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Skewed Destinies- The Flames of Origin

By Keko_the_Hybrid

Mystery / Adventure

A slip of the tongue

Chapter 51

A slip of the tongue is worth two in the moonlight

Yuan expected Annalicia to ask him to elaborate but she had started to look kind of zoned out as he had finished his last sentence. He reached into his cloak for the second time in as many minutes and took out the wing pack for the rheairds. It was by far not the best choice given the situation. Rheairds were noisy and easy for Renegades to spot, not to mention the papal knights and the city guard. Not that the papal knights would capture him unless he was discovered in a public place though. Using Noishe would have just been much preferred.

"Well?"

He snapped out of his thoughts when Annalicia spoke. She raised Kraine's eyebrows a him and tapped her foot. "Aren't you going to explain what you meant by that's not all Noishe is now?"

"No," he decided to comment, just to be clear. "I don't want to repeat myself."

She fell quiet. He felt a little bad for making her question herself. She couldn't help what her body was doing. "Forgive me," he muttered in reluctant apology, "we are going to have to take our chances with the rheairds since Noishe is not coming to his call."

Annalicia wanted to keep interrogating him, but withheld herself when she saw the concern written all over his face. Not that she could blame him. She had grown deeply attached to the Protozoan during her time spent with him as well. Kraine had told her that Noishe was a rare species; one that had walked the land since the beginning of the world. He had told her that he had witnessed one of his evolutions during the war from a bird called an Aeros into a dog called an Arshis and that Protozoans evolved every four thousand years or so. She vaguely wondered whether Yuan would tell her about the war if she asked him. Kraine had always been so tight-lipped about it.

"It is better that way."

Kraine's voice echoed in her head all of a sudden. She almost jumped a mile. "Where have you been?" she asked, looking at the Cruxis crystal on her hand up close. "It has been a while since I heard your voice. I was starting to worry."

Kraine didn't respond again, to her disappointment. She was quickly distracted though when a single rheaird flew out of the wing pack pouch Yuan pulled open and to a spot not far from her. It quickly quadrupled in size. She startled back after a quick blink when another flying machine materialised directly in front of her. She looked at the Cerberus, wondering whether he intended her to fly on her own. She'd never worked a rheaird before and she didn't exactly think she was in any condition to learn either. Yuan didn't seem too worried about it, so she stubbornly decided to get on with it. When she reached out to the rheaird standing right in front of her though, she almost toppled over. Her hand went through it. She blinked again and it was gone.

Yuan wearily watched Annalicia reach out to thin air, his worst fears becoming realised. The Ozette flu riddling through Kraine's body was progressing. He watched as she tapped her own head in the same way he had seen Lloyd do more than once before walking up to the rheaird he'd summoned. She touched it gingerly as though testing whether it was solid, then appeared to want to get on. She stopped just as she slightly raised one leg in preparation and gazed around blankly once again. For a brief moment as the blue eyes of Kraine fell on him, he saw no semblance of recollection in them. He readied himself in case she tried to do anything rash. Luckily he didn't have to do anything before she blinked back to reality and gave him a weak smile.

Letting out another breath of relief that he wouldn't have to explain another mishap to Kraine, he watched the man's eyes widen to a size larger than he thought would ever be possible. Annalicia let out a gasp of rather unfitting happiness and pointed to somewhere behind him. Before he knew it, she had shifted past him to seat herself down in front of a bed of pink lady thistle. "Wow, it's so pretty!"

She helped herself to a branch on the ground near the bush and then leaned forward to smell the fresh blooms. Yuan tapped his foot and cleared his throat, trying to be patient with her. She couldn't exactly help what was happening to Kraine's body after all. The symptoms she was showing were so similar to the last time he had witnessed the disease that he couldn't help but shudder. Back then, it had first seemed like a regular cold. Not much had been known. Now at least he knew how he would be able to help her. First he had to get her out of Meltokio. He scowled to himself. They were very far off track from their quest.

"Annalicia," he said sternly. They couldn't afford to waste any more time. She paused in her position smelling a flower for a few seconds. He watched and waited for her to hopefully come back to reality. Luckily the spell of the sickness that put her thoughts in disarray didn't last too long. She shivered a little and let out a breath when she came to. He also shivered, more memories of the past coming to the forefront of his mind. He shook them off and moved closer when he saw that she was having trouble finding the strength to stand. Amidst a coughing fit of hers, he looped his arm around hers and helped her up.

