"Snow, look at all the snow!" With a whoop Lloyd dove into the nearest snow drift. Then ignoring the stares of his companions made a snow angel right their in the drift. Colette giggled, then ignoring the stares that were sent her way, joined Lloyd. Soon Chosen and Swordsman were laughing, having the time of thier lives. Genis chuckled, paused a second to bend down, then waddled over to Lloyd. Yes waddled, because the many layers of fur garment he was wearing slowed him down. Most of them were too big for them, some were crudely sewn together by his sister and Slyverant's Chosen so they were a close fit, but over all most of the clothes were still too big for him.
"Lloyd you are missing the whole point of snow!"
"Snow has a point?" Lloyd's eyes were closed as he brought his arms up and down to finish the snow angel's wings.
"Yep, you wanna know what it is?"
Well Genis didn't shoot, or throw the projectile, but he did drop it on Lloyd's unsuspecting face. Sputtering Lloyd opened his eyes, wiped snow from his face. Genis made a brake for it, Lloyd right behind him throwing fist fulls of snow at the half elf. Genis was a small target though, and fast, very fast. It didn't help that Lloyd's aim was bad. Which between pants Genis all too chearily informed him. Then Genis was taken down, he staggered under the force of the throw. Colette giggled, struck a pose, then finished gloating she launched last snow ball. Lloyd fell, smack dab in another drift. Both boys came to their feet, they met each other's eyes, and a truce was made. They swiftly made more weapons, then stood as one. With a squeak Colette ran as the two boys ganged up on her. She ran in a zig zag pattern and managed to avoid all of Lloyd's attacks. Genis nailed a hit or two, but the enhanced aim of the Iselian sorcerer erred, and Sheena was knocked down.
Sheena had been watching the little game with a wistful look on her face. Had Raine and Regal not been thier she would have joined in, but her Mizuho heritage was showing that day. She restrained herself in the presence of her elders, though part of her had wanted to join in the play. Now practically eating the white stuff that coated the small continent that housed Falinor she realized how silly she was being. She found her feet, brushed herself off and smiled wickedly at her three friends.
"For the honor of Mizuho you shall all pay!"
"Hee hee... Hey Collete, is their a switch nearby you can trip over?"
"Alright oh short one, you will now be the first to face my wraith! I summon thee, maiden of ice..."
They all paled as she made a slight gesture that normally summoned a spirit. Nothing came of it, and the one hand that they weren't focusing on threw it's snowball. "Psyche!" Genis laughed as he pulled himself from the snow, Sheena had a killer aim with any projectile. She then started down the hill raining projectiles on both boys. With a whoop they retreated behind a large snow drift. When she got to Colette both girls shared a high five. "Chicken! Bawk bawk! Come on how manly are you if you hide from us?"
"Smart manly men!" Lloyd yelled from behind their sanctuary.
"That sounded wrong..."
"Shut it Genis... Come on let's get out of here and kick their tails!"
That of course proved to be a mistake. While Sheena had been taunting them Colette had been quietly making a few snowballs. The boys came out of hiding, only wielding one projectile apiece. Pulverized was not the term. Laughter rang out on the part of the girls, then Genis made a gesture and a breeze kicked up. Wind threw snow into the air, making a rough shield, and when it cleared both of the boys were gone.
"Cheaters! You can't use magic!"
"You never said that!" Lloyd cat called, then got his first hits in of the day, his barrage of snow managed to hit Colette and Sheena a few times. it was luck really. Taking Sheena's hand, Colette ran, and it was the boys turn to taunt while the girls tried to make a break for it.
Persea watched the game progress, no rules were made or upheld, it seemed so chaotic. She heard Raine sigh, mutter something about children. Persea dismissed it, watched, and slowly began to understand. This was joy, this was happiness. She smiled, the pleasure they were having was contagions, even though she wasn't actually a part of it. Yet wasn't she, she was part of their group? Didn't groups do things together? She basked in the warmth the joy for a moment longer and remembered how time had stopped for her. How she had allowed it to stop. This was some how a part of it, a part of time, a fragment that she could observe and watch drift by like all the others... Or... or she could take it, seize it. With that smile still on her face Persea ran from the adults, snatched up a fistful of snow, and joined the melee. Seeing another ally come in the wings the girls cheered her on, the boys welcomed her, then ran for cover. Persea's aim was as bad as Lloyd's, she however was much faster at making the projectiles as anyone else present.
