Where angels respectfully tread
Where angels respectfully tread
As they crossed the arch on the left wing of Altamira that Sheelos had pointed out, Lloyd couldn't help but wonder where it was. He couldn't see any huge buildings from where he stood while Sheelos and Yuan went ahead and spoke with the lady behind a counter in a little booth just to his right. Given how advanced Tethe'alla was in their technology, he worked himself up for something unbelievable. It had to be some kind of invisible building. He wanted to share his curiosity with Gesea but quickly gave up on the idea when he glanced down and saw her absently flipping the blue card the old man named George had given her around in her hands.
Yuan eventually turned back to them and pointed behind himself. "The attendant said we can go straight through."
"But where's straight through?" Lloyd raised his eyebrows up and down. Yuan gave him a confused look.
"Down there, silly!" Sheelos laughed and answered, seeing their exchange. She pointed over the bannister of the path they were on. Lloyd looked over it to see another resort employee standing next to a weird looking boat. It was painted royal blue with a red and green interior.
Taking a little elevator that reminded him of the ones in the Toize Valley Mine down to the lower level, he got a better look at its structure as they approached the employee. It looked like more of a cart than a boat and he couldn't contain a "wow!" any longer. He shook Gesea at the shoulder and pointed but she only vaguely glanced up, nodded, and retreated back into her own mind as she kept looking at the card.
The employee flashed the badge around his neck at them and smiled. "Hello. Would you like to go to the amusement park?"
"Oh." Lloyd blinked and glanced back up at the upper level. "Did we take a wrong turn?"
"Just flash your card," Sheelos instructed, patting Gesea at the shoulders to get her attention.
The pinkette showed it to the employee. They watched the smile on his face fade and the colour drain from his cheeks. "To the Lezareno Company then," he said dryly. "Hop aboard please."
Feeling like he'd done something wrong, Lloyd stepped onto the cart and sat down in one of the low seats. Gesea stepped in next and sat alongside him. Once they were all aboard, the boat rumbled slightly and they began to slide along the shallow water.
Gesea gazed at the little indented logo of the Lezareno Company on the front of the blue plastic card in her hands for a while, then flipped it over to the side that read 'Lezareno Company- Sky Terrace entrance access.' She could feel Lloyd's half-gaze on her constantly as their sea-cart embarked on its journey toward the place where she would finally get some answers.
"Finally getting answers."
She mulled over that thought. She'd outwardly tried to show the others that it was very important to her and had accidentally snapped at Sheelos. What she hadn't shown them was that she was in fact down-right terrified. Asking her brother about their sister had always been an odd topic. Their sister had been one of the first things she had remembered after having the rune crest placed on her Cruxis crystal. She remembered the day her sister had left to go work for a noble. There was no real question that the noble had been Duke Regal Bryant now. She remembered hugging her and not wanting to let go. The rest of it was a bit foggy, but she clearly remembered hearing her sister whisper a few words into her ear right before she let go.
"It's for the best," she had said. "For the sake of our family."
Gesea felt tears in the corners of her eyes as she remembered the sweet sound of her sisters voice and quickly told said tears to vanish before anyone could take too much notice.
"Wow, so that's what we saw from the Toize Valley Mine region the other day!" Lloyd proclaimed, nudging into her and briefly breaking her out of her thoughts.
She followed his pointer and saw the track the sea-cart was following split in two directions. Not too far in the distance, she could see two distinct islands. Lloyd was pointing at a building even larger than the one in Altamira that she'd guessed was a hotel for the tourists at the resort. Tinted windows replaced most of the outer walls and a large set of white gates opened at the front. The water from the sea lapped in through the open gates and up to a moat. She assumed that would be where their trip would end.
She faced the island on the left. A colourful wheel with things that looked like bird cages hanging from the spokes turned around slowly, stopping every so often and making the cages rock back and forth. The amusement park looked like a lot of fun. Her eyes shifted to another strange machine typical of Tethe'alla. From where she was, it looked like a thin wire in some parts but a thick road in other parts. Seats with people raising their arms in the air zoomed its length, slowing on curves and speeding up on straight lines. Lloyd had twisted around to look at it too and begun cooing with excitement.
