CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 51 ♦ The Last Laugh
After the failed trip to the secret chambers, Valeriana and the others left for the Hill of De Cirque. Arcana and Raegan tagged along, unwilling to return to the House of Spirit so very soon. After arriving, they retreated into a lounging tent where they curled up on the carpeted grounds around a short table—perhaps to discuss other things.
Bonjo was a little too enthusiastic in servicing that Arcana watched him with incredulity. Thankfully, the tent was large and was able to accommodate the burly man’s frame.
“Orange? Apple?” the strongman offered with a vibrant smile.
“Just water, please,” Arcana replied.
“Ooh. Okay. I’ll be back in a bit for that one,” he replied, scurrying out of the flaps to fetch what Arcana requested.
Seeing the large man whip out of the tent, Raegan sighed. “It’s sort of regrettable with how things turned out,” the Lord Commander said.
“So it wasn’t very successful,” Aliyah assumed, glancing between the troupe leader and the others.
“It wasn’t even near so,” the Spirit Faction’s lady chuckled. “Yes, it is regrettable. As to what value that meeting gave us—was it worth the exchange? Letting that Aleser know of the chambers and getting nothing in return?”
“Better than him knowing about the other thing,” Valeriana muttered. “We have seen what we’ve seen. We might’ve missed a few details but we can’t keep obsessing over that chamber repeatedly. It has shown its value. What matters now is what we make of it.”
“That is right. I’ll drop a word or two in the ears of the other Factions to see how they will make of this,” Arisce said, the delicate scent of smoke curling about her as she played with her pipe. “Especially the nonbelievers.”
“Will that really be wise?” Arcana inquired softly.
“You can never tell how they will truly react. Having them know this piece of information will help us roughly gauge how they will respond when we try to open the borders. We already have a clue—taking into consideration what they did to Valeriana. The borders, however, are another thing. I assure you that the event coming in a few months’ time is no small, quiet one.”
“Risking the value of that chamber?” Raegan’s brows furrowed.
“What value will it have if we cannot use it to open the gates? Like Valeriana said, we have seen what we have seen. What matters now is what we make of it.”
Silence fell with the lingering hesitation.
“We will no longer attempt to collaborate with the Fire Faction on this matter. As hard as it is, we will have to abandon thoughts of checking out the chamber until the Sovereign Tournament. We will challenge the Fire Faction for Liberia and work our way to dominating the tournament to take control of the whole city. We have to act on this now before we attempt to open the borders. For the path to clear when we walk to those doors, we must sweep in advance.”
“That sounds ambitious, but I guess there’s no choice. This still makes me nervous though,” Valeriana muttered.
“If you’d been more civilized, perhaps we wouldn’t be so problematic,” Arisce told her. “Not that it matters anymore.”
“It’s that bastard’s fault for being so frustrating,” the fifth-ranker complained, her azure blues rolling at the memory of Aleser’s nonsense, egotistical blabber in the secret caves. “I mean, seriously.”
“Yes, seriously. When will you start taking this situation in that manner?” the troupe leader flicked her thumb, cold blue eyes pinned on hers. “We don’t have much time left to prepare for the troublesome times and here you are still not quite where you should be.”
“Then where?” Valeriana inquired, her hands thrown up in the air. Her heart throbbed with anger and frustration. “Where am I supposed to be? I know I’m far from where I am going—wherever that is. Valemnia, Earth, Varialon—godsdamn it all to hell. I’m freaking tired, okay? That Aether doesn’t want to show up, that Aleser is frustrating to the bone, those doors are so freaking mysterious, and this city? This city is just so freaking messed up. And me? I don’t know what to do with all this bullcrap.”
She looked up to the sky with incredulity, spread her arms, and unashamedly received the stares of her comrades with a sarcastic smile. “You don’t want to give me the blessing? FINE! You don’t want to cooperate? FREAKING FINE! You don’t want me to leave? DAMN IT ALL.”
“Val—” Arcana reached out to her, hoping to calm her down to no avail.
“Are you done?” Arisce asked with a cocked brow.
“Hell no, I’m not done. I’m not done. Do I look like I’m done? ‘CAUSE I’M NOT! I want to scream. LIKE URRRRRR. AGGGHHHH!” She jumped, stomped and threw her fit. “THIS IS ALL UNFAIR! I just want things to be okay. Why do I have to be in this godsdamned situation? WHY ME?!”
After venting out her anger, Valeriana slumped on the ground in a twisted version of a squat, breathless and out of energy. Silence was suddenly so heavy. Arcana and Raegan were speechless, including the rest of the troupe members present in the meeting tent. Compared to the other’s relaxed sprawls on the floor around the table, the girl was too stiff and rigid.
Bonjo parted the flaps to the tent, holding a tray of cakes and water. “I heard noises?” he said. His gaze followed the trail of eyes to Valeriana, brows rising at the sight of her. “What in the world are you doing?”
“Are you done now?” Arisce repeated.
“Yeah,” Valeriana whispered, watching Beard as he moved into the room, handing Arcana her glass of water as well as a slice of cake.
“Good. Sit properly. We have many more problems to tackle this month. Raegan, why not begin to tell us what you said you found?” the troupe leader said.
