Spiritua Masquerade: I'm so so so so so so so so so sorry it took so incredibly long. I hope this chapter makes up for it!
"Colette, this will be the first step of a long, spiritual journey for you. Are you ready?"
"Yes Kratos," I answered with sincerity.
He nodded. "Then let us begin."
I resisted the urge to scoot closer as he flipped through the pages, to lean his way so I could see the book as well. Instead, I sat straight up in my seat, in the readiest posture I could muster, my gaze on Kratos and burning with curiosity. Yet he didn't cease the page-flipping. Rather, his eyebrows began to furrow, and he flipped more fiercely than ever.
"Kratos?" I hesitantly prompted, but he continued flipping through the pages. Only for a second more, however, before he shut the book heavily with a sigh of distaste.
"It appears," he began, flipping the book to scrutinize the cover, "that Mithos wormed a few of his own books in here."
"Is that... bad?"
"It depends. Do you want me teaching you from a book where every word is a lie, created to exalt and worship Mithos the Hero?" He demanded, and I hastily shook my head. "Besides, it only starts with the Balacruf Dynasty anyways. Of course it does, it was written by a human."
"Kratos, should I... go get another book? I think there was another history book in there somewhere," I smiled helpfully, but he shook his head.
"No. I shall teach you myself," he decided, rising to his feet and striding purposefully from the room. I watched him depart, eyes wide. Does this mean the lesson's over? I couldn't help but feel a pang of disappointment. Even though history was a kinda boring place to start, I wanted to learn new things. I always had, I remember. The Professor once told me that was what made me such an enjoyable student, was how much I wanted to learn.
All at once, I felt a tightening in my chest, like I was being sat on by someone really big. It became difficult to breathe, and as I struggled, I felt something wet slide down my cheek. And then another, and another. Am I... crying? No, I can't be crying! I have to be strong... But the image of the Professor was so strong in my mind, smiling slightly with her eyes glowing with pride, and soon Genis was beside her, a mischievous grin on his face, a grin that usually meant he had some crazy idea that would probably get him in trouble, and Sheena and Zelos came up beside them, Zelos grinning and waggling his eyebrows, and Sheena cuffing him upside the head, laughing slightly. Presea joined them, her axe rested in the dirt, and Regal as well, but he had removed his shackles.
I knew who came next. I tried to look away, but it was impossible. The images were fixed into my mind, as was the one that was slowly fading into existence.
"I apologize for leaving, I-" The voice came from behind me, and I jumped in alarm, but didn't whirl to face my new teacher as I normally would have. Instead, I hastily and hopefully unnoticeably wiped at my cheeks, drying them as best I could. I could sense his surprise, and he took a hesitant step closer. "Are you alright?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" I replied cheerfully, my voice nearly cracking in the process.
"Well, you're shaking for one, and you jumped a mile when I spoke, even though you should have been able to hear me approaching for the prior half a minute," Kratos listed, and I shook my head, despite the fact that both, I realized, were true.
"Shaking? Good one, Mister Kratos! I'm not shaking," I grinned, accenting it with a giggle for good measure. I could feel him eyeing me in appraisal for a moment, and I did my best to still my shaking, before he strode around in front of me and sat down on the opposite side of the table. He had a bag in his hand now, made of black mesh, yet for some reason, I couldn't make out the contents.
He reached in the bag, and pulled out a small pouch. Carefully opening the top drawstring, Kratos poured the contents out on the table. My eyes widened in surprise and curiosity; it was sand! Yet this was some strange, weird sand. It was in a variety of colors, and it seemed to glow ever so slightly.
The seraph noticed my curious gaze, and he shook his head to silence me before I even started. After a moment, he began to speak.
"At first, the planet was empty of all but its innate source of Mana." He brought his hands to surround the small pile of sand, and for a moment, it glowed slightly brighter. This was the first sentence of my teaching, I realized, and at once I focused my attention on his words. "Then, the mana took it's own form, condensing into an incarnation. Thus is the birth of Origin." He flexed his fingers slightly, and the sand came together and soon bore the shape of the Summon Spirit he'd mentioned. My eyes widened, and I barely suppressed an 'oooh' of awe. "He, in turn, aided the birth of the other Summon Spirits, incarnating each of the other crude elements present in Mana." Flexing each finger individually, the sand separated by color, each color forming into a respective summon spirit. Red formed the shape of Efreet, yellow formed the shape of Volt, deep violet formed the shape of Shadow. Yet Origin still remained, his sand being uncolored but still glowing like the rest.
I looked up to him in wonder. "How do you do that?"
"Together, they created plants to inhabit the land, and watched it flourish," he continued, taking no notice of my words. With a sweep of his hand, the sand was gone, and from the bag, Kratos pulled a long, round object. Spreading it on the table, he revealed it to be a map... Yet not of anywhere I recognized. It looked old, but not four thousand years old, and wasn't that when the planet was split? "They also created peaceful beasts to roam. Protozans were the most intelligent, and they ruled over the land for quite a while. They were fierce yet peaceful, as Origin had created them." He pulled from the bag a figurine. It was a fish that reminded me of those big ones in the Ymir Forest. But then, it changed shape! Now it was a bird, one with long legs and a long beak. Then, a large hoofed animal with horns growing from its head. Then, a dog, painfully familiar. Noishe! Following that, an elflike figure. Was this a protozan?
"Kratos? What was that third shape?" I couldn't resist asking, my curiosity getting the better of me.
"That was a deer, didn't you know that?" He raised an eyebrow slightly as I shook my head helplessly. "Ah yes, I remember. They went extinct before you were born. My mistake."
In a new light, I gazed at the protozan until it once more turned to a deer. Aww, it's kinda cute! Why did it have to go extinct? Why couldn't Desians have gone instinct instead?
