Boats, battle banter & bathroom smells
Boats, battle banter, and bathroom smells
"I can't believe Sheelos is the Chosen of Tethe'alla.." Gesea said as she leaned up against the wall of the Vice-Chief's house.
Lloyd nodded, having been in thought about that since Sheelos had left them. "Looks like Yuan has some explaining to do, again."
"Do you suppose they had a reason for lying to us?" Gesea asked. Lloyd looked at her and she continued. "I mean, if Yuan knew Sheelos was really the Chosen but was pretending to be the Chosen himself, there has to be a good explanation for it, right?" She looked down and kicked her feet on the moist sandy ground that formed most of the path around the village.
"You're thinking about Professor Kraine again," Lloyd noticed. When Gesea flinched slightly and her expression saddened, he kind of wished he hadn't been so observant. He copied her and kicked his shins against the dirt while looking to the bridge ahead and to the entrance of the village. Yuan hadn't followed them. He'd probably stayed behind to hold off the Papal Knights. "We don't really know what they were doing yet."
Gesea mumbled in half-hearted agreement.
Lloyd went back to gazing around the village. Mizuho, despite not being made of gold, was still interesting and mystical. Women walked around in long robes with giant belts decorated with even more enormous bows at the back and had their hair done up with large pins that reminded him of tent picks. The men fell into two categories. Some walked around in a male version of the female robes, except without the belts and bows around their waists. Instead they had pants that flared out as they got lower to their ankles. Their robes were darker grey-blues or red-browns, while the women's were colourful pinks, yellows and purples. Other men wore the same types of garb as Orochi, the ninja that had greeted them at the front gate earlier.
As though his own thoughts had summoned him, Orochi stepped out of the house behind them through its strange wooden windowed door. "Vice-Chief Tiga has expressed his interest in meeting you. Please follow me."
Telling Noishe to stay, Lloyd turned and looked at Gesea in confusion when he realised the ninja was leading them away from the door and around the side of the house. She shrugged and followed, he did the same. Colette followed absently as always, her angel wings away again.
"The entrance to the Chief's dwelling is filled with traps that anyone inexperienced in the Igaguri style of Ninjutsu would set off," Orochi eventually explained after turning to see their perplexed expressions. He knocked three times on a part of the wall and Lloyd let out a yelp when he found himself being swept away from his spot and into the building he'd been facing only a second ago.
Once his head stop spinning, Lloyd saw a simple hallway with creamy white walls, a couple of clay urns and some odd looking weapons surrounded him. Orocho pulled open two sliding screens directly in front of them to reveal the familiar red-haired Sheelos sitting on a cushion across the table from a black haired man wearing stark white robes with yellow and black trimmings. He must have been Tiga. Lloyd temporarily wondered whether all people in the village dressed according to their name meanings until Tiga looked at him. "Visitors from Sylvarant. Please, join us."
Gesea bowed her head respectfully and glared at Lloyd to do the same. He obeyed and walked with her to the side of the table Sheelos was sitting. He dropped down next to her, and Gesea next to him. The red haired apparently-the-real-Chosen flashed an odd smile at him when their eyes met. Smiling back, he waited for her smile to grow into a grin and for her to mention him and "dashing darling" in the same sentence. His expectations weren't met though and he found himself awkwardly scratching the back of his head while Tiga gazed at him with fierce but kind eyes from across the table.
"I'm Lloyd," he introduced, possibly a little too quickly. He looked at his best friend. "And this is Gesea." He turned his head slightly. "Behind me is Colette. I'm not sure if Sheelos has told you our situation yet?" He was sure he saw Sheelos flinch and gave her a questioning look. She didn't look him in the eye, instead concentrating on the mug of steaming green tea on the table in front of herself. He felt the stare of Tiga on him and slowly gazed back at the Vice-Chief.
"You will address Sheelos as the Chosen in this village," Tiga said seriously, but not angrily. "Nothing more or less."He gazed at Sheelos and she met his eyes with confidence and something else Lloyd couldn't place. "The Chosen had to give you her true name for the purpose of keeping her real identity a secret in Sylvarant, but I would ask that you not utter it too loudly outside of this room." He looked at Orochi. Lloyd smiled at seeing a ninja flinch, but he couldn't blame him. Tiga's eyes were pretty much pinning him to the wall. "Those that do use her name are usually punished."
