It is impossible to describe in words the gratification I felt in that moment. Finally. Finally, I was able to raise my sword against Mithos and be the best father I possibly could be to Lloyd in the only way I knew how.
And oh, Mithos found his ass kicked. Repeatedly.
Throughout the fight, I was pleased to find that, despite my concerns, Lloyd no longer needed my protection. He was more than capable of managing on his own, and with the help of his friends, taking Mithos down almost seemed like a joke.
It was not long before we had Mithos cornered against a wall, sniveling and shivering as his legs struggled to support his own weight. "…How? … I cannot lose… I'm going home… I'm going home with my sister…"
The pitiful blonde haired angel clutched himself about the chest, closing his eyes as he vanished out of view.
"…It's over," Lloyd said solemnly, turning away from the scene.
"No, it's not," I quickly informed him, catching his attention and that of his friends. In fact, the toughest part of their struggles still lay ahead. "The worlds are still split. The Giant Tree has still not yet germinated. You must release…"
For a moment I hesitated. It seemed Lloyd knew what I was about to say, because his eyes immediately filled with pain. "…Origin." I finished.
As expected, he responded with anger. "… Do you know what that means? You might die!"
"I tried to run from everything. I still need to pay for my past sins," I explained slowly, making sure that Lloyd's attention was fully directed at me. I disliked what was to come next, but there was simply no way around it. I had to explain things to Lloyd in a way that he would understand. "For the sake of releasing Origin's seal, as well as for the sake of settling my past, Lloyd… you must defeat me."
"You think I'm just gonna go along with that?" He challenged me angrily.
Knowing better than to stay and argue, I turned around and walked to the exit. "…I'll be waiting for you before the seal," I said clearly to them as I left.
Not wanting to give him a chance to catch up with me and talk me out of it, I quickly teleported away.
Lloyd would not arrive right away. Of this I was certain. He needed time to think, as he had finally begun to do so, and I was more than happy to allow him that.
So, I took my time, walking through the village of the elves, making sure that they knew I was there as I made my way to the seal.
I reached the forest, instinctively knowing my way through the pathways by now, letting my feet guide me as I tried not to think about the upcoming struggle. Regardless of the outcome, Lloyd would be hurt. Physically, or emotionally.
I would never kill him. But if he lost, then he would be gravely wounded. If Lloyd won, then the consequences could be even more devastating. I would give up my life to release Origin's seal, and would be unable to help him any longer, as a mentor, a friend, or a father.
Never could I be so presumptuous to think that I seemed like a father to him. In fact, a majority of the time he had known me, Lloyd thought I was an enemy.
These thoughts weighed down heavily on my mind as I found myself standing beside Origin's large stone seal. Feeling defeated, I pressed my back to the stone, sliding down its smooth surface until I sat at the base of the monument.
With a defeated sigh, I murmured, "tomorrow, I will die."
"With that attitude, you will."
The response shouldn't have startled me by now, but the gravity of the issue at hand caused me to look up with mild interest. I knew that voice. "Yuan?"
"Who else?" The half elf emerged from the trees, threw me a lopsided grin, and sat gracefully on the forest floor across from me. "So… here we are."
"…here we are…" I echoed weakly.
"I assume you were successful, then?" Yuan asked hopefully. I could only assume that he was talking about the crystal he had entrusted to us and the horrible task of killing his beloved Martel.
"Yes," I responded quietly, unable to meet his gaze as broken as I was now. I knew he must be in pain, but at the moment I couldn't find it in myself to truly console him. So, I settled for the next best thing: a brief explanation. "Mithos succeeded in reviving her, but Martel relinquished her body back to Colette. Even in the afterlife, it seems she is watching over us."
"So you saved Colette, then," Yuan sighed in such a way that I knew he felt inner anguish. "Good. I am glad you were there and not I. I don't think I would have had the strength to watch all of that and sit idly by."
"We didn't," I continued, telling the second half of our plight. "After Martel left Colette's body, Mithos attacked us, and we…"
Yuan gasped, leaning closer until I simply had to look him in the eyes. "Did you kill Mithos?" From the way he said it, I almost thought the half-elf was unhappy.
"Is that not what you wanted?" I asked.
"It is… but… I suppose I wasn't expecting it," He responded, sitting back as he worried his lip. "…not so soon."
"If it helps, I don't think he is actually dead," I sighed, looking up to the stars in the sky as if they would give me an answer. In a way, I suppose they did.
"What do you mean?" he asked suspiciously.
"When he 'died' he didn't sound as if we had truly defeated him," I explained, replaying his final words in my mind again. "He merely said 'I'm going home with my sister.' I can only assume that he has another scheme up his sleeve."