"The Summon Spirits soon realized the planet's mana was being chipped away at, and, though they still had a massive supply, they worried for the future. So the Great Tree was born," Kratos began speaking once more, pointedly ignoring my distraction. I quickly focused on him once more, and just in time to see a miniature tree sprout on the southern piece of land on the map. My eyes widened in surprise, reaching out slightly to touch it, but withdrawing immediately. "But, as do all trees, it was growing unbearably slow. When a massive violet mana-comet was nearing the planet, Origin and his fellow Summon Spirits attracted it to Aselia, intent on sapping a bit of it's mana to aid the Tree in growth. It worked, and within three days the tree had grown to a mile high and hundreds of feet thick, as rich with mana as anything could possibly be." And the tree grew into an adult tree before my very eyes.
I couldn't help but grin at this way of teaching, focusing on my new professor once more.
"But there was an unexpected side-effect: The comet, known as Derris-Kharlan, was inhabited. Elves crossed over onto Aselia, with the grassy, watery planet being at least a hundred times more suitable than their home planet, and made residence there." Kratos reached once more into his bag and pulled out a handful of objects. He transferred these into his left hand, reaching in for another handful for his right hand. Sliding the contents of his left hand onto map as one would roll dice, Kratos released a handful of miniature Protozans. To my amazement, each and every one ended upright. His right hand followed suit, and these were miniature elves, nearly twice as many as the protozans.
"Oooooh…" I murmured appreciatively, but he paid no mind.
"The Summon Spirits did not want these beings there, these beings who could and would disrupt the natural order of their very world, but they could do nothing about it that would not destroy the planet altogether. The Protozans, vaguely connected with the Summon Spirits and in tune to their desires and emotions, rebelled to the presence of elves, and a war was waged, long and bloody." And slowly, one by one, the figurines fell down. "Eleven years later, one for each catastrophic battle—and one battle for each Summon Spirit, the last being the Fall of Origin, though you don't need to know that quite yet—the war ended. There were less than a hundred elves left in existence, and a couple of dozen Protozans, whereas each race started in the thousands. For another eleven years, the very ground was stained red with blood, as a symbol of what had occurred." Only two protozan figurines remained standing, and about twelve elves did, and slowly the green on the map turned red. I let out a slight gasp of dismay.
"How sad..." I whispered, gazing down at the poor fallen figurines. From the corner of my eye, I saw him gazing at me with expressionless eyes, and I fleetingly wonder what he's thinking of me. Does it make me weak, that I feel bad for the dead little plastic pieces? Does it make me any less worthy of training? Of being an angel? Of being Chosen? I'll never be cold, I'll never be merciless, and I'll never be able to kill without tears in my eyes. Is it still my fault if I can't help how I feel? If I can't change how I am?
"The Summon Spirits realized that the number of intelligent beings on the planet was less than two hundred, and, as angry and hurt as they were at all the bloodshed, they did not want life to cease altogether. So they birthed a race called humans. These humans were modeled in the shape of elves, but for some differences: Humans did not have as high a mana to blood ratio as elves, making spellcasting near impossible. They also lacked the innate grace and beauty of the elves, but for some exceptions. To make up for these things, they were created in the thousands. Eleven thousand, to be exact. These humans were scattered across the planet and furnished with all they needed to survive." Kratos cleared the map of all but the few standing figurines, then took two more handfuls of figures and effortlessly spread them onto the map in a similar fashion. These were quite obviously humans, and I couldn't resist: I picked one up and looked at it. It was etched in uncanny detail, down to a scar on the woman's left cheek.
"This one reminds me... of you, kinda," I slowly realized, holding her out for him to scrutinize as well. He did not take the figurine in his hand, however. I could tell these interruptions were starting to irritate him, and I ducked my head slightly and put the figure back on the map, exactly where I'd found her.
"She is one of my ancestors, thirty five generations back on my father's side." He said this as if it was common knowledge, or at least nothing special, but my eyes widened.
"So each of these figurines was a real human?" I demanded in surprise, and he nodded. "A real elf?" Another nod. "What about the protozans?"
"Accurate as well."
I reached out to pick up one of the figures cast to the side of the map, one that had died in the war. It was an elven boy, around my age. Slowly I took in his features, memorizing them down to the loose fit of his shoes. "So he died?"
"Yes, he did. If he hadn't, he would still be on the map."
"What was his name?"
Kratos eyed me in growing aggravation, quite obviously wishing to return to his teaching. But I didn't put down the figure this time. Instead, I gazed steadily back at him, my question still hanging in the air. After a moment, however, he sighed in defeat. "Arindor Shyst."
"Arindor Shyst..." I echoed idly, running my finger along the figurine's silhouette. He was so young... "How did he die?"
"On the ground, with his arms and legs spread out and his eyes closed."
I looked to Kratos in confusion, but could tell by the look in his eye that it was just his bit of dark humor. "How did he die?" I repeated stubbornly, and after a moment, a more suitable answer came.
"He was trying to save his sister, who was surrounded by the enemy. He was outnumbered vastly, and died when his throat was ripped out, his leg was ripped off, and his stomach was ripped open simultaneously."
I cringed, biting my lip in an attempt to keep my cool, since I knew for a fact that the moment I started getting worked up, Kratos would end the subject. Rather, I breathed deeply and gazed at the small figure of Arindor. Hesitating, I placed him on his feet on the battlefield... Yet he would not stand upright. Confused, I stood him up once more, to the same effect.
"He died. No amount of pity or willpower will get that figure to stand." I looked up to Kratos at his words, gazing at him steadily a moment, before reaching for another fallen figurine. This one was a protozan.
"What was his name?"
"Her name was Shul'gha," Kratos replied steadily. I snatched another, this one a larger, fiercer looking protozan.
"And this one?"
I reached for another, but hesitated. After a moment, I tenderly picked up the small figurine of a little girl, ten years old at the very oldest. I brought her close, looking over her features with a wave of sorrow. "And this one?" I asked, softer than before.
"Odella Shyst," he replied, and for the first time, I could have sworn his voice had a hint of sadness. I gasped slightly, a hand covering my mouth.
"Indeed. This is the sister Arindor was fighting to protect."
"But... she's so young!" I protested in dismay, yet he shook his head.
