Thoughts in the Dark
He took you in,
As he did me,
And cared for us
To set us free.
I hurt him often;
It hurt me, too.
You stood by him
As friends do.
Now here we are,
Traveling as friends.
All of us together
To make some amends.
He learned to call you
He learned to call me
But still I wonder why,
As I lie here in the dark,
Do I feel that you and he
Have somehow made a mark?
Zelos was off flirting with the girl behind the counter at the item shop. Lloyd was standing outside the colosseum, gazing up at the building so long Kratos was almost sure his son's head would roll off his shoulders. Shaking his head, the former angel of Cruxis entered a weapons shop and looked around. The stock of swords and shields held his attention momentarily before it shifted to a wall covered in papers held up with nails and tacks.
"What is that?" he asked himself as he walked up to it. An old man nodded his head dumbly.
"Mission board." the elder replied. Kratos glanced his way. "Invented by the owner of this shop. People in need of gald and rewards come to this wall to seek out missions they can do. People who need help post their requests here and hope for someone to take them up on the offer." he went on, "Beneficial for both sides."
"I used the trade of mercenary for cover. Perhaps the actual job may not be that difficult." Kratos muttered and scanned the sheets that littered the wall. Some were too 'below' him, some involved situations he'd rather not get into, others just didn't appeal to him at all. He stopped at one that was posted by a group of researchers.
"Please help science advance!" the flyer read, "30,000 gald to the man or men who can escort us through the Temple of Darkness. Inquire at the Elemental Research Laboratory." Kratos pulled the sheet down and tucked it under his belt.
The money would be useful for repairs on the ship. They had docked near the bridge connecting Fooji and Altamira, then made the trek to Meltokio to purchase supplies needed to repair leaks and cracks in the ship's hull. Kratos headed over to the colosseum first and pulled on the white strips of fabric flying out from Lloyd's collar. The teen bent backwards, blinking at his father before yelping and nearly falling over.
"Let's go, Lloyd." the angel murmured, moving swiftly to stop his fall and sling him under his arm. "We have a new mission to undertake."
"I can walk, Dad." Lloyd grumbled, but didn't make much attempts to squirm out of his father's grasp.
The girl behind the counter was giggling almost deliriously as Zelos continued spilling line after line of rehearsed come-ons. Kratos entered the shop and frowned at him. Obviously, the redhead was after something else, as his eyes kept wandering over the collection of herbs and spices set on the shelves behind the woman. He scanned the shelves as well and noted the usual assortment of plants used in making many remedies and potions. Why Zelos would have such interest in them was beyond him.
"Let's get moving, Zelos. No wasting time." Kratos remarked and ignored the ex-Chosen's yelp of surprise as he scooped him up and slung him over a shoulder. Unlike Lloyd, Zelos wriggled and yelled for him to be put down. The angel merely headed for the research lab, raising an eyebrow when he felt a tugging at his belt. Glancing downwards, he spotted Lloyd pull the paper free and open it up for reading.
"Dad, you got us jobs as mercenaries?" the teen asked curiously, looking up at him awkwardly. Kratos shrugged, earning an uncomfortable grunt from the redhead on his shoulder. Zelos had apparently decided to simmer down and Kratos could hear him playing with something, the sounds of rattling and muffled shaking not very interesting to him.
"Something like that." he finally answered and stopped before the doors of the laboratory. Lloyd reached out and turned the knob to let them in and the three of them entered the main hall.
A group of scientists dressed for travel looked up at them and took on confused expressions. Kratos finally decided to look more professional and set his son and the former Chosen down. Zelos shot him a glare, then resumed studying the jar of shredded plant in his hand. Lloyd looked excited and Kratos knew it was only a matter of time before his son would lose interest in the job.
"We're here for the job of escorting the researchers through the Temple of Darkness." he began, "My name is Kratos Aurion, this is my son, Lloyd Irving and this...." Kratos glanced sideways at the redhead sniffing at the opened jar and grabbed it away.
