Heart of the Phoenix
WARNING: Kratos and general game spoilers aplenty! You have been warned! Also, if you haven't beaten the game, you may wish to revisit this fic later….
Summary: The final battle is but hours away. The party has gone their separate ways to take care of any loose ends and to find their focus before they end the madness that has held Sylvarant and Tethe'alla in its grasp for so very long. A swordswoman struggles to find her own balance before she rejoins her friends so that she can finally find the future that was given to her by a stranger long before….
Disclaimer: I don't own Tales of Symphonia or any of the game's original characters, dialogue, or settings - I just adore them and bend them to my will in this story.
Two days to restock supplies and to rest.
Two days to convince themselves that they would have no regrets.
But with the better part of a day left of her time allowance, Liane was beginning to fancy ripping out her hair.
The group decided after their return from Vinheim that it would be best to split up to recover and prepare – to make sure their reasons for pressing ahead with their quest were their own. Kratos was convinced that – at least for a short time – the worlds would remain stable while Yggdrasill made his preparations to take his final revenge on the world that had taken his sister from him. Of course, panic amongst the people of both Sylvarant and Tethe'alla grew with every passing hour. Two days was really all they could take… the chaos had to end.
Genis and Raine decided to go to Heimdall… gambling that their aid during the village's darker days might open the door to some bit of understanding – both for them and for the elves that shunned them before.
Presea opted to spend her time in Ozette. While the town was still ruined, she voiced her plan as one to help her make peace with her lost time as well as her lost family. Liane hadn't missed the tiny drop in Regal's shoulders when the pink-haired girl announced her decision, but she was glad when he didn't give in to the gesture, instead telling the others that he wanted to seek out his old master, Levin, who had taught him the Traubel fighting style. The Duke stated that the skills the man passed on to him had not only saved his life, but also those of his friends… and that he thought that the aging master deserved to know that they would be put to use on behalf of the world itself shortly.
Sheena would return to Mizuho to make certain her home was informed of what was happening… as well as what still could happen. Her worry for her people showed in every word of her decision, though Liane knew that the ninja's home had never been far from her thoughts – not considering everything she had done – and put herself through – for the good of her village.
Zelos had looked absolutely bored when he stated that he'd return to Meltokio. He said he was curious how the place was running without the Pope to twist everything to his advantage, but Liane suspected that his time would also be touching on the welfare of his sister. She knew the redhead had a soft side that he usually almost savagely hid and protected… and she knew that the politics of Meltokio would likely be the least of his worries if they lost and the worlds died. Seles was just the swordswoman's guess, but if it came to a bet, she was sure she would risk at least some gald on the wager.
Kratos also separated himself from the party shortly after deciding on the two-day timeframe. Lloyd had been the one to question the angel's destination – a fact for which Liane was infinitely grateful. While she was only slightly surprised by his departure, she fully understood his need for space – she shared it… and she knew Lloyd did as well, even if his disappointment was easy to read. The elder swordsman set off first, his destination the Renegade's Sylvarant Base to coordinate with Yuan.
The splitting of the group left Lloyd, Colette, and Liane to return to Iselia – each to their respective families. It was the right thing to do, Liane told herself… when there was someone waiting for her to come home, there was nowhere else she should want to be.
But after a full day of Dora Dale's flip-flopping between waiting on her hand and foot and then begging her to stay home and out of the fight, Liane found herself at wit's end. Her father – as always – was the quiet strength of the house, asking her only once – and prefacing it with stating that he knew it wouldn't happen – to stay behind. But her mother was closer than her shadow… leaving the swordswoman no time whatsoever to try to shore up the foundations of her world after the cracks that her meeting with Anna had formed.
She wanted a destination of her own – a step beyond fighting a being that was already technically beyond death's reach. Liane knew she wanted to keep her friends – all of her friends – in her life, but beyond that, her direction would be her choice.
Liane could only pray that she would have the wisdom to recognize the opportunities meant for her.
But that prayer was all the time she could spare for her mother's constant pressure.
