CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 63 ♦ Never Stop
Valeriana pulled back her hair and went down the arena when the Wind Faction and Fire Faction got called for their match. Seeing a member of De Cirque come forward instead of a Wind Faction representative, people were confused. Even the announcer stammered at the sight of Valeriana heading down the arena dauntlessly.
“I’m sorry,” the announcer said. “Did I mistakenly say De Cirque? I meant Wind Faction!”
Valeriana shot a glance at the announcer as she faced the Fire Faction’s candidate. Unlike other factions, Fire was uninhibited by the concept of ‘ace cards’. Aleser threw forward whatever he had in his hands, whoever he had. Deli was just constantly by his side, whispering her thoughts and perhaps restraining him. She served as his grounds.
And for a moment, Valeriana felt that the Lady Commander cared for him truly. If she wasn’t aware of how Deli truly felt towards the man, she would’ve been fooled. The announcer stammered once again, trying to tell Valeriana it wasn’t their turn to fight. With a roll of her eyes, Valeriana brandished her sword and faced the representative the Fire Faction had sent down in their name.
The face looked somehow familiar.
Valeriana’s brows creased. Wasn’t this the woman whose flower she crushed in her attempt to escape before?
Settling scores, then.
Zion rose from his seat in question, watching the unfolding scenario before him. Valeriana gave him a short glance which he returned with a fold of his arms and the knitting of his brows.
“In the name of the Wind Faction,” Valeriana began. “I challenge you for Mardiya.”
The crowd grew noisy as hushed whispers of disbelief flitted about.
“You can’t be serious,” the woman replied. “What is this De Cirque girl doing in the ring for a rival faction?”
“Hell, do you think I know?” Valeriana replied. “I was just told to go down here and fight for the Wind Faction.”
“So you’re mercenaries now, De Cirque? Truly no honor.”
Valeriana scoffed. “Honor?” She blatantly shot a pointed glare at Lord Aleser’s direction and found Deli frowning her way. They really don’t differ. Like brother, like sister. “Your faction’s one to talk of honor when you have none. Talk about the kettle calling the pot black.”
Valeriana cut her off with a click of her finger and a side jut of her neck. “Please, please. You can’t insult me.”
“Stop this!” The lady of the Water Faction stood. “This has to be invalid!” Maeghan said, her fan folded harshly on her palm and sought the counsel of the other leaders. “It’s ridiculous. It has to be against the rules.”
“Not really,” said Aleser with a chuckle. “Nothing is said about who fights for the faction—that is why we’re all allowed to hire mercenaries for the tournament. Technically, it didn’t say anything about a faction fighting for another faction.”
“Oohf.” Arcana blew on her bangs.
“How absurd.” The Lord Florence of the Earth Faction leaned back with a sigh, shaking his head. “I keep being surprised today. De Cirque is the perfect definition of a wild card.”
“Wild card?” Lord Youzza huffed. “They’re more than wild. They’re out of this world. No wonder they’re breachers.”
“And what did you have to give for their service, Youzza?” Maegan demanded. “Given how important they deem themselves to be, surely it must not come cheap.”
“Price upon completion.” Youzza threw his nose high in the air. “And a guaranteed town in exchange for a loss.”
“A town? Really? They’re willing to give up a town to prove what?” Maeghan’s smile widened—it was nothing delightful, rather, it was thick with mock and insult. “I wonder if they accept requests. If I pay them enough, perhaps they’ll stop spouting nonsense for a change.”
“Hey, hey,” Cat exclaimed. “There’s no nonsense going on here.”
The announcer was now confused, looking back and forth until he decided to stop, dizzy from the nonstop turning of his head. The voices continued bouncing in the venue.
“Dear, you should think twice about what you just said. Your circus is full of nonsense,” Maeghan bit at her. “Honestly. Do you see yourselves as gods?” she spat. “Gods don’t even bat a lash at what we do even if they roam here disguised like ordinary citizens! So why do you keep ruining the order of this place? It doesn’t matter if you’re breachers—you keep trying to change the way things are because you see yourselves as in the right, so enlightened, when, in fact, you are only throwing the entire city into chaos by injecting the beliefs you bring from your other world. I do not care whether this Valemnia is true or not. Stop justifying yourselves and stop your nonsense. Our people are our people. They are not yours.”
Valeriana frowned. Lady Maeghan, even so, was coming from somewhere. She felt a tinge of respect rise for the woman, setting aside the shrill voice and squinted gaze. This was a leader with her people in mind, no matter how narrow it might be.
Valeriana came to Varialon thinking, somehow, it was part of Valemnia. However, she’d been proven wrong countless times. The drastic difference that slapped her on the face made her want to change how things were.
Her thoughts circulated back to the beginning as she threw a short glance at Arisce, only to see the woman watching quietly from the sides. It seemed she wouldn’t speak up and argue this time—but she was looking at Valeriana.
“What am I fighting for?” Valeriana asked herself. “I just want a way to leave,” she said. “But after a while of trying to do that, you can’t just enter a place you sought, then leave it without doing anything. There must be a reason Varialon’s gates are opened to Valemnians, even if you say we’re outsiders—breachers.”
“That does not change the fact that this is not your world.”
