Not of the garden variety
Not of the garden variety
"Undine! I demand a pact with you!"
Lloyd blinked his eyes open at the sound of Sheelos yelling and had to shield them from the glare of a rising sun. Gesea shifted from her spot against Noishe next to him and wiped some sleep dust out of her eyes.
"What's going on?" She looked at Yuan, who looked the most awake out of them.
"Why don't you go and see for yourself?" he said, pointing to a rocky area near the sea that faced the grassy hills and Tower of Salvation of the other continent. "But don't get too close," he added.
Lloyd and Gesea shrugged at each other and stood from their spot, both taking quick stretches and running to where Sheelos could be heard making sounds that sounded like she was fighting. As they ran, they watched her somersault backward and make a few different poses with her hands. White cards appeared out of nowhere around her and a light coloured barrier summoned itself.
They both skidded to a halt when they heard a familiar underwater-sounding female voice yell "Spread!" and saw a massive wave of water rise from the sand around Sheelos. She stood perfectly still. The water stretched around the barrier she had erected and flew into the air before it disappeared in the same way Lloyd had seen Gesea's magic vanish.
Sheelos briefly looked in their direction and then back at the space they couldn't see behind the rocks. The mystery of her assailant didn't last though when Undine charged directly at her with one of her arms becoming a long pointed sword. Sheelos caught her assault by drawing her short sword and clashing with her. She overpowered Undine and somersaulted over her.
"We have to help-"
"-Didn't you listen to what I said?" Yuan interrupted Lloyd, moving from behind to stand next to him and Gesea. "Undine already made it clear that Sheelos is to fight her on her own as a part of the bargain of using her."
Lloyd strained to remember.
"You were wounded at the time. I wouldn't blame you if you don't remember," Yuan reasoned. He observed the battle with interest. "We are likely to feel the wrath of Undine once again if we do not allow the pact to be made under her conditions." His eyes widened only slightly when Undine got a hit on Sheelos and sent her crashing with a skid into the sand. A cloud of the small yellow granules smoked the area and they lost sight of her. Lloyd bit his lip and averted his gaze. Yuan was right, but he didn't have to be happy about it. He clenched his fists around the hilts of his swords.
Undine chased Sheelos around the rocks and sand. The others probably hadn't noticed it, but she had. Undine was getting slower at using her 'Spread' magic and she was able to accurately time her barriers to avoid the brunt of the attack. With that said, she knew she couldn't afford to be overconfident. Undine took another dive through the air at her, slashing her sword-arm. Deciding she wasn't going to let the summon spirit push her into the sand again, she quickly took the correct paper out of her garb and ducked under Undine's arm. With only a fraction of a second before she was severely injured to pull it off, she pushed the seal onto the summon spirit. "Pyre seal!"
Undine gasped loudly and flew backward into the jagged rocks. She made to get up but quivered and remained where she was. Sheelos stared, unable to believe it was over. Something didn't seem right about being able to knock Undine down so easily. "Splendid," the summon spirit said, slowly getting back up and hovering toward her.
Sheelos kept on guard, wondering if this was some kind of trick. She jumped out of her skin and fumbled with her dagger when she heard Undine's voice in her head. "Now, swear your vow. Upon what vow do you form our pact?"
Still unbelieving that the fight was over, Sheelos stayed guarded while searching her memory banks for the well rehearsed line she'd thought through since their first encounter with the summon spirit of water. "There are people at this very moment that are suffering with the way this world has been created and governed. I vow to save them."
Undine didn't respond right away. Instead she just gazed blankly. Sheelos felt like clicking a finger in front of her when it started to get awkward. "Understood," Undine answered finally. "I pledge my power to you, Sheelos." Her form disappeared into the colourful rainbow bubbles again, leaving only a blue egg-shaped gem in her wake. It dropped to the sand with a light thud and Sheelos leaned to pick it up. "I entrust my aquamarine heart to you as a symbol of my trust," she heard Undine say in her head again and dropped the stone back to the sand. Feeling her ears grow hot with embarrassment as Lloyd, Gesea, Colette and Yuan approached, she picked it up again and prepared herself for the voice. Nothing happened and she only barely managed to resist the urge to roll her eyes.
"Wow Sheelos!" Lloyd clapped. "You did it!" Gesea clapped in regards as well and Yuan nodded.
"The great Sheelos Wilderbayashi even has the ladies falling at her feet!" Sheelos gloated.
Rather than the raised eyebrow reactions she had expected, Lloyd's mouth formed into a surprised circle. "So summon spirits can be a boy or a girl?"
