The beginning of the end
The beginning of the end
Colloyd gasped as thoughts suddenly started to race through his mind. He opened his eyes to see the relief on the campfire-lit faces of Gesea and Kraine, who were surrounding him as though he were on his death bed. He opened his mouth to apologise but quickly shut it again.
"Are you okay, Col?" Gesea asked him. "You blacked out for quite a while."
Colloyd thought back to the last events of the day. The sun had obviously set since he had blacked out because he could still remember the piercing of the bright sun in his eyes when they had emerged from the cave and each time they had dunked in and out of water. He moved to sit up and was pleasantly surprised that it didn't feel anywhere near as difficult to do. A white bandage was wrapped liberally around his shoulder and his red jacket and armour sat on the ground next to him.
"You should not move too much," Kraine instructed. "I have done my best to seal your wound but your body is not in very good shape. You should also refrain from summoning your wings unless it is absolutely necessary."
Colloyd habitually opened his mouth to say "thank you Professor," but when no sound came out and his mouth moved, he realised he had sealed his fate.
"Col?" Gesea asked, tilting her head. "What's wrong?"
He looked down from all of their gazes. Kraine sat back and hummed in thought. "It would appear that he has lost his voice."
"His voice?" Gesea gaped. "Is this a part of the trial of becoming an angel?"
"Becoming the one who will regenerate the world is not meant to be an easy task," Yuan said, coming into sight with Sheelos beside him, carrying an arm full of twigs for the camp fire that roared with life close by.
"But this seems just so unfair," Gesea replied. "I don't even understand why the Chosen needs to go through these trials."
"It does seem harsh," Kraine agreed. "But that is why we must stay strong for the Chosen." He cleared his throat. "For the sake of disclosure, I feel it is time I told you all the extent of Colloyd's Angel Toxicosis."
"I knew it," Sheelos gaped once Kraine had all sat in thought for a moment, listening to the sound of the crickets and insects of the night. "That's why you acted like it was just another day in the park. You couldn't even feel that you'd been stabbed," the assassin eventually continued.
Colloyd nodded and opened his mouth to apologise, shutting it again when he couldn't. Gesea let out a sigh. "Even when you can't apologise, you still apologise. It isn't your fault Col."
"I'm sorry," he thought again. He wondered how he could communicate with her. In a sudden spark of genius, he reached for one of her hands and wrote out his thoughts in the palm of her hand."
"I.M S.O.R.R.Y," Gesea read. She sighed and gave him a half smile. "Didn't I just tell you it wasn't your fault?"Colloyd shook his head and continued writing. She read the words out as they formed. "I D.I.D.N'T W.A.N.T Y.O.U T.O W.O.R.R.Y." Gesea shook her head. "Col! You're my best friend. I am going to worry regardless. When did we start keeping secrets from each other?"
Her voice became quiet and sullen at the end of her sentence as though she had trailed into her own thoughts about something else. It reminded Colloyd of how she and Kraine acted when they didn't want to talk about the times before they had come to Iselia. She was keeping something from him. Still, if she didn't want to talk about it, it was fine. He couldn't bring himself to tell her what would be coming next. It was probably selfish of him, but he wanted his last memories with her to be happy ones.
He looked at Sheelos next, who held out her hand expectantly. "Am I going to get a Salvatorian invite from the Chosen on this fateful evening?" She watched Colloyd start spelling his words in her hand. "N.O.T L.I.K.E.L.Y."
She laughed. "I was kidding, really." Nobody believed her, but she hushed everyone when Colloyd started to write in her hand again. "I W.I.L.L A.S.K A.B.O.U.T T.E.T.H.E.A.L.L.A W.H.E.N I M.E.E.T O.R.I.G.I.N."
"I know," Sheelos answered. She looked incredibly disappointed. "But what happens to Tethe'alla if you can't do anything?" Kraine shot her a glare but she ignored it. "My world is counting on me as well." She wrote something on Colloyd's palm, and he gave her a look and wrote something back. Sheelos sighed and waited while Colloyd decided to write something else after. "W.H.A.T H.A.P.P.E.N.E.D W.I.T.H U.N.D.I.N.E?"
"She hasn't said anything since we got out of the water," Sheelos answered and shrugged her shoulders. "I think she's giving me the night off."
"Speaking of which," Kraine interjected, "We should all try to rest as much as possible tonight. Tomorrow will be the day." He stood, stretched, and walked off. Although the Professor didn't want to show it, Colloyd understood the implications well. Although he had told the group the secrets behind his condition, he hadn't said anything about the true meaning of the world regeneration and what would happen to him tomorrow.
Yuan must have seen his worried gaze over his Professor because he stood as well and followed him out of the small clearing they were situated and toward where Colloyd could see some moonlight hitting the lake.
