The problem with destiny is that it is difficult to cheat. Despite saving her life back mere centuries after this had all started, Yuan had protected Martuan more than once from harm over the past four thousand years.
Met with many tragedies that had threatened to claim her life, it was a wonder that my co-conspirator had managed to deflect each and every one. Some were accidents as natural as sinkholes in the snow and some as unnatural as her food being spiked with poison. Luckily, having lived through it once already, Yuan had been on top of that one.
There had also been a time when the Lady Renegade had gone to tend to her garden at the Flanoir Base. Having forgotten her garden gloves, she had gone back to her room to fetch them. During that short window of opportunity, Yuan distracted the guards at the front of the base and successfully raced againt the clock to check the garden for dangerous spiders and creatures before her return. To my surprise, his hunch had been correct and he had discovered a mana-eating spider had been crawling around. Had Martuan been bitten by it, she would have been rendered no more than a human without magic and would have likely grown sick and perished as a result. Working as the Cerberus meant he had ties with the Renegades and Mizuho, but the two groups were hardly on home visiting terms and so he hadn't really made his life any easier in terms of wanting to protect her.
What those that aren't immortal like a summon spirit or a seraph don't realise is that emotions, when they are felt strongly enough, are amplified and can rarely be forgotten. Yuan, even after everything he had gone through and after finally allowing Martels body to rest in peace, still never forgot the woman he had loved with every fibre of his being. To others not in his shoes it might have seemed a tad on the obsessive side, but forty centuries of fighting to put things right for her sake and forty more to keep her alive could not easily be forgotten.
Coming to that train of thought after mulling over Yuan's surprising request, I realised his true goal was far more devious than even I had ever thought him capable. The question remained though- was this in the best interest of the world? Could I really lose my link with Yuan and trust that his goals would ensure a peaceful future? I could already see the haze of a future forming, but it was still unclear. Lady Mana trusted him and I wanted to believe in him as well. Even if I didn't, I was duty bound by pact to do as he asked. The Cerberus had struck again, exploiting a loophole within a loophole it seemed. One question remained though; one that I wasn't entirely sure Yuan had the answer to yet or if he had actually indeed calculated the problem into his equations. An interesting turn of events in the midst regardless of the lingering issue, I made my decision.
Gabriel seemed quite the surprised one when I turned my gaze to him and requested that he state his full name and the pact that he wished to make as the condition of the transferal of my power to him. He cleared his throat and sideglanced at Yuan and then back to me not once but twice before finally speaking. "My name is Gabriel Angelus. I ask that you transfer your power to me under the oath that I will guide the world toward peace and a new era of resources, prosperity and equality."
I paused for a few seconds as I liked to do whenever I had a pact made with me. In that time, I noticed that Colette was observing as everything unfolded. Being the polite girl that she was, she was willing to wait for answers, unlike Lloyd or Mithos. I didn't have to worry about any interference from her.
"Very well," I said dryly to Gabriel, still trying to comprehend why Yuan was doing this. Even as I took the right of the pact away from Yuan's mana signature and attached it to the non-existant energy of the human, I could feel the balance shifting. Mithos was not going to be happy.
Sheelos found herself concentrating hard on a fried tofu hamburger Novariel had bought her from the twenty-four hour inn' in Palmacosta. The slime of a man had brought her to Sylvarant and introduced her to the city, not knowing that she was already quite familiar with the place. The top problem on her list was now how she could get back to Tethe'alla, but the competing problem for first place was that she wasn't sure if she wanted to return.
Going to take a bite but finding hair in her eyes, she dropped the whole thing back onto its plate and groaned in frustration. A young man around her age watched her from a different table, smirking at her frustrations. Before she could give him a mouthful to mind his own business and that being cute didn't give him enough of an excuse to enjoy other peoples misfortunes, Novariel came into the room, carrying two mugs of tea to see her glaring at the now disembodied burger strewn over her plate. "Something the matter my dear?"
