Lloyd stared at Mithos for a time, trying to figure out what his game was. Just how had they both ended up in the Angelus Project? What did he mean when he spoke about Yuan's 'deal' with Origin?
The blond half-elf still had an ecstatic grin to his features. There were more problems on his plate to deal with than just Mithos though. He could still hear the argument between Presea, Kraine and Genis. Gazing to the window with one eye while he kept his other on the leader of Cruxis in case he made any sudden movements, he watched the event unfolding.
"Presea!" Genis yelled, for the first time stepping into the view. Lloyd saw the top of his head but not his expression. Genis waved his hands about as he stood in front of Kraine and him. "She's not Annalicia! Our sister..." His voice quivered. "She wouldn't want this! She loved Kraine and we both know it!"
Lloyd raised a brow. "Our sister?" When he noticed the view changing and he could only see some bright lights on the ceiling instead of Presea and Genis, his heart began to palpitate. It was happening. "No! Kraine! Stop it!" He ran to the edge where he could touch the view and smacked a fist against it. Of course, it was no use. He heard the clash of steel on metal and knew it was starting. He heard a yell from Kraine at Presea first.
"Move out of the way!"
"If you both wish to hurt Annalicia, you must go through me!" Presea cried back in response.
"You should feel glad to die at my sisters hands," came a voice next that truly sent shivers down his spine. The voice he had heard over and over again and still couldn't understand. The voice of Annalicia. "You always felt bad for killing me, didn't you Raine? Or perhaps maybe you'd prefer Regal?" The laugh that sounded after was unnatural, even over the clashing of weapons. Lloyd strained to hear. "Or maybe Kratos?"
Upon hearing the last name, the twin-swordsman stared into space. That name. "Why that name!?" He let out the first audible cry he'd been able to muster since awakening in the blue room and heard a surprised gasp from Mithos soon after.
"H-how did you!?"
Lloyd blinked and tried speaking. "Mithos?" His voice not only came out of his mouth, but echoed all around him. The clashing of weapons stopped and he heard running footsteps. "Lloyd!" he heard Genis call. "Lloyd, are you awake?"
Genis knelt down in front of him and looked him over frantically. "Lloyd! Wake up. We really need you!" The battle between Kraine and Presea commenced again behind him.
"I am awake!" Lloyd exclaimed, looking away from the window and to where he saw Mithos glaring at him. A dark aura surrounded his adversary.
"I won't let you leave that easily Lloyd!"
"Lloyd?" Genis sounded more questioning this time. Lloyd didn't have time to respond to his friend, recognising the attack as one that had knocked him out the first time Mithos had done it in Torent Forest. A blast of magic flew straight past him to the edge of the exsphere. For a second the whole room shook as though there were an earthquake. It subsided quickly enough before Lloyd fell to his knees.
Mithos cackled then. "Come now. I'm just getting started. Fight me some more, Lloyd!" He raised two eyebrows. "Or maybe even with the oldest exsphere in existence you're still too weak to beat me thanks to Yuan's kindness."
"Is.. is that it?" Lloyd reflexively looked at his hand. His exsphere still appeared on it even though he now understood that he was in fact inside the Angelus Project, just like how Colette had been once. "Is that why this thing is so important, Mithos?"
"You really are incredibly naive," Mithos responded incredulously, shaking his head while his eyes widened in disbelief. "This is why I need to take over before things get even more out of control. Don't you realise who he is?!" He sounded kind of scared, Lloyd thought. He held his stance and wished he could figure out how to summon the cool swords he'd brought about before during the battle with the angel hoard. "I won't be denied my revenge for Martel," Mithos continued. "I won't let Yuan have it!" His aura pulsed again, this time sending out a large three-pronged shockwave toward him.
Unsure exactly what to do to dodge, Lloyd ducked to his left and then to the right. Two of the three waves flew past him. He got ready to duck under the third but found himself frozen on the spot again. The world went still and he lost his voice again. He could only watch as Mithos took some light-footed steps toward him. "All I need to do is kill you Lloyd. You won't die of course, but you'll remain here forever." He grimaced. "It'll be easy, pretending to be you. For a time." In one wave of his hand, he summoned a short sword and held it to his throat. "Any last words, my shadow?"
