A/N: Well, thanks for all your reviews, guys… This is where it ends. Thanks for sticking with it so long—and I really mean it. ;
Who will win the battle between 'good' and 'evil'—furthermore, which is which? Just who is Caelestis, and what is his connection to Lloyd? And what does fate have in store for him? Read and find out!
"…So, this is where it ends… It's about time."
High above the stars, a pair of stoic green eyes surveyed the raging planet. He gazed evenly through the small window before turning from the sight, his cape catching in the draft. He strode silently, the only sound throughout the muted city of angels being the solemn click of his boots against the steel floor.
He took a seat facing a large wall lined with monitors of many different sizes each with different images flickering on the screen. He stared upward, scanning each monitor of their content and location. His emerald eyes finally rested on a medium sized panel, portraying the small town of Exire at Maxwell's monument as it towered over the scene forebodingly—a dim light against the stormy horizon. Just before the statue, a figure shrouded in a heavy darkness stood with his head held high, seemingly scrutinizing over the two humans standing ready before him. A fiery phoenix perched itself atop Maxwell's monument.
He began lightly typing onto the controls before him, the swift fluttering of the keys deafening against the perpetual silence of Welgaia. In response, all monitors ceased their previous tasks, instead streaming various shots all centered in Exire. With the range of angles, he could see every aspect of the scene as it came into being.
Rain sodden and anxious for action, Zelos and Sheena appeared on many of the screens, confronting the intruder with unwelcoming glowers.
Silence spanned in the small room; no audio was available with the surveillance footage, but it was unnecessary anyway. Throughout his four-thousand years of existence, he had learned how to read lips, body language, facial expressions—everything there was to a living soul.
Yuan leaned back placidly in his chair, watching evenly as the final chapter of the fate of his home planet unraveled before him. Behind his iron veneer, however, he couldn't help but fidget within the confines of his own mind.
Zelos pushed a wet strand of hair from his eyes. "I hate this guy already." he huffed. "Getting all fancy and crap with his entrance, I swear—"
"Lookout!" Sheena called out, stepping in front of him and casting Cyclone Seal in just the nick of time. A line of smoldering flames was thrown askew by her quick casting; Gnartias scowled, albeit slightly impressed as he reared back to shoot another barrage of flames, but withheld as Caelestis waved him down.
"Tch… Thanks, Sheena." Zelos said, annoyed at his own negligence. He shook his head, regaining his composure. With a cocky flick of his sword, he stepped out from behind Sheena, asking with an edge, "What's with this, Big Bird? Couldn't take out two lousy humans on your own, hmm?"
"Says the man from behind the shield of a woman." The phoenix sneered. Immediately, he took to the air as two sharp objects whizzed just below his gruesome talons. He hovered just above the statue with periodic beats of his fiery wings, anger burning in his eyes.
Two more shuriken held between her knuckles, Sheena growled, "You wanna say that to my face?!"
The dark man chuckled enigmatically at the events. He glanced over his shoulder, addressing Gnartias. "That will be enough, sire… Go off in search of the old man Maxwell; I will handle these two."
"Hmph… as you wish…" he finished with a small laugh, "…boy." He ascended from his hovering perch and flew off into the distance, eventually disappearing into the stormy, foreboding horizon.
Immediately, Zelos looked ready to spring into action as well. "Sheena! We can't let… that thing get away! We have to follow it!"
"I kn… I know, but…" she replied hesitantly, before becoming more resolute. "Don't worry. We'll get it after we finish off this guy."
Caelestis faced the two with a dark—yet almost eager—smirk. "The Summoner and the Eternal Swordsman…" he remarked, pausing. "…A divine combination. …You do know that you are the new wielder, don't you?"
Zelos met his gaze with a wordless steel glower. He made no response as he adjusted his shield and weapon, his eyes never leaving those of their interloper.
Sheena glanced sideways at the former chosen before returning her focus as Caelestis spoke. "…Heh, you know it alright. But… you don't know how to use it. I… Lloyd forgot to tell you. It's worthless in your hands, so… just hand it over, already." He commanded apathetically. "Don't make me have to take it from you."
