Seravine - Chapter One
[Author's Note: First foray into fan fiction, here. : ) Please let me know what you think - I have a majority of the chapters already planned, but I'll certainly take into consideration anything you may bring up in a review. Take note that this story begins AFTER the game ends, so it is ripe with end-game spoilers.
A few more things: I've been told that the first chapter is a tad confusing in some aspects, but please stick with me for the ride; this mystery is a bit intentional, as things will be explained in later chapters. Oh, and there will be romance later on, though between which characters…you'll have to wait and see. : )
Thanks for reading, and please review!]
There was one moment, walking in the wind and the mist under a cold blue sky, where Lloyd Irving thought he could almost see past the silent trees that stretched across the entirety of the Gaoracchia forest; the sun was there, somewhere far above, and only the most daring of rays made it through the thick growth, but it was enough, even as the shadows writhed below the branches. Things were calm and quiet and generally unnerving - the Forest of Death certainly had its name for a reason, but for once his path was undisturbed, much to his relief and suspicion.
It was not the first time he had absolutely no idea where he was going, and certainly not the last, if the forest had its way; he was fairly certain he had seen that one particular tree three times already, and that stump, six, but he was bound and determined to at least work his way to the abandoned village of the Mizuho, having blatantly ignored the suggestions at Sybak to at least take a map in his quest. He had been through the forest more than once, he had reasoned, and that was plenty to go on, though it seemed he had left his memory of the winding turns and pathways back in Iselia.
"Damn," he murmured, as he stepped around that one stump once more. "Make that seven."
Several minutes later he had given up and taken to sitting on that accursed stump, for once quite glad none of the old gang was around to see his predicament - Genis would have had an absolute field day with it. And, to top it all off, black clouds had gathered at some point or the other just beyond the horizon, and the scent of rain was light in the air. Mizuho had to be close; he knew that much, though the worn path carved throughout the tree trunks came to an abrupt end just to his left. With a sigh he leaned back, temporarily letting down his guard; the tree stump was warm in the afternoon sun and even somewhat comfortable, and he closed his eyes for only a moment, determined to take a much-needed break.
The burly man whirled, his robes fluttering in the dry wind, and smiled. "Ah, young Richard. I take it you have business here?"
Richard nodded, holding the small satchel close to his chest with one hand, the other resting near the sword handle at his hip. "Yes. I bring a delivery."
"Very well." The man nodded and beckoned him forward, stepping behind an empty stall with a look of great expectation.
Richard followed closely, with a shrewd look at the crowd bustling about, his grip tightening across the satchel. The sand twirled in the wind against his cloak, but he brushed it impatiently aside, fully intent on leaving the marketplace as soon as possible. Only at the stall did he loosen his hold, setting the leather satchel onto the dusty wood, his hand never leaving the sword at his side.
The satchel was seized immediately and the man rifled through it with an almost childish pleasure, the glint in his eyes utterly betraying the warm smile set against his lips. "This is not all of them," he said quietly, moving a few grubby fingers through the satchel's contents. "You were not thorough."
Richard shook his head, careful to appear unaffected by the man's words. "No. That is the entire collection."
The man glanced towards him, the disbelief manifest in his eyes, but Richard simply returned the look, a free hand falling to brush aside his cloak and bring his sword's hilt into full view.
"Very well," the man said, with a wry smile that did not quite meet his eyes. "You have my compliments."
Richard nodded. "And my reward?" he asked, with an unexpected twinge of nervousness as the wind nearly tore the hood from his head. He accepted the small bag set on top of the wood with a gracious smile, and turned to leave, calculating the quickest route to the gates.
"Richard," the man said, now with an ugly look across his round face. "I would advise you not lie to your employers."
For a short moment his guard fell, and Richard turned with a frown. "What?" he asked, and only just stepped to the side as an arrow sank with a sickening crunch into the wood. Almost instinctively he turned, darting haphazardly through the crowd, his breath coming in short gasps against the wind. He dared not look behind to see his pursuers; he could only just hear their footsteps against the marketplace's rough stone, even as the crowd fell almost strangely quiet and moved to avoid his frenzied path. He knew in a single crucial moment he had been betrayed; that fool, that damn fool of a merchant had planned this, had planned the entire stint, fully intent of acquiring every last one of the accursed set.
The dry wind was tearing into his lungs, but still he ran forward, weaving throughout the stalls with his heart pounding in his ears, knowing he would be safe if he could only make it out of the city. The gate was there, just a few feet away - and then two guards stepped forward, their arrows notched against their bows, and he had one long second before they fired.
Lloyd awoke with a start, nearly rolling off the stump in his surprise, before sitting up and using a hand to steady himself against the cold wood. He was in the forest, again - but it was nearly night, as the moon had already begun its climb into the sky, and the last trails of sunlight were fading into darkness. Many hours had passed and he immediately regretted his decision to take a short break; sleeping in the Forest of Death was never really a good idea, particularly when one was alone.
