Out of time
Out of time
"You were released when the half-elf got sick and decided to trade his soul with his dead 'wife'!" Gabriel spat at me incredulously as though me stating the obvious that I was still bound to the life of Kratos Aurion was the most ludicrous thing he had ever heard. The seraph before me, the one who lived this time because of an ironic twist of events, clenched his fists at me, paying no special attention to the half-elves standing behind him. It seemed his fury had gotten the best of him.
"I deserve a fair trial. You would not have been released had he not left this plane of existence!" the seraph-human continued to argue while I just watched and waited for something to happen. An observer of the world and friend to both mortal and spirit alike, that was the way of Origin and was the way I planned to continue to operate unless drastic action was required.
Gabriel raised his right clenched fist to the air as though fist-pumping the heavens to give me a better look at his knuckles. Not that I needed to see what he was showing though. There on his index finger and glistening under the pale light of the full moon sat the first of the requirements for one to wield my power. Gabriel was no blacksmith, unlike Kratos who despite being no dwarf had been rather good at it in his time; a talent he had most suitably somehow passed on to his own son despite his lack of appearance during the boys childhood. The workmanship on Gabriel's ring was crooked and crude. Nevertheless, I could feel the power emanating from it. It was without a doubt the Ring of the Pact.
"I am still bound by a pact to Mithos," I sternly told him again. Who wouldn't believe the words coming out of the mouth of the King of Summon Spirits? One would be a fool not to. Besides.. it wasn't a complete lie. I continued. "While Kratos Aurion, just one soul within Kraine Bryant, had been inside the Cruxis Crystal after effectively soul-swapping with his wife, the seal weakened. Of that much you can be reassured."
Fury emanated from Gabriel like smoke from a doused fire. He had clearly been very sure he had calculated everything perfectly. Having the seal on the pact out of the way, he had been sure the last thing to do was to ask that I make a new pact with him. Technically he was right, but I however had no desire to make a pact with such a man. Disaster would surely come to our plans.
Martuan looked at me now, waiting for me to confirm that her plans were going to be a little more difficult than she had hoped upon the realisation of my temporary release. She spoke before me, turning two finely plucked blue eyebrows at Gabriel. "It seems I was right in not trusting you."
With such a seething bite of anger and betrayal dripping from her voice despite the feelings she had always garnered for her old gold and silver-winged companion, it was clear that this bothered her. She was not surprised, not by a long shot, but something else lingered there. Something she was uncomfortable with admitting even to herself. I was willing to bet that it had something to do with the other half-elf observing the scene before me from somewhere off in the bushes. When Martel's compassionate personality shone through, it was easy to see that she was the dominant soul. Whether that had anything to do with the old Yuan, I didn't know, but I could understand why the old Yuan would sometimes forget who she was and fall into.. old patterns.
The inviting call of my spirit back to the realm grew stronger with each passing moment. I had a minute or two at best to convey what needed to be made clear until I could ignore it no longer. I decided to take the cautious approach and continue my heated conversation with Gabriel. "You are a human with no summoning abilities," I reasoned. "Who do you believe will help you?"
Of course, I knew the answer. It came as no surprise when Gabriel turned on his heel and looked over Yuan and Martuan, or in particular, when his eyes fell on Yuan with what I presumed to be hope. Yuan, the devil of a liar that he was to get his own way and ensure everything went to plan, didn't look surprised at all. Had I the time and opportunity before returning to my resting place, I would have very much liked to question the half-elf on the necessity for such a change in our plans.
"A half-elf wishes to help a human gain the power of Origin?" I questioned the undeserving human, glancing between him and Yuan. Innocence didn't suit me. Still, for our plans to work, I needed to ensure my sincerity as much as possible. Destinies were skewed as it was without more added complications. Just seeing everything that had happened in the stead of Yuan not taking the reigns as the fourth seraph and future Renegade leader when the timing was right had been equal parts amusing and infuriating.
Then again.. it was a folly of mine to expect him to allow the woman who both was and wasn't Martel to die at the hands of their trusted human companion once again. It was a win-win regardless. If Yuan were to successfully keep her alive until destinies could be skewed back to their original form... then I would finally be allowed to court Mana, my Queen, without challenge.
