The Angels and the Angelus
The Angels and the Angelus
There was a reason it was called the "Grand Tethe'alla Bridge".
Lloyd gaped at the sight of the thing. Although it had been an incredibly short trip from Meltokio, the thing was taller than the Temple of Martel and longer than his field of vision would allow. He'd squinted to see if he could spot what lay on the other side but got nothing but a green blur no matter how hard he tried. Gesea stood next to him, but instead of a look of awe on her face, he saw a look of pure horror.
"What are those?" she asked, alarm in her voice as she pointed to the sides of the bridge. Lloyd looked to where she was pointing. At first he didn't notice anything, but when some clouds moved out of the way of the sunlight pouring to their location, he saw a familiar glimmer. A lot of familiar glimmers.
Yuan walked in front of them and regarded the direction of their horrified stares. "I suppose I might as well tell you since you noticed." His crossed his arms and closed his eyes, a regretful expression washing over his face. "According to Tethe'alla, this is the greatest drawbridge in the world. It connects the continents of Altamira and Fooji. Its control system incorporates 3,000 exspheres."
Gesea backed away from the bridge slowly, shaking her head. "Three thousand.."
"Three thousand human lives, I know," Yuan admitted. He looked at Lloyd. "You know as well as I that the manufacturing of exsphere's cannot continue. We must do all we can for the innocent people in the world."
The boy's dark expression faded at those words and was replaced by sheer determination. "Right. Let's keep going." He started off again. This time Yuan walked at his side while Gesea and Colette walked behind.
As the group made their way across the bridge and saw the sun gradually get lower on the horizon, Lloyd began to wonder whether they would ever reach the end. He kept telling himself that because he hadn't come across another person wearing a cat costume for some time, that they definitely weren't somehow going around in circles. He started to get bored of the scenery and his mind began to wander again to the blue haired man matching his stride next to him. He wondered what kind of life the Chosen of Tethe'alla led by not having the burden of a regeneration on their shoulders. He'd seen Yuan in action at the castle in Meltokio. He certainly wasn't in hiding from the world as the Chosen typically was in Sylvarant.
It was only when he trailed out of his envious thoughts about Yuan that he realised they had suddenly left the bridge and stepped foot onto some short grass that squished slightly from rainfall under their feet. He glanced at Yuan, who pointed toward a town they could see in the distance. It was obviously Sybak. The city looked quite brown and old fashioned, but according to Yuan as they headed quickly through the wilds to it, it was quite well known for being in the know with current technology.
"We should head to the Research Academy before retiring to the inn for a nights rest," Yuan said, gesturing to the north of town as their feet left the grass and clacked on the brick path of the town. Lloyd could see a building looming higher than the rest in the area that was surrounded by a cobblestone fence that curved around in an oval and cast a shadow. It was nothing when pitted against Castle Tethe'alla though. The town itself looked pretty small. The entrance led straight into a small town circle where there were a few trading stalls and an inn to their right. He could hear the faint sound of running water, which made sense considering the town was situated right on the coastline.
Grinning eagerly at his new surroundings, Lloyd led the group in the direction the elf had suggested, doing his best to avoid people's stares. They weren't looking at him, obviously. They were fixated on Colette, who had remained at a close proximity during their adventure from Meltokio to Sybak. After they had been done looking at the angel, they seemed content to look at Yuan. It seemed like the only one in the city who hadn't looked at their group as they entered was a white spotted dog chained near the fence of the inn. Lloyd quickened his pace a little, hoping to avoid any rampant fangirls of the Chosen and only stopped when he glanced back and realised Yuan and Gesea weren't following. Gesea was glancing around herself, a confused expression on her face.
"What's wrong?" Lloyd asked as he re-approached them. He wondered if she was bothered as well by the whispers of all the white-robed and college-uniformed people around them.
"It's.. this city.." Gesea said. She took a few quick steps back suddenly and looked at her hands. They were trembling. She frowned and looked back up at Lloyd. "I.. I feel like I've been here before!"
