Skewed Destinies- The Flames of Origin

By Keko_the_Hybrid

Mystery / Adventure

Curious relentless idealism

Chapter 63

Curious relentless idealism

The noise around him fizzled out, and for a moment all Lloyd saw was Kraine and himself standing in the void. The feeling of that hand on his head held more truth and honesty in its touch than any words could have said. He blinked up at Kraine again, flashes of thoughts appearing and disappearing constantly. "You really are, aren't you." The words that he had meant to keep tucked away in his mind escaped his mouth instead before he was really ready to believe them. Strangely though, it seemed that saying them was all that he needed to understand them as truth.

He'd seen Kraine every day of the week when coming to school, spoken to him so much over the journey, increasingly despised seeing his face after he had revealed his involvement with Cruxis and allowed Remiel to sacrifice him…. and yet somehow it felt as though he was seeing him for the first time properly. Coincidental similarities he had first thought to be interesting all of a sudden seemed far less coincidental. They were both swordsmen. They both hated tomatoes with a passion. They both apparently loved his mother.

He swallowed hard in realisation. Aside from a few other things like how Kraine intensely feared water and couldn't cook with normal ingredients, he realised how little he knew about him. Granted, had he been a random stranger off the street, he would have known even less. But he hadn't, and that only meant one thing- Kraine had known all along he was his father and purposely kept it from him.

It was only the awful flapping sound of seraphinalia wings that brought him out of his shock and sent the alarm bells literally blaring in his ears again. Kraine moved first, turning away from him and drawing his sword. Two angels approached them, happy sneers on their faces since they probably thought they had found the culprit of the alarm. They were probably right, too. Probably.

Lloyd found himself wishing he had his swords or the ones he had been able to summon to save him and Kraine in the last fight, but neither wish came true. Instead Kraine ran them both through with a flick of his sword across their throats. They turned to dust and flashed out of existence, leaving nothing but a flurry of feathers in their wake. Lloyd found himself dumbstruck. Kraine was as wounded as he was and hadn't had the energy to even stand only a short time ago, and yet he still had that much power?

Suspicion that he had somehow been pretending to feel weak during the earlier fight blossomed quickly, but wilted just as soon when Kraine cocked his head back to eyeball him. "Lloyd," he said. Lloyd saw his mouth move and understood what was being said rather than hearing him. Kraine walked past him again in the direction the others had gone until he had his back to him again. "We must make haste."

Unable to look at him, Lloyd swallowed and tucked any more words he had to say away for the time being. Frustrated to the point of almost not being able to see straight, but supposing that was probably something to do with the pain that still throbbed in his neck and back, he dryly agreed. It was sort of odd that they had only been attacked by two angels. A part of him wondered whether Mithos had thrown everything he had at them back in the jail room; even Remiel had been there, after all.

Another part of him, apparently his legs, realised the possibility was far too good to be true. They were off and away, sprinting him down the shiny white and purple hallway that surrounded him even before the rest of his still reeling mind caught up. Kraine dashed beside him the whole time until they went through the doors and stood on a white, blue and purple veined brick floor. As if that wasn't strange enough, a rotating purple fog surrounded them in all directions. Amongst the purple fog, ice-blue bricked platforms floated about, suspended in mid-air like they were a part of a roadside magic trick.

"Wh-where are we?" he stuttered. "I mean, I know it's Derris Kharlan but-" He stopped when his eyes fell on a few figures off in the distance. They didn't appear to be moving. When Kraine shifted past to start off again, that was when his autopilot reached the end of its tether.

He stood still, hoping Kraine would stop and tell him to hurry up as per normal. "I-I can't," he muttered, shaking his head. His head ached. "I can't believe it's been you all this time." He uttered it just loud enough that he expected the seraph to hear, but not the others. Kraine swung around in response, signalling success, and opened his mouth. He cut him off, clenching his fists to try to keep his cool. "Why?" was all he could ask him. "If it's really true, why did you betray us?!"

