CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 31 ♦ Wasted
Dinner was unexpectedly simple. She had been expecting a dining room the likes of what she had seen with the Fire Faction. The room was smaller and the table was shorter with fewer chairs. There were only a few people present; Arcana, Raegan, Valeriana herself, and five other people who occupied the other seats.
“Oh, Val!” Arcana waved at one end of the table, greeting her with the same smile from earlier that day. Her enthusiastic and childish demeanor was contrary to the usual image of a faction leader—or any other leader, for the matter. “Come here and sit. I’ve been waiting.”
Valeriana looked around and felt a choking hold from the heavy gazes pinned on her head. “Is it okay?” she inquired, clearing her throat. She felt as though every pore and dirt on her body was out for everyone’s scrutiny.
“Don’t worry, it’s not a formal dinner. Some of my close people are here tonight, partly because they heard you were here. Don’t mind them. If they try anything funny, I’ll personally break their fingers for you.” Her joke didn’t seem much of one. The people around her shifted in discomfort on their seats, throats making hard swallows as they glanced at Arcana.
“Me?” Her brows furrowed. “What is so special about me that you all would come to see?”
“De Cirque is always full of interesting people,” Arcana said. “Don’t worry. Please don’t mind them. They’re mostly just here to talk. If you find them a bit unnerving—”
“Ah, no.” Valeriana shook her head as she took the seat on the lady’s left. Raegan was directly across her, sitting on Arcana’s right. “It’s alright. Just surprising.”
“Well, then, let’s dig in, shall we? Let us thank the gods for the sumptuous meal before us,” the Spirit Faction’s lady declared.
Mutters of thanks echoed from everyone’s lips. Valeriana played along, plastering a smile on her face as though her life depended on it. Tiger jumped on her lap and rolled himself into a ball of fur, his tail swishing side to side. Valeriana ignored him but felt the comfort of his presence. He wrestled away most of her uneasiness and gave her some strength to handle the inevitable socializing to come.
Dinner started immediately afterwards; a clutter of silver against porcelain.
“How has the search gone for you?” Raegan asked, glancing Valeriana’s way questioningly.
“Fruitless, relatively,” she said, tugging on the folded napkin on the table and spreading it on her lap—like everyone was doing. She was trying so hard not to draw attention to herself but her efforts, like her recent search for answers in the archive, were relatively fruitless. Thankfully, the Spirit Faction’s members were sensitive enough to notice her discomfort and keep their eyes on their food.
“I take it you realize most of the appearances were actually charades,” Arcana stated.
Valeriana looked up and met her lavender eyes.
“We wanted you to find out for yourself,” Raegan told her, forcing her to shift his gaze to meet his instead. “Rather than me telling you outright. It was also a tactic of mine to lure you into the house.”
“Not for anything suspicious, of course. Believe me,” Arcana hastily added. “Stop making her misunderstand things, Raegan,” she scolded, her fork dangerously pointed at him.
Raegan didn’t seem at all threatened. “Pardon me, milady.” His head tipped forward subtly, hand on his chest. “It was not really my intention.”
There was an unsettling peculiarity about the Spirit Faction that set Valeriana off entirely. She just could not bring herself to trust them wholeheartedly. Although she could feel the sincerity behind their actions, their behavior and manner of dealing with things left her breath bated—and not in a good way. She felt uncomfortable despite their efforts of trying to get her to loosen up.
Dinner crawled on faster than Valeriana had expected—but it still crawled. Everyone was quiet, save for a few questions that rose from the people occasionally. They were holding back from barraging her with so many inquiries and took turns introducing themselves. She was thankful they had that much restraint. The overwhelming curiosity rolled off so thick from each one of them she doubted how they were even so calm.
Another trait of the people of the spirit, she supposed.
“And now for the wine!” Arcana clapped her hand excitedly as all the plates were taken away.
Valeriana’s belly was already full with the complete meal. She wasn’t sure if she could start with wines.
“Show restraint, milady,” Raegan reminded.
“Oh, please, Raegan. It’s not like I don’t drink every night!” She raised her hand and signaled for the attendants to bring in the emerald bottles. They promptly came in with six, the corks popped in no time at all—no excessive and wild explosions, just gently eased out with a satisfying hiss. “This is dinner ritual. We tend to have high consumptions of alcohol, if you aren’t already familiar with that.”
Before Valeriana could refuse a drink, the bubbling golden nectar was poured into her glass; energetic and effervescent as it settled silkily on the bottom. She grimaced and glanced at Tiger for help. All he gave her was something akin to a brow raise before he went back to sleep.