And that pressure was what made the wind that whipped her braid against the back of her neck as she piloted her Rheaird out of Iselia during the afternoon of her second day feel so amazing. Liane knew that her excuse of a supply run to Triet was weak – she saw that even in her father's knowing smirk when she told her parents she'd be back for dinner. It wasn't a lie – the market in Triet was better than the single shop in Iselia… though Triet's only draw wasn't supplies.
If I can't get time to sort things out at home… I still need something… anything. I need to know what I'm fighting… and what I'm fighting for.
She knew that no one person could give her that, even if – when she was honest with herself – she was already sure of at least those directions. But the reinforcement could strengthen that knowledge and at that moment in Liane's life, she knew she had to be stronger than ever before – in both mind and body.
The desert heat hit the swordswoman long before her Rheaird touched the sand, but she was pleased to find that it didn't bother her all that much. I've seen both extremes now… I guess I just know now that I can handle it, she reasoned as she held out her Wing Pack to collect her flyer and tucked it into her backpack to start into the desert oasis. Walking through the walled entry corridor of Triet jabbed Liane with another spike of déjà fu – and a flicker of realization of how she had grown since her last visit. Somehow, Triet became a cornerstone in her own journey – the first place that answered questions she hadn't known to answer… even if it had been mostly a riddle.
Liane paused at the crystal-clear oasis at the edge of the city, stepping into the shadow of one of the palm trees to gather her thoughts as she spotted the striped slopes of the top of the tent that held the woman she sought.
She saw that Kratos and I were soulmates, the dark-haired young woman mused as she pushed a thin curl back over her ear. I… have to know if she saw more. The thought twisted in her chest for a moment and she considered returning to the market… getting her supplies… and just returning to Iselia. Liane chewed her lip for a moment as her indecision drew her eyes back to the town.
If she tells me what she saw – if she saw something – is that going to influence my decision?
The moment the question formed in her mind, Liane wanted to kick herself.
No. She shook her head and set her jaw. No. My future will be the result of my own steps… my own decisions. Liane turned back to the striped tent and began to walk again. I just want to know what she saw when she looked at me like she did that last time….
The knot in the swordswoman's chest had worked its way up to her throat by the time she stood before the tent's opening… and made it a true struggle to reach out and push the silken flap aside.
"Excuse me… Madame Fortune Teller?" she spoke before her nerves could silence her – and before her eyes could adjust to see into the darkened interior of the tent. "If I could trouble you for a little of your time…?" she asked, already hating the unease in her voice.
A rich chuckle answered her almost immediately.
"I've been saving a chair for you, child… come in," the fortune teller laughed as her jewel-bedecked hand slipped into the light that flooded into the tent and beckoned Liane to enter.
Liane swallowed hard and nodded, feeling as if she had to remind herself how to walk just to enter the tent. The flap slid back into place with a whisper of fabric on fabric… and the swordswoman once again found herself in the lamp lit realm of the woman that had opened her eyes to the fact that there was more to the dreams and visions that had come to life for her the day the Oracle came to Iselia. "Th-thank you," she murmured, pushing away the shiver that danced up her spine at the thought that the fortune teller sounded like she was actually expecting her. It's probably just one of the things she says to everyone that comes to visit her, she reasoned, though the knowing smile that Liane could just barely make out in the pale light of the tent unnerved her further. Trying to cover her unease, Liane reached into the pocket of the vest she wore and removed a small pouch of gald that she had set aside for the visit. "Of course, I can pay… I just had a few questions," she spoke respectfully and placed the pouch on the table before the turbaned woman as she sat down on the edge of the chair across the table from her. "I was in before… it's been a while…" she started to explain as she lowered her pack to the ground beside her chair. "Not long after the Chosen began her –"
"I remember you, Liane Dale," the fortune teller cut in to the young woman's explanation, her tone warm as she let her finger trace the bulge of the coin pouch. Dark eyes flickered up at the gasp her statement drew from the swordswoman… and her smile widened. "I see you understand more not than you did when we last spoke. That is good. I… worried for you."
