The pain of preserving a poker face
The pain of preserving a poker face
"Hey! Are you okay? Can you hear me? Gosh I hope you're not dead."
A light and honeyed voice buzzed in his ears but it was actually the acute shiver going down his spine that finally resuscitated Genis. He took a deep breath and quickly stood, realising that the cold metal under his bare arms and legs seemed to be the culprit. Darkness surrounded him almost entirely, the exception being a small strip of light coming from what looked like a crack in the door. He paused and thought hard for a second, trying to recollect what had happened. He drew a blank and quickly came to the conclusion that he was suffering from amnesia.
Getting frustrated at his lack of memory currently, he tried to discern his surroundings to see if that would give it a bit of kick. Aside from the darkness that his eyes were slowly adjusting to, he could also hear an odd grinding noise. He thought he'd heard it before. Past the noise, he could make out the sound of cantering horse hoofs. The whole room he'd awoken in jolted suddenly, sending him to his backside with a gasp.
"Are you okay?"
Startled by the voice and realising he'd forgotten in his vague state to investigate who it was coming from, he whirled around. It sounded like it was coming from somewhere behind him. Almost out of habit, he set about concentrating to get a read of the mana signature of the person in the room. He found it almost immediately. It was a rather strange one though- not the usual type you would find coming from a half-elf or a full-blooded elf. It wasn't a typically angelic one either. Surrounded by angels now, he'd figured out some similarities in their mana fingerprints and felt confident in comparing them.
Something tugged in the back of his mind when he thought about angels. He squinted one eye closed to think harder again, but it still appeared his brain didn't want to cooperate. He sighed to himself and cleared his throat. "Hello?"
He heard a sigh from close by, where he thought the person was standing. "Thank goodness," the boy said, sounding oddly relieved. "That might have been really bad."
Confused, Genis took a few blind steps toward the voice. He opened his mouth to ask who they were and more importantly where they were but quickly choked the words down when he found his face colliding with cold metal. Squinting hard and reaching his hands out to feel around, he found solid metal bars a couple of inches apart from each other, protruding from down near his feet on the ground to somewhere higher than he could reach. His eyes adjusting much better now, he could see dark shapes of what looked to be various large boxes surrounding him on the left and right and a clear walkway from his location to the slit of light at the end of the room.
A light throb in the back of his neck forced him to slap it like he was trying to kill a mosquito. The throbbing subsided again, but he could feel a tiny raised lump. Another flash of memory came to him. The picture of a very familiar caravan. Without even realising in the moment of memory, his hand had trailed down to the Angelus project on his right hand and started tracing around the bumps on his skin from the rune crest that lay underneath it. The memories finally started to spur.
The circle of the arena came to mind, everything still black and white from when Mithos had stopped time. Mithos' words had surprised him then. He thought about them and felt like he was hearing them for the first time again.
"Welcome to Cruxis Genis," Mithos had said.
He shivered. He hadn't been able to form a proper sentence after that.
"Very funny Mithos," he said, giving an unsure chuckle.
Mithos closed his eyes again and rested his head back to the ground. "I'm okay," he mumbled as though half asleep. "Just need to rest. I'll heal faster..."
"W-wait a second! Mithos!" He shook him. "What in the world am I meant to do?"
He remembered the cheering of the crowd returning at that moment. It hadn't lasted very long though before a unanimous shocked gasp swept around and out of almost every spectators mouth. The shadow of his and Mithos' dragon knight assailant had also started to move again. With only a second to act and his back aching even more than it had been during the last couple of fights, he'd somehow mustered his empty reserves of strength to lift the unconscious Mithos into his arms.
It had seemed impossible to get far enough away in that split second. Feeling the hot breath of the dragon, he took a flying leap off to the side, barely able to lift Mithos. The only thing was though, he'd expected to land and probably graze his elbows in the fall. The crowd's eyes all fell on him at that point; not that he could have blamed them. He had been hovering up in the air several metres from the arena floor after all. Even though the worry of Mithos slipping out of his aching arms had been a concern, he hadn't been able to stop himself being preoccupied with something else.
