Birds of a feather
Birds of a feather
Kraine tried not to breathe too deeply as the captain of the Papal Knights and the City Guard, along with six other knights, led him along the hallways of the palace to the throne room where the King currently resided. The warmth from the burning Cruxis crystal in his hand would have bothered him if it weren't for the fact that it was a good sign. Not that he wanted to think too much on it for the time being, given the circumstances.
The King looked quite surprised to see him the way he normally dressed but with a different shade of hair. He had revealed his true hair colour a couple of times as a sign of respect to the monarch when they had discussed Tethe'allan business and when he had been dubbed as Duke, but for the most part he always wore the blue wig that George had given to him as way to keep him out of the public eye. It had apparently worked better than expected even now that every man and his dog in Tethe'alla had seen his face at least once. Still, a part of him regretted his limited at best contact with the King. Had he not been so limited, perhaps it might have been easier to have discovered Yuan's identity as the Cerberus far before now. He stopped before the King and bowed his head in respect. "Your Majesty."
"Is it really true?" the King asked in question, raising slightly out of his gold and red chair and narrowing his eyes at him. "Duke Regal Bryant has come back to Tethe'alla at such a time as this?" He hacked a cough. Kraine noted that he sounded like he was in the final stages of his poisoning. They would need to find the antidote soon.
Princess Hilda rested a hand on her fathers shoulder. "Be careful father. You are not well."
Kraine recalled her being a toddler when he'd last seen her. She had grown into quite the beauty and though his heart well and truly belonged to another, he would have been tongue tied did he not prefer to stay his mouth for the time being.
"Regardless of which," the King replied, placing a hand over hers while it still sat on his shoulder, "I refused to not see such an event for myself." He crafted a smile across his face as though it took him great effort. Kraine remembered when the now frail monarch had been young and spritely, when the princess had been nothing more than a twinkle in his eye. He'd 'met' him then as well, but not as "Regal Bryant", the successor to the Lezareno Companies fortune by inheritance, but as "Kratos Aurion," the one to sign and date the said will to "Regal Bryant," his alias for this life time, as recommended by Mithos.
'Kratos Aurion' had retired despite his youthful appearance and 'Regal Bryant' had taken to the limelight. One of those closest to him had not been fooled though, and he had long ago needed to entrust George with the angelic secret to his immortality. Of course, his trusted friend and corporate advisor still knew nothing of why he was an angel or his involvement with Cruxis, only that it was a secret he must take to the grave. He had no qualms that his trust in him on that aspect had been well placed.
Of course, the older generation of people in the company and his associates had addressed him as Kratos Aurion to begin with as well. They had then switched to calling him Kratos Bryant one morning he had awoken, shortly before he had retired. Origin's curse had been helpful for once, allowing him to much more simply convince everyone of his own new alias as his direct descendant, Regal Bryant, a boy kept out of the limelight while he did home schooling and travelled the world in his youth.
The Papal Knight Captain stepped forward and bowed slightly. "Your Majesty, Duke Bryant was caught attempting to assassinate His Holiness the Pope."
Princess Hilda gasped. Both pairs of eyes trailed down to the handcuffs holding his hands together. "Is this true, Duke Bryant?" the Princess asked, her voice not more than a shocked whisper.
The King nodded in agreement. "I too have trouble believing this as truth. We address you with respect and seek to hear it from your mouth alone."
"I am thankful for the respect," Kraine answered, stooping his head. They weren't making things any easier, but the truth had to be told. He flexed his hands and started. "There are many things that I am guilty of, Your Majesty. It was, however, not my intention to murder the Pope. He and I are old friends and have always had a certain way of resolving arguments."
The captain took a step forward in order to defend the pope with the likely response that Gabriel did not see it the same way. Feeling his hand burning even hotter with each passing second, Kraine knew it was time. "There is another crime I am guilty of," he added, interrupting the captain. "A crime I feel I must atone for."
"No, you're not guilty!"
He swallowed and tried to ignore the voice that rung through his mind before continuing. "I am guilty of killing a young woman who once served as a maid in my company." The room stayed quiet as though they expected him to have more to add. He breathed deeply and continued at their request. "I offer no excuse for it. The rumours are true. I murdered Annalicia Combatage."