She stumbled a lot as he led her to the rheaird, making him dread the coming journey over the city wall. His limit with his arm injury had already come. He knew all too well that any further aggravation would cause things he still needed to do to become a lot more problematic. Annalicia muttered something, but he could tell just from her expression that she was in a new daze. Pulling her onto the rheaird, he then adjusted himself so that he could reach past her to the handles. The magitechnology roared to life as he commanded. Trying to make sure he kept it as steady as he could, he let it lift to the clouds as high as he dared before directing it over the edge of the border of Meltokio and toward the peach blossom tree he where had instructed the children to wait. He could make out Lloyd's bright red outfit and the blond head of Colette from their current distance.

xxx

"My love," came Kraine's voice in Annalicia's head. She had been amongst her thoughts but when she tried to think of what they had been, she could hardly recollect anything. She'd felt this feeling before. Jumbled thoughts and feelings all over the place seemed normal now- her body was failing her once again... only this time, it wasn't her body. She waited for Kraine to continue, sure she had acknowledged she had heard him.

"If Yuan is correct and it is the Ozette flu.."

She wondered what he was talking about. She was about to ask him to elaborate on why he seemed to think she was sick when he continued anyway. "You must get the white Fandalia flower from the top of Fooji mountains. That is the only way to cure it."

"Got it, Fandalias," she muttered, feeling dizzy and closing her eyes.

The gurgle of water surrounded her all of a sudden. She gasped and flung her eyes open to see water all around. Looking back at Yuan, he looked unconscious. It was no wonder. Angels couldn't swim after all. Grabbing him by the arm, she kicked her legs and tried to kick off of their obviously sunken rheaird to the top. She only barely wondered why she could breathe underwater before the thought perished. An odd unintelligible string of words entered her ears as she tried to move from her spot. It was like she was stuck there. She looked back at Yuan to see if he was okay and let out a muffled scream. Instead of Yuan, she saw a grey and white shark with an enormous mouth widening into a big toothy grin at her with every second that passed.

xxx

"Lloyd?" Colette asked, catching his arm and stopping him from continuing to pace.

The swordsman in red out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding while deep in his thoughts and looked into her eyes. He knew he was still worrying her. "Sorry. It's just that Yuan's been taking so long!" He turned his head back to look at the walls of Meltokio shortly off in the distance. "I mean, I know he had to get out of there with Kraine and everything, but it's so boring waiting here." He tapped his foot without meaning to.

"No, it's not that," she said, pointing up. "Can you hear that?"

Lloyd looked up to the sky and listened. At first he wondered whether she was playing a trick on him, but then remembered this was Colette and that he actually could hear something; the light metallic buzzing sound that unmistakeably belonged to a rheaird. Through a bunch of cloud cover, he could see a dark shape illuminated by the moon.

xxx

Yuan cried out as the woman in Kraine's body tried to struggle away from the rheaird. The machine lurched left to right while he did his best to prevent her from going overboard. He cursed at her in all the dirty angel words he knew for her to stop lest she kill them both. She didn't even seem to hear him, much less pay him any heed. She instead continued to thrash, this time in an upward motion. She looked oddly like she was trying to swim away from him.

Considering how weak she had been while they had been traversing the castle, he was surprised at the strength she displayed in her resistance of him. Having always been able to match strength for strength with Kraine helped a little when keeping her from going overboard, but her movements were getting more bizarre and unpredictable, and his ability to focus on driving while fighting her was suffering more and more. She lunged off to the side and sent the whole rheaird around in a 360 degree angle. For a split second, Yuan had hold of her. Then, like an arrow had suddenly pierced into him, the pain in his arm sent his vision dark and she slipped out of his grasp.

xxx

Lloyd immediately took a startled step backward as he and Colette observed the one shape above the clouds split into two. The shape that had separated from the first emerged through the clouds first, a red and blue glow behind it. He squinted as he recognised the shape of the hair even without being able to see the features. "Kraine!" he gasped to Colette.

"What is he doing?" Colette asked. "I didn't know he had red in his wings."

"He didn't," he answered, his eyes darting from the shape of Kraine to the other shape as it flew through the clouds. "But if that's Kraine, then that's Yuan!" He watched as the shape of Kraine slowly got easier and easier to recognise. The shape of Yuan on the rheaird moved closer to the seraph and he flitted away quickly with his wings before starting to freefall again.