She felt sweat on the back on her neck. "I.. I suppose so." She hadn't really thought too much about it though. Undine had a female voice and looked feminine, so she'd just assumed it was the case.
"In any case, we are all awake now," Yuan said finally, taking some of the heat off of her in the well practised way they'd done for so many years. "We should start to traverse the mountain side."
Lloyd cheered with glee. "We're finally going to go to the mine to help Colette!" He looked at Colette. "Did you hear that Colette?"
She stared blankly as always. "..."
At first he'd been excited at the scenery, but as time wore by, the red-clad twin swordsman slowly expressed his distaste for the same thing all the time more and more. Yuan remained neutral to it despite his blooming aggravation. Gesea on the other hand had grown so painfully aware at the repetitive conversation that by the time late afternoon came, she called for them to set up camp so that they could get some rest. Lloyd's unrest seemed to be the main reason for it, but a part of Yuan did wonder whether they were pushing her young body a bit hard.
He agreed to her suggestion, glad to stop grinding his teeth to remind himself to be patient. They were three quarters of the way around the mountainside to get to the mine now and a place like the one they were currently situated offered protection from monsters and from the wind that carried off the sea.
Once they were seated by a crackling camp fire and Sheelos began heating the soup leftovers from the previous night, it was conversation time again. Lloyd curiously watched Gesea bounce a ball connected to a string around with the non-lethal side of her kendaxe while occasionally looked at Sheelos' meal and asking what ingredients she put in it. Eventually he moved onto pointing the differences of the stars and constellations out to Colette. She didn't respond much, but he'd noticed a few subtle indications that she was actually listening to things he said. She'd blinked when he mentioned that her wings were pretty sparkly in comparison to his, and again when he spoke about changing the world. Just the simple opening and shutting of her eyes was enough for him to know that she wanted the same thing.
After a while of comfortable silence between himself and Colette, he turned his gaze on the ex-professor-half-elf. Yuan had a green book sitting open at a page in his lap, but had his arms crossed over it while he fiddled with the gold ring on his finger and looked up at the sky. Curiosity sparking when he remembered the engraved letters he'd seen on it, he opened his mouth to start questioning. The thought of Kraine and his harsh reaction to the same question came to mind. Of course, he'd probably lied about even having a child in accordance with the W.S.P. With that in mind, he forgot his previous issue and opened his mouth again. "Yuan?"
"What is it Lloyd?" Yuan responded, closing the book as he turned slightly to face him as though he'd actually disturbed him reading it.
Lloyd fiddled with his red gloves, deciding to play it safe and form a question in case Yuan had started a game without telling him. "I was just wondering if you could tell me about your Salvatorian?"
Sheelos made an odd sound. Lloyd raised one eyebrow at her. She shook the spoon she was stirring with. "Don't even bother asking. Asking him about his Salvatorian is the same as trying to get blood out of a stone."
Lloyd stuttered. "S..Sorry! I didn't realise it was something so personal. Kraine acted the same way but I thought that was just because he was lying and-"
"-Martel," Yuan answered, cutting him off. Sheelos' eyes widened and she looked at Yuan in disbelief. Yuan continued. "Her name was Martel."
"Just like the Goddess," Gesea lamented.
"Was?" Lloyd tilted his head.
"Lloyd!" Gesea gasped at him, her ping pong ball on the string flying away from her kendaxe and hitting him in the head.
"Ow!" he complained as he rubbed the sore spot. "What's the big deal? All he said was... Oh." He stopped and looked back at the bluenette. "I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Yuan said, shaking his head. "It happened a long time ago. I suppose I am mostly just holding onto her memory for sentimentality."
"A long time ago?" Lloyd blinked. "How old are you? You don't look much older than Kraine."
"I'm younger than him!" Yuan spluttered uncharacteristically for a second before straightening his back and coughing awkwardly. "Anyway, it is rude of you to ask a half-elf's age, Lloyd."
"Half-elf.." Lloyd looked at Gesea. "That's right. You guys are those." His eyes grew wider with curiosity. "Tell me more about them."
"No," Gesea declined very bluntly.
"Huh? Why not?"
The pinkette put down the bowl of soup that Sheelos had handed her and rested her head on her raised knees. She shifted her eyes away from him. "The more you know, the more confused you'll get."
"But I'm confused now," he groaned. "You said a human and an elf willingly have children, and that's how half-elves are born. What causes that?" He darted his head back and forth between Yuan and Gesea. Neither of them said a word. Gesea covered her eyes with her hands.
"Maybe I can answer," Sheelos spoke up as she handed him his bowl.
Lloyd looked at her. "Don't tell me you're a half-elf too!?"
