CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 3 ♦ Rising Sun
The dream state was, as before, lively. Little Val was her rambunctious little self, trying to annoy the hell out of Delaney to the point that the demon of illusions wanted to turn into one himself and disappear. When Valeriana came, his face shifted to resemble the trunk of the tree considering how many lines suddenly appeared. Janus, on the other hand, gave her the welcome she expected of him before his entire body stiffened, incredulity pulling on the muscles of his face.
The usual smile faded and what replaced it was distress. “Valery, what have you done?” he asked.
There was silence. The demon, her child version, and her father’s image gazed at her in mild disbelief.
“I had to,” she said. “Is it that bad?”
Janus suddenly seemed as though he bathed in cold water. He had to sit down on the tree stump, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. He breathed into his fingers, deep in thought and worry. Little Val raised her chubby little hands and did a dramatic gasp while demon Delaney threw his brows so high it would be no wonder if they overtook a rocket ship.
“I never thought it would happen,” Janus whispered.
Valeriana had a lot of explaining to do. The invite came so suddenly after all and she had no chance to consult her father whether the decision to enter Varialon was a good one.
“Dad, I had no choice—”
“What do you mean you had no choice?!” His voice climbed higher octaves.
Although it took Valeriana aback, the look on his face was not made of anger—rather, it was more indignant.
“You kissed a guy and you say you had no choice?!” he exclaimed, making Valeriana retreat. “Are you saying he forced you after you leaned in and took a peck like goddamn ducks?!”
The embarrassment tided in like a tsunami. Valeriana flushed so hotly her entire body burned beet. “What the hell! I thought you were talking about Varialon—”
“I could care less if you decide to go to another dimension because you’ve already done it anyway but this, Valery, this!” He sat down once more, this time, he started crying. “I have no business in your love life but this! Valery, this!”
“Yes, that.” She nodded tiredly, wanting this entire scenario to end. To think her father would see that made her want to dig a hole, jump in, and never come out. “Look, dad, girls do worse things when they’re twelve—”
“You’re comparing yourself to twelve-year-olds? Valery, you’re eighteen!”
“Exactly.” She crossed her arms, unable to lift her eyes to meet with anyone’s. “Dad, why are you making a big deal out of this?”
“Because you’re my baby!” He motioned to Little Val. “Valery, look at yourself.”
“Dad . . . I’m not Little Val anymore.” Her fingers kneaded the deepening lines between her brows as she tried to keep herself from screaming out of embarrassment. “It . . . can we please stop talking about this? I need your help, alright?”
“Valery.” Her father’s eyes were rimmed with tears. “Yesterday, you were just . . .” His eyes shifted to Little Val as he rolled his wrists to the direction of her daughter’s younger version. “That.”
“Valery kissed a boy?” Little Val said in her high-pitched and enthusiastic voice. “Is it Corvan?”
Valeriana did not know how many times she pulled on her face but she had done it enough to make her cheeks sag. “Oh god, Little Val.”
Delany decided to join the fray. “You mean this guy?”
The very next moment the fifth-ranker’s eyes landed on the demon, she saw the emerald-eyed lord standing arrogantly beside her younger self. He was in the same clothes he last saw her in, minus the wound.
She felt her anger rising like a jolted volcano. Not to mention, if there was a gauge measuring her embarrassment, hers would’ve long since exploded. Valeriana instinctively knocked on her head, as though doing so would relieve her of the discomfort from the wave upon wave of humiliation she was getting.
“What is up with you people?” she exclaimed. “Oh god, please . . .”
“Took you long enough,” said fake Corvan, in his voice.
“Get out of that form if you don’t want me cutting off your cheerios and burying it down your goddamned throat!” she yelled, the anger and mortification blending to create a unique shade of red on her skin. Delaney, however, didn’t seem too intent on obeying until a flaming sword materialized within her hands. He jumped, frightened by her threat, returning to his normal appearance.
Usain Bolt would have to walk out in shame if he saw how fast her heart was running at the moment.
“Calm down, Valery,” Janus soothed her.
“How can I calm down when you three are acting this way?” She growled. “I mean, for god’s sake, I came here because I needed your help. Okay, so I ended up kissing a guy—that’s my problem! I get that you’re worried and shocked and in disbelief but I am too! I’m already in a lot of trouble at the moment. To be made fun of by you guys doesn’t help . . . and I need your help . . .” she trailed off.
The flaming sword disappeared and she ended up crashing on the ground. The anger finally receded, but the feeling of embarrassment clung tenaciously like a monkey on a tree. The frustration caught up as well.
“You’ve had to face a lot of hard decisions,” said her father as his warm hand rested on her shoulder. He picked her up and pulled her into a tight embrace to offer some comfort, which he succeeded in doing.
“Dad, I didn’t want to go . . .” she whispered. “I’m scared. I’m sorry, but I’m scared. I know I shouldn’t be.”
