CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 33 ♦ Voyage
A warm bath in the morning, some nice clothes—too nice to be comfortable—and a hefty, delicious breakfast with the lady of the Spirit Faction and her associates, Raegan included. The day hadn’t finished but she felt it was going to finish well. Hopefully, she didn’t jinx it.
The meal was quick and there were no wines, much to her relief. Arcana immediately stood and left the table the moment they were done with eating. Valeriana was led down a path that went the same way as the library—only that they went past it. The journey had nothing worthy of speaking about in exception for the silence and bland, white walls.
The room they headed for had the exact same image as the door that stuck itself to her memory when she first came. The tree. Only this time it had a strange glow—a sort of ethereal feel to it. Then it occurred to her that, unlike any other doors she had seen, this one had life. This door in particular had a very strong aura of its own.
She realized they had stopped for longer than necessary. Valeriana turned to her two companions who were contented with staring at the door. Her brows furrowed. “Do you have plans on entering?”
Arcana laughed. “By all means, go ahead.”
The crease on her forehead deepened but she did as the other girl prompted. Her fingers curled around the bronze knob, turned it, and pulled it open. She was given something she didn’t expect.
She closed it, dubious, and opened it again. Tiger meowed as he watched her.
Still a wall.
This time, she left it open whilst her head turned to look at the two behind her. “What is this?”
“Look again,” Raegan said with a chuckle.
Valeriana sighed. Feeling like a kid, she faced the wall once more. It was plain—nothing special to it at all. She felt the frustration and the impatience, her arms crossing as she put her weight on one foot.
“You can’t see with your eyes,” Arcana hinted. “Use what you have.”
She sharpened her focus, trying to ‘see beyond.’ A few moments of silence were spent staring at a wall; silence which bore fruit to a sense of déjà vu. Valeriana was unable to pinpoint where she got that feeling but it wasn’t comfortable and further inflated her frustration.
“This is nuts,” she muttered as Tiger walked up to her legs and tapped her shoes with his paws. “What is it, Ti?”
“You’re not even trying,” Arcana said. “Toodle knows better than you.”
“I am trying.” She sighed, rubbing her eyes before taking another look.
Valeriana rested her hands on her waist and decided to look past the frames of the door since she was seeing nothing within its boundaries. To her wonder, she found intricate lines decorating the entire hallway—a hallway she could not believe she thought was the blandest path she’d trodden.
She spent a few minutes admiring the melding rainbow of colors that flashed before her eyes, trying to comprehend what they were trying to convey. When she could not understand, she turned to her companions. Like she expected, their mouths remained sewn shut.
She turned back to the door and, this time, found something written within the walls encased in the frames of the door.
“De lavaye vu de hadvann,” Arcana stated.
“The journey is the destination,” Raegan supported. “In case you don’t know.”
Understanding lit up Valeriana’s eyes. Indeed, the thought and wisdom put behind it was profound. Having to look outside the door and back to the path trodden to find the real picture was eye-opening. Still, despite the enlightenment received, there was one thing that remained unclear.
“So what is this about?” Valeriana asked. “I get the message, but why are you showing me this?”
“I felt that you needed to see it. This path is special. Its origins are mysterious. After what happened a while ago, I felt compelled to bring you here.” Arcana approached her and warmly took her gloved hands. Her grip was gentle and calming but Valeriana was wary not to move any closer just in case. “Whatever power you hold, it’s important not to lose sight of the path you’ve taken. In the end, the real value of a journey is the journey itself.”
“Am I worthy of being preached?” she joked.
“You look like a worn soul.”
Valeriana smiled gratefully at Arcana. “I appreciate your concern.”
“Oh yes, before I forget.” The lavender-haired girl whipped out a couple of papers and put them in Valeriana’s hands. “Just so you don’t feel we’re stalling you. These are the records that say in detail the confirmed appearance of Aether. I’ve studied it out of curiosity and you might be interested in what I found.”
“Is this . . . ?”
“Yes. Jselhi found it for you.”
“Seriously, I told him I’ll do it.” She leafed through the pages.
“There has been a mystery surrounding the sunken ship that the wines of Karva have been found on,” Arcana explained.
“What’s so mysterious about it?”
“I’m not sure if you’re aware. There is no other destination aside from Varialon and having known this for a good few hundred years, a ship this big didn’t need to be made,” she told her. “Fishing boats and slightly bigger ones are reasonable but this one is over the top.”
Valeriana looked up, her brows furrowing. “So what are you saying? Were this people going somewhere?”
“Yes, and they never arrived,” Raegan cut in. “We’ve recently seen big ships made by the Water Faction to satisfy their need for exploring the ocean which no longer needs exploring. But that boat was not from the city. It was not made by the Varialonians as well.”
“Then where did it come from?” Valeriana asked. Deep inside, however, she knew the answer. “Valemnia.”
“Depends if you can recognize that flag,” Arcana told her, motioning for a tri-colored flag at the bottom of the page—vertical bars of blue, white, and red.
“You recognize it,” Raegan stated.
“This isn’t . . . if I’m not mistaken, this is France.”
“France?” Lady Arcana echoed.
“This is the flag of France. This ship didn’t come from Valemnia.” A disbelieving smile pulled on her lips. “It came from Earth.”
“Fascinating,” Raegan uttered, a spark of interest in his eyes. “We weren’t wrong but neither were we right.”
“Those bottles of wine found at sea were probably worth a fortune. A trading ship from France, lost at sea, sunk in strange waters. Varialon is the boundary to all worlds, alright. What I won’t be surprised about is if this was the boat that sunk from Beauty and the Beast. Whaddaya know.” She shrugged jokingly at the two who seemed very clueless about the matter. “But that can’t be ‘cuz they ended up retrieving everything afterwards. Back to the topic, what does this have to do with Aether?” she whispered.
