Sorry for the delay, but, as you know, final paper...
Anyway, after this chapter we will have two very important ones. I'm still seeing how I'm going to go about it, probably will have to prepare and make a double update since the two will be pretty small by my plans, so you can wait for that.
Alice couldn't help, but be nervous.
Lord Nebilim had approached her and Decus when they were in the training halls and simply said "come with me" leaving right after, not even waiting for them to recover from their surprise to catch up with him.
She could only wonder what the Head of the Demonic Invasion Troops wanted with her. Could this be her chance to redeem herself and get her rank of General back?
Decus looked just as nervous, if not outright frightened. Alice could tell he would never be used to their superior. Nebilim was very intimidating when he wanted to be and even when he wasn't, his aura of pulsating power would always put you on the edge.
"Um... where exactly are we going, my Lord?" Alice asked as they arrived at the teleportation chamber, used by the Desians and even some demons to get to any location on Aselia, as long as they knew where it was.
"Ozette," Nebilim simply said.
That made Alice arch an eyebrow.
She hated that backwater, hick-infested hellhole. Before she joined the Desians, she and Decus stopped near the city to rest and were almost captured by the locals and a pocket of Purge Inquisitors with them. She just had the time to summon some demons before grabbing Decus and leaving.
"In case you're wandering, the city is now dead," Nebilim spoke, as though reading the question on Alice's expression.
Oh. Good riddance. Alice thought with some glee.
˜I want to confirm something about the case. So you are coming with me."
Alice would have shrugged, but that would be rude to do in front of Lord Nebilim. And being rude to somebody that could obliterate you in the blink of an eye wasn't the smart thing to do.
After finally getting to the teleportation chamber, the trio was greeted by a low-ranking, humanoid demon of the high species with blue, slick hair and a sickly appearance, though that was misleading, as the creature was pretty strong.
A Plague Spreader. Alice mentally classified. They were known for bringing disease and weakening their target victims. The only reason they weren't deployed as soldiers was because their ability took time to take effect. Too much time in the opinion of some demon Generals.
The trio positioned themselves in the middle of a giant, blue, glowing circle, enough to send a small troop to anywhere they were needed.
Nebilim quickly murmured a small chant in demonic with the name of their intended destination. Alice then felt like her body was shredded into pieces before being slowly put back into place as they appeared at the entrance of the city.
The first time she used that rune, she threw up. After the fourth and fifth she only felt a slight discomfort. Decus, on the other hand, hated the thing and swore he would never use it willingly. That was the reason they used simple teleportation spells. Although she did threatened him with forcing them to use the Teleportation Chamber every now and then when she felt he was being too slow for her tastes.
As they entered the village, Alice could feel something strange in the air, instead of her usual revulsion and anger at being near the city. Decus also seemed quite uneasy. They soon saw the first bodies and when they arrived in the plaza they noticed many people laying there. But one thing was bothering the honey-eyed Desian:
"Where's the blood?"
There wasn't a single drop of it in any body, save some that looked like they had been thrown away and hit the nearby buildings and fences. In a few words, it greatly disappointed Alice. Maybe she could rectify that...
"Just because they aren't physically harmed, doesn't mean their deaths weren't brutal," Nebilim intoned, looking intently at the bodies.
"They don't look exactly dead," Decus let out. "More like they are sleeping."
"Decus..." Alice said, looking at her "slave" with a stern gaze. "If Lord Nebilim said they are dead, then they are dead."
"Actually, his observation is pertinent," that surprised both Desians as they saw their leader approach a man garbed in the armor of the Martel Knights, passing his hand over it as the runes in the clawed gauntlet glowed a maroon color. "Their bodies have no kind of damage, internal or external. But..." he stopped, his eyes widening. "Alice."
"Yes, my Lord?" the pale blonde asked as she approached the red haired, former-elf.
"Try and see if you recognize the magical trace on the body."
The honey-eyed Desian nodded and kneeled near the body, reaching it with her hand and closing her eyes, trying to concentrate on the feel of magic. As she could finally identify as trace of an energy that definitely didn't belong on a corpse, she tried to get a better analysis on it...
People fleeing in terror...
Golden eyes... piercing...
Fear... primal fear...
Too much familiar...
Alice's eyes opened wide and she practically stumbled back with a scream. The action wasn't even conscious, but more on a primal level as she felt she had touched something that shouldn't be messed with. All those sensations and images had come so fast, but those eyes remained burned on her memory.
Decus was besides her instantly at seeing Alice's terror stricken expression and, surprisingly, she didn't shove him away or anything, she practically hugged him like he was her only lifeline.
Normally, Decus would be beyond happy if Alice hugged him. But that shaking and fear on her face... something was clearly wrong.
"So..." Lord Nebilim said. "I take it that by your expression you recognized it," he said nonchalantly.
"Y-y-y-y... yes..." Alice said, still shaking as Decus tried to help her up, but the blonde's legs were shaking so much she could barely sustain herself. "It... it's that woman... the one from the Linkite Tree. What is she?!"
"A Summon Spirit."
That positively shocked the two.
A Summon Spirit? But then how come she killed all these people?! That didn't make any sense.
"I'm going to say this only once, seeing as we are on a time constraint now. This was the work of Verius, Summon Spirit of the Heart. I know that because I managed to extract the information from Richter after she was released from her prison." Although, he was strangely resisting it. Nebilim thought.
"What makes you so sure about it, my Lord?" Decus asked. Though he didn't like the way Lord Nebilim used Alice to confirm his hypothesis, he still had to pay the entity in front of him its due respect. For his and Alice's safety, if nothing else.
"The energy signature is the same as in that explosion that occurred when she was released. Plus, the fact that they were killed without suffering any physical injury is another proof. Verius understands better than anyone the bonds that tie the beings. All bonds, including those that tie their souls to their bodies apparently.
"Still, I never thought her powers were this great."
"W-w-wha-what should we do?" Alice asked, still trembling, but her voice tone was now normalizing.