"What was that all about?" he wondered aloud, the dream still fresh on his mind. His answer was a resounding crack that echoed throughout the trees; as if on cue the canopy shook and rain began to fall, and with a curse he shifted and pushed away from the stump, realizing with no small amount of annoyance that those black clouds from earlier had managed to stretch across the entirety of the forest.
Gaoracchia seemed suddenly so much darker with the onset of midnight; the sky was cold and black and the trees shook in the wind, branches flailing upward in silent gestures towards the heavens. And yet, despite the storm that writhed and rolled below the stars, it was all muted, subdued, almost silent next to the wind amongst the trees. Lloyd paused, shaking his head, knowing it would do no good to focus on anything but the way to Mizuho. A short burst of lightning brought a sudden brightness to the shadows, and with an excited sort of relief he could see the faintest outline of a home through a gap in the trees.
He did not get very far.
Another clash of lightning nearly blinded him; when at last he opened his eyes and blinked in the resounding darkness, a shrill sort of cry rose against the wind, and almost instinctively his hands dropped to the swords sheathed at his side. The wail fell quiet almost as quickly as it begun, leaving only the sound of the wind and the rain, and for a long second he wondered it if had been merely his imagination, until a young boy stepped onto the path before him. The child was pale and unkempt, his clothes matted to his skin with the sickly stench of blood, and he quietly stepped forward, moving soundlessly in the storm.
"Hey!" Lloyd called, but his voice was lost in the wind, and almost against his will he found himself following. The strange child quickened his pace, breaking into a full sprint, winding his way almost carelessly through the trees. He came at last to a certain spot in the dirt, with Lloyd trailing not far behind, and fell abruptly to his knees, the strange cry picking up in full force as his hands dove forward, in a desperate attempt to touch the earth.
Lloyd watched with a strange fascination as the boy's hands passed clean through the ground, making no mark into the dirt, but before he could say a single word the child's hands fell still and with another flash of lightning he was gone. In that instant the storm roared to life, the rumbling of the thunder breaking Lloyd free of his shock, and without a second thought he stepped forward and drove his blades into the dirt, mimicking the child and pulling the earth free. It took several minutes in the cold rain before his hand pulled a small bag from the soil; stunned, he tucked it into his belt and pulled his swords free, fully intent on finding a warm place for the night. To his great relief the home he had seen earlier was in a much clearer perspective to his right, where the forest ended, and with a sudden exhaustion he trudged towards it, giving the empty home of the Mizuho people not a second glance as he pried upon the door and stepped inside, the storm slamming it shut behind him.
With a sigh of relief he sunk onto a cot near the door and set his swords to the side; his clothes were damp and cold and with a groan he shrugged his shirt off, draping it across a chair to dry. The home was dark, nearly pitch-black, and he fumbled about for a few moments before coming across what he hoped was some sort of lamp. A few twists of the knob and the room was suddenly thrown into sharp relief, his shadow looking wan and tired on the wall, and the strange small bag sitting innocently at his waist. Almost hesitantly he lifted it up and turned it over, dumping its contents into his palm; the bag was empty save one large gem, as black as the midnight sky, but with a strange sort of fire in its reflection of the lamplight.
Another clap of thunder rattled the door at its hinges and the lamp flickered, fading, and Lloyd could only watch as the light twisted back and gave way to darkness, leaving him to blink as his eyes adjusted once more to the shadows. With a sigh he slid the gem back into its bag, fully intent on showing it to Raine and Genis the next time he saw them, whenever that would be. The cot was somewhat warm, at least, and he leaned back with his arms crossed behind his head, only eventually falling into sleep with the sound of the wind and the rain.
It was a very frazzled and groggy young man that awoke when the first of the sun's rays snaked into the room; he sat up with a groan and rubbed blearily at his eyes, doing his best to avoid any semblance of light, and deciding somewhat unsteadily that whoever had come up with the idea of the morning sun really should be abused a bit. It was bright, much too bright, but when his eyes at last grew accustomed, he was rather relieved to see that the home had managed to weather the previous night's storm. The place actually looked somewhat cheerful in the new day's sun, vacant and dusty as it was, and his spirits couldn't help but be lifted when he found is shirt reasonably dry and his swords still close by his side.
The village looked little worse for wear when he stepped from the home a few moments later; the few remaining crops were a tad flattened and the grass still shone with the morning dew, but it was still all quiet and majestic, and Lloyd wondered briefly if the new Mizuho village would be the same. He still had no idea where they were building it, which made sense, in a way, though he was hoping to stumble across Sheena at one point or the other in his ongoing search for exspheres.