As expected, the King looked disappointed to hear that, but not altogether shocked. Kraine suspected that after all his years in service to the throne, he had begun to see the truth in a persons soul before they even spoke a word. Not that it often mattered; it was human nature to deny their most basic senses, after all. His own father had been victim to an even crueller fate than the King thanks to his inability to believe a conspiracy on his life brewing before his very eyes.
"No! I can't let you do this Kraine. I will not!"
He smiled as Annalicia's voice echoing through his head became even clearer and as the exsphere on his right hand glowed brightly and furiously in response. A pleasantly numb and light feeling spread quickly from the base of the Cruxis crystal and quickly travelled through his body. The colour red wrapped itself around the corners of his vision until he found himself looking at the King through a small shrouded looking window. The view of the surroundings outside the looking glass changed and instead faced the guards that had captured him after Gabriel had sounded the silent alarm. They immediately tried to restrain his body, but Annalicia, now in control, quickly ducked under their grasps with the well trained precision the many years of running from Desians had afforded her, and out through the doors toward the light of the main atrium that led to freedom.
"You didn't kill me Kraine," he heard Annalicia whisper in her voice as two of the surrounding guards stepped in her way. "I begged you to end it for me. There's a difference!"
She struggled under the weight of the guards all around her holding her down. His body still feeling weak despite his soul having been displaced from it, Kraine knew she stood little chance. His vision of the events unfolding dimmed. He heard Annalicia scream before the world stopped moving and the chill of a memory from that night crept down his spine.
"Take him to the prison," the Papal Knight Captain ordered from somewhere afar. "We must strip his Duke title from him before standing him on trial before a proper jury. Be sure to take his blood."
Mithos took his mouth away from the pan flute attached to a woven string of what looked like dried flower stems around his neck and dropped it back into his shirt. Genis looked at him with curiosity, wondering why he had brought it out and blown into it after telling him that he hadn't been very subtle in his preoccupation at what the rest of the group was doing.
"Just watch," his blond half-elf friend responded to his look, a mischievous smile on his face and his eyes glittering with excitement for some reason. Genis found himself even more curious. He craned his head upward to look at the blue sky through the opening in the canopy of trees where a spotlight of light filtered down to them. Nothing all that special seemed to be happening. A hungrily crying seagull flapped past after about a minute, but for the most part he was left to stare at the fluffy white clouds as they floated lazily across the blanket of blue and gradually covered the sun. He had to shield his eyes when they moved out of the way again. An eagle-like call filled his ears and a red shape flew in front of the sun and disappeared a second later. He blinked, sure his eyes had just played tricks on him. Mithos was looking amused, one hand rested on his hip while he also shielded his eyes from the bright sun with the other one. The same song crowed overhead again, this time sounding much, much closer.
A brilliant ray of light shone down from the sun to them while the dust from the patio of the house behind them raised up from its resting spot, gusting around their feet, and as the leaves on every bush and shrub in the vicinity rustled. Genis jumped back a bit when the ray of light curled itself into a small white ball before forming the body of a golden coloured two-headed bird, its primary red coloured wings tipped with spears of what looked to be ethereal purple mana.
"Mithos the Hero calls," said a voice. Genis stared. The voice coming from the bird sounded so peculiar; as though it carried on the wind around them from all directions.
"Aska, would you please carry us to Meltokio? It is of great importance," Mithos requested.
"Aska is a summon spirit and is not a ferrying service, even to Mithos the Hero," the bird- Aska- replied, ruffling his feathers and tucking his wings against his lanky body.
Genis felt his heart sink to his knees. "But you have to!" slipped out of his mouth. He decided to roll with it. "If you're a summon spirit, aren't you bound by a pact with Mithos?"
Aska observed him with one of his heads while the other head turned its eyes on Mithos. "Just because one is bound by pact does not mean one has total control over Aska. Luna fulfils that need while Aska flies freely."
Mithos growled furiously and stomped his feet into the ground. "Aska! I called you here. Please help us."
"Aska can not." The summon spirit, seeming to think he had made his point clear, began to fade away in typical summon spirit fashion.
"Wait!" Genis cried, looking at Mithos. "We have to do something. We'll never catch up with Kraine if we go by foot."
