Note: Special thanks to Insaneiac the Maniac for the following correction: Zelos's mother is named Mylene (See update 25's omake). I've never seen the Zelos Flanoir and Heimdall scenes, nor did I have the forethought to check Wikipedia. I erroneously assumed the game did not name her. Apparently someone at Namco is a Macross fan.
NAMCO Tales Studio, Ltd. holds the exclusive rights to all characters and story elements appearing in the video game Tales of Symphonia. The following story has been created for entertainment purposes only, and no profit has been made by the author. This story may not be reproduced in any form, print or electronic, without prior permission from the author, save for short excerpts for comment of review.
The Swordsman and the Summoner
Chapter 22: Everything you ever wanted to know about summon spirits but were afraid to ask
"Sheena is fighting a battle right now," Verius said. "Even if she weren't, she's too far away to reach the temple in time."
Genis nodded. "And we're just close enough."
Had they the option, Genis and Zelos would have mounted Noishe for the fifteen mile journey to the Martel Temple. But the dog-shaped protozoan had disappeared in the week following the invasion. He might well return in his own time if he could sniff out the camp's location, but they could not wait for him. By then it would be too late to help Phaidra, the pastors, and the Iselians holed up in the temple. That left the barely functional as rheiard their only option. Genis kept the speed low and the aircraft close to the ground. Occasionally it dipped or bucked, but his repair work was sound and sustained its flight across the plains of Iselia and through the cindery ruins of his home village. He averted his eyes as they passed the ash piles and fractional walls that used to be buildings, the chicken wire jutting up at odd angles from the ground, and the bald, scorched evergreens that from a distance evoked monumental black obelisks dedicated to the memory of some long forgotten civilization.
An image leapt into his mind. He saw the pond outside his house contaminated with ash and oil, a film of greasy sludge floating atop the water. He shuddered. To the village children, the only pond in Iselia was a favorite gathering spot, and Genis understood how instrumental having it on his lawn had been to his making friends as a child. If it had been polluted, he didn't want to know. Best avoid that section of the village altogether.
Another dreaded sight he could not avoid. He'd hoped to buzz by the ruined schoolhouse, but debris from the building had fallen onto the roadway, partially blocking off the village's only northern exit. Compelled, he brought the rheiard to an abrupt halt. It conked out, the engine belching fumes, and Genis reflected that this was as fit a burial place for the machine as any. The husks of other rheiards he and his friends had grounded were nearby. Thus the Village of Oracles becomes a garbage dump.
"Give a guy a little warning next time, will you?" Zelos said. He hadn't been holding on tightly enough and the sudden stop sent him rolling. "Couldn't you have blasted that stuff with a fireball or something?"
"Magic takes a great deal of concentration," Genis said. "We would have crashed if I had taken my attention from flying."
Zelos rubbed his sore head. "Felt like a crash to me."
Genis gazed at the schoolhouse, noting it was the only structure the invaders hadn't put to the torch. They hadn't needed to; Genis had destroyed it for them. He half-expected to see a giant meteorite set like a hill amid the broken glass and splintered wood, and breathed easier when he did not. He retrieved the kendama from his pack, and with chanted words and a few taps of the ball on a string against the body of the weapon to amplify its energy field, he hurled three fireballs at the debris. The whole exercise was unnecessary. Since the rheiard wouldn't fly again, the path hadn't needed widening; he and Zelos could have squeezed by and been on their way.
The fire burned quick and soon reduced the debris to smoking embers, which Zelos poked at with his sword. "Rubble was only a few feet high," he said. "That bucket of bolts could've jumped it."
"Maybe, but it probably would have stalled out."
As Genis took his first steps down the northern road his mind flashed back eighteen months to the day he reluctantly began his adventures. That day it had been Lloyd's natural enthusiasm that drew the half-elf down this road, though Genis had to admit a part of him was thrilled to be disobeying his sister. Nor were today's travels his idea. Verius's request prompted his every step. Now that he thought of it, he'd never walked down this road without following in someone else's footsteps. And that wasn't the behavior of a hero, of a knight. Knights weren't followers. Okay, so he hadn't initiated this rescue, but he could lead it. "Come on, Zelos," he said, charging ahead of the swordsman, "let's go."
Genis's enthusiasm flagged, though, when they reached the foot of the temple stairs and spotted the source of the summon spirit's concern: more than twenty heavily armed soldiers intent on breaching the building's meager defenses. Already the half-elf could hear the oaken doors cracking under pressure from a ram. "What do we do?"
Zelos grinned. "That's obvious. We fight."
"Are you nuts? There's no way we can beat that many by ourselves. We should wait until our backup arrives."
