Heart of the Phoenix

Author: Shaddowind

WARNING: Kratos spoilers aplenty! You have been warned! Also, if you haven't beaten the game, you may wish to revisit this fic later….

Summary: You know the story of the game, but what if death wasn't the end for a certain mercenary's soulmate? PG-13 for slight instances of potty-mouth, but no worse than already in the game.

Disclaimer: I don't own Tales of Symphonia or any of the game's original characters, dialogue, or settings - I just bend them to my will in this story.

Chapter One

Iselia was coming to life once again, with the scattered patches of wildflowers bursting into their palette of color and announcing their presence in the wooded town. People were warming along with the world, a sense of excitement almost tangible. They were more cheerful, more hopeful… and generally more sure than they had been in at least a generation that things would only get better.

Liane gathered the gels she had purchased from the shopkeeper into her satchel, with a grateful smile to the shopkeeper. Raine said that they would be needed for the afternoon's lessons, and Liane was more than grateful for the chance to learn to teach under the elven woman. She wasn't much older than Liane herself, but Liane looked up to her… especially as she had been raised alongside her brother, Genis. It still felt strange to be in a position of pseudo-authority over her friends… Genis, Lloyd, Colette… but the priests had secluded her and filled her head with as much teaching as they could manage. You must assume your age, girl, one had told her. She was only three years older, but when she grew up with the others, reinforcing the age difference pushed her. Liane didn't want to be the enemy – an adult – to her friends….

But you are, girl. You took the job… now you're the adult in the bunch, she thought with a dejected sigh as she stepped out into the bright sunlight, smoothing her plaincloth dress with her free hand as she set off down the road back to the school house.

"Liane! Liane Dale! Wait!"

Liane cringed at the call, taking a moment to compose herself before turning to confront one of the largest sources of frustration in her life to date – Michael Foley. The comely-yet-dim boy was her age, true… and a successful merchant-trader between the continents, true… but he had made the mistake of deciding that she – at the ripe old age of twenty- needed a suitor.

Coincidentally, he nominated himself for the job.

"Liane! There you are!" the dark haired boy fairly cheered as he caught up to her, catching her hand in his and lightly kissing the back of it before she could gather the wits to snatch it away. "Come – you have to see the site I chose to build… uh… my house!"

She wanted to run screaming, taking careful note of his hesitation in choice of descriptors for his house. Fortunately, her polite side kicked in and forced a smile at Michael.

"Michael… I'm working," she held up her bag for him to see, shaking it a bit for emphasis.

"Raine will understand!" he decreed with a hint of the irritating whine she knew so well. "Besides, your mother said that it would be good to take you to the site."

Mother. Liane sighed and leaned her forehead into her hand to disguise an eye-roll.

"Michael, I've told you – you're nice, but I'm not settling down for a long time… and when I do, it will be where my job takes me – Palmacosta or maybe even Luin. Please find someone that deserves to be spoiled…"

smothered…

"… more than I do," she tried to phrase the rejection carefully. After all, she'd had plenty of practice with this poor fool.

"But Liane!"

A sudden blinding flash of light disorientated them for the briefest of instants as Liane turned to the North.

"The Temple… the Day of Prophecy."

"Michael, I have to go," she hurried away from him and began to run toward the schoolhouse.

Colette….

She vaguely heard a commotion behind her before she was tackled into a bank of shrubbery. Michael landed fully on top of her, knocking the breath from her body, then, to make things worse, he clamped his hand over her mouth.

"Shh…" he hissed at her, motioning with a quick head-jerk behind them to the road. Her anger simmered until she spotted the formation of armored men proceeding through the town. Her eyes grew wide and her fury evaporated in the space of a heartbeat.

"Desians…" she breathed under his hand. Michael nodded, and the pair continued to watch the troop until they reached the turn in the road heading for the north gate of the town.

It was as if time had frozen in Iselia, as the silence became deafening.

Finally, the hiding spot lost its appeal and Liane shoved Michael from her.

"Get off!" she grunted as she climbed from the bushes, brushing leaves and dirt from her skirts.

"But Liane –"

She turned on him in a flash, her patience fully worn out.

"Look, thank you for keeping me out of their way, thank you for the invitation, and please stop plotting with my mother to marry me off. Now, I have to get to the school…."

