A game of cat and mouse
A game of cat and mouse
Kraine was being quiet as he and Yuan travelled to their destination. Yuan, used to the constant chatter of children during times where he just wanted to be left to his thoughts, found the silence to be seriously grating on his nerves. He found himself looking at Kraine every few minutes out of boredom, and even more when he noticed the seraph's expression growing more and more annoyed when he did.
Eventually Kraine snapped. "Why are you being so pestilently quiet?!"
Yuan cackled; he hadn't expected such an outburst. "I could ask the exact same question of you. I figured you were being quiet in order to not be sick. Butterflies can't swim, after all."
"I find your logic quite ironic," Kraine said as his expression darkened. "It is a curse all those burdened by the first Angelus Project must live with after all." He gave Yuan a look. Yuan grimaced and said nothing, knowing it would just provoke him to say more than he wanted to.
Unfortunately Kraine was on to his game and fell back into frustrating silence. Yuan huffed a bit and rolled his eyes. "It is only natural that with immortality comes a price. Not being able to submerge in water higher than the heart is a mere inconvenience."
"I suppose you are not intending on a further explanation," Kraine observed. "I will refrain from questioning further if you intend to do the same."
"As expected," Yuan acknowledged.
Kraine glowered and looked downward as they approached a small island with some tall statues. Yuan started lowering toward it. He didn't need to ask why. Flying such a long distance was quite taxing, even on an angelic form. They would need to stop and rest before making the final trek to the north. That was assuming they were travelling to the snowy region of Flanoir. Considering their location, it seemed pretty likely.
Yuan tapped on to the ground first and withdrew the pink appendages fluttering from his back. Kraine followed his example as soon as his feet touched the ground. He set himself down, his back to the stones so he could at least avoid seeing them. He exhaled a short breath without meaning to. Yuan, being almost as observant as him (annoyingly so), caught his mild show of emotions and gave him his usual curious smirk.
"I thought you weren't going to ask any other questions," he pointed out, resting back on the sand and exhaling again. He felt he could almost sleep if he didn't know that the usual nightmares would torment him.
"I asked nothing," Yuan responded, copying him and looking up at the stars. "This is going to be a pretty boring field trip if neither of us say anything though."
"This is not a field trip," Kraine stated, closing his eyes to get away from the ever-growing amused expression he just knew was painted on the other half-elf's face. Trying to remain neutral, he added "However, I do see your point."
"Will you ever show Gesea?" Yuan asked after a short moment of comfortable and yet uncomfortable silence between them.
"So you do know," he simply replied. "I am past being surprised by you, of course." Yuan waited for him to continue. He sighed. "That is a matter well beyond your business Yuan."
"She deserves the truth," Yuan replied, continuing on regardless.
Kraine sat up and raised an eyebrow at him. Yuan didn't move; he had his eyes closed. "Words about deserving the truth coming from your mouth are most unbecoming of you, Yuan."
"Especially given your seraph status," he added after a moment of thought.
"I suppose we are at a stalemate then," Yuan bantered back.
Kraine rolled his eyes and cocked his head back at the collection of tall cylindrical stones that beckoned out of the ground in a triangular formation. Under just Tethe'alla's moon, they cast insidious shadows onto the remote island. He and Yuan were indeed at a stalemate; several in fact. He'd learned long ago that the world was full of coincidences, but the undeniable fact that the professor prior to himself to teach Colloyd had also been alive for more than few millennia was one of the rarer surprises. He also had to admit to himself that he got a good amount of satisfaction in knowing that he'd been right a few times about the man.
First of all, he'd guessed Yuan was no ordinary professor. He couldn't really force him into conversation on that one. Neither had he ever been ordinary. The second stalemate between them came from his guess that Yuan definitely knew more than he let on. They were similar in that aspect too, and yet here they were, playing a vocal game of cat and mouse. In another reality, he thought they might have become friends over such banter. Unlike himself on the matter of knowing more than he should about the world though, Yuan was not tied to Cruxis.
..Or was he? He'd only made an educated guess on Yuan's knowledge of Martuan, but it appeared he really did know of her connections to Cruxis.
