CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 53 ♦ Piece of Cake!
A tent rose into existence within minutes after the leaders walked out of the would-be stage for the fight, causing a ton more raised brows and irked groans. De Cirque’s members were quick to retreat inside, away from the prying eyes and jeering scowls of the people around them. Since they didn’t have their own spot like the other competitors, they built their own nest—with a perfect pointed tip topped with De Cirque’s flag, and a body donned in the classic pinstripes pattern—to ward off those who they weren’t involved with.
While some of the audience complained, most were amused and interested in how things would turn out. De Cirque was proving to be a stimulating addition to the boring, old tournament which usually centered on the five powers of Varialon. Simply put, their mere involvement and participation meant that this tournament would be like no other before it.
“Wasn’t I brilliant?” Beard threw his arms in the air as a big grin nearly split his face in half.
“What were you brilliant at?” Runner prompted.
“I was the one who screamed the jokester part,” the bearded man said.
“I have mixed feelings about that one,” Maridie commented, bringing in a log bench to the corner with Lundie.
In one breath, they sat and sighed.
“Where’s Valeriana?” Arisce inquired, bringing out her pipe as she strode into the tent. She put it between her lips and green fire briefly flared to light it. Smoke curled. The scent of tobacco diffused into the room.
“Checking up on the beasts outside the venue. Nuri hasn’t been well lately and Kaai is starting to get quite restless.” Aliyah came up to her foster mother, a blue envelope between her fingers. “The decided schedule for the next five sets.”
“That was quick,” the troupe leader said, ripping out the paper and reading through. “We’re up against the Fire Faction on the first match of the third set, earth on set four and spirit on set five. How oddly convenient we go against spirit last. Do you have any clue who’s on the roster from the other factions?”
“Deli will be going up against De Cirque on the third set. I’m not sure who Water is pawning against us on the second.”
“And the Wind Faction?”
“A subordinate from the Knight’s Wing.”
“Just a subordinate? I see. I expected they’ll treat us better than this, but that Lord Youzza’s arrogance will cost him. The Wind Faction cannot expect to win in this tournament, not with this attitude.” Arisce stuffed the paper back into the envelope and tucked it into her sleeves. She faced Aliyah and, with a soft smile, said, “Will you be willing to open the act once again?”
Arisce gave her mother a nod. “I need not be told.”
The hour decayed quickly. De Cirque’s flaps opened to reveal Aliyah clad in her usual ringmistress getup—as though it was any other show. The only difference was that she carried the whip in her hands. A chorus of laughter sang at the sight of the short and petite girl which only echoed louder when they saw who the Wind Faction was sending down.
“De Cirque’s Ringmistress Aliyah!” the announcer introduced. “The Wind Faction’s Rake of the Knight’s Wing!”
The face was a little too familiar for Valeriana so when she squeezed her way back into the territory De Cirque made theirs, she could not help but roll her eyes. It took her a while to realize but the name jolted her back to the memory. Why had the Wind Faction chosen this guy?
She passed by the crowd and was given looks of inquisitiveness. She ignored them and went on her way.
In spite of the dubiousness, it was obvious that some were not too keen on underestimating De Cirque, watching on with interest instead. Common sense did not apply to the circus—most of the time. Yet, behind the absurdity of things, there was the underlying truth that each member had skill to back their words.
Her long hair had now reached the top of the curve of her back. With the hallmark tight ponytail she sported, it fell on her shoulder blades. A single line of braid stretched behind her right ear, framing her face and azure blue eyes.
She stopped beside Arisce with a sigh, throwing her gaze around in an attempt to look for her elusive cat to no avail. Tiger often disappeared for many days without showing up but would occasionally reappear to seemingly check up on Valeriana. Afterwards, he would be gone again. This went on. In spite of Valeriana wanting to confront her cat about it, she had had no chance so far.
“What are you looking for?” the troupe leader asked.
“Nothing,” she replied.
“If it’s that thing you’ve been harboring under my nose the past few months, I saw it a while ago.”
Valeriana wasn’t surprised Arisce knew about Tiger. Still, she was alarmed. “I didn’t think he was a big deal. He wasn’t bothering anybody.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Arisce said. “That sort of beast is naturally nomadic. I would ask where you found it, but I assume you’re clueless—like always.”
“Beast?” Valeriana’s eyes snapped to the troupe leader, arms falling to her side as her back straightened in attention. “What did you say?”
Arched brows quirked. The woman gave Valeriana a questioning look. “What in the name of the king did you think that creature was?”
“A cat!” she replied, then thought twice about it.
“Foolish,” Arisce said. Before Valeriana could retort, she closed the topic and opened another. “I seem to remember who that man is.” She nodded towards the opponent Aliyah was going up against.
“Who cares about him? I care more about who and what Tiger is.” Valeriana crossed her arms. “He’s just the rude sexist guy who blocked me at the Knight’s Wing’s gates when I first came. I can never forget his face. I kept on wanting to scratch it off of his head.” She huffed. “Aliyah should be able to bring that guy down. He didn’t even stand a chance against Red, Black, and White back then.”
“You cannot be too sure. People change.”
“Not that guy. He doesn’t look any different when I last saw him. He’ll lose, definitely.”
“Overconfidence is a huge hole in any defense, Valeriana,” Arisce chided her, displeased at her statement. “What makes a shield strong is not the gold or silver, it’s that it knows it’s a shield and it does its job.”
“Okay, whatever. Sure, he might put up a fight. I am telling you, though. His aura is the same as I first saw it. No improvement at all,” the fifth-ranker commented. “Overconfidence might be a huge hole, but I’m fairly certain—with reservations.”
