Mirrors of the soul
A/N: Woohoo! I hit the 300K word mark with this chapter for the story! Who would have thought it'd get this long a year ago?! I hope you guys are enjoying the ride.
Mirrors of the soul
Kraine had a lot to think about. Not only had Yuan actually involved Noishe in his scheming, he had purposely planted Lloyd as the Chosen in Iselia and had also been there (somehow) on that fateful night Annalicia had begged him to take her life. With the new information he had overheard despite his conscience telling him to do otherwise, he could now start to finally put all of the pieces to the puzzle on Yuan's involvement with the ordeals of the world together.
He tapped his chin with the pencil he held in his right hand while holding his notebook, open to the section for issues he still needed to ponder, in his left. Three quarters of the section so far had somehow ended up being about Yuan and his antics, while the rest surrounded a way to be able to help Mithos and save the world like Martuan wished, all the while ejecting Gabriel from any positions of power and getting Mithos to see that he was being played for a fool. He would have killed the man himself, had it not been for his common sense. Gabriel knew the most about the Angelus Project out of all of them, and then some. He also held a great position of power in the Tethe'allan monarchy and killing him without a Martellian manhunt of epic proportions would prove to be most difficult.
That brought him to his other thought regarding Gabriel and Yuan. As Rodyle had been the one following Gabriel's orders to get the Angelus Project from Gesea after kidnapping and taking her to the dragons nest, he felt safe to assume that this also meant Yuan had knowledge of it. Why else would he have gone to the trouble to make it seem as though Lloyd held the Angelus Project that had taken his mothers life?
The more he thought about it, the more he wondered whether the purpose of Gesea receiving the Angelus Project had been for more than just Gabriel's gains. He didn't know of the connection between Yuan and Gabriel, but he felt sure he had enough firepower to make a dent in Yuan's shield.
Outwardly sighing as his thoughts passed, he stiffened up when he heard a low chuckle from behind. Whirling around, he saw Yuan standing there looking at him. Having been busy taking notes as he listened in to the conversation, he had forgotten to make sense of some of the less vital words. Yuan had left Lloyd to go somewhere to check on things and now here he was.
"Odd," Yuan muttered, rolling his eyes callously, "I thought eavesdropping would have been something you would despise." His irritation seemed to subside as soon as it had appeared though when he cocked an eyebrow at him in expectation. "I suppose I should have expected that you'd want to give your son a second visit of the night though. Perhaps you wanted to make sure he was tucked in?" He snickered. "Or maybe I misjudged you and you were in fact on to my game from the very beginning."
It was Kraine's turn to be irritated. "You knew I was there the whole time."
"The whole time is stretching it little," Yuan airily contradicted, "but you didn't hide your mana signature as soon as you should have."
"And you're a little too good at hiding yours," Kraine said back. "Unlike your footprints, if you must know how I found out where you were." He found himself getting an enormous amount of satisfaction from the look on Yuan's face after his eyes had trailed down to the snow and back up to him. He let a little grimace slip, just to add to the discomfort his unlikely comrade was feeling.
Yuan bit to it like a fish to a worm. "T-That would mean that you were looking for me to begin with, not Lloyd."
With a sigh and a quick whip of his head to scan possible locations, Kraine decided that the matters they were to discuss were best out of earshot of Lloyd. If he was still awake, he would no doubt be able to hear them if he listened carefully. Even if Yuan had some spells up his sleeve to be able to silence them, two somewhat obviously non-flanorian men standing and talking while no random passers-by could hear what was being said was a great way to attract unwanted attention.
He started ahead toward the burial grounds and expected Yuan to follow. He listened for his footsteps as an indication that he was following, but rather heard Yuan's breathing. The bluenette was so light on his feet that it was actually a little surprising he'd had left such prominent footprints to be followed in the first place.
Reaching the western point of Flanoir and eyeing an unnamed gravestone, the one that belonged to Sheelos' Wilderbayashi's mother, he stopped. "Well hurry up then," Yuan stated from behind. When Kraine turned to him, he saw him tapping his feet impatiently. "Out with it."