"Go ahead and take it." Sheena challenged tauntingly. "We're the only things standing in your way. …So go ahead. Try to take it."
"There's really no bending fate… It always has to be a fight…" he sighed, withdrawing one tattered blade. In an instant, his golden eyes hardened as he called out, "Double Demon Fang!"
As the twin shockwaves raced towards them, scorching the ground they covered, Sheena instinctively leapt backward, while Zelos raised his shield and prepared to meet the assault head on. Following in behind the waves, Caelestis ducked behind the curtain of light, both weapons drawn and apt to strike.
Sheena caught sight of the darkness shadowing the last wave and sent her remaining shuriken whirling. "Zelos!" she shouted in warning. "Attack the second wave!"
He threw his shield upward to parry the first shockwave, throwing it haphazardly aside where it dissipated in a burst of light. He hurriedly cast her a puzzled glance, but quickly repositioned to attack nevertheless. He charged forward on the charred tile. "Light Spear—"
Completely aware to their ploy, he opened his midnight wings, catching a stormy gale beneath his feet, he propelled out from behind the luminous screen. Once he maneuvered behind Zelos, he took to the air.
"—Cannon!" Tethe'alla's chosen cried out as swiveled mid-air to finish his combating clout upon the second shockwave. As the light shattered into the dusk, his eyes grew wide with horrid realization. Blazing flames licked menacingly at his back, accompanied by an all too familiar call. He could feel Caelestis' sinister grin upon him.
He was suddenly thrust downward; a sharp pain rang through his back as searing blazes erupted all around him. Zelos cringed as the marble tile grew closer and closer, but he knew he wasn't down for the count. In a dazzling burst of orange light, his wings shot out behind him; he swiftly spun around to face his assailant with a cold, hateful glower. With a powerful swing, he offset Caelestis' blades, who then lagged back in a hasty retreat before dropping lightly to the ground. Zelos managed a speedy recovery, skidding backward on the rain slick surface, biting back a cringe as his wound split in agony.
As soon as he landed, Caelestis jumped backward, effortlessly dodging Sheena's attempting swipes. Seizing a momentary let up in her assault, he stepped forward and prepared a mild Beast, however, Sheena countered in a flash. "Demon Seal Pyre!"
Caught a bit off guard, he was blown backwards by the violent explosion of mana, staggering gracelessly as he landed.
Zelos, back on his feet, saw his opportunity to avenge his loss and sought to take it without a second thought. He would finish this twisted abomination and put an end to their seemingly perpetual fighting that continued even when they had—supposedly—saved the two worlds. It was all a circle of endless and pointless violence, but with this moment he found the ability to ascertain an end and a peaceful future. For everyone.
With the tempting thought of reprieve fresh in his mind and coursing through his veins… he stopped. Zelos dropped his blade to the ground, letting it clatter noisily against the rain sodden marble tile. Thunder clapped above and the seas roared below the floating island, but all was silent and still.
Four dark wings, three tattered blades, two shadowy figures clashed in the center of the island platform.
Four dark wings, three tattered blades, two shadowy figures… one ravaged soul.
The smaller of the two—armed with only one sword—shook with rage as he desperately tried to force his blade through the other's defense. The other stood expressionless, watching his mirror reflection with great intent and curiosity.
"You…!" the smaller one roared; anger, hatred and malice blazing uncontrollably within his golden eyes. "You bastard! You've stolen everything from me, everything! Because of you I've lost my life, my love, my future… my everything!"
Caelestis shook his head. "Don't be stupid." He said in an apathetic voice, never breaking his gaze. "There is more to it than this life; I am living proof. Besides, you chose this for yourself. It was your choice—"
"Choice?!" he exclaimed hysterically, pulling his blade back. "Choice?! What choice did I have in this?"