"I've got a bad feeling about this," he said, drawing his wings. It looked like Kraine was trying to get away from Yuan for some reason. He shook his head. That couldn't be it. Yuan had rescued him from the jail in Meltokio after all.

"Me too," Colette agreed, her hands crossed against her chest as she continued to watch and wait.

"Lloyd!"

Just as he was considering flying up to them, a voice stopped him in his tracks. As clear as the sky was blue, he heard the same voice he'd heard earlier- the voice of his mum. A cold shiver shot down his spine. Colette, having definitely heard it this time, let out a surprised gasp. He couldn't think straight after that. The voice had most definitely been outside of his head and had most likely come from the seraph flying above them. He watched as Yuan tried to steer the rheaird to catch Kraine and as he failed when he flitted out of the way yet again. The clearer their figures got, the more they could see what was going on.

Making a decision, Lloyd looked at Colette. "I'm going to check on them!"

She didn't tell him to wait. She was still in shock about the voice she'd heard, he guessed. Flapping his wings a few times, he lifted off of the ground and up toward them. The figure of Kraine became more pronounced even when it became harder to fly higher. He realised he must have been falling at a pretty fast rate. Yuan continued to chase after him with the rheaird. He could see it clearly now. Yuan tried to catch him to hurl him onto the machine and he struggled away and continued to fall toward him. Yuan finally caught up with him again, but this time Kraine twisted in mid-air and landed a blow straight to the half-elf's stomach. Knocked off balance by the sudden blow, Yuan himself went flying off of the rheaird.

"Lloyd!"

He heard his mothers voice again and found Kraine just a couple of metres above him a second later. "Are you okay?"

His lips moved and the voice of a woman came out.

Lloyd stuttered and flinched when Kraine reached his arms out to him. "K-Kraine?" He tried to struggle out of his grip, knowing that Yuan was getting closer and closer to faceplanting into the ground. "Let me go Kraine!"

Kraine didn't even seem to hear him. When he got a good look into his eyes as they floated slowly down to the ground, he didn't see his teacher of three years or the man that had trained him and betrayed him. He saw someone else entirely. "It's okay," Kraine whispered to him while he tried to struggle against the older man's strength. "The sea didn't claim your father and it won't claim you either."

"S-stop!" he exclaimed. His mothers voice was just too much to compute. Nothing made sense and Yuan was about to die if he didn't help him. He finally somehow managed to squirm out from under him and quickly darted down in a nosedive. He could see Colette hurrying toward his location, but she was far too far away to be able to reach him in time. Even being directly above him, he had to doubt whether he would reach him. As he struggled to keep up with the falling half-elf, he felt his skin under the special exsphere on his left hand start to burn. The closer Yuan got to the ground and the more hopeless it seemed, the fiercer it seemed to burn. Out of the corner of his eye as he focused as best he could on putting all his strength into being aerodynamic, he could see the exsphere starting to glow.

Then the world went black and white. Colette off in the distance stopped running and paused mid-step, one leg raised. Everything stopped moving. The sound of wind blowing ceased and he found himself having to flap a little harder to keep afloat. All except Yuan. The half-elf kept plummeting toward the ground. He was about to open his mouth to yell his name when his breath caught in his throat instead. A pink glow emanated from Yuan below him until the glow formed the unmistakeable glimmer of seraph wings. Yuan quickly zipped to the ground after that and looked up at him.

"Lloyd!" he called as though it was business as usual. "What do you think you're doing? Get Kraine down here!"

He could hear him as though he were standing right next to him. He had no words. Luckily for him, his body reacted before his brain had a chance to catch up. He carefully plucked a frozen Kraine from the air and pulled him down to the ground. Even just holding onto him made him sink. Once he was safe on the grassy terrain just outside of Meltokio, he turned his gaze back on Yuan.

"You're..." He took a breath and exhaled while watching Yuan's pink seraph wings flutter back and forth. "You're an angel?" He had a million more questions to add as soon as the first complete one left his mouth.

"Be quiet for a minute and focus on what's important!" Yuan snapped in answer. "Or do you intend to exhaust your entire bodies mana supply by stopping time indefinitely?"

"Huh?" Lloyd blinked. "This was something I did?" He paused briefly before he had another question. "How could I have done this without meaning to do it? I don't understand."