"And let who knows how many die in the meantime?" Zelos growled. "Remember, the old crone who runs this place is my cute little angel's grandmother. And I'm looking forward to seeing a smile on her face when she comes back to us."
"You're right," Genis said, "We'll do it for Colette. And for all the villagers who have family inside the temple."
"That's the spirit. Keep it up and you might even impress your cute-as-a-button little lady."
Genis blushed. You said "your," not "my." Thanks, Zelos.
"So all we have to do is hold these jerks off until the ninjas show up."
"That's easier said than done," Genis said.
"Name something that isn't." Zelos took a few experimental steps and shook his head. His shuffling gait might suffice for walking, but not for battle. At a thought his crimson wings flared to life, relieving the pressure upon his injured leg. He tightened the straps on his buckler and unsheathed his sword. Pointing it toward the stairs, he said to Genis, "Lead on, Sir Knight."
Genis drew his kendama. "Forward!"
Just as he crested the first flight of stairs, he heard the snap of the doors giving way. The soldiers were in.
"Yuan is an unknown quantity," Fukuro said. "We cannot trust him implicitly. Our goal in battle, then, must be twofold: defeat the spirit and protect the chief. Whichever of us is sidelined during the battle must let the others know if the angel tries anything."
Naoki scanned the area before responding. Not overtly. Three ninjas gathered in the same place already drew too much attention, even after one left to buy supplies (Otonashi should return soon). Naoki didn't need the added attention that a rookie mistake like moving his head to look around or talking in overly hushed tones would bring. Look suspicious and people will be suspicious. Satisfied he wasn't being watched, he said, "You do not trust the chief's judgment...sir?"
Fukuro inhaled sharply. "Sheena has the heart of a chief. That she will do what she thinks best, I have no doubt. But she lacks experience. Igaguri spent years at his uncle's side before taking his place as chief. Sheena spent a year..." He trailed off, unwilling to finish the thought.
Naoki finished it with a thought of his own, "Among heroes who saved the world."
"Saving the world does not make you a leader," Fukuro said.
"But it does entitle her to respect."
"You think I don't respect her? Of course I do, but I do not worship her. I have made a reasonable assessment of her capabilities."
"And you find her wanting."
"Inexperienced," Fukuro corrected. "But with great potential."
"Sir, I do not mean to doubt you—"
"Naoki, you need not apologize for questioning me." Fukuro saw the unease in Naoki's expression and said, "Tell me, who runs our village?"
"Officially, yes, but who really runs it?"
"The council, Naoki," Fukuro said. "My father, Kimiko, Taiki, and the others have just as much a say in village politics as the chief, maybe more. Military decisions belong solely to the chief and in a pinch he can dictate civil ones as well, but the day to day decisions—the ones that really count—are all reached by consensus. The traditionalists may not agree, but that is the way it works."
"Lesson learned, but what does it mean?"
"It means question me all you want so long as we are not in battle. And do not waste time apologizing."
"Ask your question," Fukuro said.
"The way you are talking, it sounds as if...do you think Chief Igaguri made a poor decision when he chose Chief Sheena?"
Fukuro took a deep breath and exhaled it completely before answering. "He made an emotional decision. He hoped one of his children would succeed him, but his sons died and his daughter disappeared, and his adopted granddaughter was his last chance. He would never have chosen her if he did not believe in her, but he elevated her too soon. It is up to us to make sure this mission succeeds. Can I rely on you for that?"
"Of course, sir." Naoki would have said more, but just then Otonashi stepped into view. He was weighed down with two pairs of over-filled satchels, and both Fukuro and Naoki started forward to relieve him of his burden. As he tossed a pair of satchels over his shoulder, Fukuro relayed his keep-an-eye-on-Yuan strategy. Otonashi nodded his understanding.
"Come then," Fukuro said. "The chief's vessel has surely docked by now, and I want to make sure she is untroubled by monsters on her way into the city."
"You are forbidden entry into this holy place!" Age had stripped the timbre from Phaidra's voice but not the bravery from her spirit. She spoke with defiance, this stooped woman who required a staff simply to stand and could move only in shambling steps that made the short journey from temple to village an afternoon hike.
"Flee now, old hag," Captain Keane said, "and I will give you your life. Perhaps I will even spare the lives of your cohorts."
The two pastors behind Phaidra did not seem nearly as confident as she.
"Only penitent souls have any business here," one of them said, his voice quaking.
"Only those who pay homage to the goddess Martel or seek communion with the spirit Verius," the other added.
Keane smiled. "We seek the greatest communion of all." He beckoned to a man behind him. Tipsy like a drunk, he blundered forward, his clunky maroon armor rattling with every step. Keane threw an arm across the man's shoulders and eased him to his knees before Phaidra. "This 'penitent,'" he said, "seeks a pact with Verius."