"I had wings.." Despite realising the boy in the cage was looking at him through the darkness, he stole a quick glance over his shoulder. He saw nothing of course, but not too long ago it had been quite different.
Floating above the arena and all the gasping and pointing civilians, he'd turned his head to see tendrils of sparkling and silver coloured mana flapping in mesmerising beats behind him, curling around themselves on the edges like the dog-eared pages of a good book. Examining the blood stain on Mithos' stomach and hovering back down out of fear of dropping him and making the damage worse, he simultaneously eyed their dragon knight assailant. The towering beast of a monster had looked pretty confused that he'd missed his chance at killing them again.
The moments that followed had seemed pretty hopeless. He hadn't known what to do. His mana reserves were well and truly exhausted and his body ached in the parts where it wasn't completely numb. Once he'd put Mithos gently to the ground, his own knees had given out underneath him. Just as the monster stomped toward him, nostrils flaring again, a whistle had sounded. He remembered feeling quite relieved when the horn used typically for the end of the match blared as well.
The crowd started to clear almost immediately. A few of the people in the front seats seemed far less happy with the outcome though and were yelling things about wanting their money back since the fight hadn't ended with him being beaten to within an inch of his life. His relief faded to confusion pretty soon though when a man wearing a yellow and red mask with feathery hair decorations stepped into the arena through the now raising monster gate and approached them. The dragon knight lumbered past him, paying him no attention and pretty soon disappearing through the open gate into the darkness.
"Are you okay?" the man asked, reaching a hand out to him. "I'm sorry the battle couldn't be ended quicker. There is a strict time limit on battles. Looks like you escaped mostly intact though."
Looking back on it, Genis wished he'd had the sense to recognise the voice through the mask. If he had, and hadn't been more focused on instructing him that his friend needed some medical attention, he might not have ended up in his current predicament.
"Yes yes, I have already taken care of that. You might want to put your wings away though and come with me. I can get you out of the city without being seen."
He'd felt unsure about that, but given the fact that he was likely to not be able to escape even to the outer part of the Colosseum had swayed his judgement somewhat. He'd figured if he could use the help, he might also be able to use it to his advantage to be able to get closer to Kraine. If this person had a deal with the arena, he might have been able to grease a few wheels to allow some visiting hours in the jail. Just maybe.
Unfortunately for him, life didn't want to work that way. The moment the man in the mask led him out to a grassy patch just behind the back of Meltokio and beyond the wall, he had tried to turn and run. Not seeing the face of his 'rescuer' didn't matter any more after that. He would have recognised the enormous gold and white trimmed wheels and bright orange decked carriage anywhere. He might have gotten away if it weren't for a combination of weariness to the point of almost fainting and for the needle he'd had injected into his neck the moment he was overpowered before he could squirm out from under his attacker.
His pulse quickening as the remainder of his short term memory returned, he listened once again to the familiar sounds around him. It was hard to believe that the same noise of horse hooves against gravel and the slight vibration of the floor that had once put him to sleep like a baby now gave him the intense desire to run like a coward and not look back. Trying to distract his thoughts so that he didn't end up hyperventilating, he squinted back at the boy in the cage near him. He could make out that he had long hair that was tied back in a ponytail like Yuan's.
Seeming to know he'd looked at him again (whether he'd been watching him space out for those few moments as his memories returned, he didn't know), the boy waved a hand in greeting. "I was getting worried you weren't going to wake up before we get to wherever that man is taking us," he said with oddly cheerful tones, raising his voice at the end of his sentence. Genis quirked an eyebrow. The boy moved closer to the edges of his makeshift cell and looked toward the thin strip of light. It shone through a small part of his hair, revealing it was of a green hue. "He got both of us good and proper didn't he."
"Tell me about it," Genis groaned, deciding all in all to take comfort in the fact that he wasn't on his own. "How did he get you?"