"You two go and inform the Desians to be on the look out. Verius is now a Subject of Interest Priority #1."
The two Desians cringed and unconsciously swallowed. Subject of Interest was the classification the Desians gave to people considered special targets, in other words, the organization's black list. The priority stated whether those people should be captured or hunted/eliminated on sight, with Priority #1 being the highest.
Even Ratatosk only warranted Priority 2 and the leaders of the resistances Priority 3. Priority #1 also essentially meant all Desian personnel were to cease their normal activities and route all their resources into finding the Subject of Interest.
"But... if she's so powerful, then how will we... ?" Decus started.
"I don't expect you to actually manage to kill her, that would be ludicrous. Only stall her long enough for me to arrive and take it from there. Take it as a way to redeem yourselves for your earlier failure."
Even though Decus knew he would obey, the thought that Lord Nebilim was essentially sending most of his subordinates to death to simply stall an immensely powerful being until he arrived churned his stomach. Worse yet, that applied to him and Alice, meaning they would be seeking their death.
Decus thought about trying to bargain his beloved's way out, but with Lord Nebilim it would be useless. The red haired specter's words were final, so what was left to them was to follow it.
That was when Alice turned and looked to the entrance of the city. Decus did too and saw soldiers coming. Soldiers garbed in the Vanguard's uniforms and masks.
"Let's leave. We have no time to lose," Nebilim stated, not even letting the two Desians utter a word before he chanted a teleportation spell that took them away from the scene.
The Vanguard recognizance squad led by Hawk arrived in Ozette and looked around at the seemingly sleeping residents, although some of their wide-eyed expressions of terror suggested otherwise.
"What happened here?" one of Hawk's masked subordinates asked, rightfully confused.
"That's what we came here to investigate. Scan the area for traces of magic. I want a full reading of exactly what that power surge our long-range sensors picked up was. And call in the rest of the team..." he looked mournfully to the people of Ozette, kneeling near one and feeling his neck's pulse. "We have a lot of cleaning up to do."
Hawk had seen much during his life. Scenes of carnage caused by demons. Wanton destruction by the Desians. So, he could safely say whatever caused this was neither demonic nor Desian. It was... to clean. The residents didn't have any signal of physical injury or struggle on their bodies, save for the fact none of them were breathing. It made he wonder just what kind of being had caused this.
Still, he had work to do. These bodies wouldn't bury themselves. Hawk might have held no love for Ozette, but even he thought that leaving these people's bodies here, to rot in the open sky, was just too cruel...
- / - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Lloyd reviewed his planned conversation for what felt to be the fifteenth time. He was already in front of Raine's door, but couldn't summon up the courage to knock, knowing that once he did it, things might change forever between him and the beautiful Professor...
Here I go, thinking about her like this again... Lloyd berated to himself.
Ever since he had that talk with his dad the other day, Lloyd had caught himself thinking about all the times Raine seemingly shied away at his compliments. Some of them he couldn't recall very clearly, but those he did showed an... interesting perspective on the Professor.
He felt such an idiot for not noticing before.
Lloyd then knocked on the metal door to Raine's quarters. The silver haired woman asked who was it and Lloyd answered:
"It's Lloyd. Can I enter?" he barely had to wait a minute before the door opened and he was let in.
Raine's room had more furniture than his own, Lloyd noticed. Yuan had let them use these rooms and decorate them as they saw fit, probably intending to be on their good graces. Still it was nice to have a safe place to return to. Or as safe as one could be when the entire world was chasing you.
The Professor's room had some books and a fair number of artifacts, which Raine told him she had left with friends since she had to always travel light before. Lloyd couldn't help, but go over a book and look at the cover, seeing no discernible title or author's name. Looking at Raine in askance, he received a nod to look over.
"You wrote this?" he asked as he flipped and saw the entire book was filled with writings of her handwrite.
"Yes. Although there were many writings and books that survived the Second Invasion and the destruction of Sybak, you would be surprised to know how little variety they offer. It almost felt like the Desians specifically target everything related to studies on magic."
"Or maybe Genis took them," Lloyd said without really thinking, remembering the look on the young-looking half-elf when Ratatosk showed his powers and when he spoke of magic. "He seemed pretty obsessed about magic and..." then he remembered just who he was talking to. "Ah... sorry Raine. I didn't..."
"It's alright. I won't make any excuses for my brother," Raine said, although there was a slight tinge of pain in her voice.
Great way to start a conversation, by reminding her of the brother that denies her. Idiot! Lloyd berated himself.
"But you didn't come here to talk about that, right?" Raine spoke, thankfully getting Lloyd out of his pinch.
The brunette nodded and then thought on what he had rehearsed to say to Raine... only to come up empty. He then remembered how bad he could be at thinking these things through.
Deciding that honesty would be the best policy in this situation, Lloyd spoke:
"I... don't really know to speak about this, so I will just come out and say it," Raine could get the undertone of "please don't take it in the wrong way" in the young man's voice, but only nodded for him to continue. "Raine... do you... like me?"
The silver haired Professor raised an eyebrow at the question. One full minute passed, as she seemed to only scrutinize Lloyd, who started to sweat. Did he say something wrong?
"Let me guess, Sheena told you this, right?" Raine queried.
Lloyd suddenly felt like kicking himself. Of course she would notice. Raine was older than any of them and already admitted to have been in a relationship with Richter (an unorthodox one, but a relationship nonetheless), so she was obviously experienced.
Only being capable of nodding at her declaration, Lloyd felt like a little child getting a talk from his teacher after answering wrong an easy question.
Raine sighed, as if she knew this discussion was coming. She then spoke:
"Let me first ask you something before giving my answer, Lloyd. How do you perceive me?" Lloyd looked at her in confusion. Another sigh from Raine, this one of exasperation. "I mean, what do I, as a woman, have that you would find attractive?"
He didn't know how exactly that would answer his question, but considering what he was asking was pretty personal, Lloyd decided to answer that truthfully.