"Ack help help, Zelos, Regal save us!"
"Oh no, I will not make war on my many hunnies, you boys just be good and get creamed!"
"Curse you Zelos!" Lloyd yelled in mock drama, Persea got him in the face and he fell off the side of the drift and out of everyone's sight.
"Thank you my little Rosebud."
Persea did not respond, she was laughing too hard.
Regal was surprised, first by Persea's impulsive decision in joining the children's game, and even more so when she laughed. She never had laughed before, at least to his knowledge. Life had been cruel to her, her innocence had been forever washed away by the evil of the Desian's. Though she looked little more then a child she must have been in her late twenties. Yet here she was, acting as a child of twelve would, innocent, care-free. Regal felt a smile on his face, it was rare for him to smile. For a moment he considered his hands, bound as they were it would be ill strategy to join in. He would be defeated easily. Yet two against three odds were also bad, and the young boys were still out their giving it their all. What man would he be if he didn't do the same? He made no battle cry, merely snatched up two fistfuls of snow and threw. He threw much like a man would throw an heavy orb at some great sports event. Colette managed a squeak before she was buried under the mini avalanche that Regal had called forth.
"Oh, yeah! We have back up! Come on Zelos, lets take 'em down together!" Lloyd yelled
"Eh... I'm not in the mood."
"Man what a jerk... Come on Lloyd, let's get them!"
Enthused by their newest ally's appearance, Lloyd and Genis stepped up the attack. Regal came down the hill, his hands that he had sworn to never use again to hurt another sent waves of snow. There was a quick conference from chattering teeth, then the three girls abandoned their high ground, and ran in different directions.
"Get them!" Lloyd yelled, trying to chase after Colette.
"Which one, I'm lost..."
"A good tactic." Regal admitted as he joined them, and reined Lloyd in. "they merely plan to split us up, regroup themselves, and take us down one at a time."
"Really, how do you know that?"
"He probably doesn't sleep through class like you do."
"I don't sleep in class!"
"Really?" Raine descended the hill, her staff tucked in with her packs. "I can recall you sleeping during my lecture last night. And since I do not have an eraser on hand..." Her eyes gleamed wickedly, as she plastered Lloyd with a snow ball.
"Ha! You just miscalculated Professer!" Lloyd yelled wiping snow from his face. "Come on guys lets..."
A barrage of snow came from behind, the men found themselves in a pincer formation. The girls rescued Raine and it again turned into a chaotic melee. For a long time Zelos just watched, said nothing, did nothing. When the wind picked up, and this time not by Genis' magic, the players did not shiver. Warmed by their play and enthusiasm the cold no longer seemed to effect them. Zelos didn't shiver, but for a totally different reason. Lloyd's dog barked, shrugged off the packs that had been loaded down on it, and raced down the hill.
"Noishe, yes we have- ahh!" He was buried under three hundred some odd pounds of wierd animal. Laughing Lloyd shoved the animal's face. Noishe threw back his head, howled, and hopped off Lloyd. He then whirled around and tackled Sheena. "Ah hah hah, looks like he's on everyone's side... Zelos, come on, join us!"
"Nah, I'll just watch the stuff!" He yelled back over the winds.
"Suit yourself." Lloyd muttered, Zelos' keen ears picked up the sigh. "Oh well, if he wants to be all alone he can, still it doesn't seem right..."
Zelos smiled, leaned against the packs and made himself as comfortable as he could. He brushed aside the kids worries. Shrugged it off his conscience, and watched with a mocking smile as they all went back to their play.
"Yahoo! You are so going to lose!" He nailed Persea." The girl whipped around and countered, as always her attack was devastating. He staggered back from the snowball barrage, then with a laugh he made a break for it. Persea started to follow, but Noishe tackled her, threw her into a drift. Lloyd turned around, saw his dog pulling Persea from the drift with gentle teeth, and give her a nudge towards the main melee. Wanting to get back at her Lloyd had chased her out of the unofficial bounds of thier play, from where they were no one could see them. Not even Zelos on the top of the hill that lead to this little vally could see them from behind this big drift.. well big wasn't the word, it was a hill of snow really.