Kraine closed his eyes and exhaled. Lloyd watched him clench the sword at his side. "Another thing we both do." If he'd ever noticed it before, he would have simply put it down to having him for a mentor. It was funny how differently a change in perspective made things seem. More scenarios of their past conversations arose the longer he stood staring and waiting for the Angel of Cruxis to say something.

"You are well within your rights to hate me, Lloyd," Kraine finally said in an even tone. His brow creased and he glanced off to the side. "There is a better time and place for this discussion however."

"I know that!" he spluttered in outburst. "But if you're really my..." He couldn't bring himself to say it. The voice dissolved in his throat and his hand burned. He was used to the Angelus Project doing that when he got emotional, but it didn't do anything to lessen his discomfort. He decided to just continue on with his point. "Then how can you justify sacrificing so many people for Mithos' goals?" He quivered in disgust. "Is that what happened to mum? Was she just another sacrifice or-"

"Of course I wasn't!"

At the sound of the voice, he was forced to look at the seraph. Immediately he noticed his stance had changed and that he wore a hurt expression. Kraine took a step closer to him but he back-stepped, shaking his head.

"Lloyd," the womans voice inside Kraine's body cried. "Please, listen to me."

"No.." He held his head and crouched to his ankles. "No. What's happening? What am I supposed to believe!?" Gasping for air amongst his panic, he couldn't stop the tears of frustration from falling as he punched the ground at his feet. "It's not fair! Things should be starting to make sense now!"

"Lloyd," the woman's voice murmured his name again, this time more urgently. He stumbled back when he felt a hand grip around his arm. Getting to his feet on his own accord, he ran past Kraine and down the stairs that led off of the first platform. Losing his balance in his desire to distance himself from the issue and make sure his friends were safely able to leave, he summoned his wings to catch himself. Immediate pain flourished from the base of his neck, fanning out to the areas around his shoulders, but he ignored it and flew across the strange purple abyss to the others.

Whether or not Kraine had followed him in flight, he didn't know or particularly care, but he felt distant as he landed again and received worried looks from both Genis and Presea. It was like his brain was floating beside him.

"Lloyd?" Genis asked. "Y-your face is-"

"My face?" He reached a somewhat numb feeling hand to his face automatically. Though he couldn't feel much through his gloves, he did feel something that didn't seem right. There were more bumps than he remembered feeling. Since Genis and Presea were too busy giving him wide-eyed stares, he looked at Yuan for an explanation. "What? What's wrong?" He turned his head to look at the teleporter. "C'mon, we gotta go!"

Yuan looked impressed for a second before his gaze shifted to somewhere behind him. Lloyd heard the light tap of feet on the ground, confirming Kraine had joined them. "As Lloyd says," the man said in his normal voice. Lloyd almost felt relieved. He wasn't sure if he could take hearing the other voice again until they had time to properly talk. He heard the sound of flapping wings again from somewhere off in the distance and briefly turned his attention to the non-existent roof.

"That's our cue," Yuan asserted. He turned his back to them and stepped into the teleporter first. Lloyd moved next, in front of Presea and Genis. As he felt his body become light and floaty when the teleporter did its thing, he wondered where they would end up. The last place he had been was Torent Forest in Tethe'alla.

xxx

Kraine knew better.

To stay with Lloyd and the others meant that he could not keep tabs on Mithos' movements. It was perhaps the final nail in the coffin that Mithos needed to be able to label him a traitor. He knew better than to push Mithos too far, but all he could do was hope that he had other priorities. A higher likelihood than normal considering that he was probably more curious about the strange alarm that had gone off in Welgaia.

Looking at their group as they stood on the spot and both admired and loathed the Tower of Salvation around them, his own priorities were rather obvious. A verbal investigation of a certain half-elf was extremely paramount since he had likely been the sole cause of the strange alarm, while a long overdue explanation to Genis and Presea presented itself with equal importance. He hadn't expected Lloyd to so suddenly declare he had discovered the true nature of their relationship either. While he would have liked to have thought Lloyd had awoken and somehow figured it out on the spot, he knew just by the seriousness in his sons brown eyes when he had glared at him that he hadn't just been guessing. Lloyd had breached the subject with good reason, possibly with hard evidence in mind. A hunch that it somehow had something to do with the Angelus Project only served to unsettle his mind further.