"Oh." The boy sounded a bit uncomfortable with the question and there was a moment of silence between them. "Well, I can't go into the details with you but basically that guy who I heard the kids call Novariel was on his way into the city for something and spotted me when I accidentally forgot to hide my tail."
"Y-your tail?" Failing at being casual, Genis tilted his head and wished even more that he could see his new company a bit better. Green hair and a tail? He was not of elven lineage, or even dwarven. He didn't seem like a Katz either.
The boy gave him a broken laugh at that. "Yeah, I have a tail. Don't ask why though. I promised someone very dear to me in the name of Martel that I would not reveal my secret to another soul without express permission."
The mystery was deepening. Genis blamed Kraine's insatiable hunger for the facts on things for his own embedded need to know more. Living with a teacher had always been a blessing and a curse in equal measures. He just thanked his prism stars that he hadn't gotten sucked into being a maniac when it came to ruins. That was a defining feature of nobody else except his former brother.
Dropping the subject since it seemed like he was going to be left with very little response, he shifted his gaze down to the dirty floor. He could see a plate with a few pieces of dry bread and a tomato that looked like it was getting ready to either be thrown away or thrown out of sight. Either way, it looked like a fetch toy for Noishe. It was a good thing he wasn't hungry.
Gazing back to the boy, he wondered how long he'd been there. "Do you know what he's gonna do with us?"
"Beats me," the boy quickly answered. "If I had to guess though, it's something to do with selling rare creatures. I've heard them asking some passers-by's about the summon spirit Aska occasionally."
Whether it was all in his imagination or whether the boy was digging for him to tell him why he'd been kidnapped, Genis felt like he was being asked to tell his new secret to him. He kept his mouth shut though and tried to feign ignorance. The boy didn't seem to mind either way and reached a hand through the bars of his cage to the tomato on his own plate. With a quick sniff of Lloyd's most disliked fruit, he took a big juicy bite. "Can't altogether complain I guess," he said in-between sloppy sounding munches. "At least he's feeding us. I'm sure lots of prisoners have it worse."
"I guess?" Genis replied, trying not to cringe and wishing he had a subtle way to block his ears. Unable to stand it, he decided to speak up. "Um, you do know that the tomato is probably rotten right?"
The strange boy looked at the red fruit in his hand for a second, shrugged, and continued to eat. Genis cringed again and looked toward the strip of light. Just as he did, it got wider on both sides and a bearded man he recognised immediately stepped inside. A dangling light bulb from the roof buzzed on. Novariel smiled a merchants smile full of deceit right at him. He couldn't believe he'd once been fooled into believing a man like him could have been caring. Of course, until he'd discovered he and Kraine were half-elves, he'd shown them respect. They had very quickly after meeting him realised the need to be careful and keep their mouths shut about their dislike and disagreement with the way the Worldwide Survival Project operated and oppressed those that thought and felt differently though.
"You're awake, little angel," Novariel whispered, his usual deep voice disturbingly quiet. He approached closer and leaned down, resting back on his ankles. Genis realised he had a stick in his hands only when the man poked it through the bars at him. He shrunk away to the back of the cage, more surprised by a vicious sounding growl coming from the boy in the other cage all of a sudden.
"Leave him alone!" the boy bellowed. "He's just a child."
Novariel's eyebrows both raised as he said that. Quickly rising from his spot, the merchant and travelling caravan owner stalked over to the green haired boys cage. "Just a child, you say? And you are not?" He leaned over the cage with his hands on his hips and peered inside.
"Kraine!" Lloyd growled from the cell opposite him. "Why aren't you saying anything?"
"Please Kraine," Colette said in an attempt to maybe persuade him, even though it had not worked the last hundred times she and Lloyd had both tried. They could see the auburn haired seraph slumped against the back wall of the cell he was in. He gave no indication of a response. The only time they had even seen a flicker of movement from him had been when they had first been led in by the guards of the castle. He was, of course, quite surprised to see that they had also been captured for break and entering the place that happened to have a reputation for having the highest security in all of Tethe'alla.