The rest of Liane's introduction died on her tongue as an icy shiver slipped down her spine. The fortune teller spoke so casually… as if they were old friends. This is why I came, she told herself as firmly as she could and finally managed a weak smile and a nod. "That's kind of you," she murmured and met the woman's piercing eyes. "But I've gotten stronger… and I have good friends."
The fortune teller blinked, her long lashes casting shadows over her cheeks even in the darkened tent… then another rich laugh bubbled from her throat. "Indeed, you do, child," she agreed and leaned forward in her chair, bracing her elbows on the small table and lacing her fingers to cradle her chin. "You said you have questions. Ask."
Liane's breath hitched at the pleasantly spoken command… but it only took a moment for her to force the air back out. Of all the questions she had, one stood out – one that the fortune teller could answer. "You told me I was broken," she spoke softly t defend against any waiver that might creep into her voice. "I need to know what you meant."
Silence closed in behind Liane's statement, practically smothering the room until the fortune teller smiled, one elegant eyebrow arching in interest. "If you are here asking, I suspect you know the answer already."
"Madame, please," Liane frowned, shaking her head at the riddle in the woman's answer. "I need to know why you called me that," she insisted. "Broken… it implies flawed… imperfect," the swordswoman sighed and twisted her hands together in her lap, finally speaking the nagging fears that ate at her. She wouldn't allow herself to look away from the other woman's eyes, though. "I know… what… I am. But I want to know why you called me broken… and if it's as bad as it sounds." She knew for certain that she wasn't a natural being… but did that mean her candle's wick was shorter than a normal person's? Did it mean her future was limited?"
"Child…" the fortune teller's smile melted into a sympathetic frown as she reached a hand across the table, palm out in offer for the swordswoman. "That's what you fear?"
Liane considered the hand for a moment and then lowered her own over it. "I fear… my future being out of my control… following someone else's star," she replied quietly, though her eyes remained on the joined hands. "I don't know if I'll see the line… if there even is one."
The fortune teller sighed and closed her eyes as her hand closed gently over Liane's. "Child, I called you 'broken,' not shattered…" she breathed out and reached her free hand to rest it on top of the crystal orb at the center of the table. The ball began to glow slightly at her touch and the woman lifted her chin. "That which is broken… can be put back together… can be healed… sometimes even stronger than before," she stated, her voice once again like velvet. "Your soul and your spark may be mismatched, but they still cling together. Your future is no less real and no less a possibility than anyone else's."
The swordswoman released a breath she didn't realize she had been holding. The fortune teller had seen the truth – long before she had – and she could only guess that it was before Kratos saw it, too. But that opened another troubled door in her thoughts… and she lifted her eyes to the other woman again. "You told me that Kratos is my soulmate," she started quietly. "But… he was Anna's… and she was his…" her voice trailed off.
"Oh, child," the fortune teller crooned and slipped her other hand over on top of Liane's. "He is yours, too," she spoke softly, though a smile warmed her tone. She waited for a moment, searching the younger woman's eyes. "As are the companions you have traveled with… those you trust with your life just as they trust you with theirs. Today, as you sit before me… all of those that are close to your thoughts… I would call them all your soulmates after how your experiences have bonded you."
Liane's eyebrows rose in surprise. Was that it? All along? "Then… Kratos…."
The other woman drew her hands back with a sigh and clasped them before her on the table. "The mercenary shares a deeper bond with you than some of the others… you are not wrong about that. But I think you misunderstand me. With all of them, it is a matter of resonance. You are a most fortunate being, Liane Dale. Not only for the unusual circumstances of your existence, but also for how those close to you have gathered around you. Few can ever hope for such a thing."
The swordswoman's first instinct was to feel ashamed for the flash of what she could only describe as disappointment. "I know how lucky I am," she murmured, dipping her chin. "I just didn't expect that all of them –"
"You wanted to know if there was still that one special soul out there," the fortune teller completed soothingly. "When your thoughts turn to the future, the question is in the shadows for you, isn't it?"