She rounded the last corner before the schoolhouse in full sprint, barely remembering to hold on to her satchel.

The schoolhouse is beside the north gate… oh, Goddess….

Relief washed over her as she immediately spotted Lloyd, Genis, and the Chosen One, Colette, standing outside the school, looking around at the deserted town.

"Where did everybody go?" she heard Genis commenting more than asking.

"Why are you out here? Get back into the school!" Liane called to the three, trying and – as usual – failing to sound like any kind of an authority figure even in her own ears.

"Colette!"

Frank Brunel came around the far corner of the road and ran towards his daughter.

"Father!"

"Frank!" Genis chimed in, Liane couldn't help but sigh. Genis had to have his voice heard in the conversation, as usual.

"Thank goodness you're safe," Frank sighed in relief.

Liane strode to stand beside Lloyd. "Where's Raine?"

Lloyd shrugged helplessly.

"She said she was going to the Temple."

Liane cocked a suspicious eyebrow at the boy.

"Uh-huh. And where are you supposed to be?"

As expected, Lloyd dropped his eyes guiltily to the ground.

"Studying?"

"Where?"

He sighed.

"Inside."

"Thought so," she smiled with a shake of her head. Predictable as ever, Lloyd.

"Frank, what happened to everyone in the village?" Genis continued to speak with Colette's father over Lloyd and Liane's conversation.

"They're all hiding… the Desians invaded the village just a short while ago. Thankfully, no one was hurt. They passed through the village and headed for the Temple," Frank related.

Genis shook his head. "Why? Iselia has a non-aggression treaty with the Desians!"

Lloyd seemed to take interest in the conversation at the mention of the Desians. "You mean the agreement where they don't attack the village as long as we leave the human ranch alone?"

Colette nodded brightly. "Yes. Grandmother said it's to protect me. Oh – where is grandmother?"

Colette's shoulders dropped in relief as Frank explained that Phaidra was safe at the Temple with the priests of Martel.

"Okay… everyone's fine, then. Let's get back inside," Liane sighed, putting her hand on Lloyd's shoulder.

"I have to go to the Temple," Colette announced.

"Colette…" her father began hesitantly.

"I know, father. I promise to fulfill my duty as the Chosen."

Lloyd stepped away from Liane with his hand resting on the hilt of his twin wooden swords.

"Genis and I will go with her – to keep her safe."

Liane opened her mouth to object just after Frank had begun his own disagreement.

"It's dangerous. You boys should head home."

"Lloyd… come on," Liane tried to pull the boy back toward the schoolhouse.

"No! You heard him – it's dangerous! She can't go alone…" Lloyd defiantly shook his head, stepping to face Frank. "Please, Frank… we can help her!"

Frank looked at them doubtfully for a moment. Liane saw Lloyd's shoulders sag for an instant… and she sighed.

"Frank, I'll go with them," Liane offered. "Surely, one more will make things safer for everyone."

"But… all right. Thank you," Frank nodded a cautious approval. "I'll wait at the house. Come back immediately if anything happens." With that, Frank Brunel turned and wandered back down the road, leaving the younger three to cheer their victory and Liane to shake her head in confusion.

If it were my child heading up to the Temple, I'd like to think I'd have the guts to accompany them… she thought with a sigh, her opinion of Colette's father slipping with his every retreating footstep.

She turned back to find her three friends all watching her impatiently.

"Let's go, Liane!" Lloyd bubbled. She had to smile… it was probably his first chance to actually have any kind of an adventure.

I wonder how many monsters it will take for him to grow tired of adventuring….

"Hold on… I've got to grab my bag from the school. With a sigh, she walked into the entry room of the school and knelt before her bag. She pulled out a tunic and breeches, and, with a second thought, put them back.

There's no way they'll let me have long enough to change clothes… she thought wistfully as she shoved the clothes back into the bag and removed a blue ribbon from a pocket on the inside of the bag. She untied a smaller blue silk bag from the outside of the bag and removed the pair of simple daggers, tucking them into the belt of her dress. Finally, she grabbed the ribbon and quickly wove her just-past-shoulder length chestnut hair into a braid. Rejoining the group outside, she sighed reluctantly.

"Okay… let's get this over with."