"I know that!" Mithos snapped angrily, glaring at Aska. "Wait! Please wait!"
"Aska has no more to say," Aska cawed in response, outstretching and flapping his wings to probably show that he was going to be leaving.
"Yuan said it was important we go to Meltokio!" Mithos exclaimed, sounding desperate. Genis frowned, wondering what had possessed his friend to say that in particular as opposed to a bunch of other possible ways to call the summon spirit of light back. He found himself even more taken aback when Aska's ethereal presence started to turn complete again until the bird was back in full form standing before them.
"Lord Yuan has said this?" Aska asked, casting both sets of eyes on Mithos with extra intensity.
Genis knew he would have crumbled under the stare. Mithos did not. "He definitely said we needed to go to find Kraine in Meltokio."
Aska shifted from one foot to the other for a second, then turned his heads toward each other. Genis scoffed down a laugh at the idea of the summon spirit having a conversation with itself, intimidated by the idea of getting an Aska stare like Mithos had just a few moments ago.
"Very well then," Aska agreed indignantly, outstretching his wings to the ground.
Mithos skirted around the beast and climbed up onto his back without hesitation, using the natural fold of the bone under the plumage as a stepping stone. "Come on Genis," he called, reaching out his hand. "Hold my hand while you climb. You won't fall, I promise!"
With no argument left to give, Genis gave in and grinned as he raised his foot to lever himself up to Aska's back. Mithos caught his hand and laughed gleefully as he sat behind him. "Let's go Aska!"
"Yeah!" Genis wooed. "To Meltokio!"
"Aska wishes to remind you of the dangers of flying without proper protection," Aska said, having no problems turning each of his necks in a 360 degree angle to face the two half-elf boys. They groaned at the same time, each with various glints of excitement showing on their features.
"Should we be wearing disguises?" Lloyd asked as the group approached the city from the side of the outer wall after dismounting their rheairds. "What if the Pope and his Papal Knights are still putting a wanted sign on our heads?"
"Of course we will be wearing disguises," Yuan responded, like he'd stated the obvious. He realised he kind of had, but a small blossom of irritation rose to the surface of his consciousness. Yuan was keeping secrets again. On the way to Meltokio, the ex-professor had refused to answer why he had known that Kraine would be there. They'd dropped the subject after another game of questions, but the lines to read between for the conversation gave Lloyd nothing new to work with. It was frustrating.
The half-elf dropped the backpack he carried at all times and unzipped it from the top. Lloyd watched keenly, frustrations boiling to the top slowly as the bluenette rummaged through.
"Hold on," Sheelos called to the two of them. She was peering around the corner of the wall that led to the main gate.
"Yeah, come look at this!" Colette waved them to get a closer view. Lloyd and Yuan shared a quick glance and followed, Yuan slinging his pack back onto his shoulders.
Like a group of cuckoo birds all turning sideways simultaneously out of a clock, they all peered around the corner again. Lloyd immediately saw what they were talking about. The front gates had been so heavily guarded the last time they were there that they were pretty hard to forget. The whole premises seemed devoid of any of its usual militia.
"I wonder what's happening?" Sheelos questioned. "Meltokio never sleeps their guards. They have twenty-four hour alternating shifts."
"It appears something quite substantial must have happened," Yuan agreed.
Lloyd grinned to himself and marched on ahead for a moment until Yuan managed to catch him by the white scarf and hold him still. "And just what is your plan when we get in? Have you forgotten that we are all wanted still?"
"I figured they might not see us," Lloyd explained. He slumped his shoulders, feeling dumb. "I guess you're right though. Damn. I've got to start thinking things through properly."
Yuan let go of the white scarf and sighed. "I suppose you're not totally incorrect. We might very well be able to enter the city undetected. We should get a closer look while the coast is clear." He quickly traipsed over to the entrance that faced into the city, Sheelos darting after him quickly to keep up with the action. Lloyd tagged along after the Chosen and Cerberus, Colette at his side. Meltokio, or at least the first district of the city, was almost silent. It was unnatural.
"Something is definitely happening at the castle," Yuan grumbled. Sheelos narrowed her eyes at him but said nothing. He didn't continue on with any train of thought either.
"Where do you think Kraine is?" Lloyd asked, interrupting the silence and looking at Colette.
