Skewed Destinies- The Flames of Origin

Just like old times

Chapter 43

Just like old times

Yuan slowed his rheaird when he felt the familiar mana signature of the professor-seraph. He leaned over the side past the wings as he slowly pushed his right foot on the lowering lever. The metal bird descended through the thin layer of clouds until the familiar grassy patch and mountain range that surrounded the Tower of Salvation came into view. It was still a few kilometres away though. Below him, Yuan could see a small round and sandy island just to the west of Altamira. They'd passed it when they had been using Undine's power to walk on water.

He just barely got a glimpse of the blue glow of Kraine's wings before they disappeared and his mana signature got a lot weaker. He could make out the trademark pink of Gesea's hair close to him as he appeared to be clutching her in his arms. He lowered down closer to the sandy terrain, sending grains flying everywhere and forcing Kraine to shield his eyes until he turned the rheairds motor off.

"Yuan," he said in greeting, not seeming particularly happy to see him.

"You look about as well as expected," Yuan answered in greeting back as he stepped off his ride. "You know as well as I do that even a seraph can't fly non-stop."

Kraine's eyes narrowed at him. "How did you know I was here, of all places?"

"Never mind that. What are you doing with her?" Yuan crossed his arms and flinched at the pulling sensation on his shoulder. Trying to ignore it, he stepped across the sand to get his first glimpse of Gesea's condition.

Kraine didn't answer Yuan at first. He knew very well that the half-elf didn't need to know what he was doing. He'd found him heading toward the Tower of Salvation after all. He could have literally gone anywhere, but for a reason he knew Yuan wasn't going to admit, he had thought to find him here. Still, Yuan had a strange very surprised expression replacing his usual grin as he looked down at Presea. He proceeded with caution; 'Ignorance is knowledge' had always served him well in the past. "Martuan told you I was coming here?"

"You knew she knew?" Yuan asked back, finding his voice after a brief silence.

Kraine turned his attention on the red mark staining Yuan's shoulder when his cape flew in the breeze every so often. His fingers were stained red in places where he'd been clutching the wound. "I take it that your usual attitude did not fly well with our mutual lady friend?"

Confused at first, Yuan reached his hand to his shoulder to notice that it felt wet again. Martuan had quite the aim. He was only too glad that she had decided not to kill him before she'd thrown the summoned knife. "Are you making a joke at a time like this Kraine?" He glared at him. "Don't even think about trying to heal me when you're in that condition."

"I had no intention," Kraine lied dryly before he turned his attention back on the girl in his arms. "Yuan, I need your help." He didn't need to look at the half-elf to know he'd surprised him. He would have come out with some kind of seemingly mandatory banter if he hadn't been. Hoping it was a good thing, he proceeded with his explanation. "I need you to take us to the tower."

"No," Yuan said coldly.

Kraine heard the sound of steel but couldn't drop Presea. He felt Yuan's sword against his neck. He let out a sigh as he grimaced and closed his eyes. "I thought as such. You came here to stop me."

Yuan looked at the pink haired girl in his arms a little more closely while he calculated what to say. She looked like she was just taking a nap. He would have believed it too if it weren't for the various healed bruises and cuts he could see on her arms and legs. "You can't take her to Derris Kharlan!" he exclaimed. "Are you a fool!?"

"You know of Derris Kharlan?" Kraine asked, his gaze lifting from the bundle in his arms for the first time. He hadn't expected such a bold declaration of knowledge from the game-playing half-elf.

"That's not important," Yuan snapped. "It will solve nothing and put Presea at harm." He rolled his eyes to try and downplay the frustration he felt at seeing such a desperate look in the eyes of the other seraph. He couldn't stand it.

"You also know her name," Kraine muttered, picking apart his every word. Yuan hadn't expected any less really, though he realised that he'd revealed a little more than he wanted to already. Kraine shook his head as though the subject didn't interest him as much as Yuan had expected. "Regardless of which, I must save Annalicia."

"Annalicia?" Yuan faltered with his weapon at that and his eyes briefly shot to the pinkette. Kraine took the opportunity to quickly jolt up and away from him.

"There is only one way I can save her body and that is to use the protection of the Great Seed."

"No," Yuan shut him off again. "It's too dangerous. The Great Seed is unstable and it is only going to get worse when the mana links are severed."

"Once again your knowledge of the operations of Cruxis astounds me," Kraine said, amusement and curiosity in his tone. "Just who are you, Yuan?"

Yuan put his sword away and glanced off toward the Tower of Salvation. "You wouldn't believe me even if I told you."