Lloyd blinked in confusion. "But we're in Tethe'alla! That can't be right."
"That may be a rash conclusion," Yuan butted in, giving Lloyd his 'Professor' eyes. "We now know Kraine is working with Cruxis. It is possible he has been to Tethe'alla and Gesea was too young to remember."
"Or.." Gesea whispered, "..I just forgot." She looked around herself nervously. "Let's not stay too long here. It is making me very nervous."
"I suppose we can set up camp outside," Yuan replied.
"It will be better to, anyway," Lloyd agreed, squaring Yuan down for a moment.
The elf grimaced. "I suppose there is no way for me to escape the inevitable questions that await?" He walked ahead of them and called them to hurry otherwise the sun would set and the academy would close.
Gesea still had a worried expression plastered on her face. Lloyd put a hand on her head and gave her his most reassuring grin. "Don't worry. I'm here to protect Colette and you."
Gesea glanced at Colette and then back to him. "Do you think it has to do with my exsphere?" She touched her chest where it sat under her clothes, as she habitually did when she was thinking about it.
Lloyd stretched while he thought. He didn't really have an answer though. "Don't worry about it. We'll figure it out eventually." He walked ahead and hoped she would follow.
Gesea looked up at the sky and sighed. "What happened, Kraine?"
After passing through the town circle, the group of four followed the curve of the rounded wall along a small path filled with sewer lids and the coastline that faced out to where the city of Meltokio could be seen. The wall ended and led them to the front steps of the Imperial Research Academy. With a nod to a man that stood outside to greet visitors, Yuan opened a heavy looking metal door and they followed him inside the building. A researcher with short blonde hair and large glasses shut a door to another room behind himself and spotted them. "Chosen," he greeted with a conservative nod.
Yuan nodded in greeting back, being the only one in their group of sound mind to not gape at the enormous winged dragon skeleton that towered over everything in the room. It was taller than the stairs to their right that led up to another level of the academy. "I take it you have received word about the nature of our visit?" he asked.
The researcher glanced behind Lloyd and at Colette. "Yes, we have been waiting for you. Please come this way." He opened the door behind him and led them a short way down a long hallway with a long red carpet and into another room with a giant table in the middle stacked with books and papers. Swivel chairs littered the room around the table and the odd bookshelf and potted plant decorated the otherwise plain walls.
"Upon receiving the report of Colette's symptoms, we found our research data regarding the Chosen's Cruxis crystal." He touched an indented platform on the table and it beeped. Had Lloyd not seen the technology in the Desian ranches, he was sure he would have been surprised a little more when a holographic globe appeared suddenly. He wondered what his dad would think of it all if he could see it.
"Cruxis crystals are thought to be evolved forms of exspheres. Both exspheres and Cruxis crystals are lifeless beings," the researcher stated, waving his fingers around the globe and making it spin and apparently show him more data.
"What did you say?!" Lloyd blinked. He looked down at his exsphere. It shone back at him with its strange but comforting blue hue. "Life..less?"
"What he is saying is that basically exspheres are alive, though not in the same way we are, I.. I think," Gesea explained.
The researcher nodded in confirmation. "Both of these crystals are like parasites fusing with other life forms."
Lloyd looked at his exsphere. "That's not a very pleasant thought."
"Agreed," Yuan nodded.
The researcher continued, "When this happens, the mana within the body loses balance and goes out of control without a key crest."
Lloyd turned and looked at the lifeless shell of a girl, Colette. The Cruxis crystal that sat on her neck did not have a key crest, yet he had never seen it before and had only ever seen his own exsphere, with the key crest his father had made for him. No matter how he looked at it, he and Colette had to be two different people. His stomach churned uneasily when he thought of their camp later. All of a sudden the interest he'd had in finding out about Yuan was overshadowed by anxiety at explaining his name change and having his own situation explained to him from his friends point-of-view.
"It is understandable why exspheres without Key Crests turn people into monsters," Gesea said aloud.