I had long thought that it may come down to a somewhat overdue dual between half-man and summon spirit for her affections considering her leanings and her pact with him. Without a lie, my love for Lady Mana motivated me to allow Yuan to continue his lone-ranger act. Whether you are a summon spirit, half-elf or something else entirely, when it comes to the fairer sex, all is fair in love and war.
My stance on the matter made clear to those who wished to use me for their gains, I allowed the spirit realm to claim me. Now technically 'sleeping', I watched through my window, the piece of slate in the ground that had once originally been my seal. Gabriel looked at Martuan bitterly and she glared right back. She and Yuan had both been good at that glare. It came as no surprise that the combination summoned a force of its own to be reckoned with. "Why are you here?" Gabriel asked first. "Have you decided to betray Mithos, Martuan?"
"I could ask you the very same question," Martuan responded. "But I think we at least know the answer to my question." She placed her hands on her hips and cocked her head slightly to the side. "Unless of course you would like to prove me wrong?"
"Who said anything about betraying Mithos?" Gabriel questioned. "He has been plagued by the curse of Origin for many years. Perhaps I seek to relieve him of his curse."
Gabriel was good. Too good. He must have known Mithos was there or at least counted for it to be a likelihood, unlike the two half-elves listening to him. It was far too perfect of a response to have meant anything else. I already knew Mithos would trust him though. Yuan was right when he had once told me of the similarities between the old hero and new hero. Mithos and Lloyd shared such striking similarities. Lloyd as he was now would not give up in saving both Sylvarant and Tethe'alla and would eventually succeed, just as his destiny would lead him to. Or at least, that's what I hoped would happen again.
Martuan rolled her eyes and took them away from Gabriel to drop them (metaphorically) on Yuan. She likely was still bursting with questions on the "Summon Spirit" he had mentioned earlier and -in particular- how she connected the two of them. She and Yuan had a silent eye conversation that likely meant something along the lines of "I'll find you again and you will answer my questions properly" and "Only if you answer some of mine."
Yuan had always been the lover instead of the fighter. While deeply relentless in his goals, during the war he had been known for his swift tongue and his ability to stretch the truth beyond usually unbelievable perimeters. Those trapped under the force of his speechcraft usually quickly believed any number of tales he spun. It was also why Kratos' and Kraine's indifferent attitude bothered him so much. Even after all the years they had known one another, fought together and against each other and come out of it for better and worse, Yuan was still no closer to loosening his friends lips and getting him to talk more than was absolutely necessary.
His skills had quickly afforded him multiple leading positions in the Sylvaranti army until the point where he had been in charge of a stealth mission involving leading a group straight into Tethe'allan territory. That was why becoming a Renegade the first time had seemed so natural to him and why it had always been a somewhat convenient part of our plan this time around, too.
Gabriel took a couple of steps toward Yuan. "It seems that you were wrong this time, half-elf. Origin will not lend me his power."
Martuan looked at Yuan curiously. "I see you are not an innocent bystander in this either. Been conspiring with the enemy have we?"
"May I ask you, Marty, what I have done to deserve such bitter treatment from her highness?" Gabriel asked, giving her a look of incredulous innocence and treading closer. He found the pommel of a dagger still in its sheath at his throat in a moments notice. She clicked it open and narrowed her eyes at him. "Care to ask that again?"
Gabriel swallowed and glanced at Yuan for help. The half-elf looked conflicted. With an inward sigh, he opened his mouth. "That is quite enough you two." He found a battle staff from Martuan poking into the specific spot on his arm she had graced with her dagger only very recently. Yuan cringed at the pain. She pushed both weapons further at both men. "Let me get one thing completely straight. Origins power is not for those who would abuse it. I will be the one to use the Eternal Sword." She slacked both weapons and pirouetted in mid-air away from them, hair catching the breeze as always as she floated back down.
"I'm sorry to disappoint you," Yuan said, clutching his arms for a few moments, "but Origin is the one who will choose who he gives his power to." He looked at Gabriel. "When it is time, he will lend his power to Gabriel."
"What!?" Martuan shrieked. She clutched her battlestaff with both hands and pointed it at him like an accusing finger. "How can you possibly know that?"