When Yuan reached the exit of the clearing, he slowed his pace. Kraine was nowhere to be seen. He sighed and softly drew his short sword from its sheath. As expected, a sword swung out at him from the shadows. He fought it off and jumped back to face his opponent. Kraine looked impressed and put his sword away. "You do have keen senses."
Yuan rolled his eyes and sheathed his sword. "You were testing me."
Kraine didn't answer and walked toward the embankment. "Did you come to chide me?" he asked. "You can save your breath if so."
Yuan stood next to him. "Did you not listen at all to what I have stated several times since travelling with you?" he asked, feigning being hurt by Kraine's statement. "We are on the same side."
"Hmph," Kraine grumbled as he crossed his arms.
"There is no need to be on guard," Yuan reasoned. "I also meant what I said at the Palmacosta base this morning."
"Hmph. I suppose there is no honour in playing the clueless card," Kraine surmised, slightly relaxing his shoulders. The average person might not have noticed his change in countenance, but Yuan saw straight through it. "My question to you is how do you know such information?"
Yuan looked through the trees to where Colloyd and Gesea were sitting. Colloyd looked incredibly troubled, Gesea doubly so. "One only has to study the two of you to see it," Yuan explained. Kraine said nothing, appearing to want a more complicated answer than that. "He talks the talk, just like his father," Yuan explained, "and although a bit loose with his sword skills at present, he will one day walk the walk, too."
Kraine started to feel irrationally irritated. Yuan always did that to him. Just like that woman. "What you're saying is conjecture. What is your point?" He glared and studied Yuan carefully and silently, like a snake judging its prey before going in for the kill, Yuan thought. Kraine continued, "Earlier you said that you are the only one who could protect my son. Just what did you mean by that? What makes you think it is possible to protect the Chosen from his fate?" His eyes narrowed. "You know much more than you are saying, Yuan."
Yuan was the one to stay silent this time. Kraine went to prod him but he held up a hand to hush him. "A young man once told me that no life should be born for the sole purpose of dying. I plan to believe in those words until the end. I don't think they will fail. Destiny is destiny, after all."
With those words, he turned on his heel and headed back to the group. Kraine watched after him, curious and infuriated in equal measures.
Later that night..
While Gesea, Sheelos and Yuan slept, Kraine took up night watch with Colloyd. The boy had found a distraction, working on the figurine that he had initially given Gesea. He wasn't sure when she had given it back to him, but he sensed Colloyd's reasoning for working on it further was a more personal one than he deserved to know. He had gotten a set of small acrylic paints as well as a variety of brushes from none other than Yuan before he had retired to bed, and was busy painting a lime green coating of paint on to the wood. As if sensing his stare on him, Colloyd turned his head and gave Kraine a look. The Professor blinked and glanced down at the book he had been pretending to study to appear occupied. Colloyd left his work and approached. He poked his hand, asking to be able to talk in the new way he had discovered.
"Are you worried about Noishe?" Colloyd asked.
"Your dog?" Kraine asked back.
The Chosen nodded. "You and Yuan both seem to like him a lot. I thought you might be worried since we left him at the Thoda Geyser."
That last sentence had structured itself painfully slowly. Kraine was glad that teaching and a long life had afforded him patience. He wasn't sure what to say to the question though and decided reassurance for the Chosen was probably best. "If you are worried about Noishe, I don't think there is a need. There were many friendly people there with food and no monsters. He will be alright until we return."
"Then you.. will return for him?" Colloyd signed. "Even if it means going over the sea again?"
Kraine simply nodded and went back to his reading, hoping that would be the end of the conversation. Colloyd seemed to get the hint, mostly. He finished the train of thought with a request. Kraine reluctantly held his palm out for the question.
"When you find Noishe, would you be able to take him back to my dad's house?"
Kraine kept on his guard and nodded. "Do not worry Chosen. I will ensure your affairs are in order after the world regeneration is successful."
The dual-wielder Chosen gave him a look and wrote something else in his hand. Kraine watched slowly as the letters formed. "Are you sure?" he asked, once the complete sentence had formed. Colloyd nodded. Kraine looked around at the group. Yuan had his eyes closed, but his breathing was soft, unlike the snoring of Gesea and Sheelos on either side of him. They would be safe in his care, he hoped.
"Hey! Chicky!" Sheelos shook Gesea awake. She mumbled and squinted her eyes, but when she saw the unmistakable figure of Undine behind her, she jumped awake. "What's going on?"
"Undine woke me to battle with her but-" Sheelos gestured to the area around them and Gesea took a good look around. The site looked like a normal morning after an evening of rest on their journey. There was a camp fire that had quelled overnight, sleeping bags, and a rising sun. Two things were missing though. There was no sign of Kraine or Colloyd.. or Yuan for that matter.
"-We have bigger problems," Sheelos ended.
