"My exsphere.." Colloyd thought as he clutched his hand while listening to Yuan chirp on about how it was a close call for Luin and that it was lucky that they were there at the time.
"My father killed my mother when she turned into a monster?"
He thought about Gesea's predicament and how she had to kill Marble back at Iselia. Just like his dad, she had been left with no choice. "So I wasn't born with this exsphere after all?" That part made the least sense. It was relatively common knowledge in the teachings of Martel that the Chosen was born clutching a Cruxis crystal. There was also one more thing bothering him about what Kvar had said.
"They were both just a couple of filthy inferior beings. Worthless human maggots that bred another worthless human maggot!"
At the time when he had been pumped with the adrenaline of the battle, he hadn't given Kvar's words much thought. Now he knew he definitely had something to ask Remiel about. If what Kvar said was true, than it seemed that his father had been human once. On one hand, it sort of made sense. He was gradually turning into an angel and he would end his life as a human by the end of the journey. On the other hand, since the last seal he had encountered, he had started to get a strange nagging feeling. It was a feeling he disliked more than anything else. He had started to wonder whether he should trust the word of Remiel.
The white-winged angel had seemed somewhat distant toward him during the release of the last seal. At the time he'd thought Remiel was being distant because as a father it would be difficult to know what would become of him eventually when he fulfilled his destiny as the Chosen, but now he saw it differently.
He started to wonder how to approach Remiel on the subject and jumped when Yuan put his hand on his shoulder. Yuan laughed. "You seem deep in thought. Is there anything I can help you with?"
Colloyd opened his mouth to start explaining his problem but quickly closed it again. Yuan was not without his mysteries also. The ex-professor seemed to quickly get the idea that Colloyd didn't want to talk and so dropped back to where Sheelos was walking.
"Gesea," Kraine said as he tore his gaze away from Yuan for the first time in half an hour at seeing him retreat from Colloyd. Though he had been distracted, he had noticed her repeatedly touching her chest where her Cruxis crystal sat. "Are you bothered by what Kvar said?"
She gave a half smile. "Is it that obvious?"
"Perhaps only to those who know you well enough," Kraine replied.
Gesea nodded. "Col's exsphere is a part of the Angelus Project as well. Although Kvar and his Desian's initially attacked me at the fountain when they recognised me, as soon as Col came into the picture it was as though mine did not matter any more." She waited for Kraine to say something but found that he had retreated into his own mind while he looked at the teenage Chosen just ahead of them. "Kraine?"
Kraine looked down at her. "My apologies. It appears that the exsphere Colloyd has is a more successful version of your own.""But what makes them so different?"
"I wish I could tell you, Gesea," Kraine responded.
Gesea sighed and shrugged her shoulders. "Don't worry. I guess Col is rubbing off on me. I'm starting to expect you to know all the answers." She started to walk away from him to approach Colloyd but stopped. "But Kraine, I wish you would wipe that scary look off of your face. It is no wonder nobody wants to hang back there and talk to you when you look like that."
"I'm not sure I understand what you're talking about. I am not angry, and I am not frowning."
"She's talking about the intense look in your eyes darling," Sheelos said. "You look ready to kill something."
"No I don't," Kraine defended. "I assure you, I'm the same as always."
"The evidence contradicts your statement," Gesea replied. Noishe woofed as though in agreement with her.
It was then that every soul in a hundred kilometre radius felt the wrath of Kraine's final say. "I am not angry." Everyone stared and he realised he had probably just made their accusation worse. His pulse quickening, he sought to calm it by taking his red notebook out and sifting through his research. Gesea's eyes stayed on him "If you don't mind, I'd like to be left alone for a while."
"But-" Gesea was cut off when Yuan tapped her on the shoulder. He leaned down and briefly whispered something into her ear. A look of understanding washed over her face and she left the middle of the walking group to go and talk with Colloyd, who had stayed out of the argument, instead seeming happy to have some time to think to himself. Kraine sighed as he watched the two friends walk side by side and as Gesea tried to work out what exactly to say to him.
"I can't believe they use humans to make these things," Colloyd said to Gesea as he touched his hand when she had been looking at him for long enough without saying anything.