Phaidra chuckled and her staff wobbled. "The Spirit of Heart already has a pact."
Keane sent a questioning look to the man in maroon, who in response lowered his head and twisted his fingers into a complex series of gestures. After a moment he looked up and shook his head.
"You lie," Keane said to Phaidra.
"I speak the truth. All who live with love in their hearts have a pact with Verius."
"We'll be wanting something more specialized." He let the old woman mull that over while he appraised his pact-maker. He remembered the man as a boy, an eager young page freshly entered into the king's service. Polishing armor and sharpening weapons presented no great challenge, and he'd advanced to squire a full two years ahead of schedule. But he'd never be a soldier. His frame was too delicate and he lacked the stomach for killing. Summoning, then, seemed a perfect fit. But the weekly injections were taking their toll. His brilliant black hair—even brows and lashes—had faded to a pale blonde, and his frequent loss of appetite had cost him twenty pounds he hadn't to spare. Some were able to endure the symptoms, even to thrive on them, but not he. Still, his captain would see to his success no matter what. He refused to let the little cuss break his winning streak.
This was the third pact-making expedition he'd led, and he was determined it would be his third successful expedition. He'd gone first to the Temple of Earth, brazenly marching a handful of combatants across the plains of Iselia to within twenty miles of the village itself and securing Conrad's place as the first royal summoner. Conrad—now there was a man who could endure his symptoms. Though his hair had faded, he'd not lost a pound. To the contrary, since beginning injections he'd bulked up, though that probably had more to do with his rigorous physical training. Ha! Ten to one he started the training to impress a woman. Keane wished he were fighting alongside Conrad now. Or the pact-maker from his second expedition, even if that one was a bit insubordinate—he insisted on taking part in the fighting instead of hanging back as ordered. Undine scored a number of hits against him, but her eventual defeat made her the third spirit now loyal to Meltokio (A colleague of Keane's had secured Efreet before losing his life and most of his squad to Volt).
The king's strict policy meant there were no pact-makers to spare. Each summoner was to have one pact and one pact only. That way the king could deploy the spirits to multiple locations, or he could attack a single location with no lag time between summons. Imagine how quickly he could quell an insurrection with the combined might of Efreet, Gnome, and Sylph. Fire, earthquakes, and wind all raining down at once—such efficiency! And there were certainly other creative ways to combine the spirits' talents. The possibilities were dizzying.
The pact-maker still knelt as if the thought of rising had not yet occurred to him. He doffed his helmet, revealing a sweat-drenched face and short tufts of hair plastered to his scalp. He dragged a leather-encased hand across his forehead and his glove came away dripping wet, having displaced a mere fraction of the sweat. When he did finally stand, his feet sloshed in his boots.
Keane grimaced. Against the Research Lab's advice, the pact-maker had been given a double dose of his normal injection before the mission. Intelligence on Verius suggested a spirit more belligerently opposed to granting pacts than Volt. Rumor had it he denied even the Mizuho girl's pleas. And the king wanted this pact. Boy, did he want it. So much so that he'd conducted the pre-meeting briefing personally. Never had Keane heard the phrase "ungrateful whelp" used so frequently in a quarter-hour, and applied to a summon spirit no less. He kept expecting the king to say, "We brought him into this world, we can take him out." Had the briefing gone on a little longer, he probably would have.
He patted the pact-maker's shoulder. "You ready?"
In response he received a nod and a grunt.
Replacing his helmet, the pact-maker brushed past Phaidra and the pastors, and three soldiers followed him: a big bruiser of an axeman, a card fighter, and an offensive mage. Medical bags were slung across the pact-maker's shoulders. Surviving battle was his chief goal, but he was also to ply the fighters with gels if he could do so safely. When he reached the central passageway that led to the seal room, he paused, turned back to his captain, raised his visor, and nodded as if to say, "Don't worry, I'll be fine."
In response his captain shrugged as if to say, "I don't care."
He regarded Phaidra with a frown. He'd lied to her. His orders were twofold: secure the pact and force-march anyone found in the temple to the prison camp set up at the old human ranch. She'd never make it, would slow the whole march down, and he couldn't let her go as he'd promised. He'd have to eliminate her before he left. It was the merciful thing to do, and short of throwing her over his shoulder and carrying her, it was the only thing he could do. Facing her, he said, "Where are the others hiding? Come on, you three aren't the only ones here. Let's have them."
"So you can 'spare their lives' as well?"
He grinned. Sharp old bird.
