Chapter Three

"For, my children, we cannot simply give our love to God and think that enough. We must also love one another as God loves us all; without conditions or reservations. And though this is a hard path, we must try every moment of our lives. . .or not be worthy of the title 'human.'"

The hard wood of the pew creaked mildly in protest as Lacan shifted his weight; trying to keep his father from noticing the movement. The older man would not hesitate to cuff him for disrespect and the thought of such public humiliation, in the near silence of the church no less, worked wonders in keeping the boy almost exclusively stone-still.

But this morning, the voice of Father Reglia hovered over them as a swarm of bees; noxious but incoherent, devoid of all meaning. Truth be told, it seemed that way to Lacan every time he sat here. Everytime, his gaze lingered over candles burning on the altar, he studied the dull sheen of the beeswax polish of the wood upon which they sat. . .but he took no interest in Reglia's words. The old man existed in a cloud of pomposity and blandness. To the boy's mind, someone supposedly filling others with the fire of God should blaze with that fire himself. Reglia's flame had long since been banked and even the coals sleeping beneath the ash were devoid of heat. If they had ever possessed such heat.

And so, no matter the possible worth of the priest's words, Lacan could not discern them through the dust and haze of years. For him, church was nothing more than a trial to be endured.

When the sermon was finally, blessedly, over, Lacan rose with the rest of congregation and proceeded outward into the sunlight he loved far more than the musty interior of the church. The only good part of this day was the picnic afterwards, held after every service no matter what. Mother Church pulled in her children once a week to remind them of their spiritual obligations. And then the 'children' gathered and spoke to neighbors; of their children, of their husbands and wives, of their work. And then they scattered again, trekked back to homes that radiated from Nineveh as spokes from a wheel.

His father disappeared into the crowd, determined to fill his quota of chat with acquaintances as quickly as possible. Lacan was left to wander among the tables arranged about the commons, regarding warm bread and cold meat with hungry eyes. So intent was he, that he side-stepped into someone next to him, jostling a plate from his victim's grasp and onto the cobblestones.

Dismayed, the boy bent to gather the fallen item without even taking the time to look at its owner. Muttering abject apologies, he straightened with the plate(though he could do nothing about the food scattered around their feet). . .and looked into bright blue eyes.

He nearly dropped the plate again.

"We meet again, Lacan. Thank you for retrieving that for me." Lacan glanced down to the miserable looking mess on the platter and looked back to Elly, his expression pitiful. Her lips twitched for a moment, before she broke out into peals of laughter. "Ahhh. . .I'm so sorry. I shouldn't torment you everytime we meet. Never mind that." She took the plate from him and discarded it on a table. "Now then, were you getting something to eat?"

He gave a dumb nod, and Elehayym beamed at him. "Wonderful! Then we can get some food together. And I'll be quite the lucky girl, to have such a handsome escort." Lacan turned bright red under his suntan as Elly took his arm and tugged him along after her.

It was only when they had loaded fresh plates down and claimed a spot to sit under a shady tree, did Lacan realize he had not yet said one word to the girl beside him. He was not a talkative fellow, and only really felt comfortable speaking with Krelian, who treated him as if he were a kid brother. Others always tried to force him to talk. . .which was the worst thing they could have done. For his throat felt as if it closed up and his tongue seemed to swell and try to choke him. Elly had not pressed him.

And so he made an effort to speak to her.

"Ele. . .Elly. . . ." He paused and cast about for something innocuous to say. "I hope your mother wasn't too angry about the other day?"

"Stepmother." The girl's voice was not angry, not hateful as many might be toward the woman with such a title. But she did give him a sad smile and Lacan's eyes mutely urged her to continue.

