CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 65 ♦ Warfare
Zion stood up at the magic words that flew free from the girl’s mouth. Everyone else were slack-jawed at the sudden manifestation of a beautiful sword in Valeriana’s hands—beauty and danger in one sentence was strangely too fitting. The girl suddenly looked intimidating, holding the ethereal blade in her hands.
But then Deli smirked and, once again, shocked everyone with her response. “I forfeit.”
Valeriana’s confusion shot through the roof. The announcer was shocked senseless as well.
“What?” the audience cried.
“You can’t!” People grunted and whined.
“It was getting good too!”
Deli sheathed her sword and casually walked out of the fighting grounds, leaving Valeriana gaping at her with the glorious Cifaro in hand—now she looked more idiotic than cool.
“I’ve seen what I needed to see,” said the Lady Commander.
Valeriana gnashed her teeth. “That can’t be it, coward!” she exclaimed.
“I am no coward. In fact, I’m doing you a favor,” Deli said, turning her back on Valeriana.
“Hey, come back here! I haven’t even started!”
She was ignored.
“I suppose this match is over,” the announcer stated, confusion thick in his voice.
The audience booed and shouted complains.
Seeing that there was no point in taunting Deli to come back to the fighting grounds, Valeriana retreated to De Cirque’s side of the venue. The victory was announced and Mardiya—Fire’s capital town—was handed to Wind Faction by De Cirque. The blonde met Arisce’s cold blue eyes as Cifaro reverted back to a ring around her finger.
The cat was out of the bag. It was very out of the bag. And it was not good.
“Mind telling me what sort of crappy psychological warfare the Fire Faction is playing at? Because my slow brain cannot keep up,” Valeriana stated, frustrated to the bone.
Aoute shook his head. “They’re simply picking off any knives pointed at their back.”
“She certainly put a lot of blades in Valeriana, though,” Cat commented, staring at the current condition the blonde was in.
Arisce spoke, “They don’t wish for unexpected confrontation. In fact, they’re doing all our enemies a favor. They’re eliminating all the surprises. Especially from us—which is mostly you,” she pointed out.
“So, what now?” Aliyah inquired.
The troupe leader pulled out her pipe once more. Clouds of smoke rose and caped her. “You can’t win a battle without exposing a few cards. This is not a one-sided war.”
“Why do we even have to help that stupid Wind Faction?” Cat muttered. “If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be doing this.”
“They’re necessary,” Arisce said. “They can’t be eliminated just yet.”
“Why?” they chorused.
“You’ll soon see.”
“Does this have anything to do with the agreed price?” Aliyah inquired.
“Hopefully,” Arisce told them.
“Hopefully?” Valeriana echoed. “What’s up with that tone of uncertainty?”
“We can only see how things will play out,” Arisce said.
There was no use contemplating about something that she could not understand at the moment. Whatever was going through that Lord Aleser’s mind was not Valeriana’s goal to catch. She would leave that task to Arisce who was intent on clashing head to head with the Fire Faction’s leader—both literally and figuratively.
Still, the curiosity constantly brushed and tickled her mind. Valeriana did not understand why Deli went to such lengths to force her to draw Cifaro—aside from, of course, wanting to expose all of De Cirque’s hidden cards. Deli herself hinted that she knew about her animus. But how?
Even if the Lady Commander said she had given enough hints—what were they talking about again? She briefly turned to look at the Fire Faction’s side of the venue and found Deli casually posted by Aleser’s side. Zion was looking at her intently with furrowed brows. She could not blame him if he was confused. None had thought it was possible to wield an element different from one’s innate Power Control.
De Cirque was now bathing in arguments. They had no need to worry at all for their last match as it would be against the Spirit Faction, who, if it wasn’t already obvious, they were in cahoots with. However, it wouldn’t be until the next round of the tournament that they would truly see the power of having an alliance.
The second round was truly chaotic. It was where all hell broke loose. De Cirque would need everything it could lay its hands on should they want to really ‘dominate’ the entire tournament. Both Fire and Water Faction would pose the hardest hurdles. With the Wind Faction owing them a favor, there was still Earth and the other two factions to mind. The Earth Faction was tough but quiet, tolerant but sharp.
Wind was first, not exactly done but getting there. Hopefully, the situation would get better and their plans not sabotaged.
“I’ll take a break,” Valeriana told them, but she was drowned out by the voices of De Cirque’s members.
“Be careful. Now that they know, you’re in danger. People will covet what you have,” Aliyah told her.
“Not to worry,” Valeriana replied with a dismissive wave. The slight tremble in her fingers gave away her anxiety from the warning—or perhaps the distress brought to her by the recent fight. “Even if they steal Cifaro, they won’t be able to use him.” She then retreated into De Cirque’s tent to change her clothes and dress her wounds. She was soaked with both blood and sweat—nothing could be more literal than this.
Arisce followed her in, pulling the box containing their first aid supplies to apply on the girl’s wounds. The open flesh was starting to sting from the salt and acidity of her sweat. Uncomfortable, she stripped off her top and left herself in her thin undershirt which used to be white. Now, it was an abstract work of art of red and white.
“Come and sit here,” Arisce said, motioning to the boring chair before a small table.
Each move sent stinging pain throughout her body. “Gods forbid.” She looked at the extent of her injuries and minded how she was supposed to fight for De Cirque the next day. This was precisely why they tried avoiding a representative to fight repeatedly in the first round.
Deli was especially merciless as well.
“She nearly filleted you with these wounds,” Arisce commented, pouring disinfectant over her wounds. Valeriana hissed.