He seemed almost too excitable.
Even though he was being far too obvious that he was trying to distract her, she found the fact that he must have been feeling at least partially the same way a tad comforting. She turned her attention back to the blue card and flipped it around again. Since finding out that Kraine was a member of Cruxis' 'Four Seraphim', his reasons for some of his lacking explanations made much more sense.
During their time with a travelling caravan run by a man called Novariel and his children, she'd had plenty of time to get to know her brother again and ask him lots of questions about their sister. One of the very first things she'd asked was where they could find her. Their first logical step would be to find the noble she had worked for, after all.
Kraine had explained that he had also left their family to work as a mercenary and that he hadn't known where their sister had gone. He had never quite met her eyes properly when he told her that, and she'd always suspected that he knew more than he was actually willing to say. Even though his explanation had a clear hole in the fact that he knew their sister had ended up in the Angelus Project experiments- meaning he must have had access to someone with knowledge of their sisters whereabouts- she'd always quickly dropped the subject.
He would always try to hide the pain behind his usual mask while they spoke, but when he thought she wasn't paying attention, there were times when he let it slip. The distressed pacing he did outside the caravan in the middle of the night after their conversations was enough to show that badgering him for answers he didn't want to give was not right. She eventually gave up on questioning him further when she found herself constantly riddled with guilt for asking, and instead clung to the hope that he would tell her one day; just like she hoped he would eventually tell her why he was so terrified of deep water.
Neither answer had made itself known until recently. Now she at least knew why he didn't want to tell her about where their sister had been working. She'd been working in a resort town in Tethe'alla!
As a member of Cruxis and an underling of Yggdrasil, the man who had apparently created this twisted world, it made sense that Kraine didn't want her to know about Tethe'alla. Remiel, Colloyd's fake father, had also been very clear in stating his distaste for the knowledge Sheelos had shared with them all in the Tower of Mana.
The thought of Kraine in that context alone made her feel a bit uncomfortable though. She might have believed his reasons were one-track-minded more vehemently before reaching Ozette, but after seeing her fathers grave and remembering how her memories had returned when she'd seen it, she knew otherwise. Kraine hadn't misled her just for the means of Cruxis.
A part of her knew she was being a bit naïve; thinking her brother still must have a good heart beating in the strange angel body he inhabited. He had shown her through his actions even as recently as the Toize Valley Mine that he still cared about her. Recently he'd been insisting on speaking with her, and as much as she appreciated Lloyd defending her, a part of her also wished to speak with him. She wondered how it might be possible.
Sheelos' inappropriate excited tone irritated her enough that she jerked and dropped the plastic card. She picked it up and stood as the sea-cart moored into a foyer with shiny ivory coloured tiles, a front desk, and two doors on either side. A melody of piano music played from somewhere above.
"Welcome to the Lezareno Company," their sea-cart driver said. She inwardly cringed at his fake salesperson tone. "Please watch your step," he instructed.
Gesea watched her step as instructed and rolled her eyes when she caught the gaze of the worker and saw him flash a huge fake smile at her. He didn't react. Once they were all off, he hopped aboard his sea-cart and moved back out to sea again.
"I can't believe we're actually inside," Sheelos said in awe. Gesea felt a bit guilty when the ninja looked at her and recoiled a bit. "I..I mean, let's find someone who knows where we need to go." She trotted off to the main desk where two women stood, wearily watching the group look around. When the women gave her a series of confused looks and appeared to say very little, Gesea stepped up and flashed the blue card at them. Immediately their faces changed to reflect a tinge of shock.
"Swipe that in the elevator," the lady standing to the left instructed. "You've been given access to all floors. The garden is on the roof level."
"Thank you," she said with a respectful bow of her head before turning to Yuan. "What's an elevator?"