"No, but I have a few things to say!"
A woman's voice boomed around the exsphere. It surprised Mithos so much that he faltered back and dropped his weapon. "No! Not you!" He covered his ears. "How in all the Old God's names are you still so strong!?" He whirled around in a circle, fear creeping into his expression. Lloyd would have found it amusing if he hadn't been wondering who was talking himself. Her voice made him want to smile. Whoever it was, she seemed to mean him no harm. He whipped his head left to right, waiting for her to talk again so that he could discern her location.
His eyes locked on to a glowing figure hovering just above Mithos all of a sudden. The glow slowly faded to show a woman with shoulder length brown hair and a simple red dress looking at him. She put a finger to her lips and winked once before descending down on Mithos. The seraph let out a surprised yelp as he tried to wriggle free. "You think I would allow you to take my sons body?" she asked him in a calm questioning tone. Her gaze shifted to look at Lloyd again. "Lloyd, you must go back to your body now."
"B-but-" Lloyd found himself understandably dumbstruck. "Your son?"
Of course, it made sense. He didn't know how he hadn't seen it sooner. Her voice made him feel the same way the woman in his dreams did.
"I spoke to our mother," Colette had told him once when retelling what it had been like to live inside the exsphere. "She said her name was Anna."
He started to mouth his mothers name but found he couldn't. Instead the name translated into "Mum..!" He bolted to help her when he saw Mithos overpowering her now normal looking body. She turned her head abruptly in the middle of the struggle. "Lloyd! Remember what is important! This is your destiny. You need to protect those that are important to you. Those that can exist in this world."
"My destiny?" he asked, blinking his eyes. Shaking his head, he went to help her again. "You're important to me as well!"
"No!" she howled. The voice came from the exsphere itself again. Mithos covered his ears as though her voice hurt him. All Lloyd felt was the familiar buzz of warmth. There was a moment of silence. "I didn't want to have to say this Lloyd," his mother said softly, "But you need to help your father. Please help him forgive himself. That is the only way others will forgive him."
"My.." Lloyd gasped suddenly before he was able to finish his sentence. He stared at Genis and watched his friend stare back.
"Kraine needs you, Lloyd. Kratos needs you. Your friends Regal and Raine also need you. Please help your father!"
He heard the voice of his mother. It wasn't as loud as it had been a second ago, but was plenty loud enough for him to hear. Comprehending what she had said was another matter entirely. He'd heard 'Annalicia' call Kraine all three of those names just before.
His hand rested against his throbbing head, but he had to focus on matters at hand. He observed the situation. Presea and Kraine were still fighting, the image of the one he assumed was her, Annalicia, behind them. Her image was blinking in and out of existence though, confirming what Kraine had said all along. "Stop it you two!" he cried, getting to his feet somehow and stepping past Genis.
They stopped mid-fight at his command. Kraine was looking rather battered, meanwhile Presea hadn't endured a single scratch. The older swordsman hadn't wanted to hurt her after all. Both pink and auburn haired heads turned in his direction, expressions telling him the same thing- to be a good boy and stay back while they had a fight about something he yet again didn't understand.
"Friends don't fight each other," he decided to say. "We've just escaped from that big battle and now you want to fight over someone you both care about!?"
"Lloyd," Presea sounded distressed as she said his name, "you don't understand."
"I know I don't!" he snapped back, a bit harsher than he should have. He turned his harshness on Kraine instead. Meeting his eyes, he continued. "Help me understand. Tell me the truth. Who are you, Kraine?"
Kraine met his pleading question with silence and a still face. Lloyd gulped and pressed forward, knowing he was going to be having to practically play a Game of Questions with him.
"Is it really true?" Tears of frustration threatened to pour but he ordered himself to stay focused. "Are you my father, Kraine?"
Though Kraine didn't react, Presea did. She covered her mouth and stared. It was almost as good as a confirmation. Lloyd shook his head and took a step back, almost bumping straight into Genis who had been coming up behind him. "No, I won't believe that." He snickered to himself. "Mithos must have been messing with my head too. There's no way." He tried to discern something, anything, from Kraine's expression. "It's not true, right?"
Of course it wasn't true. Mithos had probably been behind the illusion of Annalicia somehow, so why not do the same kind of thing to him.