"Well, you have this... air of maturity around you," he then noticed her sharp look and quickly amended, shaking his hands in front of him. "I mean, I'm not calling you old or anything! It's like... I feel that I can trust you. You don't wait around for things to happen, you go and do them yourself. So, I would say that I like that about you, even though you do keep things to yourself."
And there was that, the minute sign of Raine raising her closed fist to her face to hide a small blush on he cheeks. Now that Lloyd knew about it, he felt pretty stupid for not seeing it before, considering how much of a contrast it was to Raine's usual poses.
"So, you like the fact that I'm reliable and proactive," she said, seeming to recover.
"Yeah. That's it," Lloyd said.
"Um... well, I would be lying if I say I don't think you're attractive," Lloyd spoke. "I mean, Sheena is beautiful, but you have a thing about you that I can't shorta explain and..." he knew he was rambling at this point, but before he could go any further, Raine interrupted him.
"Then if you find somebody like me attractive and this person asked you on a date, what would be your answer?"
"A date?! Um... It would be 'yes', I think..." Lloyd then blushed, scratching behind his head at the blunt and direct question.
"Alright. Then it's settled."
That made Lloyd turn to the Serene Sage with an "Huh?" imprinted all over his face. He felt like he had missed something there, because he didn't exactly remembered making any sort of deal with R...
"You said that if somebody such as me, which you find attractive and reliable, asked you out on a date, you would accept. So, tell me, what place would you like to go?" Raine added with an attractive, well-measured smile.
And just like that the Wielder of Victory's Flame's eyes widened. He had agreed to do what with who?!
- / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Zelos quickly found Seles roaming around the cafeteria. His little sister was looking longingly at the sweets, probably desiring to be able to eat some of them. It kinda saddened him as he remembered she loved those as a child.
Either way, the Wielder siblings were walking around the base, chatting, when Zelos saw his bud walking with an expression that could be best described as: where did I go wrong?
"Hey bud," Zelos called, making Lloyd turn to him with a deer-in-the-lights expression, as if he was expecting somebody to cause him of a capital crime. "You alright?"
"Uh... yeah... I-I'm... o-kay..." Lloyd said.
Zelos raised an eyebrow. His bud clearly wasn't okay, what with that expression of his? Seles also seemed curious and made a motion for her brother to ask his friend what was the problem.
Seeing Zelos hadn't bought his obvious lie, Lloyd decided that, maybe, the red haired man could help him...
- / - / - / - / - / - / -
The dual swordsman was quickly regretting ever thinking about telling his problems to Zelos. What was he thinking when he thought Zelos,of all people, could help him?
"HAHAHAHAHAH! Y-You... YOU! And RAINE! Hahah! She-she-she roped you... good! HAHAHAHAHAH!"
"Are you done?" Lloyd asked in an angry tone with his arms crossed. He was starting to understand why Sheena was always aggravated whenever she was around the perverted idiot.
"HAHAHAHAH! Just... just... a minute! PWUAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! HAHA! Hah! ... okay, I'm done."
"Good. Because I'm never telling you anything, ever again!"
Zelos shook his head and refrained from starting to laugh again. Lloyd could only still glare at the red head. The two were sitting in one of the many tables on the lunch hall of the base, which was empty at the time.
"Oh c'mon bud. What's there to be angry about? I mean, you got a date with our cool, beautiful, Professor Hunny."
"In case you've forgotten, I like Sheena."
"So? What she doesn't know, won't hurt her."
"You do know that's exactly why she beat you up, right?"
Zelos visibly flinched at that, even letting out an "ouch" at Lloyd's cutting remark. He could still feel the pain on his back to this day. Seemed his bud was in a worst mood than he expected.
"Okay, okay. No need to get your panties in a brunch. It's just that you don't need to be like that, y' know? But let's start from the beginning; how did this exactly happen?"
Lloyd knew he should have just sent Zelos to hell and be done with it, but, really, the red head was the only guy available at the moment and the red clad, young man kinda needed to get this out. He then proceeded to tell everything from the beginning.
When Lloyd finished, Zelos wasn't laughing, instead, his face showed a serious expression Lloyd had never seen before, not even when the ex-Representative faced the Church officials. Seles was also confused, but Lloyd couldn't see her.
"Bud..." the red head started, putting his hand on Lloyd's shoulder, as if he were about to have a man-to-man talk with him. "I've seen this happening for a while and... really, I think I am to blame on this part."
That made the dual swordsman raise his eyebrow. Before he could ask, though, Zelos continued:
"Really, I should have done this from the beginning and now you are paying the price... Lloyd..." Zelos' tone made the Wielder of Victory's Flame anxious about what he would say next. "It's high time you learn about the ways of Romance."
And just like that, the serious atmosphere was shattered for Lloyd, who only looked at Zelos with his mouth agape in an expression of "Huh?!".
"I'm going to be honest, you need this knowledge more than myself and, well, there is also the fact that, should I die, the Romantic Men lore dies too. So, I know I must teach the younger generations about what truly means to be a romantic," Zelos said that with such a straight face that even his sister was believing and nodding at him, thinking her brother was doing something good (although she had no idea what a romantic truly was).
"What... I ... but... HUH?!" was the most coherent thing Lloyd could formulate. Given two seconds, he was finally able to articulate a better response. "HOW DOES THAT EVEN HELP WITH MY PROBLEM?!"
"If you hope to take the lead in this relationship and impress Raine, then you will need this bud," the red head said, as if that was the most obvious thing in the world.
"But I didn't even want to go out with her to begin with! I only wanted to ask her how she felt about me and..."
"And you just got it," Zelos said, cutting Lloyd off. "And didn't you said you found her attractive too? Don't you prefer older woman?"
Lloyd shut his mouth and could only glare at the self-proclaimed Last Romantic. What was the deal with people using what he said against him?
"Is there a problem with Mr. Lloyd liking older women, big brother?" Seles asked.
"Of course not. Love is independent of age and, let's face it..." Zelos spoke, now turning to his self-appointed bud. "Older woman are the flowers of yesterday that have finally bloomed to grace the world with their beauty."