The elf's relief at the end of the silence between them was obvious. She touched her chest where her own Cruxis crystal sat. "It sort of makes sense." When Colloyd gave her a questioning look, she tilted her head. "Don't you feel it as well, Col? The feeling like you're being watched over through your exsphere? Whenever I hold Marble's exsphere, I feel a sense of calmness despite what happened to her." She touched her Cruxis crystal and appeared in thought.
Colloyd didn't know how to answer. An unsettled feeling filled his stomach the closer they got to the Luin ranch. Kvar's words kept coming back into his mind. He shook his head, not wanting to think any more about it. The dream he had experienced the night before sprung into his mind and he paused in horror. He knew who the scream had belonged to now. "Aaaargh!" he exclaimed, running away from the group to the nearest tree. Gesea yelled his name from behind but he was too busy slamming his fists into the tree in anguish to respond. "Mum died because..." He pulled the exsphere from the key crest on his hand. "Because of this!" He went to throw it off into the bushes when someone caught his hand from behind.
"Colloyd, calm yourself," Kraine said in an unnaturally reassuring tone that he usually reserved for encouragement in studies. Colloyd glanced back, his hand with the exsphere in it getting tired and letting the small and rounded gem fall to the ground near his feet. Gesea and Kraine stood behind him while Yuan, Sheelos and Noishe maintained a respectable distance.
"These things!" he cried, punching the tree with his free hand. "They're a mockery of human life!"
"Had we not had them, I am sure we would have lost even against simple field monsters a long time ago," Kraine replied. He let go of Colloyd's hand and bent down next to him to pick up the exsphere. He turned to the group and called them to set up a camp for a brief point, saying that it would do them no good to infiltrate a ranch without their priorities and minds on the task.
While the rest of the group sat around a crackling fire, Colloyd sat a short distance away out of eyesight from them. Kraine's words were correct, he knew that. Not only that, but he was the Chosen. He had to be the Chosen. The whole of Sylvarant was relying on his journey. He touched the hole in his key crest where the exsphere usually sat and sighed. "Did you suffer when the exsphere took your life, Mum?"
Footsteps sounded from behind him and he turned to see Kraine looking at him. "How would you feel if you lost your life to an exsphere? Would you want to be useful?"
Colloyd looked down in thought. "I.."
"If I were the one trapped inside the exsphere, I would want to have a hand in defeating the Desians to stop this tragic cycle," the Professor continued. "Perhaps then I could atone for some of my sins."
At hearing the latter sentence, Colloyd stopped and pondered. "Your sins? What do you mean, Professor?"
"It doesn't matter," Kraine responded. "What matters is your resolve."
Colloyd thought further on it before finally nodding. "I suppose I would want to help in any way I could if I were the soul inside the exsphere."
"Good," Kraine said, leaning down and dropping his exsphere into his hand. "Those people didn't become victims because they wanted to, but I doubt they would want to be thrown away after being turned into exspheres either."
Colloyd agreed and stood from his place. "Okay, let's go and see the others. I've made my decisions."
"Are you alright now, Col?" Gesea asked when he and Kraine entered the camp.
Colloyd glanced at the Professor and bowed his head, running his fingers over the exsphere embedded in his hand once again. "I'm the Chosen. That's one thing I'm certain of. As long as I'm the Chosen, I have a duty to regenerate the world as quickly as I can. This exsphere is what makes me stronger and able to fight. Out of respect for my mother, I will continue to fight and break the cycle so that there aren't any more victims." He trailed off and sunk into his own thoughts for a moment. "Before I regenerate the world, I will make sure that the Desians never use human lives to make exspheres again. I will then at least be able to rest in peace."
Not knowing Colloyd's morbid afterthoughts, Gesea touched her chest where her Cruxis crystal sat. "For the sake of Marble, I will continue to fight. I will not run away from the Desians any longer."
Kraine looked like he had something to say to that, but for some reason decided on something different. "We must continue to bear the burden of the lives we use for our own gain. We will survive this journey at the cost of others and must always remember our sins." He shook his head. "People have always been sinful creatures. We are no different."
Sheelos looked like she wanted to say something in regard to sinful people, but appeared to think better when she got a cautious glance from Kraine. She crossed her arms. "I was just going to say that it really isn't justified to use people's lives like we are. But if it can prevent any more casualties, then it is probably for the better."