His heart told him otherwise. That was why. He'd heard of instant connections children who lost their family had when they met again. The bond of blood was strong. Looking at Kraine- the man who had been his mentor and training companion, his confidant and friend, he started to have flashes of memories.
"I don't want to hurt you."
"Don't die, Lloyd."
A cold shiver ran up his spine. He found himself shaking his head even more in disbelief. "No, it's not true. Tell me Kraine. You wouldn't betray Colette and I and try to sacrifice us if it was.. right?"
BEEEP BEEEEEEEP BEEEEP
An ear-splitting screech of an alarm sounded. During the initial confusion and commotion, a flash of electric blue caught the corner of Lloyd's eye from one of the adjacent hallways. In a matter of seconds, a familiar half-elf was upon them.
"What are you all still doing here!?" Yuan looked pointedly at Genis. "What did you think I meant when I told you to help Lloyd and Kraine and leave!?" He shouted, but it was more to be heard over the noise around them than anything else. He frowned at Lloyd. "Why are you staring at me like that?" He didn't wait for an answer, instead turning away and running, his cape flapping in the breeze behind him. Noting the "Annalicia" was gone pretty briefly, Presea and Genis ran after him, leaving Lloyd to stand and glare at Kraine. The seraph looked more interested in following Yuan than answering his simple, direct question.
"Answer me, Kraine!" he yelled. "Are you-"
He stopped abruptly when Kraine took a single step forward and rested a hand on his head.
While Martuan tended to the business of unlocking the door in front of them with an old fashioned lock-type key, Sheelos looked over the Sylvaranti Chosen next to her warily. She had been acting strange for a while now, since they had finished up at the Triet Ruins. She would notice small hints that she obviously thought were subtle. The thing about Colette, that she had noticed ever since meeting her, was that the more worried about something she was, the more she talked and smiled. That wasn't to say that she wasn't normally a nice person anyway, but Sheelos knew the look well. The look of hiding pain behind a fake smile. She had watched her slow transformation into an angel before she had reached the last trial at the Tower of Salvation. The further on they had gotten in their mission, the more 'happy' Colette had appeared to get.
She hardly needed to ask whether it had to do with her being worried about Lloyd and the others though- that much was obvious and a feeling they shared. No. Colette was worried about something else. It wasn't like she had no idea what, either, but with Martuan in earshot, she couldn't risk her revealing enough to have the curious 'Yuanette' attempt to drag it out of her with her friendly-conniving nature.
There he was again. The Cerberus himself, invading her thoughts as easily as the Papal Knights invaded Meltokio during large corporate and royal meetings at the castle. Though she had never been a part of one since Yuan was officially the 'Chosen' of Tethe'alla, he had explained that they were too boring and people fell asleep frequently, to which she had always chided him with jokes about that being the reason his skin was so damn beautiful. From the bits that he had begrudgingly explained when it came to reporting to Mizuho though, meetings in Meltokio involved things to do with population, the W.S.P, money, or all of the above. Even hearing what they were about made her want to fall asleep.
A hand waved across her field of vision, followed by Colette leaning over sideways to look into her eyes. Guilt washing over her, she cleared her throat and noticed the door to their room swinging open and letting a warm glow of light out into the semi-dark hallway. Colette, the one she had been debating in her head about, had been tossed to the side in lieu of more useless thoughts about Yuan. She rolled her eyes to herself and put it down to the fact that this was the first time in quite a while that they had not communicated. She walked into their room to see Martuan inspecting it, one finger trailing across multiple surfaces in the search for dust.
While she was distracted with the odd behaviour the Renegade felt free to show, a hand gently placed itself on her forehead from behind all of a sudden. She jumped in surprise and immediately heard a string of about a dozen apologies come from Colette as she made her way around to her front.
"It's okay," she quickly reassured, half wondering what the blonde was actually doing and half wondering why her hands were so cold. The one she briefly rested on her forehead while she appeared to be taking her temperature felt like a brick of ice even though the weather was beautiful and tropical. It wasn't exactly late in the evening either.
Colette's eyes squinted for a second and she shook her head while removing her hand. "You don't look sick Sheelos. Are you out of breath?"
