"She's lost a lot of blood."
Who knew what that simple statement would entail? Ever since taking charge of the Chosen One's safety, it seemed that each and every person in the party had been trying to get inside his mental defenses.
First it was Lloyd, challenging the cold logic with which he viewed the everyday world. The eternal optimist with a lack of focus, Lloyd always seemed to follow his heart in whatever he did. Even if he lost interest halfway through, he still wouldn't quit.
Between him and his friend Genis was a bond that subtly reminded Kratos of the old days, days long before Martel and Mithos' demise; for with the fall of one, the other succumbed to madness. Funny that he should realize it now, of all times. Yes, long ago, when his friendship actually meant something to the half-elf.
Genis had a weak constitution and high intelligence, yet when he insulted Lloyd the other boy would take it in stride. Bursts of temper happened between them, but never did it last for long.
When the elven child looked at him, Kratos could catch the vestiges of doubt that played on his features, the distrust of his assurances that nothing was bothering the mercenary. He'd caught on to the fact that something in the past was not right, and in his boyish tries at subtlety had attempted to worm in on what it was.
His sister wasn't much better, though her own secrets seemed to cloud her eyes to the lingering shadows that haunted him. Raine did have her moments of clarity however, and they seemed to strike at the oddest and most painful moments. It seemed at those times like her eyes could read the innermost parts of his soul. Her comments would be quiet and to the point, not enthusiastic or cynical as was her wont.
None of these touched on the Chosen, Collette. The clumsy girl who was afraid of destiny, but was willing to touch it in order to give her friends a chance. Her transformation bothered him, mostly because it made him think of his own beloved. The innocence of the girl was making its own inroads through his defenses however, and he found his distaste of his mission greater these days.
This was his world. And despite his feeble efforts to the contrary, these were becoming his family.
Then there was her.
She had appeared in the mountain pass, boldly declaring her purpose - to slay the Chosen. An awkward moment followed, with Collette's noted clumsiness saving her again. A strategically placed maintenance tunnel open and swallowed the assassin.
Her sudden appearance threw his entire world into shock. That something like this would happen hadn't crossed his mind when he took the assignment to guard the girl from Mithos. What was happening? Could he have betrayed the thawing of his emotions from spending so much time with his group? Had Mithos changed his mind?
Raine displayed signs of disquiet as well, and only he heard the quiet murmur, "Her clothes..." before the professor's voice dropped too low for even his excellent hearing to pick up. That brought him to a stop, and he reviewed his memory of her, striving to place where he had seen such outfits before.
It came to him suddenly that standing here would be unwise, and he tuned back into the conversation between the children in time to put a stop to their worrying.
"She'll find us again." he'd said, and to his own surprise, found himself almost looking forward to the break in the monotony of the journey. It was as if new life began to burst forth in his veins, calling him to a task outside himself. Perhaps Mithos had known that he needed a new challenge...
At the end of the mountain he had been proved right, as the disheveled assassin appeared. Her bearing was proud, if a little clumsy, and though the battle was by no means a pushover, it took little effort to dispel her guardian and knock her to the ground. Bereft of her support, she vowed to keep trying before vanishing in a cloud of smoke.
'Ah, a ninja then.'
And from the looks of it she hailed from the hidden village of Mizuho.
Hidden behind closed eyes and a poker face the emotions boiled through him. She seemed so unsure, yet desperate to accomplish her mission. He knew nothing would stop her in her quest, save death. 'Just like Anna.'
And even in death she continued her mission...
He broke away from the painful memory as Lloyd and the Professor practically jumped inside the mountain passageway.
"Hey, I wonder what's inside here?" came back the youthful echo of his son's voice. Sighing at the impetuosity that seemed to forever drive the group onward, he hastened to follow them. It proved a wise measure when they encountered a massive sword wielding skeleton.
The 'Thing' swung its four blades with silent precision, never hesitating, never letting up. Lloyd faltered before its advance and gave ground as the professor gasped and frantically backpedaled to gain some space to cast defensive spells.
Genis gave the giant its first pause as he unleashed one of his simpler spells. "FIREBALL!"
Collette chucked her discus weapons at it, aiming at the limbs in an attempt to disable the thing. Raine had finally gotten off a barrier spell when a sudden rush of wind passed her by.
Wielding his own sword in a two handed grip, Kratos parried the massive blade as it descended towards his son. Trapping the arm momentarily, he glanced back to make sure that the boy was unharmed before beginning his own dance of death with the creature.