Lloyd, Colette, and Genis started down the path discussing their battle plan long before they even saw their first monster. Liane wasn't afraid… she had seen her share of monsters in her travels training with the Temple. She was no where near gifted enough to be considered for the service of the Goddess, but she could hold her own with a few basic spells from a distance and she knew that she could hold her own with her daggers up close. No, she wasn't scared.

But there's something different. Maybe it's just the coming of the Oracle….

Liane crammed her reservations down into the pit of her stomach. She had to watch the others. She was their friend, their teacher, and now, their guardian. And every single one of those titles, she took extremely seriously.

"Come on, Liane!" Lloyd called cheerfully...

… even as Liane saw the zombie lurch out of the bushes at him.

"Lloyd! Behind you!"

Lloyd spun, his swords already unsheathed as he faced the zombie. Liane pulled her daggers and ran to help, and, between the four of them, the zombie was dispatched before any of them knew exactly what had happened.

"Wow! That was easy!" Lloyd laughed, sheathing his swords.

"We're a great team!" Colette joined in her friends' jubilation. Even Genis – even-tempered Genis – seemed to be ecstatic over their victory. Liane smiled, tucking her daggers back into her belt.

"Come on," she offered, walking past them to lead up the path, "Let's get Colette to the Temple."

"Hey, Liane… are you going to be all stuffy through the whole trip?"

She spun to mockingly glare at Lloyd, who was awaiting her response with a cheesy grin.

"I am NOT stuffy," she declared.

"Are too."

Liane sighed. "I am not going to do this with you, Lloyd. We're out here for a reason. It's a pretty important one, in case you've forgotten."

Colette and Genis stood back and tried not to smile, but watching their friends bicker had long been one of the group's favorite sports.

And Lloyd was undisputedly the best at starting the matches.

Liane drew an exaggerated breath and walked back to where the puffed-up seventeen-year-old stood in the middle of the path, his fists balled and resting on his hips.

"You're the one that's forgotten… how to not be a stick in the mud," Lloyd goaded.

Without another word, Liane stood nose-to-nose with the boy that may as well been her brother for all the time they spent together growing up.

"You know what you've forgotten?" she asked sweetly.

"Lloyd…." Genis warned from the sidelines, but, predictably, Lloyd ignored the gesture.

"What?" His eyes narrowed, daring her to prove to him that he was wrong about her.

"That I've trained far more than you have for situations…."

She dropped into a neat leg-sweep, knocking Lloyd off his feet and flat on his back.

"… just like…"

Liane reached down over his incapacitated form and plucked one of his swords from his sword belt.

"… this."

Lloyd caught his breath enough to sit up, his cheeks enflamed as Liane turned on her heel, his sword resting tauntingly over her shoulder. Genis and Colette were having a hard time breathing for their own reasons… mainly laughing at the outcome they both knew was coming as soon as Lloyd started picking on her.

"Hey!" Lloyd complained. "I need that sword! I can't fight with just one!"

"Then you'd best hurry up, Lloyd." With her back to her friends, Liane allowed herself her own cheesy grin. She almost felt sorry for him.

She giggled.

Almost.

Lloyd sulked for a few moments, requiring the coaxing of his friends before he approached Liane to walk beside her.

"Can I have my sword back, now?"

"Are you going to call me a stick in the mud again?"

Lloyd was silent for a few steps before she realized where his mind was wandering.

"Or anything like it?"

"No…" Lloyd huffed.

Liane chuckled as she handed him the missing twin to his remaining blade.

"You know, we really need to find real swords for you," she mused.

"Dad can make me a pair if I want…." He sighed, sheathing the blade.


He sighed with annoyance. He hadn't expected anyone else at the temple – other than the normal fixtures, the priests. Oh, and one special addition was due at any minute – the Chosen.

Now this rabble shows up.

Crouching in the shadows of the temple, he tensed his grip on the handle of his sword. He would wait to show his hand and see how the drama played out. All he had was time – it was a perk of his job. Infinite time to achieve his goal.

And for now, that goal would be to get the Chosen One to hers.

He watched as a Pastor of the Temple took a blade to the gut –

and he winced….

What the hell?