Gesea stood from the slightly damp grass and did a full 360. Unsurprised by the fruitless outcome, she closed her eyes and scanned the area from Kraine's mana signature. Nothing. Squinting her eyes harder, she desperately extended her search past the the normal field of 'vision'. When she reached her limit, she opened her eyes and let out the breath that she had been holding. It was then that she saw a hint of blue coming from the trees and Yuan emerging from the lake. He seemed surprised when he saw her and Sheelos scanning the area. "You're awake I see."
"Yuan," Sheelos stalked over to him and put her hands on her hip. "Where have they gone?"
Yuan remained quiet and Sheelos growled at him in frustration. "Don't play dumb. I know you know. You've been ten steps ahead this whole time and- hey where are you going!?"
Yuan stopped her from continuing by walking past casually and standing in front of Gesea. "There's something you should know."
Sheelos stalked up behind him to listen, staying clear of Undine who still hovered a little above the ground patiently for the battle she had been promised. The kid was not going to like what came out of Yuan's mouth next. She almost felt sorry for her.
"I apologise for the secrecy," Yuan said. "Your brother and Colloyd headed off to the Tower of Salvation late last night. Colloyd did not want you to see what would happen next."
Gesea trembled but her eyes remained strong as she kept eye contact with him and waited for the rest of the information. "Becoming the Chosen means becoming an Angel," Yuan explained. "But becoming an angel means that Colloyd's human life will end."
At the final part of the knowledge, Gesea's trembling became worse. "H..how?" She asked. "How are they going to get to the Tower of Salvation?"
"Hima," Yuan explained. The panic in Gesea's expression grew. Yuan continued. "That's the only place they would be able to get to the Tower of Salvation from short of flying. Colloyd is not in shape to fly and your brother would only be more of a burden on him. There is a dragon breeder there." He glanced at Sheelos and she nodded slowly in confirmation. She looked off in thought at the mention of Hima though.
"Then it is impossible," Gesea said. "For us to try and follow."
Sheelos laughed and she clenched her fist at her. "What are you sniggering about? My best friend is going to die today. We have to-"
"Have to what?" Sheelos interrupted with a question. "Let's say we get to him before he sacrifices himself. Are you going to stop him? Don't you want your world to be regenerated?"
Gesea didn't answer at first, but eventually she shook her head. "Even if I can not do anything for him, I need to be there." She gave Sheelos an odd look. "Don't you want to make sure he doesn't succeed?"
Sheelos sighed and dropped to her backside. She crossed her arms over her legs. "I wanted to try trusting him.. like he trusted me." She clenched her fist. "But even still.." She stood and looked at Yuan. "You're right. We have to go there."
Yuan grinned and reached into a pocket of his robes. He brought out what looked like a P.E teacher whistle. "Then we will take to the air. It wil be easier to catch up with them from there."
"The... the air?" Gesea blinked and watched as he blew into it. No sound came from it, but something about it sent a shiver up and down her spine. At first it looked like nothing happened until the loud beating of wings against air sounded from above. Sheelos and Gesea looked up at the same time and gaped at what they saw lowering to their location. Three.. dragons.
Sheelos looked at Yuan, her eyes wide. "You really do have all the answers, don't you? But how.."
Yuan couldn't help the smug grin on his face as he watched the dragons descend to the ground and land with a soft thud. Sheelos gaped as though she had just had a realisation. Yuan cut her off before she could say anything and Gesea before she could ask. "There is no time. We have an appointment with destiny." He helped Gesea onto a black and blue dragon and hopped onto his own, a grey and green dragon with a bright orange mane and a yellow saddle.
Sheelos looked back at Undine. "Sorry Undine, looks like we might have to postpone."
Undine didn't look impressed but faded away into a little ball of light, disappearing inside of her. As she hopped onto her dragon, a blue one with a yellow mane and a purple saddle, she heard Undine inside her head. "This delay will not go unnoticed. You will pay penance."
Sheelos shivered at the thought.
Colloyd stared ahead as the tower come into view as he gripped the painted Noishe figure in his hand tightly. He hadn't finished it yet, but he had run out of time.
"Hold on," Kraine said, turning his head back to him slightly and gripping the reigns of the harness on the dragon they had borrowed from a tamer in Hima. The man had initially asked for millions of gald for the use since he had mentioned he had only a few left for rent after selling three to someone else. Naturally revealing his wings and having Kraine explain that he was the Chosen had forced his hand and they had gotten away with a deal.
Colloyd held onto his Professor as they dove lower through the clouds to the base of the tower where the lone platform with a tablet for him to place his hand stood. He had noticed Kraine tensing up as they rode and wondered what to say... figuratively speaking. Any words he could have said didn't seem right enough. He had burdened his teacher and friend with a lot over the course of their journey together under the premise that he was older and wise enough to handle the situation. Kraine knew what was going to happen to him. He likely knew that he would have to be the one to tell Gesea that he wouldn't be coming back once he did the final test for Remiel. He settled for resting his head against the teachers back and writing "T.H.A.N.K.Y.O.U" into it.