"Hey! That was a gift from one of my sweet hunnies!" Zelos whined, earning a knock to the head.
"This is Zelos Wilder, former Chosen of Tethe'alla." Kratos finished, closing the jar tightly and shoving it into his pack.
"So we've noticed." the lead researcher remarked dryly and shouldered his pack. "Right then, I'm Prof. Gerald and these are my underlings. We'll be leaving for the temple as soon as we have gathered necessary provisions. Meet us here in two hours."
"Can't we go just now?" Lloyd muttered as they left the room. Zelos fished the jar from Kratos' pack and stuffed it into his own. The older man shot him a look, then pressed his hand to his head, mentally asking for strength to endure the two young men beside him.
"We'll go when it is time. Now see if you can find items and supplies that will be useful for us on this trip." he told them.
"That'll be a cinch. I'll just pay a call to all my hunnies!" Zelos remarked brightly and jogged off, disappearing into the crowd of people bustling through the streets of Meltokio.
"I'll look through the item shop one more time. Maybe they have some gels on sale." Lloyd suggested and ran off, white ribbons streaming out behind him.
The researchers and the three travelers headed for the Temple of Darkness via wagon and horse-back. Throughout the trip, Kratos sat back and watched his son and the Chosen do what they did best. Goof off.
"Ever played cards?" Zelos asked Lloyd as he brought out a deck and shuffled them in his hands. The two had stocked up fairly well, though Kratos had some suspicions on the generosity of the Chosen's 'hunnies'. Lloyd sat closer and watched the shuffling with interest. He had already gotten bored of the travel and was glad for some new amusement.
"Not really. How do you play?" he asked and Kratos wondered momentarily if he should warn his son about the type of card games Zelos probably liked. He decided not to and closed his eyes to rest. He listened to the hands being dealt, to the rules and instances Zelos explained, then to Lloyd's attempts to play by them.
"Is it a good thing when all the cards have the same shape on them?" Lloyd asked after several games. Zelos muttered something under his breath. There was a pause and the sound of cards being reshuffled.
"Uh, you know what? I just realized I never really liked playing cards." Zelos remarked in false cheerfulness. Kratos allowed himself a small grin before resuming his stony exterior. He had yet to reveal to the two why he had decided to return to the planet from Derris-Kharlan. The Expheres stored on the comet had already been scattered to the stars, done after the first two months of searching the place high and low. After that it had only been a matter of time before loneliness kicked in and Kratos didn't like the feeling. He hadn't felt that way since before he had met Anna and Lloyd was born. He tried to ignore it, but when he couldn't go very long before something, anything, reminded him of Lloyd, he decided to just bite the sword and head back down to the world using the abandoned transporters in Welgaia.
Something hit his leg. Kratos carefully opened an eye and gazed down at himself. Cards were piled carelessly into his lap and one rested on his knee. Blinking in confusion, he looked up at the two sitting semi-innocently in the wagon with him.
"What are you two up to now?" he grumbled gruffly, sweeping the cards from his legs and tossing them back one by one.
"Not fair, Dad! I was ahead by ten points!" Lloyd laughed as he held up his hands defensively and Zelos ducked. Cards flew at them until the area around Kratos was cleared and he could relax again.
"I was ahead. You hit his leg. That's minus fifteen points." Zelos pointed out under his breath.
It was with relief that Kratos looked up at the ominous looking Temple of Darkness. The researchers walked into the building warily, and Lloyd ran ahead to see if things were still opened from the first few trips through it. Zelos yawned and tagged after a lot more slowly, taking his time as Kratos brought up the rear to be sure nothing outside decided to run in on them.
The temple itself seemed perfectly normal, and Prof. Gerald passed out small candles for each member of the party. Lloyd preferred using the Sorcerer's Ring to light his way and he charged down any monster that tried to get too close to the group of humans.
