’t care to talk about with the rest, Valeriana assumed that they were, in the very least, in a good relationship. Arisce bid her no warnings before she left and there were no known hostilities between the faction and the circus. That increased her chances of being correct.
De Cirque’s members didn’t seem to have any intention of mentioning the matter as well. She had a clue why. Arisce herself would tell them if she found it necessary and if the time was right.
Since De Cirque lingered on the coasts of Lavanya, it didn’t take more than a few minutes to reach the town. Valeriana decided she would start here and start by simply asking around. She stopped at the gates to gather her wits and because she was required to for a brief check.
“Entrance to the city costs two silvers per head. Any affiliations? Citizens from towns controlled by the Wind and Fire Factions need to undergo extra documentation on the right. Please show your badge and proof of identity as well.” The guard on duty pointed to the small booth by the entrance which filtered incoming carts and horses while another line was formed on the left for those who journeyed on foot.
Valeriana was at loss as she dumbly plucked out her coin purse. Thankfully, there were over twenty silvers in the purse along with fifty coppers and five golds. She didn’t know how the currency worked but she wasn’t dumb enough not to understand it immediately.
“Proof first,” said the guard.
The fifth-ranker took out the silver medallion and threw it at the guard. They only needed a brief look to recognize it.
“On second thought, no fee for you,” he said and threw back her medallion. “Go on and enjoy the town. Please be aware that horses are only allowed on the main roads.”
She was a bit stunned but did not question it, pulling on the reigns and entering the town in a leisure pace.
“What fine treatment,” she muttered. “I guess the Spirit Faction and De Cirque are on really good terms after all. Whatever this medallion means.”
She rode to the town center and was faced with a busy business lineup dealing with all kinds of trades. Voices layered from hollers to casual bargains and conversations. Valeriana did not know where to start but perhaps she should begin with general information and act insouciant when asking around.
Start from the general and narrow things down—that was the goal. If she could get to the foot of the matter at least, it would definitely be a big progress.
“Do you need a place for your horse, miss?” asked a boy around Runner’s age. “We have stables.”
“How much do you charge?” she inquired.
“A very cheap four coppers per hour.”
Valeriana’s brows furrowed at the price. It didn’t sound ‘very cheap.’ However, she wouldn’t be able to take Blackie with her the rest of the way. “Alright then.” She hopped down Blackie and led her by the reigns.
“I don’t recommend it!” somebody else protested. “I will charge you a cheaper two coppers! Choose my stables!”
“Bastard!” exclaimed the boy. “You ruin-er!”
“If you stop overcharging your customers to make up for the ones you lost, you wouldn’t be so cheated now, would you?”
Valeriana shrugged. “I save two coppers, I’ll go with him. And four coppers do seem a little bit too pricey,” she told the boy. “Sorry, little lad. Better luck next time, I suppose?”
“Good choice, miss!” The man laughed.
“Is it not possible to make that a copper per hour, though? I reckon I will stay out more than few hours,” she bargained, looking at the man.
“That—eh . . .”
“I’m sure this little lad would be more than willing to offer me that price, considering his lack of customers.” She gave him a knowing glance but the look of doubt on his face made her shift a bit. “If I stay out for more than five hours, feel free to start charging me two coppers. Then three more coppers at the end of the tenth hour and after,” she said.
“Fine,” the boy reluctantly accepted. “This way.”
She felt as though she closed a good deal—thank god for her mother’s bargaining skills at the flea market.
After she got Blackie settled, she went on her way to look around the town. She toured the streets and occasionally stood by, pretending to look at the merchandise. In particular, one stall with different kind of jewelries caught her eye. She felt familiar with a few pieces of beaded necklaces and bracelets in particular.
“The workmanship in these are beautiful,” she told the vendor. He was a thin, old man with a graying beard and fine salt and pepper hair. His smile was brilliant and welcoming.
“Indeed,” he agreed.
“Where did these come from? They’re quite different from what others are selling.”
“An exclusive supplier,” he informed. “But you can’t expect me to tell you.”
“Oh, that’s fine,” she said with a smile. “I’m not here to start my own business. Ain’t got no time for that.” She shook her head.
“You never know.” He shrugged.
She had to steer the conversation to the topic she wanted somehow—subtly. She continued looking. There were genuinely many beautiful things that she was somewhat tempted to buy.
“I want something reminiscent of the gods—Aether in particular. Can you help me find something with a focus on yellow . . . I don’t know.”
“I have a few things you might want to look at,” he told her, bringing out a box from a compartment in the stall. “Topaz and white crystals.”
A beautiful selection of jewelries was set above the others—all themed yellow, silver, and white.
“Oh, they’re all beautiful.” The statement carried nothing but truth.
“You like the god Aether?”
“Quite, yes,” she replied. Now that was quite a lie. “If there’s a chance to meet him, I would jump at the chance.” And that was true.
“It’s not very impossible but the chances are low.”
“Why? Have there been no sightings of him for a while now?”
“Well, I heard they like to go around without people knowing. The rare times happen, even so, that they reveal their identities. In particular, the god Arland likes to flaunt his presence compared to the other gods—whenever he gets the chance.”
She chuckled. “A bit arrogant, yes?”
“Very.” He nodded in agreement, chuckling. “You never really know when they are around. They seem like normal people.”
“I have heard of this before, nothing quite new about it. Have you seen them, though?”
“Well, it’s not that difficult to know if they’re gods. They have very elaborate markings on the body with the most intricate ones being on the face,” he said. “And they have a certain presence. People are just dumbstruck whenever they see them. And no, I have never seen one.”
“A shame,” she stated. “Oh . . . is this a valeriana?” She pointed to a pair of earrings with long, curly vines that took the shape of the ear’s shell. She imagined this would delicately frame the lobes silver with mellow glints of deep yellows and whites, exuding both simplicity and outrageousness at the same time. It was befitting of the name De Cirque.
“You are correct.”
“How much for this piece?”
“Ten silvers for this but I’ll give it for seven,” he said. “For you since you’ll look beautiful with it.”
“Five.” She had to mind her budget.
“Nah, no profit if I do.”
“Five point five?”
He chuckled. “Five silvers and ten coppers. But you come back to me.”
“Done, thank you.” She reached for the bag of money from her pocket only to realize it wasn’t where it should be. Her heart jumped. “Oh, holy shiznits.”
“Ah.” The vendor sighed. “Thievery is quite common. They have hands so light you—”
“I believe this is yours!” proclaimed a loud voice.
Valeriana looked up. The immediate surroundings kept quiet and the crowd parted a bit to make way for a familiar face.