She raised two eyebrows at him. "Nothing at all darling. I'm thoroughly enjoying eating at a strange restaurant with a man who kidnaps children, especially while my hair is falling into my eyes and I'm not in Tethe'alla anymore."
"Shh!" Novariel waved his hands around to get her to hush.
She rolled her eyes. "I know, I know. Sorry." She debated her next words carefully. The way she saw it, she had three choices. One- she could watch and wait to see what Novariel was up to since he had planned to take her to Sylvarant, or two- go and get the rest of the summon spirits. She had the perfect chance to work with her friends again and perhaps have ammunition for getting them to forgive her. Option C also looked good. She could help her friends while waiting for Cruxis to find her again. She welcomed the opportunity to chew them out for being misinformed. There seemed to be something else going on. Someone was messing with Cruxis' information.
"Could it be.." Sheelos shook her head before she could get too far into that train of thought. She had nothing to prove his involvement and he had promised her he was not a member of Cruxis. He was hardly innocent though. Then again, it wasn't as though she could be angry at him for not being transparent considering her own motives.
She noticed Novariel watching her like a hawk and cringed inwardly. It was time to rip off the bandaid. Yawning, she stood and pointed to the dorm rooms. "Which ones mine?"
Novariel stood as well and held a hand out to her. "My lady, I shall lead the way."
"My, such a gentleman," she joked as she took his hand and allowed him to escort her up a set of stairs. The closer they got to reaching the top, the more she started to feel uncomfortable. All of her trained Igaguri senses were tingling and telling her that something was wrong. She slipped out of his hand as they reached the second flight rooms. He didn't seem too phased though and continued to lead her to a room at the far end of the corridor. The knob turned and he pushed the door open to let her in.
When she saw what abruptly met her, she whirled around to leave. Of course, Novariel was far too quick for that. He'd already shut the door behind himself and made to block her exit. The salesman smile he always wore changed to show something else. Something she'd seen in the women that ogled Yuan at Meltokio whenever he made his appearance as 'The Chosen'.
"What's going on?" she demanded to know, backstepping as he tried to advance on her.
"Don't play the fool my dear," he said, speaking in soft, creepy tones and stepping slowly toward her. Seeing an opening for the door as he moved closer, she darted to his side to make a run for it. No such luck. Something sharp stabbed into her arm on the way past and she quickly felt her legs going to a gel-like consistency. He caught her before she fell and shifted her to the queen sized bed that took up the majority of the room. Rose petals itched at her face from all sides as she glared up at the man. He stood back and scanned her over, the desire in his eyes abundantly clear.
Annoyed with herself for ignoring all the signs, Sheelos fumbled with her arms slowly behind her to take out the hidden dagger under her obi. Her fingertips were buzzing with what felt like static electricity and pins and needles, making it very near impossible to feel when she had hold of what she was looking for. All she could do was shift around until she could feel it pressing against her back or forearm.
"Don't look so afraid," Novariel said coyly, advancing to sit on the bed beside her. "This is the will of the Goddess bringing us together."
"The will of the Goddess, huh." She rolled her eyes. "Sorry, but I already have a Salvatorian."
As of only an hour or so ago, anyway. Before then, the people of Mizuho had always kept her Salvatorian a secret from her despite her wishes to meet him so that they may be able to be friends before fulfilling the requirements of the W.S.P. The people of Mizuho disliked the system and preferred to believe in the Old Gods and the summon spirits rather than Martel. They were not exempt from the Worldwide Survival Project, but they preferred to maintain ignorance to it until it was absolutely necessary.
"That makes no difference," Novariel said, to much her surprise. "It is the will of the Goddess for us to keep our population going. Who am I to believe that she meant each person to only have one child? No, the world needs more youth." He pushed some hair out of her eyes and leaned a little closer. "Our children will grow up to do wonderful things."