"The battles were unlike any you've seen before, Chosen One. It was every being for itself, even as young as five years old... Those were dire times back then."
"...Kratos, how do you know all this? This was way before you were born, wasn't it?" I asked, gazing on him inquisitively despite the damp, chilly sorrow the topic had left in my bones.
"Four thousand years is an awfully long time to sit around and wait for the next Chosen. One would assume that I occupied myself somehow. And with a keen mind and four thousand years' time, one could discover far greater things than the casualties and outcomes of Aselia's first war," he replied casually, and I tilted my head slightly in confusion.
"Then why didn't you? Discover greater things, I mean."
"Being great isn't all it's cracked up to be. And besides, I was, like you are now, curious at these figures in such precise detail, curious at who they were and what lives they led. But, since we've wasted a good amount of time that should have been spent learning, it's time to return to the studies." I nodded, replacing the forms of Shul'gha, T'urim, and Odella back in the pile. I hesitated, gazing at the figurine of Arindor. A glance in the corner of my eye told me Kratos was glancing the other way, perhaps at the clock, so I made up my mind and tucked Arindor Shyst neatly into my pocket.
I gazed at Kratos expectantly, and soon he was returning my gaze. And then, with a deep breath, he began again.
"The elves, greatly outnumbered and quite dismayed at the presence of these new beings called 'humans', retreated to the shelter of the Ymir and Torent Forests, a location they had revered since they won the battle they called the Fall of Origin." He looked pointedly to the map, and, to my surprise, the figures of the elves were slowly inching their way toward one spot on the southern continent. Squinting, I spotted a darker green signifying forest. Wow, the elven forests are that old? I wondered in amazement, but Kratos was speaking again before I could continue to wonder.
"They made a village there, and filled their surrounding forests with monsters of all sorts, to protect them from intruders. Guards were posted at the gate so that any human intruders would be turned away to perish at the hands of the monsters."
By now, all the elves had reached the spot, and were packed tightly on the spot Kratos had mentioned. Quite obviously, the figures weren't to scale, but I was in constant wonder of them nonetheless.
"And so the humans flourished, multiplying and expanding and advancing in technology. These humans, as had the Protozans been, were connected to the Summon Spirits, and worshipped them as gods. Soon, a King arose, under the surname Balacruf, but to general conflict. Another man, the first king's younger brother, was equally fitting for the position, and those supporters of each battled, and blood was shed. In the end, the elder Balacruf proved victorious, and the supporters of the younger brother receded to a northeastern continent to become another kingdom in itself. The first kingdom adopted the name Tethe'alla, and the second adopted the name Sylvarant. This was what is now known as the Balacruf Dynasty."
As he retold the events from memory, the story unfolded on the map as well. When the younger Balacruf's men were said to recede, roughly half of the human figures did just that, inching over to the northeastern continent while the rest of them remained on the western one. Slowly, the names "Tethe'alla" and "Sylvarant" faded into existence on the map. It was all I could do to tear my eyes from the map to glance at Kratos, but he didn't seem to mind. At least, not as much as he minded all my questions.
"The king of Tethe'alla soon found himself a wife, and had a beautiful daughter. This daughter was a curious and adventurous soul, and at the age of thirteen she fled the castle in search of adventure. Had she not been so intelligent, she would have been caught at once, and history itself would have ended up different, yet she was a cunning and witty young girl, and she eluded guards for nearly two months, fleeing to the safety of the only continent that neither her home kingdom or her kingdom's enemies inhabited: The southern continent."
He continued his retelling, and a single figure split from the group, inching southward until she was about two inches to the right of the two elven forests.
"She had heard rumors of mystical beings called elves making their home there, but none who she knew had seen one, and so she took no heed. The daughter came upon a forest, and, though she knew danger lay inside, she ventured in anyways. After some wandering, she was thoroughly lost, and she paused to try and get her bearings... But suddenly, a horrible monster was upon her, it's fangs bared, ready to sink them into her throat. She let out a scream, but before the scream had even finished, the monster was flung from atop her, where it lay dead on the forest floor. She turned to her savior, and at once she knew he was not human. His hair was a stunning sky blue, and his eyes were silver. His ears were pointed, and he was perfectly proportioned to be muscular yet fair in unison. This boy was an elf, and a couple of years older than herself."
An elven figure split from the others, coming to meet the figure of the princess as she inched into the forest.
"He recognized her as a human, and knew that it was wrong of him to save her, since humans were hated by his kin, but he also knew that she was the most beautiful being he'd seen in his life. The two fell in love in secrecy, and the first half-elf was born."
"And then what happened?" I found myself prompting, interested in this tale of love and drama despite it's factual content.
"The princess was located and caught, but they knew nothing of her encounter with elves, nor her infant son's parentage. But one of the elven boy's kin had discovered his secret, and, in a bout of malevolence, set off to the kingdom of his beloved's enemy, Sylvarant. Leaving a note to the elder to incriminate the boy, now a man, beyond a doubt, to ensure that he was punished for his actions, he set off. Within hours of entering the kingdom of Sylvarant, he was captured, and taken to the King. The elf had expected this, what with his elven status, and planned on it. And so this elf spun the king a tale. He told the younger Balacruf that his brother had gotten her daughter pregnant at the hands of an elf, and that he intended to use the half-elven child of unimaginable magical strength to bring on the downfall of Sylvarant. The younger Balacruf was greatly disturbed, and at once, he called together his army and set off."
The figure of an elf had broken off from the group, inching hastily toward the green landmass labeled Sylvarant. He was joined by three humans, and they went with him to the main cluster of humans. After a moment, over half of the humans started inching their way toward the water, on the other side of which lay Tethe'alla.
"The man who sired the princess's son, as well as those who had supported him, were banished from the elven village of Heimdall, to find a life in the human world as the man had apparently desired. They did so, and more half-elves were conceived and born."