Kraine shifted Presea/Annalicia in his arms. "Please Yuan. I beg of you. If you have ever wanted to save someone you love, you'll understand and allow me the use of your rheaird."

Yuan clenched his fists and turned away. Kraine would have been happy for his victory in discovering another piece to the enigma of Yuan, had it not been for the subject matter.

Yuan trod back to the flying magitechnology and turned back to Kraine. He chuckled dryly at the look he was being given. Of course his reaction had sprouted ever more seeds of curiosity for Kraine. "Well hurry up then," he barked, agitated at how easily he was allowing himself to be read by him. The very fact that Kraine was politely pushing him for more without being overly obvious made it even more discomforting. Kraine didn't waste the opportunity despite his reservations and shifted onto the rheaird behind him. Yuan started the motor and raised it toward the sky.

They stayed quiet until they were above the clouds again. Yuan could practically feel question marks shooting from Kraine's gaze into his back. "What?" he snapped in question. It was easier to get it over with. Kraine remained quiet though. Yuan exhaled and tried to focus on not drenching them in any rain clouds. It was a clear day but -from past experience- all it took was one.

Eventually Kraine appeared to have enough of feigning he hadn't been thinking of anything in particular. "You have also lost someone," he came out with finally. Yuan almost sighed with relief but held it in. He knew the thought wasn't finished anyway and would likely lead to something he would have to answer. "Could this be why you were willing to look after my son and my sister-in-law?"

"Very bold of you to address them as such," Yuan pointed out.

Kraine shifted Presea in his arms when she moved a little bit as the rheaird encountered a patch of turbulence. "Judging by your eagerness for the subject to change, I assume it to be someone of a salvatorian nature."

Yuan didn't answer. Kraine watched his head bow in thought slightly. He'd hit the nail on the head. "Nevertheless, I won't pry into your personal affairs," he decided to add. Yuan didn't thank him. They flew closer to the tower in their usual simultaneous awkward and comfortable silence until Yuan started to lower the rheaird on the final stretch toward the tower.

"I understand better than you could imagine."

If Kraine hadn't had exceptional hearing, he would not have even heard the mumble from Yuan.

"The drive to save someone you love has the ability to override even the most logical way of thinking," the blue-haired half-elf added.

"I am being entirely logical," Kraine defended in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Of course you are," Yuan agreed sarcastically. "The possible outcome outweighs the possible issues, correct?"

xxx

"Ignorance is knowledge.."

Genis managed to stop himself from staring at the red-clad twin-swordsman when the creed raced through his head. If he ogled at him in shock for too much longer, he was sure he that even Lloyd would notice and ask what was up.

Unaware of the shock and the million new questions running through his head, Mithos casually shifted past him to sit next to Colette. Genis forced himself to turn away from the smiling Lloyd on the couch and to the pair of angels. Colette smiled at Mithos with her usual sunny disposition. She had no idea just who he was. Only as they sat side by side did Genis notice the outstanding similarity between them. No wonder she was a perfect match for Martel's vessel. She even had the same blonde hair and the same eye colour as Mithos. They looked like brother and sister. When Colette had been a part of Lloyd, he would never have seen the similarity.

That thought brought him to something else. He looked at his best friend when he started to repeat the story that Mithos had fed them about how he'd come to be on their sail boat. Apparently he'd been swimming in the ocean and had been swept away when Mithos noticed him floating aimlessly as the sail boat came into range. Mithos had then triumphantly rescued him.

"Does Colette and Lloyd being two separate souls mean that only one of them was actually the Chosen?"

He mulled it over further. It made an awful lot of sense. A new sense of guilt came over him at knowing that all the two of them had gone through had been for nought now that the Angelus Project was known to Mithos.

"Back to the Angelus Project again.." He sighed and rubbed his fingers over the bumpy ridges of his hand where the rune crest of the Angleus Project sat.

"You have an exsphere?" Lloyd asked.

Genis jumped in surprise. He hadn't figured Lloyd would be that observant- at least not straight away. He was forced to look at Lloyd again and notice things. "Why didn't I ever see it before now?"

He'd been totally ignorant to the truth. Kraine had taught him about Ignorance is Knowledge when they'd travelled, but he was willing to make a bet that he hadn't figured he would fall victim to the results himself. He stuttered, realising he had to say something. All eyes were on him. "Oh no; it's just a decoration that everyone in my family has."

"Really?" Lloyd looked surprisingly doubtful as he leaned over to him and took a closer look. Genis wanted so badly to pull his hand away. "It sure looks like an exsphere."

