CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 75 ♦ Vanishing Act
Valeriana assembled the beasts and prepared them for a ride. They were already . . . dressed for the occasion. It seems Arisce saw it fit to prepare them as much as possible. This woman was one-of-a-kind!
“He cannot go anywhere,” Lord Florence exclaimed. Sweating, he paced forward, belly wobbling in fret. “Wherever he plans to flee in this city, he won’t be able to leave. All Earth guards who are in condition, proceed and hunt that man down!”
Florence’s men moved to do his bidding and rushed out of the procession hall to go after the Fire Faction’s lord. In moments, there was a chorus of pounding hooves and cries of urgency rang in the mix.
“He’s not that simple.” Sloan groaned as she forced herself to stand. Adelline was at the woman’s side, helping her to her feet. “He’s one, shrewd man. He has something up his sleeves.”
“I apologize for this, Lady Ari—”
“No need for apologies.” The troupe leader waved at Adelline dismissively, refusing to accept her regret. She wiped off the blood from her mouth and took a deep breath of air. She steeled herself, gazing at Aliyah, who was now at her side. “You did what you could as a mother. I fully understand your sentiment.” She sighed, knees shaking. “I am not sure if going after Aleser will be the best thing to do. He will have something, I am sure of it.”
Deli nodded. “That’s right. He’s still powerful enough to rival me even with the Wylden Cosmos in my hands,” she said. “He has white fire. He utilized many methods to achieve this state, even as far draining the blood from beasts. He did it to Lorein and gods know how much pain she’s gone through all this time. He wanted my heirloom as well . . .” she trailed off. “And he could almost wield it, except that it does not acknowledge him at all. So he has been forcing it and I was afraid he found a way.” She looked at the smelted gold-like jewel in her hands. “That’s why I did why I did.”
Hearing Adelline speak, Valeriana faced forward and met her eyes. “I know. But this isn’t the time to be saying all this, don’t you think? We have a guy who’s on the run right now and he’s getting away this very moment.”
“Is it really wise to go?” Aliyah asked.
Valeriana gazed at the ringmistress, heart filled with disbelief. “I just need to ask how old you are?”
“Twenty-four,” said Aliyah. “My real age.”
“That makes you like, twelve,” Valeriana said, wiring her mind to convert it to Earth years, which was easier for her to understand. “No wonder you were so short. It wasn’t because you were stunted, it’s just because you were young. So why were you so offended?”
Aliyah bared her teeth with a growl.
“ANYWAY!” Valeriana moved and ran to Cifaro’s back. “We’ve given those guys enough head start. If we plan on catching up, we have to leave now.”
“Be careful,” Sloan said. “I do not think I can go with you like this. I will only slow you down.”
“Leave it to us, Lady Ari—Sloan now, I guess.” She waved at Lord Florence. “Do you want a ride?”
“Me? A ride on—”
“Maliya!” Valeriana motioned for the Oread. The hulking form of the earthian beast towered over the lord of the Earth. “She will take you.”
“T-this . . .”
“Goddammit, if you wanna come, then come! If you don’t want to, then stay!” Valeriana yelled impatiently. “We have no time for you act so dumbstruck. So either get on Maliya or watch from the sidelines!”
The lord of the Earth Faction nodded as he ran forward. “Y-yes!”
“What about me?” Youzza inquired, walking forward eagerly.
“Stay here and look out for everyone,” Valeriana said as she fixed and secured herself on the Gilerad’s back. “We need someone on the ground for us to keep things on track. Not to mention we need to get this place sorted out.”
Youzza sighed and grumbled in discontent. Clearly, he also wanted to join the pursuit. “Fine.”
They took off.
Valeriana rode Cifaro, Deli on the twin-tailed lion Tyson, and Lord Florence on Maliya, De Cirque’s Oread. It was strangely suiting because they were all on beasts that were similar to their elements—except for Valeriana, of course. While Lord Florence was hesitant upon seeing the intelligent beast gazing down at him, he quickly took to the Oread and was later enjoying the speed they were going at.
“Marvelous!” the somewhat fat lord of earth exclaimed. The hesitance has now been replaced by pure excitement.
This was what Varialon did not have—familiars. After all, they’ve been hunting down the beasts, not to mention fearing them as well. It was no surprise that very few have actually forged a connection with the vileamis niemu in the same manner Valemnians had.
“Adelline!” Valeriana exclaimed, trying to reach the woman who was currently soaring above them. Tyson was traveling the fastest, seeing as he was soaring at top speed. Cifaro was a creature of the wind, but he had no wings. At most, he could only travel like, well, the wind.
Hearing her name called, the Wylden heiress cast a look down from above.
“You said your familiar was taken by Aleser. What sort of beast is she?”