"Oh man, don't you even think about it!"
Noishe mock growled, and chased Lloyd around the back of the hill, Lloyd skidded to a stop when his Noishe suddenly halted in the chase.
"Huh? I though you were going to knock me into the snow, what's the matter boy?"
Noishe looked back to the west, and Lloyd followed his gaze. On a hill, probably bigger then the one that they were now right next to, there was a very familiar person. Emotions clogged his throat, strangled him. The joy left his eyes, his face, he trembled, overwhelmed the raw memories that the man inspired in him. When he was able to think again he could have sworn he saw his biological Father's shoulders droop as if in a sigh. That was Kratos for you, always watching and regretting because he never joined in anything... Suddenly the smile was back, Lloyd looked to Noishe.
"I bet you miss Kratos huh? Wanna go over there and say hi?"
"Bark!" Noishe's tail wagged madly, then he nuzzled Lloyd.
"No I can't go with you, I'll be missed... But you know what, you can give him something for me... How's that sound?"
Noishe's bark was happy.
"Alright then." Lloyd pulled off his fur lined cloak. Noishe looked baffled for a bit, but as Lloyd put in his i gift /i Noishe's eyes took on a happy light. Lloyd spent a moment explaining how to deliver his i gift /i then set Noishe off with a pat.
Kratos grimaced as he saw Zelos Wilder sitting with the packs. If there positions were reversed he might have joined the game himself. The man was a fool, shunning every aspect of his humanity, becoming more and more reliant on what he was fast becoming. It was a mask, one of many, a mask of bored indifference. And whenever Zelos Wilder handled that mask he cut himself, bleed his soul a little bit more. Kratos actually contemplated joining im, well he had on first stumbling in on it. For one wistful moment he had actually considered. But his presence would have been far too disruptive. The sudden reappearance of "The Traitor" would have set them all off. He would have spoiled the mood, perhaps even endangered them, so he remained content to sit back and watch as they played. He recalled another such game so long ago, when Lloyd was much younger, and Anna was alive. He sighed, this was not the time to contemplate the past, he needed to focus on the present.
He chuckled softly as Persea ran off and Lloyd went after her. From his perch, aided by what he was, Kratos could hear every word of the conversation. Well at least until they disappeared out of his range of sight. Their was a long pause where Noishe chased after Lloyd, a long absence, then Lloyd came charging out from the hill armed with even more snow. Falinor was a good place to have a snow fight, endless materials to do so. Kratos laughed out loud as Lloyd slipped behind Raine and dumped one handful of snow on her head. He ran, and with a hoot, leaped over Sheena who was stooped down to make more weapons. As he went the snow fell from his hands. Sheena howled, ran around shrieking that the idiot swordsman poured snow down her back. That was the end for Lloyd, all the girls teamed up on him at that point.
"Enough children, the time for games is over, the sun sets early here this far north. You need to head to the city or you will never make it by dark."
Kratos didn't know why he said that. No one could hear him. And if they did all of them would have been skeptical of the truth in what he said. Habits, he had a long chain of bad habits, talking to himself was fast becoming one of them... There was a crunch of snow behind him, he whipped around, sword draw in one motion. there was the sound of fabric being unfurled, then he staggered back, so surprised by the nature of the attack he lost the grip on his long sword. It had been centuries sense any had sneaked up on him, and to do this. He sputtered, his whole face and chest were covered in snow...
Noishe barked, or rather tried. An unfurled cloak was in his mouth and muffled the sound.
"Noishe!" He looked back to the contest, saw Lloyd running around without his cloak and understanding set in. "You.. I can't believe.. he saw me and didn't..."
"He.." Kratos couldn't help himself, he smiled. "I can't believe it, he saw me and I guess he decided I needed to join in too."
"Bark!" Noishe nodded his head.
