CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 54 ♦ In the Name of Fire
Arcana’s corner did splendidly in the match against the Wind Faction. The poor Lord Youzza and his party were miserable. Considering they’ve lost two matches already, there was no more room for failure. The lord had grown increasingly agitated each passing minute that he was visibly throwing a fit in his corner of the venue—throwing chairs and yelling at his subordinates.
While the Spirit won against the Wind Faction, they had an impending trouble with Aleser’s camp. Fire had a rumored contender who just gave Adelline a run for her money—thankfully, they were on the same side. This person was up against the Spirit.
Curiosity bloomed for the man. Eyes turned the moment the faction of fire was called upon. De Cirque watched on with interest while Valeriana stood rooted, assessing the potential of their enemy.
The midnight blue hair and matching eyes was a jolting reminder for the girl that, for a moment, she could not help but stare on with wonder. She searched the silhouette of the face underneath a large mask, eyes tracing the long locks and the low ponytail. The manner of strutting and the confident glide made her stomach turn at the thought.
There was one undeniable detail that convinced her, even so. It was then that Valeriana knew she wasn’t wrong.
He carried a heavy lance with sharp pincers at the top end. There could only be one guy who had all these qualities, otherwise, he could not be anything else aside from his ghost. She breathed, closing her eyes for a moment to block out the chaotic thoughts that had had been lit like a dump of fireworks.
Valeriana swallowed as a small mutter escaped her lips. “That can’t be him,” she whispered. “It’s impossible.”
Arisce turned. “Do you know who that is? It is better if you say it now.”
“I . . . I’m not sure,” she stammered. Debate lit in her mind. She sought for the pros and cons to her assumptions. She doubted. She recoiled. Valeriana reached for her bare wrist. The usual comfort she sought was not there. “I can’t see his face to be sure.”
She watched him.
The electric blues lifted. True to their name, a jolt of familiarity ran down her spine when they narrowed with a hidden smile.
He watched her.
Then turned away to focus on his opponent.
The announcer introduced each party but Valeriana breezed through the name of Arcana’s contender. Instead, her attention focused on the Fire Faction’s warrior.
“The Dragon of the Fire Faction!”
Valeriana had to take a step back and blink at the odd coincidence—or was it really a coincidence?
“State your challenges,” the announcer prompted.
“In the name of Spirit, we challenge you for the town of Liberia!” the Spirit’s young contender exclaimed.
Arcana was seriously already gunning for that place so early in the game?
“In the name of Fire,” the masked participant began in a low voice. “We challenge you for the town of Lavanya.”
Now, Valeriana was really agitated.
“Valeriana,” Arisce said. “What has happened to you?”
“Thi—is . . .” She swallowed, tensed her shoulders and brought her eyes to the fight to observe closely. She was unsure how to answer Arisce. The idea was still playing around in her mind, finding arguments to counter and concretize the assumption.
The fight started.
It was just a beat.
The heavy lance spun in his hands and the exchange started when they both dove in for an attack. Arcana’s contender ended up with the defense as the aggressive move of his enemy—almost to the point of selflessness—was too risky to stay open to.
The mighty chop of the massive lance circled around the blue-haired competitor, leaving his enemy launching back to avoid getting cut in half. Valeriana finally took notice of the young man after breezing through his introduction. Arcana’s representative was a fair youth with a slender physique. He moved with nimbleness and skill—quick on his feet, light as the wind. He wielded a broadsword that looked heavier than himself which made her wonder. How on Earth was he able move with such speed considering his weapon?
The youth leapt forward, slashed, and fell back when the pincers jabbed at his face. The distance between them widened and closed like a rhythm. The Fire Faction’s contender stood in his place, not bothering to come after his opponent. Instead, he eyed the youth as the distance between them wedged far. He would only move to defend and counter when the youth closed in like waves on the shore with his quick feet.
It made sense. Fast as the blue-haired guy might be, he was not as fast as his opponent. Going after him would only exhaust his endurance. If he truly was who she thought he was, then Valeriana predicted he would stay rooted, confine his enemy like he’d done before, and beat him up until he was battered and could no longer stand. He was called Snapping Dragon for a reason; he would catch, he would snare, he would bite, then withdraw. Playful, mischievous, and fleeting like his element.
He wasn’t the one to adjust to his enemy. He would make his enemy adjust for him. And that was just what Valeriana had done before. If this youth could not bring something surprising to serve the blue-haired mongrel, the battle would definitely not be in Arcana’s name.
Arisce was now gazing at the girl with a pointed eye but did not attempt to ask her once more, knowing she would tell her in due time—the moment she was really sure.
The exchange was a spark of flurry and tingling clangs. After being warded off when he targeted the Dragon’s neck, the fair youth ran forward, his blade angled threateningly by his side. His face was wrinkled with determination, the large blade groaning as it swept forward and struck down at the Fire Faction’s contender.
The pincers caught the broadsword between its prongs and, to everyone’s shock, clamped on the blade with a reverberating snap. Its sharp teeth nicked on the metal, causing the thick blade to dent under the force of its jaws.
The youth was appalled and tried to pull back—a bad move. The teeth tore through the metal like it would on flesh. Eventually, it broke off with a loud snap. The top part fell on the ground with a dying hush.