Kraine clenched his fist and mentally brushed off his anger. Violence would not solve anything. "You saved not only my son, but one of my comrades four thousand years ago." Granted, he didn't know that for sure, but he couldn't resist questioning it anyway. If it were true, he would finally have answers and a target for both his frustrations and his thanks.
"What makes you think I had anything to do with healing Martuan's sickness?" Yuan asked innocently.
Kraine groaned inwardly, realising that finding the answer to that would have to be a little more difficult. Yuan hadn't made it a Game of Questions with Lloyd back then though, so why was he tormenting him? He already knew the answer. Yuan got some sick satisfaction from making him work for his research. It was like he had all of the answers in the palm of his hand and was moving them all like chess pieces toward the goal by giving hints.
"You're not very good at this game, are you," Yuan observed with a roll of his eyes. "Guess I should have lowered my expectations. The old you would have figured it out much sooner, and without all the added drama on your part, I might add."
"And just what is that supposed to mean?" Kraine strained to not lose his temper. Only one other person was able to crack into his well-trained calm like this. "How about answering one of my questions for a change? Why is it that every time a string of words gets uttered from your lips, I feel as though I'm talking to someone.." He trailed off, hesitating in saying the next words in his mind. Still, it was what it was. "Dear to me."
The words felt so unnatural said aloud. So much had happened since the time when he had truly been able to rely on her to have his back. He still had no idea whether their friendship still held true or whether they were just clinging to old memories for the sake of hope. Things certainly weren't the way they had been before. Though time itself stood still for the four of them, it had done its damage. Some might have called the jaded effect it had on them wisdom, and it did have its perks, but knowledge came with a hefty price of its own. He had long thought that to be the reason why it was such an irresistible aspect of life to seek.
Yuan's shoulders shuddered after a second and his mouth widened into a smile before he outwardly chortled. "I'm honoured," he said with an unsettling genuine tone after he had calmed down to a light laugh between words. A devilish gleam made its way into his eyes as they drooped down to the book Kraine still held in his hand, a finger perched in its pages because he hadn't yet decided on the proper course of his next actions. "But you can spare me the uncomfortable confessions of your friendship with Martuan. I'm only all too aware that the two of you have history."
"You are?" Kraine asked, conflicted about the situation. Yuan was being upfront and honest for a change. He wondered what might have changed since the last time they had been able to have a conversation.
The half-elf in question placed a hand on his hip and lulled his head back to look up at the sky. The air had become much more electrically charged. Flanoir looked to be in for a snowstorm overnight. "A long time ago, you fought for the same goals. You wish to protect her, even at the cost of your loyalty to Mithos."
Protecting her had nothing to do with it, Kraine thought. It was simply through seeing his own son suffering the world regeneration ritual that he had been finally awakened to the true nature of Mithos' goals and what was sacrificed in the process. He'd wanted to thank Lloyd for that, but lady destiny seemed to have a constant need to rip his family from his grasp. He was about to interrupt by explaining that fact but found Yuan prattling on instead.
"You want to see half-elves acknowledged by helping Mithos, but doing so labels you a traitor to many of your own.. somewhat more recent.. values, as well as your son."
It seemed to him that Yuan thought he had him pegged. It was curious. Yuan had never given his hand away so much to him before and he was torn between having input in the conversation and writing it all down for further study. He was certain there would be a limit to his graces. "I have come to think that having it both ways is next to impossible," he replied, knowing how angered Lloyd would be at his words. "Although considering your strange impulse to ask what side I might be on, I think you believe there to be a hidden third option. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong."
"I'll answer your question if you answer one of mine," Yuan bargained. "It's only fair since I already answered one of yours."
Firstly, Kraine had to wonder just how in the name of the old gods and everything holy Yuan figured he had answered anything to a satisfactory level that warranted a reciprocated answer. Secondly, he had absolutely no idea what Yuan could possibly want to know from him.
"What exactly did Lloyd tell you about Mithos inside his exsphere?" Yuan asked, dissolving the next mystery before his poor brain needed to ponder for too long. "Did he say what happened?"
