Tieria was being this huffy fella in 00 - so much 'till that everything I write about him seems OOC now. Anyways, thanks for the reviews, favs and alerts. I hearts them so, so much! In this chapter, you see some...development. Maybe. I guess. Yes, I have sort of jumbled up S1 and S2 together, to those who haven't really noticed and are feeling confused, so...
Grab your snacks and have fun reading!
"And, after all, what is a lie? 'Tis but
the truth in masquerade."
- Lord Byron, "Don Juan"
"So what exactly happened back there?"
I glanced at Sumeragi. She hadn't wasted any time in approaching me as soon as she heard that I was well enough to walk without any assistance. According to Tieria, I had to thank the fact that I reclaimed some of my Innovator powers when I was injured. Recovery would have taken much longer otherwise. Still, it had been a full fortnight of me mostly being in the healing capsule - a fortnight which resulted in me nearly dying of sheer, utter boredom.
When I asked Tieria whether he would inform the entire Celestial Being crew about my allegiances to the Innovators, he had calmly replied that it was my own story to tell and not his. Not that it made me feel any better, of course – because unfortunately, it wasn't a mere allegiance that I had. I was supposedly connected to all of them. They were a part of me, and I was a part of them.
More importantly, I was the sister of Ribbons Almark. If being an Innovator wouldn't freak them out, then perhaps that piece of information would.
Tieria would really kill me then.
I arranged my face into what I hoped was an innocent expression. "Nothing."
Sumeragi sighed. "Eri, you were bleeding to death." In other words, she meant stop pretending and start talking.
"I was attacked."
"By…?" Sumeragi prompted. The Celestial Being crew sat next to her in silence. Despite always being in rough battles, none of them looked too worse for the wear. I wondered how they handled it - were all of them this strong? Saji was the only one who looked nervous – but then again he always appeared to be nervous.
"I didn't know who that was."
She tried again. "Are you sure?"
Sumeragi looked thoughtful, but didn't question me anymore. "Well, alright. Now, the reason I have called everyone here for a meeting is because Wang Liu Mei has sent us some classified information."
Everyone waited patiently for her to continue. Come to think of it, Wang Liu Mei was the one who provided intel for Celestial Being, wasn't it?
"The A-Laws is having a banquet on Earth to strengthen its ties with their sponsors in a week," Sumeragi said quietly. "This is not a trivial matter. It would be a good chance for us to infiltrate the area and learn more about their aims and motives."
"A-Laws, huh?" Lockon asked. "If I recall correctly, their sponsors involved the Innovators."
That certainly grabbed my attention. From one side, I could see Tieria lean forward, interested in hearing more.
"The Innovators…Anew was one of them," Mileina murmured, looking down sadly. Feldt patted her shoulder encouragingly before giving me a small smile, one that I returned.
Sumeragi nodded sagely. "Yes. It was actually a blessing in disguise, because her betrayal allowed us to discover that the Innovators were the ones who stood behind the A-Laws, threatening the world with their ideals."
Anew really did betray Celestial Being in the end. I lowered my head, hoping no one could see how disappointed I was. Amongst the Innovators who I had mingled with in my childhood, Anew had been the kindest to me. She always smiled patiently and answered my questions, even going so far as to defend me from Hilling's jeers.
Did she ever enjoy living with the Celestial Being crew? Were Mileina, Feldt, Sumeragi and everyone else a friend of hers? Perhaps she had fallen in love with someone. If she had, I assumed that she was happy.
Until she had to carry out her true purpose, that is.
"And now," Sumeragi continued, "We will have to send a few people in for the mission of infiltrating the banquet."
"I'll go," I said, standing up immediately. There was no question about it - this was the perfect opportunity for me to meet the rest of the Innovades and get any questions answered.
Except that it hadn't been just me – Tieria had uttered those two words in perfect synchronization at the same time I did. He was on his feet as well, ruby eyes flashing dangerously.
His voice rang out in my head, sharp and commanding.
"Stay out of this."
Was he seriously trying to order me around? That guy should have known better.