"Your Angelus Project is evolving," Yuan explained. "Now focus. You have to try to stop this!"

"Well if you know so much, why don't you tell me how?" he snapped back accidentally, his frustration with him finally coming to the surface. "You seem to know everything anyway!"

"That is a misconception," Yuan muttered. "If I knew everything, I wouldn't have had to reveal myself to avoid a rather painful death, would I? Now how about using your own head a little!"

Lloyd held his head. "It's my head that's the problem! I don't know the first thing about magic. I'm not a half-elf like you." He paused. "Hold on. Why weren't you affected?" A breeze rustled through his hair, then everything that had turned black and white went back to normal. He whirled around. "Wait! What'd I-"

"Lloyd!?"

Colette's call to him made him turn back in the direction of Yuan. He could see her running up to them from behind him. His mind elsewhere though, he looked at the pink-winged seraph once again, then to Kraine who was lying peacefully on the ground. The red and blue wings that had once been behind his back had long since disappeared. He seemed to be unconscious.

Colette stopped short when she saw the pink wings behind Yuan and quietly stepped past him to his side, not taking her eyes off of the seraph. "Wow Yuan, your wings are beautiful!"

He raised an eyebrow at her and she stuttered and shifted on her toes. "Um well, I sort of had a feeling you were an angel. I just always believed you were good." She gave him a hopeful look.

Yuan didn't respond, instead choosing to focus on Lloyd as he shook Kraine to try and rouse him. "It won't do any good. We will need to take him to Altessa's house. That is the safest place for any of us at the moment."

"Grandpa Altessa?" Colette started to smile. "He seemed so nice." She looked worried then. "Are you sure we wouldn't be a burden?"

Yuan shrugged and heightened his gaze to look past Meltokio and to the Fooji mountains. "Burden or not, can I trust the two of you to listen to me and go straight there if I give you two rheairds?"

Colette nodded at first, but then seemed pretty unsure. Lloyd rested Kraine back to the ground and got to his feet from where he'd been leaning down to him. "How about first you give us a few answers?"

It was to be expected of course. Yuan sighed and turned away. "Time is of the essence. There will be time for that later."

"No," Lloyd shook his head. "How can you expect us to just let you go off and do something on your own again without telling us what you're up to?"

"Do you have a one track mind?" Yuan questioned. "Your mother will die if you waste any more time here!"

He gulped as soon as the words slipped out of his mouth and the eyes on blonde and brunette both grew wide with shock. He slapped a hand to his forehead, practically already feeling the rage that he would receive from Kraine if his body survived the current ordeal. Thinking of the situation, he quickly decided to head off regardless of what the children said. That seemed to be the only way to get things done.

"Hold on!" Lloyd cried, running to his front and blocking his path. "You can't just say something like that and walk away!"

"Lloyd's right," Colette seconded, joining him and clenching her fists. As always, one child looked scarily like Mithos and the other..

Yuan had to avoid looking at her for too long. Rolling his eyes and reaching under his cloak to pull out the wing pack for the rheairds, he let a second one come flying out before closing it and putting it back under his cloak safely. "I'll meet you both at Altessa's house by sunrise."

With that, and even though the strain on his shoulder made him want to cry out, he lifted off into the air and flew away toward the mountain in order to hopefully get his point across.

xxx

Mithos watched from the shade that the Meltokio wall offered as Lloyd and Colette stood in silence as they watched Yuan disappear off into the distance, amused. Yuan had definitely not meant for the Sylvarant Chosen's to find out his angel status.

Colette was the first to break the silence as she rested a hand on Lloyd shoulder. "Yuan has been good to us. I think we should trust him."

"Yeah," Lloyd muttered. "What choice do we have anyway? I want to believe he is good as well Colette. He.. just isn't making this easy."

There was another period of silence. Mithos stifled a laugh. Lloyd was probably angry at Colette for not telling him she suspected Yuan. Colette looked cautiously in his direction suddenly and he quickly scrambled a little further back. Lloyd watched her space out before choosing to attempt pulling Kraine on to a rheaird.

Colette swooped in to give him a hand. From what he could see, she quickly took over completely. "Oh! He's lighter than I thought he would be." She carried him all by herself to the rheaird.