He lifted the teapot that sat in the middle of the table and offered them a cup of tea. Lloyd took the small cup and held it with the tips of his fingers. Gesea did the same and swiftly put hers down on the table. She gazed at Lloyd as he sipped his, looking confused. He didn't understand why and waited for Tiga to say more.
"As Chief Igaguri is ill, I will speak on his behalf," the man explained. He briefly glanced over to a small squared off area behind a brown mesh curtain. "People of Sylvarant, what do you plan to do in Tethe'alla, the land of your enemies?"
"I plan to find a way for both worlds to live in harmony with each other," Lloyd answered.
Tiga chuckled, but not in a condescending way. "You are an idealist. The worlds of Tethe'alla and Sylvarant flourish only by victimizing one another. So long as that structure remains the same, anything you say is mere sophistry."
"That's why I'm going to change that structure." The red-clad twin swordsman stood from his spot and almost slopped his tea over himself. Gesea panicked and ducked out of the way when she saw how much the cup was wobbling. He continued on, despite the fact that he hadn't yet fully thought through what he was saying. "If the world was made by Yggdrasil, we should be able to change it as well!"
The next part of his thoughts felt like a well rehearsed line. It was the question that had been playing on repeat in his mind since his experience in the Tower of Salvation. "There needs to be a way to stop the Desians and Cruxis from continuing what they're doing."
"Yggdrasil? Cruxis?" Tiga asked, looking at Sheelos. Lloyd realised with a degree of surprise that she hadn't yet told him about the organisation of angels. He opened his mouth to explain on her behalf but found himself interrupted by a loud rumbling sound and the floor underneath him shuddering. The doors Orochi had closed behind them when they'd entered the living room of the house slid open and they all saw the familiar face of a blue-haired half-elf.
Yuan waved casually at them before casting a glance on Orochi and Tiga. "Cruxis is just another organisation on the Sylvarant side of the world that have been working against the Renegades and alongside the Desians." It seemed like he'd been able to hear their conversation. Lloyd wondered why he was lying though. He looked at Sheelos.
"Just go along with it," she mouthed, while Tiga had his head turned.
"Yuan the Cerberus," Tiga said, standing to regard him. "It is a relief to know that you are safe."
"Your Chosen did not make that an easy task," Yuan replied with his usual smirk.
Tiga looked remorseful. "I apologise for the burden she has placed on you."
Yuan shook his head. "It is not a problem. My ancestors have all been guardians of the Chosen for Mizuho. It is only natural for me to continue the trend." He looked pointedly at Lloyd as he said that. Lloyd sincerely hoped that wasn't all he'd be able to get out of Yuan without resorting to a Game of Questions.
"Cerberus, what do you think of the words of the Sylvaranti?" Tiga asked. "Your opinion is vital. Lloyd speaks just like the Hero Mithos. He was also a sublime idealist."
Yuan looked at Lloyd. "Although Mithos the Hero and Lloyd do share some traits, it is easy to see that he is not Mithos."
Lloyd wondered why the ex-professor said that with such a serious face but decided it wasn't the right time to delve. "That's right," he said in agreement. "I'm going to save Sylvarant and Tethe'alla my way, with the help of my friends." He smiled down at Gesea. She smiled back nervously.
Tiga gave him a puzzled look and the room remained quiet for a time. Eventually the Vice-Chief stroked his chin and spoke. "I see. This is why the Chosen and the Cerberus are committed your cause. Your words have the power to move and guide people. Well then, we shall search alongside you and do what we can to assist you in cleaving this new path."
Sheelos opened her mouth in a surprised gape. "Do you mean?"
"The Cerberus has spoken highly on the matter," Tiga said. "We will use our information network to aid Lloyd to ensure the highest chance of success." The words spoken from his mouth when he looked at Sheelos seemed hardened somehow to Lloyd. He stopped wondering why when Tiga looked at him again. "In return for our help, the people of Mizuho will wish to move to Sylvarant when the path to prosperity is clear."
"M..move to Sylvarant?!" Lloyd's head spun. "But I don't really have the right to decide if you're allowed to do that."
"Neither does anyone else," Sheelos pointed out. "It might as well be you, Lloyd."
"The Chosen speaks correctly. All we need is for you to aid us in our move," Tiga confirmed.
Lloyd looked at Gesea for her thoughts. "It doesn't seem like a bad decision," she replied. "But it is important to hurry up and make it so that we can continue with our search on what needs to be done to accomplish our task."