Five or six elves split off from the group, which for some reason looked bigger than the twelve it had started with, but I assumed it was just in my head. They slowly split up and paired up with human women. I glanced up to Kratos, still in awe of his map and it's workings. When my eyes glanced back down, however, small half-elven figurines had appeared, and were growing steadily until they appeared to be adults.
"And thus, when the younger Balacruf declared war, over a hundred half-elves fought alongside the men, on both sides of the battle. By now, the original elves had been killed or died of their own devices, but their half-elf offspring were a part of general life, at least somewhat. But humans have a tendency to fear the unknown, and so they feared these half-elves and the amazing powers they held. This fear gave birth to hatred, which gave birth to discrimination and racism against the half-elves, who had done nothing wrong. For four thousand years, the war waged incessantly, at varying degrees of intensity. As time went on, the humans forgot their bond with the Summon Spirits, and, as human memories tend to fade, they strayed from their promised peace and stained the land red once more. More and more of the world's mana was being used, wasted on bigger and better weapons and stronger warriors to better each side's chances for success."
The elf figurines that were paired with humans fell, one by one, while those representing half-elves made their way to the Tethe'allan border, where the humans were meeting and many were falling. More and more human figurines fell, yet the numbers didn't seem to diminish any. The two armies appeared to split up occasionally, come back together in a different location, and battle there for a while before splitting again and returning to the first location.
"As history is doomed to repeat itself, another elf found a human lost in the forest. This time, however, the elf was female and the human male. When she returned to her village, pleading failure of navigational skills as the reason she was gone so long, nobody knew that she carried the child of a human."
I was distracted from the macabre scene of the Kharlan War by a single human figure, inching about in the elven forests. A female elven figure went out to meet him, and after a moment, she returned to her village, meeting up with an elven male figurine.
"The woman was hasty to locate an elven man to court, so it appeared that, when a child was conceived, it would be his. And so she birthed a baby girl, and named it Martel. They lived a happy life, for around four years. Martel grew up as an exceptional girl, with a heart of gold and a way with nature unseen before. The village praised her, as fervently as to call her a gift from Origin himself."
I was careful not to look away this time, gazing at the map in wonder, insistent on watching the birth of the one who became the Goddess. I even went so far as not to breathe. Yet that was what ruined me, for at once there was a tickle in my nose, and before I could stop myself, I sneezed. When I jerked my eyes back to the map, there was a tiny girl that was quite obviously a younger Martel.
"One day, the elven woman who birthed this 'miracle child' wandered out into the forest once more to harvest some of the forest fruits... And someone came up behind her, a hand over her mouth. It was he, the human father of her first child. He had lived in the forest for seven years, living off of the Ymir Fruits with the birds and the fish as his company, waiting for another chance to see her. Swept up in passion, they conceived another child, but once more, the elf managed to cover it up in a similar fashion, with the 'father' of Martel as her tool of secrecy."
I knew I should be watching this scene unfold, but rather, my gaze was still transfixed on the young, innocent Martel. Even as a little girl, she was so pretty...
"And so a boy was born, Mithos. Martel took to him at once, and, though she was a mere four years old, she carried him everywhere with her, talking to him and trying to take care of him as he needed to be taken care of. And all went as smoothly as the elven mother could dream..."
I finally tore my gaze from Martel, to find a little boy, obviously Mithos. Both he and Martel grew at a rapid rate, until he was a little older than she had been.
"Until Mithos turned eight. At that point, Martel was twelve, and still considered a prodigy. But Mithos, on the other hand, was struggling. At first, he'd shown a rare display of magic at an early age, and the village had held high hopes that he would be like his sister, but then things took a turn for a worse. This boy of eight could use any magic his inexperienced tongue could pronounce, whereas the general age for developing one's powers was around Martel's age. He would often try and show off his magic, but lose control and cause trouble instead, often serious enough to call it 'destruction'. And, whereas Martel could pass for the elven man's child, Mithos looked nothing like his supposed 'father'. He didn't get along well with the other elven children, for his human blood gave him a stronger range of emotions and a lesser grasp on them. Yet she kept the charade in play for as long as she possibly could, fearing for not only her own life, but those of her children as well."
And the figure of Mithos wandered off on it's own. Though it was a figure, and could not appear sad or lonely, a pang of sympathy went out to the poor little half-elf, all alone and confused. I almost reached out to take his figurine in my hands as well, but resisted, since I knew he still had a part to play, and I didn't want to do anything that might accidentally mess up Kratos's amazing map.
"And then one day when Mithos was twelve and Martel was sixteen, the elven guards dragged a human into the village, saying they found him lurking in the forest. The elven mother was dismayed; this was the father of her children. The guards asked him what his purpose had been, and, being a human and clueless of the severity of the elven rules against association with humans, he said he was waiting once more for the woman he loved. The next day, he was executed, and his children were sent off to fend for themselves. The elven mother was kept in Heimdall, forced to remain there away from her children as punishment."
The figure of the human was accompanied by two elven figures into the village. It remained there for a moment, before falling over. The figures of Martel and Mithos left the village, and the mother remained at the gates.
"And so the story of Mithos the hero commenced. The two found a village outside of Heimdall, in a cave at the mouth of the Lathoean Gorge. It was more a small gathering than a village, consisting of a dozen or so half-elves dedicated to orienting Heimdall exiles to reality. Among their ranks was a man called Yuan, and when Martel and Mithos left the gathering, he joined them."
Had I not been distracted by my sympathy for Mithos and Martel, I would have noticed the group of half-elf figurines clustering nearby. Yet when Mithos and Martel went to them, I could pick out a familiar figure at once.
"Yuan!" I grinned in delight, leaning closer to examine the figurine. Yep, it was Yuan alright, but he looked far younger than he did now. When Yuan was younger, he was kinda cute... I resisted the urge to giggle, certain that Kratos would follow my train of thought and get mad at me for such thoughts. Or make fun of me, maybe. At least it isn't Yuan teaching me. That'd be pretty awkward, what with me thinking he was cute and all.
"They soon met up with a man called Kratos, whom they enlisted the aid of when he saved them from a band of thieves."
