Lloyd shifted around in the hospital bed uncomfortably. Aside from the now constant ache in his neck and shoulders, the way his vision darkened around the edges when he tried to move too much and the numbness on his face, he was totally fine. What actually hurt the most wasn't his condition, but the memory it dredged up whenever he made a slight movement. The pain was too similar to what he and Colette had endured during their attempt to break the final seal and regenerate the world at the Tower of Salvation, all thanks to a Kraine, Cruxis and a now very dead Remiel.
The good doctor had stopped examining him a short time ago and now was shifting through a million different folders and papers, looking to find something. The way he was muttering to himself about things as he did so reminded Lloyd of Kraine. Thinking about the man who he now knew for certain was his real father, the urge to have answers reared its ugly head to taunt him once again. At first, he tried to close his eyes and sleep. He had been the one to agree to the whole situation after all. Going back on it would make him seem like an hypocrite.
Trying to make himself less bored, he thought about what he now knew. First off, Kraine was his father. Anna, the woman in the Angelus Project on his hand, was his mother. She had initially told Colette that their fathers name was Kratos, but then had clearly stated Kraine was actually the man in question. Along with Kraine's name, she had also said three other names, just as the illusion of Annalicia had. He'd heard of two of them before, but not the third.
Kratos was the name Colette had told him his -their- father had. It was the name Anna, his apparent mother, had given to her during her time in the Angelus Project. Regal was the name of Kraine's alter-ego in Tethe'alla, from what little he understood. Regal Bryant was a rich corporate Duke who had gone missing after rumours of him having killed a woman had started to stir; rumours that had been proven true in recent times.
So who was this Raine person?
The fact that the names had all been said together was weird in itself, but also the fact that Raine sounded so similar to Kraine in the same way his name had at least partly sounded like Lloyd and Colette together, when they had been one person, niggled at him. He had to wonder what it all meant. Those names were just the beginnings of his confusion. He'd known Genis knew more about Annalicia than he'd said for a while, but hearing him and Presea say that Annalicia was their sister made it all the more apparent. Were they related to Gesea?
He breathed heavily for a few brief moments when the Angelus Project pulsed against his hand and acted up again. Raising his arm, he watched his veins glow in the dim lighting. Shortness of breath came and went with the pulsing and glimmering of his arm, but he wouldn't - he couldn't- let the pain win this time. He'd missed out on so many things by not being around and being too weak already. He wouldn't let himself be pulled into the Angelus Project again either. If Mithos was still inside, there was a good chance he was still trying to get out. Without him in the world, it meant they had one less enemy, didn't it? He felt oddly fifty-fifty about the thought, despite his resolution.
The more he tried to ignore the possibility that he might be able to leave and come back without the doctor noticing though, the more it seemed to seed itself into his mind. He shook it off, telling himself that he couldn't even see properly and that if it was cold inside, it would be twice as bad outside, but he had more than one reason to go now. He needed to talk with Genis and Presea, not to mention Yuan. He had apparently been the one to give him the Angelus Project, and with the way he had been fighting with Mithos earlier, it looked like he knew more about Cruxis than he had admitted. Then again, it wasn't like there had any chance to question the old professor since he had revealed he was also a seraph and had said all those strange things.
Lloyd gritted his teeth at the pain in his hand again. There was only one solution to stop the pain- answers.
Kraine stood on the balcony of the famous Flanoir inn, waiting for Presea and Genis to come out to see him. There didn't seem to be any sense in pushing them until they were ready. It gave him a chance to think over things before they became increasingly complicated anyway.
The unicorn horn Yuan had given to him 'as a way of making amends' weighed in his pocket like a curious artefact from an ancient ruin. Just how had Yuan come to possess it? That and many other questions spun around his brain like flies over a decomposing corpse. Tucking those questions away into a pocket of memory he had dedicated to his conversations with the blue haired half-elf, he allowed his focus to shift to the positives of the current predicament.