Those priorities weren't the ones that had swayed his logic and better judgement though. His real reason was far less logical and far more emotionally driven than he was comfortable admitting nowadays. Pure and simple, Annalicia would kill him for choosing any other route in protecting their son. Had he chosen a more suitable way to be able to sit on both sides of the fence, he would have found himself locked in the Cruxis crystal again and watching her handle things. Had they been in a safer environment, he would not have normally had a problem with that. Annalicia was easily the best equipped parent to handle the delicate situation that had presented itself.

Given the precarious situation Lloyd had found himself in though, he couldn't say he blamed her for threatening him, but she definitely had him cornered. The group collectively had enemies from all over both worlds, and things were only going to become more dangerous. Only second to the protection of his own son was his instinct to protect her. He had already risked her life by experimenting with exspheres using the logic Mithos had been attempting to perfect for years; that was likely why Mithos had made him fight; and he wouldn't do it again.

He'd seen it before, though a part of him wished he hadn't. He knew Genis and Yuan would have seen it as well- the way Lloyd's mana signature fanned out in strange directions all around him. Not only that, but they had seen his skin. Just as it had with Martuan, Lloyd's skin had started to change colour, as was the nature of the sickness he had contracted. Resembling blue and white coloured fish scales, the skin of the boys neck just under his hair line and the skin of his face was beginning its transformation. It would not stop until it covered every inch of his skin, but that wasn't where the problems stopped.

Knowing what would come if he didn't do anything, Kraine found himself unable to respond as best as he could have in the moment the sickness took its first damning toll on Lloyd's body. With a pained yelp, the boy crouched to the ground, his body violently shaking all of a sudden. It was all Kraine could do to catch him and stop him from falling down the steps that led out of the Tower of Salvation and to the country of Tethe'alla. Yuan dashed back up the steps, his cape flapping in the breeze behind him as he did, and dropped down next to Lloyd.

"Lloyd!" he hissed, his tone urgent but not annoyed.

"I-I'm-" Lloyd's voice shook and he seemed to be struggling to get the words out. "Who am I?" An almighty cry from the boy made Kraine quiver, right to his core. It wasn't unlike that of his beloved that night on the cliffs near Iselia- the scream of agony she had released upon his acceptance to end her life. It tore at his heart in a way that he never knew was still possible.

Yuan looked over the brunet, trying to figure out what was wrong. Though Kraine wanted to speak, he found his nerves scattered. Mumbling and drivelling on and not being able to find the right words, he realised his clarity of thought was lacking. It was odd. He had seen Lloyd and Colloyd in pain time and time again over the course of the journey so far and barely batted an eyelid. What had changed?

The answer came sooner than he expected upon his questioning to himself. The difference was that his son knew who he was now. He had mulled the event over in his head repeatedly, convincing himself each time that the scenes in his head would never play out in life. But it had.. and now he was allowed to be his father. Not that he deserved that title of course. As far as he was concerned, that honour belonged only to the kind dwarf that had raised him all those years. He was the much more worthy parent.

The moment he realised what was wrong was ironically the same moment that he found it within himself to focus on the matter at hand and be of a little more help to Yuan. Gripping Lloyd carefully, all the while remembering how weak Martuan had been at this stage of the same illness, he assisted Yuan in helping him up. As expected, once Yuan let go, they almost tumbled over. Lloyd yelped at the sudden movement and summoned his wings what looked to be instinctively. The wings blinked in and out of existence quickly after he regained his balance.

"That was a close one," Lloyd declared, his voice sounded pained and shaky still. When he touched a hand to his face again, Kraine saw the terror in his eyes. "What's going on? I've gone kinda numb." His words sounded pretty slurred. Part of his mouth didn't seem to be moving quite at normal speed.

"Just relax," Yuan instructed, moving his gaze from the boy to Kraine. For a split second, Kraine saw straight through his friend. Yuan was practically hand-balling the responsibility of the situation to him.