"Exactly," the researcher agreed. "You're a bright one. Colette is indeed suffering from a parasitical infection caused by her Cruxis crystal.
"Angel Toxicosis," Gesea mumbled, "just like Kraine said."
"The release of the seals would be a way of promoting the fusion between the host and the Cruxis crystal," Yuan surmised, a curious grin on his lips. "It also makes a great deal of sense when you think about the human ranches and how they are used."
Lloyd couldn't help but drop his mouth at him. He really did remind him of Kraine sometimes. "Yuan, you shouldn't look so happy at finding out all this after everything I..-we've- been through."
"He's always been like that," laughed a familiar female voice from behind. They all whirled around to see a familiar red-headed assassin standing in their midst.
"Sh..Sheelos!" Lloyd blinked, "I didn't know if we would be seeing you again."
Sheelos grinned. "How could I stay away from someone so handsome? It would have been pure torture!"
As she said that, Lloyd noticed something. He wasn't sure what it was, but her typical flirt was covering for something else. He figured there must have been another reason she had graced them with her presence. Sheelos looked at the researcher then, he nodded in confused greeting to her. "So, if Colette had a key crest, she would return to normal, right?" she asked, as though she had been present for the entire conversation.
"Yes, she should be able to freely control the Cruxis crystal if she had a key crest," the researcher replied, casting his eyes on Lloyds exsphere. "Much like you do with your own."
Lloyd resisted the urge to hide his hand and looked at Sheelos. "Do you know anywhere here that might sell a key crest?"
Sheelos shrugged, "Beats me, but you might as well start locally I guess."
"Right," Lloyd nodded and headed for the door. "There were some vendors just outside."
He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned his head to see Yuan shake his own. "Just any key crest will not do. I would wager that only one of dwarven technology would be able to make any visible difference to Colette's condition."
"Do you have one?" Sheelos asked him. It might have sounded like a bit of an unfair question if Yuan hadn't shown himself to be two steps ahead throughout the journey. Lloyd looked at the elf, hoping for him to perform the usual miracle. When he shook his head this time and didn't drop his bag, he couldn't help the disappointment he felt.
"Sorry," Yuan replied. "Key crests aren't something you can just come across. Especially not ones that can contain a parasitical infection. We're going to have to do this one the hard way."
"We could ask my Dad?" Lloyd suggested. "He's a dwarf."
Everyone in the room appeared to have an opinion, but Gesea was the first off the mark. "But Dirk lives in Sylvarant. We have no way of getting there. The Rheairds are out of fuel."
"Maybe the Academy might know a way?" Lloyd asked, looking back at the researcher.
The man didn't get a chance to reply. Yuan cleared his throat and interrupted. "I suppose you are forgetting that I cannot allow you to go back to Sylvarant?"
"Why don't you just come back with us?" Lloyd questioned. "Y'know, to keep an eye on us?"
"I can not see a problem if you did that. Please Yuan?" Gesea asked.
Yuan sighed and said nothing at first, instead taking note that the researcher had slipped out of the room. "I suppose this is the part where I can't refuse?"
"I think we might have bigger problems!" Sheelos said, turning to the door. A few seconds later it burst open and almost flew off of its hinges as two knights in the same armour as the ones that guarded Castle Tethe'alla stormed into the room. Sheelos jumped back in a very agile manner to where the rest of them stood.
"Chosen!" the first guard to enter yelled, pointing his weapon at Yuan. "We received word of your conspiracies. We hereby declare you and your companions to be traitors attempting to destroy Tethe'alla."
Yuan crossed his arms. "Perfect timing as always, Papal Knights."
"You took the words out of my mouth," Sheelos groaned.
"By the Pope's orders. We are to watch you for suspicions of plotting against the throne. He has requested we take a blood sample of you all." The first Papal Knight to enter looked to his companion. "Restrain them now." Another Knight ran into the room.
"Now just wait-" Lloyd cut himself off when the second Knight approached him with a large needle in his hand.
