CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 73 ♦ Re-Debut
Arisce stepped into the room casually as though she owned the place, heeled shoes clicking across the soaked floors. The ceiling which boasted a classic rainbow glass art had once again been shattered. De Cirque’s Tyson stood at the ceiling like the guardian beast he was, his mere gaze making people scamper off below. Gods know how much time and money it took to repair the damages incurred when De Cirque last broke into the Fire Faction’s procession hall.
Judging by the way Aleser cursed as he straightened the crease between his brows, the efforts taken must’ve been enormous.
But he should have already expected this. Perhaps he just didn’t like seeing his plans fall to a ruin. Arisce must’ve anticipated this somewhat and deferred from attending the ball with the rest of the troupe to make sure she could swoop in to save the day should this situation unfold.
She was right to do that, of course.
The daunting trembles that racked the floors as beastly cries echoed from outside bade the fight to cease momentarily. People paused as windows were broken left and right, leaving the entire hall bare like a body stripped of flesh. Cifaro, as well, was a force to be reckoned with on the floor. He was thrashing people left and right, leaving them writhing on their backs in pain. With Cifaro on her side, Valeriana could not be touched at all.
But it seemed a battle had also begun outside. While De Cirque’s appearance had caused a sensation, it was nothing more than a ripple on a lake. Very soon, people forgot they were even there. They were busy fighting for themselves. Aleser’s forces were enough to keep all of them preoccupied.
“Ah, so this is the reason why I haven’t seen your face all night, Arisce,” Maeghan said with a mocking smile as she struck a Fire Faction guard’s neck and kicked him away. “I don’t know why but this has been smooth until you came. You seem to have this bad habit of ruining my rhythm.”
“What rhythm? By singing a music I’ve composed?” Arisce’s lips curved into a taunting smile of her own. “All these tactics are mine. You simply have no originality.”
Maeghan gritted her teeth. “I don’t know why but every time I see you, you bring my nerves to a boil.”
“Well, if you’re that easy to cook, this shouldn’t have been your job,” Arisce replied with a calm smile.
“Well, well. Isn’t this a way to crash my party?” Aleser said, his voice echoing above all the noise.
The stage was all set. All the characters were in place.
“Crash?” Arisce lifted her gaze slowly. “I plan on annihilation.”
“Not unless you’re the one annihilated first, Sloan Bane!” Aleser’s voice boomed. Fervent excitement so intense he seemed manic shined in his gaze. One glance was all it took to realize this was what the lord was gunning for.
Maeghan’s eyes snapped to Aleser’s face. The man she was beating up collapsed on her feet helplessly. “What did you say?”
Eerie silence dropped. The chaos that once ravaged had halted at the mention of the name. Valeriana recoiled as well, staring wide-eyed at the lord of fire. Deli had stiffened, seeming to not have expected the sudden twist. People had to blink twice.
“It is a good thing you arrived in a timely manner, though! I was wondering if you would ever come at all!” Aleser continued.
“You gave me no choice.” Arisce looked forward, eyes meeting Valeriana’s. For a moment, there was a look of helplessness before her face hardened and became a frozen sculpture.
He gazed at the troupe leader, astonished. “No. You look nothing like . . .”
“That’s the point, isn’t it?” Aleser pointed out.
Florence blinked, staring at Arisce as though he’d seen a ghost. “I haven’t heard that name in a . . . long time. I thought . . . to think that you . . .”
Aleser’s trembling laughter echoed freely. “I’m sorry. Did I say Sloan? My bad. I didn’t mean to say it so loud!”
“You bring deaf a whole new meaning. How come you didn’t even hear yourself?” Arisce retorted calmly. “It’s not really a surprise,” the troupe leader continued. “You really don’t bother listening to anything else other than your own demons.”
“You aren’t denying this?” Maeghan interjected. “You know the consequences of being Sloan Bane, don’t you?”
Aleser’s laughter toned down a bit, but the wide smile was much too hard to strip off his lips. The thickness of it coated his voice. “Do you all want to know a story? It’s unfair to hear De Cirque doing that all the time, don’t you think?”