He listened as the two friends prattled on about Colette having super strength for a minute until the conversation became all of a sudden a lot more interesting. Lloyd started flexing his hands while Colette started to question him again. "What happened before anyway Lloyd? I saw you with Kraine up there one second and the next you were on the ground and Yuan had his wings out."

It was a very good point.. and a very curious one as well. He'd seen it first hand for himself. The time freeze hadn't affected him of course, but it also hadn't affected Yuan or Lloyd. It hadn't been Yuan who had conducted the magic, otherwise there would have been no cause for him to reveal his wings to Lloyd and Colette. That meant for sure that it had been Lloyd.

"It's hard to explain," Lloyd said tiredly to Colette. "I don't really understand it myself." He stepped up to the rheaird and seated himself behind Kraine's unconscious body. "Let's go and pay a visit to Altessa."

As the two Sylvaranti's raised their rheairds to the sky, Mithos fell deep into thought. He looked over to the mountain range where Yuan had gone. He hadn't really said why, but he suspected he knew. That was where the Fandalia flowers still grew, even today. Yuan had finally played his true hand. He'd gotten too distracted and obviously not noticed unwanted ears had overheard.

"Lloyd's exsphere is an Angelus Project as well.."

He didn't know why or how, but if it was Yuan saying it, especially considering he had also said that it was evolving, he had no reason to doubt it. Plus it made more sense than anything. The split at the tower had not made any sense after he had discovered that Kraine's wife's sister had been carrying the Angelus Project for the whole time, but made perfect sense if there were always two.

That meant the split in the tower had been directly caused by the Angelus Project and not by the trial they had put the Chosen through or the fact that Colette was very clearly the 'Chosen'. Anyone who looked at her could see she was likely a match to his bloodline and a perfect vessel for Martel.

But why could Lloyd stop time? Why was there a second Angelus Project?

He understood the frustration Lloyd had with Yuan perfectly all of a sudden. His old friend knew much more than he was saying. He needed answers.

xxx

Yuan stood at the foot of the Fooji mountains and looked up toward the summit. It was going to be a little more testing at night time, especially given his weak shoulder. Flying wasn't an option though. For just a moment, he was sure he had sensed the mana of Mithos. If he was in fact close by, he didn't dare alert him of Kraine's situation any more than was absolutely necessary.

Taking his short sword from his sheath with his non-preferred hand, he started along the elevating path, ducking past a swooping bird monster and reducing it to dust with a backhanded strike. He had to be quick. The Ozette flu was not something to be trifled with and he seriously dreaded the circumstances that could change if Kraine's body were to die. He exhaled. Just the very thought of the Ozette flu and being present to see the change in Annalicia's symptoms had brought back memories, both good and bad.

Back then, not much had been known about the rare strain. Eventually it had been discovered to originate from the soil in Ozette, but even now there were still some rare cases where people got sick. The first of the symptoms usually started with a high fever. That had been the first symptom Martel had shown. He grimaced sadly to himself as he remembered how flustered he had gotten that night they had discovered she was ill.

They'd settled down for the evening after a long days trek through Tethe'allan territory. Just as he had been considering to turn in himself despite the fact that he found it increasingly difficult to sleep every night since the exsphere had been put on him, she had shifted close to him and asked him if it was alright to lean on him. By that point, he'd been wondering for a while if she'd finally noticed what he thought were his rather obvious affections for her. He'd thought she was responding at long last. All thoughts of that had quickly vanished when she rested her head on his shoulder and he felt a searing warmth from her, even through his armour.

After confirming that she was dreadfully sick by putting a hand to her forehead, he'd immediately awoken the group and asked that they go to find some herbs to cure the common cold. He'd somewhat jealously left Mithos to care for Martel while he and Kratos searched the nearby forests and fields for ingredients. Once on their own, Kratos had been quick to ask him just what his motives were for such a late night hunt for ingredients. He'd been on the money of course. For anyone else, he'd likely have waited until morning. Being left with no choice, he'd revealed to his friend his desire to court Martel.

Thinking about the humans reaction irritated him even now. He dodged a hissing snake monster that jumped out from a short tree straight at him and sliced it right down its middle before it hit the ground. Gald dropped to the ground but he had no desire to waste time collecting. He sunk back into his memories soon after.

