CASeries #4: WARSONG
Chapter Three ⚜ Dresses and Dainty Ribbons
“You’ve been looking so glum all day, Val,” Genevieve said. “I’m guessing the talk hasn’t gone all too well with that chubby girl.”
Tamara looked up at the mention of Valeriana’s friend that she had to quirk a brow, lifting her eyes from examining her nails. “What chubby, you good-for-nothing?” she asked the younger of the twins.
“Wasn’t that her name?”
“Idiot,” Aneeka interjected. “It’s Charvy.”
“You stupid girls,” Tamara rolled her eyes. “Trying to correct somebody else when you aren’t any better. It is Chavi Goodwin, duh.”
Valeriana shook her head at the exchange between the three girls. “You all got it wrong.”
“Then what?” Tamara adamantly refused to back down.
“It’s Chavi Audwin.”
“At least I got the first name right,” the third-ranker muttered. “Doesn’t matter anyhow, not like anybody cares at all. Care to tell us what happened during your prison visit?” she asked.
They were currently in Tamara’s room hanging about doing nothing but going through her excessively flamboyant woman’s wardrobe. The dresses she had were ridiculously extravagant and appropriate for the ball. Elfre had no problems with dresses and was only lending the other girls a hand in choosing theirs. With the ball coming in two days, the preparations were big. While the guys had no problems with the clothes they were going to wear, the girls were up about like bees fussing over how they would look. Tamara was otherwise. She could care less.
“I just . . . don’t get it.” She threw her hands in the air and blinked up at Genevieve through the open doors of Tamara’s walk-in closet. “It’s like Chavi was possessed. And she didn’t even answer me when I asked her.”
“Figures, why would she tell you?” Aneeka asked, holding up a brilliant yellow gown under her chin.
“Body possession is not a simple game, Val,” Genevieve said. “The only type of demons I’ve seen that can do that had to eat the soul before they could take their hosts’ place. But, without the soul, the body would slowly rot and it’d be obvious in a few days’ time.”
“But Chavi was still there. I’m sure she was still there.”
“You sure she’s not fooling you?”
“I don’t know, I could not tap into my connection with auras since the room had a nullifying quality—but her eyes. She didn’t look like lying.”
“Well, she betrayed you before. Not just you, actually. But the entire school,” Elfre told her. “And she acted way too good. Don’t you think she can do it again?”
“I don’t want to believe it.”
“Well, you have to,” Tamara insisted. “Why do you trust her so much? You’ve only been together for like . . . four months.”
“Just like how much I trust you guys,” she told them, looking directly into Tamara’s blue eyes with utmost sincerity.
If they were measuring the period of time she had known Chavi, Valeriana had known her a bit longer than the rest of the Twelve—in exception for Corvan and Courtney. Tamara shrugged, backing down as she obviously did not have anything against that. However, compared to Chavi, most of the ranking members of the Circle came from prominent backgrounds. About half of the group was composed of nobilities, and the other half was left to other people. In other words, there was no questioning their integrity and loyalty.
Valeriana silently wondered. Had there been any incident of nobilities turning into a demon and betraying their fellow Valemnians? For sure, there must have been a few cases—only that they wouldn’t be publicized as they were disgraceful.
Tamara would normally not call herself of noble blood but she was a direct descendant, despite the illegitimacy of her birth. If she staked claim on the position, she would no doubt be able to contend with her half-brother. Corvan and Charles were heirs to their continents, Rowe was already the lord of his lands. Keelan, despite not being the crown heir, was still an heir.
“I happen to notice that majority of the Twelve’s members come from noble families. Does having a rank have any bearing in your future life as leaders?”
“Celeste Academy is a mandatory stage for members of the higher families and being a part of the Celestial Circle is another requirement. If noble heirs aren’t able to fulfil these, they would be considered unfilial and might even be disowned,” Tamara said. “You can say it’s a step to inheriting the position.”
“Oh, I see. I still have a lot of learning to do, huh?”
“Go easy on yourself, it’s not like you’ve been here for longer than a year. You’ve got a long way to go,” Genevieve told her. “Oh, hey, Tamara. What are you planning on wearing to the ball?”
“Anything among those would do. I’ll pick one up when I feel like it.”