I thought it was kinda funny that Kratos was talking about himself in third person, but I'm not sure why. Before I could wonder at it though, my attention was attracted by the figurines of Yuan, Martel, Mithos, and another man, surrounded by a bunch of humans. But the humans appeared to be scattering... Ooh, that must be Kratos! I look at his figurine closer as well, though more subtly than I looked at Yuan's. Hey... He's actually smiling! I realized in surprise. Kratos Aurion was smiling. Well, the figurine was, at least, but that's close enough. Y'know... He's kinda cute too, when he smiles. Wait. No. Nononono. He was my teacher. I couldn't think that, even if I was referring to the figurine of him, which was him four thousand years ago. Jeez, this is getting complicated.
"They went around trying to stop the war, at Martel's request, which was what Yuan and Kratos had been planning anyways. And then a group of humans ambushed them in the night, when they were camped at the base of the withering Great Tree. Before the group could react, the attackers had driven a spear through the heart of Martel."
I hadn't been prepared for this sudden turn of events, and I almost cried out as I watched the figure of Martel fall. I don't know why it affected me so much, but I felt a tear come to my eye. Maybe because I knew her so well, having had her in my body, however brief a time. Perhaps because she is the Goddess we all know, so to see her fall is horrible in that perspective. I don't know. All I know is, that tear slid down my cheek, and Kratos saw it. After all my hard work, he still saw me cry today. And over something as small as a figurine falling over? He probably thinks I'm pathetic now. I mean, he actually knew her, he was friends with her, yet he talks about her without even a stumble in his words. I'm so stupid, ugh... I saw his gaze on me, mildly surprised, and I couldn't help but turn away, my gaze on my lap. He seemed conflicted on what to do, which, I vaguely noted, was the first time I'd ever seen him uncertain. But after a few moments of silence, he continued to tell the historical tale.
"Yuan, with whom she had been engaged to be married, was devastated, and in a single fit of rage, had slain them all. Mithos was equally devastated, and begged her not to die. She put on a brave face and told them to take her to the tree. They obeyed faithfully. With the last bit of her strength, she reached out a shaky hand to touch the tree. And in the arms of her brother and her true love, Martel died. The tree absorbed her soul, and soon, her body along with it. And Mithos knew then, he couldn't let the tree die, for his sister would truly die along with it."
The humans that had 'attacked' the group fell over, one by one. Soon after, the four figures inched over toward the great tree nearby. And in the time it took for me to blink, the Martel figure was gone. I felt a slight stab of pain, as if I'd lost a friend... But then I pushed it away. I refused to be weak over something so trivial.
"No longer was Mithos a child. He took charge at once, making the quests to the nooks and crannies of Aselia to make pacts with the ten main summon spirits, turning Kratos into the seal for Origin to ensure that the pact could not be taken away from him. Origin granted him an all-powerful sword, certain he would do good and end the war... Which he did. But he did it in the wrongest of ways. The half-elf separated the world into two worlds, one for each kingdom, leaving them connected only by the bonds of the Summon Spirits, and thus ending the war. He used the power of the Eternal Sword to degenerate the tree back into a seed, which hovered between the two worlds, held in place by the bonds of the Summon Spirits. And so the two worlds remained, doomed to exhaust their sources of mana eventually, all the while vying for what remained. He formed the angel organization Cruxis, with Yuan and Kratos as his fellow seraphim."
And suddenly, the map split down the middle. One half was a smaller image of Sylvarant, one was a smaller image of Tethe'alla, the ones that I grew up with and knew so well. The tree was gone too, just a small round dot of a seed in the center of the map where neither world lay. I gazed at it, my mind slightly comforted by the familiarity, yet my heart was pained by it at the same time. He seemed to sense my conflicting innards, because he rose to his feet and swept up the figurines, putting them back in their respective pouches and rolling up the map.
"Kratos? How does it work?" I asked him as he put the map back in the black mesh bag. He turned to me a moment, indecisive, before smirking ever so slightly.
"That would be telling, now wouldn't it?"
And without a backwards glance, he strode purposefully from the room. Since he left the bag where it was sitting, and wasn't off putting it away, I got the feeling I was supposed to follow. Hastily getting up, I jogged after him, turning the corner so sharp I had to grab the doorframe to steady myself.
"Get your chakram," he ordered over his shoulder, and I hesitated slightly, my hand reaching to where they were tied at my waist. But the strings were dangling loosely, and my weapon of choice was nowhere in sight! With a slight squeak of realization, I turned tail and dashed back into the library, at once spotting my chakram on the polished marble floor. Plucking them up and tying them loosely to the string once more, careful not to cut myself or anything, I turned and scrambled from the library once more. Had I any clue where Kratos was headed, I'd not be in such a hurry, but I knew he wouldn't wait for me, nor leave any clue where he was going. That's just how he is, I guess.
It was sheer luck that I made it back to the hall before he'd disappeared, and only barely, for he was just turning a corner as I emerged. Momentarily losing my footing, I hastily took off down the hallway after him. How come he has to be so difficult?
I kept up a quick pace, jogging or even running most of the way, but for some reason, I couldn't seem to catch up. Which was kinda weird. But I was distracted from thinking about it within seconds, as I turned another corner and ran smack dab into Kratos's back. With a slight squeak of alarm, I went sprawling backward, landing on my butt. My teacher, however, seemed to be expecting this, as he didn't move an inch, even when the force of my body rammed him from behind.
"Occasionally, paying attention comes in handy." His voice was level, as if this were just another lesson and not a scolding, but I immediately ducked my head in apology, murmuring a hasty sorry in response and pulling myself to my feet.
We were standing in front of a door, an ordinary looking door. I stepped up beside him, tilting my head slightly in confusion, but he made no move to acknowledge me, stepping forward and punching a series of numbers into a keypad to the left of the door. It slid open obediently, and he stepped inside. I followed closely at his heels, and we found ourselves in a large dome, large enough for one of Rodyle's gigantic dragons to sleep in and still be comfy.