So much for help.
“Now our tea may not be up to your tastes but I’m sure our wines are something you won’t be able to resist,” Raegan said with a smile.
“What’s it called?” Valeriana inquired, reaching for the wine modestly fizzing on the bottom of her glass. She swirled it around a bit, letting the sweet aroma waft under her nose. The experience was much like hearing a song—there were notes. First came the fragrant, rosy scent followed by hints of orange peels. She stuck her lips on the mouth of the glass and felt the subtle popping of the bubbles on her nose. Valeriana tipped it back, feeling a mild thirst for the taste.
Sweet, sharp, rich.
The taste was velvety on the tongue. True to the orange peels, there was a citrusy sourness that played around. It was exquisite.
“I don’t know what to say.” She pulled away after a sip, humming in satisfaction. She was surprised at the quality and richness of the drink. Even the wine back in Valemnia which she had drank during the party of Prince Bertram—King—could not compare to it.
“Delicious, isn’t it?” Raegan smiled.
“What is this?”
“Karva,” Arcana replied. “It’s taken from the name of the person who first brewed it. You must hear his story.”
“Yes?” She leaned forward with interest and took another sip. She had dried her cup in a matter of seconds. Thankfully, the attendant had come forward instantly to refill her glass.
This is bad, she thought.
“His father worked on the sea,” the ivory-haired girl began. “And happened upon the sunken ship of sailors before during his dive for pearls. Of course, there were treasures but the most valuable ones were the wines, sweeter than anything and exotic. Sold a whooping ten thousand per bottle!”
“Coppers?” Valeriana intoned.
“Gold,” Arcana replied.
She nearly choked on the wine. Whatever was running down her throat and warming her stomach was easily a fortune.
“He tried to find out what had made them so different,” the lavender-eyed girl continued. “Eventually, he found out it was the sea. He tested it and not all the bottles turned out as he would’ve wanted them to.”
“Don’t be mistaken, the quality of the brewing matters too,” Raegan cut in. “But the redeeming quality about our wines is that we store them at sea.”
“Oh. That’s interesting.”
“Yes. This is why milady is intent on telling it to everyone. I doubt anyone can easily replicate our methods, though,” Raegan said. “The Water Faction has tried all these years to steal our secrets.”
“You must go through a lot to for it,” Valeriana stated. “This reminds me a lot of a story back when I was young. Dionysius. He’s god of wine and intoxication. Unfortunately, he’s often . . . overlooked and not as popular as the others,” she told them.
“A god of wine?” Raegan echoed, amused. “I have not heard of this.”
“He’s a part of a belief system by a group of people called the Greeks,” she told them, looking around the room to find curious eyes. “Much like the gods, only that they govern very specific domains. Dionysius is god of wine, but he’s also known as Bacchus to others. A son of the king of the gods, Zeus, also ruler of Olympus and god of thunder, to a mortal woman.”
“Pray tell, what is this tale you speak of?”
“When pirates approached the shores of Greece, they beheld a beautiful youth clad in fine clothes. He was the paradigm of radiance. So they captured him, intended on sailing away to another continent to sell him—as a slave. They tried to chain him with a fetter but it miraculously fell away like nothing. One man saw it—the pilot—and he was very sure that this youth was actually a god. He warned the others but they didn’t heed him. So they went for the open sea . . . but the ship stood still. Vines of ivy appeared and bundled on the masts and the sails. Then suddenly there was music and a distinct smell of wine.”
When did she start telling stories?
It must be the wine. Oh, Dionysius!
“The crew was terrified but it was too late. They disrespected a god!” she raised her voice and some had to lean back at the intensity of the force behind her words. “Dionysius changed into a lion. They jumped off their ships in fear and were changed into dolphins. Except for the pilot. He was rewarded. After that, they sailed away. And yadah.”
“I didn’t know there was a god of wine,” Arcana said, eyes wide with interest.
“Oh no, that’s a myth,” Valeriana told her. “Or something, I don’t know what to believe now, really. Don’t mind me. It’s just stories back home. Greek tales are cool but way overused and redundant to the ears. I prefer mythology from other cultures.”
“Is this Valemnia?” Raegan intoned.
“No,” she said.
What was in the drink? Why was she talking so much? It felt as though her restraints were failing.
“It’s complicated,” she said. “If I tell you now, you won’t understand. If I try to explain it, I’ll have to begin filling you in with the basics of the society, government, and all other things I don’t want to talk about. Because, honestly, that kind of life is boring. You know what’s fun, though? Elements, demons, lords and ladies, basically everything you guys are missing out by staying in this cramped city. Honestly, when you experience overpopulation, what will you do?” she ranted.