Kratos had very quickly pointed out to him that his affections and jealousy were rather obvious. That part hadn't really surprised him though. He knew he couldn't look at Martel straight without being reduced to a blubbering mess at times. Mithos had very clearly figured it out and since been even more protective of his older sister- determined to never leave him alone with her. Kratos had pointed that matter in particular out to him and (rather bluntly) then told him that his emotions would become more of a burden and liability than a blessing if he were to continue.

He'd snapped at him for that, telling him that at least he showed some kind of emotion and as usual the swordsman had barely even flinched at the remark. That aspect of his friends personality irritated him even now, even as he was took the persona of Kraine.

Needless to say, their efforts had been in complete vain. The medicine they'd made during the early hours of the morning had done nothing to ease Martel's worsening fever and only served to strengthen Mithos' dislike for him. The young half-elf had thrown a dramatic tantrum of sorts that he would have never gotten away with if his sister had been feeling better and gone off in a huff, convinced that he could do a better job. Kratos, feeling somewhat responsible for the boy, had gone off to ensure he did not encounter trouble and left he and Martel alone. The two had returned by sunrise and made another batch of foul smelling medicine capable of choking a fly, but it still had done little.

Martel, being the stubborn woman she was and having slept through the night (albeit not very well thanks to the nightmares her fever caused) had very sternly told them not to worry and that she was 'feeling better'. Whether she knew they knew she was lying, he'd had never asked her, but they had all decided independently that the next summon spirit could wait and that she needed to see a doctor. While pretending to agree with her and without a word to one another, they'd formulated a plan.

Kratos took the first step in leading them astray toward where the village sat rather than through the quickest route. Martel believed him, though she had shown a little apprehension until he and Mithos had backed the human up and agreed on the route. She'd had no choice but to believe them after that- it was three against one after all. They set off toward Sybak, saying that the journey via boat across the sea toward the temple would be shortest from there. Unlike the town it was now, back then it had been a simple village of various trades that existed primarily as a market for Meltokio, its closest neighbour via route of the Grand Tethe'alla Bridge.

The plan, at least as far Yuan was concerned, was to slip some gald they'd received from the treasures they had accrued and sold along their pilgrimage for the spirits into the pocket of a doctor in exchange for his secrecy about Martel's half-elven origins. He'd learned later that both Kratos and Mithos had wanted to do the same thing, albeit with certain different methods.

By the time they reached the village and stood on the outskirts, Martel had wizened to their plans and despite her anger at all of them, decided that they may as well investigate. After each getting an earful about lying to her and putting their plans on hold for a simple cold that was 'getting better', they entered, all happy to have gotten their way anyway.

It hadn't been meant to be though. They were quick to discover that the entire village was suffering from an outbreak of the exact same virus, including he doctor. Many civilians had already passed away and many others were in such deep states of hallucination that they'd needed to be handcuffed to their houses. Meeting with the doctor though, they'd learned in-between his states of delirium that he had discovered a flower that grew at the top of the Fooji mountains had properties when turned into a serum that would likely cure, if not at least alleviate, the symptoms of the sickness.

Leaving the village soon after gaining the knowledge, they were faced with another dilemma. Yuan smiled this time at the memory. Despite being in a severely feverish state and hardly being able to strand straight let alone string coherent sentences together at times, Martel had insisted that they drop everything and instead gather the flowers in order to help the villagers. Naturally they'd all agreed, saying it was a win-win. She hadn't understood what they meant and questioned him, in which he'd had to remind her through a somewhat tied tongue that they'd be able to save her as well.

He could still remember the girlish sound of her giggle at the realisation. He hadn't thought it possible, but in that once again selfless moment of hers, he had fallen even deeper in love with her. She was both an enigma for how eternally forgiving she seemed to be of the humans that oppressed their race, and an open book for how pure and clear her intentions were at all times. She didn't have a conniving bone in her body unless it was about wanting to surprise them for their birthdays. She was fiercely protective of Mithos and over time her fierce motherly nature had extended to the rest of their small band of comrades. The same could be said for her stern side that she used when doing all she could to ensure they did not stray from their chosen paths. She sometimes made mistakes and was no goddess, but he couldn't deny his ability to understand why Mithos had wanted to portray her as one.