He had seen more than his share of fighting – nothing fazed him anymore, or so he thought. His reaction to the plight of the priest puzzled him. Watching the pastor summon the last of his strength and descend the stairs, his brow furrowed. Or was it even the priest?

There's something different. It's not just the coming of the Oracle….

Drawing a deep breath to vanquish the disturbing anxious knot gnawing at his stomach, he sat back as the Pastor disappeared over the hill.

Hmm… this may prove to be an interesting day after all.


Lloyd charged around the last turn in the path before the temple and froze in his tracks.

"Whoa, that light really is coming from the temple!"

Liane, Genis, and Colette approached him – all of their eyes fixed skyward in awe of the sight.

"Then an oracle is going to be conveyed," Genis muttered. "Colette's going to be the Chosen of Regeneration."

Liane watched the others and the light. It was an amazing sight – one that reminded her of her humble place in the world as the light spiraled up into the bright blue sky. There were powers in the world far greater than she could imagine.

I'm fortunate to even see this….

"It's really, really bright!"

Lloyd, Genis and Liane were all shaken from their individual musings to stare at the Chosen, all of them caught off guard by the blatantly obvious statement on the part of this girl that was actually tied to the event.

"Say, Colette… when the oracle is conveyed, you'll become the Chosen who will save the world, right? You're going to be like the hero, Mithos! So maybe you should act a little more… you know, Chosen-like…" Lloyd offered.

While his words echoed similar thoughts in her own mind, Liane still choked at his bluntness.

"Lloyd…" she shook her head in chastisement.

Colette blushed a bit, but shook her head.

"No, Liane. He's right. Yeah, Lloyd. No problem," the girl answered, although Liane would have sworn that a slight hint of disheartenment escaped as the girl muttered a second," … no problem."

Genis jabbed Lloyd in the ribs, eliciting a pained gasp from the older boy, before his attention was drawn up the hill.

"Hey, there's a lot of commotion at the temple."

The distinct ringing of blades could be heard as Lloyd nodded in agreement.

"You're right!"

Liane gasped as a figure appeared at the top of the stairs.

With the appearance of the bloodied pastor, the innocence of the adventure was irrevocably shattered.

"Chosen One!"

The old man staggered and stumbled down the stone stairs towards them, his hands clenched across what Liane realized could only be a mortal wound.

"Pastor!" Colette ran up a few steps to meet the wounded man and Lloyd stepped to his other side to ease him to the ground.

"Hey, are you all right!" Lloyd questioned, obviously missing the seriousness of the of the pastor's situation.

Idiot, she chided herself. He's never seen someone dying like this before.

"The Desians broke the non-aggression treaty and attacked the temple… Chosen One… quickly… the Oracle…."

"I know," Colette whispered in calm acceptance, her head bowed reverently to the elder.

"Liane? You know spells! Can't you heal him?" Genis offered excitedly.

Liane dropped to her knees beside the dying man with a sad shake of her head.

"I'm sorry, Genis… healing isn't one of my talents… and gels won't work fast enough…" she answered as disappointment settled in the silver-haired boy's eyes.

"Please… be careful… I regret that I will not be able to pro…tect…the …Cho…sen."

The old man's eyes fixed on the sky and a deep sigh escaped his prone form. Liane clenched her eyes shut to hold back helpless tears. She willed herself to claim the calm that was forced on her being the oldest of the group and reached a hesitant hand to gently close his unseeing eyes.

"Rest with Martel, Pastor," she whispered.

Forgive me, Pastor. We should have been faster.

"Pastor, hang on!" Colette called desperately even as Lloyd stood, shaking his head sadly.

"It's no good. He's gone," the older boy quietly muttered.

Genis stared at the body, his hands balled into fists and visibly shaking.

"No! the elven boy cried.

Liane's heart ached for them and this cruel introduction to the specter known as death.

"I'm going."

Colette's voice broke the sacred moment of mourning the pastor's passing. Liane looked at the girl and found herself surprised by the girl's – no, the Chosen's – strength. Her eyes were set and her brow creased almost unnoticeably with determination.

"Colette! There are Desians up there," Genis pointed out, his voice betraying a nervous waver.

"Yes," Colette nodded, "but I have to go. I'm the Chosen. My job is to accept the oracle on the Day of Prophecy. You guys wait here, ok?"

