CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 29 ♦ Spirit Faction
Trust Raegan, Valeriana did. Regret trusting him? She felt she was about to. She knew it was a bad idea but she had to take the risk. Although it was possible to find another way, what was the guarantee it would yield results?
The House of Spirit was the total opposite of the Fire Faction’s base except for the size. It boasted simplicity and sophistication while the latter was all grand and glory.
The Lord Commander was saluted the moment he was sighted and the doors, as expected, were pulled open for him. He needn’t do anything other than walk through them.
There was no courtyard. Instead, there was quite a number of steps leading to a pedestaled building. The flight of stairs curved daintily like a woman’s waist. The railings doubled as snaking pots that carried bountiful greens—a pleasing contrast to the ghastly white marble. The face of the towering giant prided itself with pointed arches, overlapping circles, intricate window barring, and unfurling owls at each major corner.
When they got to the landing, Valeriana’s knees were left with slight soreness. She liked exaggerating things but calling that a mountain was really not excessive. She looked ahead, expecting doors, only to see more stairs—five of them. While few, they were still stairs.
“You gotta be kidding,” Valeriana muttered.
“Not much longer now,” Raegan said. “Patience and determination.”
“That’s what I say all the time but looking at this place makes me want to give up.”
Thankfully, the doors were parted for them. Valeriana would cry if she had to pull them herself because, in the name of all the gods, those things were huge. The slothful side of herself was resurfacing just looking at the size of everything.
The doors opened to a large hall. They passed through pillars tapering to the ceiling like Atlas would’ve to the world on his back. And in moments they were streaming through a narrower path that leading to mahogany doors. Its surface was carved, with care and dexterity, a large tree that stretched so large it nearly swallowed everything. On both corners at the top were the moon and the sun, eclipsing, while the stars behind them wept. The tree bore fruits and flowers. A deer and the horse at each corner at the bottom reached for its yields.
Her hands grasped her wrist, reaching for a bracelet she left behind. She nearly forgot it was no longer with her.
“Caelleus,” she muttered, remembering the story that the king had told when she first came to the Rosellevienne Palace.
Raegan stopped short when he heard her speak—and another thing.
“Come back here, little kitty!” they heard a loud yell, followed by the guttural hiss of a feline.
They halted as the doors burst open. Moments later, a cat came running straight for the two, legs stretching in haste to get away from a girl with hair the color of ivory; skin a dazzling bronze.
Valeriana was left breathless when a white blur leaped on her face. She staggered back and struggled to get a focus on the feline that clung to her neck.
“Tiger?!” she exclaimed in shock, her fingers brushing through the soft coat. She caught a pair of blue eyes wrinkled with anger and irritation, teeth bared at the girl that skidded to a stop before them. “Tiger—how’d you . . . how on Earth?!”
She blinked several times but found herself fingering the same collar she saw on him the first day he came to her.
The ivory-haired girl broke down sobbing. “I love cats—why do they have to hate me so much? I just want to touch his cute little paws and he ran away . . .”
“And scratched you,” Raegan swiftly added.
“That’s because I think I accidentally stepped on his tail.” The beach curls fell softly around her face as she wiped away her tears. “But I can’t help it. They were just so pink and round and soft . . . they were like these little pillows under his feet.” She repeatedly made pinching motions with her fingers, her lower lip jutting with a tremble.
Valeriana was as speechless as the cat was hostile. She still could not wrap her mind around how Tiger, of all things, was in Varialon. How did he even get in? She got why Cifaro managed to join—but Tiger?
“His eyes were just so round and blue and he made cute little grunts at me!” the girl fawned.
“Unfortunately, milady, I think it is time you acknowledge you are not well-liked by animals in general.” The Lord Commander shook his head.
“Milady?” Valeriana’s brows perked.
“Ah, yes.” Raegan gestured towards the girl who tried to gather her bearing. “Please meet Lady Arcana Aliard.”
Lavender eyes blinked. Their shade reminded her of a certain girl back home, only that Arcana’s was far more lighter—almost fading to grey.
“Milady, this is . . .” he trailed off, perhaps realizing he never knew or could not remember what she was called.
She debated how she was supposed to introduce herself. “Valeriana Kerrigan,” she said, deciding she disliked being called a banshee outside the circus.
The commander nodded. “Yes,” he said, seemingly a bit embarrassed as he cleared his throat. “She is of De Cirque, a newly debuted member just the last show.”
Arcana cleared her throat as well and pulled her hands to her stomach for a graceful fold, her shoulders thrown back as she flashed a blinding smile. She chuckled nervously. “That was not the best entrance, was it? Pardon me for asking, but do you know Toodle?”
“Toodle?” Valeriana echoed. “You mean . . .” She reached up to calm down the cat, trying to ease off the claws that poked through her clothes.
The ivory-haired lady nodded.
“Well . . . I . . . wait a moment . . . Tiger, you little furball . . .” she trailed off. “Come here, calm down.” Tiger relented under Valeriana’s touch and let himself be carried into her arms. It took a while for her to calm him but within a minute or so, he was finally quiet.
Arcana watched the cat’s passiveness and obedience with fascination. Valeriana stared at her honest, infatuated gaze and inwardly wondered how things came to be.