He held in his pocket the first and most difficult piece to the cure for Lloyd's condition. Next up on the agenda was his return to the Lezareno Company, undercover, to source the information on Zircon's whereabouts nowadays. Being a rare material found in several of the same mines exspheres had once been, he was confident that George would be able to help him. The biggest issue seemed to be getting the Mana Leaf Herb, now that he was a half-elf, followed closely by asking Dirk to forge the special rune crest. He expected the dwarf would comply however, considering the reason for the request.
Though he was fairly confident in his research, he wasn't so blind as to think there was no room for error in his calculations. Back during the Kharlan war days, after finding more information from the books they had managed to 'borrow' from the newly abandoned laboratory in Sybak since they had made their exit, he had started to keep a journal on his findings. The research the scientists had done on the original Angelus Project hadn't proven particularly useful, but other cures for lesser but similar infections caused by attaching an exsphere to the skin without a key crest had helped him in his understanding nevertheless. Further than that though, he had quickly realised that he and his comrades likely knew more about the results of their testing than the testers themselves. He had initially supposed that 'Angelus' in 'Angelus Project' was derivative of the word 'Angel', but after studying the books relentlessly, he had discovered that the researchers actually had little to no idea that the evolving exspheres altered the very essence of their hosts mana and gave them the ability to fly at the cost of the ability to swim.
After hitting a block in his research, Mithos had intelligently suggested that they seek out the elves of Heimdall for information. Though he had been the one to come up with the idea, the boy had seemed just as apprehensive as the rest of them at the suggestion. Half-elves and elves did not get along, and elves seldom tolerated humans in their midst. Ymir forest itself stood as a testament to their desire to keep themselves isolated.
Something strange had happened when he had visited the elves alone though, since Gabriel had oddly refused to enter. The elves had greeted him with no mistrust in their eyes. In fact, he had asked them for any information regarding the disease and they had willingly taught him about the mana leaf herb and its properties. He'd thought himself being a bit tongue-in-cheek for asking for a sample, but again they hadn't even hesitated.
While their group moved around the Tethe'alla region with Martuan in her worsening condition, they had heard about a material being discovered in one of the underground mines. Called Zircon after the richest man to find it and likely not the slave to the pits that had been its true discoverer, it fetched a high price in some parts of the world due to its magical qualities and its ability to be fashioned in numerous ways.
Knowing there was likely no other way aside from breaking into the place that had once been his home, Kraine had reluctantly called upon a favour from a half-elf girl he had convinced his father to employ from off the streets as a maid some years back. She was to give a note he had written and signed to his sister, in secret, with the instructions to retrieve a piece of the Zircon from the shipment that the royal family had purchased as an investment. The maid would then enclose it in the envelope he had also given, before dropping it into a sewer grate for him to find when he searched.
The plan going off without a hitch, he had found his research plans slowly starting to come together. Confident that finding a dwarf to do some work for the pure pleasure of working with a rare material would be no arduous task, and convinced that the precious material would act as an inhibitor when mixed with regular ore, he had focused his attention on the missing piece to the puzzle. If the disease had not already started to affect Martuan, he would have been happy to continue on with the next phase. As things had stood though, she was getting gradually worse and her skin had discoloured badly. They needed some way to enhance their regular healing artes.
Mithos had been the one to come back with the idea that the answer may be in a creature thought to be a myth one morning while he had been buried in books they had borrowed from a travelling merchant. After the boy had exercised his brief moment of genius and found an alchemical book amongst the bunch, detailing the properties of the Unicorn Horn, the final step had all but completed itself.
There had been one problem though. They had no idea where to find a Unicorn and if by chance they would have been lucky enough to happen across one in the time frame before Martuan's condition took her life, they then lacked a maiden in their group to be able to ask for the horn. Given the fact that they had been deep in Tethe'alla territory when Martuan's condition had caused her to be bedridden, there had been no foreseeable way to ask another for help without drawing attention to the quite famous Sylvaranti commander in their group.
Another bizarre occurrence had then proceeded to happen, just as Kraine had been ready to finally admit that he had failed his friend and that she would not be long for the world. Despite what had been written in the books the doctor was most likely going to show him tomorrow, he had not been the one to save 'Martel' from her illness.
