CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 76 ♦ Towards the End
It was strange to see all the leaders present in a room wherein all the instances this has occurred involved feuds and never-ending competition. With Lady Maeghan unable to attend, her Lady Commander had come to represent the Water Faction. The other leaders were seemingly glad, as the Lady Commander was more agreeable than the leader herself.
Valeriana had come in lieu of Lady Arisce which made her scratch her head. Why had the responsibility fallen to her hands? Well, Aliyah was still technically twelve years old in human terms, which made her a bit unsuitable for grown-up affairs such as his one—no wonder she was so hesitant to take control of things outside the ring. While she could treat that place as a playground, there were many hidden variables outside of it that she possibly wasn’t capable of handling.
Yet, the aggressive attitude, grumpiness, and hotheadedness were reminiscent of the clashing bloodlines from the Wyldens and Aleser—if Valeriana’s thoughts were right. How else could Deli be calling Aliyah her daughter when she obviously physically resembled the man?
“What are we supposed to discuss?” Lord Youzza inquired.
“Is there anything else worth discussing?” Adelline pointed out, giving the Wind Faction leader a side glance.
“Then why aren’t we starting yet?” the man continued to pester.
“We, of course, need to wait for Lord Florence regarding his findings on Aleser as well as my informant,” Adelline replied.
“Your informant?” Valeriana echoed, brows furrowing as she gave the woman a questioning glance.
“I suspected things will be as they as,” she explained. “So I stationed a watch—a spectator, if you must—who will not reveal himself no matter what. His only job, is, of course, to observe. Being involved in a battle and watching it are different things.” Adelline gave Valeriana a long, sweeping stare. The answers were in her eyes—most of it. “You get to see more of the situation than when you have to focus on your own survival.”
“Let me guess . . .” she trailed off, finger pointing to the ceiling.
“Good. You’re catching up. You’re not as slow as you were before.” Adelline grinned.
She raised a brow, flabbergasted. However, she did not question it. Things had become rather predictable. She would be so stupid if she wasn’t able to deduce from the information she already knew. Still, no matter the improvement, these people would never cease to insult her intelligence.
“What are you two even talking about?” Arcana inquired softly, gazing at the two with wrinkled brows.
“You’ll know soon enough.”
A few heartbeats later, someone walked in and joined their ranks. The Lord Commander of the Earth Faction was drenched with sweat as he strode into the room.
“Affairs in the Earth Faction territory should have been fixed. I’ve sent the news as far as I could and advised those with the capability and position to inform us if they see any signs of Aleser and his men,” the heavily perspiring man told them.
Raeghan followed suit. The Spirit Faction territories were much nearer, so he didn’t look as taxed as the previous Lord Commander. “We did the best we can,” he said.
“What about your Lord Commander?” Arcana gazed towards Youzza.
“I sent him to do the same thing, of course,” the Wind Faction leader replied. “I just don’t know what’s keeping him. Our territories are not as far as Earth’s . . .” he quieted.
Speak of the devil. The said man appeared just before Youzza could finish speaking. The disheveled appearance was not the likes of the Earth Commander at all.
Valeriana caught a blotch of red somewhere under the collar which the commander tugged close and tight—it looked like lipstick mark. Quirking a brow, she said, “I think I do.”
They eyed the scarred man as he fixed himself behind Lord Youzza. The faction leader stared at his right hand man with the same questioning look as the others. “Really?” he asked, voice hinting of ridicule.
The Wind Faction’s commander cleared his throat, trying to sink into the shadows to veil their view of him.
“It seems your men find the time for a rendezvous even amidst this chaos,” the Water Faction’s Lady Commander said. “You Wind people definitely are extraordinary.”
A little irked, the mortified commander, replied with gritted teeth, “The matters are . . . far more complicated than you all think, with all due respect.”
Valeriana sighed. “No use roasting him, don’t you guys think? Romantic entanglements . . . blegh.” She shook her head. “We should focus on the matter at hand than other people’s personal affairs. We should begin now—what’s holding us back?”
“Like I said, Lord Florence and my informant,” Adelline said.
Youzza sighed impatiently. “Are we really going to wait for them? We’re wasting time—”
“If you prefer to go ahead, do so. Let us see if you get very far,” was the reply of the green-eyed brunette, tone coated with impatience and threat.
Valeriana shook her head as she saw the mortified Youzza turn a little red from embarrassment and anger. Even so, he bit down on his own tongue and halted more words from leaving his mouth despite looking like he could say more.
After waiting a few more minutes, the expected faces finally arrived. Lord Florence returned, belly wobbling as he wearily walked into the room. Aside from exhaustion, he looked a little solemn.
“How was it?” Valeriana asked, although she had a hint of the answer just from the face of the Earth Faction leader alone.