Caelestis' eyes hardened as he spoke, small shards of anger breaking through. "I was the one who chose his friend over the world. You were the one that chose to find a way to save both worlds when everyone else had given up." All of his composure disappeared as he carried on, his voice rising. "We chose this path! Wechose to walk it alone in hopes keeping everyone else out of harm's way so we could take all the hits! But did either of us think of what would happen then?! Of course not, we just leapt into action without a single thought! I'm paying the price for my damn negligence while you live the cushy life and make the same damn mistakes I did!"
"SHUT UP!" he bellowed, brandishing his sword with rage as he pointed it at his counterpart. "No matter what you say, you are not me! There's no way—"
"Lloyd Irving-Aurion, I am you displaced by time and born into a different world!" Caelestis roared. "We share the same traits, the same blood, the same memories and the same sou—"
"Then you should know what happens after this!" Lloyd interjected; he hit a soft spot, as Caelestis only glowered in silence. Lloyd went on, "If you're who you say you are, then you should know how this ends!"
A bitter silence spanned between the two.
"…Well? How does it end?!"
Finally, he broke his gaze as he looked past his former self. "It's… been a long time…" He muttered, taking a step back. "I've forgotten." He paused, allowing a small, devious smirk to curl onto his dark features. "…And even if I did remember… I have no need to tell you. …Why ruin the surprise ending?" He finished as a dark mana set to work on the ground beneath him.
Lloyd hastily contemplated interrupting the spell, but found his hesitation had decided the matter for him. The dark matter swirled around Caelestis uncontrollably as he called, "Ignis Percutio!"
Immediately, the ground beneath him turned to sweltering magma and he felt himself sinking in the pit. Columns of fire erupted around him as he found himself trapped in a ring of flames, his only escape being the space above. He promptly sheathed his lone sword and without a thought, transformed into a raven in a burst of light, spiraling upward within the cage. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a colossal halberd engulfed in flames screaming through the blanket of dark clouds headed directly towards him. He dove out of the way just before the lance struck the ground with a tremendous explosion, returning to his former appearance, he rolled onto his feet, checking his surroundings at a glance. He could have sworn he had seen Zelos and Sheena as he flew in, but did not see either of them in his rush.
What he did spot, however, seemed just as beneficial: his weapon's twin lay at the other edge of the arena. He didn't why it was there, or how it got there—it didn't matter. He had to get it.
Dashing to the opposite side of the arena, he extracted his one sword, carrying it in his dominant hand, in case he couldn't make it without any sort of combat along the way.
But Caelestis had seen it all before. He forcefully planted one of his blades into the marble tile, and lifted his free hand, shouting with a cruel smile, "Aquilo!"
In response, a fierce northern gale whipped past Lloyd, clashing and overthrowing the previously chilling eastern wind. He cried out softly as he saw the sword, slowly skitter to the edge of the island before dangling precariously at the ledge. Finally, it dropped, plunging into the rampant sea below.
Lloyd skidded to a halt, clutching his single sword tightly, and eyes burning with indescribable spite for the man who claimed to be him.
All the meanwhile, Zelos stood distantly beside Sheena atop the manor overlooking Maxwell's Monument in the height of the powerful squall. Sheena held tightly to the pointed tip of the roof akin in design to a top to a gothic cathedral; Zelos, fluorescent wings still aglow, did the same. She kept her eyes glued on the scene below, silent as the events unfolded before them. Finally, she broke her silence. "…Zelos, you knew the whole time that… that Lloyd gave you the Eternal Sword?"
He nodded, his tone mellow. "Yup, a few days before this whole fiasco started up, he told me all about everything and forfeited the right." He paused before adding. "He told me to keep it even afterwards. Made it sound like it was a burden."
She gave him a sad, but puzzled, look before returning to watch. A few moments passed before she began to slide her feet downwards hesitantly. "…We should help Lloyd."
Zelos gently tugged her arm, pulling her back up with him. He shook his head. "We can't. This isn't our place to intervene. Lloyd's fighting himself on this one." he chuckled slightly. "Literally, too, it seems. …But seriously, there was a reason I dropped my sword when I had the chance to finish the guy."
She looked up at him. "What's that?"
"…You'd laugh if I told you." He smiled, looking down at her. He turned his gaze back to the scene. "But I think you'll realize it, sooner or later."