"Oh," Colette smiled a knowing smile, leaning closer as she did. "It's just that your face was all red. I was a little bit worried." She moved away and headed for the bed on the far left side of the room, closest to the ensuite and to the bed Martuan had claimed as hers.
Sheelos whirled around to find a mirror in order to investigate Colette's words. She found one peeping out at her from the connecting ensuite. She couldn't see any change now, but she knew the likely cause of her brief hot flush. "Damn it," she thought, but covered her mouth when she realised she had also uttered it, eliciting a confused glance from the other two girls. She stuttered and rushed to correct the situation, mainly keeping her eyes on Colette. "I-I was just thinking about all the handsome men you people have in Sylvarant. No shortage of people to ask to be your Salvatorian, that's for sure!" She laughed a little bit more loudly than she should have and felt like kicking herself when she realised she was doing the exact same thing that Colette did when she was lying.
"Oh, really?" Colette sounded amused but a bit unsure. She was so adorably innocent. "I suppose I haven't really thought much about men." She went about fluffing her pillow. "Being the Chosen was all that I thought my life would amount to." She stuttered. "N-not that I had anything against that." Her eyes lowered and her lip quivered a little. "At least, I never used to."
Grinning to hide how much her last couple of sentences resonated, Sheelos quickly rebutted with "You will get all the guys one day when this is all over!" and turned to find her own bed at long last. She didn't want to get into those thoughts again. For any Chosen, picking a Salvatorian was a no-go area. Even if they managed to do something about the current state of the world, she doubted that anything more would change. She shivered a bit. Just saying and thinking that word brought up some memories of her time with Novariel in Palmacosta. A part of her wanted to know whether her playful advances felt so similarly invasive or whether it had been a unique attribute to Novariel. She didn't want to bother Colette with it, and she wouldn't have told Martuan if she were the last woman on the planet. Yuan seemed the most likely to give her an honest response but she didn't even know where he was.
"Shut up!" she told her brain again, forcing her thoughts to take a different and less annoying route. She wondered whether Novariel had been discovered unconscious by the inn-keep and what manner of lies he might have spun to be able to avoid unnecessary questions and/or the bill for the damaged room. She hoped she would never have to see the slime of a man again. If he did however happen across them and so much as look at Colette the wrong way, she vowed to ensure the outcome would be much worse than when she had first had the 'pleasure' of such a personal encounter.
"Sheelos," Martuan called from behind her. She couldn't help but feel a little surprised at the genuine concern she heard in her voice. She turned in question and Martuan continued. "If you are content to daydream, perhaps we could have made the pact with Luna before retiring. It would be a simple journey to the east and the sun has yet to set."
It was because of the concern she had seemed to first have that Sheelos found her abrupt jab a little unnerving. She rolled her eyes and turned back to tend to fluffing her own flat-looking pillow. The Renegade was as focused on the mission as ever before. "It's just been a long day," she explained absently.
She sat on her allocated bed and focused on shimmying her boots off. Once the deed was done, she lifted her legs to finally sprawl out. Martuan was kind of right though. It was kind of hard to sleep with everything on her mind, particularly the summon spirits. While Colette and Martuan each also got into their preferred sleeping positions, she gazed up at the ceiling. In any other city, their room may have cost an arm and a leg to be able to afford, but because even the dorm rooms of the Asgard inns were beautifully designed, the more expensive rooms were very little different in price. Besides, Martuan carried a wad of cash with her. She didn't know where she had gotten it from and had decided upon first glance that she didn't want to know.
She felt a warm buzzing from under her obi and sighed to herself. This had been happening ever since they had left the Triet Ruins. "Ignorance is knowledge," said Efreet into her head. "An age old creed, as old as the world itself."
"Really?" She had to admit, that was one of the more useful things he had said since he had taken to listening in on her every thought and making the garnet gem he had given her as a symbol of their pact heat up every time he wanted to have input. Among the list of useless information were things like "Birds of a feather tend to flock together," and "Apples tend to not fall far from their trees, but they do tend to leave a mark on those who lay beneath."