She pictured the devices in the Toize Valley mine and took another look around the room. She figured it out before he answered and pointed at the open doors to the left and right of the front desk. The little rooms inside arched around and had a small amount of railing that could be held on to. Above the entrance to the rooms on both sides were a series of little hexagonal shapes. Currently the white hexagonal shapes on both sides were lit up. "It's those. They must move using a propulsion system, right?"
When Yuan looked happy at what she figured out, she felt her heart soar. Not that Kraine hadn't praised her in the past- quite the opposite actually- but just having another older half-elf that wasn't bound to her because she was family by her side made her want to impress him. Lloyd said various other synonyms for 'cool' as they stepped into the little room and as Yuan showed them a control panel and lever on the inside left wall. Next to the lever was another small panel that read "Please swipe card."
Yuan looked at her and she nodded to his invisible question, handing him the card she'd protected like a baby chicken since she'd gotten it. He swiped it in the panel and it made a robotic buzz before reading 'Access Granted'. Lloyd uttered another bunch of synonyms when the control panel they'd all seen first lit up. The panels that had looked dark and greyed out before now were lit with a white light behind them. As the front desk clerk had said, it appeared they had access to the entire building.
"C'mon!" Sheelos said impatiently, tapping her foot. "If I have to listen to this song repeat itself more than once, I'm going to seriously consider the destruction of Sylvarant."
Everyone gave her unimpressed looks and she quickly explained she was joking. Banter aside, Gesea knew she had a good point. She stepped forward past Lloyd and Colette and pushed the little circular button next to the glowing panel that read 'Sky Terrace'. Yuan pulled the lever next to the panels down and some brown criss-crossing doors folded out from one side of the opening of the elevator to the other.
The sound of waves filled Lloyd's ears when the doors whooshed open again a few seconds later with a polite sounding ding. He could smell the familiar ocean scent that filled most of Altamira, but that wasn't all. As they stepped out on to the roof and saw a well kept garden with a sandy yellow path that led around a decorative fence to another smaller area in the middle, the scent of flower pollen hit them all.
"I know that smell," Gesea said, sounding in awe as she breathed deeply. Lloyd's head shot a bit too fast to look at her. It was the first complete sentence he'd heard her say since they'd gotten the blue card. "We used to have flowers that smelled like that in Ozette!" she explained.
Breaking into a run before anyone could ask for further clarification, Gesea dashed around the decorative fence until she found an archway. She gazed up at the wooden sign on the archway for a second before proceeding inside, her pace slowing to a walk. Gazing at the patches of baby pink flowers that decorated the area past the fence, Lloyd caught up at the archway and looked at the sign himself. It read "Tread with respect."
"N..no.." Gesea cried suddenly from a spot in front of a fountain up ahead.
Seeing her drop to her knees, Lloyd quickly stepped under the arch and rushed to her. She was knelt in front of a headstone, tears streaming from her eyes as she stared at it in pure disbelief. He knelt to her level and put an arm around her quivering body while he read the inscription on the headstone. It was written in cursive inside a border of etched roses.
The moment he saw the last name, he found his worst fears realised.
In loving memory of Annalicia Combatage.
May she forever be loved by angels and smiled upon by the sun.
Those were some pretty distinct words. Lloyd wasn't sure what to say. His gut felt hollow. It reminded him of the feeling he'd gotten when his dad had told him that his mother had died and that the grave next to the house was his mothers. He'd only been a toddler at the time, but the sense of loss he'd experienced in that moment had never left him. Footsteps padded close behind them as the rest of the group caught up.
"It can't be true!" Gesea shrieked, shaking her head and pounding her hands into the sand around herself. "This can't be real! Annalicia can't be!" She turned to Lloyd and jumped him into an embrace as she wept loudly. "My little sister.. she's.." She choked before she could get the rest of the words out.
Lloyd closed his eyes and rested a hand across her back. "I know." He gazed at Yuan and Sheelos. Yuan nodded and quietly steered the ninja and himself away from them. Colette stayed put, but Lloyd couldn't really do much about that.