Suddenly, Sheena gasped as an unexpected, strong north wind loosened her grip and she began to fall from her perch. She managed to grasp onto the slick ledge with one hand, but her grip was slowly weakening. Zelos braced himself as a second gale of the Aquilo spell rushed by them, but carelessly abandoned his stand as soon as it let up and ran to her aid.
"Sheena, hang on!" he called over the rumbling thunder, rain splashing in his eyes. He knelt down, grabbing her free hand. His heart jumped as he heard her release a small cry of surprise as her hand slipped from the edge and he nearly fell along with her. He made a blind grab for her other hand, and relaxed somewhat when he found her wrist. "I've got you, just keep hanging on!" he told her, although unsure of how exactly he would pull her up, as he was nearly dangling himself. The lower half of his torso remained on the ledge, exposing his only partially healed wound to the rain and elements as it threatened to tear open once more.
She noticed his uncertainty. "Zelos, you can't pull us both, but if you could just raise me a little bit more…"
He nodded, utilizing all his strength to lift her. She grasped the ledge once more, but firmly with both hands. "Okay, let go of me and get yourself up!"
Hurriedly, he released her and got to his feet before offering his arms again. She graciously took his offer and he gradually pulled her onto her feet. "Thank you, Zelos, thank you so much…" she uttered breathlessly, heart still racing.
Zelos' attention abruptly diverted back to the battle as he noticed Lloyd facing Caelestis with only one sword and his eyes caught on the edge of the island. "The sword…!" he exclaimed, "It fell off Exire! Lloyd's toast without it! That kid can't fight single-sword-edly to save his life…"
Without thinking, he soared from the manor top and under the floating island, disappearing into the mist.
"…So much for not helping." Sheena spat, shaking her head in disbelief.
In little time, Zelos arrived at the ocean's surface, first looking overhead, and then scanning the raging surface. After what seemed like hours, he spotted the weapon floating hardily atop crashing waves. He grabbed the water sodden blade and ascended with great haste.
The clash of metal rang out atop the tiny island as the two repeatedly exchanged drawn blows. Every couple strikes, Lloyd would surrender an awkward few steps backward, as he was insecure and ill prepared to defend himself with only one blade and without a shield. For the time being, he relied on the defensive tactic of simply parrying—and avoiding when possible—any potential hits, but he was terribly missing his second weapon… and it showed.
As Lloyd staggered backward, Caelestis unexpectedly launched himself forward, taking both blades in one hand and violently grabbed Lloyd's weaponless wrist while ensnaring his single sword between the two he carried in one hand. One flick of his wrist and Lloyd's sword was flung from his hand and he spun the boy around, pinning his arms behind his back.
Caelestis sighed as Lloyd struggled fruitlessly within his grasp. "Though I'm pretty out of practice, the fact that I can still defeat you this easily makes me wonder how either of us ever managed to beat Yggdrasil." He shook his head in dismay, letting go of him and delivering a hard kick to his back. "And I used to think I was near my prime at this point…" Lloyd groaned in anger and pain as he was sent stumbling until he helplessly landed on all fours on the tile.
He stepped forward, forcefully nudging the boy over onto his back with his foot as he returned to holding one sword in each hand. He pressed one of them under Lloyd's chin, exposing his neck as the boy's eyes burned with malice towards the man standing over him.
Caelestis' eyes hardened. "This is… not how it ends." He said, pulling back his sword.
Immediately, Zelos appeared over the edge of the platform, waving the missing twin in his hand. "Hey, bud! You forgettin' something?" He called.
Lloyd jumped to his feet. "Zelos How did you—?"
"Worry about that later." He laughed, handing Lloyd the wet blade. "Just take it; you need it. You look like a gimp out there with only one sword."
Lloyd nodded, ignoring the friendly jab. "Zelos, thank you." As Zelos took off to rejoin Sheena atop the manor, Lloyd cautiously moved to recover his other sword that had been flung from his hand earlier. All the while, he kept an eye on his opponent, slightly puzzled when he made no moves, simply standing there with an impatient stare—as if he was waiting.