Just as the scum went to lean fully in to complete his 'closing argument', she found the pommel of her dagger poking into a part of her arm that hadn't gone numb. Being now or never, she made a judgement call and gripped her hand around something she could only mildly feel. Pulling it, she rolled herself away from him and delivered a timely blow to his left shoulder before falling onto her backside to the floor. Despite the painful ache in her limbs, she couldn't help the satisfaction she got at giving him at least a little of what he deserved and that she had wiped the smile off of his face.
She set about finding her seals next and fumbled around her top until one came flying out. Swatting a hand out to catch it, she managed to wind the man again as he tried to approach her with bloodied hands from nursing his wound. Pulling the seal from her winding hand, all it took was a swift Pyre Seal to his stomach to knock him back from her and into a wooden dressing table a short way off from the bed. He glared furiously at her. Her legs still numb, it was all she could do to make some distance from him. "Besides," she muttered, watching her assailant starting to fall unconscious, "you're way too old for me."
"You-" He never completed the thought. His head fell back and he slumped even further.
While Sheelos waited for the feeling to return to her legs, she debated how to leave the room. Her first thought being to climb out of the window. She could make short work of the building by using the bedsheets if she really wanted to play it safe, otherwise just use the window ledges and gutter pipes as stepping stones. After some more thought, she decided it was just easier to leave the same way she had come in. With some luck, the inn owners hadn't heard the ruccus or assumed things of a more consentual nature were happening. Novariel had quite obviously paid and organised the room, so it should have been as easy as waving goodbye with a smile on her face. If that was even necessary.
Eventually the effects of the injection dulled and she found herself finally able to stand with a little bit of effort. Before she left the room, she knelt in front of Novariel's crumpled body and placed a finger on his throat. Finding the throb of his heartbeat prominent still, she reassured herself that she hadn't ended his life. As much as she would have liked to, she would have needed to hide the body afterward, had she taken it too far. It wasn't exactly a desired practice, even amongst her clan of ninja's, to be seen with the victim before the kill. Besides.. murder wasn't exactly part of her track record. She hadn't been able to kill Colette and Lloyd even when her world depended on it, so killing Novariel for a far lesser reason would have seemed contradictory to her values.
Letting herself out into the second story corridor and pulling the door shut behind herself as softly as she could for no reason in particular, she practised her smile and her walk (so that she wasn't limping) on the way down the flight of stairs to the ground floor. She cursed under her breath. Sylvarant was so primitive. Had she been in Tethe'alla, an elevator would have been installed within a month of open of business. Still, even with all its warts, Sylvarant felt somehow more like home than Tethe'alla ever had. There were so many new things to explore in the declining world. The thought of going into hiding and making a life for herself in it had crossed her mind, but she knew better than to convince herself that she could hide forever. Between the Renegades and Cruxis, they had eyes everywhere over the two worlds. Not to mention that Yuan always managed to home in on her location like the heat-seeking device he had once called Corrine.
The innkeeper barely glanced up from his magazine when she plodded past the front desk and left to face the business district of Palmacosta. Shops having closed hours ago now, the atmosphere felt freakishly different. Not that she was complaining- it made it much easier to slip away without leaving clues for Novariel to find her if he tried- but she did find it a little unnerving, especially when the city militia on duty gave her an odd look on her way out the western exit.
At least she knew where she needed to head. She'd been there before when Yuan had enlisted her help to get into the seals prior to the Chosen, after all. He'd said it was to make the Chosen easier to kill and she had believed him at the time. Looking back on it, she'd been rather naïve. He'd taught Colloyd for years at Iselia under the guise of inside research for the Renegades. She'd figured out a long time ago that while the Cerberus had been honest in not wanting Colloyd to fight, his reasoning behind it was far more complicated. She needed to head for the Triet ruins first. By getting Efreet, they would be another step closer to breaking the mana links, stopping the worlds vying for mana, and destroying the Tower of Salvation with the mana cannon.