“Why shame yourself for feeling something so natural?” he asked, his fingers ran through her hair. “I’m sorry for reacting the way I did. It’s just that time has gone by so fast. You’re all grown up, Valery. Your heart’s beating and you’re making your own decisions. Striding down a path you’re not familiar with is naturally very scary. Don’t blame yourself for it.”
“What if I don’t get the blessings?”
“Why wouldn’t you?” He pulled away and patted her on the head, tousling his hair. “I’ll tell you what. I think I know someone you can get help from.”
She blinked away the tears, her curiosity growing dominant. “Who?”
“She’s an old friend,” he said. “She disappeared years ago. People believed she was dead, but I know better. Judging by the looks of it, she’s most likely a part of that guild you looked through a while ago. I’m just not sure if she’s really here.”
“Which one? The Knight’s Wing?”
He nodded as a small smile lifted the corners of his lips. “Go and look for Sloan Bane. You’ll know her when you see her. But before that, of course, you’ve got to find her.”
Valeriana’s eyes lit up with hope, knowing she would have someone to rely on. Nonetheless, as she thought about the possibilities, her mouth flattened and her forehead creased with worry. “What will I say? And how sure are you she will even help me?”
“The sun may rise west one morning but a bond true will never set,” he said. “She will help you.”
She repeated his words, mesmerized by the weight and beauty behind them. It wasn’t just the words themselves, rather, the way her father’s eyes lit up with a rare flare of determination and strength, followed immediately by nostalgia and slight regret. Valeriana drew a deep breath, trying to take in the courage he was lending.
“Alright, dad, I’ll look for her tomorrow right away.”
“You should. She will be able to help you and I know she will.”
Valeriana nodded. “I think I’m going first,” she said. “Dad, do you mind training me the next time I come in? I think those moves you taught me from before were very, very effective. If you saw me beat up those bandits, you’d be proud.” His father beamed at her words. “But I need more challenge.”
“Time is quite affected here the moment you entered the city, Valery,” said Janus. “I think I can give you a lesson or two.”
“Really?” Her eyes lit up.
“Yes. Or rather . . .” He stepped back. “Delaney!”
The demon casually came forward at her father’s call and in his hands, a battle-axe appeared. Valeriana was chilled to the core the moment she saw his weapon. She cast a quick, inquisitive look at Janus before she summoned a sword in the likeness of the one she used in her fight with Corvan, the Empyrean, and prepared to battle.
“He will be much harsher to you than I am to you since he hates you.” There was a knowing and amused smile on Janus’ face as he scratched his head and stood back.
“Go! Go! Go, Val!” Little Val cheered.
“I can understand that much.” She squared her shoulders and dropped to her preferred stance.
“Get ready,” Delaney said with a low grumble.
She didn’t need any explanations to know what her father was thinking. He had given her a lot of advice in honing her skills, but she was already very familiar with his style and preferred techniques. Therefore, in a way, she developed resistance towards him, sort of like immunity, which made it harder for him to teach her. New ventures meant new challenge and based on her words alone, this was what she wanted.
Delaney, needless to say, was very aggressive and driven with his attacks. He liked to take risks and strike despite her firm guard, finding a hole—and making one—where there was none. He didn’t speak much, but he let his skills talk for him. Indeed, compared to Janus, he didn’t have much inhibitions. Valeriana wasn’t sure whether it was due to his being a demon or his utter hate for her. Either way, she didn’t care.
The fight seemed endless. Valeriana was taken with figuring out how to take down Delaney constantly, yet the demon kept surprising her. She quite enjoyed it. Although he looked irked at first, his attitude felt much better the longer they fought.
Delaney made strong, cutting swings that hacked the air in front of her. She evaded his attacks as hard as she could, however, aside from his attacks packing a lot of power, he also had speed. He was already a giant from the very beginning, taller than her by half a foot or so. Considering the fact that he had the best of both worlds was very daunting—or did he? Perhaps it was just a pretense.
“Alright, enough.” Janus stepped in and stopped the fight.
“Already?” She backed away from her opponent, lowering her weapon. She felt the corners of her lips turn down, displeasure rising deep within.
Valeriana, free from the constraints of her physical body, could not feel the exhaustion. Because of this, she felt too immersed in the fight. If it were not for her father, she would’ve continued with her endeavor of taking down Delaney. So far, she could not find a single weakness of his, which made it all the more exciting.
“Go back, hun,” said her father, pulling her in for a quick kiss on the forehead before sending her off.
Unlike the previous times wherein she would leave with a heavy heart and reluctance, she firmly nodded and pulled herself back to the real world. There were still many things to do in the new city and she was determined to make use of every second to accomplish something.
“I’ll try seeing you tomorrow night,” she told them, bidding Little Val and her father goodbye. She gave Delaney a nod of appreciation before she stirred to a sunny morning.
Valeriana sat up, refreshed. There were loud chatters that came from outside as the family gathered in front of the table. It didn’t take very long for someone to knock on her door—one of the kids—to tell her that breakfast was ready.
She took a deep breath and answered, “I’ll be down.”