“Judging from your character, it’s a sure thing you will do that at the last minute and you won’t even bother if it matches your color or not,” Aneeka said. “Come on, Tamara. There are only five of us girls in the Twelve, you shouldn’t make yourself more of a guy.”
“My business is mine alone,” Tamara uncaringly answered.
The three other girls exchanged knowing glances before they shot at Tamara and pulled her into the closet to pick out a dress. Although the third-ranker might’ve been the strongest amongst all the girls, she had nothing against all of them.
As they dragged the unwilling Tamara, a chorus of knocks interrupted their noisy dispute.
“Come in, it’s open!” Valeriana exclaimed.
The door opened and Courtney marched in assertively. After throwing her gaze around, she found the three girls huddled in Tamara’s walk-in closet, holding up various dresses against the third-ranker’s firm body. Quirking a brow, she approached them casually and plucked out a dress from the rack.
“I assume this girl here does not have any intentions of picking out a dress for herself?” she asked.
“Where’s the treasure cove? You just won it,” Tamara told her, elbowing Elfre and pushing her off.
“Hey! That hurt, stupid.”
“Don’t call me stupid,” she replied.
“I figured,” Courtney said. “I came by to ask if you were all attending, it seems I have no need to.”
“Are you going too, Courtney?” Aneeka asked.
“Of course, my family was invited, how can I not attend?” she retorted. “Besides, all activities in the academy has ceased, there’s nothing better to do.”
“How have you been these past few days? We have not seen you at all.” Elfre examined a silk ocean-blue dress, tracing the sequins that lined the chest and shoulders.
“I was busy attending to a few matters of my own. After what happened in Loquin, I had to lend help in order to bring the city back to its usual glory. Asthore sends her regards,” she said. “And she’s doing pretty well as the city lady.”
“That’s surprising, considering how she acted back then.” Aneeka shook her head, plucked out a dress randomly from the racks and held it against Tamara’s body. When the third-ranker squirmed in discomfort, her purplish-blue eyes glared at her to keep steady. “Stop moving so much.”
“Those dresses doesn’t suit Tamara. They’re too puffy and make her look like a little kid,” Valeriana said.
“With that frame and aura, she looks better with . . . slim dresses or something mature women would wear.” Genevieve scrutinized her inch-by-inch.
“And you all look like you should still wear dresses with those huge puffs and dainty ribbons.”
“We weren’t trying to insult you,” Genevieve defended. “If ever, you can take it as a compliment.”
“Tamara has no such sense,” Courtney said, throwing one dress to Tamara. It was a deep, bold blue in color. It was exactly what they wanted—long, floor length with a short train. The fabric glittered like a million twinkling diamonds. It reached up around the right shoulder and was trailed with small jewels that reflected rainbows.
“Oh, wow,” Valeriana muttered. Courtney crossed her arms and raised one brow. What an acute fashion sense!
“Nah, I don’t like that,” Tamara grumbled, eyeing the dress with contempt. “I’ve already worn that, I don’t want to repeat it.”
The girls sighed.
“You sure are unexpectedly picky.”
“Instead of confining yourselves to this room, why don’t we call over my seamstress?” Courtney offered. “There are lots of beautiful gowns but finding one here for each one of you will be difficult.”
“But those dresses will have to arrive first thing tomorrow, will they be able to finish it?” Valeriana asked.
“What do you think?” Courtney responded. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime ball and nobilities from all over the world are coming. They will not pass the chance to showcase their designs as the noble daughters are the best clientele. Now come on, you five.”
The former fifth led them out of the wardrobe and asked them to sit. Hesitantly, they obeyed and crashed on Tamara’s couches.
“How are you going to call them?”
“Worry not, they’re already here. You may come in,” she announced loudly and the door, which she left open in her wake, revealed a poised woman with two attendant girls at her side.
“Your Highness, and honorable ladies,” she curtsied.
“You—what? Were you expecting this?” Genevieve was flabbergasted.
“This is Myra. I happened to discover her talent myself.” Relaxing, Courtney casually reclined on the armchair she took for herself. At that moment, Valeriana realized how much of a princess this girl truly was.
Extravagant, poised, graceful, and even generous. Despite her anger issues and her twisted personality in the battlefield, the bearing of having grown up in a noble family was evident.
