Pride, prejudice and spiteful dogs
Pride, prejudice and spiteful dogs
After getting used to the musty smell of the sewer, the usually stuffy Meltokio air seemed like something made by the heavens. Being the first out of the sewer, Lloyd looked up at the stars while he waited for his friends to emerge. They were pretty difficult to see thanks to the street lamps glowing all over the place, but he thought he could make out the shape of Orion's Belt if he squinted. Of course, he could see a sword and a shield if he squinted as well. Big cities weren't great for star gazing; even in Sylvarant where the air and atmosphere felt lighter somehow.
Yuan emerged from the sewer last and quickly moved the lid to its original position before they moved on. Following Sheelos through the shadows and avoiding the arcs of light the street lamps created as though city guards would magically appear if they so much as set one foot inside the area, they passed a weapon shop called Belteon and stopped in the shadows of a civilian house. Sheelos slipped around in the shadows of nearby trees to get better looks of the main road that led to all the other various levels and factions of the city. When she sent Yuan the universal hand symbol for "OK!", he led the charge out of hiding.
The main area near the gates was well lit and they had no choice but to be out in the open for everyone to see. His heart hammering so hard in his chest that he could hear it in his ears, Lloyd guiltily realised he was enjoying the danger until they passed the street corner that the Sancta Cassius Inn sat on and ran under a bridge through a set of open double gates.
A small house that looked like a mini version of Castle Tethe'alla loomed ahead, complete with blue triangular roofs and painted blue stained glass windows. Sheelos headed up to it and reached for the door handles without even hesitating a little. Lloyd couldn't help but be a little mesmerised by the otherworldly glow it gave off under the faint light from the street lamps just outside the gate. Meltokio was interesting! If they weren't trying to stay away from everything and everyone, he would have liked to have looked at the stonework and architecture of the city more. After a few more seconds of being awestruck, he followed his friends inside the building, a bit ashamed at his reluctance.
"Welcome to the Elemental Research Laboratory," Sheelos said proudly, looking at the room fondly. A bare looking lobby surrounded them with nothing much to look at except some gaudy looking designs on the far wall and a wooden desk with a pretty dead looking pot plant sitting on it to their right.
"What is this place, Sheelos?" Gesea asked. She looked uncomfortable and interested in equal measures.
"Oh." Sheelos seemed to realise the reason for her contempt, even though Lloyd didn't quite get it. "This is where I was sent to study my summoning artes. It's also the place where..." She trailed off, the excitement in her voice suddenly gone. "It's where a friend of mine was born."
"A friend?" Lloyd felt well and truly puzzled then.
"C'mon," Sheelos urged, an excited bounce in her step again and ignoring his follow up question. "Let me take you to see my friends." She was about to jump the railing on the left hand side of the lobby to take a shortcut down some stairs when she abruptly paused and turned, an odd smile on her face. "Okay, okay. Ya got me Kuchinawa. Well done."
A ball of smoke magically appeared right in front of her. Lloyd startled back until it faded and showed a man with a typical red Mizuho ninja outfit but with the added bonus of some spiked armour around his arms, a visor, and a little chainmail on his chest. "I hadn't expected to find you here, Sheelos," the ninja -Kuchinawa- said, looking at Sheelos up and down for a second and probably noticing how dirty her clothes were. Lloyd smelled himself out of curiosity and almost choked.
"Right back at ya," Sheelos laughed. "Why are you here?"
"I'm on a top-secret mission. What about you?" He cast his eyes from her to the rest of their swarvy group of adventurers. When he saw Yuan, his eyes went wide with recognition. "C..Cerberus! I uh..I mean Chosen!" Yuan grimaced and nodded in greeting.
"It's okay," Sheelos said, her voice lowering to an almost-whisper. "They all know who I really am."
Kuchinawa turned his head to her, looking shocked. "They do?"
"It's a long story," Lloyd laughed. "Are you one of Sheelos' friends?"
"Sheelos and I grew up together," Kuchinawa explained. Lloyd nodded and wondered what it would be like to grow up with a friend like that. He had only known Gesea for a few years, but he considered her his best friend. He wondered if being friends for so long like Kuchinawa and Sheelos blurred the relationship into something more like siblings.
Yuan sighed softly. "Lloyd, pay attention."
Lloyd realised he had missed part of the conversation. Sheelos and Kuchinawa were now heading downstairs. He quickly followed and immediately felt the temperature rise and the weight of the air get thicker. He was immediately faced with a laboratory similar to the one they had been in when they had met with Kate and learned about the Angelus Project. Various liquids bubbled in containers over burners on a table set in the middle of the small room. A large rock circled around inside a sphere shaped container connected to a pipe that ran the length of the table, making a comforting spinning noise that helped to lessen the silence in the room caused by their presence. Three pairs of eyes belonging to pointed elven faces watched the group descend the stairs.