“A Kirin,” the woman promptly replied.
“Whoa,” Valeriana muttered. “I’ve never seen one of those.”
There were thousands upon thousands of beasts in Valemnia. She surely couldn’t expect to know about every single one of them.
While she had a lot of questions, she decided to reserve the others for another time. Seeing as they were currently in pursuit of the remaining members that were loyal to Aleser and Aleser himself, they could not afford to be distracted.
In the distance, the lord of fire and his men were running at top speed. Their horses were insanely fast. Lord Florence’s men were running at roughly the same speed so there was little to no hope of closing the distance between the two parties. In particular, Aleser stood out. He was riding atop a winged horse with dragon scales which spurted fire at the hooves.
“Cifaro,” Valeriana said. “Can’t you go any faster?” she asked.
“I am worried about thee,” he told her.
“Don’t mind me. Go at top speed.” She pat down his side comfortingly while swallowing the gathered pool in her mouth.
“As thou wishest,” he said. “Do hold on tight.”
Cifaro launched forward. Being a manifestation of the soul crystal, he carried an ethereal glow. Now that he had become even faster, he resembled a beam of light. There was little to no friction from the wind at all. While Valeriana could feel the caress, it was, at most, like a gentle breeze, not as bad as when she rode on Avaro for the first time. The wind seemed to meld with Cifaro’s movements, making the trip easier and faster.
Seeing Valeriana and Cifaro go at full speed ahead, Adelline urged the twin-tailed lion to push himself as well. Tyson obeyed the woman, quickly soaring in the air for a quick dive, curling in on himself to lessen the friction.
As a result, Lord Florence and Maliya, the Oread, were left a little behind.
A wall of fire was suddenly erected between the pursued and those in pursuit. Florence’s men had no time to stop. The moment they stepped through, they were turned to ashes.
“Holy mother—” Cifaro made a quick turn and came to a halt slowly, reducing the impact of the sudden movement. The fire was white but invisible at their core that they seemed to be floating.
Valeriana swallowed and felt a pang of disappointment when someone rushed past them, bulleting through the curtain of flames with no care whatsoever.
That would, of course, be Adelline and Tyson.
“Shiznits,” Valeriana grumbled. They went through that fire like nothing while all those people were cremated without them even knowing.
Creatures of fire, she harrumphed mentally.
“Break!” Florence exclaimed. The earth broke apart and swallowed the fire.
As amazed Valeriana was, she quickly recovered. Cifaro launched forward with no further ado, jumping over the newborn abyss before them just as the Oread behind took a large leap effortlessly. Florence’s men were left behind, recovering from the sudden meeting with death.
They felt the searing heat from below as they jumped over. For a moment, it felt like they went through an oven.
Valeriana and Cifaro slowed down when they saw Adelline hovering idly in the air.
“What happened?” Florence inquired, wondering why someone who had so passionately chased the enemies to the point of rushing through a wall of flames would stop so suddenly.
Then it occurred to them.
“They’re gone,” Adelline muttered, brows furrowed. During times like this, she bore a lot of resemblance to Corvan.
“What? That can’t be!” Florence continued.
“Where the heck did they disappear to?” Valeriana inquired in fury. “They just can’t disappear like that—there’s got to be some trick to it!”
Adelline looked back and bellowed. “Lord Florence, stay and scout the area! Whatever they did to disappear, they will have left some tracks for us to follow. I’m assuming you can do that much?” she asked, but there was no room for an answer except—
“YES!” Florence nodded. “Men!”
Those who lived through the recent mishap ran forward at Florence’s call.
“Valeriana,” the woman began.
“What is it?”
“Let us return to the procession hall and discuss this with the other leaders. The Sovereign Tournament is no longer in course. For the first time, since the history of Varialon, the cycle has been broken.” She sighed. “We’ve been played.”
Adelline stirred Tyson to the direction of the procession hall. While Valeriana was a little hesitant to leave things as they were, she followed promptly. With gritted teeth, she bade Cifaro to head back.
“We’re giving up so easily?” Valeriana inquired, her voice ringing across the open grounds.
“We’re not giving up,” Adelline said. “But we can’t run around in the fog they left behind. That’ll make us look even more stupid.”
“That makes sense.” She shrugged.
“We’ll find him,” the woman told herself. “That bastard could not have gone anywhere. We’ll leave it to Lord Florence to look for a track. We’ll begin there.”
Valeriana agreed. “You seem so confident about this. You sure they won’t find anything the moment we leave?”
“I know Aleser. As much as possible, he doesn’t leave a trace of what he does behind,” Adelline told her. “So it may take them, at least, an hour to see where he’d gone to and, at most, two or three days.”