The very next morning, they had all awoken to hear a surprised gasp coming from Martuan's tent. Convinced that she was about to take her last breath before moving on to whatever plane of existence came next, they had all hotfooted it to her, only to discover her standing upright for the first time in days, staring at something on her hand. She had awoken with a rune crest on her hand and feeling better than ever. The crystallisation of her skin had reversed almost wholly and her usual confident smile had returned.
Mithos hadn't believed him when he had tried to explain that he hadn't actually had a hand in Martuan's miraculous recovery after a night of rest, all those years ago. Not that Kraine could blame him since even he lacked any semblance of an understanding to what had really happened. Even Martuan, upon his asking her, had insisted he had done it for her. The only possible explanation for her insistence (as far as he was concerned) was that she had been feverish. Regardless of his continual pressing to the contrary, his friends had decided to agree amongst themselves that he was simply just being modest and possibly a little embarrassed.
Truth be told, the implication that he had been embarrassed to help Martuan had actually made him more mortified, followed by concerned that he had been perhaps reading their friendship incorrectly the whole time. At the time, he had thought half-elves to be the most complicated creatures in existence, given the fact that they possessed the ability to feel an emotion that otherwise appeared lost to the world. With those thoughts in mind, Mithos and Gabriel's jabs at him about being embarrassed had eaten at him enough to (somewhat bluntly, he'd realised after) ask the Sylvaranti to describe exactly how she felt about him, long after their young half-elf and human companions had retreated to their shared tent for the night. After receiving a few snarky comments and a light bruise on the top of his head from her staff, he'd found himself rather glad that she had absolutely zero feelings for him, and that she was back to her normal self despite the mysterious circumstances.
The trip down memory lane had distracted him enough that he hadn't had time to debate where to start on his explanation to Genis and Presea. He only started to think about it when he heard the door to the balcony squeak open and two pairs of footsteps stepping out into the fallen snow that covered the outpost. Presea, thankfully, lacked her axe this time. Genis stood by her side, though his eyes showed how unsure he felt about their meeting so soon after she had been prepared to fight to protect the illusion of Annalicia.
"We have some questions," the silver haired half-elf stated.
"That's right," Presea agreed. She furrowed her pink eyebrows and gave him a glare. "I don't want to hear it from the mouth of a liar though."
Genis flinched, obviously surprised. "P-P-Presea! That's not what we-" He stopped when she looked at him, demeanour changing to a softer gaze. She said nothing. Genis stood looking at her for a few seconds, then slowly nodded. Happy that the boy agreed with her, Presea turned her attention back to Kraine. "We want to hear it from Annalicia."
"Even though we're not sure how that's even possible," Genis added. He trotted across the slushy snow with Presea following behind to stand a little closer. Kraine noticed his eyes were down-turned and that he was looking at his hands. Despite his want to hide the second Cruxis crystal he had behind a glove, after being trapped in it for a time while Annalicia had taken control, he hadn't wanted to subject her to total darkness. His beloved had suffered enough.
He quickly became conscious that he had been careless when red walls surrounded him. In allowing his concentration to slip, Annalicia had taken control of his body again. It was fascinating at how seamless their soul-swapping appeared to be and how adept she had gotten at operating a body that was foreign to her, but also equal parts disturbing due to how easily Mithos' plans could have come into fruition, had he tried the idea of two simultaneous exspheres before the Angelus Project came about. Then again, perhaps he had and this was simply a unique trait the woman who had long been a part of the Angelus Project possessed. He wasn't sure he would ever fully know the truth.
"Please forgive Kraine," Annalicia pleaded, eliciting surprise from Genis and Presea at how sudden their request had been granted. "He didn't want to kill me. I begged him to do it."
Presea's eyes watered with tears. She chewed on her lip in attempt to get a hold of herself. "Annalicia.. is that truly you?"