"You can't go alone, Colette," Liane spoke, drawing her daggers. "Lloyd, Genis – go tell Frank-"

"Lloyd, are you going to let them go by themselves!" Genis exclaimed.

Lloyd nodded his head decisively. "I'm going, too."

Colette looked gratefully to Lloyd and Liane as they joined her on the steps.

"Are you sure? It's dangerous," the blonde girl offered, as if having to know that she has warned them.

Liane smiled and kept walking past the Chosen. "You really think we're going to turn around now?"

Lloyd grinned. "Dwarven vow #1: Let's all work together for a peaceful world," he drew his twin wooden blades. "Let's go."

The three made it up exactly two more steps before a frustrated growl came from behind them. They turned to find Genis stomping up the steps, his delicate features set in grim determination.

"Wait. I'm going, too. I'm worried about Raine."

Raine… Liane turned to look back up to the Temple. I hope she made it in okay…

"Let's go," Liane sighed. She knew the folly of the endeavor – three teenagers – one with wooden swords for Goddess' sake – and one stuck between them and the demands of being the adult in the group, no healing skills between them and a frightening lack of substantial gels.

This should be interesting… maybe the Desians are gone… Liane sighed as they topped the last flight of steps, only to be greeted by a panicked cry from Colette's grandmother.

"Run, Colette!"

Three armored men and one in some sort of armor-robes turned at the call.

"Lord Botta! There she is!"

Colette froze on the steps, the previous determination in her eyes replaced by fear.

"Chosen One, your life is mine!" the robed man declared triumphantly.

Dropping her satchel by the steps, Liane tightened her grip on her daggers even as Lloyd threw himself in front of Colette.

"I won't let you Desians get away with anything!"

An awkward moment of silence passed before one of the armored men released a cruel chuckle.

"Desians?"

"What's so funny?" an emboldened – and obviously adrenalized – Genis stepped beside his best friend, his kendama grasped tightly in his small hands.

The laughing warrior drew his very real sword.

"Well then, die at the hands of the Desians you so hate," he turned to his cohorts. "Get them!"

The soldiers lunged at the four, causing Genis to fall back and Colette to take a step away so that she could loose her chakram. Lloyd and Liane dropped in as close as they could to one of the guards, barely dodging his wildly-swinging blade.

"Genis – Colette – work on the others!" Liane called as she ducked under the soldier's blade and drove one of her daggers deep into the man's shoulder. The soldier howled in pain, dropping his sword and giving Lloyd the opportunity to bring the pommel of his wooded blade down on the back of his head. The soldier collapsed immediately. Lloyd shared a quick nod to each other before Lloyd launched himself at the next closest soldier, narrowly dodging a barrage of Genis's fireballs. Liane cringed at his reckless attack, but knew that he probably had as good a chance of success as she did.

Listen to me, barking orders… like I've seen that many more battles than they have, she mentally groaned as she fell back to the soldier that Colette was holding at bay by the alternating us of her chakram.

Good girl, Liane smiled as she ducked under a retreating chakram to plunge her dagger into the back of the soldier's thigh, fight so that you are always armed. She knew she was no veteran, but she had studied enough of battle theory to put all three of her companions to sleep for at least a year.

Another howl of pain heralded the loss of one more enemy as the girls' soldier fell beneath another flash of Colette's weapon. They turned their attention back to the remaining soldier, already beginning to wobble under the assault of Lloyd and Genis. Momentarily, Liane considered trying to cast the one spell she knew would do some damage – Wind Blade – but she discarded the thought for the knowledge that Genis could cast faster than she could… and Lloyd needed backup. Colette loosed her chakram and its impact rang against the soldier's helm with a decidedly metal CLANG! that echoed off the ancient stone of the Temple. The soldier dropped his blade, swayed slightly, and crumbled to the ground.

The four regrouped near Liane's discarded satchel, winded, but victorious.

"That… was… easy," Lloyd tried to laugh between weary breaths. Liane dropped to her bag and tossed each of the boys one of their preciously small supply of apple gels.

"Thanks, Liane…" Genis wheezed as he bit into the gel, its healing properties obvious almost immediately as the boy straightened from his former weary hunch.

"Vidarr! Finish this!"