Sheelos snorted and shook her head. "No. Of course not. Do you think I'd be alive now if I was?"
Lloyd knitted his eyebrows. "That's right. Kate said half-elves lived in hiding."
"Right." Sheelos tapped her chin in thought. "I think it must be possible for some people to grow a relationship stronger than a friendship."
"Stronger than a friendship?" Lloyd's eyes widened even more.
"Right. It's hard to explain but I suppose you can think of it in the same way you care for your parents."
"My parents?" Lloyd thought about the two figures in his dreams briefly before forcing himself to think of his dwarven dad. "It's like that?"
"Well not exactly. It's like that but in a way that it's not gross to think about giving them a kiss as a sign of your feelings."
Lloyd's eyes widened and he looked at Gesea. She looked tired as she watched Sheelos give them her example. She put her finished bowl of soup on the ground near the pot and stood. Waving a hand over her mouth, she yawned and stumbled from her spot to go sleep against Noishe.
"Is that really what happens?" he asked her. She didn't respond.
"Leave her be," Yuan said in-between slurps of his own soup. "We should turn in for the night also so that we can get to the mine and find the inhibitor ore tomorrow."
"Right." He nodded and started to tuck into his own soup, peering at Sheelos during gulps. Her eyes were starting to droop as she ate until it looked like she was going to fall asleep into the bowl. She only just managed to put it aside before she curled up in a ball and pulled herself into her sleeping bag. Lloyd ate his food absently after that. Gesea was right. Finding out about a relationship that equated to more than a child in accordance to the W.S.P was more confusing then finding out that people bred because they wanted to. The Salvatorians in Iselia were great friends but he'd never imagined any of them producing any more children than they would have be obligated to.
Lloyd blinked groggily and lulled his head to look at Yuan in time to see him reach over and take the bowl out of his hands. "I think you're getting sleepy too. You'd best-" He stopped when Lloyd fell backward and on to the sleeping bag behind himself with a snore. A small smile tugged at his lips as he watched and as he looked over the rest of the group. His gaze stopped on Noishe and he stood to wander over to him. Noishe regarded him with a concerned look in his eyes and shifted a bit. He seemed to realise Gesea would slip to the ground and hit her head if he got up and stopped.
Yuan closed his eyes and reached a hand out to his head. "Look after them for me, alright old friend?"
The next morning...
Something smelled good. Lloyd opened his eyes and wiped the sleep dust out of them to see Yuan frying something in a small pan over a newly lit camp fire. He hadn't smelled it in a while and the smell of it made him smile. "I thought this would wake all of you up," Yuan joked, a smile in his voice even though Lloyd couldn't see his face. Lloyd looked around to see the rest of the group rising from their sleeping spots.
They quickly ate and packed their things before heading off around the mountain side and past a small forested area to where they could see a sign looming. It said "Toize Valley Mine".
Sheelos peered inside without going in. "Do you think it'd have ghosts?"
"Possibly," Yuan replied with a grimace.
Sheelos suddenly looked concerned and Gesea laughed. "Are you scared of ghosts Sheelos?"
"N..no," she stuttered, shaking her hands back and forth wildly before giving Yuan a bit of a glare. "Yuan's probably talking about ghosts of the monster variety, anyway."
Yuan stalked in, grinning like the devil. Sheelos stomped after him, enraged for some reason. Lloyd hung back with Gesea. She looked just as confused as he felt. "Did something happen?"
"I don't know," he replied, puzzled. All morning as they'd been travelling, Sheelos and Yuan had been acting strangely toward each other. It seemed like Yuan was being his usual mysterious self and it was agitating Sheelos more than normal. He was about to say something else to Gesea when the ninja-Chosen herself emerged from the darkness of the mine and grabbed his hand. "C'mon darling! The mine isn't going to come to us." She dragged him inside until he let go and followed, Gesea and Colette at his tail. Noishe let out a yawn and dropped to his stomach to wait for them and get some morning sun on his fur while he was at it.
The inside of the mine smelled dusty. Gesea coughed a little as they examined their surroundings. It wasn't what Lloyd had been expecting, that was for sure. The entrance path had mostly collapsed into a dark hole on their right, leaving just a narrow path with a couple of tipped over wooden carts and a steel railway track that led off through a boarded up wall. A short distance ahead, the entrance led into a larger room.
The rocky terrain had moss growing in from the walls up until it hit a small patterned path in the middle. In the center of the pattern was a raised star shape and a pedestal with a round and glowing blue ball circling at the top. A set of steel doors behind the pedestal stood open, some charred lines that looked like the remains of an explosion decorating the brick walls on either side of it. Steel poles jutted out from the brick walls in several areas and connected to strange spiked ornaments. Each of the ornaments had a round indent in its middle and a circular object made of a different material protruding from it.