"Gravity Well!" someone shouted. "Run!" And the troop surged forward. The temple portico proved too small to accommodate them all, so most had remained outside. Snatches of their conversations had reached Keane's ears throughout his confrontation with Phaidra, but he'd assumed at least a few of them would be guarding the rear. Obviously not if they'd allowed someone to get far enough into casting a spell to identify it. Now they'd pay for their carelessness. Not all of them would pass through the doorway in time to avoid the attack. Keane felt the rumbling of tiny tremors in the earth, saw tiny sparks exploding in the air, caught a whiff of ozone, telltale signs all of a combined lightning and earth spell. It might be an Earth Bite, though. He craned his neck for a better view. No, this would be an area spell. Gravity well, then. The panicked soldier, whoever he was, had gotten it right. It made sense. Only a fool would waste the element of surprise striking against a single opponent.
Keane raised his shield, then the attack hit. One of the unfortunate killed was launched into the air and his lifeless body collided with the captain, knocking him off his feet. He'd have cursed if the fall hadn't driven the air from his lungs. He took in deep, gasping breaths, and choked on the acrid smoke that filtered into his lungs. The attack had probably cost him a quarter of his troop. Whether that put him at a disadvantage depended on how large a force he was facing. He might still salvage a victory. Wait for the smoke to clear, he told himself. Then I can assess. But when the smoke cleared, all he saw was the tip of a double-edged sword planted inches from his face.
"Yeah, Short Stuff, surprise attacks are the way to go!" said the man holding the sword. His head was turned, presumably to address a comrade. When he finished, he turned to face Keane. "Wouldn't you agree, Cap?"
"Chosen." He spat the word.
Keane made a move for the weapon strapped at his side, but Zelos pressed the sword into the flesh of his neck. Keane might push the blade aside with his shield if he swung his arm around fast enough. His arm twitched. Zelos noticed and pressed the blade deeper, deep enough to draw blood. The captain sucked air through his teeth. The blade stung like a son of a—"Gahh!" He screamed as the blade sliced across two and a half inches of his neck.
A high-pressure plume of water impacted Zelos in the stomach and slammed his body against the wall. The water ripped through his shirt and blistered the skin beneath with welts. Flap his wings as furiously as he might, he could not break free and remained pinned against the wall. Only when he stopped struggling and blacked out did the water let up. The card fighter crumpled the now useless water card and stuffed it into his pocket. "Captain!" he called out.
The hand Keane had pressed against his neck was slick with too much blood. Frantically, he dug through his bag for a gel and tried desperately to remember the healing spell he'd been taught.
He heard the words, "Here, Captain, drink this." And he did without hesitation, half expecting the contents of the flask to come spilling out of the gash in his neck. He continued to hold the wound together, even after he felt the tingling of its mending itself from the inside out.
"We'll have you fixed up in a minute, Captain."
The sounds of battle still raged around them as he let go of the wound and raised himself up on his elbows. "Where's our healer?" he said.
"He must've bought it in the blast," the card fighter said, winding a bandage around the captain's neck.
Keane tried to swallow. "Loosen it," he said. After the card fighter complied, the captain continued, "Not that I don't appreciate the save that nearly killed me, but why aren't you fighting the spirit?"
"The passage to the seal room is blocked off by a barrier. We need a key or something."
"Hey, crone," Keane said, "how do we access the seal room? And don't tell me it's by having a pure heart or some other mantis-shit."
A bemused Phaidra shook her head. "I'll tell you nothing."
The card fighter leapt to his feet and backhanded the old woman.
"No, don't hurt her," a pastor cried. "You need the sorcerer's ring. It's in the basement. Take the eastern corridor." He sank to his knees and pulled Phaidra's head onto his lap. She moaned. "It's not...don't send them...don't hurt..."
Keane rose and squeezed the card fighter's shoulder. "You fight. I'll get the ring." He caught sight of the axeman, and the pact-maker huddled in the central passageway. The mage must have already joined the fight. He'd have to commend him for his quick thinking later. The axeman Keane directed to join the fight; the pact-maker he grabbed by the arm and drug into the eastern corridor. When he started to protest, Keane said, "Don't worry, newbie. I'll protect you from the big bad civilians."
"The villagers in the basement are innocents," came the voice of a pastor. "Please don't hurt them!"
But the captain was already out of sight, and the card fighter's fist soon sent the pastor out of mind.
Kimiko - f, "noble
child" (all right, I'm a fan of Meltokio; so sue me)
Taiki – m, "large radiance"
Keane – m, "ancient" or "fighter" (as good a name for a soldier as any, I suppose)
Zelos and Genis / Sheena and Yuan - or - Lloyd and Kratos / Dirk and Kate