"Only that he seemed to want to take over his body. The idea that it is Mithos inside his Angelus Project is highly unlikely at best, as you no doubt know." He stopped himself saying too much about 'Anna'. He was rapidly losing a foothold on the direction Yuan was steering the conversation as it was. It was yet another thing that reminded him so much of Martuan. "I have answered one of your questions," he pointed out, "now, please tell me what you meant when you said you 'already answered one of my questions'."
"It's not a riddle, if that's what you were thinking," Yuan interrupted. "You're about as subtle when you're trying to work something out as me walking through main street Meltokio without a wig."
"Fascinating analogy," he deadpanned. "That would seem to mean you have been the Cerberus acting as the Chosen for a very long time."
"You're not altogether unfamiliar with the concept of being your own ancestor either," Yuan remarked. "In any case, that is how the Game of Questions works, and it is the only way I have been able to relay information to you."
Kraine remained silent, deciding on his next move.
"Don't worry. Gesea didn't quite grasp the game either," Yuan mock-reassured. "Though she was not your blood, you practically raised her from the shell of a person she had become thanks to the Angelus Project. It's no surprise that she took after you."
Kraine grumbled under his breath at that. "Yet another thing you talk about as though you were there personally. At first I believed you were talking big in order to intimidate, but I am now certain there is more to it than that." He back-pedalled a little. "From the time you first met me, you have acted as though you knew me. Is that really only because you were the one to save Martuan from the Toxicosis all those years ago?"
"What other reason could there be?"
Ignoring Yuan's question, Kraine powered on through his current train of thought. "Did you tell her the same thing you told Lloyd back there?" He tried not to sound as disdainful as he felt about it. "That she could thank me for it?"
Yuan snorted. The corners of his mouth started to curl into a smirk once again. Kraine had already known mid-sentence that nobody would be able to convince Martuan to do something so easily like that- especially given that she had been at deaths door before Yuan had apparently come to the rescue.
"You must have done it without her knowledge and had her assume that it was me," he corrected before Yuan could, for the sake of his own pride. "But why is it that you decided to help us?"
Yuan grimaced, "I suppose saying that I did it out of allegiance to the Tethe'allan throne won't fly?"
"No, it won't," Kraine responded dryly. "Especially as you're most definitely a Sylvaranti."
"You can tell that, can you?" Yuan sounded irritated the moment the words had left his mouth. He bit his lip and cursed in angel language.
"Forgive me," Kraine murmured in apology using the same tongue. "You can hardly expect me to not use a little strategy when it comes to conversing in wordplay, considering your own love for the art of the silver tongue." He mentally added his new-founded knowledge to the pile of similarities between Yuan and Martuan.
"I had no idea you were so good at it."
Kraine shrugged the half-compliment off. "Considering that you were a Sylvaranti, it makes sense to me that you might have known Martuan's position in the ranks of the army and wanted to save her in secret. Your recent actions in Welgaia also seem to point toward your being a part of the same type of group she commandeered."
If his deduction shocked or surprised Yuan in any way, the half-elf didn't much show it. He instead exhaled a breath he had apparently been holding. "So that is the conclusion you came to?"
Kraine had thought Yuan would ask him what he thought he had been up to in Welgaia and he had hoped to be able to get him to reveal it, but Yuan was a master at this. Still, no answer was indeed an answer in itself at times. Yuan sincerely wanted to hide something. "I'm willing to let my knowledge of your actions slide for now," he said. "I take it you do not wish for Mithos to know?"
"I should have guessed this would become a bargaining chip." Yuan crossed his arms and tapped impatiently with his fingers. "And what do you want in return?"
It took all of Kraine's restraint to not ask for answers to the many questions he had for the half-elf. "I need your help, Yuan."
The next morning..