As she made her way to the forest to the northeast of Palmacosta that housed the now-empty ranch, she sunk into her memories of the night Pronyma had first approached her. Yuan, after having told her that he knew about her complicated feelings for him, had left her in her own thoughts. She hadn't intended to stay in the clearing on her own for too long and had only thought about the Cerberus' confidence in her to make the right decisions for a brief point until she realised she was not alone.
Sheelos looked around herself when she felt someones eyes on her. She very much doubted it was Yuan still and so quickly ensured her weapons were easily accessable. She quickly grabbed for them when Pronyma, one of Cruxis' Grand Cardinals, presented herself to her.
"Just how long were you listening?" she asked even though the womans sorry looking eyes on her told her all she needed to know. Feeling her cheeks heat at knowing that someone else had overheard such a private conversation, she decided to just skip over the introductions. "Let me guess- Cruxis wants my help to achieve their goals?"
"In a manner of speaking," Pronyma replied cryptically, skimming across the ground with the floating contraption she always wore around her. "You have the potential to be one of Cruxis, Chosen. You're not like other humans who don't understand what it is like to be a half-elf."
"I'm more like that than you realise," she contradicted.
Pronyma let her comment slide and approached uncomfortably close to her to reach a hand out to her shoulder. Sheelos' curiosity for whatever Pronyma was getting at was now the only thing that kept her resisting the urge to flip the Grand Cardinal over her shoulder. "What if I were to tell you that there was a way in which you would finally get the peace that you seek?"
"Does it involve torturing others to get what you want?" she questioned bluntly. "Like how you do with the Chosens of Sylvarant and Tethe'alla?"
Pronyma looked surprisingly horrified and shook her head while withdrawing her hand slowly as though she were backing away from a snarling dog. She clutched her hand to her chest. "Lord Yggdrasil saw no other way. Recent.. events.. have enabled us to change our plans slightly, however."
Deciding it couldn't hurt to hear her out more since she didn't seem to be hostile at the moment, Sheelos crossed her arms and tapped her foot. "I'm listening."
Like she thought she had already convinced her, Pronyma smiled and turned her back from her. "We require information on the Renegades and the progress of the Chosen's group. You will turn over this information periodically through me and I will deliver it to Cruxis."
"And what's in it for me?" she asked.
"You will no longer be required to be the Chosen."
She rolled her eyes at that. "Well, I could get that outcome for helping my friends. Try again."
Pronyma looked like she expected that from her- not phased at all. "You will no longer be the Chosen. You will cease to exist as you are now."
Pronyma had gone on to explain that they had discovered that the Angelus Project might be the key to everything. But it would take time. Still unsure, Sheelos had asked whether her acceptance in the task made her a member of Cruxis. Pronyma had promptly responded to the contrary. Satisfied, she had agreed to continue as she had done before and watch over the group as they went about their tasks. Pronyma left her in her (almost) ashamed thoughts but they hadn't lingered for too long before a certain blue-haired lady Renegade had made her appearance out from the bushes.
"Sounds like you drive quite the bargain," Martuan said pointedly, stopping her approach when she stood only a short distance away under a spot of moonlight. It caught on her blue hair and made it shine like something more otherworldly, the same way Yuan's did.
Remembering how she had always thought his hair was his most attractive feature, Sheelos started to feel a smile tugging at her lips. She let it happen but disguised it under what she hoped looked like a knowing grin. "I should have known it would only be a matter of time before you came here."
"You think I came here for my own bargaining reasons?" the Renegade asked innocently.
"Aren't you?" she questioned back, raising an eyebrow. "Or have you come to have some girl talk?"
"What do you think I came here to ba-" Martuan stopped before she finished and rolled her eyes at herself. "Let's stop this before it becomes one of those games he likes to play."
Chuckling herself this time, Sheelos nodded and waited for Martuan to continue on. She did eventually after looking deep in thought. "I initially came to ask you what you knew about our mutual friend, but I have a feeling that may be a lost cause considering the feelings I did not realise that you harboured for him."