By the time they were little more than halfway to the Fooji mountains, just having crossed the bridge, Martel had stopped completely being able to string full sentences of coherent words together. That was when the three boys had to make a decision. Mithos had initially insisted that he stay behind once again with his sister. He would have won the argument if Kratos hadn't stepped in and instructed him to accompany him instead, saying it would be a good chance to test his training against real enemies. It had been then that Yuan realised that Kratos was practically giving him his blessing to court Martel and that he might actually be a real person under the indifferent facade he always wore. It eased his mind substantially, but he hadn't been planning on saying anything definite to her at that time. She had been so fragile that the idea of putting his heart out in the open and having it fall on deaf ears terrified him.

After having napped for some time in the shade of a peach blossom tree just past the bridge, Martel had started to sound a little more like herself again. He'd tasked himself to periodically changing the wet rags on her forehead and stomach to keep her fever to a more manageable level and it had seemed to be bearing at least a little fruit. Having just taken them off of her again and about to head to the sea to give them a new dunking, he'd been surprised when her hand caught his arm and as she gripped him tightly. She'd opened the beautiful green eyes that he'd fallen for on first sight and whispered for him to never leave her side. Falling asleep moments after once again, he was left to play it off in his head as something with some other meaning.

He couldn't get the words out of his head after that. They ate at him over the next two days as she got better once Kratos and Mithos had come back with the Fandalia flower and made the mixture. Once she'd recovered, her focus had quickly shifted and she had become hell-bent on returning to Sybak to heal the sick and likely pretty ungrateful humans. She'd said nothing else to the same effect as she had that night during her fever and he'd started to wonder whether it was best for his own sanity to just forget she had ever mentioned anything. Then it happened.

Yuan quickly spun on the spot at the three quarter way mark of the mountain path. The monsters converging on him had seemed to think him an easy midnight snack. He made sure to let them know they were mistaken and that while he had been entrenched in his thoughts, he had always had the intention on ensuring their destruction. He continued on his way once their ear-piercing cries subsided and he was able to trail into the favourite part of his thoughts- the one he used whenever he wanted to summon his wings.

The group had been settling down for the night just before the waters edge that faced toward the Temple of Lightning, each knowing that the next battle could see them lose everything they had worked for so far if they could not succeed in persuading Volt to trust them. Undine had warned them that it would be no easy task and they had taken her words very seriously. He'd had other things on his mind though.

He'd decided to go for a walk with Noishe to deliberate his feelings for Martel. She'd somehow sensed not all was well despite him having told her the opposite just before leaving and caught up to walk with him. He hadn't known what to say until a patch of moonlight from across the sea fell into their path and she had been so suddenly enamoured that she had forgotten to watch her step on the sandy beach. He'd caught her of course, his heart thudding even more wildly against his chest when she laughed at her own clumsiness.

He'd gone to pull away from her, but she had instead insisted on holding him close. "Yuan, what is it that has been bothering you?"

He remembered the look in her eyes as she waited for him to tell her. It was as though something had possessed him in the moment as the moonlight shone on her features and she smiled so hopefully up at him. His heart twisted and the urge to just get it all out in the open overcame him. Despite himself, he blurted the words he'd wanted to say for so long out to her.

"I am in love with you, Martel."

Had he known how easy everything would be after saying those seven little words, he would have rather saved himself all the inner turmoil. At first Martel had continued to gaze into his eyes, her surprise pretty obvious. Then tears formed and rolled down her face. He remembered the heart-wrenching moment where he'd wondered whether he had been reading everything incorrectly and whether her feelings were in fact somehow elsewhere and possibly for his best friend instead of him- until he realised she was smiling.

She let go of his hands and wiped the tears away and then looked back at him with her angelic smile. "I had been beginning to wonder whether you had understood my meaning the other night or whether I had even said what I thought I said!"

It had been his turn to be surprised, but he got over it quickly and pulled her into his embrace happily. Smelling her scent so close, he let out a relieved laugh. She'd giggled at him and told him to laugh like that more often. His heart soaring, he had leaned closer to her ear and whispered the remaining words left in his heart.

"I would very much like to marry you Martel, if you'll have me."

Needless to say, her answer had been a happy one. Now at the top of the mountain and feeling the wind whistling through his hair, he plucked the last of the Fandalia flowers he would need to make the potion for Kraine. He brought them to his nose to double check. A somewhat sour scent wafted up his nostrils and made him choke a cough. They were definitely the right ones. Sighing, he looked up to the sky and twisted the ring that had barely left his finger in the eight thousand years he'd been alive.

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51. A slip of the tongue
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