Botta's command snapped all of their attention back to him as Liane bit down nervously on her lip.

Oh, Goddess… we're not ready for another….

Heavy footsteps shook the ground as the Chosen's party looked up in horror at the beast trudging from the temple. The armored brute swung his morning star menacingly off to his side.

"I'll crush you…" the thing growled.

"Colette, stay back…" Liane sighed as she took her place to Lloyd's left as he and Genis squared off to the hulk lumbering toward them.

Vidarr's first attach revealed a surprising speed, leaving the group to scatter to avoid catching any part of a blow.

Genis circled back as Colette's chakram whistled by, striking the giant in the upper arm and eliciting an almost feral howl of pain. Liane and Lloyd seized the opportunity and dove forward, almost frantic to hit anything that would hurt the beast. The edge of Liane's dagger sliced the back of Vidarr's arm near where Colette had hit, making him drop the morning star, even as Lloyd pummeled at the unprotected side of the warrior with his blades.

If we live through this, I swear the first chance I get, I'm buying him real swords, Liane thought as she dodged a blind swing by rolling back even as Genis unleashed another volley of fire balls. Liane picked herself up and readied another lunge for Vidarr.

We might live after all, Liane thought with a huff –

but that was before Vidarr snagged Lloyd and secured him in a crushing embrace.

"Lloyd!" Genis screamed, dropping his spell and charging up to the warrior.

Liane watched the whole scene in horror as her instinct took over her judgement and she threw her right dagger at the brute, as far from Lloyd as she could manage.

No! her mind howled as she saw the dagger's path – and how Vidarr was savagely shaking Lloyd –

It's going to hit Lloyd….

But the dagger had other intentions as it cleanly lodged itself exactly where it had been thrown – just below his right shoulder plate.

Vidarr recoiled at the injury, hurling Lloyd back into Liane, Genis, and Colette, sending them all sprawling to the ground.

"Lloyd… Genis… Colette," Liane wheezed, "… are you okay?"

"This guy's strong!" Genis commented in place of his answer to her concern.

Lloyd struggled to one knee, gasping for breath.

"Man, this guys is really tough!"

"What about you?" Colette asked. Liane knew that the girl was trying to be strong, but her voice crackled slightly… the fear of the giant's next attack beginning to show.

Something's… different….

"I… I'm…" Liane started to answer, but a splitting pain in her head… in her mind… halted anything but a bitten-off groan from escaping her clenched jaw.

"Liane?" She heard Lloyd's voice through the pain… and through other voices… whispers… cries of despair… laughs of joy?… all muted by something….

"Liane, please…" Colette begged, whimpering slightly from behind her. But it was the push that Liane needed. From somewhere unknown, Liane pulled herself out of the mental assault with a strength she didn't know she possessed.

No… the Chosen will not die.

"I'm… fine…" Liane grunted, desperately wanting to clamp her hands around her head, but knowing that her only option was to try to ignore the pain… the life of the Chosen was in all of their hands.

She saw Lloyd and Genis struggle to their feet and followed their example, despite complaining muscles and the headache. Vidarr stalked over to his morning star and rearmed himself. He drew his weapon up high over his head to strike at them again….

… but there was suddenly someone standing between them. Someone with a sword strong enough to deflect Vidarr's blow, sending him staggering back from the group.

Liane watched Vidarr gather himself and again advance on the group. Lloyd, Genis, and Colette stared in awe at the man that had defended them from the blow… and then she followed their gaze.

Tall and thin, she could only see the back of their auburn-haired savior, but something wouldn't allow her to move.

Something about him.

"Who are you?" Lloyd asked, stepping out from behind the indigo-clad swordsman, his sword in hand awaiting Vidarr's impending next challenge.

"Get out of the way," the man grumbled as he rushed the giant. He seemed to ignite a flame of strength in the young fighters, as all of them charged forward with them, leaving Liane a step behind all of them.

The swordsman stepped forward, striking Vidarr twice before the brute could even growl at them and plucked Liane's dagger from his shoulder.

"Here!" the swordsman called. She was sure that he never even looked at her, but she reacted, catching the dagger. "Don't lose track of your weapons…."

What in all the hells…? And he's lecturing me?

