CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 71 ♦ Celine’s Key
Soon, the only ones left on De Cirque’s table were the utensils and table itself. The curtains were drawn to a close and the local musicians were ousted from their seats. The other factions were already in their respective places, chatting on with those of their own, refusing to mingle with others outside of their own circles. The divide was so clear and vivid that the announcer felt a little perplexed at the situation. Though he stood on neutral waters along with the other personnel to help keep things fair and straight, there was an innate desire for the night to be not like the rest of the Sovereign Tournament—although that was pretty impossible considering they were amidst the competition. It would not be worth considering a celebration afterwards as well. Some of the factions would be peeved by the results. It is not all the time that they got acceptable results from the tournament after all.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?” chorused the man as he clinked his glass with a fork. The boom of his voice followed shortly by the sharp chimes on the glass bade heads to turn his way. “Gods be with you all,” he resumed, seeing the silence rise and the attention centered on him. “And Aether simmer with jealousy at the fine wines we are drinking tonight.” He raised the golden nectar in his hands. “Unless, of course, he is here among us secretly drinking as well.”
There was a short round of laughter. The announcer nodded his head humbly at his own joke, pleased they found his humor . . . humorous.
“I am proud to see this night a cordial event among us all,” he told them. But that could not be more a lie. At the statement that left his mouth, he felt a bitter taste rise to the back of his throat. He felt as though he was spouting garbage by just that alone. He had to keep up the act, though. “We thank all the factions for their contributions to tonight’s event. And to make it all the merrier, I am calling on De Cirque to show us their craft. Being the best entertainers in the city, they have also proved themselves capable fighters in spite of the . . . eccentricity of their nature.”
He saw a couple of eyes roll here and there as well as sighs of aggravation. Mutters rose here and there. Some with laughs—he couldn’t tell if they were mocking or excited, but there was certainly both.
“I will not delay it any longer. De Cirque, bring us awe!”
The close curtains parted to reveal shimmering lights, mostly of cosmic blue that resembled the surface of clear water. Music played in the background until a figure wrapped in silk ran down the lengths of a long cloth that rolled down to the ground like a frog’s tongue. On the tip, a girl.
Like an emerging butterfly from its cocoon, she fell, landing delicately on the ground by the tips of her toes. Long blond hair fell on small shoulders. A tight waist curved gracefully to an arch as the music faded to a halt and the person came to face the crowd.
People, who despite being enemy or friend, inwardly acknowledged the beauty of the scene, suddenly recoiled as they saw the face.
It wasn’t a woman—instead, it was that effeminate youth who they recognized performed on air with his partner. Lundie was his name.
“Why in the name of the gods is he dressed as a girl?” somebody whispered in the crowd.
“I was expecting the banshee . . .” someone else trailed off.
And just as the ‘banshee’ was heard, Lundie began screaming from the stage. “KYAAAAAAAAAAAA!”
Some were shocked at the suddenness that they jumped. Glass broke on a woman’s hand, spilling wine all over her dress.
“What in the world!” someone exclaimed.
Lundie looked around once more, seemingly shocked and at loss, before he screamed once again. “KYAAA KYAAA KYAAAA!”
The show proceeded from that point on. While it took a while for the story to unravel, when it did, it casted grim shadows on the faces of many, mostly on the opposing factions who weren’t on good terms with De Cirque. The opening remarks gave it the name of ‘Babaldoo in Peekaboo,’ which ran on the premises of a supposed girl being shoved into another world which was more dreamy and psychotic in nature.
Regret and exasperation were evident on their faces as they watched on with gritted teeth. While the place was satirical, ridiculous, more often nonsensical in nature than not, it carried outright mockery that enraged those who found it heavily insulting due to the implications it carried.
Lady Maeghan, for one, had a stone faced riddled with spikes of infuriation, especially when an actress, Cat, dressed in her likeness with exaggerated details and a ridiculously large fan that she used to flap her own face—hard—came out shrieking like her life depended on it.
“You dare step on my territory, you utter fool! OFF WITH HER—HIS—THAT THING’S HEAD!”
“Seriously?” Lundie screamed in his best Valeriana impersonation, putting on a disgruntled face and an infuriated glance. Arcana had already lost it, laughing her throats out at Lundie’s spot on imitation. “What did I do to make you so angry?!”
“Foolish outsider!” Cat shrieked back. “You come in here thinking you own the place. You absolutely have no right coming in here doing as you please. I am queen, I am authority! You dare question and challenge my name!”
“I’m just trying to find a way home! How am I supposed to know?” he yelled back.
“I do not care what you came to do—off! Off! Off with he—that thing’s head!” she shrieked.
Marching music began and guards dressed like clowns swooped in to do as the queen said. Thankfully, even so, Babaldoo, who Lundie played, was saved in the nick of time by soldiers of someone called the White Queen who Valeriana portrayed. It was quite an unexpected twist, but incited the delight of the Spirit Faction, as the manner of style and disposition echoed Arcana’s. Most were awed by the beauty of the costume she donned. The dress she had worn were given extra layers of shimmering silk with an icy, sheer veil that sat around her shoulders and extended to cast a delicate train that smoothly swept the ground as she walked.
“Hey lady,” Lundie said questioningly. “I mean, hello. Thanks for saving me.”
Valeriana smiled serenely, trying to imitate Arcana’s seemingly tranquil and ever joyful—jubilant—smile. “I welcome you to the White Kingdom. I am the White Queen. You were saved by my White Guards.”
“Does that make me your White Guest?”
“I’d rather not be racist,” Valeriana teasingly shot in.
The concept, however, wasn’t applicable and most did not understand as both Valemnia and Varialon put no regards on skin color and physical attributes. Rather, they relied heavily on the division by elements, which sprouted a whole new problem altogether. Besides, taking into account the extraordinary and bizarre colors they sported, it carried little to no heed as all possessed unique characteristics.