Those watching were spellbound by the display of swordsmanship given off by the two contenders. Kratos with one blade seemingly effortlessly deflected or ducked under each attack. Getting frustrated, the skeletal figure paused in his last downswing to cast an evil spell…
…Which just missed as the mercenary tucked into a shoulder roll to come up behind the creature. His attack forced it to parry with both blades, and with Kratos out of the way for a moment, the rest of the party saw fit to unleash their attacks.
Slight disconcerted, the sword dancer attempted to move towards the greater conglomeration of his opponents only to feel the biting sting of mercenary's sword in his shoulder joint, sheering away the arm and taking away one of his threats. In blind fury it swung around and managed to catch the annoying human with a wicked cross-slash. Kratos tumbled away, winded by the blow.
The cacophony of voices screaming his name made him wince as he kicked himself off the floor, blade flowing smoothly to his own defense. A sudden warmth flooded his body, chasing away the mild pains that ran through his ribs. Instantly his sword flashed with renewed vigor, wind whistling as it cut around and around and around again.
Against this assault the creature finally subsumed, much too quickly for Kratos' taste. Ruefully he watched as it faded away into nothingness, leaving a charm behind as a parting present to such powerful foes...
Following that encounter the party made their way across the sea to Palmacosta. Decimating a human ranch in their wake, they released the Seal of Water and continued on towards Asgard.
Stopping by the Sanctuary at the end of the day gave a short-lived surprise to the party. At the altar stood the girl who had unsuccessfully attacked them.
"...ella. Help me to save everyone please!"
Though tired, Lloyd was quick to jump in, asking what she was praying for. Without turning, she made reply. "I want to save everyone."
Her back stiffened when Collette's voice reached her. "Well I promise to do my best to regenerate the world and save everyone."
"It's you!" Her stance was defensive as she turned, as though she expected them to rush at her in a body.
Clasping her hands in front of her, the Chosen spoke to her enemy. "I think we can work things out between us without having to fight. You were praying, and I pray too, so I think we can understand each other."
That flustered the assassin. "But I…" Suddenly she broke off looking disgusted with herself. "You've made me lose my focus, but I won't give up! You better look out!"
With a puff of smoke, she vanished.
In Asgard they encountered a beast that was terrorizing the city and pounded it into a fine dust that scattered about on the very winds that the creature was using to terrify the citizenry. As the others rested or studied, a quick side trip to Luin on his own netted Kratos his next glimpse of the assassin.
He had just entered the town square and was standing at the end of the bridge when a whole gaggle of children rushed over to the fountain. "Sheena! Play with us?" they begged.
"Alright!" Her voice floated down from over their heads, almost musical in its tones as she hid her face in her hands and proceeded to count slowly.
As if by magic, the assembled crowd of laughing youngsters vanished, seeking some hideaway known only to them. When the girl finished counting, she looked up into the impassive face of the mercenary.
Shock was evident on her features as she flinched away on reflex. His hearing picked up on the increased pace of her breathing, despite her best attempts to calm herself.
The unwavering, almost friendly tone of his voice allowed her to regain her bearings, and even become angry. Her cheeks flushed slightly as she regarded the tall mercenary with an irritated stare.
"What are you doing here? Are you just trying to follow me around?"
Not waiting for a reply, she rushed off into the city and disappeared between the buildings. Kratos blinked and stared in that direction for a little while. 'That was different.'
Unruffled by the event, he entered the blacksmith shop and picked out a better weapon for Lloyd, as well as heavier chainmail for himself. Leather was fine for most of the normal monsters that would be encountered while traversing Sylverant, but the last encounter with the sword dancer had put some serious strain on his armor. There were places where you could see the light through it, and it wasn't at the joints…
Coming to the present, Kratos peered closely at the young woman now laying on the ground. Even as Raine protested the party's decision, the girl lifted her head and shot out a sarcastic quip. "Aren't you the cynical one?"
The healer shook her head slowly as she knelt next to her. "I really don't care what you call me."
Light shone forth at the end of her staff as the elf called upon her healing powers. Finishing with the spell she stood upright, a wary look upon her face. Astonishment filled the ninja's face as she stood slowly to her feet.
"Why did you save me?"
As Lloyd and Collette launched into their latest spiel about goodness and love, Kratos let his thoughts turn inward. Why indeed had he allowed them to save her?
This fic is in response to all those favorable reviews that I received. Thanks to everyone who put in a good word for 'Fever Dreams'. You've inspired this chapter of 'Hidden Hearts'.
Yes, I SAID chapter. It was meant to be a one shot, but then it started growing. Well, it should have at least two chapters, although if it grows anymore I'll have to set it outside to get some sunshine...
Anyways, I hope you all enjoy this as well. I put a lot of heart into it.