CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 48 ♦ Step-Up
The Twelve’s Residence
Tamara seethed as she pointed a fork at the ‘scaly, overgrown reptile’ who took Valeriana’s seat in the dining table. The wild, red hair had flared along with her temper or perhaps because of the bout of fire that had burst her way just now. The third-ranker had been eating peacefully when the Arlandian dragon had belched so hard she spat fire—and had the gal to look at the redhead as she did so! Now, she was covered in soot. Her strands and clothes flared with small flames out by Corvan and Charles.
“Why is that thing even here?!” she exclaimed, glaring at Vallore who was sitting on the far end of the table.
“You know I tried to bring her home, didn’t you? She wouldn’t let herself be taken.” Vallore casually sliced his steak, golden eyes lifting to meet Tamara’s before gracefully lowering back to his meal. “Besides, I was expecting a mother to take care of the hatchling when I arrived.”
“But that thing needs training!” the third-ranker yelled. “Charles, teach that savage beast some manners!”
Charles went on with his dinner without missing a bit. “If I can’t teach you some manners, how do you expect I train a dragon?”
Brindon stopped short just before the spoon reached his mouth. “Burn.”
Tamara gritted her teeth. “You there, drakon dude!”
“My name is Vallore.”
“Teach your dragon some manners!”
“Do you not know I tried?” he replied. “She won’t listen to me. Like the other dragons.”
“Useless! You call yourself a dragon keeper when you fail so horribly at training dragons! You even have dragon blood!”
“I do not have the blood of a dragon and I am not half dragon.”
“Are we having this debate again?” Elfre tiredly stated. “For the gods’ sake, we have this argument every night.”
“We doesn’t include you, Elfre,” Zevlin pointed out.
“But these guys make my ears bleed harder than a certain someone’s singing,” the current sixth-ranker shot back.
Eyes drifted to Corvan shortly before turning away with no other word.
“That dragon is growing up fast.” Raziel cleared his throat. “That chair is starting to be . . . unable to support her.” He waved gracefully at the dragon to draw attention to how Femeron’s tail was no touching the floor. “I wouldn’t want to call her enormous because I know very well she will get even more gigantic but she cannot get used to sitting in that chair.”
Femeron, understanding their conversation, lowered her head with a saddened growl.
“The dragon understands,” Brindon interjected.
“I’m arranging for her accommodations but I don’t expect it to be finished soon,” Charles told them.
“When will that be finished? When she cannot fit through the door?” Elfre exclaimed.
“Now, now, I recommend you not be too harsh on the young dragon,” Rowe smoothly intoned. “She merely misses her mother so. Tamara, forgive her if she’s belched on your face. I’m quite sure the youngling will try not to do it again.”
Femeron’s golden eyes flashed to Rowe admiringly, nodding with enthusiasm.
“Are you done with this meal? I think it’s time I bring out the dessert,” Charles said.
“My favorite part!” Zevlin exclaimed, eyes brightening.
“Finally,” Elfre muttered.
Femeron howled with excitement.
“Can you lot not be too rowdy?” Corvan impatiently tapped on the table.
“Meh.” Tamara rolled her eyes and brushed the soot from her nose. “Where the hell is that Keelan anyway? We’ve already gone through appetizer and main course. He still hasn’t arrived!”
“You really have to ask that?” Elfre flipped her fork Tamara’s way.
“Busy,” Brindon said.
“Yes,” Charles stated as he pushed back his chair and casually trod to the kitchen. “The transfer of rights is quite a hassle. It involves more than just a simple passing. There are papers to be filled and papers to be shredded.”
“This is too weird.” Elfre brushed a lock out of her eyes and sighed. She stared at the empty seats before the table. “I don’t think I want strangers to take those seats.”
“It’s what happens in the Twelve,” Zevlin commented. “Gen is quite happy where she is.” He paused chewing and swallowed, eyes pinned on the vegetables on his plates. “I hope Valeriana and Aneeka are, as well. Wherever they are.”
“Won’t Courtney try to challenge for the position as well?’
“I’m not sure,” Elfre said with a frown. “She would’ve, I’m sure.”
“She has a lot of pride, even so,” Raziel pointed out. “I do not think she will want to fight any of us for a position.”
“Maybe. Yes, it makes sense. She wants Valeriana,” Elfre supported. “And the key is still with Valeriana. So no one can truly be the fifth-ranker until she comes back.”