If I'd been mortal and involved in the conversation, I would have probably repeated her shocked question. I almost believed Yuan didn't know he was lying. He hadn't been coined the Silver Cerberus in the war for nothing though. When Yuan looked at my slab in the grass and dirt a few paces ahead of him with a pair of calculating eyes, I would have felt a cold shiver of realisation go down my spine if I'd been standing there in the flesh. He'd planned something else. It was likely to do with why Gabriel and Martuan were alive. What was it though? My agitation at him and his blatant disregard for our plans worsening, all I could do was wait and watch.
"He will have no choice in the matter," Yuan said, to much my surprise as much as Martuan's. "It just isn't the right time yet." He looked back over his shoulder at Gabriel. "Leave this place at once and call your Papal Knights off of the attack at Altessa's hovel."
At hearing that, Martuan gave Gabriel an incredulous look. "W-what were you planning, Gabriel?"
"Why Marty, I do believe you went rather pale in the gills just now." Two eyebrows raised at her, Gabriel rested one hand on his right hip casually. "Let's see. Why oh why might that be?"
He was met with blunt refusal on Martuan's part to justify his attitude with any kind of answer. How could she? Even if she were sure he had somehow figured out that she was the mastermind behind the Renegades, she would hardly take the risk in confirming it. Avoiding unwanted questions being as natural as breathing, she whirled around to the exit and made to hotfoot it out of the glade. About halfway though, she stopped in her tracks.
The sound of clapping filled the serenity of Torent amongst the chirp of insects. "Well done!" cackled the sarcastic child voice that could have only belonged to one person. The shadows among the bushes moved and leaves rustled while the short figure of my pact maker, breaker and maker a second time (to my displeasure) revealed his hiding spot and stepped out into the open to face the group.
Naturally Martuan looked stunned. Mithos was adept at hiding his mana signature. His skill really shone like a star in the night sky when he successfully concealed it from the lady Renegade, who's origins afforded her extreme sensitivity to mana signatures. As a brief awkward silence ensued between the seraphs, I was left to wonder why the boy had willingly left hints on his whereabouts for Genis to find. It wasn't really a surprise that he had, though.
"I didn't know we were having a party," Mithos joked. "All we need is Kraine and Noishe and the gang will all be here together!"
"Mithos," Martuan mouthed, "it's not what you-"
"Not what I think?" Mithos finished. "So it's not that my sister planned to betray me and use the Eternal Sword? Not at all?" He didn't wait for an answer, glaring at Gabriel instead now. "You were like a big brother to me. Have you really planned to betray me also?" Again, not waiting, he looked at Yuan. Instead of words however for the Cerberus, the familiar magic of time emanated from him as he briefly outstretched an open palm to the sky. The soft hue of blues and greens that filled the area in the night turned cold greys, blacks and whites, along with anyone in the vicinity. Anyone in the vicinity that could be affected by time magic, that was.
Naturally Yuan sprung into action the moment Mithos 'noticed' that he had not been affected. As fast as lightning hitting a steel rod in the sky, he dashed to the short blond boy, the dagger that had been by his side for eight thousand years scraping against its sheath on its way out. The weapon quickly met a blade of roughly the same size. Blue half-elf eyes met green as they kept up their strengths against one another, neither wavering.
"Why does time magic not affect you?" Mithos questioned first. I would have hardly picked that as an opener, considering Yuan's skill at turning a conversation on its head. During my time watching him play the Game of Questions with many folk including travellers that didn't know better, Mithos and Lloyd, I'd discovered the easiest way to get one up in the game was to catch the drift of the conversation early and continue to steer toward it relentlessly.
"Why do you sound as though you knew this before?" Yuan interrogated back. It looked like it might be an early knockout if Mithos didn't gain some ground.
"Are you acting as though you didn't know where I was?" the blond retorted, a laugh teetering in his voice. He was testing the water. He had nothing.
"How did you know I would be here?" Yuan questioned back, changing the subject seamlessly. He'd just been waiting for the right opportunity.
Mithos frowned and thought for a few seconds. A dangerous exercise because it gave the silver tongued half-elf time to calculate his next move. "It didn't cross your mind that I would think to check on Origins seal as well?"
"Did you follow us?" the bluenette inquired, seeming to have his questions all lined up in a neat little row if Mithos didn't cotton on to his game.
"Are you asking if I heard your conversation with my sister?"
Mithos had to have had him there at least a little bit.
"If you heard everything, why did you not show yourself sooner?"
Yuan was cornered. He was just buying time.