Lloyd looked at Colette, but got silence. He briefly glanced at Sheelos and Yuan but decided they would be agreeing with Tiga on the matter anyway. He turned to Tiga and did his best to portray his confidence, despite how unsure he still felt about everything. "Okay then, it's settled. We're going to look for a way to change the two worlds. Let's work together."
"Then I hereby order the Chosen and the Cerberus to continue to accompany you on your journey. Not only as observers this time, but as representatives." He looked at Yuan. "I have no doubt that your continued efforts will make us proud." He turned from Yuan to Sheelos. "I can tell what you're thinking, Chosen."
Sheelos didn't look surprised. Lloyd guessed she had known the Vice-Chief for a long time. In a lot of ways, Mizuho reminded him of Iselia- a small community where everyone knew each other. "Are the people of Mizuho sure they want to turn the Royals and the Church against them?" Sheelos asked, voicing what Tiga apparently knew.
"It is not as though we are given a choice in the matter," Tiga replied. Sheelos recoiled when his expression on her hardened again. "You failed to kill Sylvarant's Chosen." He gestured to Colette. "The people of Mizuho now face persecution for our failure under oath from the Tethe'alla Royal Family and the Church of Martel, regardless of the situation we choose. You said you were chased here by the Pope's Papal Knights. It is only a matter of time."
Lloyd looked at Sheelos again. Tiga's words about wanting to move Mizuho to Sylvarant suddenly made more sense. "You never said anything about that."
"I didn't figure it'd matter," Sheelos replied, her voice hollow. "Not like it'd change anything. I've placed myself on the losing side this time."
"Then we'll just have to make our side the winning side," Lloyd reassured confidently. There had to be a way. There was more going on in the operations of Cruxis than they knew about. If only they could figure out what. He looked at Tiga, hoping he had an explanation.
It was Yuan that spoke up, however. "The logical thing to do would be to get the Rheairds working once again so that travel becomes possible between Sylvarant and Tethe'alla."
Tiga agreed and looked at Sheelos. "Cerberus is correct. For the rheairds to function again, they will likely need to be charged with mana."
"That's where the summon spirit Volt comes in, right?" Gesea asked. She looked at Yuan. "I remember you saying about Volt when we first crashed our Rheairds. Do you know where that summon spirit is located?"
"Volts temple is located across the sea," Tiga answered for Yuan. "People of our village have been there once before..." He trailed off when Sheelos abruptly stood, joining Lloyd in making the room look untidy. Sheelos opened her mouth, stuttered for a second and then stopped. She bowed her head and excused herself from the room without so much as another word. The floor rumbled as the secret door twisted around and allowed her to leave the house.
"You'll have to excuse the Chosen," Tiga said, stealing another glance at the curtained off corner of the room. "This is a somewhat sensitive issue for her. The Chosen failed to form a pact with Volt once before when we first joined forces with the Renegades. That is the reason why the Chief is in a coma."
Lloyd looked to his right to the small hallway adjacent to them. "What happened?"
Tiga went to reply when Yuan spoke up over him. "That is something only the Chosen has the right to tell. Let us be respectful of her." His voice came out in a scowl as he looked at the Vice-Chief. Once again, Lloyd couldn't help but feel like he was only getting half the story. Yuan turned his back to Tiga and his head toward Lloyd. "We know our next mission. Let's find the Chosen and find a way to get to Volt."
"I agree," Gesea nodded. "I feel bad for Shee-the Chosen. Let's make sure she is okay, okay Lloyd?"
He agreed and followed her to the exit, bidding goodbye to Tiga for the time being.
"Lloyd," Yuan called to him. He stopped following Gesea and turned to blue haired ex-professor. He felt the cool air of Mizuho briefly wafting in from behind when the secret passage opened for her to leave. Behind Yuan he could see Orochi closing the partition between the hall and the living room to give Tiga more privacy. Elaborating on his call for him to pause, Yuan reached under his cloak for something. He brought it out and opened his hand to reveal it. Lloyd gaped at what he saw. It was the painted Noishe figurine that he had given to Kraine for safe keeping. He took it and looked at the bluenette questioningly.
Yuan gave him a cynical smile. "I didn't get it back for you. Don't get the wrong impression. That was all Kraine."