Liane chewed the inside of her lip for a moment before she decided there was no point in anything less than honesty. "Someday… it might be nice to know that there might be someone… even if I am broken." She let her eyes fall. "I care for Kratos, yes, but it didn't seem right to assume that we had… that. It seemed… disrespectful," the swordswoman shook her head.
The turbaned woman nodded her head slowly as she once again stretched her hand out for her crystal orb. "A spirit and its energy make a person special – unlike any other," she stated as her eyes reflected the glowing swirl within the sphere. "It also changes how that soul reaches out to others." With a tilt of her head, the fortune teller looked back across the table to Liane. "It is possible that one that may have been your heart in another existence may still be tied to you, but the new combination of soul and energy may still seek its match in another heart." Once again, she waited for Liane's gaze to rise before she spoke again. "Broken can be fixed… it can be healed. It doesn't have to be how you define yourself. Being alone will be an option for you, Liane, but it will only be one option. You will have a choice. Your future will be your own."
The darkness that had been twisting in the dark-haired young woman's chest suddenly brightened… and she found drawing her next breath easier as a smile began to tug at her lips. It was the best answer she could hope for… even if, in her heart, it was the answer she had already given herself. It was what she wanted to fight for the most: the same open door to the future that everyone else had. "I hoped you would say that," she finally chuckled and pushed her braid back over her shoulder.
"But you didn't need me to do so," the fortune teller smiled and swept her hand over the orb again. "Have faith in yourself… open your eyes… stand up and take what you want for your life. I see family of both blood and heart in your future… but beyond that, I believe you will be ruining your own journey if you ask me for more."
The possibility of what the fortune teller said tickled her curiosity, but Liane grudgingly pushed it away. "So… the fight… then…."
The fortune teller shook her head and drew her hand back to cross her arms. "The future is any moment that grows from the present. I cannot place limits on it. I believe the battle you will fight is set – but knowing the outcome will not change that you have never had to fight harder than you will in the coming days. That must be your focus… not my prediction for the fight, for the worlds, or for a future."
Liane sighed, but nodded a moment later. The future might be two days, a few weeks as the worlds die… or many years. What matters is that I'll face it… with family. "Thank you," she murmured sincerely and stood from the chair – not truly enlightened, but definitely reassured. "I hope we will have the chance to talk again," she dipped her head and collected her pack to leave.
"Wait, child," the fortune teller stopped the swordswoman with a sweep of her hand as she picked up the coin pouch and loosened the drawstring. Her bejeweled fingers dipped into the pouch and withdrew only a pair of shining coins before she tightened the ties again and tossed the pouch – still heavy with its remaining gald – back to Liane. "You'll need this for a little longer. And I'm sure if you want us to meet again, you'll find a way to make it happen.
The swordswoman caught the pouch easily, though the gesture puzzled her. I'll need the gald for a little longer… for shopping? She ventured a rushed guess as she smiled and tucked the pouch away. "Thank you, Madam. I will do my best to find a way, then… and you can tell me then if I've managed to surprise you."
The fortune teller only laughed, genuine amusement painting her tone. "I look forward to it, child," she nodded and waved Liane toward the door of her tent. "Be well…."
Liane nodded and offered the woman a smile before slipping out of the tent and into the late afternoon sun. Taking a moment to shield her eyes from the light to allow them to readjust, she drew in a deep breath of the scorched air… and somehow found a way to savor even its desolate warmth as she began to walk. She's right, Anna, she told the lost woman silently, feeling her as less of a guide and more of a guardian of sorts… the strength to anchor her to her world. I'm going to do this for my world… and for my family. Liane wanted to believe that the declaration would please Anna… that her own values would be satisfied… that she was still making a difference in both her presence and in her inspiration.
And they are my family….