Despite his reservations, he decided that things were better if he handled them anyway. Whenever Yuan did things, he always had the sneaking suspicion that there were other motives behind them. "We have little choice but to take him to Flanoir," he said with a sigh. Yuan's looked questioning for a second, but he seemed to understand pretty quickly as to why he had chosen Flanoir when Meltokio had competent doctors. "He is the only doctor we are able to trust fully," he said anyway for clarities sake.

"No, I'm okay," Lloyd said, still slurring. "I just need sleep." He craned his head up to look at the starry night sky and the moon that hung above, only to cringe and quickly look back down. His neck apparently hurt pretty badly.

"Lloyd!" Genis exclaimed, clenching his fist. "Maybe you haven't seen your face, but you're not okay!"

"I am in agreement with Genis," Presea added in. "You don't look well at all Lloyd."

With the agreement unanimous, Yuan summoned the rheiards he had in his possession. They only had two. It was going to be a tight squeeze. While they piled on to them and made the decision as to who was going to be riding with who, Kraine thought about his decision to take Lloyd to Flanoir a little more. He wondered just what limb or vital organ he might have to barter for the doctors business, and could only hope that the man would do it for old times sake. Seeing the child he had once examined while still in the stomach of Annalicia all grown up had to count for something, surely.

xxx

The good doctor had certainly been surprised to see them, Kraine in particular. Exchanging as few pleasantries as possible before the whitecoat let them into his practise in the middle of the night, Kraine helped Lloyd onto the single bed in the corner of the divided room. Despite Lloyd's disagreement, the doctor asked for everyone but him to leave for the inn so that he could do what he was being paid to do, despite their actual lack of arrangement for payment being made yet. Conflicted though they were, Yuan, Presea and Genis agreed to do as they were asked and left them to go out into the cold town to find the place they would be spending the night.

"So, let me guess," the doctor started once the door closed heavily behind Presea. He began by narrowing his eyes the way he always had done at Kraine, as though he were the one to blame for it all. Though technically that was true, even Kraine had a hard time regretting the fact that he had played a role in bringing his son into the world. The doctor continued. "You've come to me in hopes that I would have the cure for one the rarest diseases to grace the planet."

"So you know what it is, then," Kraine said rhetorically. "I shouldn't be surprised, considering your background." The doctor hadn't always been in Flanoir. He had done his fair share of research in the Sybak university and knew much more about the nature of exspheres than other doctors around. Having risked a background check on the man before allowing Annalicia to see him while in her condition, they had figured his knowledge would be more of a help than hindrance.

The doctor scoffed at his off-key remark and asked Lloyd to take off his red jacket. "I'm not the one who should be judged for my history."

Lloyd snickered but didn't say anything except in complaint of the cold as he stripped down to his black tank top. Kraine sighed. So that was it. At the time he and Annalicia had last visited him, they had not had a gald to their names. Doing a background check in secret had been one thing, but it had been far too risky to use company funds while they were in hiding from the Desians. He had thought their luck to have all but run out until Annalicia had taken a risk in attempting to pique the doctors curiosity. She had succeeded and in the process won herself unlimited examinations in exchange for 'something he would never have the privilege to study up close again if he didn't take the opportunity now'.

Just remembering the sensations he had experienced when the doctor had manhandled his 'manafoils' and examined them with various tools of his trade made him cringe. It hadn't been all bad though. Being a lover of curious things himself, he had been intrigued to peruse the notes the doctor took on his observations. For anyone other than Annalicia though, he would have sooner walked out and never returned than shown his wings. No woman had possessed him to ignore his common sense in the same way she had.

The doctor turned his focus onto Lloyd, an intrigued grimace on his face. "How long have you been experiencing discomfort?"

Lloyd looked naturally hesitant to answer but eventually did, saying it had been quite some time. Seeing Lloyd's confused expression, Kraine berated himself for not having cottoned on to the tell-tale signs of his condition sooner. It brought back memories of Martuan and how she had always sought to put their quest to get the Summon Spirits and end the Kharlan War above revealing her declining health to them. She had only come undone when, just the same as Lloyd, her symptoms had started to show.