“It’s a pleasure meeting all of you.” Myra bowed. “If there’s anything we can help you with while we take your measurements, please tell us. I will take all your preferences into consideration; the fabric, the color, the length, and the overall impression you wish to make.”
“Valeriana, you go first,” Courtney told her, nodding to Myra. “Tell her what you want.”
“Me?” The current fifth pointed to herself. “Oh, no, thank you.” She shook her head. “I don’t think I’ll have anything to pay with. Everything I do in this world is sponsored by Lord Aeron, I doubt he’d pay for something like a dress.”
“What kind of reason is that?” Elfre asked, chuckling.
“Lord Aeron is not that stingy. In fact, that guy’s cash cow, you don’t need to worry. Besides,” Courtney paused and gave them all a wicked smile. “Myra volunteered to sew our dresses for us for free, so long as we wear it to the ball.”
“Really?” they chorused, their eyes bulging out of their sockets.
Myra nodded with a smile. “We consider this as an investment to make our work known to the public. It is, as my assistant would say, a bit of an advertisement.”
The girls gawked.
“We leave ourselves in your hands, Myra,” Courtney said and stood. “I’ll have my measurements taken first.”
“Well then, miss, what should I call you?” Myra asked, turning to the current fifth-ranker.
“My name is Valeriana, please take your seat.” She gestured to the couch across theirs and followed the woman with her eyes as she moved to obey.
Myra was a middle-aged woman with a vibrant smile. She had an enthusiastic and pleasing demeanor which made Valeriana feel less intimidated.
“Well, then, Miss Valeriana, we have a variety of fabrics and colors to choose from. Anything under the sun is at our disposal.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about fabrics. Do you have anything to recommend?”
“Of course.” She hatched open the book she clipped with her body and arm and passed it to the girl.
The pages were full of fabric samples and the book overall felt really heavy. The weight pressed down on Valeriana’s lap as her eyes flew across the variety of colors and textures it offered.
“Judging by your skin tone and the color of your eyes and hair, I really recommend a dress in shades of blues and greens. Pink is a nice complement as well.”
Valeriana traced the fabrics on the page and relished on the feel of silk under her skin. There were other textures—but one in particular caught her attention. It wasn’t too thin nor was it too thick. It did not feel as smooth as silk but the softness was almost velvety—except that it wasn’t really. The color was captivating, the shade seemed like the cross between a sky and a sea—a celeste opaque blue.
“What fabric is this?” she asked.
“Oh, you have a good eye,” Myra said. “It’s a fabric taken from the petals of a flower in the Arlandian continent. It is best known for its lightness and warmth, as well as the free-flowing feel. It naturally comes in that shade.”
“If it’s not too much, maybe I can have this?”
“Of course not.” Myra wrote down a few notes in a small notebook. “That fabric best goes with a soft cotton underskirt. Perhaps you would like some laces?”
After the half a day’s length of discussion about the dress they would wear, the seamstress and her assistants finally took their leave. The girls were all looking forward to the day of the ball, dreaming about dancing and their beautiful dresses. Tamara was the least excited, but perhaps that was the impression she wanted all of them to have.
“I’ll be taking my leave, then.” Courtney stood.
“I’ll show you out,” Valeriana offered and went after her.
The other girls gave them knowing looks but did not say anything else.
As they flew down the staircase from Tamara’s floor, Courtney casually threw a look at Valeriana.
“I know we have a lot of misunderstandings,” she said. “But I hope you do not only take me as the spiteful girl who cannot bear to accept her loss. I have always had a bad temper and I get irritated at the most pettiest things, but that does not mean I do not have a rational mind.”
“No, um . . .” Valeriana scratched her head. “You don’t have to apologize to me at all.”
“Good, because I don’t plan to.” She smiled.
Ooh. This girl.
They came to the landing of the staircase and headed to the front door.
“It’s a good thing you came with me, anyhow. I wanted to know about the matters of the academy infiltration and the truth behind the attacks. What are they after?”
Valeriana came up with the simplest answer. “The keys,”
“Those keys.” Courtney crossed her arms. “You didn’t give yours away, did you?”
“Of course not.”
“Good. Take care of it or the position of fifth crumbles to nothingness. Without a key, you do not hold the identity of fifth-ranker and no one else can after you. Take care of it until I take it back.”
With that, she left.