With this, Valeriana looked on helplessly.
“This circus before you was no more than a decrepit group of entertainers thirty years ago until a breacher washed onshore and began raking through the whole city, making enemies out of all the factions except for Water and Spirit,” he narrated. “In particular, Lord Evander of Water and Lord Lyran of Spirit. Apparently, this woman before you holds a lot of secrets which she managed to hide so perfectly under your nose.”
Hearing the name of the Spirit mentioned, Valeriana instinctively searched the room for Arcana. She saw watering eyes and a trembling gaze, fingers shaking as it held the stolen weapon in a deadly grip. While the lady was desperately trying to keep it together, her composure was falling apart very quickly.
She had never dared ask about the ‘Sloan Bane’ issue because she knew how annoying she could be. There was a reason why Arisce had done it. In spite of the many suspicions that rose with the woman’s secretive nature, her sincerity was not at all questionable. Not to mention the secret meant endangering her life. She never uttered Arisce’s real name more than a few times—and she made sure they were always alone then.
To think that her mere name had caused this much of a sensation—no wonder Arisce insisted on her real identity being kept as secret.
Valeriana bit her lip as Aleser continued. In spite of her wanting to stop the man, there was no shoving the cat back into the bag.
“The real Arisce died years ago. This woman took her place and her name. This really isn’t what you look like, is it?”
Valeriana’s eyes widened.
Arisce blinked. Knowing there was no running back to the shell she’d taken shelter in all these years, she instead stepped forward, undaunted by the eyes of curiosity and ridicule thrown her way. “I was convinced this whole place was an illusion, especially with the treatment I got right out of the water. I intended on breaking it apart if meant leaving it behind,” Arisce cut in. “Unfortunately for me, that wasn’t really the case. And by the time I realized my mistake, I was too late.”
“So you saw it right to use my older brother—”
“I never used him,” Arisce cut in.
“—after all the things you spouted about the world beyond in an attempt to enlighten us with the ways of your people. Turns out all your talk has been nothing but drivel!”
“You were supposed to be dead,” Maeghan continued. This time, shock settled in fully and her eyes glazed as though the memories had come rushing right back. “Why didn’t you stay that way?”
“Because I never was. I did what I can to survive.”
“Oh god,” Valeriana muttered.
After having peeked into Maeghan’s memories, Valeriana managed to gather a few more clues regarding the matter. In fact, after so hastily pulling out all the information she could, Maeghan even passed out from the invasion. There was not enough to gather about Arisce.
Valeriana’s curiosity was growing excruciatingly unbearable. What was with all these suspense?
Lady Maeghan wasn’t done. “You are a hypocrite,” she said. “Why did I even wonder why I hated you so much?”
Arisce stared on silently.
“Why aren’t you saying anything?!”
“You won’t bother to listen to my side. You’ve already carved an image of me in your heads. It’ll be futile for me to change that,” she said. “But if you wish to take it out on me, do so. Leave De Cirque out of this. They knew nothing and they still know nothing.”
“No, ninaya,” Aliyah said as she stumbled forward in panic. Her café au lait eyes glanced at the balcony, teeth gritted. “It doesn’t matter who you are. You’ve done so much—”
“This isn’t a battle you can fight, Aliyah,” Arisce chided.
“She’s right though,” Maeghan said, nodding towards Arisce’s foster daughter. “They’re too tied to you to be left out so easily.”
Aleser watched the show with fascination and delight. The look in his eyes was enough to send Valeriana into a state of fury. This was what he was going for from the very beginning.
Arcana pursed her lips. “If you dare make a move on De Cirque or Lady Arisce, our faction will have to stand in your way.”
“Why do you even insist on helping these people, Lady Arcana?” Maeghan shot at the lady of the Spirit Faction. “I know about your father but why do you—”
“I wonder!” said Aleser. “Why has the Spirit Faction been loyal to De Cirque all this time? Did it not make you curious? How these people just cannot seem to betray the circus. It’s like something is tying them so hard together.”