Arcana’s representative was frozen in shock, wide eyes on the monster who broke his blade. All was silent until the Dragon’s lance whistled, the pincers gaping open as it shot for the youth’s neck.
“The Spirit Faction forfeits!” Arcana’s loud voice echoed. She had shot to her feet, arm raised in protest.
The pincers stopped short. The Dragon withdrew.
“Lavanya falls under the Fire’s name!” the announcer said.
There was silence, then there were cheers.
The heavy lance fell on his side, framing the lithe and muscular physique. “If this were any other day, this would’ve been a battle not worth winning,” the Fire Faction’s contender stated, loud enough for Valeriana to hear.
That was the lightning to her thunder—the yes to her question.
Hands clamped on the corners of the fences as she leaned forward. “Zion!” the blonde exclaimed. The name echoed with conviction, surprise, and disbelief. “What the actual hell!”
The blue-haired man ripped of the mask, revealing the person she expected to see. The usual large smile popped on his face, eyes meeting Valeriana’s with mischief.
“Yo.” He saluted. “It’s been a while, my Val, my heart.”
The wink had some women dying on the spot.
“My heart?!” Maridie and Lundie exclaimed, wide eyes shooting to the banshee with questioning wonder.
“Banshee, who in the world is he?” Lundie inquired.
Valeriana wanted to jump into the venue to ask how, why, when but her rationality kept her in place. Instead, she stared at her former challenger, words dying in her throat every time she tried to form them. Curiosity pushed her forward, hesitance pulled her back.
“Come on, is that it?” Zion spread his arms with a laugh. “I was expecting something more from you. This is not how you greet an old friend, is it?”
Valeriana grimaced. She did not know how to answer as she was still in a state of shock. She had a lot of question but she did not know where to start—not here, not with a lot of eyes on the drama. She sighed and shook her head lightly. With a frown, she gazed at Deli and Aleser. The lord had a twisted smile on his face, eyes fervent with glee. Adelline, as usual, was stone-faced and grumpy.
What was this? A ploy of the Fire Faction? Why did they have to get their hands on Zion of all people? And why in the world was Zion not in Valemnia?
“I wonder, anyhow,” Zion began as he casually leaned on the thick lance. “Is it possible to switch schedules a bit? I want to challenge De Cirque’s contender. What name do you go by here, again?” he inquired. “Banshee? Well, that might be suitable but you’re far more beautiful than that. Couldn’t you have picked something else?”
“Thi—uh . . .” The announcer held out a hand, unsure. This would mess up the entire plan, no doubt. “I’m afraid open challenges will be conducted in the second round, this round is solely for—”
“If the boy wants it, let him,” Lord Florence of the Earth Faction stated. His loud voice rang. “It will be no big deal, so long as Aleser will be able to hold fights three matches straight. And, of course, De Cirque consents.”
“I don’t think that’s quite right. It’s not only you being inconvenienced, it’s all of us.” Lady Maeghan clicked her tongue.
“Oh shut it.” Lord Youzza bit at the Water Faction’s leader. “Let them do what they want. If they destroy themselves while they’re at it, it’ll be great too.”
“Destroy?!” Maeghan reiterated. “He’s obviously flirting!”
“You’re just jealous no one likes you, old lady,” Youzza queued in.
Before a fight could break out, Aleser waved a dismissive hand, a signal that spoke of his consent. Arisce made no move to counter that decision.
“Valeriana,” the troupe leader began, gazing at the blonde.
Valeriana took a deep breath. “Give me my sword,” she said.
“You’re supposed to fight with Deli on the third set,” Aliyah told her. “And the Fire Faction’s next opponent is supposed to be Earth.”
“You heard them, Aliyah. Now, Runner,” she began, calling for the boy in the tent. “My sword please.”
Runner came out with her sheathed weapon, handing it to her with curiosity. “Are you sure about this?” the boy asked.
“His opponent has to be me.”
There were no more complains or protests from the other factions. In fact, they were even looking forward to the exchange. Valeriana, with her sword in hand, leapt into the fighting grounds and walked up to Zion. While he had not changed, his aura definitely had. She was unsure how exactly the non-ranker’s aura was before, but she could feel he wasn’t the same person he once was.
“In the name of De Cirque,” her voice rang. “I challenge you for Lavanya.”
“And I challenge you for your heart.”
Valeriana nearly recoiled. She blinked and frowned at Zion. How long had it been since they last saw each other? He was still insisting on this?
“If I can make it my territory, it’ll make me very happy. But that doesn’t work, does it?” he joked. “That doesn’t stop me from hoping though, no matter how long it has been. As much as I hate to admit it, you got me bad. Why does fate need to be so cruel?” He sighed, gazing at the sky. “If that can’t be that case, I guess I’ll settle for the town you currently have—Prevnia, was it?”
“Zion,” she began. “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to be. I told myself I won’t be bringing up this topic when I see you, unfortunately, it didn’t go the way I wanted it to. And seeing you call out my name from afar just made it all the more irresistible, you know?”
“Oh for the love of the gods!” Maeghan yelled. “If you must fight, fight! Stop with all your disgusting flirting!”
Valeriana readied herself for their second fight and saved her breath for the many questions she would be asking him along the way. She had quite a lot in her arsenal.