Lloyd desperately gripped the enormous lock on their cell door and tried to poke around inside again with the small piece of wire the guards had not found when they'd searched him before locking them up. He was met with failure once again and retreated. The locks on their shackles had been a piece of cake; the lock on the cell door was nowhere near as simple however. Grumpy, he crossed his arms and trained his best glare on Kraine. "What did you do with Gesea? Is she okay? At least tell me that."
The seraph gave no response. Lloyd let out a cry of frustration. Nobody but he, Colette and Kraine occupied the jail. The truth stared him right in the face and yet he still did not want to believe it. Kraine was one of Cruxis. He had done a lot of things, both good and bad. He'd befriended them, been his teacher for three years and helped him become a better swordsman. He'd consoled him in his misery about exspheres and about his inevitable fate as the Chosen. He had betrayed them. But this? The rumours from the people about Duke Bryant whirled around his mind.
"This doesn't make any sense!" He struck a fist against the bars of the cell door angrily. "Annalicia.. she was yours and Gesea's sister! You can't have... you can't be.." He couldn't finish his sentence- not because his voice wouldn't let him, but because he didn't want to believe it.
Colette tapped him on the shoulder and broke him out of his very jumbled and confused thoughts. Partly glad for the distraction, he nodded, knowing what she was going to say. He'd heard the footsteps coming for a while toward the door but mostly ignored them. Slipping his makeshift lock pick back into the pocket of his trousers and helping Colette put her shackles back on without locking them again, then getting her help to do his own, he waited for the door to the exit of the jail to open.
The noise of the muffled crowd he and Colette had deduced probably came from the Colosseum grew louder again when the jail door creaked open. Two pairs of footsteps could be heard. He squinted, knowing he recognised the shape of one of them. It wasn't until he saw a very familiar head of blue hair as the two figures walked out from the dark hallway that led into the jail room that he found his worst fears realised. The half-elf cast a quick glance in Kraine's direction, then in theirs. He didn't seem all that surprised. Lloyd wasn't surprised either though. Yuan had a great poker face- almost as good as Kraine's.
Yuan patiently waited while the guard patted him down and then asked him to remove his cape. The ex-professor sighed loudly and turned his back toward Lloyd and Colette. Lloyd stared as he watched him summon a short dagger from the next dimension. With the other hand, he quickly counted silently down from three fingers and with the finesse of a trained assassin, backflipped away from the guard and threw the dagger at him. Even though it'd only seemed like a short and relatively weak weapon, Lloyd found himself amazed beyond words when the guard collapsed to his knees and then to the floor.
The half-elf leaned down and rummaged to take the keys off of the guards belt. Pulling the whole ring off, he threw it in their direction. Lloyd caught it and again released himself from his shackles by pulling his arms apart with a little bit of force. With a grateful nod at Yuan, he immediately started to try the first of about thirty different keys on the lock. It didn't budge. Sighing and trying to remain calm when the sounds of rushing footsteps converged on their location, he skipped the second key because it was not made of bronze like the padlock itself. It was also way too small.
Several more guards, this time dressed in papal knights attire came barrelling into the jail, spears and swords raised. They stopped just short of Yuan and pointed them all in his direction.
"Chosen, do not make this worse for yourself. Once the news passes through the hands of the king when he is well enough, you already face permanent exile to the South East Abbey for your deeds." They bowed their heads at the guard he'd already apprehended, then back up to him.
"Sorry, but I don't have time to waste by going there," Yuan smart-mouthed at them. Then, more quickly than Lloyd had ever seen anyone cast a spell before, a magic circle appeared at his feet. Mouthing the name and not actually calling it loudly, he sent a large crackle of lightning magic straight at his would-be assailants. At first it didn't look like it was going to do much. They laughed at how slowly it made its way to them. As Yuan stepped backward very quickly and clicked his fingers though, all they had a chance to do was stare before an explosion of his signature magic knocked them to their backsides.