He stayed with Gesea until she stopped weeping in his arms and using his shoulder as a tissue. She eventually calmed down enough to be able to stand up again. "Thank you, Lloyd," she mumbled, not able to meet his worried gaze. He could see her own eyes were pretty puffy from crying so much. Still not knowing what else to say, he glanced over the area. Sheelos and Yuan were seated outside the memorial garden on an outdoor setting. Sheelos looked clearly frustrated, her head in her hands.
"I won't ask if you're alright," he said gently to Gesea. "This must have been a shock."
Gesea looked at the headstone again but didn't answer. He stood from where he'd been awkwardly kneeling for some time and let the sand on his red outfit fall to the ground.
"Would it be alright if we rest at the Altamira hotel tonight?" Gesea asked. Her throat sounded pretty dry. "You still have that free ticket we won for the Altamira Hotel deluxe suite. Let's see if we can get into there. It's that huge building at the entrance I think."
He agreed and they slowly walked away from the headstone and past the pink flowers to meet with Sheelos and Yuan. He turned back to take one last look at the area before he ducked his head under the archway and headed for the elevator with the rest of his friends.
Lloyd found himself pacing around in the deluxe suite after saying goodnight to Sheelos, Gesea and Yuan. Colette was seated at a small desk in the corner of the room, seeming content to just blankly gaze out the large panorama window. He stopped pacing for a second and heaved a sigh. Since seeing Annalicia's grave and comforting Gesea, he'd felt strangely distressed. The grave had brought back memories of his mother and how Kvar had said she had been a part of the Angelus Project as well. The more he thought about it, the more he had the burning desire to understand how it related to the Desians and Cruxis.
"Argh!" he scratched his head frantically. "I'm no good at this deep thinking stuff. I need to ask Gesea about it." A little voice in the back of his head said "or Kraine," and sudden knock at the door made him slip out of the possibility of further thoughts. He gladly whirled around. "Who is it?"
"It's me," Gesea answered from the other side of the door. "Can we talk for a little while Lloyd?"
He opened the door quickly and let her in to the room. She passed by him and smiled, but didn't give him eye contact. He watched her stroll up to the enormous bed that spanned the entire back of the suite. "Wow!" She jumped onto it and stared out the window. "You can see the sea shimmering with the light of the moon from here." She bounced a bit on the bed. "This bed is so comfortable. It's just like a cloud!"
"I know right?" Lloyd chuckled, pacing over. "It's so huge though, you could put ten of me in it and still have room."
"Those are some horrid problems you have on your hands," Gesea joked back, a grin on her face. She seemed like she was feeling at least a bit better now. Lloyd felt a bit happier looking at her.
"You can stay here too if you want," he offered, sitting next to her. Her face went bright red for a moment and he laughed. "What's with you? I just said there was heaps of room. It's not like we're going to be sleeping right next to one another."
Gesea shook her head frantically. "Never mind. Thanks Lloyd." Her eyes narrowed. "Hold on a second. You won't snore, will you? Please promise me you won't snore."
"That's a bit of a difficult thing to promise," he squeaked. "But I'll promise to try as long as you don't toss and turn all night."
Gesea's smile returned for a moment but she didn't say much else. She turned around on the bed and put her feet over the other side so she could face out to the amazing scenery. He did the same thing and watched the sea lap against the beach below for a short time. "We've come a long way since we lived in Iselia, haven't we," he said eventually.
"It is a whole different world Lloyd," Gesea responded. Her voice cracked and she started laughing. "Literally." Tears started falling from her eyes as she laughed.
"H..hey!" he said, giving her a nudge with his elbow. "I know that!"
Gesea leaned forward and rested her hands against the window. "Hey.. Lloyd?"
"What is it?"
"Will you help me look for Duke Bryant?"
Lloyd blinked and stuttered for a second. Gesea side-glanced at him and awaited his answer. He didn't really have to think about it though. He'd already decided the answer when he'd been comforting her in front of Annalicia's grave earlier. "Of course I will Gesea. I think if we can find him, we'll get some answers about your sister."