"Sheelos!" An elven woman with chestnut hair parted to one side said as she waved and approached the red head with long brown hair parted on one side said. Sheelos waved casually at her, but the smile on her face was genuinely happy. The elf woman's eyes transferred from her to Yuan and all three flinched back. "It's the-"
"-It's the Chosen!" one of the two elven men standing in the corner behind the spinning rock finished, taking his glasses off and giving them a wipe. Yuan waved casually in greeting.
Sheelos crossed her arms. "Don't believe everything you hear about the Chosen."
The elves glanced at each other for a second before nodding in agreement. Sheelos looked over the various decanters on the table. "We've come because we need your help."
"I see," the elven woman -Fiona- said once they had explained their story as best they could. Lloyd kept his mouth shut for most of it, letting Sheelos and Yuan take the reigns. The elves didn't know anything about Sheelos' true identity so anything regarding Sheelos as the Chosen was off limits. They did however eventually explain that half of them were from Sylvarant and that Colette was the Chosen, despite Lloyd's inner feelings about that statement. He was still an angel, but so was she. They had been connected somehow once and now they weren't. He held his head in frustration suddenly and received worried looks from the group.
"It's nothing. Don't worry about it," he said with a sigh.
Yuan sighed too and gave him a long look. "Don't you know 'it's nothing' is universal language for 'it's something?'"
Gesea nodded. "Yuan's right Lloyd."
Lloyd lulled his head. "Gesea, you always agree with Yuan!"
"N-no I don't!" she denied, her hands going to her hips.
He shrugged it off and looked at the elves. They didn't know the full details of what had happened at the Tower of Salvation (and neither did they, really). "Anyway, can you help us?"
Sheelos nodded. "Yeah. I was wondering how you're going with the Elemental Cargo experiments."
"Elemen what?" Lloyd asked, blinking at the strange name.
"Elemental Cargo, typically called E.C," Gesea spoke up. She had a little booklet in her hands with a shiny blue cover. E.C was printed on the front in glittery cold colours. "It's a compact transport vehicle controlled by.." She gulped and Lloyd knew straight away by that reaction what was coming. It was the same as at the Grand Tethe'alla Bridge. "By Exspheres," Gesea finally continued. "Its maximum load weight is 1400 kilograms and maximum speed is more than three times faster than an upgraded Exsphere-equipped carriage."
She flipped the page she was on. "It says here that they are currently used primarily by shipping companies for delivery of goods. The Lezareno company has shares in it." She gave Sheelos a sour look. "Were you considering that we become packages, Sheelos?"
"What's wrong with packages?" Sheelos giggled a little. "They can be really good things sometimes!" She raised her eyebrows up and down. Lloyd tilted his head, confused as Gesea went bright red at her statement.
Fiona rolled her eyes and nudged Sheelos. "Here I was thinking that you'd finally grown out of your raging hormone stage."
Sheelos crossed her arms and grimaced. "I'll have you know I never went through that stage. It's just a way of life." She nodded to herself. "All handsome men in the world are just waiting to be seen and appreciated!"
"Just wait until you're twenty-one," the green haired elven man -Zayd- standing close by said to her. "Then you'll have to settle down with a Salvatorian for nine months!" He looked at Fiona, who glanced down and wiggled the gold ring on her Salvatorian finger.
Sheelos gaped at Fiona. "I didn't know you two had agreed to be Salvatorians!"
Lloyd glanced at the elven womans stomach and noticed for the first time a small bump. Fiona and Zayd shared a glance, smiled at each other, and quickly looked away again.
"W..well," Zayd stuttered. "We talked about it and since we work together it is only natural. The Church of Martel agreed, obviously."
"Obviously!" Fiona laughed. "Then when the baby is born it'll make things easier to manage too."
Lloyd smiled. "You guys sound like good friends. It's good to see Salvatorian's that are close like that." It made him homesick for Iselia.
"Anyway," Kuchinawa said, clearing his throat and looking at the other elven man in the room. His name was Ralph. "Is it possible to use E.C to transport people?"
"I don't see why not," Ralph replied. "It might be a bit bumpy though. If you had the use of Undine, it would be easier and be like surfing."
"Ah, gimme a break," Sheelos replied. "It's not like I wanted to neglect a summon spirit."
Kuchinawa started to leave first. "I know where the E.C's are located. You should leave before it gets light."