Since Efreet was an incredibly proud summon spirit, in particular of the trivia he seemed to know (though she hadn't yet asked why), she had little choice but to accept and try to appreciate it. Ignoring Efreet telling her he had caught wind of her subconscious thoughts and that the information he chose to impart was full of wisdom unlike Celsius' own apparent knowledge, she closed her eyes and sunk back into her memories of the day after they had left Iselia and headed for the Triet Ruins.
Fighting Efreet after breaking Mithos' pact had been an interesting ordeal. Being a 'Ruler of Hellfire', Efreet was adept at fighting with fire on his side. With the ability to incinerate everything he touched (and thankfully not her hair), she hadn't been able to not notice something was off. She didn't quite understand what it was, but she did know that it wasn't exactly the first time she had felt unsettled. Sure, they had fought the summon spirits as part of the pact making process, but it was as though somehow they were going easy on her. The first time she had become wise had been when she had fought Undine. It had happened again with Gnome. In fact, Volt seemed the only exception.
Suddenly more than one of the gems heated up around her waist and she had to quickly pull them out of her obi before they scorched her. She laid them out on the bed next to her and waited for the inevitable.
"We do not go easy on our pact makers," Undine corrected her first. "It is unflattering that you would think of us like that."
"Yeah, what the lovely maiden of the mist said!" Gnome added. "After all those sudoku puzzles, you think I would want a fight to end sooner than it might otherwise?"
"H-hold on a sec!" she said aloud, eliciting a startled jump from the other two girls. They sat up and looked at her. Martuan had instantaneously reached for the summoned staff she had rested against the wall between her bedside table and bed.
"Is something the matter?" the bluenette asked in a half-concerned, half-irritated tone. "Not an hour ago you were complaining that you were exhausted and wanted to rest. Are you saying you are ready to continue?"
It was true, she had complained. But it hadn't been for her own safety. Since noticing something was wrong with Colette, she had watched her for a while and decided that maybe it was better to rest. A lot had happened at Iselia as well. "No," she groaned in reply. "It's nothing." She hadn't meant to sound snaky but the woman just put her in that mood.
"Well, alright then." With a clearly frustrated sigh, Martuan slid her head back down to her pillow and squinted her eyes shut. For a few moments, all they heard was the clock on the wall behind their beds ticking and the sound of civilisation still alive outside. Sheelos closed her eyes and prepared for another onslaught in her mind.
"Excuse me, Lady Martuan?" Colette was the one to break the tranquillity this time around before the summon spirits. Martuan roused and turned her head to her left in question. "You're an angel, right?" Colette asked.
"I suppose you might as well call me that," she agreed half-heartedly. "I am far from what most people would expect an angel to be though, everything considered."
"But you're such a nice person!" Colette leaned slightly more forward toward Martuan as she said that. "Even though I hate not knowing what is happening with Lloyd and feel so utterly helpless sometimes-" her voice lowered a little before piping back up- "I'm happy to have been able to finally talk to you and understand you a little bit better."
Sheelos glanced away and let a smile come to her lips. Just the look of sincerity in Colette's eyes when she blurted out such corny things did the same thing to people as Lloyd's gentle idealism. Just like how Colette was always determined to see the good in people, even self-serving Tethe'allan Chosen such as herself, Lloyd had always been adamant that there was a way to save the world from its mana crisis and end the sacrifice of Chosen. She had thought herself a fool for believing in him at first, but he had come through. They now had a way to stop the cycle.
Something bothered her though. She had joined the Renegades because they had a way to make the duty of being Chosen go away permanently, but that was only if she believed her own memory and that it was possible that people had more than one soul. A small voice of reason deep down told her that she should just address the elephant in the room and get the confusion over with, but her training under Yuan's wing as well as a Mizuho ninja told her to wait and see. They were well on their way to separating the mana links and weakening Mithos anyway. She just hoped that Lloyd was alright and that whatever Yuan was doing would be helping him.
"Hmph," Martuan closed her eyes and clenched her bedsheets around herself almost defensively after Colette's polite words to her. "I'm flattered Colette, but you are looking for a friend in the wrong place if that is what you are trying to achieve." She didn't speak with any sarcasm when she spoke to Colette. Their conversations were always soft and gentle, as though they understood one another to a tee even though they had variably spent the least time together out of all of them.