Mithos responded quickly this time. "Why would I want to risk limiting the amount of information I could acquire?" He wanted to ask a second question. It was likely on the tip of his tongue but he was waiting to use it like a good letter in scrabble.
"What exactly did you hear?" Yuan asked. Mithos was about to pay the price for asking a closed question previously if he didn't have a relevant question that wasn't an answer. I could practically see the sweat pouring off of the blond's forehead, meanwhile Yuan had gained some of his composure and started looking more collected than ever before. The two of them jumped back from their battle of strengths for a second before each running in and clashing again. Yuan needed to speed up his game if he were to win before Mithos got the better of him though. Without his regular weapon, he was no match for the prodigy Mithos was in short blade-to-blade combat. Their weapons clashed together and apart. Yuan knew better than to try some of his faster melee moves to catch Mithos off guard as well considering his injury from Martuan still had him aching.
"Who is the girl?" Mithos prodded.
Yuan could not tell him who she was, nor could he ask anything direct because it would risk the conversation turning into a loop. He faltered for just a second and in that time Mithos took the opportunity to knock his weapon from his hand and send it flying toward the entry to my glade and right at the red boots of Lloyd.
The dual swordsman (missing his swords currently) stood staring at the scene before him as Mithos rested the tip of his blade on Yuan's neck. "M-Mithos?" His eyes trailed up from Mithos and across the shining blade of his short sword to Yuan. Both half-elves ogled him with surprise before sharing a quick glance back and forth at each other.
Lloyd briefly surveyed around the area, taking in the silhouettes of Martuan and Gabriel, lit up by their still moving wings of coloured mana. Martuan had her mouth slightly open as though she had been about to say something when time had frozen. "I thought only Yuan wasn't affected by my time magic." He frowned. "Okay, can someone tell me what is going on?"
Neither Mithos nor Yuan said a word, but I could feel the time magic loosening and the world that had been left behind catching up. The natural blue and green hue of the forest returned, as did the chirping crickets. After having counted all the stars long ago, I had turned to counting the number of times they chirped until they went to sleep.
Martuan and Gabriel each regarded their new company cautiously while frantic footsteps not too far off in the distance sounded. Genis, Colette and Kraine came running into the glade behind Lloyd, each set of eyes scanning their surroundings on entry.
"I recognise that man," Colette murmured to Lloyd and Genis, squinting at Gabriel. The human, desperate to keep his identity hidden, turned his face away from them. "He must be Gabriel." She looked at Mithos and Yuan and voiced the question they had all been wondering. "Why is Mithos fighting with Yuan?"
Genis stumbled out in front of Lloyd from the background, his arms waving frantically to get Mithos' attention. "Wait Mithos! Stop this!" He looked at Yuan. "Whatever Yuan's done, I'm sure he meant well."
"That is an opinion we somewhat share, Genis," Mithos responded, his sword arm still refusing to waver though. "But I think it is high time we all got a few answers."
Sometimes I really wished I didn't see things coming right before they aligned in the future. It would have been far more amusing to see Yuan's reaction in the flesh at the next words from Lloyd's mouth rather than in my mind's eye.
"I agree with you Mithos. If you don't know what's going on with him, then we really need to know." He didn't seem phased about the words that had tumbled out of his mouth until a few seconds later when he put a hand over his Angelus Project and quickly jolted it back from the heat he felt emanating from it all of a sudden. He scowled at himself and scratched his head. "I-I mean-"
"What do you mean by that?" Mithos asked, turning fully to Lloyd now in curiosity and cutting him off.
With everyone's eyes now on him, Lloyd turned into a confused mess. "I don't know. It sort of just came out." He tried to laugh it off, but five old seraphs, a worried Genis and an uncertain Colette made for a tough crowd. Still, Colette uttered a short uncomfortable giggle and smiled at him in attempt to make him feel better. Mithos continued to stare Lloyd down for a few seconds more before shifting his eyes upward to gaze at the boys estranged father standing behind him.
Kraine looked to be carefully calculating the situation that might have been happening before they had arrived. Mithos probably had a myriad of questions about what he had been doing all this time but it wasn't yet safe for him to assume that Lloyd and his group had somehow found out who he was. Instead, he and his mentor shared a look. Genis had however pre-emptively shrunk closer to Lloyd and Colette, probably knowing that the blame for any information leaks would shift to him.
