CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 45 ♦ Unexpected Find
The fall was short. Breaking through the surface of the water hurt like a mighty slap on the back. Valeriana had gasped before she plunged deep, eyes shut as the water embraced her tightly. While it was indeed threatening, her fear of drowning had long since diminished, especially after having had received the Blessing of the Sea.
Why did this always have to happen?
She forced her lids open and swam in search for Deli, cheeks ballooned and hair clouding. The bottom was a little bit further down—it was actually nearly pitch black. Her stomach flipped so she looked away and concentrated on finding her companion.
After taking a few seconds, she found the woman unconsciously drifting underwater. Blood curled around the brunette like an inky mist, stemming from a gash on her head.
Valeriana moved her arms, flapped them, and pushed herself to get to the Lady Commander.
Clumsily, she speared through thick waters. It didn’t take very long. She latched onto the arm of the other woman and pulled her close.
Valeriana faced the direction of the surface, only to see a dark shadow looming from above. It gradually got larger. And larger.
What the hell?
And then it clicked.
The blonde mentally cursed as she moved both herself and Deli out of the way. A larger part of the cliff was on its way to make another big splash. Neither one of the two would want to be present once it broke the surface. The results would definitely be bad.
Valeriana had barely swam when the massive piece of land—with the tree she used to go ‘bungee jumping’—shot underwater. Its size initiated a current, casting both the blonde and the brunette away wave after wave.
Valeriana knew better than to fight the force. Instead, she kept a firm hold around Deli while they both spun. Bubbles escaped the ranker’s mouth as a brief flash of darkness shadowed them—whatever that meant.
The next moment she opened her eyes, she found a big blob that looked like the sun staring at them from above. Valeriana tugged on the woman and swam to the surface.
Then she realized something was strange.
Breaking to the surface, she took in big gulps of air, making sure that she had a grip on the unconscious woman by her side. Looking around made her realize that, for the umpteenth time in her life, she was in a hidden cave by the sea. The ‘light’ on top was actually an opening—a hole.
“What is up with me and cave systems?” she whispered. “By the gods! First Larkovia, Arlandia, Aetheria, and now this. Why can’t I end up on a mountain top . . . actually, I did. But I fell off. Whatever. I just remembered it was actually a volcano.”
As she pulled Deli to the beachy shores, nostalgia decided to drop by once more. This time, it was a stranger that confused the hell out of her so much. Not much difference in that department aside from the gender.
“Come on, come on,” she muttered. Valeriana dragged the woman to the creamy sands and reached for her pulse. There was a beat, but it was faint. “Oh gods, please stop putting injured people in front of me—especially unconscious ones! I don’t know anything about—”
A coughing fit interrupted her. Deli rolled to her side and coughed out some water.
“Shiznit, thank all the gods you revived yourself! Otherwise, I wouldn’t know what to do.” Valeriana brushed back her wet hair and prepared to shoot her questions.
“I told you to leave,” Deli whispered.
“This isn’t the place where you should be. You stubborn child.”
Valeriana tried to comprehend what in the world the Lady Commander was talking about. It took her a few moments. Eventually, she realized that Deli was hallucinating—or something like it. The commander wasn’t fully conscious and aware of what she was doing.
Valeriana stood and brushed the sand off her clothes. Just as she turned to look at the waters, she caught Tiger rising from the depths so casually as though he expected it. She put her hand on her waist and frowned at her cat.
‘I know what you’re going to say,’ a deep voice rang.
Her jaw slacked open.
‘Stop looking so surprised.’
“You—are you . . .”
‘Yes. I’m talking.’
‘Do you rather I do tomorrow?’ he challenged, blue eyes meeting blue. Tiger shook his fur, purposely at Valeriana.
The cold water on her face brought back some wit. “What the—hey! And no. I was just asking.”
‘I’m not very patient. Had I actually talked, you would’ve ranted. But keeping my silence did not make much difference, did it?’
‘Exactly. Also because seeing you do things to make me talk is amusing.’
“Can you blame me?” she asked. “Who sent you?”
‘All answers come at a right time. Where is the excitement if I tell you now?’ A rumbling chuckle reverberated.
“Like I haven’t heard that before.” Valeriana rolled her eyes. “Why did I even expect anything?”