Despite having made up a new point on the spot, she did have a good point. Yuan, being the last to have a say, remained surprisingly quiet. When they all looked at him somewhat expectantly, he shrugged his shoulders. "When they said the Journey of Regeneration was a tough one, they weren't joking." He looked at each of them for a second and stopped his eyes on Kraine. "Just make sure you all do not forget to look at the much bigger picture here. Stopping just one ranch will not cease the operation as a whole."
Kraine wiggled a finger. "We will need to strike them hard, and be thorough and decisive."
"Precisely," Yuan answered, looking amused.
They eventually entered the vicinity of the ranch and hid out of sight while they planned how they would get in. Sheelos, who had insisted upon scoping out the area, came back with a sort of half-impressed and half worried look on her face. "Even with Kvar gone, the security is intense. There is no way we are sneaking in without being seen or heard; especially such a large group of us."
"There could perhaps be another way," Kraine started.
Colloyd concurred and grinned at Kraine. Yuan laughed as he glanced between them. "I suppose the two of you are thinking the same thing?"
"I bet the Professor is thinking we could disguise ourselves as Desians and go in that way," Colloyd mused, waiting for Kraine to confirm. Kraine's serious facade wavered only slightly to reveal a small smile as he bobbed his head once. Just when Colloyd was about to start coming up with a plan on how to do that, Gesea shot her hand in the air as though to ask a question.
Kraine's eyes instinctively followed the hand and he found himself habitually nodding at the hand as though to give permission to speak. He sighed. It seemed old habits died hard.
"Not that Col and my brother's plan is not a good one, but I have devised a much higher success rate with my own plan."
"Really?" Colloyd's eyes sparkled. "What is it Gesea?"
Gesea clapped her hands and made her kendaxe appear. She turned her back to them and faced the suspicious looking large boulder they had all seen upon entering the area. Raising her weapon once, she slammed it down on the boulder. At first it did nothing, but then they heard an almighty crack and watched as the thing split open down the middle and fell apart in each direction. Colloyd cooed in excitement as he looked at what she had done, before focusing his attention on the secret passage she had revealed for them. Sheelos stared at her work in astonishment. "How did a little thing like you make that much of a dent?"
Gesea didn't answer and just headed down the steep staircase and into the Desian stronghold.
"Is that.." Colloyd gulped as he and his strange group of allies found themselves in a large rectangular room. Across the way were ten or twenty connected cells, all with prisoners they assumed were from Luin inside them. They were still out of eye shot and had not been seen by them yet.
"It looks as though we have stumbled right where we intended to go," Kraine observed.
Sheelos clenched her fists. "We have to get the prisoners out of here!" She scanned the area and quickly hid behind the large pillar that kept them out of eyeshot of any enemies, with them all following her lead and ducking for cover as well. When Colloyd saw a very familiar looking brown haired woman chained to a man with a pirate hat and red, curly locks, followed by two small children that were being prodded in the back with metal bars by Desians, he gasped. "Lyme!"
The group all hushed him, but it was too late. The Desians immediately looked in their direction and set out to find the intruders. Colloyd gave his friends a guilty look before drawing his sword and chakram and preparing for battle. Sheelos came to the front of the formation, her strange battle card already out in her hand and a stance already assumed. "Don't worry Chosen, we were going to make them pay anyway!"
With very little effort, particularly by those at the back at the formation, the Desians were on the floor clutching their mortal wounds. Kraine sheathed his sword and set about examining the party for any wounds before looking down at one of the Desians. On his belt where his weapon sheath sat glinted something small and metallic. It didn't take a genius to figure out that it was a key, but Colloyd's eyes glittered with hopeful excitement at the realisation. He turned to the group the Desians had been presumably leading to the cells to join the other townspeople to see Sheelos was already there. He headed in their direction with Colloyd, Gesea and Yuan following.
"Lyme!" Colloyd said, waving as he approached.
Lymax looked away from Sheelos and her face brightened. "Colloyd, right?"
Colloyd felt happy. "You remembered!"
"I never thought I would see you in a place like this," the woman replied.