Lloyd started to wish somebody would just come and save him from this talk.
"What are you two doing?" Regal asked, as if called forth by Lloyd's silent plead.
"Oh, hello there Regal. I'm just starting to instruct my new disciple on the ways of Romance. Care to share some of your experiences?"
When did I become your disciple?! Lloyd mentally berated, but he knew his complaint would be ignored even if he voiced it.
"Oh. Is that so?" Regal said, looking at Lloyd who shot back to him a look of "it was his idea, not mine!".
"Well, I'm pretty sure a married man such as yourself would have some tips to my disciple."
"Zelos, I've had enough!" Lloyd said. "First of all, stop calling me your disciple and sec... wait, what?" Lloyd's train of thought did a one-eighty as he processed what the red head had just said and turned to the blue haired man. "Regal, you're married?!"
"Just look at his finger. That's a wedding alliance. A small, nondescript one, but an alliance nonetheless," Zelos pointed out to the golden ring with a small gemstone on its tip.
Regal seemed to take all of that in stride as he only smiled at his friends, while Lloyd recovered and congratulated the mature adult, asking who the lucky woman was.
"If I'm not mistaken, you all met her. It's Alicia," Regal said.
"Alicia... Alicia... wait. Isn't that Presea's sister?!" Lloyd exclaimed.
"Not only that, she's also his maid," Zelos spoke, looking at Regal as he stated. "That explains why you never announced anything. If word of this had gotten out, everybody from Meltokio to Iselia would know."
"And how's that an issue?"
Lloyd didn't understand why the fact that Regal married to his personal maid would be that much of a shocking event compared to the fact they had been traveling with his wife's sister the entire time. He wondered if Presea didn't know, since she and Regal came back together to the group.
"You have to understand Lloyd, although the old ways of society and aristocracy are pretty buried on time, there are people who still cling to them," Regal explained. "And these people still have some pull on society. In the view of aristocracy, nobles may only marry other nobles. That is why my marriage was a private, hidden affair."
"But that's ridiculous," Lloyd said. "With the world the way it is, people still..."
"They still because they haven't learned, bud," Zelos said, his tone now his serious one. "You can flash a sign before somebody, but you can't force them to see it. It's the same thing. If a demon apocalypse didn't open their eyes nothing ever will. Sometimes, the only medicine for stupidity is death."
"That's quite morbid of you," Regal remarked.
"Yeah, I know... but enough of that," the perverted, reincarnated Celsius was back with his smile and what Lloyd assumed was his "teacher tone". "Now, Lloyd, my disciple, the first thing you must know about charming a lady is..."
"Attention all Summon Spirits!" a familiar voice echoed through the base, interrupting their conversation as Zelos and Regal looked up, while Lloyd looked around, confused. "Please report to the leader's office. I repeat! All Summon Spirits, reports to the leader's office!"
"Is that Verius?" Regal asked.
"Where is she?" Lloyd asked, still looking around.
"She's talking through the PA system," Zelos explained to the confused young man.
"Hey! What are you doing her... where did she go?!" another voice, a confused, lower one spoke before the sound went off. It was obvious Verius had just teleported into the announcement center and left just as suddenly as she arrived.
Lloyd was still confused even though Zelos and Regal got up. Seles was just as confused as her brother's "Bud" at the voice that seemed to echo everywhere.
"Best we go and see what she wants," Regal said, his tone becoming sour.
"Yeah... sorry Bud, but our first lesson will have to get postponed," Zelos said.
Lloyd was divided between feeling relieved and exasperated. Relieved that he was spared from having to deal with Zelos' "romantic lesson" and exasperated that he had to deal with that Summon Spirit.
He hoped that it better be good...
- / - / - / - / - / - / -
Rahishi was pacing around as she and Reriki waited in one of many rooms in the main fortress of the demonic troops' base for the return of their General. They were so worried they tuned off the commotion outside the room, very visible through the open doorway.
The two had tried to insist to go with their liege, but Genis had categorically forbidden them, saying it was too dangerous for anybody, mainly for them, if they got within Verius' range.
Although Reriki was very determined to hug Genis and never let him go once he was back, Rahishi was still in conflict with those feelings she showed before. She knew she liked her General far more than any of her previous superiors. What there wasn't to like about him? He respected her, considered her opinion and gained her loyalty fair and square. Plus, he wasn't that hard on the eyes and...
By the Great Father, I'm turning into Reriki. Rahishi thought, although, deep down, she felt she didn't mind if it meant she could be with him.
Rahishi, however, was more worried about how her general would view these strange new emotions she had for him. She knew what she was feeling could be considered the beginning of a human crush (if Reriki's observations were anything to go by), but she was a demon. Demons don't possess hearts to love. All that they felt that could be considered close to this was a strong attraction.
Sometimes, she wondered why that was so. Why would the Great Ones give them such a feeling if it could be such an obstacle on the way of serving them?
"What is all the commotion?" a neutral voice sounded, making the two demoness look at the door so fast it was a wonder that Rahishi's neck didn't crack.
"Master/General Genis!" the two exclaimed, running up to him and hugging him. When Rahishi noticed she had done the same thing as Reriki, she immediately let go of him, her face blushing, although Reriki didn't have such reservations.
"Can you let me go?" Genis asked, his face buried on Reriki's ample bosom as the demoness had a wide smile at seeing her favorite half-elf coming back alive.
"How was your mission, my General?" Rahishi asked, recovering and resuming her military demeanor as the other aide let Genis go.
"It was a success, if the explosion of power I felt as I was leaving the Ozette region was any indication," Genis said, although there was no smile on either his face or voice. He sounded robotic and unfeeling. "But this state can be quite... discomforting. I didn't even realized that wasn't a feeling until you locked away my heart."
Rahishi sighed in relief at hearing that. Reriki then asked if Genis wanted to undo the seal now. The silver haired Desian nodded, since he knew he wouldn't be able to enjoy anything in this state, also, his curiosity towards magic disappeared and his drive to research it was practically null. He quickly realized he didn't like that.