"It does sound that way." When Yuan responded, I could have sworn that he almost sounded relieved. If I didn't know better, I would have thought he didn't truly want Mithos dead. Then again, the half-elf was always conflicted. He didn't truly want Martel dead either, and yet, he had given her up once again.
"Indeed," I sighed, closing my eyes and shaking my head lightly. "It all seems so hopeless, doesn't it?"
"None of that now. You've come here for a reason," I could hear the frown in his voice though I couldn't see it, and I heard him lean in a little closer, as if he were concerned that someone would hear him. I almost laughed. Who would hear him now? Pronyma? Nope. Mithos? Nope.
It seemed he sensed my apathy. With a growl, he roughly shook me by the shoulder. "Kratos, this is important! Your son's life is at stake!"
"I won't kill him," I asserted calmly as I looked back down at him.
"I know you won't, but if the worlds die, then he will die too!" Yuan practically spat the obvious at me.
And yet, it was something I hadn't truly considered to be an option until now. For four thousand years we had lived in these juxtaposed worlds. Why should that change? Why would Sylvarant and Tethe'alla suddenly die?
The answer came to me quickly. Mithos was dead. If I released Origin's seal, I would die. And without Origin keeping the worlds as they once were, Lloyd could die too… if he failed to form a pact with the spirit.
It was heavy stuff. We both sat in silence for quite some time. Eventually, I broke the quiet with a question that had long weighed on my mind. "Yuan, do you think he can do it?"
After this many centuries, he knew exactly what I meant. With a surprisingly calm and confident expression, he nodded. "Yes, I really think he can."
"Even if I am not around…"
"Don't talk like that," Yuan chided me instantly. "You will be there for Lloyd, like it or not."
"Easy for you to say," I scoffed back, rapping my knuckles against the stone behind me. "You aren't the Origin seal."
"If I could take that burden from you, I would," Yuan responded quietly, surprising me with his odd selflessness.
I didn't quite understand what he meant, but I smiled back in response. Something about his camaraderie was sentimental. It reminded me of the old friend I had known all these years. "Thank you, Yuan. It is good to know that I have an ally again."
"You stupid dope," he chided me with a smirk. "You have always had one."
"Have I?" I asked with a grin, chuckling when he lightly smacked my shoulder.
"Yes, you have. But he's going away right now so that you can sleep. You're exhausted, Kratos," Yuan said, the faint light of a warp circle materializing around him. "Tomorrow you will accomplish everything you need to, and you will live."
I smiled, knowing that he was just trying to cheer me up. "Thank you."
With a nod, he disappeared, leaving me again to my own thoughts.
The night sky seemed larger than it had ever been before. How many possibilities were there in the world? What were the chances that everything would have played out this way, that the only way to save the worlds was to fight my own son and die?
Lloyd would come tomorrow, of that I was certain. How strong had he grown in just these few short weeks? Even I was amazed with his progress.
He just might be able to defeat me.
I laughed, again leaning back against the cold damp stone that symbolized my link with Origin. "My darling Anna… in a few mere hours, you will be alone no longer."
Tomorrow either Lloyd or myself would join her.
If he could defeat me, then he would be ready for whatever lay ahead.
Tomorrow I would know the fate of the world.
Some time later…
"Kratos…" Mithos simpered in his adult form as he slunk over and sat on the side of the bed where I lay. He reached down, running his slender fingers through my battle fried auburn hair, his fingers knotting in clumps of dried blood. "Look at you, look at the mess you've become."
"How did this happen? How did it come down to this? Oh that's right," Mithos clenched his hand into a fist, painfully gripping my hair and yanking my head forward. Mithos's voice became a harsh whisper when he leaned forward and spoke again, his lips barely an inch from my ear. "You betrayed me. You went behind my back and even tried to destroy everything I've worked for these last four thousand years!"
I peered back at him through bleary eyes and said nothing.
Unsatisfied with my response, he frowned and tossed my head back onto the pillow. His fingers again stroked my hair, but this time in a more soothing manner. "Such a pretty broken doll, that's what you are, but don't worry. I'll fix you. I know you didn't mean to do those things, after all."
"You fell in love. And love can make a person do funny… stupid… things. I suppose I can forgive you for that mistake," he spoke, his voice unnaturally calm. "But what can I possibly do to fix you? Hmm…ah! I know!"
Whatever had come to his mind couldn't possibly be good. That was the only thought in my head as he began chanting a spell I had never heard before, something in a lost ancient language. I never studied the ancient languages much, but I managed to catch the words "freeze" and "memory." His hand began to glow a soft blue. "I learned a new trick about three thousand years ago… from an ice-witch actually. It was the only thing she could offer me before I killed her."
