CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 69 ♦ No One Does It Better
Valeriana was unenthusiastic about the night. Cat helped her into the dress that, apparently, Lundie was responsible for making before helping brush her long, honey golden locks into a classic, low bun with ringlets framing her face.
“You’re growing more beautiful lately,” Cat told her with a playful pat on the shoulder.
“Really, says the one who’s always beautiful.” Valeriana waved dismissively with an eye roll, pulling her elbow length gloves further up. She then stood to return to her tent, going for the last minute preparations, making sure everything was okay—especially herself.
Arisce didn’t plan on coming which threw half of Valeriana’s confidence out the window. She worried how she was supposed to put things to action without the troupe leader supervising. It was then that she realized how heavy she had come to rely on the woman. Without her on the action, it just didn’t feel right.
Within moments, they started to set out. Valeriana didn’t know where to put the jade sphere so, uncomfortably, she let it rest in her bra—a very special pocket, indeed. She felt embarrassed. If her father, Little Val, and Delaney could see what was happening from inside, she might’ve just lost all decency. However, what choice did she have? Now that she had revealed her ability to materialize a sword (not really) out of nowhere, they would take everything with suspicion—even an ordinary ball. Having the jade sphere confiscated was the last thing she wanted.
Before they entered the carriage, Valeriana stopped before Sloan, gazing at the woman with uncertainty.
“Do they know about it?” she asked, worried about Cifaro. She decided not to take off her ring. As a countermeasure, she would be entrusting it to Arcana to wear during the checks then simply ask for it back after they enter. In the hands of other people, Cifaro was naturally unresponsive.
“Everything will be fine,” Arisce reassured her.
“What if we face trouble because of it?”
“Then let it come. There is nothing we can’t face.” The woman smiled. “I got all your backs. Nothing will happen that will put you all at . . . extreme risks.”
“But how can you have our backs if you’re not coming?” Valeriana asked.
“Trust me, nothing good will come out of me attending this event. I dislike showing myself too much should the instance come that they know who I am,” the troupe leader told her softly. “I’ve kept up the act for so long. I fear every day that they will find out. This may just destroy everything we’ve worked hard for.”
Valeriana nodded understandingly. “Okay.”
“I sincerely apologize for not being there.” Arisce squeezed her shoulder, laying a kiss on Valeriana’s forehead. “Now, go. Do what you must.”
Feeling a bit better, she climbed the carriage. Foot on the door, however, she paused.
“Thank you, Arisce,” she told her. “When the gates open, I’ll make sure to find something nice and cozy to give you.”
The woman chuckled. “Why so suddenly? You should not bother.”
“I have to. Dad won’t be happy if I don’t give you anything after all that you’ve done.” She pursed her lips. “You sure you really won’t be coming?”
“I am sure,” Arisce told her with a smile.
“Alright,” Valeriana said. “Take care.”
It was against expectations but Arisce must have her reasons. Knowing it was not good to argue, Valeriana ceded and embarked the vehicle.
Arcana was seated in the corner with Raegan right across. They have come to fetch De Cirque seeing as the circus lacked formal carriages for these occasions. They never felt the need to have those—with John carrying them on his back and their little to no need of leaving the Giando.
“Shall we go?” intoned the lavender-eyed girl.
She nodded. “Do you mind doing me a favor?” she asked.
“What is it? Anything,” Arcana said.
Valeriana took off her citrine soul ring and handed it to the girl. “Please wear this for me when we go inside. I’ll need it back when we’re in.”
“Oh.” Arcana eyed the ring with curiosity. “This is him, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” she replied with a smile. “I’ll put Cifaro in your hands for the meanwhile.”
“No problem.” The lavender-eyed girl wore the ring in her ring finger but ended up putting it middle one. Valeriana had bigger hands—or Arcana just had really small and slim fingers. “Matches well with my dress, don’t you think? He’s so beautiful.”
Valeriana nodded sincerely.
When they arrived as a group, it would’ve been hard to tell who was Spirit from De Cirque seeing as they came together. The only distinguishing factor were the embroidered emblems on their clothes, marking them as a part of the group they were under. Arcana glowed in a pale yellow gown with the Lord Commander a tall pillar of white beside her.
The host remained the same. It has been a while since Valeriana saw Aleser’s evil lair. This very building had been flooded a few months ago by De Cirque after they were kidnapped by the faction. It was built so fast that the damage seemed to have never occurred at all.
Valeriana walked beside Arcana as they approached the open doors that would lead to the Fire Faction’s procession hall—their biggest building, large enough to accommodate an entire town. Valeriana did not feel at ease seeing the flowing gowns and trimmed suits. This wasn’t her kind of war.
“I don’t get why there has to be a party when it’s not all really over. What’s there to celebrate anyway? This is ridiculous.”
“Trust me.” Arcana sighed. “If I could, I would’ve avoided these things. But they’re mandatory. It’s part of the old tradition that built this city. I think it’s a way to keep the tension and keep things interesting. You mustn’t be carried away tonight, however. Make sure you all—”
“What is that man wearing?!” Cat shrilly commented, hand flattening on her chest as she eyed a man in red with a frown of disdain. “What a poor choice for a coat,” she muttered.
“Ssh . . . Cat, by the gods!” Beard pinched the star performer’s arm.
“Ow, do not touch me, you bearded mop.”
Valeriana shook her head. De Cirque had started—and they didn’t even need to try.