"Oooooh..." I breathed appreciatively, stepping in past Kratos and taking in the room with interest. My eyes darted from the walls, infused with their glowing runes, to the ceiling, high and wide above our heads, to the walls once more, trying to decipher the language in which they were written.
And all of a sudden, something hard struck me in the shoulder from behind.
"Ow!" I objected, whirling to face whatever had struck me with one hand on my offended shoulder and the other hand on my chakram defensively. But the only thing there was Kratos, his gaze on me expectantly. I glanced around hastily, trying to identify my attacker... and then my eyes settled on a long oiled stiff-leather sheath, one that a sword would generally be kept in.
My gaze shot up to Kratos accusingly, yet he seemed unaffected by my confused and disgruntled appearance. He glanced idly down at his sheath, before meeting my eyes again.
"Occasionally, paying attention comes in handy," he repeated, for the second time in the last three minutes, and I knew at once it was my fault that I was struck. Reaching down with the hand that was previously on my chakram, I plucked the sheath up off the ground and offered it back to him. The seraph accepted it, reattaching it to his belt and sliding his sword back inside it as I massaged my now bruised shoulder.
Kratos's eyes were rarely readable, but this time, I was certain his gaze was expectant. I slowed in my massaging, then stopped, watching him right back. After a few moments of silence, I demanded, "what?"
"So you're attacked from behind, you turn around ready to fight, but then you stop and give their weapon back to them, after they specifically just assaulted you with it?" He clarified slowly, as if it made no sense to him at all, though I knew the seraph understood it perfectly.
"What?" I blurted, my eyes widening. So this wasn't just about paying attention? Then what in the name of Martel was going on!?
All of a sudden, there was a whishhh, and something distinctively silver and pointy was swinging deftly in my direction. I yelped in alarm, dropping to one knee and covering my head defensively as the sword swung over the top of my hair. Lifting my head, I gazed in bewilderment at Kratos, who stood mere feet away, his sword at ready.
"Surely you learn faster than this, Chosen. You wouldn't have survived three days on the journey if you were this dense on a regular basis. Now take out your chakram and fight me!" Kratos accented his last words with another swing of his sword, but this time, I was at least somewhat ready. I leapt into the air, his sword a silver blur beneath me, all the while slipping my chakram from my belt and letting one fly.
I wasn't used to throwing when I was so close to my opponent though, so it flew straight past his head without him even having to flinch away. I could see him readying to slice again—though I knew that if this were a real battle he'd have cut me to ribbons by now—and reached inside me to draw my wings. At once I felt a bit lighter, and I leapt up once more, thrusting my wings forward to propel me backwards away from him.
"Blame your fate!" I bellowed with authority, the phrase I've heard him use so many times when he was about to totally own the other guy... But it sounded so funny coming from me, so I couldn't help it, I giggled. This gave him time to leap forwards, swinging his sword in a diagonal slash, which brought on an alarmed squeak as I raised my chakram to block it just in time. I quickly leapt backwards a few more steps, arcing one of my chakram at what would be his arm, but he deflected it lazily with the blunt side of his sword, sending it clattering to the ground.
"Come now, I've seen you do better with your eyes closed!" He called, and I could tell he was trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice. Disappointed in me, in my performance.
"But-..." I started, dodging backward another step. "I don't want to hurt you!"
And for the first time since we've arrived, maybe even the first time since I've met him, Kratos Aurion laughed... If that one short disbelieving laugh counts as a laugh. Which, on second thought, I don't think it does. It was more like a challenge, telling me to bring it on, give him all I've got. So I do.
A mischievous grin spreads on my face, and I send one of my chakram in a lazy sweep toward his shoulder. At once, I swung around to the other side, throwing the second chakram with my opposite hand with nearly double the speed and veracity, to come at his throat while the decoy brought his defenses to his opposite side. There's no way he could escape this one!
But, to my surprise, he caught the decoy easily with his hand, swinging it to deflect the second one and send it spinning off into some obscure corner. I checked my supply; six chakram left, then I'd have to risk my neck and claim the ones I've already thrown. But he wouldn't really hurt me... would he?
Ack! Too much thinking, it got me distracted again, and he'd come at me with a horizontal thrust aimed straight at my stomach. I jumped upwards once more, using his sword as a step to leap over his head, throwing a chakram at the back of his throat in the process. After a moment, my eyes widened in alarm. He doesn't realize I threw it!
I gasped as my weapon drew close, ready to shout his name in warning, but at the last possible moment he raised his sword, thrusting it down his back in one swift blocking movement. I leapt to my right, catching it as it glanced off his sword and, twirling with momentum, sent it down toward his opposite side. This one as well he deflected effortlessly. I retrieved it, flapping my wings to take me about ten feet into the air and breathing slightly heavily. He turned to face me, calm as ever.
How could this be possible? I mean, I know he's better than me, but I should at least get one good blow in! And here I am, my forehead beading up with moisture and panting for breath, and he stood there and blocked every attack without breaking a sweat.
My eyes widened hopelessly as I watched him, standing there as calmly as can be, watching me in return, waiting. I met his gaze for a moment, and could almost feel the dissatisfaction radiating from his body. Dissatisfied in me. I bet he wishes he never brought me along... I realized dejectedly, at once more disappointed in me than he was.
"No," I refused firmly, though my voice was too quiet for him to hear, I think. "I won't give up. I won't."
And with that, I dove at Kratos with all my strength, like a bullet through the air. His eyes rounded for a moment, apparently sure that I'd given up, but then he raised his sword to accept the assault. At the very last moment I swerved to the side, throwing chakram one after the other in hopes that one would slip past his defense. Yet each one he blocked as simple as the ones before that. This only motivated me further, however.
"Hyah!" I cried, heaving another with all my strength in a speed-race toward his spine, then another one at the back of his head. He blocked them both, but I caught them and let them fly like they were too hot to touch. These as well glanced off his sword, but I refused to give up.