Mithos couldn't be trusted. If I had learned anything at all the past few years, it was that. If I had the will to move, I would have thrown him away from me.
"I never had a use for it before, but now I know why I was meant to learn that spell." Mithos cackled. "Do you have any idea what this spell will do for you?"
He made it sound as if he were going to help me, but I knew he couldn't mean it. After all, Mithos had only ever looked after himself these last few thousand years.
"It will freeze your memory of the last five years of your life. In the long-run, that isn't much, right? Five years is barely a blink in the eternity that you have lived. This spell will freeze those memories, trapping them somewhere in the dark recesses of your mind where you won't be bothered by them. You won't even notice that they're gone."
Finally, my eyes began to clear, widening in panic. I didn't want to forget! Not Anna! Not Lloyd! Not…
"Oh Kratos, don't be a sissy. Your memories will still be there, and they could even come back… for a price." He pressed a hand into my chest, holding me down onto the bed. Then, he brought his glowing ice-blue hand closer to my eyes. "You're hurting Kratos, you're confused and in pain, but I can make that all go away."
No no no! Don't take away my memories!
"Let me help you forget."
Lloyd! Anna! No!… Lloyd… Anna…. Anna?
Slowly, the world faded into a field of white.
Ugh. So that is what happened.
The memory hit me like a tsunami. It suddenly made sense now, the reason I was back on my feet so quickly, and why I had so easily gone back into service for Mithos.
But some things hadn't gone quite as Mithos had planned. My memories of Anna and Lloyd returned to me only a few months after he had stolen them away. There were still large gaping holes in my memories, but I now recalled those who were most dear to me.
I thought of Lloyd, and I couldn't help but feel that he was the reason so many of those holes were being filled again. The "price" must have been the random blackouts and occasional lapses in my other memories. It was a small price to pay for the dearest five years of my life. And who really cared to remember washtubs at Thoda geyser anyway?
The new day had dawned already, despite my hesitation. I had indeed slept most of the night. They would be here soon. Lloyd would be here soon.
In fact, if I listened carefully, I could already hear them making their way through the forest. After taking a deep breath, I stood up before the seal, shaking the leaves from my clothing.
As he appeared on the horizon, I steeled myself for what was to come. There was no turning back now. The fate of the world rested on this battle.
"…So you've come," I said once Lloyd stopped before me.
"Is there no other way?" He asked, his voice pleading though his question was simple.
I shook my head, "Are you still thinking like that? You'll die if you fight me with any doubt left in your heart. If you want the pact with Origin, then you must defeat me."
"So… that's your way," Lloyd nodded, turning to the rest of his group. "Everyone. Leave this to me."
I arched an eyebrow, "You're going to fight alone?"
"…If it's your wish to settle things with your past, then it's my duty as your son to see it through," Lloyd said confidently, drawing his twin blades and taking an offensive stance. "Get ready!"
As soon as I drew my sword, Lloyd rushed forward quickly, attacking with speed and grace that he certainly did not have when I met him again not long ago. To the untrained observer, our battle was one of flashing metal and gleaming blades that danced dangerously around us with the occasional magical interlude.
Speaking of which, he had grown far more skillful with his mana-based attacks as well, often fusing them into physical strikes for a devastating combination. His moves were precise, every motion calculated and deadly.
To say that I was trying would be an understatement. I fought for my very survival, pressing forward often to be thrown back by his might alone. Though I used my most powerful magic and complex of swordplay, Lloyd found a way to dodge, parry, and counter everything.
Finally, at the brink of exhaustion, I knelt on the forest floor. I panted, weary from the battle and weak from my wounds. "…you've grown strong."
"Thanks to you," he finished sadly, placing his twin blades back in their scabbards.
"Aren't you… going to finish me?" I asked incredulously.
"I defeated Kratos, the angel, the one who betrayed us. And I forgive Kratos, the hero of the Ancient War, who helped us," Lloyd stated, confidence radiating from him as he spoke. "That's all."
"Humph… and I thought I'd finally earned the right to die," I grunted, struggling to my feet again and approaching the Origin seal. "…but you're as softhearted as ever."
"H…Hold on! You can't be…" Lloyd stammered, taking a step forward. "…are you going to break the seal?"
"…That is what you desire, is it not?" My back was to him, and he couldn't see my smile as I lifted my hand to the stone. If Lloyd had defeated me, he was capable of accomplishing so much more than I ever could.
I could trust him to save the worlds without me.
"But then, you'll…" Lloyd's words grew faint as I pulled forth my wings and began to pour what little mana I had left into the seal.