Her heart trembled. If she was understanding this right, she could make her way back to Earth through the borders of Varialon. The need to see her family—her brother Jareth and her mother Lily—was overwhelmingly tempting. She could just bolt out and abandon everything to return to her ignorant, old life.
“Valeriana?” Arcana’s voice cut in. “Are you alright?”
She blinked. “Yes.”
“You didn’t hear me.”
She shook her head. “No, no, sorry . . . what was it?”
“Will it matter if I say his appearance was around the same day the wines were found?” the other girl patiently repeated.
“Two hundred twenty-nine years?” Valeriana stated with raised brows, her eyes gravitating back to the papers. “He did?”
“That was another instance,” Arcana said. “The wines were found around three hundred years ago. Although guess when the first batch of the real Karva wine came?”
“Two hundred twenty-nine years?” Valeriana repeated.
“He loved the wine apparently,” Arcana said, nodding. “So much he had to steal a few bottles when they won’t give it to him.”
“No way.” Arms fell on Valeriana’s sides, the papers hitting her thighs as she disbelievingly looked at both Raegan and Arcana. “A god stealing wine to take a few swigs? This is beyond unbelievable.”
“I guess that’s why these investigations were never published. A lot of people rely on faith no matter how unreliable it had become for them lately. If they see that a god cares more about bottles of wine than his people trapped in a cramped city, it will be awful. Although, yes, there haven’t been tragedies that have befallen me and my people so far—nothing so bad so I must attribute it to their blessings and guardianship.”
“Then you must not be aware of the tragedies that will befall you once you leave this place,” Valeriana told her. “Are you ready to give up the peace for something more chaotic?”
“I’d rather have trouble brewing around me. That way, all the chaos I suffer is not from inside me,” Arcana said.
The honey-golden blonde shook her head, fingers pressing on her temples. “I don’t understand half of this,” she said. “What is the state of this city and why are you so desperate to leave it?”
“It’s a matter of preference,” Arcana replied.
“There are people who would beg to differ though,” Raegan stated as he glanced at the ivory-haired girl beside him. “The people of the water faction are very contented where they are. They bar out anything that might resemble what’s out of this world. They are aware of it but they deny it. They fear it.”
Arcana brushed back a stray bunch that wandered on her face. “People are mostly disenchanted by the thought of ‘leaving’ since they are not too aware or are too caught up with their own life to care.”
“So why aren’t you?”
“You know the answer to that,” she told Valeriana.
“Maybe.” Blonde locks fell on her face as her azure blues dropped to her feet.
“You will help with opening the borders, won’t you?” Arcana asked.
“I will.” She nodded determinedly. There was nothing else Valeriana could be sure of. “I have to. I can’t let it be. I will need to return after this. If I get stuck here forever, I’ll be defeating the purpose of why I came. So yes, I will help. We will open those borders or die trying.”
“Alright!” Ivory hair bounced, a wide smile bright against bronze skin. “All you have to do is take a couple of Karva to the place Aether appeared. Wait for him. By the looks of it, he won’t be able to resist showing up.”
“So we’re in for the waiting game now, are we? And where—wait. Are you talking Liberia? The place where Aether—” Valeriana uttered questioningly, her spirits falling further at the nod she received. “Fire Faction territory? I’m sure Aleser already hates my guts. If I show my face around his place, I might not recognize it the next time I look in the mirror! Or maybe I won’t have any when I leave.”
Raegan laughed and Arcana snorted.
“You have to find a way somehow, we’ll help you.” The other girl patted her shoulder reassuringly.
Valeriana looked expectantly at Arcana with a doubtful quirk of her lips. She knew Arcana’s faction was capable of fulfilling the promise but there was a small problem she hoped they weren’t forgetting.
“Yes.” Arcana caught on quick with how the wheels turned in her head and cleared her throat. “I’m sure you know that what happened last week destroyed our relationship with the Fire Faction completely and it remains unsalvageable for now. It’ll be a little troublesome for us as well.”
“You’ll have to find a way to reenter the Fire territory,” the Lord Commander supported with a small nod.
There was a long pause as Valeriana sunk in deep thought. She knew a way. It might be effective but it was equally dangerous—both for her and the other person. There was also no guarantee that she would see Aether the first time around.
Valeriana was quite aware she’d been getting by with a lot of luck. Unfortunately, she felt that she used up most of it that past few months.
“I might have something,” she told them with a hopeful sigh. “I’ll find him. I swear it.”
“Why do you seek him?” Arcana inquired, brows knitting and her chiffon dress shifting as she gazed up at Valeriana. “What’s something you need that only a god can give?”
“His blessing,” she answered with a self-depreciating smile. Before questions could be asked, she threw her gaze around and looked for her elusive, little cat. He was right there a while ago. Where could he have gone without her noticing? “Tiger, where are you?”
“He’s on me,” Raegan told them, turning to reveal a mischievous cat clawing his way up his robes. “He seems to like climbing my back.”
“Come here, you little tiger.” Valeriana swooped down and pulled him back, holding him up like she would a baby. “I have something I need you to do, my little guardian.”
His blue eyes lifted to meet hers. Blue on blue. Lazily and asininely, he let them roll to the back of his head and played dead in her hands. Valeriana chuckled at his portrayal of unwillingness.
“I might have something for you back in De Cirque that you’ll like,” she said. “Lemme give you a clue. It ends with nip.”
He burst to life and meowed excitedly.
“There we have it!”