He picked up the sword, glowering in the silence. He readjusted his grip, holding his swords at in a ready position; Caelestis remained at ease.
The two stared one another down in the pouring rain, still and frozen as statues. Finally, Caelestis spoke with a jaded edge. "…Well? Are you done?"
Lloyd narrowed his eyes. "Of course I am. …You should have finished me when you had the chance. Now that I have the upper hand, I'm going to make you regret letting me live." He spat before suddenly grinning calculatingly as a truth dawned on him. "It's hopeless for you and you know it. You can't kill me, if you did, you'd be killing your former self, and where would that leave you?"
Caelestis remained silent, eyes even and expression unreadable.
"…Face it," Lloyd breathed. "You're finished."
He lowered his eyes, closing them. A small chuckle shook his frame before turning into an amused laugh. It's truly a shame we didn't receive our father's intelligence, he thought, a sudden pang of reminiscence telling him to keep this truth to himself, as he went on: My rebirth was only possible because of my, your, death. His laughter died to a mirthless smirk as he said, "Whatever you say; whatever you say."
He inwardly felt a twinge of smugness sprout inside him when he saw his words crawling under Lloyd's skin. Although he still could not recall the future that loomed ever nearer, he knew he had to do anything he could to make sure that the boy was willing to sacrifice everything. Even if he had to drop down to the level of taunting, ultimately, it made the light shining at the end of his path all the brighter, he hoped.
In an instant, they closed in on one another. Four rain splattered blades gleaming in the dim light as they clashed evenly with rapid strokes. Lloyd lurched forward, as if to attack once again, but threw his swords up in defense at the last minute; he pushed Caelestis backward, forcing his hand. He again jumped forward to pierce the breach in his enemy's guard, but before Lloyd could strike, he leapt backwards.
"Psi Tempest!" he called.
"Guardian!" Lloyd countered, the green sphere erecting just as his opposite passed over head. His sword screamed as they nearly penetrated the force field; it left Lloyd feeling a little bit drained, but with only a few scratches to show for it. As he turned, he yelled, "Raging Beast!" attempting to draw Caelestis in. Little luck there, but lion's roar grazed the man as he landed, staggering him for the moment.
Caelestis was quick to recover, however, for he already began to cast as Lloyd followed with, "Double Demon Fang!"
As the shockwaves reached him, they were literally devoured by the dark mana that swirled around Caelestis as he prepared his spell. He only cracked one eye open in distraction, a surprising thing as about a dozen thoughts were flashing in his mind. He needed an off-putting spell more than one that really did any damage; he needed a moment to prioritize.
"Aquilo!" he shouted as gales gathered behind him, screaming past him and towards their target. Lloyd braced himself for the hit.
The dark man distanced himself from him, and held his swords in a defensive position, just in case. Keeping one eye on Lloyd, he ran through his thoughts.
This is far from how I remember things going, he noted. It's gone on for too long, and neither of us have really stepped up and taken control of this. Admittedly, I haven't really been trying, but the fact of the matter is, things could easily stray from should happen unless I do something about it.
The howling winds began die and Lloyd started to push his way through toward Caelestis. He adjusted his stance slightly.
Should things stray, all of my torment for the past years will have been for naught. I've got to think… what was the closest memory I have to the end?
Lloyd was now coming at full force; Caelestis dropped his stance and ran to meet the attack.
The last memory I can salvage: I was covered in scratches and thin open wounds; my breaths were ragged and I had just skidded backwards from an onslaught. My muscles screamed in agony and I could feel my limbs begin to shake from exhaustion. I remember the burning hate I had felt for the merciless man. Just when I thought he would come in for another strike, he flashed a cruel, sinister smile and took off into the sky.
The two clashed evenly, their swords ringing with unearthly howls. They matched each other blow for blow, relentless.
I had called out to Zelos, at some time or another, and I told him to use the Eternal Sword. He didn't know exactly how to use it since I never told him, but he had finally figured out what he had to do. He had flown into the air, leaving Sheena alone on the mansion roof, and hovered in the air pointing the giant sword straight at my enemy of the time.