He did however have a compulsion to come back to his aides, but he didn't know why that remained.
Reriki quickly made hand signals that Genis thought bore some resemblance to the ones that Sheena woman used. Reriki did say to him that, apparently, good part of Mizuho's fighting styles and particular brand of techniques came from observing demons like her.
A runic circle appeared underneath the young-looking half-elf and light rose around him. Genis then felt like something was being lifted from him.
This was truly a remarkable experience, although very disturbing. Genis thought.
Reriki then finished, but her face scrunched up in annoyance. Rahishi asked what was it and the voluptuous demoness said:
"I couldn't completely undo the lock."
"Really? I fell mostly normal," Genis said.
"Yes, but there are still some remnants. As I said before Master Genis, locks like these aren't easy to undo, even for the caster."
"Well, I can feel again so I think it's alright."
Genis tried to tranquilize his aide, but Reriki still seemed unsure. She then approached him as Genis looked at his aide... only to get his face buried under her huge breasts and feel blood rushing to his cheeks and another part of his male body.
Reriki let go of him and looked at his blushing, deer-in-the-headlights expression and smiled at the result:
"Oh. At least you got the important ones back. So, you're really fine."
"What the hell was that for?!" Rahishi demanded, stomping to the spiritual demon, who only turned Genis around and hugged him from his back, making his head rest on her bountiful chest.
"One can't truly live if he can't experience the best of life. I wanted to make sure he got the important emotions back," Reriki said in a tone of one who teaches a life lesson.
"And you needed to bury his face on these overgrown pillows you call chest?!" Rahishi exclaimed.
"You're one to talk Rahishi..." Reriki said with mirth as she let go of Genis and teleported behind the other aide, grabbing her from behind and fondling her chest plate. "Pity you always wear this armor, but I've seen that they're pretty big," the perverted demoness smirked. "Not as big as mine, mind you, but decently enough."
Rahishi gave an angry smile as a vein pulsed on her forehead while Reriki fondled her.
Genis just tuned out the beating that followed, trying to get his blood to rush back to his brain. As he did, he then took notice of the commotion outside again, specially the urgent expression on the faces of both demons and Desians.
"What happened while I was away?" Genis asked.
Rahishi stopped beating Reriki, who defended against the assault and the two looked at their General. Separating, the fire demoness said that they weren't sure as they had been too worried about his safe return, which made Genis look at them as Rahishi realized what she had left slip and looked away. The silver haired Desian couldn't help, but smile at the thought that his red head aide looked quite cute when acting like that.
It was then that Pronyma passed near the doorway and saw the trio inside. Having come from the Sybak Ranch to give her report to Lord Nebilim, she was caught in the middle of the announcement and stood by there, directing the Desian search parties. Entering the room, the woman asked:
"General Sage, is there a motive as to why you are standing idly here?"
Genis immediately recognized the voice and turned to greet his superior with a salute.
"I just came back from an assignment, ma'am. I was incommunicable during the time."
"What kind of assignment?" Pronyma asked. Genis was about to answer, but the Desian woman cut him. "No, forget it. There are more urgent matters at the moment," Pronyma said in her better-than-thou tone.
Genis wasn't exactly fond of the Leader of the Five Grand Cardinals, but he didn't have anything personal against her either. Liking it or not, Pronyma was his superior, regardless of which means she used to attain the position. The woman also seemed to have a similar opinion of him, but that was probably only because Genis wasn't running for her position like some of the other Cardinals.
If he did, he could have suddenly found himself on a suicidal mission...
"We received a new order from Lord Nebilim. We have a Person of Interest Priority #1," Pronyma said.
That surprised Genis. He could only think of one group that could earn that classification.
But she said it was just one.
"Who exactly is it?" he asked as his aides flanked his sides.
"The Summon Spirit of Heart, Verius."
It took all of Genis' willpower not to gasp at the news. Reriki and Rahishi looked worried, but fortunately, Pronyma was paying attention to him and not his subordinates.
"Anything that you know about it and would like to share, General Sage?" although it was worded as a request, Genis knew it was an order.
His aides looked between themselves and started to consider answering the question when their general surprised them by saying:
"No. I haven't even met Verius. Why would I know anything about this?"
Pronyma narrowed her eyes at him and then looked at his direct subordinates, who immediately schooled their features, although there was the danger the Leader of the Desian Grand Cardinals could have noticed something.
After a few seconds, Pronyma decided she didn't have anything to accuse Genis of and left, telling him to report to her if he found anything. Genis nodded and watched the woman go. As soon as she was out of range, the silver haired half-elf made signal for his aides to follow him.
When they left the environment of the fortress, Rahishi couldn't hold back her curiosity any longer:
"I don't understand, my General. Why did you lie to Lady Pronyma like that?"
"Two things..." Genis said, not even turning as he walked ahead of them and held two fingers up. "One..." he lowered one finger. "Even though I'm not a contender to the position of Leader of the Cardinals, some still see me as a threat and may use this information as a way to take me down. Two..." he lifted that finger back up and, although his aides couldn't see, smiled a sinister smile. "That just means my plans worked far better than I expected. Now we just have to wait to see what the Summon Spirits will do once they realize what happened..."
- / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Yuan honestly didn't know what disturbed him the most; the fact that somebody just appeared inside his communications room without anybody being able to stop her and used his PA system, or the fact that this someone was probably now in his office. And that happened while he was sitting in one of the many relaxation rooms around the facility, chatting with his daughter and granddaughter.
Honestly, I would rather deal only with Colette and the others. Yuan thought before following his golden haired granddaughter to his office where, as he guessed, Verius was already waiting for them.
"Oh, no, no, no," Verius said, in a disapproving manner, with a frown at seeing the blue haired, Renegade leader. "I believe I explicitly said, Summon Spirits."
"And I believe you are trespassing my base," Yuan retorted as Martel and the others filed in. "And this is my office. Why shouldn't I be in my office?"