"Wish Sheena was here." Kratos heard Zelos mumble as they traversed deeper into the temple.
Further within, the monsters were more vicious, often coming after the swordsmen with a fury as the scientists dashed off for cover. Zelos twisted the ring on his hand almost nervously before grabbing for the Excalibur in his sheath and putting up a defensive stance.
"Here they come! Looks like a group of... seven?!" Lloyd cried in shock, "Dad! They outnumber us at least two to one!" Kratos stiffened at the thought and immediately set to muttering a spell. "Zelos, help me out here! Dad! What are you doing?!"
"Spell-casting, whaddya think?!" the redhead yelled out, dashing in and spinning to slash the blade at a pair of Dead Knights. The sword gleamed a brilliant white as it cut through the two skeletal creatures. "Keep them off until he finishes!"
As they cut down the intruding monsters, still more came in from the shadows, slithering and slinking in with howls and moans of fury and hatred. The spell finished and Kratos unleashed it, a ball of lightning that pulsed amidst a horde of the undead and basically fried them. He continued the barrage of spells, then stumbled over the words of Eruption and nearly stumbled himself when one of the knights managed to get around him and cut into his back. The pain shot through him, then quickly abated.
"Healing Wind! Bet you love me now, eh, old man?" Zelos cheered as the spell rushed around Kratos in a whirling green circle of restorative mana, healing the wound and refreshing the angel.
"They just keep coming! We need something to kill them all in one swoop!" Lloyd yelled angrily, the steel of the Kusanagi Blades cutting through the monsters as easily as Zelos's Topaz-empowered Excalibur.
"Hold them back for one last spell!" Kratos called out and focused, calling together and concentrating the mana within him and without. The words fell from his mouth and rose in volume as he progressed with the spell until he was almost at a yell. "Rest in peace, sinners! Judg-aach!"
The assortment of Coffin Masters, once sought after by the team for their Sages, now were of a great annoyance. One particular creature decided to yank Kratos within its coffin just before he finished the spell's name, but not before the results of it actually chose to reveal itself. While Zelos and Lloyd both covered their heads as the rain of holy light shot down from above, spearing into their enemies, Kratos was furiously kicking and pounding at the lid of the casket holding him prisoner.
"Think you're so clever, don't you, blasted piece of rotting flesh and bone!" he yelled, still kicking at the interior. However he got caught in there didn't matter; the fact that it had taken place, and right as he was finishing the Judgment spell was annoying. Well, more than annoying; it was infuriating. "Let me out!"
Time seemed to pass as he stared at the lid, wondering exactly how long it would take for anyone to realize he was missing. Kratos had already given up on kicking his way free, not because he recognized the futility of it, but because he had kicked too hard and his leg throbbed painfully. Drumming his fingers against his sword's sheath, he scowled at the casket lid he knew was all that stood between him and freedom. He could pry it open with the sword, true, but the confines of the coffin were so tight, he could barely wriggle around inside it to begin with.
"It cannot possibly take this long for people to count heads and realize one is not there." he grumbled under his breath, then sighed. "Yes, it can. Lloyd can't count well." Briefly, he entertained the notion of pressing the boy's nose against a math book until the numbers were put into his head by osmosis, then decided it would only serve to make him look like a bad father. Not that he was one; matter of fact, he thought of himself as a fairly decent one.
Just with a few problems.
Just a few.
Well, maybe only one.
"Someone get me the hell out of this thing!" Kratos shrieked, kicking the lid again after realizing he was mentally arguing with himself. He heard a grunt, perhaps a rescuer? No, just the Coffin Master reorganizing itself. The casket shifted position and something inside jostled loose. Resisting the urge to scream, Kratos shook his head to drop the slimy object that landed there and rolled his eyes heavenward.
