CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 61 ♦ Mercenaries
Unfortunately for the Wind Faction, they now owed the Water Faction a town. The match had been really close and both Commanders had a great amount of skill. Both incredibly fluid elements were locked in a battle to the death. It was all but a momentary mishap that decided the entire match.
For the other factions, this was a feast for the eyes—they got to see the strongest moves of both factions. There would be not as many surprises as there would’ve been should the matches were won equally by each competing groups. Now, even if these two factions were to move on to the next round, they would be at a disadvantage.
Lady Maeghan was visibly celebrating—and she made sure to slap that on the Wind Faction’s face. Lord Youzza was now wild and incomprehensibly angry. His Lord Commander, wounded so badly, would definitely not be able to represent the faction in the next few matches which meant pretty much a determined loss.
On the other hand, the Water Faction’s Lady Commander was just as badly injured. How they would fare in their last two matches was still a big question mark. They didn’t look too worried, however. If they could afford to be so confident in spite of the dilemma, that must mean they have something up their sleeves.
“Too bad for the Wind Faction,” Cat muttered. “And that Lord Commander was really sexy, too.”
Valeriana glanced at the woman with wide eyes while Aliyah’s cheeks warmed. “Seriously? You were checking him out?”
“He is an attractive specimen.” The woman winked mischievously. “It’s a shame he won’t be in the next round. I would’ve given him some nice beating.”
“Oh for the gods’ sake,” Aliyah whispered. “Ah, the image in my head.” The ringmistress held her mouth to hold down a vomit.
Valeriana shook her head.
It was finally De Cirque against the Earth Faction. Beard was huffing and puffing where he stood while Bonjo rhythmically kneaded the bearded man’s shoulder with a comical face. In moments, Beard finally entered the arena, each step accompanied by a battle cry. His opponent, a woman, just raised a brow at his attempt at intimidation and simply brought out a blade.
The fight started with no hitch. Valeriana laughed seeing Beard in a game of tag with the woman. He was acting like a creep—roaring and hissing as he made a grab for his opponent. The earth’s representative was disgusted to death while De Cirque was suffocating with laughter.
“What the hell is that creep doing?!” Jester exclaimed.
“Creeping the hell out of that woman, obviously,” Cat interjected. “He expects to win like that?”
Valeriana sighed. “We’re going to lose this match.”
“Nothing surer than that,” Aliyah said.
“Oh, come on! Give the guy a chance!” Bonjo told them.
“Unless he treats this more seriously, how can we?” Aliyah shot back.
Valeriana couldn’t look at the match at all this time. Instead, she looked for Arisce who she realized had disappeared like a bubble. The troupe leader would rarely leave the vicinity as she looked over every little bit of detail in the matches. To think the hawk would not be around . . . hawking was a bit strange.
The blonde tapped on Aliyah’s shoulder. “Where’s Arisce?” she asked.
The ringmistress looked about. “I don’t know. She was by the tent a while ago,” she replied, pointing at the open flaps. “Clearly, she’s not there now.”
“Well, where could she have gone?” Valeriana inquired. “Whatever. She can handle herself just fine.” Folding her arms on her stomach, she turned back to the fight only to see Beard being wacked badly on the face. He stumbled back, blood spilling on cheek and chin. “Ooh. Damn.” Valeriana winced.
The punch must’ve shaken his brain to the point of incoherence as he was gyrating unsteadily where he was. Instead of cheering for him, De Cirque was laughing where they stood. The audience, seeing the reaction of Beard’s comrades, could not help but shake their head. Right now, instead of jeering at the bearded man, they felt sorry.
But he deserved it.
“Oh, come on!” Valeriana exclaimed in frustration. “You’re better than that!”
To say it was the worst match in the tournament so far was an epic understatement. Even so, Beard did have the skills to pull off a victory if he hadn’t just let the woman land her punches so early in the game—not that he no longer has the chance to turn things around. Injuries weren’t exactly undoable—once sustained, they would weigh down heavily on any fighter. And those assaults were as heavy as a falling sky. The Earth Faction’s representative was angry.
De Cirque wasn’t too confident on this match’s victory and it was obvious looking at their wild laughter.
Beard clearly was fighting back but he was a little too clumsy compared to the Earth Faction’s woman. Valeriana felt a little confused seeing the bout as she was well-aware of Beard’s heavy punches and aggressive Toro attacks. He made a killer tackle. He showed that before when they attempted to make an opportunity for Valeriana to escape after they were taken as captives by Aleser.
So what was he really doing?
“Oh gods,” the blonde muttered. Perhaps overthinking had become a habit now. After having to deal with sly bastards in the name of Aeron and Lienhard—now Arisce—Valeriana had developed an instinct to be wary of every little thing she found doubtful.
Beard was a damn great actor. He pulled off the act seamlessly before. But what goal was Arisce trying to reach by making him go through all this and get a beating in the process, too? Or did Arisce had anything to do with this in the first place? Was he doing all this on his own?
Valeriana fingered the forming wrinkles on her forehead, straightening the frown that had stubbornly appeared between her brows. In an attempt to quell her confusion, she sought the ebony-haired troupe leader around the venue. Her search for the woman, however, was in vain. It was like going through hay for a needle—close to impossible.
What she didn’t get now was De Cirque. Were they in on the act? Why wasn’t she included?
Curious, she pulled close to Aliyah who would should know the answer to her questions out of everyone. Leaning close, she whispered, “Is there something going on?”
“I don’t know,” Aliyah replied.
“So you feel it too?”
“Just go along with it. We never think too much about these things when they’re happening,” the ringmistress advised.
“Okay.” Valeriana straightened up and lightened up like the rest. “Beard! Use your beard!”