I was never very good with mana, but I didn't have to be this time. All I had to do was give it away.
All of it.
I firmly pressed my hand onto the cold stone slab that marked the pact with Origin and took a deep breath. As I exhaled, I poured my mana in its entirety into the stone, breaking the pact as my life drained quickly away.
I've heard many different accounts of near-death experiences. The most popular response seemed to be seeing one's "life flashing before his eyes." That didn't quite happen for me. I didn't have time to think about all the events in my past.
My last thoughts were filled with regret that I could not have been a father to Lloyd sooner.
Vaguely, I felt myself fall down…
Suddenly, everything was light, and I felt as if my spirit were leaving behind some horribly dull routine, a great burden of the flesh that was no longer my concern.
I sensed the cold as I was pulled upwards to the clouds, but I felt no discomfort. It didn't matter anyway, my attention was on something far more important.
Anna smiled, resting her calm brown eyes on me. "Kratos, I thought you might come to me today." Suddenly, I didn't care where I was. The only thing that mattered was her.
"Anna…" I murmured, walking forward and catching her in a warm embrace. Ever since that fateful day years ago, I had only played court to memories of her. Dreams had taunted me with mere glimpses of what we had shared in the past, and each time I had awoken with disappointment. This time, I was certain she was real. "…I have missed you."
"And I have you." She said, hugging me tightly, but only for a few precious moments. The light in my life pulled away from me, looking at me calmly. "I've wanted you to know this for a while now. I never blamed you for what happened to me, so stop tormenting yourself. Besides, I'm happy here, and someday you will be too, but Kratos… now is not your time."
"I… don't understand." I murmured, grasping her tightly, as if any moment we would be torn away from each other. "I gave up all of my mana to release the pact with Origin. I died."
"The world still needs you Kratos." She said in a voice that was both mirthful yet filled with sorrow. "Oh, and don't blame Yuan, he's only doing what is right."
I felt a flash of anger towards Yuan just from the thought of him tearing Anna and I apart. "No!"
"But don't worry, we still have a bit longer before he'll be through." She smiled, holding me close. "Kratos, I love you. I always have, and it is because I love you that I'm telling you this…."
"Telling me what?" I asked, none too pleased at the thought of losing her again.
"Let me go, Kratos. You have to let me go." She said softly.
Immediately I released her from my grasp, worried that somehow I was hurting her. Quietly she laughed. "No no, that's not what I meant."
"You have to let me go up here." Lightly she touched a finger to my forehead. "I have seen what has happened to you over the last few years. It makes me so sad to see you caught in this trap of the past. Yes, we were very happy together back then, but that can't be anymore. If you continue to hold onto those memories and incessantly obsess over them, abuse them, they'll corrode your life away. It's… already happening."
Her eyes were sad, and rather than rebuke her statement, I merely murmured, "Mithos stole those memories away… I couldn't lose those years… the most precious years of my life."
Lightly, she shook her head. "Mithos may have locked them away long ago, but if you search within yourself, you will find that they are all there now." With those words, she pressed her fingers to my forehead, drawing them down and closing my eyelids as she did. With her fingertips resting lightly against my closed eyelids, she sighed, "See?"
A warm light filled my body, and in one beautifully horrible moment, my memories returned to me. I recalled everything, from the day I met Anna to the birth of our son. From outrunning Cruxis to living away quiet days together.
Silently, a tear slid down my cheek.
"I don't want you to become lost, like Mithos has become. A great wanderer with such power but a misguided direction… that isn't your destiny." She gently brushed the tear from my cheek, then took my hand in hers. I could feel the warmth of her spirit. "From the moment I met you…" She laughed. "… I tripped over you, remember that? I knew you were different. You were meant to change the world. From the years we shared together, I only grew more certain of that."
"Anna, why are you telling me this?" I clasped her hand between both of mine, afraid to lose her.
"Because your destiny is clear. Everyone can see it but you. Now more than ever you must gather your courage and support our son." With a light tug, she pulled me to her again, clutching me close to her. Without a moment's hesitation, she touched her lips to mine. Sweet honey from the past dripped back into my soul, and for the first time in quite a while, I felt alive. Death certainly had a sense of humor. "You'll take care of him, won't you?"
"Of course I will." In the past, there were so many things I had always wanted to tell her, but now that we were together, I found that all I really wanted to do was hold her close to me. Finally, I settled for the simplest of words. "I love you Anna."
"I know, and I love you too, but…" She pulled back, looking at me with sadness in her eyes. "…it's time." Without warning, she let go of my hands.