He had already lost track of time. Had it been an hour since getting stuck inside the coffin? Two? A whole day? The creature showed no sign of letting him out, despite the threats, the yells, the beginnings of another Judgment spell that fizzled out each time something bit his arm. Again he wondered over the researchers and the two swordsmen still out there. If anyone would notice his absence, it would be Lloyd. Missing people, even if he couldn't count, was always the one thing he could be sure of noticing and the first thing the boy would do was scour the area for him. Zelos would probably start poking around his packs for something to use against him.
Taking advantage of his solitary confinement, Kratos allowed himself a smile. The two of them acted more like kids than they realized. If he wasn't hunting down Lloyd to get his chores on the ship done, he was hounding after Zelos to knock off whatever he was doing. Again, it was like having two sons instead of one. He shifted to get a bit more comfortable, then winced as he bumped his head against the lid. Whatever metals were used in making the coffin should have been used for shields. He let that thought wander and lost track of time again.
Kratos caught himself humming some odd tune Zelos liked singing aloud and stopped abruptly. It had been too long since he had seen any sign of life or light. No attempts to rescue him, no attempts to even hunt down the creature that carted him around like some trophy. Did anyone out there care at all that he was stuck in a box?!
"One, two, three. Testing, testing." he muttered and shrieked again, some wordless scream rising in volume over a period of a few seconds that he hoped someone would hear. The only response was the casket dropping from the creature's back and a few sharp kicks from the outside to get him to shut up.
Apparently, this particular Coffin Master didn't appreciate his lack of musical talent.
He thought again of Lloyd, the teen who shared nearly the same color eyes and hair he had, and possessed his mother's gentle heart. The training sessions they shared long ago, before Lloyd understood what the quest was about, were each a precious memory. Kratos smiled again, calling up thoughts of the swordplay, the invitation to go along on the boat ride around the world. Idle, pleasant thoughts designed to distract him from what seemed to be an almost permanent situation. When Cruxis was around, he had to put up an act. The dignified angel who walked around the world, making sure each Chosen made it to the towers for testing was just another form he would take on, much like the mercenary guise he went by when he came across his son. Now, what was the point of maintaining either one? He could act as he pleased now. He was free.
Kratos kicked the casket again, cursing under his breath as he grew sleepy. The darkness and the pungent aroma of death was lulling him to weariness. This wasn't how he wanted to die. This wasn't what he wanted as a fate. The song he had hummed began again as he tried to drive away the urge to close his eyes forever.
Zelos was a strange man, but a good one nonetheless. Lloyd liked him, tolerated him, tried to get him to learn something other than how to pick up five girls in one bar and have them eating out of his hand in less than an hour. Wasn't easy, Kratos admitted, but if anyone could do it, Lloyd could. And as he watched them together, he could see that the effect of being around him was rubbing off. Sure the Chosen claimed he could easily pull off his pick-up lines in any tavern and gather larger hordes of girls, but in action? He'd rather sit with them and try to trick Lloyd out of some amount of gald playing card games, dice games, or 'Who's the first to annoy Kratos today?'
Kratos hummed the song again, despite knowing he didn't quite look or sound like a singer, the tune was cheerful and helped brighten what he knew would be his last moments in this world. Lloyd had picked a good man to act as his older brother. He had known his son had wished for one, he had told him so himself. Zelos would fill that void excellently. Kratos thought through the list of qualities he had and smiled. He trusted Zelos with his son. The two of them would do fine together. The quest would continue, the Expheres would be collected as planned and he... well, he would go to meet Anna at last.
"I wish you both good lives. Thank you, Lloyd, for not breaking your vow to me." Kratos murmured and closed his eyes at last, giving in to the overwhelming urge to sleep and dropping his head to one side.
The sudden burst of light seemed to burn right through his eyelids and he cringed, more so when he was grabbed by the shoulders and shaken.
"Dad! Wake up! Wake up! Zelos! Help me!" Kratos could hear Lloyd cry in desperation. Slowly cracking his eyes open, he looked around himself and groaned almost in pain as the redhead rushed over to help pull him upright.