"Well, you were having some family time, so..."
"Wait. Were you spying on me?!" Yuan asked, his tone one of indignation.
"Not really. I believe I did say my job is to watch over all hearts," Verius retorted.
"Don't get all smartass over my husband," Martel said, stepping forward, surprising all those present with her choice of language. It wasn't often one would see a pissed off Martel. "What do you want?"
When Verius seemed to be about to protest again, Emil brought Ratatosk out to calm her down and prevent a possible bloodbath. With a heartbeat-like energy pulse, the crimson eyed entity spoke:
"Verius, these two are my Knights. You do remember what one being a knight to a Summon Spirit entails, right?"
"Yes. I do," Verius said. She then looked at Amelia. "But she isn't, so why is she here?"
"She's my daughter!" Yuan declared.
Verius only looked at the exasperated half-elf... and spoke again:
"Isn't this what you humans call nepotism?"
While the others bodily restrained Yuan and Martel from jumping on the Summon Spirit of the Heart, Ratatosk asked Verius why she called them, deciding to get to the heart of the subject before his sister could further aggravate his old Knights.
"I'm here to take you all to the Twilight Palace."
That made Ratatosk surprised and picked up Raine's curiosity. As the others managed to calm Martel and Yuan down (with much persuasion on Colette and Amelia's part), they heard Raine question what Verius was talking about. Ratatosk answered:
"It's a pocket dimension created by Origin and the others to serve as their... our base of operations. It can only be found and accessed by Summon Spirits, much in the same manner as the seals on the temples," he then turned to Verius, his tone visibly softer as he spoke to her. "But... why go there?"
"Because that's where you will find Origin's soul half," Verius said, shocking the group. "Well, at least I think so. But for something as powerful as Origin's soul, it would be the safest place."
Ratatosk wanted to beat himself up for not realizing that sooner. That would have been the most obvious place to hide Origin's soul, since he didn't have any specific temple or place that he stayed at in Aselia. The Lord of Monsters then realized something else:
"Then, you're going to help us Verius?" Marta could hear the hope in her crush's tone and briefly thought that if Verius refused him this time...
"You could say that," Verius spoke with that ever-present mischievous smile.
Marta sighed. Seemed like she wouldn't have to beat the fox-looking woman senseless.
Ratatosk gave a big smile at hearing that. Although the situation set off some alarms on his head (Emil was trying to tell him there was something fishy here) he ignored them all. Verius was going to help them. His sister was back to his side and... maybe... maybe he could tell her about everything that had been plaguing him until now. She was always there to listen to him after all.
"What happened?" Zelos asked, his tone dripping of the suspicion many in the group felt. "Had a change of heart?"
Zelos smirked at his own joke, just like Yuan, Martel, and even Sheena. Verius only frowned at him, seeming to not have taken that well, for she spoke:
"That was mean of you, Celsius. I mean... I did change... no. Maybe that was how it was meant to be... no. That was not it," Verius then rambled on again, making some members in the group raise their eyebrows as she looked to the side, still talking to herself.
"Anyway. Can you lead us to the Twilight Palace?" Kratos asked, trying to lower the animosity levels in the room.
"Of course!" Verius said, turning to him and smiling once more. That sudden change of mood made the group think that maybe the Summon Spirit of the Heart was bipolar. "Just hold on and off we go!"
Several runic circles appeared beneath the reincarnated Summon Spirits and, before they could even react, the party teleported out of the room, startling the remaining members of the Kä-Fei family.
"O-kay..." Martel muttered, while Amelia just looked around, appearing to be confused. The green haired woman sighed. "Honestly, I'm pitying our granddaughter and her friends. Considering they have to deal with that woman."
Yuan cringed a bit at the sharp tone Martel used when speaking that. Lately, his wife seemed to have gotten the habit to refer to the fox-like Summon Spirit by that substantive. It wasn't even derogatory, but the way Martel spoke it, made it sound like she was cursing her worst enemy.
It was then the intercom in his desk emitted a loud beep and Yuan went to answer it. The two women in the room turned and looked at him as he answered:
"Commander Yuan speaking."
"My Lord, it's Botta," the blue haired, half-elf's left-hand man answered. "We've just received the data from the Vanguard regarding that strange energy pulse in Ozette," Martel was besides Yuan the moment she heard that while Amelia only stood in her place.
The Goddess of Victory had heard about the "massacre" of Ozette when they got back from their family outting. The episode truly intrigued her for the fact that all of the citizens were, without a doubt, dead, but they hadn't suffered any kind of physical injury. There were traces of magic, but they weren't able to analyze it on the field.
The Vanguard took it upon themselves to discover that mystery, as some of its members had family in Ozette (although mostly strained, as none in the city truly liked either of the resistance movements). Yuan actually thought they would take more time to analyze the data, but it seemed they had already settled in the Submarine Ranch and were putting it into good use.
Also, the acquisition of all the resources inside the city-sized submarine sped-up the completion of New Grounds by months.
"Did you check it against our data?" Yuan asked.
"I did, but... Sir, you're not gonna like it," Botta said, his tone hesitant.
- / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
For those not used to it, teleportation magic could be a little disorienting, which was intensified by the distance it covered. In that sense, when the reincarnated Summon Spirits reappeared, Lloyd and the others were pretty dizzy and stumbling to keep themselves upright. Colette, however, flayed hers arms and fell back, causing a strange "CRACK" when she landed.
Emil took control and that helped him to be the first to recover and see where they had reappeared. Tall trees and grass greeted his vision, indicating they were in a forest of shorts. However, everything around him had a grayish tone to it, indicating it was probably petrified.
"Where... are... we?" Presea asked as she recovered.
"The Torrent Forest," Verius replied.
That made Raine regain her balance instantly as she looked around in surprise. She mouthed the name of the place in awe, which was understandable. The Torrent Forest was considered sacred grounds for the elven people, few of their own could enter here, let alone half-bloods.
"Ouch..." Colette let out as she got up and took something from her clothes, examining it. "Hey, it's stone."