"Give me that for a moment." Noishe whined, and loosed the cloak. Kratos no longer could feel heat, but the cloak was soaked through. For a moment the Seraphim considered the cloak, considered Lloyd, then made a decision. He felt through it, wove a thing strand of fire mana through his fingers, and dried off the fur trimmed garment with his touch. As he did this paper crumpled under his hands. Perhaps by plan, perhaps by accident, there was a piece of paper in one of the cloaks inner pockets. For a moment he considered leaving it alone, but if it was a note from Lloyd...
He opened the inner pocket, slid out the piece of paper. It was carefully folded into fourths, but blank. He fumbled a bit more, he had heard something else... and he found a piece of charcoal. Charcoal was more reliable then ink in this climate, more reasonable to use. Snow fell around him, he looked to see the Chosen's group still lost in it's play. There were two people he had seen at Forcystus' ranch, they were new, more unknowns for him. But in his hand he held the ultimate unknown, was this an offer? And if it was, what kind of offer was it? For a long time Kratos toyed with the paper, gently unfolded it and refolded it as he thought.
"Noishe!" Kratos whistled, and the protozoan who looked as if he was ready to leave and re-join the game padded up to him. The protozoan looked a bit insulted as he was used as a desk. Kratos finished the note, scrawled his initials, then gently re-folded the paper and tucked it in his Lloyd's cloak. After a bit of a debate he also slid some Gald in the pocket. "Go get him." Kratos encouraged his oldest companion. Noishe needed no other invitation, he ran down the hill howling, Lloyd's cloak wrapped around his shoulders. Lloyd looked up from trying to bury Raine in snow balls, his face paled. He was knocked off his feet and rolled into what was literally no man's land. Seeing an opportunity Collete and Sheena rained snow on him. Raine took advantage to try to run to the fort, or rather drift that the girls had claimed at their own. Genis dashed in front of her, an evil grin on his face, a snowball in each hand.
"You wouldn't dare, I'm your older Sister."
Genis dared, and nailed to perfect hits, one on top of the other. Raine fell back, and Regal half buried her under one of his devastating snow rains. They let her get away, then decided to be brave and go after the women in their fortress. Lloyd didn't go with them though, he walked off with Noishe, left the game behind for a bit. Lloyd tossed on the cloak, his eyes widened as he could feel the remains of fire mana that his sire had used to dry it out. It was actually nicely warm, well it was if Kratos could judge by the way Lloyd wrapped the cloak around himself as tightly as he could. With a cautious glance to his companions to make sure they were totally absorbed in their play Lloyd pulled out the letter. His eyes scanned it, then making a face he snatched at the pocket. His eyes widened as he found the gald. Going over the note again Lloyd nodded his head, a sign that he had probably memorized the instructions inside. He gently put it in the pocket, then lifted his gaze, looked to Kratos. The Seraphim felt Zelos' eyes snap on him, he ignored Tethe'alla's Chosen, his gaze was only for his son at that moment. Drawing his sword he lifted it in salute, Lloyd didn't dare return the gesture with his own blade, it would have drawn too much attention. He managed a quick wave, then turned back to his friends.
"Come on guys, enough is enough..."
Several "aww"s drifted up to the Seraphim's ears.
"I mean, we keep doing this and we wont have any snow left.. soo..." Lloyd snatched up a fistful of snow, toyed with it. "Let's race to Falinor... snow is allowed as a weapon." Saying that he nailed Sheena then made a brake for it. Sheena laughing ran after him, yelling that if snow was allowed so was Celcius. The rest followed, and on that hill, totally forgotten was Zelos. He stood, glared at Kratos. Noishe padded up the hill, wormed his way into the straps that he had earlier shrugged off, and turned to the red haired Chosen.
"Whine?" He nuzzled Zelos' hand to comfort him.
"Shut up mutt, go run along and play with your friends."
"Grrr!" Noishe showed his impressive teeth in what was not a smile.
"Scram dog, just leave me alone."
Growling Noishe padded off, followed the tracks and sounds to his friends.
"You could have had that, it was you for the taking and you denied it. Not because of what you are, but because of who you are." Kratos called out to Zelos
Zelos' eyes widened, then narrowed in hate. His hand went to his sword. Kratos only looked to the field, saw the churned up snow, and the one again relived the play he had just watched.