"Will it really be safe to travel in the sea at night?" Gesea asked.
"Not really," Yuan replied truthfully. "But I can use some light magic to make it a little easier once we get away from Meltokio and the Grand Tethe'alla Bridge."
Gesea looked a bit more comfortable with that idea and proceeded up the stairs of the lab, looking back and waving with a somewhat timid smile on her face to the three elves. Lloyd, Colette and Yuan left next, leaving Sheelos standing there.
She waited for them to disappear upstairs out of earshot before she turned to Fiona and Zayd. "Don't worry," she whispered. "I won't tell tell the Church. I'm actually just happy you're happy."
Two sets of eyes widened at her and the third belonging to Ralph turned to her as he jolted around from the bottles of different ingredients set in the cabinet he had been sifting through. She was filled with the satisfaction of being right but tried her best to remain calm. The elves looked pretty panicked all of a sudden. Not that she could blame them. "Just be careful at the moment. The Pope has his radar out for half-elves more now than ever."
"H..half-elf?" Fiona stuttered. "W..what's that?"
"C'mon," Sheelos groaned, putting one hand on her hips. "You guys don't have to pretend. I know about them now."
The elves didn't meet her eyes. She realised with a bit of frustration that she was going to have to do more than that to reassure them. "It's still really confusing how you guys exist but.." She bit her lip and tried to erase the images of red snow from her mind. Like always, she saw her mothers face and her bleeding lips moving to those words before the memory faded.
"Sh-Sheelos!" Fiona gasped. "You're biting your lip too hard."
Sheelos blinked out of her memory to feel the trickle of blood going down her chin. She quickly wiped it away and licked her lips. "I was just going to say that it's confusing, but there's nothing fundamentally wrong with wanting to be in your loving relationship."
Before they could say anything else to her, she quickly slipped away and up the stairs to join the rest of the group. Kuchinawa was giving them the low down on how the E.C worked.
"What do you mean it fits in this thing?" Lloyd asked, holding up the small package Kuchinawa had given him and waving it around. It looked just like any old fabric pouch. He raised an eyebrow at Kuchinawa suspiciously. "Sheelos put you up to this, didn't she."
"Excuse me?" Kuchinawa asked, offended.
"They don't have wing packs in Sylvarant," Sheelos laughed, not having seen a natural expression like that on Kuchinawa for a long time. "They're just a bunch of country bumpkins over there."
"Hey!" Gesea complained.
"Gee, sorry," Lloyd added after mimicking her words exactly.
She took a quick couple of steps back. Though she hadn't yet felt the temper of Gesea physically, she didn't want to. "H..hey," she stuttered. "I meant that in the nicest, most affectionate of ways!" She flitted over to Lloyd, hoping her best smile would soften him up a bit. "You know I could never think badly of you darling! Your simple-mindedness is what makes you so endearing!"
Even if she was exaggerating to him, it was partly true and was one of the many reasons she had found herself unable to follow through on her sworn orders. Sylvarant was like stepping back in time, but a part of her secretly liked that. Mizuho was secluded from the rest of the world anyway and in many ways it'd seemed like a home away from home.
"I'll meet you at the dock just before the Grand Tethe'alla Bridge at midnight," Kuchinawa said. "Don't be late."
"Hey wait Ku-" Sheelos didn't even get to finish her sentence. Kuchinawa did his signature trick of dropping a good old fashioned smoke bomb to the floor and 'disappearing'. Even she had to admit his trick was pretty believable. She only just managed to see the front door close shut quietly as it was. It was no wonder the untrained eye thought ninja's could disappear and reappear like magic.
"Wow," Lloyd cooed, studying the spot Kuchinawa had stood with his pair of said untrained eyes. Gesea looked equally as mystified despite her intelligence.
"Shall we be off?" Yuan asked, standing next to Sheelos. She gave a short nod and started out of the door with him. The other three would follow eventually.
Lloyd discovered three things during their trek through the Meltokio sewers; the first being the men that they had knocked unconscious earlier were nowhere to be seen. Yuan warned them to stay on alert but Lloyd didn't really feel all that threatened. Secondly, the man that Kraine had quite literally back-stabbed was now lying on the ground in a more relaxed pose rather than the face-first way he had initially died. His eyelids had been shut and his hands were folded across his chest. Thirdly, they discovered that the short dagger that Kraine had used on him was no longer sticking in his back thanks to Yuan shifting the body to the side out of what seemed like pure curiosity. Looking closer at the wound, it was easy to see the man had died instantly. Kraine didn't just have good aim, he had spectacular precision. Gesea, though her voice sounded reluctant, explained that a slight miscalculation of the trajectory of the dagger would have meant a very slow and painful death. Lloyd wondered who had taught him to fight but doubted he would get many answers from the horses mouth.