He glanced away from the stones before he was forced to re-live the decisions he'd made and focused on the white horizon where snow showered the landscape. He didn't intend on allowing Yuan to dig further into that particular aspect or for their journey to become a show and tell session, particularly if he was going to be the one doing most of the 'telling.'
Did he actually need to tell Yuan anything though? That was indeed another curious thought. He couldn't make sense of it but as the Chosen of Tethe'alla had put it, Yuan always had seemed to be one step ahead of them. He'd made their journey significantly easier several times. His blood still boiled though when he thought of the priceless treasure he'd sold to the old man at Hakonesia Peak. The book meant a great deal to him personally and was a relic more priceless than all the ruins he'd had the pleasure of exploring so far.
He'd been receiving updates on Spirtua's journey those eight-hundred years ago. Eventually as he heard about the her grisly end, he'd felt something. Actually felt something for the first time in quite a long time, all thanks to the emotion dulling effect the Cruxis crystal had on his body. Pure and simple anger. He'd felt angry at Mithos Yggdrasil. Angry at Origin for warping his mind. Just angry.
Then, like a cork being released from a fine wine, other emotions had bubbled to the surface. Since that time, he'd done nothing but teach himself restraint. A poker face under scrutiny was both an advantage and a necessity in his line of work.
Yuan rolled onto his side and relaxed his head into his propped up elbow and hand to watch the horizon too. Kraine observed silently, wondering whether he was playing yet another game with him. Despite his early thoughts on 'show and tell', he was almost disappointed when the half-elf said nothing.
Lloyd gaped at Colette after hearing what she'd just said. He stopped mid-step through the Tethe'allan field on the way back to their sail boat to turn to her. "Wow, really? You were inside my exsphere?"
"Yep!" Colette grinned and reached out for his hand like she'd done it a million times before. The odd thing was that it felt like she had. Lloyd couldn't help but be puzzled at the strange feeling. He'd spent a lot of time with Colette since the Tower of Salvation though. Colette touched his exsphere softly. "It's a little hard to believe, isn't it?"
Lloyd shook his head. "If you weren't in your body, you had to be somewhere, right?"
Colette giggled. "I suppose so."
"So what was it like in there?"
"Mm..." Colette tilted her head in thought. "I guess it was kinda dark. I couldn't feel it but it was pretty cold according to your mum. She kept saying she could feel it. Especially at night time when you were sleeping."
That got Sheelos and Gesea's attention. They stopped walking up ahead to watch him and Colette in their weird little moment. Lloyd was just as shocked as them, maybe a bit more. He closed his mouth after as second, realising it'd dropped open. Colette's story made sense of course.
Exspheres were made powerful and as enhancers to strength by feeding on the lives of innocent people. His mother had died as a result of the parasitic process Kate had told them about in the same way Gesea and Kraine's sister had. He didn't know how Annalicia had met her end, but his father had been forced to kill his mother when the parasite had overcome her body. It wasn't a stretch of the imagination to think Annalicia had met the same fate.
He looked over the exsphere sitting in the key crest his dwarven dad had crafted for him. He'd taken it off only once or twice in his whole life. Once -most recently- when he'd discovered the nature of exspheres and how they made a mockery of human life. Kraine had convinced him to keep it by asking him what he'd want if he'd become a victim at a human ranch.
Something struck him then. Kraine was a member of Cruxis. He must have known about the true nature of exspheres.. and yet..
"Damn it," he thought.
"Lloyd?" Colette asked, gripping his hand with hers a bit tighter and looking up into his eyes. He realised he must have been staring at his hand with a serious expression for a bit too long. He scratched his head in confusion, his anger melting away when he looked at the girl that had been a part of him for so long. That still sounded weird to think about.
"Lloyd?" Colette asked again. "Are you okay? I'm sorry I mentioned your mother."
Lloyd quickly shook his head. She must have misunderstood his expression. "No, it's okay! It makes sense."
"Besides," Sheelos started, stalking closer. "Look on the bright side." She looked between the two of them. "At least one of you got to see her again. She's both of your mothers, right?"
"H-hey, yeah!" Lloyd couldn't believe he hadn't realised it sooner. He turned to Colette with renewed excitement. "We're brother and sister, Colette!"
Colette looked more surprised than excited. "O-oh.." She quickly returned his excitement with a smile. "Yeah. Of..of course. We must be." She let go of his hand and clutched her own together.