‘You expected too much.’
“So, tell me,” she began with a shake of her wrist. “What I can know.”
‘Answers come,’ Tiger said. ‘But some answers are best understood when they are seen.’
“Does this have something to do with Aether?”
Her cat ambled on wet paws. He went for the direction of the wall, stopping short to wait for Valeriana.
“Where are you going?”
There was no answer.
“There’s nothing there. And we can’t leave Deli,” she protested.
‘How will you see if you do not look?’ he responded. ‘The woman will be fine. She will be as you left her.’
“Are you sure? If she dies, I’ll be blaming you!”
Tiger rolled his eyes,
Valeriana paused to gaze at the unconscious Lady Commander and followed after Tiger with a sigh. Soggy footsteps echoed in the cave as she dragged herself across the beach. The wall before her seemed to bend the more she approached it—an illusion.
Eventually a path split. It was a matter of perspective. From afar, the wall seemed continuous when, in fact, it was hiding a path so casually. Tiger brushed past the rocky walls, curling his tail and softly meowing.
“That was smooth,” she muttered, stepping into the tunnel it led to. She shot a short glance at the still-unconscious Deli before going past the corner, just to assure herself the woman was still there.
‘What are you waiting for?’
“I’m right behind you, dammit!” She stifled the childish urge to stomp her feet, fisting her hands tight on her sides.
Valeriana shuffled behind Tiger, her mind whirring as she attempted to break down the events into simpler sequences. She had her guesses but what she could not understand was Tiger. Her cat remained rather enigmatic—turning even stranger by the second. While he was an adorable little fella, he definitely wasn’t just an adorable little fella.
The blonde scratched her head. The winding tunnel was not as dark as it initially seemed. Instead, there were glowing marks on the walls that reminded her of the writings on the House of Spirit’s treasured halls—the one with the door that led to a wall. Thankfully, with her reinforced lessons on Valemiuer from Arisce, she managed to decode some of the words.
Knowing Tiger would pay her no heed, she concentrated on reading as much as she could while they walked.
“Tolienn uvento vu de muíllen kon élasha kon uventen. One tale serves as the root of all tales,” she muttered.
In spite of her interest in reading everything, Tiger’s unforgiving pace forced her to speed along. Whatever it was in these cave walls was worthy enough for him to finally start replying. It simply meant that there was something big, if not significant, for her to see. Valeriana stifled her curiosity and impatience, incredulously trailing after her cat.
After a bit of walking, the glowing walls revealed a Bundt cake chamber. It was circular in shape with a single vortex column tapered to the ceiling at the center, thin arms branching out into thirteen lines like Atlas’ would with the world on his back. These lines divided the room like a pie.
Her eyes traced the delicate silhouettes carved on the column. They were guided to the floor, which had been buried under a thick layer of sand. Graceful lines peeked from beneath—like a teasing beckon.
She knelt on one knee and swept a hand through the dirt, revealing a part of the image. While there was intricacy in the section she uncovered, the lines remained too vague to understand. Valeriana stood back up and glanced at her cat, stretching her fingers and drawing on Cifaro’s power.
“I’ll need some help to clean this up, Cif,” she told her ring companion.
‘As thou whisest,’ he replied.
Wind stirred inside the cave, lifting the particles of dirt and bringing them up in the air to form what looked like a tornado. The wind then shot out of the tunnels, bringing the sand with it and clearing the room.
Valeriana coughed. Sand filtered through her nose.
‘I apologize, lheuim ansur. I tried to avoid you.’
“It’s not that bad,” she said. “I just breathed wrongly, that’s all. Really. To think I had a mistake at something so simple as breathing.”
Cifaro chuckled. ‘Wilst thou need more of my help?’
“Not at the moment anymore, thank you,” she told him, rubbing her nose and coughing into her sleeve. “Thank you so much.”
‘Thou art welcome.’
Valeriana examined the carvings on the floor and studied each section individually. From the looks of it, each of the thirteen partitions possessed illustrations of many scenarios that stretched for the column where, like bleeding paint, they melded to form a unique image that gave life to the centerpiece.
But she found something else after spending minutes trying to make sense of it. Her brows furrowed at the depicted scenes. At the section she was stepping on, she found roses engulfed in fire. The petals did not burn. In fact, they seemed to thrive even more. Its thorns were sharp and glinting, the pointed leaves open.