"Tiger Blade!" Lloyd called out, but Caelestis evaded the upper clout, and forced his swords upwards just as Lloyd brought his down. Caelestis easily overpowered the boy and sent him stumbling backwards a bit. Not at all phased, Lloyd bounced right back.
With all the strength left in me, I extended my battered wings and leapt into the air in attempts to distract my foe while Zelos prepared his shot. I felt my blood run cold as he glanced over his shoulder, acknowledging Zelos to me with a grin of all teeth. He looked ready to go after Zelos, so being the solitary fool I was, I vowed not to let that happen at any cost.
Once more, their blades sang out in shrieking harmony as they artfully battled at center stage.
I gathered all the mana I could draw, as I had witnessed my father do when he freed Origin, and focused every ounce of power into my hands. They glowed with a blinding light. I felt as if my very soul became siphoned into the orb hovering, pulsing before my hands.
When they reached a stalemate, Lloyd growled as he noticed his enemy's eyes were elsewhere. He broke back. "Damn you!" he yelled with a feverish rage. "Stop toying with me!" He charged in again with a renewed passion.
With a wordless cry, I shot the beam of light towards my enemy. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Zelos pull the sword back, and then swing, releasing a scorching ray of dazzling colors. I smiled, despite that I was fading fast. But with a horrid twist, Caelestis' hand glowed and, as my power screamed towards him, he swatted it away, sending it spiraling into the ocean. With his same hand, he fired an identical ray at me just as Zelos' was inches from his spine—
…And that's all I remember.
"I'm sorry." Caelestis said with unmatched sincerity. "I should know how much you hate being toyed with."
As Lloyd rushed in, he immediately found himself on the defensive as the strikes assaulting his guard became increasingly more rapid and harder to block, let alone evade. It wouldn't be too long until the hits started falling. But while he was busy fending off the blades that flew his way, he suddenly felt the wind escape him as a sharp pain struck his side and he stumbled away with an angry cringe.
Caelestis sheathed his swords and disappeared in a flash of light, quickly reappearing in the form of a dark Ktugach as he hit the ground running. With a deep bark, flames shot out from the ground behind Lloyd as his enemy charged ever nearer. He decided to follow in his suit; to fight fire with fire and he waited until Caelestis lunged into the air until he belted his swords and transformed in a wild blaze. A large, golden phoenix rose from the ashes, sending lines of fire at the ktugach.
Although a bit charred from the explosion, Caelestis was extremely comfortable on his feet as he ducked in and out of the incinerating infernos. Meanwhile, Lloyd felt a bit off balance shooting and flying at the same time, but he was determined not to show it. Although, when he saw how effortlessly his attacks were thwarted, he abandoned the avian form and returned to normal, dropping down onto the surface.
As soon as he dropped, he realized what a poor decision he had made, as he whole vision was veiled by smoke as it poured from the dying blazes set upon the ancient tile, but before he could return to the air, the ktugach burst from through the smoke. Lloyd could not throw his defense up in time before he was forced to the ground by a pair of searing paws.
Instinctively, Caelestis thrust his gaping jaws over the neck of his prey, but hastily withdrew. Whittle him down, he reminded himself. Instead, he aimed for the boy's shoulder, his pristine canines biting deep, chipping the bone as the warm crimson liquid pooled into his mouth. He resisted the instinct to jerk back, as he detested the taste of blood.
He saw Lloyd's right arm stir out of the corner of his eye, and hurriedly jumped off, returning before he landed. As soon as his feet hit the ground, he knelt, placing both hands flat against the earth.
If he's not going to employ the Eternal Sword at this point, I have to coax him into saying it, Caelestis told himself. He knows how to combat the soul gathering well enough, so I'll have to bombard him from all sides at once so he won't have the spare capacity to fight back, if only for the second. My timing has to be just right.
Lloyd shook off the pain in his shoulder, wearily eyeing Caelestis to predict his next move, seeing as charging in recklessly had earned him nothing but burns and blood the times before. The ground beneath him began to rumble threateningly.