"We came as fast as we could," Sheelos said, watching Kraine use the silver key he had found to unlock their shackles. The rusted hand-traps of Lymax and the red haired man fell to the ground first, followed by the shackles on the children behind them. Looking closer, she tilted her head. "So this must be the guy you got busy with, huh?"
Lymax crossed her arms and glanced away, her cheeks turning scarlet. "Well, he is the father of my children, if that is what you are asking."
"Oh, so you must be Aifread," Colloyd held his hand out to the red haired man.
He took it, looking somewhat curious. "You look like the adventuring type. I bet I could set you up with a great boat to sail the seas in! It'd be a bargain."
"Really?" Colloyd had always wanted to own a boat and go sailing.
Lyme slapped her hand against her face and gave Aifread a light shove. "Don't you start that again. Remember? I got the last bargain."
Before Colloyd could ask any further questions, he found himself distracted by the voices of the Luin folk talking to Sheelos. "You're Sheelos, right?" one man asked. Sheelos nodded. The man smiled. "Thank you. I know you tried to stop Kvar and the Desians from capturing us."
Sheelos smiled awkwardly. "What else was I supposed to do? I couldn't just watch you all suffer like that."
Kraine ushered the townspeople out of the cell and they all formed in a circle around the group. "Who are you?" one woman asked Kraine when he examined her upon seeing some cuts on her face. Most of the Luin folk seemed to be in good health still, if not a little beaten up. They had come just in time it seemed. The woman looked suspicious, which wasn't surprising considering the ordeal that she must have gone through that night. He fell quiet but quickly regretted it when she stepped back from him. "How do we know this isn't some kind of cruel joke?" She looked at Sheelos. "I know I'm not alone in being suspicious of her. She was asking around if anyone knew where the Chosen had gone!"
"I.." Sheelos glanced at Colloyd, who gave her a thumbs up and turned to the woman. "You can trust us. I'm the Chosen." He summoned his wings, barely flinching now at the strange tingling feeling it always gave him. There were a few surprised gasps around him. He tried to ignore it and continued. "Since I trust all of you not to reveal my secret, you should trust us."
Without another word of hesitation, the Luin folk followed them out of the Desian base and back to Luin, where Kvar still lay dead at the fountain square. When they bid farewell to the last of the thankful townsfolk and Lymax, Aifread and their two children, the group stood in a half circle and looked at Colloyd. "Let's get going toward the next seal," he said when he realised they were waiting for his instruction.
"Col," Gesea said in-between a yawn, "don't you think it would be best to get some sleep?"
"Oh.." Colloyd froze, realising that it hadn't even occurred to him.
"I'm sure the Chosen meant tomorrow morning," Yuan spoke up with a laugh.
They all retreated back to their rooms, offering but being declined to pay for Yuan and Sheelos'.
Later that night...
Kraine propped one eye open at the sound of footsteps creeping past the door. The shadow of the figure stopped in front of the door for a moment before continuing on. Colloyd sat up and looked too. Kraine stood and glanced back at Colloyd, putting his fingers to his lips and pointing to Gesea. "Stay here Colloyd. I'll go and check to make sure everything is alright."
Colloyd reluctantly accepted and rested back down, closing his eyes habitually despite the fact that he had not slept a wink since they had all said their good-night's.
Kraine left the room quietly and crept down the stairs of the inn. Only the midnight to dawn innkeeper sat behind the desk, reading a newspaper. There was nobody else in the common room or near the bar. Growing more curious, he opened the door of the inn and stepped outside.
To his surprise he saw a flash of blue hair and smug smile. Yuan stood there, facing him. "I didn't think I would get past you," he grimaced. "You want to know what I am doing?"
Kraine habitually reached for his sword hilt but stopped and rested his hand on his hip instead. "It seems you continue to be quite the enigma. I suppose from anybody else's perspective, all half-elves are."
"I suppose so," Yuan replied, a more serious tone to his voice.
"Now, are you going to tell me?" Kraine asked. "Or must we continue this game of cat and mouse?"
"Tell you?" Yuan mirrored Kraine, putting one hand on his hip as well. "I was relying on your help, actually."
Yuan nodded slowly, his eyes narrowing at him. Kraine didn't want to admit it, but he found Yuan's serious and contemplating face much more disturbing than his usual cocky grimace.
"I want your help, to take care of some unfinished business."