I don't know how long we battled like this... I could guess it was almost two hours, maybe. After that, it was mostly a blur of attacking and retrieving my chakram, with the occasional defense in there. But I know one thing for certain: I never hit him. Not a single lousy hit.
"Alright, that's enough," Kratos eventually called out, his voice somewhat soft. Not with fatigue or weakness, however, but with that disappointment I fought so hard to prevent.
I stopped, sinking at once to the ground many feet below, my breath coming in gasps and my arms and legs burning with effort. After almost a minute of recuperation, I glanced up at Kratos, assessing the damage... But after the first glance, I found it impossible to meet his gaze.
"I'm sorry, Kratos..." I murmured despondently, my head hung. "I was trying my hardest, I really was..."
"That's what I was afraid of," he replied simply, his voice carefully level. A silence enfolded us, an air of obvious failure.
"So... are you gonna stop teaching me now?" I asked him hesitantly, my voice showing painfully clearly how horrible I thought that concept was. He seemed shocked at my words, however.
"Of course not. Your failure today just gives me all the more reason to teach you, at least in the area of combat."
My eyes widened in surprise, and then an unbidden grin spread slowly across my face. "So are you gonna teach me more tomorrow?"
"Not with weapons, this I can assure you. We'll be breaking down the components of a good fighter, and working them into perfection until you can draw my blood with your chakram."
"But I said I don't want to hurt you!" I objected, and he shook his head slightly, the hintings of a dry smile touching his lips.
"Even if it does hurt, which I highly doubt, such a trivial thing as one flesh wound is little price to pay to judge when you're ready to learn proper combat. Now if you'll excuse me, I have things to attend to. You know where your quarters are, I presume?" He changed the subject, and I nodded.
"Right between your room and Yuan's room, right?" I grinned, glad to have moved on to a more positive subject. He nodded in affirmation, or maybe goodbye, because with that he turned and strode purposefully from the room.
And I was left, standing alone in the premises of my unanimous failure. I supposed it wasn't a bad room, but at the moment, I was slightly irritated with it for letting me do so horribly inside it's walls. I knew it was stupid to blame the room, it wasn't the room's fault. No, the blame lay solely on me, and I accepted that.
But I also knew that getting away from the scene would probably make me a little happier. So I collected my chakram and set off for my room.
I was lucky. I only went the wrong way three-fourths of the time, and found my way to the room I now lived in in a record time of ten minutes and fourty five seconds. Although it would have taken about two if I'd known the way, I was proud of myself for at least managing the feat.
I pressed the keys to open the door, a number I couldn't forget: 0717. The numbers for Lloyd's birthday. I don't know what possessed me to choose them, to doom myself to remember him every time I wanted to go in my room, but it was too late to change them now. I mean, Kratos probably could, but it would take a lot of awkward explaining to tell him why I wanted the change.
The door slid open with a mechanic whirr and I stepped inside, surveying my new room for the second time. My face fell slightly; it was just as cold and unwelcoming as the last time I was in there. Slowly, as the door closed behind me, I stepped into the room, across the fairly empty space to sit on my bed. It was hard. Not like sleeping on the ground, but much harder than my bed in Iselia.
No, no thinking about Iselia!
To forget the thoughts, I looked around the room, trying to find something that wasn't a pale shade of grey or brown. To my dismay, I couldn't find a single thing. Not even a flower vase, or a picture frame.
Well, of course no flowers, there are none here.
I felt a pang of loss in my chest, though I couldn't explain what for. Was it for the flowers? Did I hurt for the loss of the flowers? No... I realized, I hurt for the loss of life. The loss of plants, the loss of colors, the loss of new faces and places. Instead, I had oxygen generators, grey and brown, and Kratos and Yuan. I mean, don't get me wrong, Kratos and Yuan weren't a bad thing. But... it's hard to explain. And around that time, I let out a huge yawn anyways.
I hadn't realized I was tired, but it turns out, I was. I don't know if it was the battle that did it all, or if it was partly just from everything happening all at once. The stress. I didn't really care, either, as I laid down on the bed. And when I closed my eyes, I could imagine a roomful of color, and this thought is what carried me off to sleep.
"BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! RED ALERT! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! RED ALERT!"
I jolted awake, looking around me wildly to find whatever the commotion was. A red light in the corner was flashing urgently, and a loud beeping, I'm guessing the same beeping that woke me up, was shouting at me from out in the hall. I cringed; if it was this loud through the steel door, how loud would it be out there?
But I soon cleared my brain of all traces of sleep, coming quickly to my senses.
A red alert!? What's going on!?
These were my thoughts as I leapt upright, pushing the button to open the door and squeezing through it the moment the opening was large enough.
I don't know where Kratos went, but I know that Yuan at least is in the Control Room! And with this bit of logic, I tore down the hall toward the Control Room, searching my brain for any clue to what Kratos had told me was the passcode, all the while protecting my ears with the palms of my hands. But it turned out that I didn't need to remember anything. The door was wide open when I arrived.
I leapt inside, frantically looking for the two seraphim. "Kratos, Yuan, what's going on!?" But they didn't answer, and when my gaze looked down for a change, I knew why. There lay Kratos and Yuan, sprawled on the floor with their eyes closed. I didn't know if they'd passed out or been knocked unconscious, and I didn't think to find out, dropping to my knees between them and looking from one to the other with wide eyes.
I reached to Yuan, grabbing him by the shoulder and shaking him worriedly. "Yuan? Yuan, wake up!" I called for a moment, but the only response was his head lolling over the other direction. With that, I turned to Kratos. I hesitated a moment, a part of my brain refusing to let me touch him, after I'd disappointed him earlier, but I knew that made no sense, especially in the current state of emergency.
I reached out and shook Kratos like I had Yuan. "Kratos, please wake up!" I cried, my voice shaking slightly with panic. "Kratos?!" But he didn't move.
I was alone, and it was a red alert emergency.
Alright, breathe, Colette, breathe! Calm down. You can do this.