"I-it's b-because I'm an elf," he blurted out on the spot.

"An elf?" Lloyd turned his gaze from his hand to his face, his eyes widening. "Like.. a full blooded elf?"

"Uh.. yes," he answered. He felt like kicking himself a second later. After all the time he'd been pretending to be an elf to everyone, the response had come frustratingly natural. He'd finally been able to be truthful with Lloyd since the meeting with Kate and now he'd just gone and back-pedalled to the beginning of their friendship of lies and secrecy. It was idiotic.

"Are you okay Genis?" Mithos asked. "You look a bit sick."

"Um..." Genis blinked rapidly and tried to form a sentence. "I'm fine." He took a deep breath and wondered where to steer the conversation. Just as he opened his mouth, he found a pair of arms around his shoulders and a certain red-haired assassin-Chosen looking at him from the side, the long eyelashes of the lids above her dark brown eyes almost close enough to tickle his forehead. "Our silver haired darling awakens!" she declared, grinning in her usual perverted nature. Genis rolled his eyes.

"So, Genis was it?" she asked. "I hope you don't mind the cold. We're about to disembark."

"Um," Colette hummed, looking unsure as her head darted between Genis and Sheelos. "I thought that perhaps Genis should stay here with Mithos?"

She seemed to be hinting at something. When Sheelos straightened up and took her arms away from him finally, he realised it must have been her idea. It must have had something to do with the fact that they were going to be heading to the Renegade base to get the rheairds Martuan had stolen from them. He hadn't expected that it would be somewhere so cold. He imagined that Martuan would like sunny days and wearing dresses if she wasn't one of the Cruxis four seraphim or the leader of the organisation that went directly against them.

Then again, maybe that was exactly why she'd created the base there. He didn't really need to question that she was a smart woman. A small sapling of hope buzzed his brain alive. Before he could fathom cooperating with Mithos, he needed to get all of the information. If he could get away from Mithos for a short time, perhaps he could talk more freely with Lloyd. Even more importantly, he needed to talk with Colette. He had to say something quickly. Sheelos hadn't said anything to discount the idea yet and he had to get in before she did.

"I.. I think I have some relatives in the snow city," he decided on, hating the ambiguity of his description and wishing he'd studied more of the map of Tethe'alla before he and Presea had been kidnapped.

"Oh, you do?" Sheelos asked. "We have to head there anyway. That's where Yuan got his flying machine."

"It is?" Mithos spoke up. Genis tried not to look at him. He knew Mithos was probably already on to him. He tried to think of something to say for the inevitable time he would have to tell him what he was doing.

"Yeah," Sheelos answered. "We need you to stay here though, okay Mithos?"

"Yeah," Lloyd agreed. "We need someone we trust to look after our sail boat. Think you're up to the task?" His tone didn't sound like he agreed with the words coming out of his mouth. Genis found himself reminded that he'd felt the same way as Lloyd and had begged for Mithos to come with them the last time they'd disembarked. Now he was pretty much rooting for the exact opposite result. Something was off though.

He'd quickly pieced together that it was Sheelos who did not want Mithos involved with the Renegades. If that was the case, she wouldn't have told the truth when she mentioned the snow city. But then why was she letting him, an 'elf' she'd never met until a short time ago, come with her over their loyal captain Mithos? The most obvious answer didn't seem likely. There had to be a different reason. He wasn't going to push the subject any more than he needed to in order to get what he wanted though.

"Alright," Mithos agreed finally. Genis felt his gaze burning straight into him and finally looked directly at him. His friend looked at him with exterior concern, but he knew there was curiosity mixed with a little worry lurking not too far behind his child-like facade. Mithos trusted him. He couldn't betray his trust and tell Lloyd his secret. He needed to reassure him.

Lloyd stood from his spot on the couch. "Then it's settled. Don't worry Mithos, Noishe will keep you company." They all heard an agreeable woof from outside.

Colette laughed. "Oh, I missed playing with Noishe. You're so lucky Mithos!"

Mithos hummed politely along with her laugh. "He is a very good dog."

A short time later...

"Genis, are you coming?" Lloyd called, opening the door from outside on the deck and sticking his head in.

Genis shared a glance with Mithos. "I'll be there in a minute!"

Colette waved goodbye to Mithos and hurried out to join Lloyd, Sheelos and Noishe outside, finally leaving them in peace.

When Mithos took a quick step toward him, he flinched back. Mithos stopped his advance and looked concerned. "Genis, are you scared of me?"

"N-no," he stuttered. It was a half-lie. Mithos bowed his head. He felt guilty. "I-I mean-" He sighed. "Maybe a little."