"Actually, it looks like the entire forest has turned into stone," Zelos said.
"That's... quite sad," Raine thought aloud. Her mother had always told her about the Torrent Forest's beauty and green scenery. To see it reduced to this was quite depressing for her.
"Yeah. I liked the place too..." Verius said.
Presea looked around better and could see traces of magic in the entire forest. Sheena and Colette noticed it, but decided to let the pink haired girl make her analysis. If there was anything out of ordinary (that is, more than it already was) Presea would warn them.
"So... where exactly is the entrance to this Twilit Place?" Lloyd asked.
"Twilight Palace," Raine corrected him.
The silver haired woman sighed putting her hand on her forehead. Verius said for them to follow her and led the group deeper into the forest.
They passed through petrified trees, dried up rivers and even saw what looked like animal statues on their way. However, the reincarnated Summon Spirits had the disturbing impression those statues actually came to be after the Second Invasion.
I can't believe the fact the demons' invasion caused even this to happen. Emil thought. He could understand the fauna and the rivers, but for animals to get petrified like that.
"This place was touched by magic," Ratatosk explained. "But not any magic... by being a point of concentration of our powers, since we had to access the Twilight Palace via this forest, all life here became tied to our presence and powers."
But since the others left the world to reincarnate and the demons spread chaos energy... Emil didn't need to finish the phrase to know his analysis was spot on.
At one time, Kratos' communication device started beeping. Everybody looked at him as he excused himself and fell a little bit back while Verius shrugged and made motion for the group to follow her. Lloyd watched his father talk and saw his expression becoming pensive and then grave. He was probably talking to Yuan about something serious, but Lloyd couldn't hear what it was from that distan...
"We're here!" Verius cried out joyously and the group turned to look at what she was motioning to.
They stopped at a meadow and in front of them was a midnight black monolith, taller than any of them and made of an unknown material. It was engraved with runes completely foreign to Raine, but not to Emil. Suffice to say, the Professor's eyes illuminated with a glint that the party knew very well and she suddenly darted past them and Verius to prostrate in front of the dark formation.
"What is this made of?! I can't tell at all!" Raine started. "And these runes... I must find out their meaning!" she took out the book she always brought with her everywhere and started to furiously write on it.
The group could only observe with sweatdrops on their heads. Kratos had rejoined them and saw the silver haired woman frantically looking over the monolith and inscribing on her book like her life depended on it.
"Is she always like this?" the auburn haired man asked.
"Unfortunately..." Sheena mumbled.
"I have to admit; even I think Undine is scary when she gets curious," Verius spoke up. The group couldn't tell if she was referring to Raine or her past incarnation. They simply decided to give up on trying to correct the air-headed Spirit.
"Anyway, what is this thing? A portal or something?" Zelos asked.
"Zelos!" Raine called, startling the red head.
"You might absolutely right!" she spoke, confusing the man. "I mean, if Verius brought us here, then it must be because this monolith is somehow linked with the Twilight Palace!" she spoke, turning to it again. "These runes must be a very intricate incantation meant to bridge entire dimensions with one another."
The group then lost Raine as she rambled on about complex spells and metaphysical implications of the use of runes. They looked back at their guide (to some, it was quite begrudging to acknowledge Verius as such) and asked how they would get in.
"Simple," she said, with her joyous smile returning to her face. "It is made so only a Summon Spirit can access it."
"You mean, like the temples?" Lloyd asked.
"Like the whatnow?" Verius asked, smile still in place though she tilted her head in confusion. The party sighed again. "That means you should leave your little, kid sister's soul behind, Celsius," Verius completed, changing the subject.
Zelos looked at his sister worriedly. He didn't know if it was safe to leave her behind. What if demons came for her?
"I'll be fine, big brother. " Seles assured him with a smile. "You go with that fox lady and help Sir Kratos get his Summon Spirit powers."
"You sure? I don't want to come back and find out you have been taken by demons," Zelos said.
"I wouldn't worry about it," Presea said. The red head looked inquisitively at her. "This forest... I can feel spirits in it. Ancient spirits. They have been here ever since these trees grew and they are still here."
"Yep," Verius spoke up. "It's a very nice neighborhood."
Nobody took notice of her comment. Zelos only nodded and said for Seles to take care and not leave that meadow till he was back. His sister nodded and hugged him.
Emil then approached the monolith, while searching his memory and finding an incantation that he associate with the visage of the monument. Raine turned immediately and, in the blink of an eye, was besides Emil, urging him on with that disturbing look in her eyes. The blonde gulped and walked forward.
The group also approached a little as Emil stopped before the dark monolith and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath and chanting in a language completely unknown to any of the present, save for Verius. As he spoke, the runes on the monolith started to emanate power, though to the common eye they might as well have remained the same.
Suddenly a circle of light appeared between Emil and the monolith and shot a pillar of spiraling, multicolored particles in the air, startling the reincarnated Summon Spirits. As Emil finished, the pillar remained in place, shooting those particles to the skies like a beacon.
"Well, what are you all waiting for?" Verius said, walking forward and entering the beacon without a care in the world.
"She certainly seems in high spirits," Marta mumbled, crossing her arms.
"Leave it be," Ratatosk said as Emil let him come forth again. "She is always like this and..." suddenly Raine was right on his face.
"What was that incantation you used?! What are the words to the chants?! Please tell me!" she was with her book out and looking as "maniacal" as ever.
"Um... I'm not sure if they can be converted to the languages of mortals," Ratatosk said. He could very well admit that Raine was frightening like this "We, Summon Spirits, don't exactly have a written language."
Raine was about to insist when Verius put her head out of the pillar and said:
"Hey! Are you coming or not?"
The group decided to walk into the beacon and escape from Raine before she started interrogating them for obscure chants that might have come to their mind or something of the sort. Ratatosk quickly made a point to slip out of her range and enter the beacon first.
Raine sighed in disappointment, but made a mental note to interrogate the Summon Spirit later.