"Thanks," he replied habitually, confused now. Somewhere in the deepest reaches of his mind, he'd been hoping that Kraine would come back to them and explain himself. He hoped he would explain why he was an angel of Cruxis to begin with, and why he was content to let the worlds suffer. It didn't seem like something the Professor he had known would do. He realised he'd been standing still in thought for too long when he was slightly winded by the spinning wall of the house and found himself looking at the impatient faces of Sheelos and Gesea, and hearing the indignant woof of Noishe.
"Sh..Chos..Shee.." he stuttered, looking Sheelos in the eye and quickly slipping the Noishe figurine into his trouser pocket so Gesea didn't see. He thought he would have had to traipse around the village to find her crying somewhere. She stood there looking as quirky as ever though and with a giant mischievous grin on her face.
"It's okay Lloyd. I just needed some air." She laughed and pointed to the entrance of Mizuho, and then to the sky. "If we leave now, we can travel across the Grand Tethe'alla bridge during nightfall. We're less likely to be spotted then." She looked at Colette. "As long as Colette keeps her wings away."
"..." Colette responded, to nobody's surprise.
"Is this to meet with your contacts in Meltokio?" Gesea asked. She looked worried. "Going past the bridge is one thing, but what about avoiding being seen in Meltokio. This doesn't seem like a very good idea."
Lloyd had to agree with her.
"Don't worry, the Chosen has a plan," Yuan grimaced. Sheelos grimaced back knowingly. "Let's handle one thing at a time anyway." She ventured closer to Lloyd. "Let's get out of here so you can all stop calling me that."
Lloyd was surprised at how far Sheelos and Yuan had travelled through the Gaoracchia forest to get to Ozette with him and Gesea sleeping the previous night. It took some time to find their way back to the clearing where they had met Kraine and he and Yuan had fought off the Papal Knights. As they walked through it and around the outskirts of Ozette, Lloyd observed the tell-tale signs of battle. There were some bald patches on the ground from where people had fallen down, gashes and scrapes on large stones and rocks from missed sword strikes, and the occasionally glittering chink of stray chain mail links that had either been cut off or fallen off during battle.
After that, he used his sorcerers ring under Yuan and Sheelos's guidance to destroy plants that grew in their way. The occasional monster approached them from around the corner, but Lloyd found himself unable to even draw his swords before they were wiped out and they were on their way again. If it wasn't Colette protecting him from danger, it was Yuan. Between them, Lloyd was starting to wonder whether he should give up fighting all together and just daydream about his next big project instead. The boat would be awesome. He needed to start drawing some plans up for it. Unfortunately it was impossible for him to draw designs while keeping up with his friends, so he turned his attention to getting some actual answers out of the 'Cerberus' and the real Chosen of Tethe'alla.
"There's one thing I don't get," he started and set his gaze on Yuan, who had been surprisingly quiet since their discussion in the village with Tiga. "Why did Mizuho send the Chosen of Mana to assassinate me?" He looked at Sheelos and she glanced away. Yuan looked uncomfortable with the question too. Lloyd only got more curious. "You're meant to protect her, right Yuan? Letting the Chosen be sent to another world doesn't sound very protective."
"Lloyd," Yuan said, looking over him sternly. "You-"
"-Because," Sheelos interrupted softly, "I begged them to send me. I asked the Chief to send me when we first had contact with the Renegades and agreed to their plan. Then the Chief became.. ill.. and I then pleaded with Tiga. I was accepted right away after that and began training for the day that Pietro would send word to Tethe'alla."
"Pietro?" Gesea asked. She knitted her eyebrows for a few seconds, recalling the name. "That was the name of the man in Hima that was sick." She looked sad. "We never did get a chance to help him get better."
"Pietro is fine," Sheelos smiled. "He contacted Mizuho only a few days ago to tell them how things were going. They didn't tell me how he recovered though."
Lloyd was curious but he had more important questions to fry. "Why did you wanna kill us.. kill me.. so badly?"
That sounded weird. He wished he could take the slip of the tongue back. Nobody pulled him up on it though and Sheelos fell quiet at his question again. He looked at Yuan, but the bluenette had a look of pure refusal on his face as he walked with his eyes peeled on the surroundings as though they were in danger.
Sheelos let out a heavy sigh. "I was the most expendable assassin in Mizuho, regardless of being the Chosen. Yuan "the Cerberus" more than proved himself capable of protecting me anyway. At the time it was a win-win for me too." Her eyes flashed over Lloyd with regret.