"Please don't be," Mithos pleaded, holding his hand out to him. "We're friends after all, aren't we?"

"Y-yeah." Genis tried to stop his nervous twitch as he took the extended limb. He glanced behind himself to the door for a second. "Sorry you have to stay here."

"It's alright," Mithos shrugged coolly. "You agreed to go with them anyway. You can tell me what's really going on once you get back." He grinned and clapped his hands together as though pleased. "It's perfect! I always wanted to know more about the Renegades."

"You know it's the Renegades that we're going to pay a visit to?"

Mithos scoffed. "I'm not a fool. They have been trying to get in my way for a very long time. They are almost impossible to track down, too."

"Right," Genis responded. Being honest with him while also investigating the full story was starting to seem a little easier than he'd first figured. Mithos looked quite happy at the idea of learning more about his enemies. He wondered whether it was clouding his judgement on what else could happen while he had a chance to talk to Lloyd or whether he simply was trusting that he wouldn't betray him.

How could he betray Mithos now? His methods to achieve a reality of half-elves being able to live freely were nothing short of questionable, but it seemed possible. Not only that, but he had to consider that Presea might end up being saved as a result. He was left with no real choice but to go along with it for now if he wanted to make good on his promise to her. He let go and smiled at Mithos before turning on his heel and leaving to join his friends.

xxx

Nerves got the best of him as their group of four travelled together through the freezing wind-swept island of ice. Lloyd and Colette shuffled together a little further ahead since Lloyd had volunteered for the job of directing them toward the faint grey outline of the snow city in the distance. Sheelos hung back slightly, seeming to prefer walking next to him. She was kicking her feet in the snow and sniffing every so often. Despite wondering what she was up to, Genis had more important fish to fry. The problem was that it was going to be difficult to bring the conversation up naturally without revealing to them that he knew more than he should.

After getting somewhat tired of the constant interruption to his thoughts from Sheelos' odd behaviour, he left her trailing behind to cut through the middle of Lloyd and Colette. They stopped talking about snowflakes and looked at him. He found himself currently very glad that the snow wasteland was so cold that his friends couldn't tell the difference between someone being nervous and shivering.

"Did you come here very often?" Colette asked him in her calm and polite voice that Genis recognised as the one Colloyd had reserved for strangers. He tried not to let it bother him. He was a stranger to them, after all.

"Not really," he answered. "Do either of you have family here?" He completely avoided eye contact with Lloyd and pretended to be fully focused on the rough terrain and the village ahead.

"I don't know," Lloyd said, sounding pretty down. "I can't remember my real parents. They might have though." He smiled broadly, leaving no trace of his earlier sadness. "I love travelling and always thought I must have gotten a taste for it from them since my dad is a dwarf and doesn't travel much."

"Oh," Genis cast his gaze downward to the almost blinding blanket of snow at his feet. He trailed his eyes off to the side to see Colette looking in thought at something.

She blinked and jolted her head up and to the side to look at Lloyd. "Oh I'm so sorry Lloyd! We've had so much happen that I forgot to tell you about your mother!"

"Huh?" Lloyd stopped mid-step and blinked at Colette. "You mean our mother, right?"

"Um, yeah," Colette nodded.

"What do you know?" Lloyd asked, continuing walking.

"Now this I've gotta hear!" Sheelos cooed as she caught up with them and spread her arms so that she was perching on both Colette and Lloyd's shoulders and making it incredibly hard for Genis to keep walking right in the middle of them. He sped up just slightly but couldn't help but feel like an accessory to the conversation now as it continued.

"She has brown hair like yours," Colette said. "A bit longer though."

Lloyd nodded. Her description matched what he'd seen in his dreams of his birth parents. Though he couldn't see anything above her neck line but shadows usually, he'd noticed that her hair fell to at least past her shoulders.

Colette jumped at remembering something else. "Oh and also your eyes. I think you have her eyes." She nodded to herself and closed her eyes in thought. "She said your fathers name is Kratos."

"Kratos..." Lloyd repeated. It sounded quite noble. He liked it quite a bit. Kratos and Lloyd sounded like a father-son duo that would get up to no good and end up in trouble with the mother. He could imagine his father taking the blame for his mishaps but also being the firm but kind type, from the dreams he'd experienced. Lastly he imagined himself on his fathers shoulders and looking up at the starry heavens above.

"Kratos. What a unique name," Sheelos interrupted, fascination clear on her face. "I bet nobody else in this whole world has it!"