I closed my eyes, inhaling and exhaling deeply, until I managed some semblance of calm amidst the shrill beeping and the red light flashing. Then I slowly, carefully stood and walked over to the computers.
At once, a flashing 'Error!' message caught my attention. "Error, the trajectory of flight coincides with the trajectory of a similar-sized comet. Collision expected in five minutes and ten seconds," she read from the screen, her voice growing more and more panicked with each word. A comet!? We're going to hit a COMET!?
No, stop it! Don't be stupid! Breathe, keep breathing, calm down.
And so I closed my eyes and continued to breathe. When I next glanced at the screen, it read '4 minutes and 43 seconds'. But rather than panic, I somehow convinced myself that that was twice the time I needed.
I tried to recall what Yuan was doing when he was steering earlier today, what buttons he was pushing, but I couldn't even picture the scene. I glanced hopefully down at Yuan, but he still lay prone on the floor, so I looked back to the screen.
'4 minutes and 02 seconds'.
My gaze then swept the keyboard, looking for anything that could help.
"Menu," I read as I pushed the button labeled such. The countdown was pushed to the side, and a menu came up beside it. But... something was wrong.
It was all in the angelic language!
My breath quickening, I tried to remember what I'd been taught about the angelic language.
Come on, Colette, this was so easy for you before!
And then, slowly, it started to come to me. '3 minutes and 28 seconds'.
Data Files, I read. Screen Monitor, Surveillance something, Control Panel.
"Control Panel, it has to be!" I decide, glancing at the countdown. '2 minutes and 57 seconds'. I selected the button for Control Panel, and a map appeared. Derris-Kharlan was right in the center, and all around it was deep blue, representing empty space. I gasped; a large white object came onto the screen, slowly curving toward Derris-Kharlan.
"No!" I cried, thrusting the palm of my hand heavily at the white object in reflex, even though I knew it wouldn't help. Instead, I looked to the keyboard, looking for any sign of steering keys, but there were none, either that or they weren't labeled.
I felt my breath come quicker, scanning it once more, then looking around me frantically.
'1 minute and 23 seconds'.
AHA! My eyes came to rest on a lever nearly identical to the steering rod on a Rheiard. I laughed aloud, though it was more a nervous laugh than a happy one, and seized it like a lifeline. With all my weight, I heaved the rod forwards, and at once felt the planet lurch sickeningly. But to me, it was a good feeling, since I knew it meant we were safe.
I allowed myself to sink to the ground in relief, laying on my back with my eyes closed as I tried to catch my breath and calm my racing heart. A faint smile lingered on my lips, and I know for a fact that I couldn't have wiped if off if I'd tried.
"Excellent work, Chosen One. This may very well redeem you for your inefficiency in combat."
I jumped slightly, opening my eyes at the familiar voice. There stood Kratos, gazing at me with a glimmer of... is that pride? Yes, I think it is! A glimmer of pride in his eyes. Sitting upright, I looked to him in speechless shock, then to Yuan, then back to Kratos.
"Awake the whole time," he confirmed, a mischievous glint making residence alongside the pride in his eyes.
"You let me think we were going to die!?" He simply nodded. My gaze shot back to the many screens. "Then what was-…?"
"Simply an animation. I programmed it just today, actually. There was no comet, we were safe the entire time," he assured me, and I wasn't certain whether to be angry at him for making me panic so badly, or in wonder of him for his skills. Instead, I glanced to Yuan, who was still lying with his eyes closed.
"Err... just prod him with your foot a few times, that should do it," Kratos instructed, and after a moment, he nodded a goodbye and departed from the room.
I looked down at Yuan, pretty sure that he really was knocked out, and lifted my foot to prod him as instructed. But then, I dropped to my knees instead, shaking him gently with my hands, which in my mind constituted as a much nicer wake-up.
"Yuan? Yuan, wake up!" I called, shaking him just a bit harder. After a moment, he turned his head, moaning in discomfort.
"Kratos," he mumbled, and I could tell that if he were fully aware and functional, his voice would be much scarier than it was. "I'm gonna kill you, you bastard..."
"Um, Yuan? It's me, Colette!" I replied, and I found myself grinning, though I didn't quite know what for.
"You..." Yuan groaned slightly, opening one eyelid. With the amount of discomfort he seemed to be in, paired with how slowly he was coming to his senses, I had the feeling that Kratos hadn't been any too kind when he knocked the bluenette out to begin with. "What are you doing here?"
"Well, Kratos told me to wake you up, so I did!" I chirped, hoping my good spirits might rub off on him.
"Kratos..." Now was the part where he started sounding scary. "Get me his location and something rusty to run him through with," he ordered, sitting up slightly and rubbing the back of his head. My eyes widened slightly at his demand, but after a moment, I decided against following it.
"I can get you to your room, is that good enough?" I replied hopefully. He fixed his blue eyes on me for a moment, searchingly, before he nodded in defeat. I grinned again, glad to be able to help out somehow, especially somehow that doesn't involve Kratos getting rust poisoning. "Okay, can you get up on one knee?" He nodded again, doing so, and I took one of his arms over my shoulder and put one of mine around his opposite one. In this manner we got up, walking carefully out the door.
"That bastard..." The half-elf grumbled, doing his best to support his own weight. I was silent for a while, until we were almost to the door of his room.
"What did he do to you?" I finally asked as he almost drunkenly pushed the code to open his room door, my eyes slightly wide. He must have done something horrible, to put a seraph like Yuan in this kind of state.
"Offered me a drink," was all he said, before I felt his body go limp. I staggered from the unexpected weight, but managed to half carry, half drag him in to lay on his bed. I stepped back, surveying the mess that once was our Captain.
From behind me, I could sense someone in the doorway. It was Kratos.
My teacher looked over his co-seraph as well, giving a short laugh of amusement. "He never could hold his liquor..."
Spiritua: So so sorry for the extreme length, blame me being bored and writing a three point five thousand word History of Aselia. XD And sorry for the wait too. And sorry it's not that good. Dang, I really am starting to sound like Colette. XD