Knowing that there was no time to throw a fit over the stranger's treatment of her, Liane crossed her daggers before her and charged in, finding herself between Lloyd and the stranger. Genis was already chanting for another spell and Colette was as far back as she knew that she could hit from… they all worked as a team. Then the swordsman was gone from her peripheral vision. Liane spun to dodge another blow, catching sight of the newcomer enclosed in his own rune circle… just before Lloyd began to glow a subtle green.

"First Aid!"

He's a Healer?

The thought was just enough to distract her, as Vidarr caught her with a particularly vicious backhand, sending her flying back from him…

… and crashing into the swordsman.

The pair fell backwards, the swordsman taking the brunt of the impact from one of the decorative railings around the terrace with a grunt.

"Be careful!" he growled as Liane groaned, immediately trying to gather her wits to crawl from her landing place across him. She planted her hands on the ground to push herself up, shaking her bangs from her face…

… and her hazel eyes met his warm brown eyes.

It was just a fleeting instant… just a blink in the continuous parade of time… but in that instant…

… recognition flashed between them.

Lloyd's surprised yelp as he narrowly dodged Vidarr again shattered the moment and the swordsman drew a hasty breath and shoved Liane aside, crawling to his feet and immediately chanting another healing incantation. Liane could only stare as the voices again swam in her mind… but this time, the pain they brought was considerably less than the confusion they spawned. She crawled to her feet and moved away from him, knowing that she had to finish the fight… for the sake of the Regeneration… but she certainly couldn't be close to him. Liane shoved the encounter with the swordsman as far to the back of her mind as possible and stepped back, closing her eyes and concentrating on her teachings. Within moments she could feel the power beginning to spiral around her. She knew that she would never be any kind of a sorceress, but she knew enough to lend a hand….

"Wind Blade!" she cried, releasing the power she had scraped together in the form of a howling gale of sharp wind that hit Vidarr and pushed him backwards, staggering him just enough to allow the others to each deliver a final blow, knocking him unconscious and bleeding to the ground.

Lloyd propped himself on his sword and managed a dry chuckle. "It just wasn't your day."

Liane's shoulders sagged, the spell draining her limited mana. She turned and trudged back to her bag… she heard the others… weary, but relieved by their victory.

So enthused that all of them forgot about Botta.

"I never thought you'd show up."

They all spun, each ready and dreading yet another encounter. Liane fell to her knees beside her bag as she blindly reached in for a gel.

"Damn… retreat for now."

Botta and his remaining men drug their fallen comrades from the temple terrace and passed by without resistance.

Colette watched the procession with wide eyes. "Amazing!"

Genis, on the other hand, was entranced by their new ally. "This guy's incredibly strong!"

Lloyd walked over to where Liane still sat, letting the apple gel revive her. "Y.. yeah. I.. I suppose so."

Their mysterious savior sheathed his sword and surveyed the younger warriors.

"Is everyone all right? Hmm… no one seems to be hurt."

That voice….

"Hey, can you heal Liane? I think she needs some help…."

Liane heard Lloyd's concerned request and panicked, somehow finding the strength to climb to her feet and dust off her ripped dress. She shook her head and prepared the most sincere fake smile she could manage, waving the boy away.

"No… no, I'm fine… I just need to catch my breath…" she sighed, keeping her eyes to the ground so as not to accidentally see him.

"Is that an exsphere?"

She wanted to laugh as Lloyd's legendary attention span once again kicked in.

Calm down… relax… breathe… it's the stress of the regeneration.

They were all talking around her… monsters… the fallen priests… protecting the Chosen…. Their words filtered into her mind but didn't register… or didn't matter, she wasn't sure. Her mind simply wasn't about to settle back into the conversation.

What happened back there? she clenched her eyes shut and drew a deep breath. His eyes… voice… so familiar… but… I've never met him… surely I'd remember him….

"Your name is Lloyd?" his words rang through the fog in her mind.

"Yeah. Who are you to ask my name?" came Lloyd's cocky reply.

"I am…"

One word crashed through everything in Liane's mind, sending any kind thought processes that she had managed to reconstruct spiraling back into the abyss.

Kratos, her mind whispered to her even as he spoke the same in answer to Lloyd's challenge.

"… a mercenary. For a price, I will take on the job of guarding the Chosen."