“That’s hell long.”
Seeing as they were in a more leisurely pace than before, it took a little longer to head back than when they were heading out. By the time they arrived, Cifaro had exhausted himself. Valeriana apologized to the beast for pushing him so far. All the beast did was smile. He returned as a ring around Valeriana’s finger, temporarily losing the glow in the crystal. He would need quite a while to recharge, seeing as he expended a lot of energy.
They trudged back into the broken building of the Fire Faction and were greeted by questioning glances.
“He escaped,” Adelline said. They did not need to ask. “We left it to Lord Florence to look for a track. Where is Lady Arisce and . . . my daughter?”
Valeriana was shaken senseless about that fact. Until now, she could not come into terms with it. This was simply too unbelievable.
Youzza stepped forward. “I’ve managed the floor and took all the wounded to the healer. I’ve also summoned more healers in the nearby towns to help attend to the wounded here.” He sighed. “We took them to a better place so . . . backstage, mostly. By the looks of this, we won’t be able to hide what happened from the citizens. This will cause, at most, a city-wide panic. Or at least confusion.”
“I’ll leave you to handle that for now, Lord Youzza,” Adelline said.
“What?” The Wind Faction leader stared in astonishment at the Lady Commander.
“We’ll discuss this further. All leaders should be gathered in a secluded room. I’ll ask someone to lead you all there. For now, Valeriana, come with me.”
“Why me?” Valeriana inquired.
“Stop asking and just follow.”
The blonde sighed. “Geez, you’re too much like your brother. It must be in the blood. I don’t get why, though, since Lady Saskia is too kind-hearted and sweet. I’m guessing Emillyse inherited that trait of hers after all. You two take after your father more.”
“So you’ve met my family,” she said. “You came in for the official maveuika. It seems my brother is quite keen on you.”
“Look, you don’t understand the situation—”
“It seems the other way around.”
“I was bait, okay?” she insisted. “I’m not even sure if he . . .” she trailed off, hand on her forehead.
“You seem to know my family very well. You should also know that we, except for my mother and, perhaps sister, have difficulties in . . . the verbal and action part. We are not very good communicators.”
“Yeah . . . I can see that. You all seem to have this mystery person attitude all around you people all the time.”
“The hardest thing is that we often get misunderstood. We can get a little forceful . . .” she trailed off.
They stopped outside the ruined building where there were no other faces. Adelline gave a large sigh as she took out something from her sleeves. The faint clinking made Valeriana’s heart beat faster. The necklace which strung the key along with the replica of the Wylden Cosmos rolled into Deli’s hands.
“I’m returning this,” Adelline said.
“You don’t need it anymore?” Valeriana inquired softly, gazing at the necklace in the woman’s fingers.
“The battle hasn’t ended yet. What do you know?” she asked. “You said it yourself. Aleser wants the Wylden Cosmos. The role of the replica from the very beginning is to protect the original. It’s useless in my hands,” she told the woman. “But I’ll take the key and the necklace. They are things that were entrusted to me by the academy.”
“Are you sure you do not want to take it?” Adelline inquired.
Valeriana smiled. She left the replica behind with Adelline as she took the necklace and the key. “How can I take something that’s rightfully yours?”
“Mine?” The woman huffed. “I’ve tainted the name of the Wylden by using the Cosmos to do . . . ugly things. I’ve long since lost the right to wear it. The ring expresses its ire at me as well, but it takes mercy on my situation. Even if I return to Valemnia to claim my title as heiress, I will not be acknowledged as High Lady.”
Valeriana stared at the ring she bore on her finger. “The ring then?”
“It’s much like yours.” Adelline nodded. “It is a hugely kept secret. It is not spoken at all between the families. One will only find out at the day of inauguration. All the heirloom rings for the High Families are sentient. They are carved from the soul of ancient, primordial beasts and were gifted to the original Celestial Knights, from whom we descend, and were passed on to us.”
“So the crystals . . .”
“They are soul crystals.”
Valeriana’s jaw dropped.
“They are kept this way to avoid the suspicions as well as to prevent inciting greed. Only the blood of the Wyldens and acknowledged users can evoke the power of the heirloom rings. It hasn’t been done in a while. No one had felt the need to use the rings for battle since the Great War.”
Valeriana sighed. “It might be put to use sometime this century,” she told her. “I’m not sure what happened to Valemnia and the only one who told me—where’s Zion?” she asked.
“Oh, you mean your blue-haired friend.” Deli nodded. “I told him to do something for me. I thought it would be best if he did not attend the ball. There’s enough chaos as it is.”
Valeriana scratched her head. “What something?”
“Nothing you should worry about.” Adelline waved dismissively. “Let’s go back.”