"Don't touch the angel," the first Papal Knight instructed. "If you approach her carelessly, she will kill you."
"That would go for the brunette too," Yuan said.
Sheelos nodded. "Unless you want the whole place to blow up of course- owch!" A Papal Knight poked a needle into her arm. The Knights clearly didn't want to listen, but they did so anyway just to be safe.
"Why are they trying to take our blood?" Lloyd asked as he tried to stop another Knight poking a needle into Gesea.
He put his hand on his sword but saw Yuan shake his head. "If you make a fuss, this will get ten times worse." The elf cringed when a Knight took a sample of his blood and laughed a bit. "Pope's orders? Amusing. I'm the one who is plotting against the throne am I?" He sneered angrily and glanced at Gesea. "Gesea, I apologise. This is about to get a little more complicated."
"It's.. it's a match!" A Papal Knight said, blinking at the device in his hands that he had inserted the blood sample from Gesea in.
"As the Pope thought, the Chosen is also a match," another Papal Knight said after doing the same thing with Yuan's sample. Gesea was quickly apprehended by one.
"Gesea!" Lloyd yelled, hesitantly staying his hand on the hilt of his sword and glancing at Yuan, who was being surrounded by the remaining two Papal Knights. "What's going on?"
"That is top-secret," one replied. "Don't resist, or we will have to use force." The Papal Knight with his arms around Gesea tried to move toward the door but Sheelos quickly blocked it. She looked at Yuan for a long moment, and he nodded in what looked like agreement. While the Papal Knights still held him at the arms, his aura glowed and his butterfly blade appeared in his right hand. Lloyd didn't hesitate then and drew his right hand sword, leaving the chakram on his left in its pouch. He swiped at the Papal Knight holding onto Gesea and the armoured man fell back.
All the Papal Knights drew their spears, but seemed pretty confused on who to fight first in the small room. Sheelos being Sheelos, was ironically the first to finish any bloodshed before it started. She threw a round ball-like object at the ground and the room quickly filled with smoke. A sense of deja-vu coming over him, Lloyd ran with Gesea, Colette and Yuan out of the room. Unsurprisingly they found themselves face to face with more Papal Knights. Students and Professors of the academy hid under chairs and behind pot plants in the hallway. Yuan made his blade disappear and drew the short sword that sat under his cloak. "Don't hurt them, but make sure they feel it!"
"Right!" Lloyd nodded and charged with him through the Papal Knights blocking the path, making sure he struck with the flat of his sword. He looked behind himself on occasion as he caught blows from their assailants to make sure Gesea and Sheelos were still following and not tripping on the steadily increasing row of unconscious armoured men. Colette was staying clear above the commotion by hovering vacantly and following just behind him as always. He dreaded if a Papal Knight actually landed a hit on him, remembering what had happened at the Renegade base. He and Yuan burst through the door leading to the main foyer and out the front door a second later. It had gotten dark while they had been inside and the street lamps were on now. Off in the distance they could see Papal Knights stationed to capture them if they tried to enter through the town circle.
"We're going to have to jump into the water," Sheelos exclaimed. "It's the only way."
They ran to the cliffs edge where the sea crashed against it a few metres down. It was definitely a survivable fall. Just as Sheelos was about to make the first jump down, Yuan caught her by the collar of her garb. "Maybe not." He tilted his head in the direction of a slightly raised sewer lid to the left of the academy. A woman with green hair and glasses was looking directly at them and waving for them to hurry. Lloyd briefly looked at Gesea. She didn't seem to disagree with their method of hiding for the time being. They all put their weapons away/made them disappear into another dimension and followed Yuan to the sewer drain. The woman opened the lid up further and headed them down a ladder into what looked like some kind of basement lab.
It was only when they got to the ground and all stood around in a semi circle that Lloyd got a good look of the woman that had probably saved them being captured. The sound of Papal Knight boots echoed when they walked over the sewer grate above and he could hear muffled yells to check the academy again to see where they could have gone.