“But, indeed, you are my guest.” She nodded with the same smile. “I do apologize for what has transpired just now. You are detested by my sister,” she said.
“Why would she detest me? I did nothing wrong.”
“She detests you and not what you did,” Valeriana said calmly. Her demeanor emitted that of an enlightened and wise sage, which seemed rather different on her face considering how the girl usually was. “You bring something bizarre. You are different. You bring change as you walk and so do the people you touch. She is hardheaded.” Valeriana knocked on her skill with her knuckles. The metal sound that accompanied it made people laugh. “And she cannot accept this—that her kingdom needs to change if it wants not to be ravaged by the passage of time. She has issued you a challenge, did she not? To kill the serpent of the poisoned fire who she has under her control by a thin thread?”
“How big is this serpent?” Lundie asked.
“How big is very big?”
“Like my knight giant’s mother’s belly when she was pregnant with my knight giant.” She pointed to the massive mass of muscles that was Bonjo.
“Damn,” Lundie stared at the massive pecs. “She must’ve been enormous.”
“Anyhow, nobody has done it. All the challengers had died and were swallowed whole like Mad Piper’s favorite tea cakes,” she said, pointing to the woman behind her who was, as her name entailed, madly sighing through her pipe while swallowing muffins.
“So how the heck do you think I’m going to be able to do it?” Lundie asked shrilly.
Valeriana shrugged with a sheepish smile. “Well . . . I think I have something for you but it may be a little . . . ridiculous.”
With that, the finale finally unfolded and with it, the stage gradually melted into the crowd. Soon, the entire procession hall became a stage for De Cirque. While the initial reactions to it were almost hostile, especially since people thought it was a planned attack, seeing De Cirque’s members go on and proceed casually without batting a lash to their reactions, everyone eventually calmed down. Still, there were wary eyes.
The action enabled Valeriana to be close to the audience and, consequently, close to her targets. Arisce wanted a peek into the minds of the faction leaders to look for clues on Brion Jarez’s pieces he left behind around the city. They could not afford to sneak into the other faction territories risking being discovered and being ousted from the competition so they would settle for something just as good—memories.
Still, there was no guarantee that Valeriana would be able to do it but it was always worth a try. With a stiff smile, Valeriana rounded the room as the battle between Lundie and the serpent of the poisoned fire ensued. The dragon was depicted as a woman with the capabilities of transforming to a dragon. Valeriana had taken inspiration from the drakon, Vallore, as well as Aleser’s venomous attitude and Deli’s valiance. In fact, this entire drama was obviously a mirror of Varialon’s current dilemma while simultaneously taking inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and the adapted film. Actually, it was more of a parody of it.
The battle exchange was filled with sparkles and flurries of string confetti to substitute for the loss of their elements—as combat was not allowed within the room. Valeriana was ‘forced’ to back and inch close to the Water Faction’s tables as the exchange continued. Maridie, who played the serpent, valiantly fought with Lundie with her large—and fake—wings. She hung in the air by the long cloth, body entwining with the fabric as she maneuvered beautifully in the air.
Despite the whole play being a bit nonsensical and ridiculous, the beauty and effort in it was not at all watered down for the show. This might actually be the best one De Cirque had done yet—a culmination to all their previous performances, bearing all the essences of their craft and dedication.
Meanwhile, Valeriana got to work and gauged the immediate area around her for the aura she was targeting. She was given looks by Aliyah—not long enough to seem suspicious, but just enough to tell her it was then or never. She glanced over her shoulders to grab a look at the Water Faction, pretending to look at Maridie swing around the ceiling in her battle with Lundie. Maeghan was in the center of huddled penguins that were her men.
It didn’t mean much whether or not they blocked Lady Maeghan from her point-of-view. If she wasn’t going to come into contact directly with the Water Faction’s leader, she was going to try and forge a connection with her aura indirectly within the distance she was given.
Her radar easily pinpointed the woman. Setting her sights on the target, she locked in and immediately got to work.
Valeriana willed her aura to reach for Maeghan’s, letting it slip through the many others that barred her path. A small drop of sweat dripped down the side of her face as she clutched at her chest where the jade sphere was, hoping it would help her in her endeavor.
It felt like forcing a cramping muscle to work—it hurt as hell.
She sent a mental plead to the jade sphere, closing her eyes as her aura, stretched out like a reaching hand, finally fingered a thin grasp of Maeghan’s. The connection was weak as she was straining herself enough to just take a hold of it. The forged line only gave her immediate memories of the night before them.
This was useless.
She opened her eyes and coerced her own aura to dig in a little deeper. The jade sphere in her chest warmed and sent a small support, stabilizing her further so that she was able to do the deed.
With it, she heard a slight commotion from behind her.
Her heart jumped. She might’ve already been discovered. People weren’t foolish enough not to notice something was amiss.
Thankfully, she had already managed to pull out what she needed. Valeriana saw a rough map of the House of Water and retreated when she found a valuable object that struck close to Maeghan’s heart. While the other memories were useless to her, she got to know the lady beneath the aloof and rebuking demeanor she usually bore towards De Cirque and breachers in general.
Valeriana knew where the aches of her heart came from and why she was so against breachers in the first place.
She took a deep, stuttering breath and recalled the image that flashed in her mind. The greatest art piece was not in the House of Spirit—it was in Maeghan’s hands. Around her neck was the more correct term.
She was wearing a jewelry crafted by Brion Jarez.
He called it Celine’s Key and it was the deepest blue, more brilliant and vibrant than any other gem.
And she realized one other thing.
The reason why the commotion occurred was not because of her intrusion of Maeghan’s memories. She looked around them and her heart dropped.
They were besieged.