"Um, maybe he's buying some gels?" Colette asked. "Hmm... no, that doesn't sound right, does it?" She and Lloyd turned to Yuan expectantly. He opened his mouth but stopped when Sheelos elbowed him. "And no, it's not a game of questions!"
"I had no intention of starting a game," Yuan scoffed, "I'd lose."
"Huh?" Lloyd furrowed his brows. "You mean you knew he'd be in Meltokio but not where?"
"Yes." Yuan stood and stretched. "Now, listen to my plan. You'll need to go on ahead to the noble district. Stay clear of the castle even if you see a crowd. Go to the large house there with the statues on either side and tell Sebastian that the Chosen sent you."
"You mean-" Lloyd started.
Yuan nodded before he finished his train of thought. "I trust I don't need to remind you that I am the Chosen here?"
"Got it," he beamed, then faced Colette. "Okay. Let's go Colette."
"Take Sheelos too," Yuan instructed.
"What?!" Sheelos let out a cry of anguish. "There is no chance in hell I am letting you off the hook to do whatever you want on your own again!" Her cheeks flushed vibrantly and she stuttered. "I-I mean-"
Yuan sighed and turned away. "Suit yourself." He started up ahead again.
Sheelos turned around in a circle, looking conflicted now. Colette solved her strange problem by walking up to her and gently pushing her in the direction of Yuan. Even though he wanted to know what Yuan was going to do, Lloyd was also glad to have some time with Colette. After all they had been through as one, he really wanted to understand what made her an individual now. The best part, he thought as he grinned like a cat to himself, was that they had no secrets from each other.
While he held on tight to Mithos with one hand and gripped the warm feathers of Aska with the other as they glided along through the sky, Genis had some time to feel bad about his distraction with Kraine. It had been almost impossible to focus on what Mithos had started to explain to him about what they needed to do in order to help Presea. From what he could make out amongst his fellow half-elf's somewhat nondescript explanations though, basic training involved a few mental and physical exercises to enable the special exsphere to absorb more energy. That energy would eventually allow Presea's soul to much more easily leave the exsphere while the rune crest was still attached once it grew powerful enough to develop a new body for her based on her soul. Even though he still didn't fully understand the mechanics of it, he sort of got it. Mana was the source of life after all. It made sense that a special exsphere like the Angelus Project would be able to be capable of at least creating a body for a soul if enough mana was able to be provided.
"Do you like riding on Aska, Genis?" Mithos asked, turning his head to him.
He nodded and took a deep breath of the air. "It's so different to flying on the rheairds."
"The rheairds are not a natural part of the world," Mithos explained. "Using natures resources respectfully, I think you are more inclined to appreciate the beauty of the world." He turned his back to him again. "We might not be able to fly using Aska again after this though."
"Aska is only doing this favour as a service to Lord Yuan," Aska was quick to remind them.
"I know that," Mithos muttered. "Thank you Aska." He shook his head. "What I mean is that Sheelos will likely sooner rather than later form pacts with the other summon spirits, including Aska." His voice went vacant toward the later part of his explanation.
"Oh.. yeah.." Genis agreed uncomfortably as the memory of how Mithos had acted in Volt's temple ventured to the forefront of his mind. Mithos had seemed quite distressed back then. He recalled when Yuan had pulled him aside for a while when he and Presea (as Gesea), Sheelos, Lloyd and the then vacant Colette had gone to go and get the rheairds from Mt Fooji. There was no doubt that Mithos and Yuan had discussed many things at length.
Sometimes he still couldn't quite picture the leader of Cruxis and Mithos as the same person though. When the seals and the Chosen were involved, he seemed like a completely different person. In his human child form like he was now though, and as he cackled when the cold tip of a cloud skimmed over the top of their heads, he seemed so comforting to be around. He felt like an old friend despite their relatively recent meeting. It was pretty weird.
Before Genis knew it, they were already on the outskirts of Meltokio. Aska landed on the ground and lowered his wings along the grassy ground to allow them to disembark. The moment his feet touched the ground and he turned to face the summon spirit, he found Aska had already disappeared.
"Nice work Mithos!" he complemented instead to his friend as they both turned from the empty surroundings to gaze at the front gates to the Tethe'allan capital. "You didn't even have to lie to Aska."