"Killing Col meant that you wouldn't need to become an angel.." Gesea muttered, beating Lloyd to the punch at getting her meaning. The pinkette's expression grew dark and pained and an awkward silence came over the group. All they could hear was the crunch of leaves and grass under their feet and the sound of Noishe panting for a time. When Sheelos was the first to snap from boredom and repetitive noise, she put one arm around Yuan and the other around Lloyd. Lloyd flinched and tentatively watched Colette while the assassin-chosen laughed forcefully. "That's all in the past now! Like you said darling Lloyd, let's look for a better future!"
"R..right," he stuttered in agreement.
Sheelos released him from her grip and dashed on ahead of them. "C'mon! Let's try and get through the Grand Tethe'alla bridge. It's starting to get dark now."
The bridge was lit by small lamp posts along the way, but Sheelos was adept at keeping to the shadows. Yuan seemed to be a natural at it as well. Lloyd couldn't help but watch in awe as the image he'd once had of a simple elven teacher that had taught him what it meant to be a Chosen as well as a person evolved right in front of his very eyes. Sheelos would hide behind a big bridge truss, then quickly dart to another one. Yuan followed her example and waved for Gesea and Noishe to come after him. Lloyd was last on the pecking order. He waited with his hand in Colette's for the signal. When Gesea waved, he made a mad dash for the next truss, the wind off of the water below styling his hair for him as he went.
They eventually came to the part of the bridge where the Papal Knights stood. They didn't appear to be paying any particular attention to their surroundings though. The young person in the cat costume they'd seen on their way to Sybak was playing a game with several other young children. He turned his back to them and they tried to get as close as they could before he turned around. Lloyd watched while he waited for the signal to move again. Red light, Green light, it was called. The children in Iselia used to play that game all the time. He'd played one recess with them but had been disqualified from playing any more when he won three times in a row and had been accused of using his "dormant angel abilities."
He almost missed the signal to run that time, only being pulled out of his memories by a small tug on the hand from Colette. He ran to the next truss and looked at the angel girl quizzically. "Do you know what's going on around you, Colette?"
They continued past the Papal knights and eventually made it. They hid in the shadows off to the side of the bridge to regroup. Gesea unzipped her backpack and brought out a jacket for heavy wind and rain while Sheelos looked on at her enviously as she rubbed her hands together. Lloyd gave them questioning looks and then looked at Yuan, who shrugged. "I suppose the girls feel the cold a little more." He looked at Colette and stuttered. "Our non-angel girls anyway."
Once Gesea was snug as a bug in a rug, they headed for the Tethe'allan capital in the darkness of the night. It was a short trek and the monsters once again posed little threat. Lloyd started to make a game out of how long it took for them to destroy them and started thinking of catch phrases to say at the end of their battles. His favourite one was "Did everyone see me?" Only because it was followed by sarcastic "Yeah, you did great Lloyd!" responses from the rest of the group before they all laughed together.
The banter quickly stopped when they got close to Meltokio though. Sheelos put her fingers to her lips to hush them and led them all past the Papal Knights on guard duty. The gate into Meltokio was closed, probably to stop them. The assassin-Chosen led them around the side wall of the city and to a wide sewer grate. The sound of trickling water could be heard from nearby. Lloyd did a double take when Sheelos started to turn sideways to slip inside through the bars.
"What is this place, Sheelos?" Gesea asked, holding her nose. It wasn't like she needed to ask though. The smell wafting through the gaps was pretty funky.
"I told you I had a secret way to get into Meltokio, didn't I?" Sheelos queried. "The waste water from the city comes through here. From here you can get just about anywhere in the city, given enough time." She looked at Yuan. "The "Chosen" uses this route fairly often to escape the city harpies and I use it to get to the Elemental Research Laboratory."
Lloyd grinned and slipped through the bars after her, Colette right behind him. "That's a pretty good way of sneaking in Sheelos. Is this another one of those special spots?" He looked around himself at the sewer system. It smelled but it didn't look dirty.
"Yeah, like your other spot in the Gaoracchia forest?"
"Oh!" Sheelos scoffed a laugh. "No darling. It's just a means from A to B this time."
Gesea and Yuan shared a glance before starting after them. Realising that he was too big to fit through the bars, Noishe let out a soft whine and dropped to his stomach to wait for their return.