"…No!" Before I could do anything, a violent force grabbed hold of me from within, pulling me down at breakneck speed. "Anna!"
"Goodbye Kratos…" Her image became smaller and smaller in my vision, and as much as I tried to fly back to her, there was nothing I could do. Her gentle voice drifted down to me, the last words I would ever hear my darling Anna say. "… please, let me go."
The weight of my own body nearly suffocated me as my soul was thrown back into it. My head swam with dizziness and the lethargy of mana deprivation clung to my bones.
So this was it. After this entire accumulation of senseless drivel and aimless labor, I finally met her. Only to have her taken from me again.
I wanted to cry.
I probably would have wept like a little baby, were it not for the anxious and concerned faces of Lloyd's entire party as they hovered closely around me. And Yuan.
For a moment I glared at Yuan, thinking of what he had done, when Anna's words drifted back into my memory. She told me not to blame him. After all, he had saved my life.
"…Don't worry, he's alive," Yuan spoke to Lloyd, but his gaze fell softly on me. So this is what he had meant last night when he said he wouldn't let me die. "I gave him some of my mana."
"Da…" Lloyd began but caught himself, apparently not ready to call me that yet. "…Kratos. Are you really okay?"
Sorrow continued to fill my soul, despite everything. "…looks like I failed to die once more."
Anger grew on Lloyd's face and he practically spat back, "You stupid jerk!" You can die any time! But when you die, that's the end!"
Yuan looked up at Lloyd with confusion painted across his face. "You want him to live in eternal damnation?"
Lloyd did a double-take, then continued angrily. "Who said anything like that? What will you accomplish by dying?"
I considered it for a moment, staying silent.
"Nothing!" He answered for me. "There is no meaning in dying!"
I laughed weakly, beginning to see what he meant. "You're… right. To think, I had to have my son teach me such an obvious lesson…"
With that, a lightness filled my head, and the world around me grew white.
Goodbye, Kratos. But only for now…
Color returned to my world, and I awoke to find Yuan helping me to my feet. "The kid needs your help," he said, urging me forward. "Go to him."
On still weakened feet, I walked up to them, listening to Lloyd struggle to reason with Origin. I approached the summon spirit that I had shared a link with for so many years, finally looking upon his visage once again. "For almost an eternity, I thought that the only way to save this world was to cling to Mithos's ideals. Just as you once agreed with Mithos's ideals, I, too, thought his was the only way."
The summon spirit looked at me with calm, almost expressionless eyes, but he seemed to hear what I was saying, which was more than I could say for earlier when he had spoken to Lloyd.
"But Lloyd is different. He taught me that in order to change something, you must do it yourself. It is not enough to merely rely on someone else and go along with their ideals." I finished, feeling relieved when Origin nodded in understanding to me.
Origin turned his attention back to the others, and without further hesitation spoke calmly, "…You who possess the right of summoning. Make your vow."
"Origin!" Lloyd exclaimed. "Then…"
The spirit inclined his head gracefully. "I will try once more to believe in people. I shall do my duty in order to create a world you speak of. A world in which everyone can live equally."
My strength sapped from me, I could only watch on proudly as they fought Origin in battle and won, creating the pact that they so needed to save the world.
However, almost immediately after they did, a distinctly dark presence filled the air. Both Yuan and I took offensive stances immediately, knowing the presence by sense alone.
As a gleaming red cruxis crystal flew from Genis's pocket, Yuan turned to me, "That's Mithos's, isn't it?"
I nodded, silently wondering what Mithos could possibly be scheming. It did not take long for me to find out.
As the crystal flew to possess Lloyd, Colette ran forward, grabbing the crystal from the air. "Lloyd!"
It was like a terrible version of déjà vu. Again, the girl stood possessed by an ancient spirit, but this time, the spirit was far less forgiving. Mithos was definitely less kind than his sister, to put things mildly.
"Damn, you interfered! Fine. I'll just take this body." A voice that clearly belonged to Mithos emanated from Colette's kind lips.
"Mithos!" I growled, stepping forward. "Stop!"
"Kratos…" Mithos simpered back. "You never really understood me. I won't return this body."
"Colette!" Lloyd cried, reaching for the girl desperately. "Wait! Let her go!"
"Ahahahah!" Mithos laughed, his borrowed form already growing fainter as a magical circle surrounded Colette's body. "What do I care? I'm leaving this filthy world behind!"
In a flash, Colette was gone.
LONG break, I know. But finally, the secret of Kratos's memory gaps has been revealed! Would you believe that half of this chapter was written over 3 years ago? Crazy, right?
Well, I hope that those of you reading liked this chapter! I've had it planned for quite some time. Please review!