“Varialon may be different from Valemnia, but it comes from the same roots—the people, the faces, the spirit—even if it takes on a new silhouette. We are not trying to change you, if that is the root of all your spite.”
But it wasn’t right. These people’s lack of knowledge make them prone to making bad decisions. And they were not keen on changing that, too—at least some of them.
Maeghan flashed Valeriana a sharp glare. “Then what are you doing?”
“I don’t know. We’re pretty lost, too.” She sighed. “But maybe . . . for you to acknowledge the past—to know that this life you’re living can reach beyond the skies you already know. You don’t have to change. You just have to . . . you can be better. And this entire crap you call a tournament is an example of what can be better. Aren’t you tired of fighting amongst yourselves for these towns? For what purpose? Why are you doing this? I understand that things may not work the same way in here as it does in Valemnia, but what is important is to give it a chance. To know what life the world beyond can offer, far more than this.”
“Are you saying this way of life is not enough? Is it too savage for you?” Maeghan snapped.
“Why do you look at it that way?” Valeriana shot back. “Well, I’m not the one saying that. So, to some extent, you must think it’s true. I beg to differ, though. Not everyone thinks the same way you do. Some just people can’t breathe in this place. Why would you think that psychotic guy you call your Lord of Fire gets so hung up on De Cirque’s beasts, trying to use them to find a way out?”
“You do not insult milord.” Valeriana’s opponent marched forward angrily.
“I did not insult him,” the girl shot at her with a clamp of her teeth. “You be thankful because that’s already a compliment in this case. Your lord’s way worse than Joker from Batman!”
“Stop,” Maeghan stated. “Not everyone thinks the same way you do.” The same words echoed back at her. “We don’t need you here.”
“It doesn’t matter if you do or you do not. Either way.” She lifted her sword. “We’re fighting. I’m going to respect what you believe in, but I can’t stop for you.”
“Then, I will just have to make you,” The Water Faction’s lady declared.
“You can try.”
Valeriana faced her opponent. “Let’s get this over with, shall we?”
The woman impatiently bristled. The gleaming knives slid into her palms, obsidian black blades shining under the sun. “Gladly.”
In spite of the hellish training Valeriana had been going through for the past few months, her fear of inadequacy as well as her insecurities was always looming over her shoulder—like a twisted parrot with its harsh hollers, reminding her of the many failures she had faced in the past. She’d been tiding through the challenges with her perseverance and hard work but even that was not enough to assure her of a better outcome.
As usual, one could only try to be ready but never would one truly be. Preparation was a race track with an unachievable goal.
But as she delved into the fight with all her might, prepared to haul the victory home even if she ended up losing limbs in the process, a halting voice reverberated that made both Valeriana and the woman before her stop short.
“General, stop,” Deli commanded. “Step out of the arena. The Fire Faction changes its mind.”
The announcer blankly looked at the Lady Commander. “A-are you forfeiting?” he asked disbelievingly.
“No,” was Deli’s clipped reply as though the notion itself was impossible. “We’re changing our representative.”
The skeptic silence shattered with questioning mutters and whispers of disbelief.
“This day is ridiculous,” Lord Florence stated. “I remember the rules saying that once the fight has started, it cannot be stopped unless one side surrenders, forfeits, or is defeated.”
Deli tilted her head as she smiled cunningly. “The fight hasn’t started. They haven’t exchanged the first blow.”
People were visibly perplexed and dumbfounded.
“The rules didn’t say specifically how a fight should start, did it?” Deli continued. “Announcer, what does it say? I’m sure you know it by heart.”
The announcer sighed. “A fight or battle cannot be halted until clear grounds for a winner or a draw is drawn.”
“So how will it be?” the Lady Commander inquired.
“I suppose it will be fine . . . who will switch with your current competitor to fight De Ci—I mean the Wind Faction?” he asked, scratching his head.
Deli promptly made her way to the open grounds, taking her sword down with her. “I will.”
People went wild with excitement and Valeriana swallowed heavily, watching the Lady Commander step into the battleground.
“Have I done something wrong, Lady Commander?” the woman Valeriana was supposed to fight inquired worriedly.
“This is no insult to your skills or performance, General,” Deli told her, each step heavy with authority and intimidation. “It’s just that the lord wishes for a rather specific measurement for this girl’s potential. Hopefully, it’s as big as her mouth.”
“That’s not an insult,” Deli said. “Your mouth is larger than anything, perhaps even your brain.”
Valeriana pursed her lips and nodded approvingly. “You can burn alright. I like that.”
“I’d rather torch, really.”
The honey-golden blonde chuckled anxiously. “You’ll have a lot of chance to do that in a while.”
“Is this switch approved, then?” Deli asked loudly, her voice echoing wide.
The cheers confirmed it.
“Let’s not postpone this.”
Valeriana’s uncertainty rose as her confidence plummeted. The last time she attacked the commander, she ended up with a busted lip and her ass handed right back to her. Not to mention there’s only one fight she formally ever lost—aside from the countless failures in training and life, of course—and that was with this woman’s brother. Being the older sister, she must be better. As a graduated member of the Celestial Twelve, a Celeste, a proud noble daughter, the first crown heir to her continent, there were not many things a woman who lived a privileged life could not do.
Gods help me, Valeriana thought. Forget about losing limbs, I’m gonna lose my life.