It almost embarrassed the swordswoman how easily the definition was met… yet how she hadn't really seen it before. Definition was never needed, but it had been there all along. "… family of both blood and heart…." It was how she had always thought of Lloyd… and then Colette and Genis… but after everything that had happened, losing any of her companions had become unthinkable. They were all family… and she would fight for them just as she would fight for her parents.
"Hey, Liane!" a familiar voice called from somewhere to her side, drawing her attention from her thoughts enough to make her stop and turn. "Dora driving you crazy already?"
Liane had to laugh at the knowing grin on Lloyd's face as he trotted up to the packed-earth path from the oasis, Noishe padding along behind him. "You could say that," she shrugged, glad to see her friend and loyal companion, even though it was a very active effort to not see the long-vanished crimson streaks in the creature's snowy fur that her most vivid visions had shown her. "Come to stock up on supplies," she offered and shook off the ghost of the past as Noise continued past Lloyd to nuzzle Liane's hand affectionately. For just a moment, she looked down into the creature's eyes… and had to wonder what he knew – what he understood – before she laughed softly and looked back to Lloyd, knowing her curiosity would likely never be answered. "What about you? Dirk doesn't seem the type to mother hen you to death."
Lloyd shook his head and fondly patted the white and green creature's head. "Nah. Dad's good. I went to get Noishe from Altessa's and saw Da – I mean, Kratos – when I came back through the gate. He said to meet him here. I guess he wants to stock up, too."
"Hmm…" Liane murmured, her eyes flashing to the square ahead of them. Kratos is here, too? She couldn't stop her mind from reaching back to the last time she had run into the swordsman after meeting with the fortune teller, but it was easy enough to let go of… especially considering that she now knew that he couldn't have been expecting her, either. "Lloyd, don't push yourself so hard," she told him with a smile as she reached out to ruffle his hair. "I don't think Dirk – or Kratos – will mind if you call him that…."
The swordsman's smile dimmed slightly – though it didn't completely disappear – and he shook his head. "They might not mind, but I don't know if I'm ready for it to be that easy," he shrugged almost apologetically as he lifted a hand and attempted to smooth his hair. "Maybe once this is all over, I can figure it out."
Liane took a step back and let her hand fall to her side. "I understand," she nodded and found a smile for him. More than you know… I understand. Her own direction was still vague, but she knew she couldn't spare any more time to worry… and she certainly couldn't break down on Lloyd. As much a part of her life the boy was and as much as his quirky wisdom always seemed to make things clear at the best possible time, she knew answers wouldn't come from him this time… and worse, it could only make things more complicated for him. "We'll have time later. But for now," she smiled for him. "Anything you need from the market? I can grab it for you before I head back to Iselia."
"Naw. Noishe and I are just going to have dinner and wait for Kratos. I think he'll come back to Iselia with us… than, we'll be ready to go in the morning," Lloyd shook his head to her offer and slowly started back into the Triet market square, though from his slow pace and the glance over his shoulder, he made it clear he was waiting for her. "Unless you want to wait with us? I don't think Kratos will be too late…?"
"I would, but considering the only reason I made it out of Iselia is that I promised Mom I'd be home for dinner, I'm pretty sure she'd hunt me down if I didn't show up," Liane laughed and walked to catch up to her friend. "Thanks, though. Besides…" she laughed half-heartedly, "… sounds like it's supposed to be guys' time, anyway. That's important, too."
Lloyd rolled his eyes, but chuckled anyway. "I guess he might want to talk, but I don't think it'll be anything big." When they reached the corner of the inn, he motioned for Noishe to follow him and turned back to Liane after a few steps. "Don't be too hard on Dora. She's worried over all of us for years… and this is the biggest thing we've gotten into yet," he tilted his head and gave her a smirk. "Maybe soon, we won't have to give her reasons to worry anymore?"
Liane had to laugh again. "Have you met my mother?" she shook her head, even though Lloyd's thought was still sweet. "I know. That can be one of the things we work on… after… right?"