"Silens Vallum!" Caelestis called, immediately rising and running towards his opponent with a single sword withdrawn. Like two mighty hands, the earth ensnared Lloyd at the ankles as the ground around him began to crumble. He spread his wings, ready for flight when the land would finally give way to gravity and prepared himself for whatever might come. An earthen spire jutted out just before Caelestis reached him, blocking the scene to Zelos and Sheena. But instead of unleashing a sword arte, he arbitrarily reached out and wrapped his hand around the boy's neck.
"Heed my call and gather before me!" He hissed as he ran past Lloyd, his hand still firmly around the neck. "Soul Harvest!"
Lloyd didn't allow himself to be baffled for more than a moment, as stone pillars erupted around him like trees from the ground with only moments before one of them came close enough to graze, if not injure him. He held up one sword to initiate Guardian when his strength began to drain.
Every corner in his mind was filled with a howling screech. If not for his feet being rooted in the ground, he surely would have fallen over as he clenched his hands on his head. He couldn't possibly shut his eyes any tighter. His muscles drained of energy; they burned feverishly, as if they were crawling under his own skin. He lost control of his breathing, sputtering out in gasps as he fought desperately against the forces around him and inside.
The spell ceased, leaving Lloyd standing tall and unharmed in the center, his golden eyes glowing blood-red. Caelestis masked a smirk as he felt fully in control of the presence opposite him. However, he hesitated, unsure of how to go about completely controlling both himself and his puppet at the same time, especially with the most intricate details to mimic their mêlée as if the break had never occurred. The times he had successfully manipulated Lloyd he could count on one hand, but during those moments he was in isolation and simply tapped into the boy's sight, utilizing his own body as the control bar. Animeus was a different story as well, where he completely dislodged the hideous side of him sprouted during his time in the War of Thorns, using it to slowly contaminate and infiltrate Lloyd's body and conscience.
He would preoccupy himself with a simple task, yet convincing, task, and then set Lloyd to work. He had to be efficient, after all. How long he could hold his grip upon his alternate's mind, he did not know.
Caelestis took a defensive stance as he selected a spell and set to work, dark mana surrounding him like a shadowy mist. He shut his eyes, focus sharpening.
Lloyd snapped to, seeing his opposite taking time to cast another spell, he knew he had some time to think up his next move. However, even he could tell that, at the rate things were heading, continuing on in this manner could spell real trouble. He hated to admit it, but he was going to have to drag another person into the line of fire. He trusted this person immensely, but he still felt a twinge of guilt as he felt himself ascend into the air. He headed towards the mansion top, but subconsciously kept a safe distance from them, just in case the spell was fired off earlier than expected.
"Zelos!" He shouted through the pouring rain. "I need you to use the Eternal Sword! Use the power of the Eternal Sword to—" he hesitated, suddenly feeling empty headed, forgetting his thought entirely. "—do something!" he finished lamely, almost exasperatedly.
Caelestis slowly opened his eyes, hastening the flow and ebb of the dark mana. He felt slightly light-headed; dazed. Was he… casting? Perhaps. He cut the spell short, tucking it up his sleeve for later use when he could remember which one it was, and silently took off, energized for an aerial match.
Zelos found himself at a loss for words. Clearly, he hadn't expected a turn in events such as this. What's more, he inwardly cowed at the thought of having to wield the Eternal Sword in a moment as vital as this. The blade itself didn't frighten him—he'd had worse encounters with razors as a preteen to ever make him fear any other alike instrument; though his skin would never show for it—but the power it held made him think twice about ever picking it up. Yggdrasil had created Cruxis, the Summon Spirits, even a whole new world with just a flick of the mighty sword; what possible consequences could one wrong swing behold?
Needless to say, he didn't want to find out.
"Zelos!" Sheena urged him, pulling him back into reality. "Didn't you hear him? You have to help! Hurry, get the Eternal Sword!"
Fumbling with his words, he turned from her, to the battle, and back again. Finally, he sputtered, "I don't know how! I don't know how to summon it or anything!"