That wasn't all though. He continued. "We can also hopefully find out more about the Angelus Project." He looked at the exsphere on his hand and found his gaze wandering to Gesea's chest for a second. She had instinctively put her hand where her Cruxis crystal sat as well. They smiled at one another in understanding and turned back to the scenery.
"I think I always suspected it might be true," Gesea said after a bit.
"What do you mean?" Lloyd asked, slightly confused.
Gesea continued, "Annalicia was a part of the Angelus Project after all. I'm one of the lucky ones. I've seen what exspheres do to people like Marble. I guess I've just been clinging on to the hope that I was wrong."
Lloyd sat and patiently waited to make sure she wasn't going to say anything else before he opened his mouth. "Do you think Kraine knew about her passing all along?"
It didn't take the pinkette long to answer. "I think he did," she said decidedly. "But I also think he lied about it to protect me."
Gesea blinked at him in surprise and he continued. "It's hard to explain, but I feel like Kraine has his own reasons for doing what he's been doing. He still cares for you." He fiddled with his gloves but didn't care to voice his other thoughts.
"He still cares about you as well," Gesea pointed out, hitting the nail of his unsaid thoughts right on the head. "He was holding back when he was fighting you in the Meltokio sewers. I'm sure you could tell."
Lloyd clenched his fists. He'd realised it but hadn't been comfortable thinking about it. Whenever he remembered their fight, all he pictured was Kraine telling him that he didn't want to hurt him. It was all just too confusing. One minute he acted like their friend and then the next minute he was their enemy. "We'll figure it out," he decided to say. Gesea had been picking lint off of her tunic until he spoke. She looked up and he continued. "Kraine, Duke Bryant, Cruxis, your sister, the Angelus Project, and even this world. We'll figure it all out."
"I just hope we can do it in your lifetime," Gesea mumbled. She regretted her sentence the moment she'd completed it when Lloyd got the look of insatiable curiosity on his face. She waited for the question reluctantly.
"How long do half-elves live for?"
She suddenly wished to be as quick-witted as Yuan in the face of unwanted question about this topic. "About a thousand years," she answered. Lloyd's eyes looked like they would pop out of his head if they got any bigger. She would have laughed usually if the very thought of her natural lifespan wasn't so lonely.
"I wonder how long angels live for?" he questioned next to the air. It was her turn to get curious. She watched her best friend release his blue angel wings and stretch them. "Sheelos called me a half-Chosen. Sounds kinda right since one of my parents would have had to have been an angel." He lulled his head from side to side in rambling thought. "I'm kinda glad Remiel turned out to be a fake. I wouldn't have wanted wings like his anyway."
"And why is that?" she questioned cautiously.
"Didn't you see them? They were like real wings!" Lloyd flapped his right wing a little and created a nice breeze that made the blanket fly up a little. Gesea held it down. Lloyd continued. "They weren't see-through like mine. Imagine how hard it would be to sleep with those poking constantly into your back." He stopped and shook his head. "Actually, since angels don't sleep, that doesn't really matter. Still, what if you want to lie down and read a book?"
Gesea plucked an eyebrow up at him. "I can see you have thought about this a great deal."
Lloyd nodded proudly and she resisted the urge to slap her forehead. It hadn't been meant as a compliment. He didn't seem done with his train of thought either. "Also Remiel would have had to have cut holes in all his clothes for his wings as well. That would have been a pain. One snip too many and you've ruined your clothes."
Gesea couldn't help it. She laughed at him. "Is this what you were thinking whenever he called you his son?"
"Of course!" Lloyd said in all seriousness. "I've only got seven pairs of these clothes and I suck at sewing."
Gesea laughed again, but deep down Lloyd had struck a chord. She wondered whether he would live longer. She let herself fall back on the cloud-like bed and sighed. Lloyd did the same. She sighed again and he copied her. They fell into hysterics soon after and temporarily forgot the woes of the world.