"We still have much to do before you should be thanking me," Kraine replied.
Once they both had both feet on the ground after 'parking' their dragons, Kraine took the whistle he had gotten from the tamer and gave it a blow. The dragon comically tilted its head, gave a growly squawk, and flew off back toward Hima. Colloyd gave Kraine a worried look.
"This very same whistle should be my way back as well," Kraine reassured him. He turned to the tablet and Colloyd approached. With the light touch of his hand on the tablet, a light blue ethereal staircase appeared from the edge of the platform to the mouth of the tower. He headed toward it, Kraine following closely.
The journey up the large winding staircase in the tower was silent aside from their two sets of footsteps. At first, the steps up were emotional. Not only did he have to keep his gaze off of the floating coffins that circled the mysterious tower, Colloyd found himself pondering about many more less mysterious things. At the forefront of his mind were his friends that he had left behind. Slowly as he made his way up higher, he came to terms with the fact that even if he had been able to extend his time with them, it would have made parting all the more painful for them. He didn't expect Gesea to forgive him, but he hoped she would move on and live a happy and full life.
The moment he and Kraine reached the gigantic set of double doors at the top and they opened as though they had been expecting him, all of his worries melted away, to be replaced by sheer determination.
"Chosen one, Colloyd," came Remiels voice from above as he and Kraine stepped inside. Colloyd watched as the white-winged Angel descended upon the majestic altar just ahead. Colloyd approached and bowed respectfully at him. "Now, my son. Release the final seal! In doing so, you will complete the final sacrifice of your human existence—your heart and your memory. By doing so of your own free will, you will become a true angel and gain the right to meet with Origin."
Colloyd closed his eyes and silently agreed with a small nod. "Even if mine was a short life.. I was happy to have met everyone."
"Very good," Remiel nodded. "Come to me."
Colloyd took one step forward, then another, and then another, until he touched the stone altar and a white magic circle appeared at his feet. Then he felt something he hadn't felt for a while. A tingle travelling all around his body... and... pain. He winced through it and managed to keep one eye open to watch Remiel. The serene look on the angels face vanished the worse the pain got for Colloyd to bear, replaced by a knowing smirk. "You shall now surrender yourself Chosen, for the sake of Martel!"
Right before he closed his eyes for the final time, he saw something unexpected. Something from somewhere behind him flew past and knocked Remiel to the floor. A voice called a name, something he knew he should have remembered. He couldn't quite make it out though. He thought he should have known the girls voice too. His mind went blank. Whatever had happened, had likely happened too late. Not that he could find the strength to care or any reason to think it should have mattered.
"Colloyd!" Gesea cried again as she stopped a short distance from Kraine. "Stop this! You'll die!"
Remiel got up from where he had been knocked down and sneered at Yuan, who had thrown his butterfly blade at him. Blood seeped through the angels green clothes and he didn't look in a very forgiving mood.
Gesea looked at her brother, who still had not turned to face them. She guessed that he was ashamed of what he had done. "Kraine!" she called. "We have to save Col! He's going to die."
"It is too late, Gesea," Kraine replied softly, his voice chilly. "Colloyd has already become the vessel."
"The.. vessel?" Gesea gave him a confused look. "What are you talking about?"
"His body will be offered to Lord Yggdrasil as a vessel for Martel! By sacrificing himself, Colloyd will revive the Goddess. This is the true nature of the world regeneration!" Remiel sneered. He side-glanced at Kraine. "Lord Kraine, I trust you can take this from here?"
Kraine didn't reply, only gave a short nod of the head. Remiel disappeared in an array of feathers, leaving Sheelos and Gesea to stare at Kraine.
"Kraine..." Gesea shook her head. "What was that all about? What's going on?" She looked at Colloyd, still floating. His eyes were open but there was no life to them. It was just as Remiel had said. He looked absolutely lifeless.
"You must all leave here at once," Kraine explained. "You shouldn't have come here in the first place." He looked at Yuan pointedly, who crossed his arms and grimaced. "I don't think we need to explain ourselves right now. This is where you tell us the truth I think."
"I don't think he has to," Sheelos growled. "It's pretty clear from where I'm standing that he's not our ally anymore. He wanted this to happen."
"That.. that can't be," Gesea shook her head quickly. "Kraine's my brother. He may have known Col would die but.." Her words stopped short when Kraine turned his back to them and summoned his very own pair of angel wings. She gasped and startled back. The mana signature coming from him was one she had felt before. The one she had feared. Standing in front of her was her brother.. an angel.