"It is," she answered, her voice barely above a whisper as she reached out a hand to cup the chin of Presea, but cringed and pulled away instead. The shocked looks of Presea and Genis became concerned when Kraine watched his view point lower. "Annalicia!" he yelled. Something was wrong. It had been wrong since earlier. Perhaps they had abused their new ability too rigorously during the fight with the seraphinalia.. or…
When Annalicia giggled and picked herself up with the help of Presea, the shorter pink haired girl led her to the almost invisible bench. Using the gloved part of her hand, she wiped some white snowy dust away and gestured for her to sit down.
"My apologies," Annalicia said once seated and she had gained her breath. "I'm not supposed to be a part of this world any more. The old gods must be punishing me for tempting fate." All Kraine saw for a second was her face as she brought her hand up to it and looked at the exsphere. "I suppose you'll blame yourself for that as well." She smiled fondly before resting her hand in her lap again in such a way that Kraine could see Genis and Presea clearly.
"It's true that Regal.. Kraine... deceived you both into thinking he was your brother by blood. He took pity on a girl who had nobody else in the world to depend on. A girl who heard the word -brother- and showed some semblance of understanding to him, despite the Angelus Project that sat on her chest and fed on her soul."
The thinking faces of the two children were strange to observe. On both faces were semblances of Gesea, but neither one looked exactly like her either.
"Kraine didn't act as an Angel of Cruxis when he felt sorry for the girl her older sister constantly talked about; the one she thought she was participating in the Angelus Project to protect, only to find out after death that her younger sister had already been a part of a less successful experiment; one that had stopped her body aging past twelve years old." Annalicia covered her face with her hands.
Kraine felt his body becoming light in one instance, then found himself looking through his eyes properly at the children once more. They seemed to instantly recognise something had changed, because Presea immediately took on a more guarded (albeit less threatening) stance.
"What did she mean by that?" Genis asked. "I thought Annalicia was our younger sister."
"It's alright. You can tell them."
Though he hadn't asked, Kraine was glad to have her permission. He pressed on. "Annalicia started out just like Gesea. She was secretly involved in experimentations while she lived at home. Only when Cruxis developed a new type of key crest did they manage to develop the Angelus Project on her."
"And because it was successful on her," Presea's voice shook, "they tried it on us."
"Correct. Then, after I took her life with my own hands, I found no trace of the Angelus Project that had stolen her from me thanks to Kvar's persistent chasing. I eventually found out that Kvar himself was still looking for it and had thought all hope was lost. That was, until I ventured to Ozette to tell Annalicia's sister the truth about what had happened, only to discover something else."
"So they put the Angelus Project on us after Annalicia was killed, but we had a different one before that," Presea retold. She looked calmer now. Her accusing stare had faded to show sorrow instead. She had the same kind eyes as Annalicia. "I understand now." Turning her back to him, she stepped past Genis and to the door of the inn.
"Presea?" Genis called cautiously, whipping his head back and forth to look at her and then at him.
"I might not be able to forgive you right away, Kraine," Presea started off again, "but had I been in your position, I can't say I wouldn't have done the same thing." She paused, then opened the door. A gust of warmth flew out and slightly melted the ice around the opening. "I'm not leaving to get a weapon, just so you know. It's just really cold out here." Her shoulders quivered a bit. She stepped inside and closed the door behind her without another word.
"And what about you, Genis?" Kraine asked mentally, hearing Annalicia practically ask the same thing from within the Cruxis crystal. He waited for the boy to say what he wanted to say.
Genis shifted from one foot to the other, stopped, then shifted his weight back. "Kraine," he started, eventually. "Can I ask you something weird?"
This conversation was going in a different direction than he had expected. His interest piqued, he bobbed his head and awaited whatever Genis dubbed as weird.
"You know how that illusion was saying stuff?"
"Were those three names that were mentioned all real? The ones the fake Annalicia called you?"
Kraine thought back to the situation. It had been the thing that had cemented that the fake could have only been operated by Mithos. "Yes, they are," he answered. "I suppose you would know more than most about Mithos' goals with the Angelus project."