Colette didn't seem to take Martuan's neglect of her too seriously. She just continued on as though she had proposed they be best friends or something. "I was just wondering how you can sleep still?" She seemed a bit nervous; clenching her hands together and apart as she continued her thoughts. "I always have such trouble sleeping, even though I actually sometimes get tired now."
"Your worry for Lloyd probably isn't helping matters," Martuan stated, avoiding the limelight on herself to no real surprise. Sheelos expected her response to end there and so found herself shocked when the lady continued on. "I think of fond memories of the past, when things weren't always so bad." She heightened her gaze to the ornate roof and studied it while she appeared to think. "Isn't it strange to think that some of my fondest and most treasured memories are ones where those closest to me, and myself, were in terrible danger?"
"Danger?" Colette asked, then shook her head. Martuan didn't seem to want to elaborate and Colette appeared to have known she had overstepped the line. Martuan slid down to rest her head on her pillow for the third time. "A story for another time, perhaps."
Despite really only getting half-answers, Colette sounded really happy. Genuinely happy. It was quiet again until the Chosen seemed to have one last thing to add. "I understand though. Without all these terrible things happening, I wouldn't have made even half of the wonderful new friends I have." Sheelos sensed her looking at her and felt her cheeks growing warm with embarrassment. She involuntarily stuck out her tongue and groaned. Colette giggled but said nothing else, letting them fall back into the idea of maybe getting some sleep soon.
As exhaustion from a long day started to take its toll on her, Sheelos allowed herself to fall into earlier patterns with thoughts. Thinking about impossible things were always the best way to fall asleep. She would have told Colette that if she had asked her instead of Martuan.
She first thought about the way the summon spirits seemed defensive about the whole 'going easy on her' part. When she was met with disgruntled spirits making her too hot by heating up their gems when they spoke with her, she gave an offhand comment about not knowing she had needed to read the fine print before making a pact and then moved on to the next topic- her strange memories that didn't align properly. Thinking about that wore her out a little but it wasn't until she thought of Yuan that sleep loomed over her head in full swing.
In her half asleep state, she was allowed to admit to herself that she missed his stupid beautiful face. She knew the feeling likely wasn't quite as mutual as she wanted it to be though and begrudgingly wished for just a second that she had never uncovered the secret of the elves and how they understood such strange emotions. Even practically snoring, her better judgement told her that she would not have understood the plight of her parents had it not been for her discovery though.
Slipping in and out of dreams until she couldn't be sure what was what, she thought about the times she and Yuan had gone together to Mizuho with news on various developments. Her being the Chosen and him being the Cerberus had always been such a nice dirty little secret they'd shared together, even if it wasn't a secret from most people she associated with.
When he had come to Sylvarant with her, she had been so happy to be joined in her ordeal. Even though they had been doing things differently, she had partly been glad for it. Though she had still been committed to succeeding in assassinating the Chosen of Sylvarant at the time, she realised that Yuan once again had known her better than herself. He'd known that she wasn't capable of murdering anyone, even after having been trained for it.
Of course, he had played her unrequited feelings for him like a fiddle. He was far more involved with whatever in all the hells was up with the world than she had ever fully realised until now. She hadn't been able to see past his stunning elven physique- not too skinny, but bulked up enough that he looked like a man.
When they had ventured over the Ossa trail together before he left her to go on ahead for supplies and such while she 'kept an eye' on the Chosen and the whereabouts of the group, she had walked in the footsteps he made in the dirt. Though Yuan looked incredibly light on his feet when he danced around with that 'Swallow' of his, he had a man's feet. No matter how many times he complained about his hair or his looks, he was still a man deep down. She smirked at that for a second before a more depressing thought replaced the semi-perverted one. He was a man alright. A man clearly devoted to another woman.
Another woman named Martel.
Martel was the name of one of Martuan's souls, the one Mithos so desperately wanted to split using the power of exspheres. When she looked at Martuan and thought of the way Yuan acted around her, she couldn't help but feel suspicious. It seemed pretty far-fetched, but it could be possible. He had been leaning all over her at her base when they had entered the rheaird hangar after all. Her last set of thoughts before giving in to the tug of sleep were pretty final. She needed the truth from the half-elf about everything. He was the answer to all of her headaches.