- / - / - / - / - / - / -
"Strange" was a word that wasn't much used in Aselia nowadays. When you lived with demons at your doorstep, not knowing when you would live or die and had to fight for your life every single day... not to talk about angels, half-demons and (now) Spirits, "strange" tended to lose its meaning due to overuse.
So, it was quite a great deal when the group got their first glimpse of the Twilight Palace and could only think one thing:
What kind of strange place is this?
They arrived in what looked like a horizontal street that divided into two paths and ascended, with other paths linked to these parallel streets. It even had lampposts, bushes, tall, fence bars with lance points and benches, for crying out loud.
However, they could see the holes dividing the parallel "streets" and, inside them, thick, white mist. There was mist everywhere, thinner over the "street" floor, but thicker to the point of completely obscuring the vision behind the bars.
It truly felt like they had left Aselia behind and stepped inside another plane of existence.
Even Emil and Ratatosk, having certain memories of the place, felt surprised at being here again. Verius, however...
"C'mon! We don't have time to lose!" she said from up ahead .
"She's pretty upbeat, isn't she?" Sheena pointed out, though her tone had a certain edge to it.
They walked and kept their guard up. Presea felt... uncomfortable. This place was too eerie for her tastes and... she could see everything here. She didn't know how to describe it, but, if she concentrated, she could see the levels above, beyond and even peer back at Aselia. It was a disorienting experience to say the least.
They finally arrived at an intersection in front of a white staircase. Verius was waiting for them and animatedly talked about the place and how "mysterious" it was. Nobody really shared a word with her, except for Ratatosk. It irked Marta to see he talking to the fox-like woman.
When they climbed up the stairs they were met with an... odd sight. Even Verius raised her eyebrow at the object in front of them.
"This wasn't here before. Nope... definitely wasn't," she mumbled.
They were in a plane, square space with stairs on each of its corners; the one they came from, and three more that led up, although they seemed to end abruptly, in the middle of empty space. And in the center of the square was a floating circle with several lance points that floated around it in a circle, moving in a way that made it look like a blue, sun icon.
The Centurions appeared as Emil recognized it:
"That's Maxwell's platform!"
"So, his soul halve was really here," Ventus stated.
Where is my other half? lines of text appeared in the circle, surprising the group.
"Maybe it is asking about Maxwell reincarnated," Regal suggested.
"But, we haven't found him yet," Colette said.
As if answering to her statement, new lines appeared in the circle:
I see... well, should have supposed it would be hard to get here. Or the chap is too lazy.
The group had to sweatdrop at that. The last line was so... out of place there.
"Haha! Good one!" Lumen said, being the only one to laugh at that. "Good ol' Max always cracked me up!" the cheetah-like Centurion said with a smile. The group sweatdropped at that again.
Lumen? Then that means Ratatosk is here? new lines appeared. That is fortunate. I've been tired of waiting here. Hey, how about a deal, youngsters? I'll help you all to find my other half.
That surprised most of them. They didn't expect the soul half of a Summon Spirit they hadn't even found yet to be so helpful.
Certainly beats having to deal with Verius. Sheena, Lloyd, Raine, Zelos and Presea thought.
"C'mon. Don't be like that," the tall, female Summon Spirit said in a sad tone.
Nobody paid her attention.
"How are you coming with us?" Colette asked.
Oh, little Gnome... just you watch! ... and catch me.
The sun icon then shone and was enveloped in a sphere of light, which slowly shrink. It then shot to Raine and stopped to hover near her. The half-elven woman reached for the sphere, which was about the size of her finger and grabbed it. Feeling something solid, Raine opened her hand and showed the object to the group. It was a ring with a pretty big turquoise jewel on it.
"Wow! It looks like yours, Celsius," Glacius said. "Although a lot more beautiful."
Zelos sighed and mumbled something about "women" and "big jewels". Ratatosk looked from them to Verius, who kept a pensive expression on her face as she continued to stare at the place where Maxwell's soul half was.
"Is there a problem, Verius?" he asked her, approaching the fox-like woman while the others discussed about the ring.
"Was that all what you were reduced to?" Verius asked, her tone undecipherable.
"Yes. Even I, when Nebilim attacked the Ginnungagap, was reduced to my core and had to find a body to serve as a host," Ratatosk answered.
The memories then resurfaced and he bit his lip, Verius turning to him when catching his emotions. He knew now was the time, so, while the others were distracted, he told her:
"Verius... I... I did... I betrayed you all."
He stayed quiet after that. Verius could feel his hurting and, in an impulse, hugged him in a comforting manner. Ratatosk was rather surprised, but soon hugged her back, needing that bit of comfort from one of his "family". Although Lloyd and the others were them reincarnated, he knew it wouldn't feel the same. They were different.
Marta looked and saw the two hugging, getting mixed feelings from it. The way Ratatosk clang to Verius almost desperately... something was happening and he wasn't telling her.
"You were all hurting too," Verius said as she patted his head when the two separated. "I know what you think you need to do, but don't worry. I don't blame you," she gave him a sincere smile.
"Really?" the crimson-eyed Spirit asked hopefully.
"Of course. In the end, it all won't make a difference," her tone became a little bit ominous, confusing her brother. "Yes. Soon, all of this won't matter..."
A world surrounded by mist in which Spirits gather.
In it we found enlightenment and power, while you only had pain to garner...
To us, she was only another one,
to you, she was a cherished one
If only we knew of the awaiting tragedy
we could have spared you of such pain...
I can't say sorry enough...
Your forgiveness is all I hope for...
- Excerpt from The Chronicle of a Lonely Spirit, by Marta Lualdi -
Yes, Marta wrote a book (SHOCK, GASP!). Or more likely a journal containing her thoughts. (*glares from the audience*) What?
Ok, I'm not good at poetry in any language, but you don't exactly need to rhyme to make poetry. Just to pour your feelings in the form of words. And I wouldn't consider it a poetry, more like a letter concerning the battles that are to come.
Well, enough of my self-justifications... onward to the next chapter!