"Uh... guys?" Gesea asked, sounding alarmed. "Those things on the wall look like bombs!"
She was right. Lloyd quickly stepped up to one and examined it. "Are you crazy!?" Sheelos asked, stalking up behind him.
"Just a sec." Lloyd laid a hand on the material and ran his finger around the edges where it sat inside the indent and found an area he could grip. Slowly and steadily, he pulled it from the wall. A red and blue cable came out along with it but no sparks flew and there was no resistance. "It's not connected," he explained, turning to the group. Everyone let out the breaths he hadn't realised they'd been holding.
"Looks like we can just go through the door here then," Sheelos said, strolling through to the adjoining room. "Seems pretty convenient. Let's go get that whatchamacallit."
Yuan followed her next, calling "Inhibitor Ore," on the way through.
The next room was huge. The top path where they were standing split off into two roads. One was currenly blocked by an enormous boulder and the other led to where Lloyd could see a wooden platform careening back and forth along a small white wire between their ledge and a ledge at the other side.
"Tethe'alla is amazing," Lloyd couldn't help but say as he followed Yuan's directive at heading toward it. As they stood and waited for the platform to reach them again, Lloyd looked between Sheelos and Yuan. Sheelos was standing with her back to him, tapping her foot impatiently. The platform whizzed up to them and they stepped onto it first. It carried them across to the other side of the platform, uttering a low electronic buzz as it went. They stepped off and turned to each other. Lloyd put his hand in Colette's and stepped onto the small square moving platform with Gesea. "This is it Colette!" he grinned at her as he held on to the rail the platform was connected to. "The next step in helping you become normal again!"
They reached Sheelos and Yuan's position and headed on past a hanging lantern glowing with light, through another obviously man-made door, and into what looked like a dug out tunnel. Stepping past a large amount of debris that looked like it belonged to a large boulder of some description to face another room with many levels, Lloyd saw their current level in the mine was filled with small craters. He stared at what he saw in one of them. A green one-eyed monster flapped around on its one clawed foot. Yuan stopped him from moving closer, pointing to a spot a bit further on where a bunch of boulders sat. He picked up a small part of the boulder debris at their feet and threw it in the direction he'd pointed.
A moment later, some loud grinding noises sounded. Lloyd watched with equal surprise and amusement as one of the smaller circular rocks lifted itself off of the ground. Five stubby attachments moved around underneath it as it scuttled toward some of the larger rocks. Touching the rocks, they started grunting as well. The small little rock leapt onto one of the bigger ones and the bigger ones connected with some other smaller and bigger ones.
"Natural Golem Formation," Gesea said from behind the still staring Lloyd. He glanced back at her for a small moment before his attention wavered back to the cool sight. She continued anyway. "N.G.F is the natural process of Golem monsters creating themselves based on the area around them and the threat level of the assailant that wishes to fight them." She quickly clapped her hands and made her kendaxe appear when she saw how enormous the monster had gotten. "It has sensed us as a very tough threat, and so it has made itself much bigger and formidable."
Lloyd grinned and drew his swords. "C'mon! Let's go show it what we're made of."
"No, Lloyd," Yuan sighed. "The point of showing you was to make sure we didn't go there. We won't stand a chance against these enemies with the armour we're wearing. We will need to find a way to island hop to Altamira after this. They have some of the best gear in Tethe'alla. Then we can find a way some kind of sea transport."
"Maybe you can get Undine to help us, Sheelos?" Gesea suggested.
Sheelos bobbed her head in agreement. "Beats being stuck here for much longer. I don't think I can take much more of Lloyd's boredom once he gets sick of new places we visit."
"I'm not that bad, am I?" Lloyd asked Gesea.
The pink haired kendaxe user cleared her throat and said nothing, opting to follow Yuan as he hugged the left hand wall and made his way past several of the craters. Lloyd turned to Sheelos, hoping for an explanation. She petted his back, keeping an eye on Colette as she did. "Don't worry darling! You can't help it. It IS boring."
Lloyd followed her to the wall and shimmied around with the rest of the group in a loop until they reached an area with another platform. It was steel instead of wooden this time and raised and lowered itself from the floor below to their height through a semi-enclosed shaft. He wanted to step onto it to explore what might be on the lower level but felt disappointed yet again when Yuan traversed straight past it.
"Ahahaha!" laughed a voice through the mine. They all froze.