Her reaction hadn't been what he'd expected, but he breezed it off quickly. Colette had been through a lot recently. Colette kept her eyes cast to the ground and he reached a hand out to her shoulders. "It's okay Colette," he reassured. "We don't have to act like siblings right away." He smiled in hope that her earlier happier smile would return. It did, to much his relief.
"Okay. Thanks Lloyd."
Lloyd trooped ahead, not wanting to burden Colette with the disappointment he felt at her response. Gesea walked by his side quietly, letting him sink back into his troubled thoughts on Kraine. He wanted to believe Colette was right. He didn't want to doubt anybody. No good came from doubting. Since he'd parted from Kraine at the Tower of Salvation and learned that he was a member of Cruxis, he'd kept hoping that the professor would appear to them again and explain that everything he was doing had a reason and that he actually was on their side. His actions made no sense. One moment he spouted stuff about Yggdrasil coming after them like there was nothing he could do about it, and the next he was telling him to do his best.
What was that even supposed to mean? "What am I meant to do with that?"
As they walked, he could hear Sheelos trying to be nosy with Colette's past inside the exsphere. He only stopped walking again when Gesea let out a short gasp next to him. He reached for his swords and darted his eyes around to look at the trees and the bushes. He could see the glitter of monster eyes looking back at him every so often from various locations but they didn't seem like they were all that interested in picking a fight. In fact, it seemed like they were almost scared. They'd been attacked constantly by enemies on their way to the Fooji mountains and on the journey up.
He wondered what had changed. He opened his mouth to ask Gesea what was wrong when she beat him to the punch. "Kraine's been here," she explained simply.
Lloyd didn't understand the need for surprise at that. "Well, yeah. I guess we did see him go this way."
Gesea shook her head. "No, that's not what's important. What's important is that someone else was also here with him at the same time." She closed her eyes and squinted hard. "It feels like Yuan," she said after a moment and opened her eyes. "It's... odd.. though. His mana signature feels different somehow."
"Different?" Lloyd wondered. "How?"
Gesea thought on it before quickly shaking her head. "Um, never mind. It's nothing."
"But it was Kraine and Yuan's?" Sheelos asked, including herself in the conversation finally. "Are you sure?"
"You can feel it too if you try," Gesea pointed out. "You don't need to ask."
Sheelos crossed her arms. "Owch. Point taken." She looked up at the sky and stomped her foot in rage.
"What's wrong, Sheelos?" Colette asked for the rest of them.
"Don't you get it?" she asked instead of elaborating. "He must have gone to the Renegade base with Kraine."
"You really think he would have done that?" Lloyd asked, startled.
Sheelos looked convinced. "There's a pretty damn good possibility. Yuan's always been one step ahead of everything if you hadn't noticed." She kicked some dirt in rage in the opposite direction they were standing. "Damn it Cerberus! What are you up to this time?!"
"We should hurry back to Mithos so he can take us there then," Lloyd spoke up. "If they're going into the Renegade base, we have to follow them and help."
"I'm not sure we'll really be helping, per se'," Sheelos commented. "But we need to find Kraine again anyway to get back the ore to help Colette."
"Me?" Colette pointed to herself. Lloyd understood what Sheelos was getting at though. He nodded.
"Yeah. Just because the key crest that you have is working right now Colette, it doesn't mean it'll stay that way forever. I'm not sure why it suddenly started to work for you now but we should try to make you a rune crest like Gesea has." He bobbed his head in agreement with himself and started off again. "I wonder though, how are Yuan and Kraine travelling there?" He couldn't imagine Kraine carrying Yuan across any amount of distance.
"Lloyd," Gesea sighed. "Don't you remember? When we played a Game of Questions?"
"Oh!" Lloyd nodded. "That's right. That's the first time I've seen you lose at a game like that." He dropped his shoulders. "You always win at Scrabble."
"A-anyway," Gesea continued, "Yuan said he had a blue rheaird. Maybe they went on that." She looked at Sheelos. The Chosen of Tethe'alla had a pretty close relationship to him, so she figured she might get a confirmation.
Sheelos however didn't give it right away and instead looked concerned about something as she gazed off to the side and crossed her arms. "Yeah, probably."