"Got it!" Lloyd exclaimed finally when Yuan snapped his head in their direction, about to ask why in the name of Martel they hadn't escaped. He turned the key and heard the relieving click he'd been expecting since he'd poked it into the lock. Helping Colette out of her handcuffs, he pushed the cell door open and they both ran behind Yuan. Lloyd glanced to his left and saw Kraine's eyes were actually on him. He flinched at the worn look he gave him and simmered with pent up rage at him once again.
Yuan turned to them and said something about escaping through a vent but he barely acknowledged at all. Instead he darted for Kraine's cell and unlocked the door using the same key he'd used for his own. He reached a hand to his chest and pulled him so that he had no choice but to look up at him. He almost dropped him when he felt how hot he felt. "Kraine, tell me the truth! Who are you, really? Is it true that you're really Duke Bryant?" His chest constricted even thinking about the next question. It had to be asked. "And if that's true.. did you.. did you have involvement in.."
"He did, but he didn't kill me because he wanted to!"
Lloyd dropped Kraine immediately at the mismatched voice that had come out of his mouth.
"Lloyd! We can't stay here!" Colette called, poking her head into the cell. "I can hear lots of footsteps coming. We're going to be in a lot of trouble if we don't leave now."
Lloyd still had no words, even when Yuan grabbed him by the arm and hurled him away from Kraine and out of the slammer. "Don't worry," he clarified, seeing what must have been confusion written all over him. "They can't do too much to me without royal permission. I'll make sure he doesn't get left behind here." He pointed at the seraph.
Swallowing his emotions down while giving Kraine one final look, Lloyd summoned his wings and flew with Colette up into a square shaft meant for air ventilation just a few metres above them.
Yuan scrambled into action as soon as they were out of sight and helped Kraine to his feet. "Do you have any idea what you're putting me through just to come and save your hide?!"
Kraine kept his eyes downcast. "Yuan, we have a bit of a problem."
Yuan blinked a few times, but quickly regained his composure and smirked. "So the laussa'urk did do it. He should have known better."
"You would do the same for Martel," Annalicia whispered. "That's the name of the woman you love, right?"
Yuan rolled his eyes and helped 'her' out of the cell. "Trust you to be interested in my love life at a time like this. Don't know what he saw in you."
"Is that any way to talk to a lady?" she said back, raising 'her' eyebrows. Yuan had to look away quickly- the voice and personality coming out of Kraine's mouth was just too funny. He didn't dare to give away his poker face so easily to such a woman.
"Regardless of which," he started again, snapping his wings out and flying up into the shaft, a little lopsided with him/her leaning onto him. He couldn't sense the Lloyd or Colette's presence. They were free to make their escape without being questioned too abruptly via the route he'd inspected earlier. "You are ill. I've seen that look in your eyes before."
"Oh I am not," she muttered, sounding sleepy. "It's just because of these darned Cruxis crystals. We need to find a way to get Kraine to come back."
"You think I have some magical way to make everything correct?"
"I'm afraid you're mistaken, woman." He groaned shortly after, knowing she was giving him a look that might have been a lot cuter had it been on a woman's face as she crawled behind him while he pulled her along by the arm. "I have suspected it since before Kraine left for the tower. You have the Ozette flu. If we can make your body better, it will make it easier for you to pull his soul back to where it should be." He paused, feeling somewhat uncomfortable. "I'm not sure I want to be in the vicinity at the time you succeed though."
"I'll deal with that when it comes," she replied, looking at the un-crested Cruxis crystal. "You won't hate me for too long, will you beloved?"
Yuan glanced behind himself and noticed she had stopped crawling. Trying to pull her through the shaft would be almost impossible if she didn't at least do some of the work. He was about to snap at her when he realised why. He could hear the guards and papal knights in the jail house blowing their whistles to sound the alarm for escapees.
When she looked back ahead at him, he saw Kraine's face was drooping quite a bit. He sighed and gestured for them to keep going. "Hurry up. I know a place we should be able to hide."