Lloyd listened when the laugh sounded again. His stomach dropped when he recognised it this time. He unfurled his wings on instinct and flew down to the lower ground. He found Kraine kneeling in a corner, examining a bunch of white shards all over the floor and holding what looked like a pair of chakrams in his hands. The weapons had four sharp pink claw-like spikes and a strange green moss growing out from the middle where webbing met what looked like some kind of monster eye. He jumped when he saw it blink and caught the Seraph's attention.
"Kraine!" he growled, tightening his hands around the hilts of his swords in preparation. "What are you doing here?"
"I was observing the mine," he explained light-heartedly while he examined the chakram still in his hands. "I had no idea the Naploosa Bakura held such an interesting relic in its body. I would have destroyed it much sooner, had I known." He mumbled something Lloyd couldn't make out and then "Thank whoever saved me the trouble."
"Lloyd!" Gesea yelled. He heard the footsteps of his friends on the rocky ground but didn't turn his head away from Kraine. Gesea stopped by his side and looked at her brother silently.
His expression changed from the curious one at the thing he held in his hands as he looked at her. "Gesea. This mine is dangerous." He looked at Lloyd. "You shouldn't be in here without good reason."
"We have good reason," Lloyd retorted. "We're going to save Colette!"
Kraine's eyes narrowed as he scanned the angel girl behind the group. "Saving Colette will only bring more disaster upon the world. Is that truly what you wish?"
"Don't lie to us Kraine!" Gesea argued, finding her voice against her brother finally. "How could saving Colette affect the world? She's useless to the Desians and Cruxis with her soul back!"
"Yes, do tell us," Yuan added, crossing his arms.
Kraine didn't say anything else, only summoned his sapphire seraph wings and flapped back to the top level. He vanished from sight and the group stood around in silence for a few seconds until Yuan headed for the elevating platform. Lloyd looked back at Colette as they all crammed into the elevator device. There was no way that saving Colette could do anything bad. He had to convince himself that Kraine was lying to them. "He's a member of Cruxis!" he reminded himself in his head. "He really is our enemy." He almost missed the opportunity to get off the device and would have had to take another trip down and up again if Yuan hadn't been paying attention and tugged him by the scarf to follow.
The path took a couple of sharp corners and then slowly descended past a strange stone tablet embedded between the bedrock. Lloyd curiously leaned down to read the inscription on it. It was in characters he immediately recognised as Kharlian. "It's.. a trap?" he asked, looking at Yuan for confirmation.
Yuan eyeballed it and agreed. "It says 'Plate be a trap', if you want to get technical about it." He pointed to a few symbols Lloyd hadn't seen right away because they'd been covered in dust.
"Well good thing we didn't step on it then!" Sheelos said with a thankful laugh. "Four people trapped in a mine. Sounds like a horror movie premise."
"Let's all take a large step over it," Lloyd said, showing them by example. What he hadn't counted on was Colette not following properly and walking casually over the trap device to him. Everyone gasped and looked around frantically for a few moments until it became obvious that the trap must have been disabled already.
"Maybe Kraine tripped it already," Gesea suggested. "I mean, he was looking at a bunch of shards and stuff directly below here." She walked across and down the hill to point to the lower level. Lloyd agreed, impressed. Yuan sauntered past them to another slope and they quickly followed him and Sheelos down. The sound of rushing water filled their ears and they turned another corner to see a waterfall falling past a wooden bridge. Crossing it quickly and turning a corner, they were met with a dead end.
A disappointingly open treasure chest on the right hand wall and the remains of wooden crates scattered on the floor were the only noteworthy things Lloyd could see. He began to wonder whether following Yuan had been a great idea after all. "Looks like we're going to have to take another route," he said, spinning on his heel. "The ore might be on one of the lower levels." Secretly he hoped to test his mettle against the Golem they'd all seen form earlier, even though Yuan had warned him otherwise. There were four of them and one monster. It didn't seem like too much of a stretch of the imagination to be able to defeat it.
"Don't even bother!" exclaimed an almost comical accent from the roof. The ground rumbled beneath them all. "You came to the right place the first time. Someone must've already taken it I reckon!" The voice sounded somewhere between male and female and a slur of informal and formal language. The concerning sound of rocks falling filled the mine.
Lloyd heard a surprised gasp from Gesea and a couple of variances of "what the?" from Yuan and Sheelos before he whirled around. He wasn't sure what his eye caught first- the giant red bow, the enormous floating mole it was connected to, or the shovel in the moles chubby clawed hand. "Hiya guys!" the creature greeted with a wave and a buck-toothed grin. "I'm Gnome. Nice to meetcha!"