"Go back to them, they will be concerned for you if you tarry." With that Kratos turned on his heel, and turned his back on Zelos, the field, and Falinor. For now anyways.
"Whoo, that was some snow fight, wasn't it?" Lloyd toweled himself off, sat by the fire. Genis only laughed. He had used his mana to warm himself, his sister, Regal, and Persea. Sheena had handled herself. Both had offered to warm Lloyd up by cheating, Lloyd had turned them down.
"Yes," Regal was still smiling. "It was."
"A marvelous experience!" Raine enthused. "Next time we are here we should do so again!"
"Yes..." Persea too was smiling.
"Yeah, except next time lets split up in twos. That four on three thing was hard!" Genis smiled.
"Provided that idiot chosen will join us next time..." Sheena grumbled.
"Well-" Lloyd looked up surprised to see Zelos slink in the inn after them. "Hey Zelos, man you missed out... You felling OK?" He said at last, noticing the somewhat glum air around the normally cheerful man.
"Oh yeah, I'm fine bud!" The air was gone, he seemed the same as always. Suddenly something in Lloyd's gut clenched, a warning. He banished it, Zelos was just cold that's all.
"Here," Lloyd got up, offered the Tethe'alla Chosen his chair by the fire, and the towel he had just used. "Warm up a bit."
"Huh?" Zelos blinked then smiled a strangely absent smile. Again that feeling in Lloyd's gut went off. "Oh yeah, thanks." Zelos went through the same motions as Lloyd did, then when he lingered for just a little while he said he was tired he went for the bedrooms.
"We're going to escort the doctor to Altessa's tonight... You want to stay here Zelos?"
Zelos looked at him, seemed to consider something seriously for a moment. It had to be serious, because the arrogent smile he always wore just wasnt' there.
"Nah, I'll catch my Z's now and head out with the others whenever you need to leave."
"'K, look Zelos, if you still feel bad say around noon stay here, I'll go visit Altessa with the others." Lloyd offered. Even with Kratos' money the inn that he had recommenced they stay at was so expensive only four of them could afford a room. Yet the warning on the note about the other inn's being watched by the Desian's gave him more then enough motivation to go this route.
"Hey I'm fine bud, just a little out of sorts that's all. Nothing a nap wont fix."
"Alright, see you when you wake up. Hey, what do you want for lunch before you go? Genis will cook it."
"Ehh something light, after all we are gunna be flyin' and all..." Zelos yawned.
"Fine, we'll arrange that. Rest well Zelos."
As soon as he was gone Sheena snorted.
"What a jack-ass, you're all nice to him and he does what? He blows you off like that!"
"Hey, lay off, he's just a little sick that's all. And as anyone in Iselia can tell you I'm no cheerful person when I get sick either."
"Oh yes, he's a horrid patient." Raine sighed. "Did I ever tell you about the time when he got the flu and he thought he was going to die if he took the medicine I gave him?"
"Oh no, Proffesser no, not i that /i story!"
"How would you know this?" Persea asked in the slow thoughtful way she asked everything.
"My Sis is the main doctor in Iselia as well as it's teacher!"
"Truly?" Regal smiled. "I would like to hear this story."
"No, I wont let you tell it! Don't Professer please!"
"Ohh Lloyd never told us this story Genis!" Collete smiled, scooted closer to Raine. "I want to hear it!"
"Me too!" Genis chirped.
"No no no... This is not my day..."
"Well it all began when a small spat of the flu broke out in Iselia, nothing really life threatening. Lloyd wanted to catch it, because he thought that getting it would allow you to fly. Flu, fly, he thought it was the same thing."
"This is gunna be good..." Sheena cackled in her best i female evil witch banshee /i impersonation. "How old was he?"
"Hmm ten, yes ten... He was rather young, and small, he was shorter then Genis is now. So when he first got a little sick he thought that he could fly, he developed an almost obsessive compulsion to climb trees and roofs and see if the flu was working."
"Poor Dirk!" Sheena howled.
"Oh man, make it stop please..." Lloyd whimpered putting his head in his hands.