CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 42 ♦ Better Than Ever
Varialon, the Sea of Celine
Three months later
Valeriana would wipe her sweat if it wasn’t a dream, but the physical fatigue did not affect her in the dreamstate. Delaney was one tough demon and his techniques were no joke. In spite of having many opportunities to fight him and learn the ropes of his mind, he remained swift and unpredictable. She always thought it was because, being trapped in her subconscious through the jade sphere, he had an inkling about her instincts and subliminal thoughts. Not to mention he was a demon of dreams. This was his arena.
“This is the third injury this month,” her father stated angrily, tracing the broken skin on her arm. The wound didn’t bleed. It just gaped. “I told you to avoid wounding Valeriana because injuries to the mind and soul are worse than physical ones!”
Delaney made no move to rebuke him, retreating silently.
“It’s what happens when training, dad. You don’t need to blame Delaney for it.” Valeriana sighed, turning to face the poor demon as the weapon in his hands disintegrated. Although she knew he was somewhat angry and hateful towards her. Her father had a reason for yelling at Delaney. The demon could’ve avoided hurting her the last minute but he didn’t stop.
It was a form of revenge, perhaps.
Like before, the superior demon slunk back into his tree and settled on the roots.
“You’re being unreasonably protective. This is all my fault. He’s shown me that sequence a couple of times already but I still can’t avoid him.”
“Yeah,” Little Val cued in with a small voice, her fingers playing with a flower she plucked. “I feel sad for Daney.”
Valeriana turned to her younger self. “But you squeezed his cherries when he first came here. How come you feel sad for him now?”
The demon perked up at the sound of cherries. Although he tried to be subtle about his reaction, the displeasure was radiating off of him so thickly.
“He’s not as bad as he was. I think he’s better now. So don’t be too bad on him, dad. He’s just being a little mean because he’s frustrated,” Little Val said.
Janus ran a palm over his face, a hand on his waist. He stared at the two versions of his daughter and sighed deeply. “I would tell you we should stop training but I know that that stubborn head of yours won’t listen.”
“We already talked about this. I cannot stop training,” Valeriana said. “You know how badly I need it.”
“Yes, I know . . .” he trailed off. “I’m just worried for you, Valery. Although it helps you somehow, the consequences are just as bad. Especially now that you need more complicated exercises. You’re going through a lot right now. If you keep getting injured like this while all of this is happening—”
Valeriana shook her head, she threw a glance at Delaney, who had settled under his tree, and squared her shoulders. “I’ll be okay. Like you said, I’ve gone through a lot. Something like this isn’t going to put me down.” She gazed at her father tenderly, forcing a smile on her lips as she pulled him in for a hug. “I’m sorry . . . I almost never have time to talk to you anymore. Thank you so much for worrying.”
Janus stroked her hair and firmly grasped her shoulders. “When you were a child, you hated it when I worried about you,” his father whispered.
“Because you were annoying!” Little Val exclaimed. “I just went out with friends and when I came back, you were already yelling at me! You told me to play outside instead of watching TV and when I did, you didn’t like it.”
“Who told you to climb the neighbor’s fence and mess up their lawn?” Janus shot back.
“Oh please, not that again.” Valeriana shook her head.
“See?” her father argued. “Anyhow, Valery, you’ve been busy and Sloan—Arisce, has been making you go through a tough load of work.”
“I’m asking for it,” she said. “It doesn’t feel right to take things easy, especially with what’s happening in Valemnia. Not to mention I still cannot find Aether. I’ve waited for him for . . . three months already.” She sighed. “Which reminds me I need to be up early to break borders again. I’ll get going, dad. I’ll see you later, Little Val,” she said, kissing her younger self on the forehead.
She turned to leave but paused midway. “Goodbye, Daney!” She waved at the demon. Though he gave her no regard, he rolled his eyes at the name she used.
Valeriana retreated to the ‘room’ and reexamined it for the umpteenth time. There were significant improvements as she continued to hone herself and train her abilities. There was improvement after improvement under Arisce’s strict training regimen and she had broken through limit after limit.
This past three months had been a smooth rhythm. She had gotten into a routine; chores, practice, performance, breaking through the borders, hanging out on a cliff by the tree, and waiting for a god who probably would never come. She took minute staring at the portrait on her wall.
The sun and the moon.
It reminded her so much of the warsong. But she was starting to see traces of branches below. It was an image reminiscent of the tree she’d seen in the doors of the House of Spirit. Caelleus, the myth—and to make puns, the root—of everything concerning element-wielding.
After a moment of taking in the changes in the room, Valeriana roused from her sleep. Tiger was comfortably curled by her side. She reached out to her companion and he hopped into her arms willingly.
“You’ve avoided them again, haven’t you?” she whispered to him. “Even if you’re sneaky, you’re bound to get discovered here and there. Why not just meet them upfront? You’ve had no problems with introducing yourselves to the Twelve.”
Tiger gave her a pointed glare. Her grumpy cat didn’t seem pleased with the suggestion. “Don’t you like them?”
“Is that a yes or no? Bonjo is convinced you’re a ghost,” she told him. “Maridie thinks you’re a wayward spirit. What’s the difference?”
“And I think you need a bath.”
“Come on, drama queen. We need to get going.”