And she ranted some more.
Her glass was refilled. “Wait,” she said, looking up at the attendant on her side. “How much have I drank?”
Then she realized she was not the only one. Everyone else were teetering on the edge of their seats. Valeriana was miraculously still upright.
“We’re already down to our second set,” Arcana said, slightly wobbling to the side.
“What? Really? How long have I been talking?” Valeriana asked.
“I don’t know. I like your stories though. Continue,” she said.
“A long time,” Raegan replied, amused.
“What? Wait. No, this isn’t right.” Her hand, however, moved against her wish and she took some more of the intoxicating drink. “I really got to go back to work . . .”
“It’s been nearly two hours when we started dinner. I don’t think it’s wise we continue this way,” Raegan said. “Please take away all the glasses and leave the wine for the others. Both you ladies are already quite drunk. And everyone else feels quite tipsy. We can’t afford to be wasted, seeing as we have work tomorrow.”
Valeriana’s vision blurred and Arcana was nearing falling off her seat.
“But I want more stories . . .” Arcana muttered.
“This is the problem with Karva and drinking in general. Once you start, it’s really hard to stop,” the Lord Commander said.
“How come you weren’t drinking?” Valeriana pointed at him. “Did you drink at all?”
“Someone in this room needs to not be drunk when everyone else is. And yes, I drank three glasses.”
“I didn’t expect the Spirit Faction to be drunkards,” Valeriana whispered. “Stop, stop . . . no, actually . . . you know—”
A sharp scratch on her arm jolted her. She gazed at Tiger whose raised claws threateningly lingered above her skin. The sting gave her back her much needed wit and some awareness. The wine was stripping it off her. Fast.
“You know there’s this weird thing about this wine or every wine,” she stated, watching the bottles leave the room, disappointment coiling in her heart. “I know I’m drunk but I don’t think I’m drunk. Do you do this every night?”
“Yes, it has that effect. It’s like this subtle intoxication,” Arcana agreed. “But we don’t do this every night . . . every other night. We really should stop. We’re losing control. Take away the bottles!” she ordered as though she wasn’t already seeing the fact that they already did.
“One more glass, one more glass!” someone exclaimed.
“Enough.” Whoever it was who spoke was chided by the person next to him.
“May I ask something?” The Spirit Faction lady began.
“What is it?” Valeriana inquired. Her limbs felt light but her head was heavier than a bowling ball. She concentrated on not falling over, her fingers grasping Tiger for support.
“Where did you buy those gloves? I want some of my own.” Arcana waved to the gloves Valeriana wore like second skin. The fifth-ranker had never taken them off except during certain parts of training with Arisce.
“They were customized by a friend of mine—Sai. Oh man, I miss Team Five. Brings back a lot of memories,” she muttered. “I don’t know if he made it available commercially but all I can say at the moment is you won’t be able to find it anywhere.”
“He must be on Valemnia?” Arcana put her elbows on the table and leaned into her palms sleepily. “I want to go there. I want to get out of this place. This place is like a cage. Why am I even here? We’re idiots. Raegan, we’re idioooots.” Lady Arcana started crying. “Why does it have to be like this?” the ivory-haired girl bawled.
“Milady.” The commander stood from his seat and approached Arcana, gingerly grabbing her by the arms and pulling her close to him. “I think it is time we retire for the night. You have drank quite a lot as well, Miss Valeriana.”
“I’m actually fine,” Valeriana said, squaring her shoulders and stretching at the joints. “I am still okay . . . a little bit tipsy and chatty but still okay. I’m not that drunk,” she swore and there was some truth in her words. She was a bit intoxicated, even so.
“Your tolerance must be high, then. I have never seen anyone drink to the bottom of a bottle and still not fall over. Except for milady, of course,” Raegan said. He pulled Arcana to her feet and started guiding him out. “I will talk to you tomorrow. I have a room prepared for you.”
“Yeah, sure.” She blinked.
Tiger gave her a long stare as one of the attendants came over to escort her.
Valeriana was still okay. She felt okay.
“Wait, I forgot something today. I forgot something,” she said. “It’s my horse, I forgot my horse on the stables. Blackie, poor Blackie. I pay how many coppers per hour . . .”
“Do not worry about the horse,” the Lord Commander uttered as he stopped by the door. “I’ll handle it.”
“You have my word.”
“Okay, okay . . .”
Tiger leapt onto the floor from her lap and sat waiting for her. However, before she could get to her feet, she fell over and lost consciousness.