The green haired woman with glasses wore a robe like a lot of the other academy goers. She also had slightly curvier ears like Yuan and Gesea. Lloyd smiled and held a hand out to her in greeting. "You're like Gesea and Yuan! Nice to meet you."
The woman glared at his hand. "Unbelievable. You think I would fall for your trick? You must have some kind of device to punish me."
Lloyd frowned and withdrew his hand. "Why would I punish you? You saved us." He looked at Yuan. "Even though I'm not really sure what you saved us from."
"I simply saw the girl in your custody," she replied, looking down at Gesea.
Gesea stepped backward quickly. "I'm not in anybody's custody. Who are you? Stay away."
"It is you," the woman gasped. She knelt down, "You're Gesea. Why are you here? Do you remember me? My name is Kate."
"Wait, you know Gesea?" Lloyd looked from Kate to Gesea. "How is that possible?
"I've gotta agree with the dashing darling," Sheelos nodded. "What gives? The kid's from Sylvarant."
Kate's eyes widened. "Sylvarant? The declining world? How can that be?"
Gesea's timid expression changed to downright terrified when Kate tried to move closer to her. Lloyd stepped in front. "Could you explain a bit more?"
Kate gave him a look of distrust that he still didn't understand but seemed to agree. She moved back from him and Gesea. "Gesea was my teams research sample." A look of terrified realisation washed over Gesea's face.
"Research?" Lloyd asked, beginning to get the feeling he knew where this was heading. "What kind of research?"
"We were to research how to manufacture Cruxis crystals inside the human body. Theoretically, they are no different than exspheres. By allowing them to slowly feed on a human body—"
"Wh…what?!" Lloyd cut her off. "That's the same way that the Desians make exspheres!"
Kate looked surprised at his knowledge and gave him a wary look. He clenched his fist at her. "How can you treat people like that?"
Her surprised expression faded and changed to the same look of distrust she had worn earlier. "I could ask you the same thing. How can you humans look at yourselves and call us freaks?!"
"I'm still not sure what's going on," he admitted. "Can someone explain?"
Gesea and Yuan glanced at one another, while Sheelos sighed and shrugged her shoulders. Colette said nothing of course. Kate looked at Yuan. "I also wanted to apologise. I have seen you before and knew what you were when I saw your strange mana signature. That is how the Pope found out." She looked at Lloyd. "I'm not sure how you managed to be caught in his custody though. I assume he is using you for his own selfish gains in return for keeping your secret and now is acting as though he knows nothing?"
Sheelos snorted at that. "If he was that smart, he would be the whole package." She looked at Yuan. "What's all this about 'what' you are?"
Yuan crossed his arms. "Hmph. Not that it should matter, but Gesea and I are half-elves. As is Kate."
Sheelos' mouth dropped, but Lloyd failed to see what was so shocking. "What does that even mean?"
"It means we have both a human and an elf parent," Gesea answered softly.
"Really?" Lloyd blinked. "I've never heard of the church allowing interspecies Salvatorians before. I thought it was forbidden because it wasn't a part of survival."
"That's because it is forbidden," Gesea mumbled. "It wasn't allowed."
"Huh?" Lloyd scratched his head. "I thought I was getting it, but I don't think I am."
"Use your own head a little Lloyd," Yuan mumbled. "If it wasn't allowed, what is the only other explanation?"
"That... a human and elf bred because.." Lloyd blinked again, barely believing the words that were coming out of his own mouth. "They bred because they wanted to?"
"Exactly," Yuan smiled proudly.
"But that makes no sense," Lloyd said, looking from him to Gesea and to Kate. "Why-"
"-It is exactly that way of thinking- that it makes 'no sense'- that causes those of our race to stay in hiding our whole lives," Kate cut him off, crossing her arms disapprovingly. "Those of us that are discovered spend our lives in fear of execution to protect the Churches way of life and are the pawns of the Church of Martel." She gestured to the lab around herself. "I myself only leave this laboratory if I am summoned by the Pope. I last left ten years ago." She eyeballed Yuan. "That is when I saw you and realised you were a half-elf. A lot of time passed here and I was left alone. Then I remembered you and asked to see the Pope." She bowed her head to him. "But I just couldn't watch them capture you as well."