"No," I mentally replied, "You should be the one staying out of this."
The rest of the people in the room, oblivious to our mental banter, seemed to be amused at how we glared at each other. Lockon was chuckling; Mileina was squealing in excitement. I didn't want to know what was going on in her head.
Sumeragi, however, frowned. "I will allow Tieria on this mission – mainly because he understands Innovators more than we do, but as for you, Eri…"
"I need to go," I said firmly. "I have to."
"How are your injuries?"
"Any confirmation of that, Feldt?"
"Yes," Feldt replied. "As unbelievable as it seems, Eri has recovered incredibly quickly from her ordeal. The only remaining thing that could cause problems would be the minor fracture on her hand, but that has mostly been healed as well."
"This is an infiltration mission," I argued, "Not one that involves combat. Besides, the A-Laws and the Innovators would be unfamiliar with me. It would be perfect."
Tieria coughed into his hand to cover a snort. He was becoming snarkier as the days went by. He had probably been spending too much time with me.
Sumeragi appraised me carefully, searching my face for any hints of emotion. I made sure none showed. Careful now, I told myself. If you appear too eager, she would know you're up to something.
"All right," Sumeragi finally said, conceding in defeat. "Tieria and Eri will head the mission – but I'm sending Setsuna as backup, just in case."
Setsuna nodded. "Roger."
If the Innovators were there, then Ribbons would definitely be present. It would be a perfect chance to talk to him – and the rest of his creations as well. Other than Hilling, I hadn't seen the rest of them in years. There would be a lot to discuss about.
And that included gaining more details on my original mission. I wanted to know, to remember, to understand.
"Which means," Feldt piped up, "You'll need a dress!"
A what? I shook my head, wondering what Feldt was so excited about. "Right, right…I'm sure we can think about that later."
I walked out of the room with Tieria trailing closely behind. The smug smile was on my face – Tieria just couldn't stop me when I wanted something, could he? If I wanted to participate in a mission, then I would.
Well, now, what could I do? Being stuck in the healing capsule had been torturous. I wanted to run around, breathe freely a little. Ah, yes. Perhaps I would visit Veda again.
…Though, of course, it would have been better not to have a fuming Meister following from behind. I ignored Tieria as much as I could, striding down hallways in large, confident steps until Veda's terminal could be seen. Tieria didn't say anything on the way, and neither did I. Oh, well. Perhaps he would leave when he grew bored.
However, once he slid into the terminal with me, my impatience started to grow.
"Can you," I bit out, "Stop following me?"
Tieria dismissed my irritation easily. "Follow? Don't flatter yourself. I have the right to access Veda as much as you do."
Yeah, right. "You're just angry that I managed to get myself involved in this mission. Could you leave? I can't relax here without you butting in."
"You lied to them," Tieria stated drily. "I don't know what your memories entail, but sooner or later you will have to tell everyone the truth."
I sighed, swinging myself around the gravity-free environment. "The truth isn't pleasant, Tieria."
"It never is. Now I, unlike you, have far more rationality when it comes to a mission. You would only be a hindrance."
Why, that little twerp. "I wouldn't!"
"You would." Tieria's arms were crossed. He hovered above me, gold eyes reflecting the colorful hues around us. "You almost died once. The negligence that lies in you is what makes you unfit for missions."
This was wordplay from Tieria which I had already grown accustomed to. I scowled, craning up to get a better view of him. Why couldn't he just stay put in front of me so that we could talk like normal individuals? "What if I told you that this was a mission I had to take part in, no matter what?"
"Then…" Tieria paused, looking uncertain for a moment. "Fulfill any necessary purposes efficiently - with the least amount of casualties possible."
"Spoken in typical Tieria fashion," I said, grinning. "Anyway, this happen to be the kind of mission that I really couldn't pass up on. You'll be there with me anyway, so what's the problem?"
"Other than the fact that you happen to be a reckless fool?"
I laughed softly. Perhaps he was right.
"What?" Tieria asked warily, knowing from my tone that I was about to ask something serious.