She took a bath, threw on some fresh clothes, and got ready to set off. Her honey-golden hair had grown long, reaching the curve of her waist. So, instead of the trademark ponytail, she decided on a bun. While she considered getting it cut due to the inconvenience and the fact that it got in the way of training, many of De Cirque’s members—including Arcana—protested, saying it added to her charm and made her seem a little more graceful. After all, Valeriana was airheaded and clumsy at the worst of times. While she didn’t try to argue, she was getting a little sick of her long locks.
Speaking of Arcana, Tiger would be getting his bath at the House of Spirit—where he wouldn’t be able to run away so easily, especially with the ivory-haired lady around.
John, their giant turtle-like beast, had approached the shores of Lavanya for her ease like he did every week. Some of the other members were out for scouting as well, but they would be heading out a bit later than her. As they were allied with the Spirit Faction—and the fact was out in the open, they were given some security and could come and go as they please. Not that landing on risky territories had stopped them before.
Even so, it had turned even riskier with De Cirque openly harboring a breacher. Valeriana’s presence did not only lead to more aggressive on-show attacks but it also led to a couple of personal troubles. Thankfully, she wasn’t alone and was equipped with enough skills to defend herself.
“Thank you so much like always, John! I’ll see you in a while!” She waved at the turtle, whose head was poking out of the water, and ran ahead at full speed.
It didn’t take much time to reach the House of Spirit. Arcana’s only wish for her was to join breakfast, lunch, and dinner whenever she could—share wines and get drunk on some days. She happily obliged. After all their help, Valeriana had nothing else to offer the two at the moment aside from her companionship.
As a result, she became a common face in House of Spirit. Not to mention her association with the notorious De Cirque led her to be known as Banshee to many—which she hated—but she bore with it as it came with the job.
“Val!” Arcana enthusiastically greeted as she stepped into the courtyard. It was surprising just how aware she was whenever she came and go.
“Hey, Arcana,” she said with a smile.
“Oh my gosh,” the other girl replied. “I have many things to tell you about. Which one first? Bad news, bad news?”
“You’re not giving me any choice. Bad news number two?”
“We caught several more spies from the Water Faction. They’re getting pretty aggressive. And I’m sure there are more hanging around.”
“I’m surprised you managed to keep them out of my business.” Valeriana cocked a brow and placed a hand on her hip. “Although, yes, they are pretty persistent. They’re too troublesome to handle, I’m sorry for this.”
“Yes, well . . . that’s the other bad news. Unfortunately, I think they found out where you go every week. You’ll have to expect some trouble today.”
“I see . . .” she trailed off. “Well, it’s gotta happen at some point. We’ve managed to stall them for . . . how long? Three months?”
“Perhaps it’s best if Raegan comes with you this time. Or don’t come at all.”
“I’ll be okay,” Valeriana said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in a real fight. I think I should see what I can do. This is a good test.”
“Are you crazy?!” Arcana gawked. “That shouldn’t be a question . . . but there are many things that can happen. What if they talked to Aleser about it and they’re waiting for you?”
“You’re right,” she thoughtfully whispered. “But I still need to go. I’ve gone there for three months straight. I won’t let them stop me now. I’ll just have to find a way to get out of this situation without . . . without breaking my ritual.”
“This is because of that blessing, isn’t it? I don’t know why Aether has to make it so hard.” The ivory-haired girl sighed. “You’ve waited for him long enough.”
“Maybe he’s waiting for something else. Maybe he’s waiting for me to find something,” she said.
“How do you know?”
“I just have a feeling.”
“I don’t know if they’re aware of the path you use to break borders,” Arcana said. “It is most likely they don’t.”
“Are you suggesting I don’t use that way?” Valeriana inquired. “But with those spies, they should, right? And there’s little choice in the matter. I bet they have an idea.”
“But are they aware?” she repeated. “Are they aware of the open sesame to Ali Baba’s cave?”
Valeriana frowned. “When did I tell you about Arabian Nights?”
“I don’t know. I just remember the story.”
“Anyhow, they most likely do,” Valeriana responded. “But I can’t skip out now. If they know where I go every week, they surely know how I get there, right? Unless a little birdy told them. And they know where I am but they don’t know how.”
“Don’t trouble yourself thinking so much. I’m sure we can do something.”
Valeriana pursed her lips. “So what do you suggest we do?”
“Mm.” The ivory-haired lady tapped her chin. “If you say you’ll go, then you can go. But you’ll need a James Bond and we need a way to help you deal with the aftermath.”
“You’re really getting a hang of this, aren’t you?” Valeriana chuckled.
“You can bet I do!” Arcana nodded firmly.
“I think you’ll need something more than a James Bond.” Raegan, the Lord Commander, strode up to the two ladies.
“Commander Raegan, what is it?” Valeriana greeted the dark-skinned man with a smile. Unfortunately, it seemed he was a bearer of more bad news.
“From your . . . other James Bond,” he began in a low voice and leaned in to whisper in Valeriana’s ear. “The . . . um . . . Ozai knows.”
Valeriana racked her brain for an Ozai character and realized Raegan was talking about the Fire Lord from The Last Airbender. He must be referring to Lord Aleser of the Fire Faction! Just how many stories had she told these two already?
“So you were listening!” the honey-golden blonde exclaimed.
“Here and there.” The man shrugged.
“This is a big problem,” Valeriana stated. “Do you guys have a better idea?” she inquired softly, at loss.
“Leave it to us,” Raegan said. “We may have something that just might work,” he said.
“We do?” Arcana turned to the Lord Commander, clueless.