“We were unable to find anything worth it,” Florence told them. “I left behind some of my men to continue looking around. I came back immediately as there was no use lingering. Standing around there, sniffing after a lost trail, would make even a valiant hound look stupid,” he said. “I don’t even know how this is all possible. To disappear without a single trace—what sort of bastard is capable of this?”
“Aleser, apparently,” Valeriana interjected.
“As I thought,” Deli said. “What we chased down was probably a diversion. Aleser has control over an illusionary treasure. You should know of it, Valeriana.”
“No! I’m obviously talking to the wall behind you!” Adelline sarcastically replied, eyes narrowed at the girl.
The blonde meekly scratched her head. “Fine,” Valeriana grumbled. “Are you talking about that thing.”
“Yes, that thing that you stumbled into when you were trying to escape.” Deli leaned onto the table before them, hands flattened on the surface as she gave Valeriana a pointed glance. When a look of realization flashed on the girl’s face, quickly followed by a look of shock, Deli continued. “You were only able to see a part of what it’s capable of. Everything had been laid out by Aleser in advance.”
“That’s right. He’s one crafty bastard,” someone else commented.
Valeriana look up at the familiar voice and saw Zion come in. He was dressed in black overalls, like some sort of ninja.
“What the hell did you do?” Valeriana inquired.
“I was on watch duty,” he said. “Lady Adelline knew what was going to happen and told me to observe and keep track of every little thing. I followed the real track of Aleser and his men before I was shortly discovered and chased off. In all fairness, he had some really strong people in his ranks.”
“I personally trained his men,” Adelline began. “It doesn’t matter how strong they are, I know all their weaknesses. Not to mention Aleser is willing to sacrifice all of them to achieve what he wants. In the end, they won’t matter at all.”
“What does he want?” Arcana asked.
“Good question,” Valeriana commented.
“First, he wants to take control of all of Varialon,” Adelline said. “He had expected to do this in the Sovereign Tournament, but many unexpected variables rose that impeded the advance, so he went to his failsafe.”
“Which was, obviously, the ball,” Zion interjected.
“After some thorough investigations on the chamber we found—“ Adelline gave Valeriana a knowing glance “—he realized that the keys may lie in the treasures controlled by the many factions. Brion Jarez—”
“Wait, do you mind repeating that?” Youzza cut in. “You’re spouting a lot of things we don’t understand.”
There was a pause.
“In Liberia, there’s a chamber left behind by one of the original Celestial Knights who fought in the Great War,” Valeriana started. “Brion Jarez is a high-ranking knight among the group responsible for sealing the demon lord, Valdis, to sleep. After the war, he built a lot of strongholds in Valemnia, then disappeared. We later found out that he retreated to Varialon. In fact, he might’ve singlehandedly built this city himself. He left a bunch of things around city, and that includes the chamber we found in Liberia. It’s a mysterious room filled with images of the thirteen ranks. Its secrets weren’t even directly mentioned in the books that speak of Valemnian history,” the blonde explained.
“In short?” Florence queued.
“The true keys to Varialon may be these treasures belonging to each faction. In turn, Varialon may hold some answers to the many questions I have—about myself and about Valemnia. There seems to be something more to this Great War and the upcoming inevitable war than what we all know,” Valeriana continued.
“That’s ridiculous,” Youzza huffed. “We weren’t given anything nice in particular. Even if you scour through the entire Wind Faction, you won’t find a valuable piece of crap. We haven’t exactly been the richest of towns. Even if there was, it could’ve been sold off a long time ago to stabilize the town.”
“How is it possible to be poor, considering how small this city is?” Valeriana inquired.
“You can blame my grandfather for being such a gamble. I’ve been trying to pick up after him for several years—me and my father. Eventually, my father stressed himself out so hard he actually died.” Youzza grimaced. “It wasn’t my fault the Wind Faction is in such a bad shape. Considering this is a small town, too, I didn’t know it was so hard to rise after the disaster my grandfather left behind.”
“You poor thing,” Arcana sympathetically said.
“Okay, enough with being emotional,” Valeriana told them, holding up a hand to calm the atmosphere. “I just want to clear things. Why on Earth—Valemnia, Varialon—would Aleser have to actually kill anyone?”
“Because he wants to,” Adelline answered simply. “And because he can.”
“Agh, sunuvabeetch,” Valeriana cursed.
“That’s right.” The Wylden heiress, surprisingly, nodded in agreement.
“Why do we have to get involved?” Youzza inquired, seething. “This is enough trouble as it is. Now that Valemnia of yours have to be thrown into the mix too?”
“It’s not like you can escape it,” Valeriana threw back at the Wind Faction’s leader. “Just so you know, no matter how sealed off this world is, it does still have a connection to the other world. No matter how much you guys try to sever yourselves, you still will feel the consequences.”
“Just kill Aleser then!” The Wind Faction leader impetuously fisted the table. “Enough talk!”