After meeting with the ever excitable Noishe and Lloyd needing to scramble out from under the dogs giant paws with some coaxing from Yuan, they set out for the Grand Tethe'alla Bridge. The few monsters that got brave enough to approach didn't stand a chance. Lloyd didn't even bother to draw his swords. Yuan was too fast for everything. He supposed the half-elf had learned to fight from his experience in protecting the Chosen.
Kuchinawa greeted them just above the artificial beach where they had all earlier regrouped after their escapade. "This is the E.C," the ninja explained, gesturing to the enormous boat sitting on the water that looked like a cross between a rheaird and raft.
Lloyd stared at it, brought out the 'wing pack' he had been given earlier to look at it, and then turned his gaze on it again. Unable to contain his curiosity, he spoke up. "How do I use that with this?" He dangled the wing pack in front of himself so that everyone could see what he was talking about.
"Why don't you open it and see," Kuchinawa said. "I told you this earlier."
Ignoring the frustrated ninja's tone, Lloyd did as he said and opened it.
"Now go touch the E.C with it," Kuchinawa explained, reluctance in his voice. Lloyd did as he said and jumped back when the Elemental Cargo disappeared like magic as the wing pack touched it.
"Now release the string," Sheelos said, grinning at how surprised the Sylvarant portion of the group were at the basic technology. Lloyd obeyed and gasped loudly in amazement when the ship/raft came flying out of the tiny thing and sat on the water. He repeated the action twice more, still in awe. Gesea shook her head in embarrassment. Despite her actions though, she looked almost as curious and amazed as the red-clad boy who was currently laughing to himself about all the huge things he could carry with him with the wing-pack now.
"I hate to be a party pooper, but it only carries technology that's made using Ex-spheres," Sheelos said. She really did hate it. Lloyd didn't seem too phased though and had already moved on to saying that they should get in. For once, Kuchinawa seemed satisfied with the words out of his mouth. "You should get going before we all get discovered and executed."
Thanking him, Lloyd, Colette and Gesea seated themselves in the E.C cargo bay, now dubbed the seating area. Noishe stood on the edge of the dock, putting one leg out to attempt to think about getting on but then hesitating and quickly setting it back on the ground.
"C'mon Noishe!" Lloyd called. Gesea joined in trying to get the "dog" to join them. Together they started to do all manner of silly things. It was only a matter of time before they started using baby voices, Sheelos thought with an inward cringe.
"Sheelos," Kuchinawa called before she and Yuan went to leave to get in. He caught her hand and placed something in it before doing his usual disappearing act.
Sheelos frowned and looked down at what he had placed in her hand. It was a small emerald green coloured paper crane tied to a string. Words in the secret language of Mizuho were printed in small letters along the wings. She turned closer to her face and in the direction of the moonlight to read them. "May you find what you are most deserving of in the near future."
They were...slightly odd words to read, but the colour and style meant good luck. She pocketed it and cut in front of Yuan to get into the E.C before all the good seats were taken.
Yuan sighed and glanced at Noishe. "Some things never change. I should have gotten in first."
Noishe whined in response.
Yuan raised an eyebrow at him. "You think I'd let you, a dog, take the helm of the E.C?" He walked past the green and white fluffball and couldn't contain his grin. He could practically feel the dirty look he was getting. "Besides," he mumbled as he lowered himself off of the side of the low jetty to their vehicle, "your tail makes you much more suited for rear end duties."
Noishe barked indignantly at him, clearly insulted. It would have probably sent him deaf if he hadn't ducked and scrambled for the spot at the front of their transport. The E.C wobbled again for a short time when Noishe finally gained the courage to step on. Gesea and Lloyd congratulated him with all manner of "good boy!"
Not even stopping for a pat, the dog trampled over the group and laid in the small crevice beside Yuan at the front near the steering panel. Yuan allowed himself to chuckle under his breath when Noishe looked at him with an open-mouthed pant. The children's calls for him to get into the E.C had nothing to do with his decision. It was pure honest-to-goodness spite.
Pressing the go button on the E.C and allowing the motor to slowly roar to life, he set one hand on the dogs neck and gently scratched, momentarily lost in thought until Sheelos impatiently yelled his name for them to hurry up and go before they sunk. He moved the throttle on the E.C slowly, hoping that it drove like his rheaird. Unfortunately it was a little more sensitive. The group let out varied yells, curses and howls as they sped away from the dock and through the sea away from the Grand Tethe'alla Bridge.