“She can try challenging for Gen’s position. Or Aneeka’s,” Vallore told them.
“Why are all the girls leaving?!” Tamara growled under her breath.
Keelan swallowed to join the conversation briefly. “You really think she’ll settle for it, though? I don’t think so.”
“What about that mongrel,” Raziel butted in. “What’s was his name, Zevlin?”
“Why in the name of Arland are you asking me?” The older of the twins frowned.
“Because his name sounds like yours,” the tangerine-haired ranker told him.
“Zion?” Elfre supported.
“Yes, that person.” Raziel pointed a fork at her.
“Don’t like,” Brindon interjected.
“Well, he’s never been interested in the Twelve.” Zevlin shrugged. “Man, why are things so old and boring without the others? It just doesn’t feel the same.”
Rowe’s heavy sigh was next to echo. “Who will handle the aspiring members tomorrow?” he asked.
“I will. From what I remember, it’s my turn.” Raziel tipped a finger in the air. “Worry not, I shall make them give up before they even have the chance.”
“No, you doofus. You’ll just do a lousy job and bore them with your flamboyant speech.” Elfre’s green eyes narrowed. “Honestly, if we weren’t suffering a lot of vacancy, this semester wouldn’t be as hard!”
“You, of all people, know my skill with the whip.” A lush smile curled on his lips as he sultrily leaned forward, his tangerine eyes blinking slowly. “Or do you need another demonstration?”
Elfre threw a fork at Raziel’s face. Luckily, the seventh-ranker managed to duck in time before the utensil broke his perfect nose.
“I’m warning you, Raziel Elieás Aslan.”
“I didn’t know you knew my middle name.” He chuckled. “Oh, my little elf.”
This time, a spoon came flying.
“Can you two knock it off? Tamara and Vallore just stopped arguing and now you two are arguing.” Zevlin threw his hands in the air.
“Careful not to break the porcelain or I will have to cut your meals for a year to make up for it,” Charles coolly stated, carrying a cold tray of cake towards the table. He stopped short, narrowing his eyes at the crowding plates. “Why on Valemnia haven’t you cleared the table?”
“Because you didn’t tell us to!” Tamara argued.
“Must I tell you to do everything?” He sighed.
While the remaining members of the Twelve moved to do as Charles prompted, Keelan broke through the doors with a stifled cry. Eyes shot to the eleventh-ranker’s face as he draped over his seat and started piling dishes on the clean plate set on his side. Wordlessly, he threw the full chicken leg into his mouth, pulled at the bone, and left all the meat to be grinded by his teeth. He threw the bone aside and busied himself savoring the bite before diving in for more.
“What happened to you?” Tamara asked with furrowed brows.
Charles casually set the cold tray on the table, throwing glances at the eleventh-ranker’s way. He cut the cake in even slices and left the others to begin taking a serving for themselves.
“What,” Brindon repeated.
Keelan talked through a full mouth, mumbling his words.
“Swallow that goddamn food first, you idiot. You think we understand anything?!” the redhead exclaimed impatiently.
The strawberry blonde did as he was told and chased down his food with a glass of water. He sighed. “I had to handle a lot of things I don’t remember. The last thing I can remember is rushing here to grab food. But I did made a mental note of something—I felt like something huge was said to me that I had to tell you guys.” He paused. “Let me eat first to jog my memory.”
“Why didn’t you eat in Denovegasia?” Raziel inquired. “I’m sure your wonderful forests have a lot to offer.”
“I waf biifffy.”
“You wanted beef?” Elfre strained her neck, trying to make of the reply.
He stuffed himself with the potatoes, the fish, the vegetables—basically every dish in the table—while the rest of the Twelve watched him, unable to decide whether they would laugh or cry at the sight of him. At some point, amidst the chewing, he held up a finger while his eyes shot open. He quickly swallowed, drank some juice, and began to talk.
“I remember. Rumors. Rumors,” he said. “Huge rumors.”
Zevlin tilted his head to side questioningly. “This can’t be about the king—”
“It’s not about the king,” he cut them off. “I think it’s about Valeriana.”
“What?” Tamara inquired with renewed interest. She blatantly glanced Corvan’s way and found him casually threading through his food. Disappointed, she turned back to Keelan. “Have people seen her somewhere?” she inquired.