Glad that he was walking ahead of the rest of them now, Genis allowed himself to grimace at just how true her statement was.

"Can you remember mum's name?" Lloyd asked. Colette still seemed uncomfortable with the idea that they were siblings.

"Um..." She tilted her head from side to side. "She told me to call her Anna."

Genis stumbled in the snow at the name. He almost wished he could go back in time and remove himself from the conversation. He couldn't un-hear the name and it just made everything ten times more confusing.

Anna was very clearly one of the souls inside Annalicia. He figured the second soul might have been called Alicia. The only problem was that it was clear that Annalicia had still very much been one person when he and Presea had found themselves in the Angelus Project not too long ago. Whoever this 'Anna' was, she most definitely wasn't Lloyd's or Colette's mother. She'd known the name 'Kratos' though, and 'Kratos' had been a part of Kraine.

"Just what is going on?" He held his hurting head until he heard a sudden shriek behind himself, followed by a thud.

"Colette!" Lloyd exclaimed.

"Owch," Colette declared. Genis turned to see she had tripped in usual Colette fashion. Lloyd scowled at Sheelos. It seemed pretty likely that Colette had tripped because she'd been hanging on to them.

"Hey!" the assassin-Chosen protested before Lloyd could voice his accusation. She pointed to the ground. "Don't blame me. She tripped on that thing!"

Genis had already seen it. On the ground by Colette's feet sat an icy looking lever. It'd been covered with a thin layer of snow that was now flying off in the wind. Lloyd looked at the lever and raised a confused eyebrow. "What is it?" He helped Colette up while she looked at it too.

"It looks like some kind of switch."

"It's the switch for the Renegade base," Sheelos explained. Genis laughed at the expressions of Lloyd and Colette. They hadn't turned around yet to see the mammoth blue domed building now sitting directly in front of them. It looked very similar to the Renegade base in Sylvarant. Sheelos pointed and they turned their heads to gasp at the same time.

"Is this really it?" Colette asked, smelling the air. "It smells so sweet here." She stopped moving her head. Genis guessed she'd seen the flower garden not too far away. "Oh!"

"Just hold on a minute Colette," Sheelos whispered, catching her arm and surveying the surroundings. "We can't just walk in. Yuan hasn't come back with the rheairds. That doesn't seem like a good sign."

"Oh of course," Colette agreed. She smiled thoughtfully at Sheelos. "Don't worry Sheelos. I'm sure he's alright."

Sheelos crossed her arms and looked away. "What? I'm not worried about him. The Cerberus can take care of himself. I do want to give him a piece of my mind though!"

"You two must be very close," Colette observed. "He might have been the Cerberus by duty, but I think he wants to protect you regardless."

Sheelos flinched and her face turned as red as her hair for a second. Genis couldn't help but cackle. "Y-you don't know what you're saying Colette!" Sheelos squeaked.

Colette covered her mouth and quickly looked toward Genis. "Oh! I forgot! I'm so sorry!" She bowed in apology. "If it helps, I feel like Genis is one of us. I don't think he will tell anyone yours or Yuan's secret."

Genis wiped the grin off of his face and nodded to play along with it. "I feel like I'm one of you guys as well."

"Well then, as long as Lloyd agrees, the feeling is mutual," Sheelos said, turning to Lloyd. Genis found his hand on his shoulder as Lloyd grinned and nodded happily. He almost lost his balance when Lloyd put some strength into shaking him affectionately. "Then it's settled. We'll take him with us."

"You make it sound like I'm a pet," he thought. He would have voiced it too, if it weren't for his undercover situation. "What's all this about?" he asked instead.

"Come on kid, don't act all dumb," Sheelos said, rolling her eyes at him.

"I'm not a kid," he replied before he could even stop himself. Sheelos quirked an eyebrow while Lloyd snickered. "You sound just like Gesea."

Genis didn't trust himself to say anything and so just gave him a questioning look. Lloyd cleared his throat. "She's my best friend and she is in a lot of trouble at the moment. We're going to get these flying things called rheairds so we can save her life."

"Oh," Genis said neutrally. "I'm sorry to hear that." He hadn't actually thought about the fact that his friends might come to save him. Guilt set in again as he imagined the look on Lloyd's face when they found their way to the Dragons Nest only to find that "Gesea" was nowhere to be seen.

"I have to do something.."

Once again he was at a loss. What could he do without revealing Mithos' story as a fake and revealing his true identity in the process? He felt sorry for Mithos. Four thousand years. That was how long he'd suffered with the knowledge of Origin's curse. Genis was tired of it after only a few hours.

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