“But how can I talk of something I’m not very familiar with? Let me ask a few questions first out of personal curiosity. Lady Arcana, how does it feel to have never had a mother?”
Arcana opened her mouth to retort when Aleser continued, stopping her short.
“Or my bad. How does it feel to have a mother you can never have as a mother?”
Valeriana could not stop the sudden breath that rushed to her lungs. “Holy goddamned shiznits. I never—”
“Oh in the name of the gods,” someone exclaimed.
“You have no place to say these things to Lady Arisce,” Arcana said, evading the topic, but not denying the implications. “You yourself have your secrets, Lord Aleser. You haven’t exactly been the most decent of people either. I am still the lady of my faction, I bear the name of Aleard, and my decision stands. Anyone who goes against De Cirque will meet the fury of me and mine.”
Arcana and freaking Arisce, Valeriana thought disbelievingly.
Youzza, who had been watching the events unfold, gnashed his jaws and raised his voice. “I may not have been the most competent and courageous of the leaders, but I have my honor. I will have to side with De Cirque in this battle.”
“This cannot be happening,” Lord Florence of Earth stated, lips flapping as he looked around him in disbelief. “Please, this cannot—”
“This isn’t something you can stop, Lord Florence,” Maeghan said. “So you either pick a side or risk being crushed in between.”
“Stop this,” Valeriana finally spoke, ire and frustration in her voice. “Do you even hear your godsdamned selves? You are all forgetting what happened just now. That bastard over there—” she pointed to the balcony where Aleser stood, “—is doing this on purpose to make us fight amongst ourselves so that he can pick up the pieces after.”
“Stay out of this—” Maeghan began.
“Bullcrap and shut up,” the blonde spat. “Outsider this, outsider that. Your grudges have made you all like this and it is time to stop. Whatever history you’ve had before, you cannot paint the entire situation as though it’s all black and white unless you’re all goddamned color blind and I’m sure as hell you all can see properly. Lady Arisce—Sloan—has her reasons just as you have yours. And for all the freaking years she has been here after she became Arisce, she has done many things—she shared what she knew, she brought people joy. You all talk of secrets and her keeping her identity when she has bared all her soul for you all to see all this time. She might’ve changed her face and her name, but the heart you saw in the circus was hashtag-no-filter. And if you are all so dumb to not have understood what I meant, I am saying she has been the truest she has ever been.” Valeriana gazed at Arisce, panting heavily after ranting so long without breathing. “I’m saying this Arisce is real as much as Sloan Bane is.”
People paused at Valeriana’s words, debating, debating and debating whether to believe them or not.
“What do you know? You weren’t here to be spouting all this nonsense!” Maeghan yelled, unconvinced by Valeriana’s solid argument. “That’s the point if you want people to not know who you are—you try to be someone else!”
“I know better, and you’re so stupid if you think that simply,” she countered. “But I can’t make idiots understand. Go ahead and think what you want to think. At least I know who the true enemy here is. You all should know where to set your sights on first before you destroy each other. I am telling you, Lady Maeghan, let all your grudges break free now and there will be no pieces left for you to pick up after.”
A warning growl rumbled in Cifaro’s throat.
There was silence.
Maeghan looked around for a moment. Eyes were trained on the lady of the Water Faction, waiting for her decision.
Aleser laughed. “If you think I am daunted by your combined efforts, you are dearly wrong. Would I have pushed through with this massacre if I had not been capable?” he pointed out. “I was just hoping to rattle the cage. But there is no excitement in fighting a chained lion. By all means, join forces. I find it adorable. Although you will be making my life better by destroying each other first.”
After a short while, she turned to face Aleser on the balcony and brandished her blade. “I suppose I can take your head another time. I’ve waited more than twenty years. It’s not like you can go anywhere else other than this city. Our battled is deferred for now. Just watch out, I might accidentally slice your neck in this chaos,” Maeghan spat.
Sloan smiled lightly as she pulled her strings.
For now a battle was put off in favor of another.