Sheelos squinted her eyes open when she heard movement in the room. She saw Colette's silhouette standing up somewhere near her bed. After a quick glance at the clock on her bedside and seeing that it was still maybe an hour or so before they were to head to the Balacruf Mausoleum, she closed her eyes and tried to settle back down to nap. She hadn't slept very well that night. A certain half-elf being the last thing she thought of before sleeping had its drawbacks. She had been subject to numerous dreams involving him. One in particular stood out among the blur of embarrassingly girly dreams she had experienced that night. She squinted as she tried to remember it, half hoping it would help her fall asleep if she exhausted enough of her brain by doing so.
Standing around what looked like a Renegade base, she had seen Yuan appear out of a typical sliding door. "So, you've come to report to me on the progress of Lloyd and the others?"
A voice that wasn't hers had come out of her mouth at that. It had been a mans voice. "I said I would, didn't I?" His voice had sounded both confident and arrogant at the same time. Thinking about the voice made her feel a little uncomfortable. "The Renegades oppose Cruxis and I pretty much oppose the idea of angels altogether. Seems like we have a pretty solid foundation for a working friendship if you ask me!"
In her dream, she hadn't really questioned the words that had come out of her mouth. They'd made sense at the time but now seemed kind of silly. First of all, why had she dreamed she had been an arrogant boy instead of the non-literal angel that was herself? Second of all, why had she thought Yuan had been a Renegade of all things? She squinted her eyes shut tighter and tried to perish the thought, but the idea wouldn't easily leave her brain. In her minds eye, she could still clearly see him wearing the Renegade suit that so closely resembled that of the Desians. If she thought about it, his relationship to Martuan all of a sudden made a lot more sense if he were a Renegade.
Her eyelids flung open at a sudden crash coming from the direction of Colette nearby. The blond apologised under her breath several times while she fumbled with things in the dark. Unsure who the apology was for, she closed her eyes, waited and listened. The sound of various items clanking filled the room. She was sure Martuan would ask her what she was doing at any moment. When no complaint sounded from her however, Sheelos found herself left listening to Colette's footsteps as she went away from her.
Slowly opening her eyes, she watched Colette enter the bathroom and slide the door shut behind her. "Maybe she couldn't sleep anymore." Just the thought of going through what Colette had sent cold shivers racing up her spine. She needed her beauty sleep. Becoming an angel was far from her list of priorities.
She sighed to herself, realising she had succeeded in depressing herself at the thought. If her memories were correct, then using the Angelus Project on herself to free herself from being the Chosen once and for all would go off without a hitch. If they weren't though…
She had no way of knowing what version of events in her mind were correct. Most of them seemed to point to the contrary and her memories of hearing Mithos talk of splitting people's souls so that they might understand the emotion of love, as well as her conversation with Martuan about joining her somewhat selfish goals, seemed more and more like something she had dreamed after drinking too much sake.
Thinking about matters and unable to get to sleep while she listened to Colette taking the first shower of the day, an hour passed quickly. When it came time, Martuan awoke like clockwork and pulled her clothes on with mind boggling speed and accuracy. They were on their way to the Balacruf Mausoleum right as the roosters were beginning to crow.
Sheelos felt a knot of anticipation slowly tightening in her stomach the closer they got to the Seal of Wind. The monster for the seal had been no pushover. She had no doubt that the Sylph, the summon spirits of wind, would or at least -should- also be an arduous fight.
A pained cry from Colette distracted her thoughts as they were making their way up the steps that led to the entrance of the mausoleum. She was up from her crouched position before either her or Martuan could do much to help.
"What happened?" Martuan queried, glancing her over quickly for wounds.
"Oh it's nothing." Colette let out a short giggle. "I think I must have slept wrong, that's all." She rolled her shoulders and tilted her head from side to side as Sheelos came up to the two of them. "Oh, there we go! Good as new." She smiled brightly before nodding and continuing up the steps, Martuan by her side and telling her that she should really be more careful in future. Sheelos watched her cautiously for a few seconds, shrugged, and quickened her pace to get to the top.