"We'll add it to the list," Lloyd grinned and nodded in agreement. "Well, if you change your mind, I'm just gonna eat at the inn. Otherwise, I guess I'll see you at Dad's in the morning?"
In the morning. Sounds so close….
Quickly recovering her smile, Liane nodded once. "I'll be there. Don't leave without me," she told her friend with a wave and watched him continue to the inn for a moment before turning to the market area. Everything they fought for was finally going to bring them to a final battle… and losing wasn't an option. If they lost, everything they learned, won, lost, and sacrificed… all of it would mean nothing as the world faded to nothingness. No. The world has gone on like this for too long. This is bigger than our efforts. The world deserves to take back its rightful form… and its people deserve the truth. The swordswoman knew it would be hard on everyone… even if – no, when – they did win. But at least the future wouldn't be based on a lie.
… and Sylvarant and Tethe'alla can work together.
Even though she knew the thought was a bit idealistic, it brought a smile to Liane's lips as she began to gather a collection of gels from the vendor's tent. Our group is proof that we're not so different. The people will be the ones that will really bring the world back together.
The rest of her restocking ended up being pleasantly dull… idle chitchat with merchants that made Liane wonder if it was what passed for a normal day for a normal person… and if it was something she would be able to do once the chaos was over. She did her best to reassure the vendors when the topic would change to the writhing purple sky without revealing her role in it – or she knew she'd never get home in time for dinner – but time still managed to slip away from her. By the time she had all of the items on her list – and a few extras to share with the others that might not have gotten the chance to shop – the sun was just beginning to set.
Good thing it's a short flight to Iselia, Liane told herself as she fastened her pack shut over her new treasures and reached for her wingpack. But as she lifted her pack to her shoulder and brought her eyes up, she found herself caught in an all-too familiar mahogany gaze.
Liane froze for a moment, but then slowly smiled. Across the square, the angel stood quietly talking with Lloyd – whose back was to her. Only his eyes and a ghost of a nod betrayed that he noticed her… and she was content with that. You two need all the time you can get, she told the swordsman silently as she started toward the city gates. Anything she had left to settle with either of them could wait… and it warmed her even as the icy fingers of the desert night began to grasp at her.
Your boys found their way back together, she once again addressed Anna as she released her Rheaird outside the city gate and stepped on to fire the engines. I know that's what you wanted… I know it has to make you happy….
A/N: I realize that it has been a horribly long time since my last update, and for that, I do deeply apologize. I am still struggling with a horrible block that struck Heart of the Phoenix, and it truly makes me so very sad after how hard Liane and the gang have worked to get this far. I wrote this not long after Chapter 41 was complete – and just as the block was solidifying. Thus, I also apologize to Phoenix's fans for it being so short… an interlude, really… but I am going to post it anyway in an attempt to revive the firebird and perhaps find the inspiration to finish Liane's version of the last battle of Tales of Symphonia.
To my supporters… to Yama, Aio, Millenia-the-wings-of-valmar, Amaya Night Rain of the Dragon, Angel JeM, Kat.R.777, and Inferni… and everyone else that has taken the time to review for Heart of the Phoenix over its run so far… thank you all, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you so very much for your encouragement – especially when I worried that no one cared about massive chapters and the story of a character – of characters – that have come to mean so much to me. Thank you for your kind words… your gentle nudges… and for caring enough to let me know that the story was being enjoyed and that it hadn't been forgotten.
So… please don't give up on me or on the Phoenix… or even on Liane. I want to follow her to the end of this story… and give her the future she's fighting to find for herself. So if I can beg for your patience… any encouragement you might humor me with… it would all be so very much appreciated. It means the world to hear your reactions to how Liane fits into the group… what struck you about her relationships or her trials… every bit of that encourages me. And every little kind word might help me fan the fires of inspiration again.
I can't promise an update this week or next… but I can promise I'll work hard to get through this block and update as soon as I can, even if it's a small one. Even small steps can be progress, right?
Again, thank you for reading… for your patience… and for your time. I look forward to having more to share with you soon.