"My mother died, a few years ago. Father wanted to make sure I had someone to look after me, because I'm so frail. I think he cares for Jazia well enough, but I know he doesn't love her. Not the way he did Mother. I would rather take care of myself, than know he married for duty instead of love." As she spoke, Elly's fingers twined about a pendant about her neck. Lacan looked and recognized it as a replica of the sign of the church, though much more ornate than the one in the building behind them. Cast in silver, the four arms were of equal length and at their center was a glistening ruby. When she finished speaking, he tore his attention away from it, only half-aware that he was murmuring: "I never knew my mother." Elehayym cocked her head and looked at him with such a level of compassion that he became uncomfortable and once again searched for something to divert the topic to. . .and in desperation, commented on the cross.

"Oh, this? It was my mother's." She must have noticed his face twitch with agitation that he hadn't changed the subject after all. . .so she changed it herself. "Do you know what it means?"

Lacan blinked. "I don't suppose I've ever really thought about it. It's just there." As an afterthought, he added, "And I don't think Father Reglia has ever said anything."

"The arms are white and stand for the purity of the four elements of the world. They are each necessary, in and of themselves, and they need to have a distinction among them to be what they are. But not until they come together do they have the passion of the human heart. For we are made of all four, but are also more than a sum of parts. The ruby represents that; our emotions, our dreams, and our love. It speaks of how God made all that is in this world, but that we must use our own hearts to find the beauty in it."

Listening to her, the boy imagined Father Reglia speaking with such feeling and with such words. Then, perhaps he would pay attention during services. . . .

"Well, well, Lacan! I see that you've finally been putting my advice to work! Who's your friend?"

With horror, Lacan snapped out of his daze and recognized Krelian's voice, coming from just over his shoulder. He hurriedly stood and turned. Sure enough, the young soldier was looking back at him, a huge grin shaping his features. The boy wondered if he could get his friend to simply leave. . .but Elly was watching the two of them expectantly, clearly waiting to be introduced. He was left with no choice.

"Krelian, this is Elehayym. Elehayym, Krelian."

Elehayym grasped the hand extended by Krelian, smiling prettily. "Please, do call me Elly."

"Well then, I'm very pleased to meet you, Elly. I'm glad to see Lacan is finally making friends other than myself; he needs someone to balance out my corrupting influence. I assume you just moved here?"

"Oh yes, my family and I just arrived from Ishtar and Lacan kindly offered to show me around." Lacan, face buried in his cup at the moment, nearly choked. Lowering the water, he gaped at Elly in astonishment. She grinned back at him. "Isn't that right, Lacan?"

"Uh. . .y, yes." He fought the urge to smack the amused expression off of Krelian's face.

When it became quite evident Krelian did not intend to take himself elsewhere, Lacan sank back to the ground with a resigned thump. The three sat there in the sun for quite some time; Krelian displaying the charm he so rarely did, Lacan grumbling silently at his drumstick and potatoes, and Elly enticing them both into conversation, laughing and smiling as if no other situation could possibly be as joyful to her as this one.

When the townspeople around them finally began gathering up belongings and offspring, Krelian stood to bid his two companions farewell. At that same moment, a group of young men passed by on the hill below them, a good many of them shooting Krelian covert, wary glances. Elehayym watched them curiously and then peered up at Krelian. "Is there anything the matter?"

"I've just got a strong reputation around here," he replied hastily. "They, ah, never have forgotten a few incidents that happened back in our school days. Some people just can't move on. It's sad, really."

Lacan muttered under his breath, "He's a bully," and surprised no one so much as himself by snickering. Elly bit back a grin at the haughty, put-upon glare Krelian shot him.

"And don't you forget it," the blue-haired man muttered in Lacan's direction, voice muffled by clenched teeth, a dangerously pleasant smile on his lips.

The boy had no chance to respond, for sweeping imperiously in their direction was Jazia. She looked in no better a mood than she had several days before. Disappointment flickering through sapphire eyes, Elehayym wished her new friends goodbye and obediently followed her stepmother into the crowd.

Krelian folded his arms behind his back and adopted a reflective stance. "You know, Lacan, I do believe she likes you."

"Shut up." But he reddened, secretly pleased at the thought.

Even despite the impossibility of it.

Written November 2000.

Xenogears © Square-Enix.