“Well, I suppose it’s safe to say this round is ours. Youzza’s faction has been declining lately. They can’t even recruit great talents to fight for them in this tournament. He’s a desperate lad.” Arisce chuckled.
“Speaking of those three clowns . . .” Valeriana muttered. “Are they taking part in this?” she asked.
“They’re De Cirque’s shadows. They will not take part in the first round of the tournament,” was the troupe leader’s reply.
“Then the second.”
The Three Clowns of De Cirque were no joke, definitely—no matter how much they resembled one. Once they enter the battle station, they became horsemen of the apocalypse. Unfortunately, they did not take a direct part in the show. They were as Arisce labeled them—shadows. They protected De Cirque from the dark.
“Where are they, anyway?”
“Doing whatever they want, like always.”
Arisce’s decision was understandable. One did no good without the other. They were like the bristles; useless and weak by themselves, but a force to be reckoned with together. They would definitely be strong pillars on the second round, where the competition relied on teamwork.
“In this match, I declare a challenge for the town of Prevnia!” Aliyah’s voice echoed loud and clear.
“Acknowledged!” Rake replied. “But since I can’t challenge your circus for anything, I guess I will just have to tell you to keep yourself tall in this fight,” he said with a grating laugh.
A wave of irritation so thick wafted off of the ringmistress. Valeriana saw the aura flare with anger and irritation.
“Of all the things.” The honey-golden blonde ran a hand over her face.
If there was anything she didn’t like people commenting on, it was her height.
“Uh-oh,” Maridie cued behind Valeriana.
“He did not just say that,” said Lundie.
Valeriana needed no look to see who it was. Besides, she was unwilling to miss a beat in the fight.
There was a pause as a sharp whistle blared. The battle started. Aliyah shot forward with no hesitation and struck so hard that her whip sang as it soared. The leather body snapped around the poor guy like a snake, caging him in tightly. The sheer speed of the girl gave him no chance of retaliating at all—he managed to move an inch, actually—but not any further.
The ringmistress then spread her feet, tugged at him and threw him to the other side of the fighting grounds. Silence struck. The laughter faded. Surprise crossed faces and the ridicule was wiped off in an instant.
“I don’t get why they’re so surprised,” Arisce commented.
“Maybe because they didn’t think we were serious,” Valeriana replied.
“If that isn’t serious, I don’t know what is.” Beard tugged on his beard as he watched the fight with glee. “Look at her face! I haven’t seen her look like that in a while! Aliyah must really be offended.”
The Wind Faction’s representative avoided the next attack warily. He drew on his blade and came at Aliyah with raging anger. The sword in his hands glinted, whistling as it sliced the air before him.
But this did nothing to Aliyah except nick her shadow.
And De Cirque’s ringmistress was already way past the tipping point of patience. Giving her opponent no chance to breathe, her green fire ignited and trailed down the length of her whip. The verdant glow gave her an evil feel as she struck once more and set the guy on fire. He was reduced to a screaming fit, rolling about in attempt to kill the fire that ate away on his skin. Yet, no matter how much he tried, it wouldn’t budge.
Valeriana shook her head and cringed, looking away from the horrific sight.
“Ooh,” the crowd went.
Aliyah, as expected, was merciless.
Lesson learned; never comment on her height. Never underestimate the short ones, too.
Arisce tapped on her pipe casually. Smoke curled free from her lips, her eyes shooting straight for the Wind Faction’s lord across the venue. Youzza had risen from his chair in disbelief.
“What is that fool doing?!” The lord scowled, pointing at Aliyah’s poor opponent. “Get him out of there right now! He has shamed us enough! For just one girl! I expected better!”
“It was not his fault,” Arisce stated. “It was yours. You knew my daughter’s capability. You refused to acknowledge it.”
Men ran forward. Someone from the Water Faction was kind enough to throw down some water and put out Rake.
Aliyah’s whip resounded with intensity as it struck the floor. The sharp snap was high-pitched and piercing; some had to flinch. Even the men who came forward to help had cowered back, wary she would set them on fire next.
“I am the ringmistress of De Cirque,” she declared with heavy spite in her voice. Each word was emphasized—strength and assertion in every letter. “Height or gender does not impede me from doing my job. So either you treat us seriously or we will treat you as the joke. Do you hear me, Varialon?”
The announcer was pulled out of his reverie. “De Cirque takes this match! Prevnia is now under their name!”
The audience were unable to decide whether to be shocked, disconcerted or happy. What they knew they were, even so, was confused.
A circus just won and attained power over a town. It was nothing short of ridiculous.
“That was awesome!” Valeriana yelled shamelessly, waving her hand with pride, unable to hold back. “Go, Aliyah! That line you dropped just now was awesome! Awesome!”
“Gods, if this went on, this’ll be child’s play,” Lundie commented.
“It won’t,” Arisce interjected as the smoke in her pipe died. “The same wound cannot be inflicted twice. The Wind Faction will be going up against Arcana’s next. We have a few hours to spare. This round has been won.” The woman turned on her heels, retreating back into the tent. “Maridie,” she said, loud enough for the girl to hear. “You’re going up against the Water Faction in the next set. Prepare for the match.”
Maridie stiffened at the mention of her name but nodded. “I will not disappoint you, Lady Arisce.”
“Valeriana,” the woman said.
Valeriana turned attentively.
“You’re up against the Fire Faction on the third set. Be prepared.”
The blonde swallowed. Hearing Arisce mention the Fire Faction, she could not help but throw a glance at their side of the venue. She found Adelline gazing her way, causing her to clench her fist and sigh.