She froze with Colette and Martuan as she saw what they had all of a sudden stopped to look at. A boy with a long green haired ponytail stood in front of the doors to the mausoleum, staring at the three of them with a set of wine-red eyes. He was dressed in a blinding combination of white overalls and pants that made the only relief on the eyes being his fair skin and dark green shirt that sat underneath. He didn't look much older than Genis, but Sheelos felt like his eyes were going to pierce two eye-shaped holes through her at any moment now. She didn't have to wonder why for very long. It was him. She had little doubt that he recognised her as the girl who had travelled alongside Novariel, the scum of a man who had captured him, too.
Colette was the first to overcome her surprise and saunter closer to the boy. Martuan sighed and straightened herself up to follow. Sheelos stood still, feeling stupid and not knowing what to do.
"Hello," Colette greeted sunnily. "Are you lost?"
"No," the boy answered simply. He turned back to the mausoleum. "I'm waiting for someone."
"Waiting for someone?" Colette gazed from him to the place they needed to go. "Is someone really inside? Is it a friend of yours?"
"Is that a problem?" the boy quizzed.
"I don't see a problem with it," Colette said, eyes widening in wonder. "Professor Kraine said that knowledge should be free to everyone who seeks it. I like that idea I think."
Martuan snorted, making Sheelos curious. Being one of Cruxis' four seraphim, she had ties to Kraine as well. Colette held her hand out to the boy. "We have to go inside now, but it was nice meeting you..um..." She trailed off and giggled. "I'm sorry! I'm Colette. And you are?"
"Colette," Martuan whispered harshly, "we do not have time to introduce ourselves to everyone we meet."
"Oh." Colette's smile briefly faded to show recognition. Sheelos knew she didn't want to return to one of the seals any more than her. Colette bowed her head in apology and glanced at the boy she still had her hand extended to. Before she could withdraw it, he took it and gave her a big smile. "I'm Eon. It's nice to meet you Colette." He took his hand away. "But I can't let you guys go in there just yet."
"And just why not?" Martuan asked. "Forgive my rudeness," she said quickly after, "but we are on an important quest."
"I just can't let you in yet," Eon replied. "Please understand. I was told to stand guard and stop anyone getting in."
"Well I don't know about you two," Sheelos started, grinning as she brought herself forward to stand with them more. She put an arm around Colette and a brief one around Martuan's neck, "but him telling us that just makes me want to explore it all the more."
She was lying. What really made her want to explore was the need to get the two of them away before Eon had a chance to reveal that they had met before. She didn't so much mind Colette knowing what had happened because she knew she would understand, but Martuan finding out would have made things very uncomfortable for their alliance, especially given who she had first received the orders from.
Right when things were about to get a little heated, the doors behind them all squeaked open and footsteps sounded until a man stepped out into the light. Eon's eyes widened at the sight of him and he quivered a little in excitement. The man gazed at Eon first before turning his amber red gaze on them all. Given his purple travelling cloak and armour, Sheelos thought he looked like a mercenary.
"Well met," he simply mouthed in a deep but gentle voice before shifting past them to go down the steps again. Eon bowed his head and followed close behind. Sheelos watched Martuan take a step in their direction and then stop and appear to opt to discern from a distance with a calculating expression. Ignoring Colette trying to get her attention, she looked too. Something seemed a little strange.
When Martuan's attention wavered the further they got away, Sheelos decided to discount her own curiosity too. She stole one last glance at the man and Eon before turning to follow the Sylvaranti Chosen and Renegade into the mausoleum but stopped. A wave of recognition came over her and she abruptly turned back to give chase. She stopped when she saw no sign of them anywhere. It was like they had sprouted wings and flown away.
"Damn," she cursed. What was strange wasn't the man himself; she was certain she'd never had the pleasure of seeing a beautiful specimen like him before.
It was his hair.
She'd seen that red, long and slightly curly hairdo before.. and recently too. She went numb. She'd seen it twice, actually. Images of Yuan donning a wig of that exact shape and colour came to mind, along with memories of seeing the Cerberus wearing that wig in old photographs. That wasn't what had her staring with her mouth agape though. She'd also glimpsed that hairstyle on her dashing blue-eyed arrogant boy-self in a mirror during her Renegade-Yuan dream last night.