De Cirque’s members threw Valeriana a glance.
“How do you suppose he do that?” Cat inquired.
“He can be creative just like the smartass he is,” the blonde casually stated.
And yet another round of laughs.
“Beard, use your beard!” they yelled in chorus this time.
A little startled, Valeriana turned to look at her co-members.
“How the hell am I supposed to do that?!” Beard yelled at them as he dove forward, the earth crunching literally under every step. He swung a roundhouse at his woman opponent, the strength of which faltered. He ended up missing target—and got kicked back on the chin for it too.
“Just be creative about it, smartass!” they hollered back.
Beard landed on his back, groaning.
At this point, the head-shaking instinct of Valeriana would’ve kicked in but having done so for the last few hours, she decided to sigh instead. One would think she had gotten used to it with the rambunctious nature of the Celestial Circle, however, De Cirque broke the meters when it came to mischief and absurdity. They did whatever they wanted, however they wanted it.
“Use my beard,” they heard him say.
Then, as De Cirque was famous for, something ridiculous happened.
Beard dove forward with a deadly tackle and started slapping the woman’s face with his beard—yes, that was how long it was. He was headbanging, shaking his head like a wet dog.
“What in the—what are you doing?!” the woman screamed.
“HAHAHA! He did it! HE REALLY DID IT!” Bonjo guffawed.
“She must feel so violated,” Valeriana muttered, staring at the poor woman whose face was being caressed by Beard’s scratchy beard. “Ugh. This is the worst. Why did I have to open my godsdamned mouth?”
Eventually, the Earth’s representative broke out of the trap and went all out on the bearded man. A fight between two people with the element of earth tended to be the noisiest—crunching breaking, exploding. The woman went all beast mode on the poor Beard. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if he returned a pulp.
After some time, while the beating continued, Arisce came back to the De Cirque’s tent. Valeriana looked at her in question but all the girl was given was a knowing smile. That was all she needed to know that something definitely was going on. As to what it was, it didn’t matter.
No words needed to be spoken. She just needed to see what it was.
At the end, De Cirque was given their first loss. Beard slumped to the ground.
“What town did we lose?” Valeriana asked.
“Didn’t you hear it a while ago?” Cat inquired.
“I was spacing out, sorry.”
“Just listen,” Cat told her.
“Prevnia goes to Earth!” the announcer exclaimed.
“We lost Prevnia? Too bad. That was the Wind Capital, too, wasn’t it?” the blonde stated. She turned to Arisce, meeting the cold blue eyes with her own. “What did you do?”
“I struck a deal with someone,” the troupe leader told her. “That is why I will have to tell you to prepare for one more fight.”
“One more fight?” Aliyah echoed, turning to face her foster mother.
“That makes it two . . . does it?” Jester stated, brows furrowing.
“But how? Why?” the ringmistress queried.
Dumb with confusion, the members of De Cirque gazed at their troupe leader in shock. Arisce pulled out her pipe and started smoking, leaving the performers in silence, waiting for her answer. Beard had crept back just in time the woman opened her mouth next.
“Valeriana,” Arisce began.
Valeriana narrowed her eyes as she swallowed. “What?”
“You’ll be fighting for the Wind Faction.”
“What?!” De Cirque chorused.
The sudden holler caught the attention of many nearby spectators that they looked on with curiosity.
“Like I said,” Arisce told them. “Valeriana will be fighting for the Wind Faction.”
Aliyah shot a glance at the frozen blonde before looking at her mother with protest. “Why?”
“Because that’s what we agreed upon,” Arisce replied.
“Agreed with who?” Beard inquired.
“Lord Youzza, of course,” the ebony-haired woman patiently answered. “Now enough with chitchat. Valeriana, prepare for your next fight.”
“Wait, wait!” Bonjo pulled out a paper from his pocket. “If Valeriana is fighting for the Wind Faction, that means she’ll be going up against Fire.”
If Valeriana wasn’t already frozen to the bone, her blood would’ve ran cold. She just fought with Fire last time and that was Zion—who could she be going up against this time? She broke out of the spell of shock and turned to Arisce questioningly. “You gotta be kidding me. Why does it have to be me?” the ranker asked dubiously. “There’s Aliyah, there’s Bonjo—”
“Your control over the winds. Does it make sense now to you?” Arisce said, blue eyes dropping to meet azure ones.
“Arisce, Arisce!” Valeriana protested. “I thought the plan was to not show it until the second round so that I have the element of surprise.”
“You no longer have the element of surprise with that power, if that’s what you mean, and you’re not obligated to control the winds in your fight with the Fire Faction.”
“But that means they’ll be able to probe and know the extent of Valeriana’s abilities,” Aliyah said, her voice lowering. “Ninaya, I do not think this is wise. She is one of our best cards. If we put her forward for the sake of another faction, how can we win this tournament?”
“Have you forgotten what I’ve said about this tournament before?” The cloud of smoke thickened around the woman. The tea-length dress ruffled about her as she folded her hands and turned ever so lightly on her feet. Arisce gazed at each member of De Cirque, eyes stern. “Think back on what I said, what I told you the goal was—we are all working towards that. So, Valeriana, prepare for your fight with Fire.”
De Cirque gave the girl a glance as Valeriana looked about anxiously. A loud sigh escaped through her nose.
Based on the schedule, the Wind versus Fire match was thirteenth on the list. They had just been done with the tenth. She had two fights before her to compose and prepare herself.
“And losing is unacceptable.”
The tensions pulled Valeriana’s muscle stiff. As Arisce swept aside the flaps on the tent, the blonde walked out of the arena to make her way to the beast tent. She had to calm down and pull herself together first.