Genis looked uncomfortable. He wondered whether he was yet to still gain his trust.
"This 'Raine' part of you..." Genis trailed off and scratched his head. "I.. I'm not sure why, but I feel like there's something different about that name. Like I should have known it a long time ago."
"Have you considered that it is because a large part of that name is a part of my name now?" Kraine had to question, even though it was plain as the snow was falling that Genis had been thinking about this for a little while. That had been one of the things Gesea had always done as well. If she had blurted questions out, he had never felt them necessary to answer right away. When she slowly built up to asking a question to him though, he knew it was more than just a jab at him to be less 'secretive' as she had put it multiple times.
Eventually Genis shrugged off the seriousness though and gave him a half-hearted smile. "Thanks for telling us what happened. I.. I didn't want to not trust you, Kraine." Embarrassed by his own words, he turned tail and hotfooted it back into the inn.
Still curious to know more about Genis' thoughts and knowledge on what Mithos' current plans entailed when it came to Lloyd, Kraine decided to follow him inside.
Later that night..
Kraine blinked his eyes open at the sound of his name. At first he thought he had imagined it. Though he didn't sleep, sometimes he still had waking dreams. Most were terrible ones he would have rather discontinued if he'd had a say in it, but occasionally he dreamed of nice things too. His family in particular. Sitting up in the dark room and scanning the area, he deduced that Genis and Presea were sleeping soundly in their beds. Curiosity getting the better of him, he gathered a cloak from the rack on the side wall near the door, designed for guests who wished to see the snowfall at night, and left the room as quietly as he could through the inn to head to the balcony once again.
Seeing the remarkably beautiful snow falling from the sky all around him as always gave him mixed feelings. Annalicia had loved the snow above all else.
"The place you proposed to me, my angel," he heard her say from the Cruxis crystal. Her voice was quiet again. "And we planned to find my sister after we got the key crest made and seek her permission to marry under elven customs."
He opened his mouth to ask if she was alright but found himself interrupted by the slight sound of crunching snow behind him. Reaching his hand slowly for his sword, he listened intently. A barely audible chuckle sounded, instantly alerting him to who it was. Whirling around, he saw a brunet looking in his direction, a crooked smile on his face. Torn between lecturing and questioning him on his condition, Kraine found himself being silent.
"Derris Kharlan is really something, huh," Lloyd said then, to much his surprise, and shuffled through the snow until he stood at his side, not looking at him but out to the city of Flanoir that slept below. "Whoever built all those machines must have been amazing! Was it you?" He sniffed and wiped under his nose with his forearm. "You're super smart after all. I can see you doing that."
Deciding that a lecture would hardly help things, Kraine pulled the cloak he had on for show mostly in case anyone were to see him off of himself and dropped it onto Lloyd's bare shoulders. At first the boy seemed somewhat stunned, but he quickly got over it and tugged the warm material around himself properly. "But what about you?" he asked, giving eye contact for the first time since their encounter. When Kraine returned it, the boy looked away again.
"I appreciate the concern, but it.. has been a very long time since I last felt the cold to an extreme," he explained. He cut himself off before he said too much else.
"R-right," Lloyd mumbled, gazing down solemnly. "I wonder if I will get like that one day?"
Kraine hoped not, with every fibre of his being. "It is impossible to know for sure," he decided was best to say.
"Did you know I was your son the whole time?" was the next question out of the boys mouth as he gripped his gloved hands around the railing of the balcony. He didn't give eye contact at first to him, but slowly seemed to pluck up the courage. When he did, Kraine saw the desperation in his eyes. He was obviously hoping that the answer would be a negative.
Done with lies and despite the truth not being in his best interest, Kraine nodded. "You were Colloyd when I met you in Iselia, Lloyd. Your mother called you by that name when you were nearing your second birthday." He chewed on his lip, wondering how the boy would respond to that. Unlike Yuan, and more than likely Genis and Presea, Lloyd still knew very little about the true and very strange nature of the world. It was inevitable that he learn about Origin's curse however, if he truly wanted to put things right.