Gesea wondered what might have been on her mind. The answer to her curiosity sat in the back of her mind but she chose to shut it down. Yuan was her friend. A chill shot up her spine suddenly and she quickly forgot her troubles, looking up when a resounding screech filled the night time air. The flapping of wings filled the brief silence between screeches.
"What's going on?" Lloyd asked, drawing his swords. Sheelos did the same thing with her short sword. Over the flapping of wings from an unknown location, Lloyd could hear a cackle getting louder and louder. "Looking for me?!"
The flapping grew greater with each second. His ears popped in warning and he found himself with a headache. Over the overbearing combination of popping air, screeches and yells, he heard Colette cry "watch out!' A second later, he found her falling straight into him and himself pushed to the ground in a heap, wet dirt and mossy grass dampening his face. Before he could get up, something sharp cut along his back. His vision blurred into a collection of black and red spots. He was almost surprised he was feeling the pain.
The hysterical cackle from their assailant sounded again at their misfortunes. "If Pronyma won't take you, I'll just have to. It'll be her loss!"
Gesea screamed. Lloyd managed to turn his head just enough to look upward. Shining in the moonlight was a set of purple scales belonging to a winged lizard-looking creature with red eyes that looked like mini flames were dancing inside its skull. He realised with some surprise that it was a dragon. Gesea squirmed and struggled in its talons, trying to free herself.
Sheelos fumbled with a summon stone, while Lloyd summoned all of his strength through the wet feeling of blood trickling down his back to stand. Giving an anguished cry, he summoned his bird-like blue wings. Colette unfurled her pink ones and followed his example as he flew toward the sky where the dragon was rising higher and higher. The enormous gust created from its wings was enough to push Colette back a lot more than him. Her wings were a lot smaller. Running on pure adrenaline, he managed to rise high enough to be able to reach Gesea. Trying to get her out of the dragons feet was going to be impossible. He had to go for the driver.
"What do you think you're doing?" the voice of the unknown man who'd made it all possible cackled in question from the head of the dragon as it lowered and tried to snap at him. He managed to dodge out of the way and get his first good look at their assailant. He couldn't see much, but he could see the faint outline of spiky hair and the reflective glow of a pair of glasses sitting on a pointy nose. He'd definitely seen him before.
The dragon gave a sudden cry and swooped downward and back up, dodging a barrage of ice and water bolts from Sheelos' summoned Undine. Lloyd used the opportunity to dive at the man with his swords at the ready. The man pulled hard on a bridle connected to the dragon as he was barrelling down. He was too close to change his attack and veer off when the dragon did a 360 turn. A heavy smack to the stomach finished him off. His vision flickered through the pain and he found the sound dying out around him.
Seeing Lloyd winded by the pointed and scaled tail of the dragon, Gesea screamed. Below her, she could see Sheelos and Colette casting different spells. The dragon was rising too high for them to be in range though. Lloyd dropped out of the sky, unconscious, and went crashing into the ground. Sheelos and Colette racing to his aid became small ants on the ground before cloud cover obstructed Gesea's view. Bitter tears left her eyes as she tried to crane her head to see the man. She didn't actually need to know who it was. A flood of memories had come back the moment he laughed in that narky tone. The same tone she'd trusted to help her; the very voice of the man that had left her to become little more than a vacant shell for all those years. She couldn't forget that.
At first, she squirmed until she was too tired to even try; and even then when she found a sudden burst of energy come from somewhere deep within her, she squirmed again in case the dragon was getting tired. She was going to get revenge on Rodyle if it was the last thing she would do. For her and Kraine, for Annalicia, and for Lloyd's mother. Now was her chance. Thinking of her brothers sagely advice, she stopped squirming and held herself as still as she could, only breathing as much as she needed. "Ignorance is knowledge. Ignorance is knowledge."
The two seraphs touched down on the remarkably deceptive beach. Only a few paces ahead did the golden sand disappear to be replaced by a blinding blanket of white. Off in the distance through the haze of cold sat the grey outline of the snow city named after the region, Flanoir. The light of the moon above fell onto the white snow and lit up the area quite significantly.
Yuan started ahead, Kraine following and watching him warily as he trudged a few paces, stopped, then oddly sniffed. Eventually the curiosity for what he was doing became too much to bear. "Just why are you sniffing every thirteen steps?"