"Easy, easy. They say that these coffins make people want to die. Don't want to give him any ideas, now." Zelos murmured, slinging one of Kratos's arms over his shoulder and bracing his weight to get him to sit up.
"Dad, are you okay? We searched all over for you when the monsters quit attacking and you weren't around!" Lloyd told him in a rushed voice, "Zelos made something for you to drink when we found you. Zelos, where's that potion?!"
"Near the fire, now quit yelling." Kratos could hear the former Chosen grumble and tried to stand. "Not so fast, man. That kind of confinement can suck the energy right out of you. Here, lean on me." The angel blinked a few times to get adjusted to the light of the flames nearby and took in his surroundings.
They were standing before the altar for the Summon Spirit, Shadow, and the Coffin Master that had held him prisoner was nothing more than smoldering ashes on the floor. Lloyd knelt by a campfire, pouring something liquid and green into a cup. Zelos was watching his face worriedly, one arm wrapped around his waist and the other holding his arm as he braced himself to hold Kratos upright. Kratos nodded dumbly, though he had no reason to and the expression on the redhead's face shifted to one of an easygoing cheerfulness.
"Right. Let's get you that potion then." Zelos remarked and slowly began stepping towards the fire after helping Kratos step out of the casket lying on the floor.
"Thank you. For everything." Kratos murmured softly. He felt rather than saw Zelos suddenly stiffen in surprise, then relax.
"Eh, you'd do the same for me, right?" Zelos replied half-jokingly. They knelt by the fire and Lloyd held out the cup of potion to Kratos's mouth. "Don't chug it, drink it slowly. It's bitter and hot, but that can't be helped, the chick only gave me one of the ingredients." he added in a more professional tone. Kratos sipped at the drink, ignoring the taste as he took in the sight of his son, a boy that he hoped he would never take for granted again. He narrowed his eyes at an open gash in the fabric of his sleeve, stained dark with what had to be blood.
"When the monsters cleared out and you weren't anywhere, I was panicked. Zelos told me to calm down and we'd go look for you as soon as the scientists were out of the temple for the time being." Lloyd began to say, trying to assure one or both of them that they were together again. "So he told me to lead them out and he'd start searching for you. I never really thought that Zelos would want to wander here by himself looking for you, since he didn't really like you that much at first. So when I got back and tried to look for you, too, he had set small torches to mark his trail for me. I didn't think he'd know to do that!"
"I'm not just a babe magnet, y'know. I was blessed with a beautiful mind as well as a beautiful body." Zelos replied haughtily as Kratos finished the cup of potion and felt the warmth of the flames, the drink and the obvious caring and love from the two beside him fill his being. He may have been hurt by loss but who said he couldn't heal with love as well? He felt strong enough to move his body on his own, but chose to stay as he was.
"Yeah, yeah. So anyway, we were just about to walk off on the wrong path when Zelos here stopped and asked if I could hear what he heard." Lloyd went on. Zelos nodded and gave Kratos an amused expression, eyes glittering with suppressed mirth.
"The song I like singing. I heard someone humming it off key." he explained. Kratos mentally made note to learn to hum softer.
"Yeah, so we follow it and here's this Coffin Master trying real hard to pretend to be a statue! We take it out in no time flat, pop open the coffin and wham! There you were!" Lloyd finished and looked haunted, "You looked dead, Dad. I don't want to see you like that, ever."
"The cut on your arm." Kratos only pointed out. Lloyd glanced at it and brightened.
"Oh that! While your Judgment spell was still clearing out the monsters, one of them managed to nick my arm. Zelos bandaged it up. He's a real good healer, you know? He put together that potion for you from scratch!"
"That's enough of that, Lloyd." Zelos muttered and stood, helping Kratos stand with him. "Come on, let's go back outside and rest before we finish this job." They walked together back up the stairs and Kratos smiled to himself, not caring whether Lloyd or Zelos saw it.
He had family and friends again. And he wasn't going to lose them for anything in the world.