"Lying is a cowards way," Mithos grumbled, the chirp he'd earlier had in his voice disappearing and a scowl materialising in its place. "It is also the way of the humans."
"Yeah," Genis had to agree, at first anyway. "Not all humans are liars though. Colloy-uh, Lloyd and Colette are different. Lloyd lies, but its never about anything serious I don't think. Colette, well, I can't even imagine her lying unless it's to protect something really important."
He was suddenly reminded of his own pickle jar regarding Yuan and Mithos and the rest of the world. A part of him wanted to ask Mithos then and there about when he would be allowed to tell his friends the truth about what was going on. Things seemed to be getting more and more complicated as time marched on. It was now only a matter of time before they found Kraine and discovered that Gesea technically existed no longer.
"I understand," Mithos replied, surprising him a little with his change of heart so rapidly. "Gabriel is still a human. He has helped me more times than I can recount and has never lied to me," he went on to add.
"Never?" Genis wondered how he could be so sure of that.
Mithos shook his head. "Never. He is a trusted friend and ally."
"I'd like to meet him sometime."
Mithos quickly shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't let you meet him. Not yet anyway."
"Oh." Genis looked down and shifted awkwardly, feeling like he'd crossed some kind of line. He wondered whether this was how Colloyd had felt whenever he and Kraine refused to talk about their time travelling with Novariel's caravan. "How are we going to get in there anyway?" he asked so the subject could be changed.
Mithos raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean? Neither of us are wanted people."
Genis blinked and a realisation hit him. Mithos was right of course. The Pope wanted the 'Chosen' and his friends, but the last time they'd gotten into trouble had been before he and Presea had split. He snickered and continued ahead in fearless amusement.
As they entered Meltokio, Genis stood around near the stairs and crossed his arms. "Why is it so quiet?" A bird tweeted and hopped along the cobblestone ground, pecking at small shoots of grass around the large street lamp to his left.
"I don't know," Mithos said, looking just as stumped. "The last time the capital was this quiet was when..." He trailed off before finishing his sentence and shook his head. "That's not important. What I mean to say is that when something bad happens in a big city like this, usually the castle is the place to get all the gossip." He looked incredibly uneasy then as he started to climb the steps to the middle class residential quarters where Genis still very clearly remembered seeing Rodyle near the fountain. A shiver ran down his spine even now. He followed Mithos up and wondered what he would have said.
A city guard carrying what looked mostly just like a decorative spear approached from the north. Mithos approached him without two cares in the world. "Excuse me mister?"
"What is it young man?" the guard asked, raising the visor of his uniform to reveal the crinkled eyes of a somewhat elderly man. He looked friendly enough. Genis tried to relax himself and smile.
"Where is everyone?" Mithos questioned as he gestured to the city.
"You don't know?" the guard asked, sounding surprised. "Were you playing hide and seek or something while the news spread? Regal Bryant is back in Meltokio and has just confessed to murder."
"H-he has?" Even Mithos couldn't hide his surprise. Genis was glad that he was entitled to show his shock. Unlike him however, Mithos seemed to be able to find the ability to still speak. "What is going to happen to him?"
"He will be tried in court of course," the guard responded. "In the mean time, he's been thrown in jail." He lowered the visor on his uniform again and reached a hand out to Mithos' head. "Don't worry though kiddo! He won't escape. Run along now." He ruffled his hair and laughed heartily while Mithos stood rigid with his fists clenched at his sides.
A little bit frightened to say much, Genis waited for him to calm himself. Mithos eventually took a deep breath and looked at him, a sharp glare from his irritation still lingering in his blue eyes. "Let's head to the Colosseum."
"The Colosseum?" Genis managed to ask, his legs still feeling like jelly from the revelation.
Mithos nodded. "If it's still there, there should be a passage in the waiting room that leads straight through to the dungeon. We just need to sign up and get in there." He made a bee line for the left wing of the city. Genis raced to catch up. "We won't have to fight anyone, will we?" He stuttered, realising he needed to re-phrase to avoid looking like a coward. "Not that I don't think we could kick their butts though!"
Mithos snorted and shook his head. "Nah. We'll get Kraine and escape before they call us into the arena for the match. Getting past the guard should be a piece of cake."