"Your apologies are not necessary," Yuan replied. "Please tell us more about this experiment." He looked at Lloyd. "Is that alright with you Lloyd?"
Still confused, Lloyd nodded. "It doesn't matter to me whether you're full or half elves. I actually think it sounds cool. But right now we need to know more about the research."
Gesea gave him the first real smile he had seen in days and he felt somehow..warmer after seeing it. He wasn't sure what he'd said to make her smile like that, but he made a mental note to try and remember to do it more often.
"R..right," Kate replied. "Gesea was part of the experiment we called the Angelus Project."
"I knew it," Lloyd mumbled. "My mum was also involved in the project."
"Your mother?" Kate looked concerned. Gesea's earlier smile faded.
Lloyd nodded. "Do you know anything about her? I heard her subject name was A012."
Kate thought about it for a few seconds but shook her head. "I'm sorry. I was only involved with the experiment on Gesea and her younger sister. I know nothing of any other subjects or their subject numbers." She looked at Gesea. "I must say, I am very surprised at your improvements since I last saw you. Kraine must have found a way to get the old dwarf to help, despite his involvement with the program."
"There are dwarves in Tethe'alla too?" Lloyd asked hurriedly. It seemed like they might be in luck all of a sudden. He realised after that Kate's earlier sentence held more weight than one.
"So Kraine went through Tethe'alla too," Sheelos stated for the rest of them, putting her hand to her chin in thought.
"Yes, he came to me seeking help for Gesea." Kate looked at Gesea, who flinched and looked away. "The last time I saw you, you were little different to Colette." The scientist gazed at Lloyd. "As you probably know by now, an exsphere itself is nothing special. The last time I saw Gesea, her Cruxis crystal had a special key crest placed on it. The key crest delays the exsphere's parasitic process, which can take place over a few days or up to several decades. It seems this can cause exspheres to mutate into Cruxis crystals."
"Do you mean that Colette could die in a few days if we do not get her help?" Gesea asked, getting a little braver.
"It's possible," Kate replied. "I don't know the nature of her current key crest, but it's likely it is the same type of key crest you had worn once. Her exsphere has evolved into a Cruxis crystal, I can tell you that much just by looking at the colour of it. It may already be too late."
"Then we have to try to save her," Lloyd said, looking at the angel. It didn't seem fair. "Please tell us where this dwarf lives."
Kate looked reluctant. She gazed at Gesea and knelt down to be at her height. "Is it really true that you are friends with these humans?"
Gesea met Kate's eyes for the first time and she drew back a surprised breath. "Col...Lloyd and Sheelos are my friends. We are not under their control."
Kate stood then, looking confused. "It is very unusual, but if you say it, I'll believe you." She turned her head to Lloyd. "To save Colette, you will need to speak to a dwarf named Altessa who lives deep in Gaoracchia Forest."
"Then it's settled, that's where we're headed," Sheelos said, to much the parties surprise. Lloyd grinned and agreed, realising this meant Sheelos would be staying with them a bit longer.
"You should have no trouble leaving now," Kate said, looking at the ladder that led back up to the city. "I think they would have ordered their guards to watch the Grand Tethe'alla Bridge, so as long as you lay low and do not cross for a few days, you should be safe."
"Thanks Kate," Lloyd said, holding his hand out to her once more. She studied it like it was a different life-form at first but eventually reached out and took it. "Keep your friends close, Lloyd."
He smiled and nodded before heading to the ladder.
"Just one last thing," Sheelos said before she followed the group. "By whose order was Gesea's experiment carried out?
"I.. I can't say," Kate replied.
Yuan crossed his arms and shared a glance with Sheelos. "The Pope, then," he stated under his breath.
Kate didn't reply. They left her standing there when they heard Lloyd calling them from the top of the ladder to hurry up.