"Just why did you start talking textbook drabble once we left the stones?" Yuan asked back.
Kraine crossed his arms. "I am not fond of Flanoir. It brings back.. memories." He decided not to say which type. He eyed Yuan to tell him it was his turn to answer his earlier question.
"You brought her to Flanoir?" Yuan asked, ignoring the hint and taking another chance to get a good whiff of the frozen wasteland.
Kraine grumbled but decided to reply anyway. It was an interesting experiment regardless. If Yuan wouldn't reveal things he knew without great prompt, then revealing things that he didn't know appeared to be the answer.
"There is a renowned doctor in Flanoir," he replied in earnest, studying Yuan as he did. Yuan seemed more interested. He didn't appear to know the outcome of the story. Kraine stumbled on with the conversation, trying to make sure his relief was not obvious. "We were concerned that the parasite poisoning her body would affect her when she was... with child." He couldn't help the heaviness he'd injected into those last couple of words without even meaning to. There was no point in hiding that aspect at least.
Yuan nodded in understanding and let the brief conversation fall dead. He had no intention of dredging up painful memories for his seraph friend if he could really help it. Not that he wasn't curious. He knew Kraine was testing him, too. He walked another thirteen paces and sniffed. A sweet scent wafted up his nose and he grinned widely. "Finally!" He kicked around the snow below his feet.
Kraine watched the suddenly elated Yuan kick at the snow curiously for a few seconds until he revealed a metallic lever encased in crystals of ice. It looked frozen solid, not to mention useless. Yuan quickly shot a small fireball from the palm of his hand at it. The metal glowed a hot red colour for a few seconds before returning to its usual hue of dull and useless. Yuan reached for the lever and pulled. If the heat hurt his hand, he didn't show it.
A large blue dome appeared at the lever pull and stood to welcome them only a few yards away. Now Kraine understood why Yuan had been sniffing. At the front of the main gate that led into the compound sat a rather large flower bed, filled to the brim with flowers that thrived in areas of disastrous climate. "Intriguing," he muttered. He knew straight away that that woman had definitely had a hand in creating it. "She was fond of flowers once."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Yuan stated in question. Kraine thought he had sounded oddly..defensive about it. He relinquished his mild curiosity and pressed on to more important matters as he looked toward the building and the... the Renegade dressed person standing at the doors.
"This is our location? Surely you do not think we will be able to slip inside unnoticed."
"Once perhaps," Yuan replied. "Now however, it is only due to some Mizuhoan operatives that we have been able to venture even this close." He pointed upward to the sky. Kraine followed his gesture and saw just how true his statement was. Only now did he see that an error in his judgement on Yuan could have led to his death. Cannons adorned some pillars attached to the roof and faced down toward them.
Pushing away an almost envious thought that it had worked out for them, Kraine made an observation on Yuan again. "I see you are using your position as Cerberus to your advantage once again."
"A position of power is necessary to change the world, as we both know."
"Hm.." Kraine only mumbled. Yuan turned away and approached the Renegade to exchange a few words. Once he was done, he trudged back to him, dangling something from a keyring perched on his finger. It looked like several key cards of various colours. "We won't get far without these," he said with a grin. "Let's go."
Gesea gasped awake to find her head throbbing. Through some arched metal bars as she looked upward, she could see the night sky and more stars than she thought she'd seen in a while. She sat up groggily to examine the rest of her location. A metal cage surrounded her. Clouds circled the round earthy platform her prison sat on and the wind whistled, making her ears hurt. Through the whistles she could hear another sound. Something like slow, sleepy breaths.
Her legs shaking as she summoned her kendaxe, she whirled around to have her fears realised. She could only see its head, but she already knew it was at least triple the size of the dragon that had captured her.
"I see you've awoken!" laughed a voice.
She turned again to see Rodyle standing outside of the cage, holding a lantern in one hand. She could see his features, right down to his pointed ears. He gave her a wide smile, showing his pointed teeth. He held something up with his other hand. It was a small golden object. Even in the bad lighting, she knew what it was immediately. Her hand shot to her chest to discover she could no longer feel the familiar and comforting shape of her rune crest.