“You think it’s that easy?” Adelline hissed. “If it was easy, I’d not have endured two decades stuck under his thumb doing what he wanted me to do. You do not know what this man is capable of!”
“We all know he’s capable of doing all sorts of messed up crap,” Valeriana muttered.
“That and more,” Adelline shot at the blonde.
“Let’s stop making a big deal out of this,” Florence interjected.
“Big deal. This is a big deal. What do you all not understand about that?!” Deli bellowed. “You saw how audacious he was—”
“Calm down, everyone . . .” Arcana sweated.
“—do you think that this isn’t a big deal after what you saw just happened—”
“Enough!” Valeriana yelled, loud enough to shut everyone up. Not to mention the irritation caused her aura to flare and become a little dark. This jolted a strange shock down their spines, causing them to be a little stunned. Arcana glanced at the girl, a little shocked at the sudden outburst. “You really think arguing like this will solve the problem?”
Adelline clenched her jaws. “This isn’t—“
“You—” Valeriana pointed at Deli, having forgotten how intimidating the woman could be. “We get that he did a lot of unacceptable and horrible things to you but letting your emotions take over like this while we’re trying to discuss what to do doesn’t help. If you want to take part in this, truly, then you go calm yourself the hell down or I will kick you out myself! If I can’t do that, I’ll call Tyson and the other beasts. I trust they will be very capable,” she threatened. “And you all!” she glared at the leaders in the room. “Stop being insensitive wussies. You all almost just died. Wasn’t that enough for you to see what the hell the current situation is? If you want to continue making light of this matter, then you should all just go and jump down those cliffs out there and kill your godsdamned selves because I am telling you, you’re all not helping!”
Arcana stared at Valeriana, wide-eyed. Even Raeghan seemed a littl appalled.
“What gave you the right to—” the Lady Commander of the Water Faction began.
“Shut up,” she shot at the woman. “I don’t need to hear that sort of crappy complain. Yes, I have the godsdamned right to say what the freaking hell I want and if you have an issue with it, take it up with me later personally. This isn’t just about you, or you, or you—“ she pointed at each one of them “—or me. It’s not just about us, but the people out there severely injured because of this godsdamned bullcrap. You all shove into those brains of yours that you are leading godsforsaken factions and all your careless yapping can cost us another life! So just set aside your own personal biases for one freaking moment and just do this. I don’t care how!”
There had always been this tendency to Valeriana. It was primarily the reason why she could find it in her guts to talk back to Corvan in spite of the status difference. She often forgot about herself whenever situations like this unfolded.
Oh, god, she thought, I did it again.
She took a deep breath. “I almost apologized. I realized I shouldn’t,” she said. A brief pause made Valeriana curl her tongue. “I shouldn’t have said that as well.” She cleared her throat awkwardly. “Anyway. The priority here right now is to know where Aleser went. Since you all got a little carried away, and I kinda did too, you’ve forgotten. Zion, come on,” she waved a hand, her voice calming.
There was no more adrenaline, but the embarrassment was settling in. Her big mouth just couldn’t just up.
Zion smirked and shrugged. Compared to the others, he had known Valeriana longer. Obviously, he wasn’t as surprised as they were all at the moment.
“Finally.” He stepped forward. “Then I’ll just say one thing for certain—he’s still in the city.”
Valeriana deadpanned at Zion but it was the Lady Commander Adelline who spoke. “Where else could he be, you imbecile?”
“Hey, hey, wait a moment,” the blue-haired lad said, raising both hands in surrender. “I’m just saying he couldn’t have possibly left the vicinity at all. He’s still in the city—in fact, he’s still in this town.”
“Where could he be?” Florence softly inquired.
“That, I don’t know. But there truly was no sign of him leaving with his men. What you all followed was a recorded illusion. The trap was to lead you to nowhere and block your sights with a wall of fire, then disappear.”
“How were we even all fooled?” Lord Florence inquired.
“The art of misdirection, of course,” said Zion. “It’s a little intricate business, so I can’t really explain—I’m not even close to understanding what the hell happened. I was a little distracted myself, considering what was happening, but I was able to catch a few things.”
“If that is the case, then it means he took the alternative route . . .” Deli trailed off.
“An alternative route?” Valeriana echoed.
“Like most headquarters, there are routes that will ensure escape if ever . . . things like what happened in the ball occurred,” said Arcana.
“Why did I even ask?” the blonde inquired softly.
“And I imagine this is designed solely for the faction leader. Do you not have any idea about these routes, Lady Commander?”
“No. No matter how much Aleser relied on me, he never really trusted me fully. And he was right to do that.”
“Let’s start where we all last saw him, then,” said Valeriana. “Isn’t that the best way to go with this?”
“That’s right. But while someone does that, let’s also discuss something else,” Adelline said.
“What?” Valeriana asked.