The fifth-ranker scratched her head. “I guess he’s sort of mine.” She glanced at the purring cat in her arms and caught his tail curling around her arm. “He was a gift.”
“From who?” Arcana approached calmly and quietly.
“I don’t know,” she said. “He wouldn’t tell me.”
“You really understand them so much, don’t you?” Arcana smiled quizzically. “He just . . . just like that. How?”
“I don’t know.” Valeriana shrugged. “It’s not something I can answer easily.”
She knew she could but she didn’t trust them enough to tell.
“Oh, I see . . .” Arcana bit her lip. “What a shame.”
“Do you want to see and try if you can pet him?” she offered. “As long as I’m holding him, he at least won’t hurt you.”
“Really?” She nearly jumped, pumped with renewed energy.
Tiger lifted a haughty gaze at Valeriana, large eyes narrowing and ears twitching in irritation. He obviously didn’t agree but the fifth-ranker’s insistence clearly left him with no choice but to comply.
“Gently.” Valeriana guided her hand down his head.
Arcana convulsed with excitement as she stroked the cat. “I can’t believe he’s not running!”
Tiger flashed the meanest glare Valeriana had seen on him as Arcana pulled away. He did not look pleased.
Raegan cleared his throat—perhaps the third time that minute. “I believe we have business far more important than reuniting with cats and knowing how to not make them run away,” he reminded.
“Yes, definitely,” Arcana said. “How am I able to help again?”
“Why don’t we come inside first?” Raegan suggested, gesturing for the door that was nearly thrown off its hinges a while ago. There were nods from both girls. Feet shuffled to enter the room.
Raegan was the last, closing the door behind him gingerly—a stark contrast to the harshness his liege had paid to it before.
“Please make yourself comfortable. Do you want something to drink?” Raegan inquired.
“Oh no, I’m fine. I’ve had quite—I’ve had enough.” She shook her head and settled into a wingchair molded like a shell, Tiger on her lap. “Do you mind me asking how you found Tiger?” she questioned, wrinkle lining the spot between her brows.
Arcana settled next to her on a similar chair. “Well, we found him when we were out for a stroll. He was wounded on one of his legs. He just healed, actually.”
“Really?” She turned the cat over and found a break on his fur just around the upper portion of his right front foot. Pink, healing flesh. “What happened to you?” she asked him and all he gave her was a meow in return. “You know how all the meowing doesn’t help? I know you get what I’m talking about you little cat and I am telling you . . .”
“Oh, for the gods’ sake!” She glared at him.
He replied with his big, adorable gaze.
Valeriana sighed. “This isn’t working,” she whispered. “Anyway, to prevent myself from getting off track, I’ll get to the point. I came here because you had records on Aether and his appearances? I need some information on him.”
Arcana casted a brief look at Raegan and was given a nod. “I see. That’ll be no problem. The records are in the, um, main library.” The ivory-haired lady reached for her nape as she waved a hand at Raegan.
He nodded. “Give me a moment to fetch the keys to the room just in case our archivist is on a break.”
“Jselhi? That man never rests.” The Spirit Faction lady smiled at Valeriana, pointing to a lidded silver bowl. “I have some treats over there.”
“No, thanks. I’m good.”
“Oh. I have nothing else to offer in this room,” she said.
“Hardly,” Valeriana replied. “You can offer me some answers.”
“Alright. What is it?”
“Sorry for being too upfront about my intentions, you probably have some questions yourself,” Valeriana said with a dry smile. “I haven’t given you enough respect since I came here.”
“It’s really alright,” Arcana replied as her gaze dropped to meet Tiger’s displeased one. “Please, all that formal stuff makes me uncomfortable . . . especially around . . . cute . . .” She coughed into her fist. “My questions are trivial. I can ask Raegan later. Let me entertain you.”
“Your door,” Valeriana said.
“My door?” A small crease popped between her brows. “Which one?”
“That one.” She pointed to the door that led to the room. “This may sound foolish but with all the things that happened in the past few weeks, I didn’t really have any time for storytelling. There are some things that, apparently, can only be known through oral traditions. Do you know what that symbol in your door means?”
“The tree? It’s been there since I was a little child,” Arcana replied. “My father had it put there, I suppose. A reminder of what he left behind. I don’t remember much except for a legend and its name.”
“Caelleus.” Valeriana leaned back, exchanging glances with Tiger.
Arcana’s knowing eyes glazed for a second. “Perhaps you know much more than I do.”
“Tell me what you remember.”
“It’s everything,” she said. “What lights up the sky, what lies in between, and what sprouts from below. I had a hard time understanding what he meant. It’s maybe the reason why I don’t even remember half of his words.”
“But the tree is the symbol of balance from all the three; the center,” Arcana continued. “It bears fruit from all the energy in the universe, a bearer of blessings. It thrives under the light of both the moon and the sun, stands with those that live in between, and siphons off what is offered from below. It connects everything—a running vein.”
“Must’ve been chaotic when it was destroyed. What do you think, Tiger?”
She was given a head tilt.
“The moon and the sun. Where had I seen those again?”
As she filed through her memory, looking for the specific moment, Raegan came back through the doors holding up a ring of keys. The jingle brought her back to the present. Arcana stood and beckoned for Valeriana to follow.
“Come on,” Arcana told her with a nod of her head.
“Let’s go, Tiger.”