It had been a very successful venture, so far, more than he had expected, at least. Only the most stingy were unwilling to part with the gems once they learned the truth, and only the most foolish had pointed out that he had yet to destroy his own. He knew they were right, partly, but it was much more difficult than he had ever imagined to even remove it, much less shatter it, as he was afraid, back in the darkest depths of his mind, to lose the last link with his mother. Dirk - and Kratos, for that matter - had said nothing of it, and for the time being he was rather intent on keeping it close, as it had already proved its worth many times over.
"So, this is goodbye, I guess."
Lloyd whirled, thrown back to his senses, the familiar voice not far to his right. Cautiously, he edged his way around the building, moving as quietly as he could manage, until a striking pink bow came into view. Sheena. He grinned, thinking to step free from the building's shadow and catch her unawares, when she spoke, again, looking back and forth across the village's silent splendor.
"So much has changed. For the better, of course...definitely for the better. But I have so many memories here; some of them good, some not so good - okay, okay, some pretty bad." She paused, bringing a finger to rub gently at her eyes, then continued. "But that's all in the past. So I've come to say goodbye."
Lloyd moved closer, feeling the first twinge of guilt for listening so long, until he was only a few feet behind her, hoping she wouldn't be angry, but glad to see her all the same. "Sheena?"
Almost immediately she turned, and in the next instant a familiar card was thrust at a crucial point of his neck, effectively restricting his movements. Sheena's eyes widened a moment later and she dropped her hand, blushing a pretty shade of crimson. "Lloyd? What are you - er, sorry about that. I guess I'm a little jumpy."
"No, no," he said, wincing as his voice nearly came out a squeak. "I should have, er, walked louder, or something."
She nodded. "Yeah."
Lloyd blinked and grinned, silently relieved his neck was fully intact. "I was just thinking about you, y'know."
"R-really?" Sheena asked, blushing an ever darker shade, much to his surprise and confusion.
"Yeah," he said, slightly perplexed. Had he said something wrong? "I was wondering when I would ever get to see your new home."
"Oh. Right!" Sheena said, shaking her head a bit. "Of course. You'll see it eventually, I guess." Her eyes lit up for a moment. "It's great! I just wanted to come back here for a moment and - " she paused, looking at him with the curiosity evident in her eyes. "What are you doing here, anyways?"
Lloyd's mood dampened a bit. "I got a bit lost in Gaoracchia during the storm. And, well, this seemed a good place to get out of the weather."
Sheena arched an eyebrow. "Why didn't you take a map?"
"Er, well, you see - "
"And why were you walking in a forest in the middle of a storm?"
"No! No, I fell asleep, and when I woke up - "
"You slept in the Forest of Death?" Sheena asked, with a tone of much disbelief. "Well," she continued, a few moments later, "it's good to see you haven't changed."
"Yeah, thanks," he said, deciding to take that as a compliment, at least for the moment. Thinking quickly, he decided the safest route would be to change the subject. "Anyways, what have you been up to? I haven't seen you or the others in ages."
"Yes, that's true," she said, her smile fading. "You haven't been keeping in touch very well, have you?"
Lloyd sighed. "It's nice to see you too." He couldn't help but grin as she laughed, relieved that he had avoided her infamous temper. "So, seriously, what has everyone been doing?"
Sheena looked thoughtful for a moment. "Colette has taken over as teacher in Iselia, I think. She misses you, y'know. You should go see her. Anyways, Raine and Genis, as I'm sure you know, are traveling all over to help improve half-elf relationships - "
"Ah, yeah, that's right! How is that going?"
" - Regal is working with Presea to rebuild Ozette, and Zelos is working in Meltokio doing something or the other."
"And the people of Mizuho are settling into their new home?" Lloyd offered.
Sheena nodded. "And you, apparently, are wandering the world and destroying all of the exspheres."
"Yeah, that's about it," he said, suddenly pensive. "I've missed you guys. It's not nearly as fun going alone."
"No kidding. I think I even miss Zelos, a bit." She fell quiet for a long moment. "No, I take that back."
He laughed. "Ouch."
Sheena rolled her eyes, grinning. "But he doesn't need to know that. What are you going to do now, anyways? Where do you have left to go?"
Lloyd fumbled a bit in the bag at his side before producing a crumpled list. "Not sure. I'm making good progress, though. Let's see - "
"You're keeping a list? Raine would be so proud!"
"Shut it. I was going to look into Ozette, next, just to see if there was anything left. Regal's rebuilding it, right? Maybe I'll see him there, if I'm lucky." He paused and glanced up at her, feeling a bit curious himself. "And what are you going to do? Head back to wherever the new village is?"
"That's the new place, in case you were wondering. And yeah, I'll probably head there in a bit, once I'm done here."
"Yeah." Lloyd glanced around, feeling a bit sentimental himself in the village's sunlit silence. "I'm glad I found this place, you know. Otherwise..." his words trailed off as his hand brushed against the bag he had unearthed only a short while ago, a vague image of the strange boy flitting across his mind.
"Otherwise?" The word was odd and quiet to his ears.
"Nothing," he said, shaking his head. "It's not important."