"Tha-that has nothing to do with whether I would tell you," she defended, flustered once again that someone else had probably heard her private conversation with Yuan. "He's the Cerberus.. a-and my friend."
Martuan gave her a look that may as well have been a pat on the head while she said 'there there'. "Regardless of which," she added finally to the conversation, "I am happy to see that there are still some humans that feel what we feel. I suspect your heritage plays a role in your particular feelings though."
Sheelos looked over the Renegade again, pausing on her ears in particular. "Are you a half-elf too?"
"Yes," she confirmed, "and as you know, I am also the leader of the Renegades and a member of Cruxis' Four Seraphim."
"And Mithos' sister," Sheelos thought to herself after that. "Who doesn't want to play nice with her brother and formed a resistance to save herself which just so happened to also be in the benefit of the world too."
"A traitor, in other words," she said outwardly.
Martuan shrugged the branding off of herself. "I can offer you peace from your destiny," she replied. "But my way will not sacrifice lives and you will not find yourself opposing your friends."
Martuan's countenance had always been much different to the rest of the Cruxis Seraphim, and despite everything she had done back then- particularly recently when it came to the Fooji Mountains, the rheairds, and her strange involvement with Yuan- Sheelos had felt oddly comfortable around her. It was strange. Martuan very clearly reminded her of Yuan. Sometimes eerily so. Perhaps that was why she had chosen her side. Or perhaps she hadn't yet forgotten the one thing she had intended from the start of her life- to always side with the strongest. Martuan was a member of Cruxis and a member of the Renegades. It seemed like a pretty clear choice.
Not only that, but her deal had sounded the most appealing of all. When everything was said and done, Martuan would allow her to use the Angelus Project on herself. They'd seen the way it worked before on Genis, so there was no real question. She could use it to split her souls and no longer be the Chosen. She would no longer be the one that everyone needed and was willing to sacrifice. After agreeing to help her as not a citizen of Mizuho but as the Chosen of Tethe'alla, Martuan had told her of the plans regarding the Mana Cannon, the Angelus Project and the final seal on the world.. otherwise affectionately called 'The Great Seed' by Cruxis.
Wondering just how she had gone from trying to kill the Chosen of Sylvarant to now wanting to practically play with fire like she was, Sheelos found herself at the foot of the abandoned and burned out Palmacosta Desian base.
...At least, she'd assumed it were abandoned. As though her earlier thoughts on things had summoned her, Martuan stood at the entrance to the base with her back to her and her first in command, Botta, standing beside her. Sheelos quickly hid behind a nearby rock to scout out the situation.
"Are you certain this is how you wish to do things?" Botta queried Martuan. "If we had not been interrupted by the Papal Knights, we would have been able to get the Angelus Project easily enough."
"Even if we could still go with our first plan, it would take time that we sorely lack," Martuan replied. "Especially now that Mithos has grown a little wiser."
The two Renegades fell into silence for a few moments until Botta spoke up first. "You're thinking that he was right again, aren't you?"
Martuan's response to that was far from definite.
Botta went on. "Though he did not say it directly, he did imply that using the Angelus Project was a bad idea. Perhaps it is time to trust him." The well-built commander crossed his arms and grinned a little. "He does remind me of you, Lady Martuan."
Martuan turned to face her officer. Sheelos covered her mouth. If Botta was talking about who it seemed he was, things likely did not bode well for him.
"I-I simply meant," Botta quickly stuttered, "that you are both unrelenting and stubborn to the very core."
"Is that really how you see me?" Martuan asked, summoning her quarterstaff behind her and grinning at her companion. Sheelos withheld her snickers as much as she could. Botta backed away from Martuan, looking surprised. When he decided to hold his ground eventually, the lady stopped and poked her staff into the ground behind her, an impressed smile on her face. "Very well. Shall we ask an impartial party?" She cocked her head backward to scan the woods to the west of the base. "Colette, come and join us now if you please."