In the time Mithos was distracted, Yuan quickly backed away from the sword at his throat and retrieved his weapon. Curiously, he decided to drop it into its sheath and summon his butterfly blade from the next dimension. Mithos barely paid him any heed, instead too curious about Kraine's appearance. "Do you still speak like a woman?" he came out with finally and rather rudely.
"Mithos!" Martuan scolded almost immediately. Things might have changed between them since Mithos had developed a sister complex with her after gaining my power, but some things were still the same. She quickly looked like she regretted opening her mouth when Mithos spun around to glare at her. "What are you still doing here? Get out of my sight until I know what to say to you." The hurt in his voice was real. The sting of being told off by Mithos was all the more real to Martuan. She gazed at him blankly while he turned his attention to Gabriel standing not a couple of paces behind her. "This conversation isn't over."
"No it isn't!" Lloyd spoke up again. "Why are you speaking like that?"
Slightly flinching and probably realising he had run his mouth a little too much to be able to get away with, Mithos glanced back at the boy who would follow in his footsteps to save the worlds soon enough. "Ah that's right. Oh well. I was getting tired of the charade anyway."
Lloyd and Colette's eyes widened at the voice Mithos had addressed them in this time. It was no longer his normal child voice, but the voice of Yggdrasil. His aura glowing, Mithos changed into his adult form and summoned his large wings to complete the picture.
"Mithos.. You're.." Lloyd stuttered.
"He's Yggdrasil!" Colette cried, her voice quivering.
"Apparently," Mithos replied, one side of his lip grinning while his eyes bore into them. "Now listen to me Lloyd." Time froze around him again. Lloyd looked from left to right at his monotone friends. "You can stop time as well?" He blinked. "So that wasn't me?"
"Not this time Lloyd, no," Mithos replied. His aura started to glow. Lloyd didn't stand a chance, still stunned from the revelation and confused about everything. Mithos knocked him to the ground unconscious. He took a step forward toward Lloyd but stopped when he felt a blade against his back.
"Leave the boy alone Mithos," Yuan warned, being the one holding the blade in question.
"Or you'll do what?"
Yuan's hand sizzled with electric magic while he tried to contain his rage. "You know very well what our deal was." He looked at Genis. "As long as no harm comes to the boy or Presea, you can take the Angelus Project. Lloyd however is strictly off-limits."
"What makes Lloyd so special?" Mithos asked. Before Yuan could think of a way to respond with a question, Mithos continued. "Wait. Don't tell me." He grinned. "It's because it is far more evolved than the one Genis has?" He shot a bolt of energy out of his palm and knocked Yuan off of his feet by the sheer force. "Lloyd's mana signature is changing Yuan. Anyone that's any good of a half-elf can see that just by looking at him." His eyes narrowed. "I intend to find out why it is changing to resemble mine." Another two balls of mana flew from him at Yuan, just to make sure he was going to stay down, before he turned to Lloyd, Kraine, Colette and Genis. He did a few quick hand signals for a teleportation circle. Yuan watched, unable to do anything, as Mithos disappeared in a ball of light, followed by Lloyd, Genis and Kraine. "Damn it Yggdrasil! How did you figure that out!"
It appeared Colette was not coming along for the ride however. The time magic Mithos had used faded as soon as he left the area, leaving Colette turning around in a circle of confusion. "Lloyd? Genis? Kraine?" She whirled around to look at the remaining three seraphs in the vicinity. Martuan took one glance at her counterpart on the ground and uttered a very un-ladylike word before rushing off to probably change the operations of the Renegades now that it was possible her identity may have been discovered. Gabriel also cursed under his breath and went to follow her out.
"Gabriel, wait," Yuan groaned. Gabriel stopped mid step and looked between him and the exit, trying to decide what his priorities were. Even though it was clear that he wanted to chase the woman down, he decided to feign curiosity for whatever it was that Yuan had to say. I had to admit, I was pretty curious as well.
Yuan helped himself up with some effort and waved Gabriel to follow him.. straight up to my resting place. "The situation has changed Origin," he murmured. "I'm afraid Mithos has forced my hand a little sooner than I had planned."
Reaching into his cloak, he fumbled around for a second. As expected, he brought out a diamond and raised it to the sky. "Origin, come forth!"