Unlike that woman though, Kraine found himself quite sure of two things. The first being that Lloyd hadn't actually realised something too dire was wrong, and the second being that he likely wouldn't complain to him until the cows milked themselves for him to 'hurry up and find a cure' in the same way Martuan had. The first time with the Ozette flu, her ruthless nagging had kept him going until he had been met with success. With the new disease however, he had only felt the pit of desperation to save his friend growing bigger and bigger.

After endless hours of scouring the few medicine books he had been able to acquire rather fruitlessly and finding himself on the verge of admitting defeat, it had been Gabriel that had saved him from a life of internal torment with the suggestion that perhaps the root of all Martuan's sickness came from her Cruxis crystal. Just by saying that, he had set the wheels in motion for their inevitable return to that place.

Unlike the beginning of Martuan's case however, Kraine knew what needed to be done to help. Knowing what needed to be done did not stop him feeling helpless though. In fact, he wagered to himself that it made it somewhat worse. Even if he were able to acquire Zircon, or at least information about its whereabouts, the Mana Leaf Herb and the Unicorn horn seemed unobtainable. He tried to stay focused on the matter at hand- the doctors prognosis on something that was far and beyond out of his league.

"You have a rare disease, only to have been documented once," the practitioner explained, clutching the sleeves of his coat as he did. He seemed nervous. "The same disease the Goddess Martel is said to have had. Chronic Angelus Crystallus Inofficium."

When the doctor casually told Lloyd what his condition was called, Kraine cringed at the loose Flanoirian pronunciation he used. It took all his strength to not correct him. At the time of naming the condition, he had repetitively needed to teach Mithos how to break the words up into more manageable pieces.

"Chronic Angelus-what?" Lloyd attempted to repeat, just as Mithos had.

Kraine supposed he could only partly blame himself for it. Despite his best efforts, Colloyd hadn't taken to his studies very well at all. Yuan was the most to blame for carelessly teaching him during his most important years though. "Ch-ron-ic Angelus Crystal-lus Ino-ffic-ium," he repeated for him slowly.

Lloyd met his eyes for a brief second and pouted before glancing away. "What's going to happen to me?"

"I regret to say it," the doctor started, "but if nothing is done, your body will be overcome by the parasite and you will perish."

"The parasite?" A sudden expression of undeniable understanding washed over Lloyd's features. "That sounds a lot like what was wrong with Colette before she came back to us." He looked at the exsphere on his hand. "And it comes from this?" He reached his other hand for it suddenly, eliciting both Kraine and the doctor to dart at him, seeing his train of thought before he even had the chance to express it. He quickly withdrew his hand, startled. "I shouldn't take it off?"

"Not if you don't want to be far worse off," the doctor replied. "I'm no expert but I am almost certain that a disease directly involving your mana and related to that exsphere on your hand wouldn't take matters politely if you were to remove its power source, so to speak."

Kraine again cringed at the analogy. The doctor was correct though. Even basic historical literature regarding exspheres during the Kharlan War depicted the fact that they mutated the host and merged with the wearer. It hadn't been unheard of during the early times of the war for entire battles to be forfeit by either side when their commanders suddenly became ill and turned into monsters. Almost all of that information had been destroyed over time however and the most general civilians typically knew was that exspheres were dangerous without key crests and that exspheres were 'created by the Desians.'

"So we just have to find a way to fix it?" Lloyd asked, then shook his head. "No wait. We don't really have time for that. Can we do it later?" He attempted to get up off of the bed but stopped. "Uh.. Maybe a nights rest will do me some good."

"I'm not an inn," the doctor spat. "However, I will monitor you for the rest of the night, out of the goodness of my heart." He glanced back at Kraine and somehow he knew that his generosity was going to come at a hefty price. "Come back in the morning and I will show you some information I have, if I can manage to dig it up."

A bit wary that the doctor was still going out of his way before payment had been discussed, Kraine decided to ask Lloyd if he was comfortable with the arrangement. The boy shrugged his shoulders indifferently at his question- a vast change to how he had been earlier. Guilt threatening to spoil the going that appeared to be good currently, Kraine decided to query it again. "Are you certain?"