They came upon the entrance where they went through, as expected, a search. It went smoothly for Arcana but Valeriana, in particular, was put through a more rigid inspection.
“Grounds call for all hidden weapons to be handed over,” the man said.
“I don’t have anything,” she sincerely told him, holding up her arms and spinning. “Unless you want to check even the most remote places and be called a pervert. Do you want me to strip? Haven’t you touched enough? I know the rules of this event, don’t take me as a fool.” She sighed tiredly.
“Really?” He quirked a brow.
“Stop it,” Arcana firmly stated. “She already said that she has nothing and you’ve seen it yourself. If you are not going to respect that, you may as well leave your post.” The glare the Spirit Faction’s lady had was quite out of place for her youthful face. Valeriana’s eyes were just as grim, a little darker than their usual azure shade.
It made her feel glad she had entrusted the ring to Arcana.
Finally, he backed down. The way he moved, even so, lacked the most common of courtesies. “You’re through.”
With her blood heated, Valeriana plowed her way inside, bumping shoulders, making sure the impact was sharp and made him stagger. The small move did nothing to cool her temper but it helped tip her back from becoming violent.
She could no longer feel the jade sphere existing in her bra but it was still an existence she minded very much. It had no blade but it could be one of the most dangerous weapons if only Valeriana could maximize its capabilities. Unfortunately, she wasn’t quite there yet. She hadn’t even grasped more than half of her own ability—not without the blessings, no.
“That man was from the Water Faction,” Arcana told her. “That Maeghan really gets on my nerves sometimes.”
“Isn’t this a part of the show, though? Making things hard for others.” She rolled her eyes. “They should be glad I don’t have the temper of Arlandians or I would’ve barbecued that man on the spot.”
“You already have quite enough temper,” Raegan stated with a grin.
She looked at the Lord Commander with a raised brow. “Really? This is nothing compared to . . . someone I know.”
“Oh, and who can that be?” Arcana whistled.
Valeriana eyed the lavender-eyed girl pointedly. It took another short walk before they finally reached the large procession hall. The stage was the same as it had been a few months ago without the long rows of seats. A band occupied the limelight, playing local music in a slowed croon. There was one, long buffet table on the far corner and tall, round tables at the periphery. Aside from those, there was nothing else. No chairs, not anything. The center was left vacant, probably for dancing.
“This looks like any other ball,” Valeriana muttered.
The blonde was brought back to earlier that year when she finally turned eighteen—thirty-six in Valemnian years. The nostalgia didn’t last long, even so. De Cirque’s loud comments and insults could heard all the way to Valemnia.
“Oh, wow,” Cat began once more. “I didn’t think that color existed. Such an ugly shade!”
After a while, there came another statement.
“Those ruffles looked like they were stitched together by a chicken. Who even made those?”
Arcana simpered at the comments.
“Where did that gown come from?” Cat exclaimed. “Did you pull that out a demon’s ass?”
At this point, De Cirque’s laughter had already drowned out the music. Others who heard the comments, even if they did not belong to the circus, trembled with hilarity.
“She really knows how to claw something when she doesn’t like it.” Raegan shivered as he pulled on his collars and glanced stiffly at his own suit.
“Clawing?” Valeriana huffed. “She’s ripping them apart with her tongue.”
“Am I alright?” the Lord Commander whispered.
“What do you mean alright?” Arcana grinned. “You’re handsome, you’re my Lord Commander!”
Cat’s voice cut through the air. “Ah, horrible. Try going through metamorphosis.”
“What? What did that mean?” Valeriana looked over her shoulder to see who their star performer was referring to. She had burst out laughing upon seeing a fat woman wearing a skimpy suit that didn’t frame her figure very well. Indeed, with all the fold of fats hanging around her torso, she looked like a caterpillar. That caked face, too. “Oh, holy crap. I shouldn’t be laughing.”
But she was.
“Oh, she is so bad.” Lady Arcana put a hand on her chest. “What she does to a woman’s self-esteem.”
“So what do we do tonight?” Valeriana inquired after a snort, shaking her head lightly.
“Socialize,” Arcana replied. “More like ostracize, really.”
“Aren’t we already doing that?”
“Something more extreme,” the other girl replied.
“What could probably be more extreme than what Cat is already doing?” The honey-golden blonde sighed. “Then again, we are De Cirque. You never know extreme until you see us.”
Arcana laughed. “Well, what do you expect? The competition isn’t over.”
“Oh, tonight is definitely a tough crowd.” Valeriana trembled at the thought of performing.
“You can always expect a round of applause.” Raegan dipped his head at her direction.
“Maybe even the Wind Faction,” Arcana said.
“I’m not going to expect anything other than dropping jaws and gritted teeth, maybe even a bit of hissing,” Valeriana muttered.
“You’ll hear some bawling, maybe.” Beard cackled.
“Hey, hey, don’t be so cocky,” Aoute said. “For all you know, we might be the ones who end up crying!”
“I am so looking forward for tonight’s show!” Arcana exclaimed with a clap of her hands. “Ooh. I’m so excited. Tonight is already starting to be sooo fun.” She giggled.
“You should be expected,” Bonjo told the lavender-eyed girl, hearing her statement. “Because this will be nothing like we’ve ever done! Ahahaha. I can’t wait to see their faces turn greeeeennn!”
“Great.” The blonde popped her knuckles. “I’m up for this. Hehehe . . .” Those cackles sounded like Lord Aeron somewhat.