Femeron perked up and yowled happily.
“No. They don’t know it’s her and I’m not sure either.”
The little dragon’s face fell.
Keelan saw this and sheepishly smiled as he reached up to scratch the back of his neck. “But there’s only one person who has the ability to purify, as far as I know. And people are talking about it. I don’t know how they came to know of it. Only a few people really knows about that. Us, Valeriana herself, the king, Lord Lienhard, Lady Seraphina, Headmaster Kylon and—”
At the mention of the name, Keelan’s eyes widened. “Yeah.”
“This is disconcerting,” Rowe said. “But there must be a reason. How come this has reached our ears only now?”
“I’ve heard of this, actually. I thought to investigate it as well,” Charles said. “The spreading of the news has been fairly reserved as people find it incredulous to believe. It’s been circulating for a while, it seems. Three months ago is the earliest I can find.”
“Why didn’t you tell us immediately?” Corvan queried with narrowed eyes.
“I wanted to be sure of anything I say about this matter,” the fourth-ranker explained. “Not to mention it kept slipping my mind with how many things there are to do these days. I’m actually quite surprised we manage to have dinner like this.”
“Well, we haven’t seen each other for the past two weeks. It’s the weekend for the gods’ sake,” Tamara grumbled.
“Stories fly fast,” Zevlin commented, shoving a spoonful of cake into his mouth.
“Fast,” Brindon agreed.
Corvan broke his silence as he lifted his gaze to look at Charles, fingering the glass of warm water beside his plate. “How far has this reached?”
“I’m not sure of that yet. But, certainly, it has reached many countries in my continent. I’m guessing Keelan’s as well,” Charles replied, digging into the cake on his plate. He stared at his food and paused, sighing deeply and closing his eyes. “I wish to inquire on a lot of things. Right now, I don’t even know where to start.”
“Look at you not knowing something.” Tamara laughed.
“Look at you not knowing anything still,” the fourth-ranker retorted.
“I know something, FYI!” the third-ranker unabashedly struck the table with her fist and flipped her wild, red curls.
“Like what?” Charles challenged.
“Like you keeping those teabags with your underwear because you think it makes them smell good!” she yelled.
Silence dropped like a sudden rain.
The room turned cold.
Stares shot Charles’ way and jaws dropped to the floor. Keelan, like some miracle, stopped eating, stiffly turning to gaze at the fourth-ranker in shock. Even Brindon was stunned, so much that his brows wrinkled ever so slightly and his messy lips parted to reveal the stuffed mouth.
The Larkovian lord’s brows twitched at the awkward silence. “Those teabags are refreshing.”
“And you feel the need to refresh?!” Tamara exclaimed.
“I happen to feel comfortable with it. At least I take an extra mile. Unlike somebody who stuffs it anywhere feasible.”
“I don’t stuff it anywhere feasible! I am perfectly clean!”
“WHY ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT THIS?!” Raziel exclaimed, horrified. He half stood on his seat, leaning forward and throwing his arms in every direction. “The images flashing in my head are unsightly! Impure! Foul! Malicious! Why in the name of the gods would you even start this conversation?”
Keelan swallowed his food heavily. “Do you drink the tea?”
“Ahhhhh!” Raziel clutched his head and ran out of the room in stuttering steps.
“Excuse me, I happen to have things to attend to.” Corvan threw his napkin on the table and casually exited.
Vallore stiffly turned on his seat and dashed out of the room.
“I . . . have lost my appetite as well.” Rowe stiffly smiled, nodding at Charles and fleeing the room. Femeron followed after him, scampering past the doors as fast as her stout legs could.
Charles reddened. “I do not drink it! It’s entirely for refreshment,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Refreshments are drinks!” Tamara persisted.
“Not in this context!”
“You know what? Don’t even try. I’m outta here.” Elfre stood and left with the crowd, pulling the shell-shocked Zevlin with her. “This is not a conversation I like to hear.”
Keelan threw a couple more dishes into his plate before he shuffled out of the dining room. Brindon weakly stood and staggered out of the door. Left alone in the room, Tamara had a victorious grin while the look on Charles’ face could not be painted—probably not even by a Da Vinci.
“You insensitive, vulgar idiot!” the foruth-ranker exclaimed. “No dinner, no weapons in your room, not anything!”