Celeste AcademyCosmos

Chapter 66 ♦ Bitter Not Sweet

CASeries #5: COSMOS

Chapter 66 ♦ Bitter Not Sweet

The second day to the first round concluded. The final results were posted on every street corner for everyone to see. People marveled at the posters and whispered their thoughts whilst fingers passed around a few coins, some laughed with glee and some scratched their heads. Rumors and stories of the fights witnessed were also circulating, the most famous one being the extraordinary sword a member of De Cirque wielded, which appeared with a couple of magic words. The opponent forfeited immediately afterwards, the Fire Faction’s Lady Commander, with a taunting smile on the face.

It was the ultimate battle of taunts.

While De Cirque lost Prevnia to Earth and won the forfeited fight for the Wind Faction against Fire, causing Mardiya to be put in the hands of Wind and consequently into the hands of Water due to the indebted town, the Wind Faction managed to maintain a grip on the competition—albeit a very loose one—and won their fight against the Earth faction to retake their capital city, Prevnia.

The whirlwind battles were confusing and caused some minds to be muddled at the complexity of the competition, but while the complications had raised some brows and wrinkled foreheads, they knew the game had just begun. The center of all attention was De Cirque. The absurdity of this year’s competition, while unusual, made people feel excited. This dark horse was a new element that made the equation an unpredictable one.

What’s more, the Spirit Faction forfeited to De Cirque and presented the town of Cavenor to them in a silver platter so as to give the circus a more stable entry into the second round. People knew they were in an alliance and were fairly close but these two parties hadn’t acted on those relations until their match. Not to mention De Cirque had forcefully pried the town of Lavanya from the Fire Faction’s hands before, further showing the amiability of these two to one another.

“Ah, goddamit.”

Valeriana silently wished they would just get this tournament over and done with, unfortunately, it wasn’t possible. While they said it had only two rounds, there was actually a third. The ‘merry-making’ the night the day of the first round finished was the third round. Valeriana felt weary thinking about the possibilities.

The Sovereign Ball was a battleground, not of swords and wielded elements, but of minds and words. The ballroom would now be the chessboard. It was up to the factions to make their move. This was Arisce’s time to take the limelight.

“The Sovereign Ball has rules,” the troupe leader told De Cirque. “No fight can break—physical ones, rather. You can bring no swords, not anything that can be used as a weapon to harm anyone physically. All those fights shall be reserved for the last round.”

“We can talk crap, right?” Valeriana asked.

“I’ll be damned if I can’t,” Aliyah stated.

“You, Valeriana, have to contain yourself. All of you.” Arisce glanced about the room pointedly. “Remember that any clash of tongues can easily become a fight of fists.”

A few sighs breezed about.

“Feel free to taunt them, even so. If they break first, you win,” she added, making faces light up. “Make sure you have nerves of steel. If you give in first, you lose and we’ll suffer penalties.”

“Yes, ma’am!” they chorused.

“Leave it to us,” Aoute exclaimed.

“We’ll make them so mad, they’ll have smoke coming out of their ears.” Bonjo cackled.

“Yeah, yeah, they’ll be so mad, they’ll want to scratch our faces off,” Beard said, a mischievous smile on his lips.

“If your beard doesn’t scratch their faces off first,” Maridie cut in.

“You little—”

“And this battleground,” Arisce interjected, cutting the fight short. “Is the most suitable for you, Valeriana.”

“What? Huh?” The blonde looked up questioningly.

“I will need your hand to set a few things in motion,” Arisce told her.

“Yeah?” Her brows furrowed. “How can I help?”

“How good have you become with your Power Control?” the troupe leader inquired.

“I thought fights weren’t allowed,” she stated dumbly.

“No. I meant your other power,” the woman clarified.

Valeriana’s jaws clamped tight as her lids jumped. She glanced at her gloved hands and back at Arisce, questioning and in disbelief. Naturally, she played around with her abilities from time to time and her control had gotten a lot better than when she first started. She learned a few tricks and had gotten to know it a bit more basing off on the few things Lord Lienhard had taught, but she never dared test what she knew on people, knowing it was taboo to use it on unwilling ones for no viable reason.

Of course, it was a bit conflicting considering the nature of her power, but she was made aware of loopholes and the many exceptions—excuses—to put her ability to use. Those times and opportunities rarely came. Hopefully, whatever it was Arisce wanted her to do, it wouldn’t violate the Direct Controller’s code of conduct.

The rest of De Cirque’s members gazed on with worry. What Arisce was asking of Valeriana definitely wasn’t simple.

“I know what’s going through your mind,” said the woman. “There are certain rules you must stick to to maintain your integrity and honor as the abilities you have concern other people and could easily cause averse effects for both you and the person you use it on. What you will do tonight will be up to you. I shall not force you to do something you do not like.”

“I-I’ll be fine,” Valeriana stammered, nodding nervously. “I’m sure the gods will understand what I’m trying to do. They won’t curse me, hopefully.” She sighed. “What do you want me to do?” she asked.

“Brion Jarez,” Arisce replied. “This is the perfect time to learn about him. There must be something in the other factions that he left behind. There is that chamber in Liberia and the pieces around the Spirit Faction.”

“The door,” Valeriana added.

“Yes.”

“I don’t think I’ll get to touch the important people long enough to see what I need to see,” she told the woman.

“But you can try to get close enough, can’t you?”