"That makes my dreams make sense a bit actually," Lloyd admitted. Trailing his eyes up to the cloudy sky, he smiled at what may have been a memory. "Sometimes I have these dreams, where my father has me on his shoulders. He used to call me Colloyd in them and look a bit different, but then after all of that stuff happened at the tower, I kept hearing Lloyd instead." His pale face flushed a bit. "D-did we ever do that?"
Kraine watched also as some cloud cover moved out of the way to reveal some bright stars glittering against the dark blue backdrop of the night. "It was the easiest way to transport you when we were moving around. Your mother and I did that a lot before and after we had you."
"We did?" Lloyd sounded somewhat distant at the mention of Annalicia. He crunched his feet further into the snow while in thought for a few seconds before stopping. "C-can.. you tell me about mum?"
Kraine looked over him and at the markings on his face caused by the Inofficum he was suffering. "It is best if you head back to the doctors clinic now," he said instead. "Your condition is very serious Lloyd. I will accompany you."
He started forward and was more than a little startled when Lloyd caught his arm. The gaze he got from him when he cocked his head back made his heart lunge with both pride and fear. He looked like his mother in many ways, but his eyes..
Looking into his brown eyes made him feel as though he were looking into a mirror at his younger self; the boy whom had once usurped his right to the throne, foolishly convinced that there was a way to stop the suffering of both sides and end a war without further bloodshed.
The eyes Lloyd pointed at him reminded him of one other, too. It had been why he had taken pity on Mithos in the first place and agreed to mentor him in the way of the sword. Sighing to himself and resolving that Lloyd would likely only leave with him kicking and screaming, he started to put the story together mentally, cursing the stubborn nature of his son. He hadn't been able to win against Annalicia when she had been questing for knowledge, either.
"You remind me of her," he started, noting he had accidentally cracked a smile. "She would not leave well enough alone either."
Lloyd snickered and grinned proudly at that, while Kraine felt relieved just to see the normal smile on the boys face. Parenthood was an oddity that he desired to study further. The bond a parent had with their children was like no other. It hadn't always been so, but eventually it had broken through Origin's curse and become as much a part of the laws of nature as mana being the source of all life.
"As you know, your mother was a victim of the Angelus Project, just like Gesea." Before Lloyd had the opportunity to stick on that subject too long, he knew he needed to continue with more of a story. "Your mother and I met a long time ago, before she had become a test subject. We then met again some years later, when she was brought to me a long while after her father made a deal with the head of the project to allow her to become the next subject."
He paused, to give Lloyd time to question him if he wanted. When the boy just sort of stared into space, perhaps trying to picture things, he decided to go on. "She had reacted remarkably well to the initial experimentation and I was to keep an eye on her after they removed the key-crest on the formed Angelus Project. After spending a great deal of time with her, I saw that Mithos' plans were flawed and that the experiment, as you have put it before, makes a mockery of human life."
"Just what are Mithos' plans?" Lloyd questioned, going off track. "Does he really want to revive the Goddess?"
Kraine thought about his next answer carefully. Go too slowly and Lloyd would get frustrated, but go too fast and the boy would get confused. Luckily it was a balance he had learned to perfect while teaching him at Iselia. "Revive isn't quite the correct word. Think of it more like he wants to finally actually meet Martel."
Lloyd blinked and slowly raised an eyebrow. "I don't understand. Mithos is a half-elf right? Why would he want to meet the Goddess when it's her teachings that caused the W.S.P?"
"Martel was not a Goddess," he decided to say, possibly a little bluntly. Lloyd's stunned look made him regret it for a second. Lloyd had spent a great deal of his life in the teachings of the church and being told the Goddess essentially didn't exist was probably quite a shock to him. He still had more to add, too.
"How do you know something like that?" Lloyd slowly questioned. "Just who are you, Kraine?"
It was a fair question. The answer seemed a bit ridiculous to say aloud though. He needed to build upon the foundations of the story before jumping into that territory. "Lloyd, do you remember the story of Mithos the Hero?"