Lloyd opened his mouth to reply but let out a cry instead, making both seraph and doctor jump. Now with his gloves off, the shine the Angelus Project on his hand gave off was far more obvious. The veins around the exsphere and key crest on his hand became more prominent. As the trouble making gem shone a blinding blue hue, the veins that ran up his arm grew more visible. They vanished almost as soon as they had appeared however, leaving Lloyd a little shaken but otherwise the same as he had been before.

"I think it's best you go," the doctor ordered Kraine after the ordeal. Despite disliking being told to leave his son, he agreed it was for the best and turned to depart.

When he let himself out of the doctors surgery, he hadn't expected to see Yuan waiting outside, back resting against the house and a knowing grin on his face. "I should have expected you," was his response, regardless. Yuan turned to face him, the grin leaving his expression and a serious look replacing it. Kraine mimicked him. "What do you need, Yuan." He realised how agitated he sounded at him. Anyone else may have taken offence. Yuan however just shrugged it off like it was business as usual. He watched his fellow half-elf as he reached under his cloak and brought out what appeared to be a stick. No.. A unicorn horn.

Yuan held it out to him. "Take it. You're going to need it." He waggled it a bit until Kraine swiped it from his hand.

"How were you-" he stopped his question before it finished and shook his head. "There I go again. Asking you questions when I really should know better than to lead you into that little game you like to play."

"All things have their purpose," Yuan mused. He closed his eyes and smiled to himself before one eyebrow twitched. "Think of this as a way of making amends."

"Amends?" Kraine wondered what that was about. He almost felt terrified. "What have you done, Yuan? Or what are you about to do?"

"Hmph." Yuan turned on his heel and looked up at the cloudy night sky. Almost no stars were visible under the snowy clouds and cold fog. "What do you think of Mithos' goals?"

"I should ask you that same question," he replied, raising his brows in question at him even though he couldn't see him with his back turned. He turned his gaze to the sky as well before he answered. "There is merit in his resolve. The world is not what it seems." A moments quiet pause resounded between them. "But you know that already, and not just because of Martuan."

Yuan didn't reply, just nodded his head once.

Kraine took a deep breath and rested his hand on the pommel of his sword. "You know everything."

"An exaggeration," the bluenette refuted. "Though I'm flattered." He went to start walking again. Kraine briefly looked at the unicorn horn in his hand but looked up when the half-elf stopped his shuffle through the snow. "Don't think too hard on the side you'll need to take when push comes to shove, Kraine." He snickered. "That should be a no-brainer."

"How cryptic of you," he congratulated, tired of standing out in the blinding snow and deciding to start heading in the same direction as Yuan.

They ventured past the small graveyard of Flanoir and toward the inn. He stayed quiet in case Yuan felt like revealing more of his hand freely. When he didn't, he knew he only had one last opportunity for some information before they reached their destination. "You're not a member of Cruxis, nor do you seem particularly like a Renegade."

Yuan gave him a look as if to say "go on."

"I am curious to know what side of the fence you lean toward, considering you berate me about my own lack of conviction."

Yuan rested a hand in his hip and teased his chin with the other while he thought. Eventually he seemed to be ready to do at least a little explaining. "What use is a fence to stand by when either side fights the same battle?"

"Are you saying that there is a way for this to not end in bloodshed?" The idea was tantalising. Without realising it, he had allowed himself to be caught in a trap.

"Bloodshed cannot be avoided," Yuan replied, to his disappointment. "Destiny is unavoidable, but fate.." He exhaled. "Fate can be changed to harmonise with destiny."

Kraine scowled to himself. "And I suppose asking you for a more to the point answer is, well, pointless?"

"Even so, it isn't like you to give up."

"I suppose not."

They stood outside the inn now, facing the steps that led to the front door. "Is it possible for you to have seen the future, Yuan?" The train of thought didn't end there though. "Did you see something you didn't like?" If that was true, the only plausible answer was impossible. Mithos had Origins' power.

The half-elf glanced to his side at him, his mouth twitching into its usual smirk. "If the future was all I needed to worry about, this journey would have been over before now."

On that final answer, he ventured inside. Kraine steeled himself for the things to come and followed suit.

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