Her brows furrowed. “Are you asking me to—” Valeriana’s heart jumped at the implication. “Arisce, that type of control demands a lot and I don’t think—”

“You never know until you try,” Arisce cut her off. “You can always touch them, you just have to find a way. Otherwise, is this not the perfect time to try seeing beyond your limits? Put it to use. You’ll never get a chance like this again.”

Arisce was worse than Deli when it came to being merciless. The troupe leader loved pushing her.

Perhaps that was alright. Better than nothing.

Valeriana was reduced to a bunch of nerves. What if she failed? What if she messed up big time and everything gets ruined by her? With chattering teeth and chewed nails, she retreated to her tent the moment they were dismissed and told to prepare. Valeriana took out her jade sphere and went into deep meditation. She launched to the usual place and saw Delaney and Little Val playing a game. Her father sat watching, both tranquility and turmoil in his eyes.

“Dad.” Valeriana sank on the ground beside her father, crossing her legs and slouching.

“Take the jade sphere with you,” he told her, not needing any explanation. “It doesn’t only amplify the effects of your purification, but your other Direct Control abilities. It will help with your control.”

“Really?”

“It helps provide some balance for you, serve as your open channel in placed of the closed ones,” he said. “Just not as efficient.”

“I never knew it could do that!” she exclaimed.

“Don’t push it, Valery. The sphere is not invincible. It has its limits. Once it breaks . . .”

She bit her lip. “I know. Alright.”

Now she hesitated on using it.

“I don’t want to lose you,” Valeriana added a heartbeat later. “You’re all I have left . . .”

Garvyn’s eyes softened. “Valery,” he began. “I thought that you’ve at least accepted the reality . . . I am just a vestige, a piece of his memory. You can’t see me as really him.”

“It’s still you, though. Whole or piece. How can you say that?”

“Valeriana, swee—”

“No! How can you say that? How can I ever accept you leaving?” she asked, voice cracking and tears rushing to her eyes, flooding her sigh. “I never got over it. Jareth never got over it. Now, I’m guilty of leaving them behind too. I heard him cry every night and now, when I saw him with that thing, I feel like it’s my fault he’s going through it again. I haven’t talked to them in months. They must think something happened.”

“Valery.” Her father shook his head, a little speechless. “Perhaps it was also my fault for not being too honest with you all. I had hoped that my leaving would be quiet and you all would grieve, but never know the truth.” His eyes twinkled with remorse, wrinkling at the corners as he grimaced a bit. “Fate has its ways. In spite of my effort to leave you all in peace like the quiescent sand beneath the waves, the currents will sweep and the beds will break. I clung to the hope that you’ll never find out. I could never bear it.” His eyes watered and he sniffed a little. “I really wish I was with you, honey. I really wish I was with you. You don’t know how frustrating it is to be confined in this place. If I could help you out there, I will. Oh, honey, I will.” He reached for her, brushing the strands that framed her face. “But my life wasn’t something I wanted you to have.”

“Dad, that’s crap.” Valeriana croaked. “’Life on Earth is not less bad than on Valemnia. Where you think it’s beautiful, it has a side as ugly. If you had just given us a chance to see it—”

“No. No. Not until the trouble is over. Not until. I had planned to. I wanted to. I just can’t—I just can’t risk it. Not yet. No.”

“Why don’t you just tell me, then? I can handle it. I’m here, aren’t I? I know, anyway, right?” She reached for his shoulders, gripped his sleeves. “Why did you go to Earth? Why did you die? Who killed you if it wasn’t an accident?”

He gazed at her for moments. He opened his mouth only to close it again. By this time, Delaney and Little Val had stopped, watching them closely. Little Val was a mirror of Valeriana, her tears were thick.

Silent, Janus could only pull his daughter close and kiss her on the forehead. “This, I can promise you, Valery. The moment you open the last channel, you will know every truth you desire.”

“What if it never happens?” she inquired softly. “What if I never open the last gate? Dad, even if I get Aether’s blessing, I’m still short one more.”

“That problem is for you to figure out, Valery. If you never accomplish it . . . you will not be worthy of the truth. Fate will bring you all the choices and opportunities, but it is up to you to make your future.”

“Why is this always an issue of worth, destiny, choices?” Valeriana stood up, fury quaking through her limbs. She pushed at his father’s chest as she rose, hoping she could punch him somewhat, but she didn’t have the heart to. “Don’t I deserve to know what I’m working towards? Your secrets do not help!” she yelled.

Janus stared at Valeriana. He looked like he wanted to talk, to answer, but then lost every word.

“Answer me, dad! I am suffering every day for what? You can at least tell me what took you from us, right?”

His breath stammered. “I don’t know.”

Valeriana reached for her face and ran a palm over it.

“I don’t know, Valery,” he told her, standing as well. “Even if I try to help you, I’ll only do you more harm than good. There is a reason why you’re not given the answers. If you are hurried to the door without letting you walk down the path to it alone, you will never be able to open it.” He gazed at her helplessly. “De lavaye vu de hadvann, Valery. The truth you seek is not behind the doors. It’s on the path you walk on.”

Valeriana’s tears of frustration fell. She stood and pulled away—from her father, from the dreamscape, from the chaotic room in her mind.

In this case, truth was not the only bitter thing. Finding it was worse than downing a bottle of vinegar.

Acid in her tongue, her throat, her chest.

When will it end?

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