"If…" I paused, wondering how to get the words out. "If I ever betrayed Celestial Being, what would you do?"
There was a long period of silence, where nothing else could be heard except the thumping of my heart. Tieria's face was impassive. I waited patiently, watching as he comprehended the weight of my question.
Finally, he said, "If you did, I would come after you and kill you with my own hands."
In many ways, I was glad to hear Tieria say that - but that didn't make me feel any happier. I smiled sadly, knowing he was telling the truth. "Promise?"
Tieria scowled, clearly unsure what I was playing at.
"Come on," I prodded. "Just say it."
He sighed heavily. "You're impossible. Fine, I promise."
Nothing else was said on this matter. Tieria finally left the terminal, which allowed me to drift aimlessly in silence. I closed my eyes, exhaling slowly.
I was glad that I could depend on him to kill me if he had to – because at this rate, I wasn't sure whose side I was on anymore.
The venue was definitely decorated as elaborately as how Sumeragi had described it. There were polished marble floors, glittering chandeliers, red carpets, and mounds of velvety curtains. Everything seemed to shine – the glass cups, plates, and silverware.
In order to successfully infiltrate the banquet organized by the A-Laws and Innovators, being dressed appropriately was necessary. Feldt did her best to help me out. She had seemed excited about everything despite my sombre mood, taming my wild hair with a large brush and piling it up into a bun. Despite my complaints, she had proceeded to smear all sorts of makeup on my face.
I had felt like a palette. An irritated, annoyed palette.
The dress was probably worth it, though. Probably. It was a classic cut in a standard shade of black – Mileina was keen on me choosing something a little more pink with ruffles, but I had instantly said no. Basically, anything that resembled a skirt was horribly uncomfortable for I was with the Celestial Being crew, I was always dressed comfortably in pants and a shirt – courtesy of Feldt who welcomed me to anything from her closet.
Tieria had dressed up reasonably well for the event. The dark suit he wore blended in with what most of the men around wore, and he had plopped a large hat on his head to hide most of the purple hair.
I wouldn't have minded if the two of us went on our separate ways, but Sumeragi had insisted that we were to remain together at all times. She mentioned that the two of us would "pose as a wealthy, elite couple who have been very supportive sponsors of the A-Laws," while Setsuna would hang around in the compound to support us if anything extreme happened.
Never mind about that – being in the presence of many was a frightening thing. I was apprehensive over the fact that there were so many people around us. They seemed to swarm around in pairs or threes, all dressed up formally in dresses, suits and tuxedoes. Chattering floated all over the place – eloquent greetings, general small talk – and there were handshakes, with boisterous laughter and claps on the shoulder.
It was getting uncomfortable, though.
"Could you," I hissed at the uptight person next to me, "Loosen your grip a little?"
Tieria gave me a swift glance out of the corner of his eye and relaxed his arm, which was tightly wrapped around mine. I snickered inwardly, knowing that I wasn't the only one who was nervous over this.
Tieria's next mental command was sharp and authoritative. "Do not trip. I will not come to your assistance if you make a scene."
I sighed, wishing he hadn't said that. Feldt had smartly lent me some flats, telling me that they looked good and were convenient to run on if necessary – but she probably didn't think much about the dress, did she? It was long – far too long. Tieria's reminder was well-timed, for if I hadn't looked at the ground at that precise moment, I would have stepped on my dress and keeled over.
Which would have been horribly embarrassing, for an Innovator especially.
Wait a second.
People had begun noticing our presence and were walking over to initiate small talk. They were all formal men who carried a sense of power and authority, some with ladies hanging off by their sides. I cast the area a quick glance – still no Innovades of the sort. Where on earth were they hiding at? Weren't they supposed to be around?
Then why the hell couldn't I sense them?
Before searching for them, though, there was some information to gather first.
Alright, Tieria, I told him darkly. Let's make this work.
The only response I received from him was a curt nod.
Right. Riiiiight. Okay. Er...it's late, I'm real tired, and there's nothing much I have to say except that I hope you all enjoyed it.