“She intended on cooking me well afterwards. I think,” Valeriana joked. Her smile blended with the grit of her teeth. “Ow, ow, owwwww . . .”
“It is unfortunate we have no healer,” the troupe leader stated.
“Well, you have one now.” The flaps parted to reveal a man dressed in yellow, the Spirit Faction’s symbol etched on his chest. He entered with a larger kit of medical tools. “You don’t mind me here, do you?” he asked. “I come on behalf of Lady Arcana.”
“How timely,” Arisce said. “Do come in, good sir.” She beckoned. “It seems there is no need for my lousy hands.” She shoved the bottle of disinfectant into the small box that dwarfed the doctor’s in size and gladly stepped aside to let the man work.
“Hey,” Valeriana greeted. She did recognize the man. In her many days she stayed with Arcana for sleepovers and other stuff, she incurred injuries from their spars as well as her clumsiness. He was the one who helped her with the busted lip Deli gave her a few months back. “How are you?”
“I should be the one asking that, young lady,” he replied. He stopped before the table, beckoned for Valeriana to come closer and began to prepare a few things in advance. “You’ll be needing stitches,” he said, not bothering to look at the gaping wounds on her body.
“You—oh holy shiznits. You gotta be kidding me.”
“First, I will see how far I can try to close the wounds so that you won’t have to get so many. But that one over there is too big for just this session to close,” he told her, pointing at the wound on her side. “I’ll start with your less serious wounds.”
“You know me so well.” Valeriana sheepishly grinned.
The healer sighed as he took out the curved needle, making Valeriana gulp. “I know you’ll want that one for last, although I prefer the very serious ones first.”
“Nah, nah, nah . . . I need to prepare for the most intense, yeah?” Valeriana intoned, looking up at the man pleadingly.
“So long as you don’t bleed to death before I finish,” he said.
“I won’t. You’ll be healing me first with those cool powers of yours first, yes? I won’t bleed to death, I won’t. I’m tough. I’m tough,” she muttered.
“I doubt that.”
She knew he was teasing her. “You saw me out there. I wasn’t so bad, was I?” she said, trying to make a conversation to keep her mind off the incoming torture.
“Not so bad,” the healer said with a shrug. “Not so good, either. She completely beat you—until she forfeited, of course. Based on my own estimations, she would have been able to haul your butt and slam your face onto the ground. That sword could’ve given you some more power, but she didn’t give you a chance to use it against her. And there is power in doing that. No matter how frustrating it is for you, it is advantageous in a way for them.”
Valeriana was curious about the man’s insights. “What do you think they wanted to accomplish? And give up their capital town for it, too?”
“Well, personally, I think they wanted to see the extent of what you can do and what you’re capable of. They mentioned it before the fight started. Besides, it’s not like they can’t take back their cities in the next round. They’re certainly confident, even so, those people might be hiding something.”
Valeriana recalled Deli’s statement before the fight started. She had mentioned a ‘specific measure of potential,’ or something similar. Valeriana was unable to forget it, considering the insult she had gotten from the Lady Commander while receiving the words.
“And why did they forfeit?” she prodded.
“Because they’d rather know and act later, simply put. Nothing beats a test of patience in battles. They’re just waiting for the right moment to attack. They probably took out your hidden card from . . . being hidden so they know how to counter it later,” he said. “Or it may be something more complicated. We don’t really know. Only the Fire Faction can tell us what they’re thinking. And Lord Aleser’s mind is not very simple.”
“Truly, I think the same,” Arisce said. “Aleser, the simplest way to call him is—”
“A snapping turtle!” Valeriana cut in. “He is definitely a turtle!”
Arisce stared at Valeriana for a few moments, seeming to contemplate before finishing her sentence. “A turtle.” But she sounded both disbelieving and unconvinced.
“Yes,” the girl agreed just as the healer sent a shot of healing power to her wound and later applied a numbing anesthetic.
“Why do you think he is?” the woman asked.
“He goes out of his shell to bite hands and hides afterwards when you try to fight back.”
“With how the faction acted a while ago, yes, a turtle definitely is suitable. I would not prefer to debase the poor creatures, even so. They are nobler than that . . . poor excuse for a turtle.” The healer shook his head.
After putting Valeriana through a thorough treatment and dressing her wounds, which took an hour or more, the healer sent by Arcana packed up his things and began to take his leave. He put away the soiled instruments and cleaned up after the mess he made. Valeriana moved to help him, but he sent her still with a pointed glance. Arisce, even so, stepped forward to help.
“Milady has told me to tell you that Spirit will be forfeiting to De Cirque in the last match. Feel free to choose which among the towns we already have that you like,” he said. “She said you will need to hold onto Lavanya to have a stable entry into the second round. We will take it back in a while.”
“This is already too much. So many things have been done by your faction for De Cirque,” Arisce told him. “I cannot allow more indebtedness.”
“Nonsense. On the contrary, we have done little. And even if we have done something, it may be of little to no help to making it worse,” the man replied. “It’s only very little favor. With Lavanya in De Cirque’s hands, we know you will take care of it. Besides, we have a lot of towns in our name at the moment.”
“Alright.” Arisce nodded. “It’ll be unkind and ungrateful to accept your good graces. Tell Arcana that I shall come and personally thank her later.”
“She told me that in case you felt the need to, I should tell you that you have no need to bother. The gates will be opened—and that is more than enough for us.” He closed his box and carried it by the handle. “I shall be taking my leave. Do be careful in straining yourself, Valeriana. You will need a lot of rest to recover.” He gave them both a nod and a smile. “I shall see you tonight at the . . . Sovereign Ball. I look forward to your show.”