She caught words etched on the largest leaf. The subtlety and the strokes blending with the rest of the picture nearly made her miss it.
Valeriana squinted. “E—emava. Emava? What does that mean?” She looked up at Tiger. “I’m not familiar with that one.”
‘Emava is beauty,’ he said. The way his tongue rolled to annunciate each syllable was fluid, with the classic accent so exclusive to Valemiuer. ‘Beauty in its purest form—the quintessence of it. On its own, without anything else, it is a valued treasure. Anything beautiful is worthy.’
“Vainness,” she stated.
‘In a way.’
She moved to the next section and found fire again. This time, it served as the bursting mane to a fanged beast with dropping jaws. Where the tongue was supposed to be was fire. Eyes were beaming embers. Valeriana lost herself in the picture and for a second, as she ran her middle finger down the lines, she thought she saw a cool blue light seeping from the smooth curves. She closed her eyes for a second, thinking they were tired, and opened them up again. Among the stroke of lines that lit the flames, she found familiar words.
“Wylden.” Her heart skipped a beat. “Is that supposed to mean something?”
‘Everything has meaning. It may be lost to the ears, but never truly.’
“What does this word account for?”
‘Power,’ Tiger said. ‘It is the energy that drives all things. It is the will. The choice.’
Valeriana lingered on the section, biting her lip as she traced the words with her fingers. “Emava. Wylden.”
She quickly moved to the next image. It was a wild fire. A burning forest. Her eyes searched the nook and cranny, every line, every part. And although it took her a while, she found the words she was looking for.
‘An—what? An . . . kalé? Am I reading this right?” Valeriana turned to her cat searchingly. Tiger sat upright—watching, guarding. “What is it?”
‘It roughly means mischief, but the word itself is inadequate. Ankalé is what impassions interest and immersion at the benefit of . . . louierva.’
“That word stands for happiness, right?”
‘It is more of amusement. Joy. Well-being. Or maybe all. It is more than just a casual statement of feelings.’
Valeriana stood. “These three blocks are all concerned with fire.” She walked to the next block and knelt at the image before her, searching for the word. “Signos. Reverence.”
‘Surprisingly, you know.’
“I should,” she replied. “This written on my key.”
She rushed and pulled out the words from each section. “Emava, Wylden, Ankalé, Signos, Evereesha, Kilára, Kaiven, Vernados, Ílladrieu, Ovarra, Touilé, Nevan.”
When she got to the last and thirteenth section, she was shocked to find that it was blank. She ran a hand across the surface; patted, pressed, punched. She expected a pop—something magical. Valeriana waited for anything to happen. Nothing. Her brows furrowed.
“I don’t understand. Why is this one blank?”
‘Nothingness is an important quality that is often overlooked. It is possibility. A fresh start. A chance to make choices. While all the other parts are determined, there is always a window of opportunity. Nothing goes exactly as planned.’
The honey-golden blonde frowned at her cat but understood the meaning. “The names of the high families are here. Thirteen. Are these the names of each position? Why wasn’t all thirteen inherited? Why only six? Why did it become twelve over time instead of the original number?” she shot at him.
‘Because it didn’t go as planned.’
Valeriana took a deep breath.
‘You cannot expect a wall to remain as complete as it was when it was built. Over the years, pieces will crumble. What is left is a mere reminder of how it was before. Much like a sold memory. While it is not possible to recall every detail, there is a silhouette—an idea.’
“So what is this about? Silhouette? Solid memory,” she muttered, sitting on the floor as she fell deep in thought. “This has got to be here for a reason.”
One hand pulled on her wet clothes while the other swept back her soppy hair. Droplets plopped on the solid surface, forming a small puddle. Valeriana stared at it, her mind whirring as she tried to piece together the meaning.
“If it is as you say—is Varialon a silhouette? Is it a solid memory of what Valemnia used to be? Because if it is, it makes sense. I’ve heard of the primordial wars,” she said. “Before Valdis and Friedel’s history, Valemnia was divided into many kingdoms. At war. But then, what is the key?”
‘The key is everything. But to know what key to use, you must first know the lock.’
“So what locks Varialon?”
‘That is yours to find out.’