Raegan shot one more glance at Valeriana before clearing his throat. “I tried going back to the archives because I was made curious about Valeriana’s assertions on the connection of Valemnia and Varialon with the Primordial Wars. I found nothing in the main archives with Sir Jselhi but Lady Arcana’s personal family history had something very interesting to consider.”
“Someone called Brion Jarez,” Arcana, with bursting excitement, exclaimed.
Valeriana scampered to stand. “Wait—what?!”
Arisce’s eyes widened.
“Ninaya,” Aliyah, the troupe leader’s foster daughter, said, eyes reflecting the same shock and confusion. “Isn’t that the name you mentioned . . .”
“How are you related to Brion Jarez?”
“We are unsure if Lady Arcana truly is related to him,” Raegan supplied. “Anyhow, let me explain further. The clues weren’t blatant and the records during these times were minimal—but they were the earliest ones I could find. In fact, I noticed that all records halt four thousand years ago. This seems to be the beginnings of Varialon.”
Valeriana stood in stunned silence. Arisce was speechless as well.
“It seemed they took part in the Great War you mentioned,” Raegan continued. “This Brion Jarez seemed to be an artist. He was the one responsible for the mysterious Door on the Wall, the House of Spirit, and various art pieces around the House. I realized there was a connection because all the sculptures and paintings had a common theme. In fact, most of the clues I pieced together were through the images I saw in his works.”
“Raegan was frantic looking for marks. Some of the carvings and paintings had the initials B-Ja written in Ancient Language,” the lavender-eyed lady informed with an amused smile.
“Brion Jarez . . .” Valeriana began with a stammer. “I remember hearing after he finished working on the Ember Palace, he disappeared without a trace. He couldn’t have gone to Varialon to live the rest of his days, could he?”
“That is a possibility,” Arisce said. “But if this is truly the case, then this means that those images in the secret chamber—”
“Were made by him! Holy freaking shiznits. Arland! Aether! Denovega, Preluré, Larkov! In the name of the five gods!” the fifth-ranker nearly screamed in realization, her eyes lighting up with understanding. “No wonder!”
“Have you found any validation that this chamber was indeed by the hands of Brion Jarez?” De Cirque’s leader dubiously prodded.
“We found his mark on the pillar,” Arcana confirmed. “While, you know, Valeriana was arguing with Aleser.”
“I feel bad.” The fifth-ranker chuckled. In reality, she felt too excited to really feel it at all. “But at least we are getting somewhere with this. Is there something else?”
“That’s all I have for you now, but I suspect the other factions have valuable pieces as well.” Raegan nodded.
“So what’s our next step?” Valeriana prodded.
“Need that really be asked?” the troupe leader answered with a smile. “There is the Sovereign Tournament in a few months. We’ve already began preparations for it but we need to take things to another level. Not only that, but performances need to be revised as well. We’ve been going with the boring, old routines the past year so we need something new.”
“We need suggestions,” Aliyah supported.
“How about combined performances?” Valeriana proposed. Her brain didn’t even need two seconds. “Instead of breaking the show into segments, we can just drop a whole performance that takes advantage of all the talents we have. That way, it’ll feel like a smooth ride without all the breaks in between. There is a choice to break it into two parts to allow some time to breathe, maybe half an hour or so.”
Aliyah and Arisce exchanged glances.
“That is actually quite brilliant,” the ringmaster stated. “Since Tyson has had to bring the events of your stories to life with his fire, perhaps we can do the same through our crafts.”
“But a performance going at such a large scale like that will require tons of efforts and production time before it is ready to be shown,” Arcana pointed out, but there was gleaming excitement in her eyes. “Although when it does, it’ll totally be amazing!”
“It’ll mean halting our current renegade performances,” Aliyah said. “How will we sustain ourselves the coming months if we were to prepare for this change in routine?”
“Sponsorship! Sponsorship!” Arcana waved a hand. “Leave it to the Spirit Faction!”
“That is possible, but we cannot rely on your support alone.” The troupe leader shook her head disapprovingly. “We’ll have to do guerilla acts on the streets for some extra funds and to remind people about us from time to time. The crafts we do every now and then should be expanded as well to capitalize on. I suppose De Cirque will be confining itself behind closed doors for a while.”
“Very exciting!” Bonjo could not help but comment. The kettle of tea nearly toppled over with the wave of his hand.
“Whoa there! Careful, big guy,” Valeriana muttered.
“Sorry, sorry. Does this mean we will emerge new and refined?” he exclaimed, fisting the table and lifting it with one hand effortlessly.
“Hey!” Aliyah tapped his arm, forcing him to bring the table back down.
“Bonjo,” Arisce scolded.
The strongman laughed guiltily. “Yes, I shall avoid lifting things indoors. But do we make our debut in a grand show of some sort? Just imagining the scenario has me wanting to lift some weights.”
“Yes, we will definitely emerge a new circus.” Arisce nodded, her cold blue eyes drifting to meet with Valeriana’s azure blues. “But we are not to be treated like a joke.”
“Ooh. I like it. That’s so sinister,” Valeriana commented with a goofy smile. “Like the movie—which was totally awesome, but the sequel sucked big time. Don’t make sequels.”
“You do know we understand none of your Earth-term comments,” Aliyah stated in a flat-tone, her eyes criticizing the girl. “And you ruin such good moments.”
“Rhyme!” Valeriana pointed at Aliyah in lieu of a salute. “But it’s just the way I am, I suppose?”