She avoided rolling her eyes when she realized it wasn't as much of an obvious issue as she first thought, seeing as she didn't completely know, herself. But she could guess—so long as Zelos didn't know it. "Okay, just focus the power into your hands, and envision that you're holding the sword." She told him, making conjectures from her summoning experiences. She figured summoning a legendary weapon and a legendary spirit couldn't be all that different. "Make sure you don't forget your purpose."
Zelos nearly lost his balance as a sudden weight was dropped into his open hand. Bathed in a mystical purple glow, the Eternal Sword rested within his grasp. He ran his eyes along the magnificent blade, sharply inhaling as he felt its power surge through him like a cold wave. He shivered.
Tearing her eyes from the seeming miracle, Sheena's gaze lifted to the clashing pair against the murky sky. Her heart froze over with fear, but nothing was awry… yet. "Go," she whispered, unable to say anymore.
Eyes hardened with a forced determination, he nodded resolutely. He flew off.
Aerial combat definitely was Caelestis's strong point; naturally, Lloyd wasn't too shabby, either. He came back from each round with another cut, but at the same time, he wasn't wholly disgruntled. He could feel the winds slowly changing, and hopefully in his favor. He just had to be patient.
But patience would not allow him a constant perfect defense, as a sudden fatigue began to weigh him down. He wasn't accustomed to the constant exertion aerial combat required, not to mention balance and grace.
Blood splattered, raining from the sky. It splashed upon the ruined, scorched tile; rain water pelted it, the crimson quickly disappearing into the run-off.
Lloyd gasped, hanging limp on his enemy's blade. Its cold steel pierced through his shoulder.
A pause. Caelestis shouted, "Sword Rain—"
But before he could finish the call, Lloyd's golden eyes flashed as his veins pounded with adrenaline. He swung his sword outward, overpowering his opponent's attempted strike, the tip of his blade slicing through Caelestis' skin just below the neck. It ran deep and spanned the width of his chest.
Losing his balance in the air, Lloyd half fell, half descended until his feet met the ground, immediately looking upward. Enraged, Caelestis maintained his composure as liquid crimson dripped from his wound. However, as soon as he dropped to the ground, he allowed his rage to manifest as he screamed, "Perish!"
A golden light flashed around his arm as the dark mana he'd been withholding encircled him. The line exploded from his grasp and spiraled at Lloyd, an unearthly howl screaming in its wake.
An unrivaled determination flashed in his eyes; faced with the choice of fight or flight as the surge of power rushed towards him, it was obvious he would do nothing less than stand his ground. Lloyd held his twin blades crossed before him, sliding one foot backwards. The light became incredible; it forced his eyes shut as the searing radiance cruelly caressed him, its touch dangerously ominous.
The ray hit him with a colossal display of sheer force and sly counter defensive tactics. Paralysis crept through his limbs as they threatened to crumple beneath his own weight at any given moment. Although, the paralysis had no numbing effects—he could still feel the hellish heat bite into his skin, the flames like fangs of a wicked serpent. Too focused on holding his own against the onslaught of forces, he found his own breath strangling him. The raw power began to compromise his position and he felt himself slowing sliding backwards. His limbs began to shake, the paralysis taking full effect. He could feel his own skin begin to burn. All instincts told him to run, but the blinding light kept his eyes glued shut, and he had the sense enough to know on a relatively small, floating island, running in any direction blindly was not a good idea.
All the hellish torments began to die down, and he could feel the end coming like a wave of relief. The paralysis' grip loosened slightly, but in its place came a thousand needles threading through his frame, but he could sense the light dimming and he desperately pressed forward against the blast.
The light disappeared, leaving Lloyd, clearly battered yet still defiant, skidding backwards upon the tile. His multiple scratches had seemingly caught flame as they had expanded, blackened and raw as new warm blood pooled within them. Raven feathers fell from his tattered wings, charred and useless. His shoulder felt limp, as if resting upon his upper torso while the rest of his senses rang agonizingly. But without regard for the pain, he glared towards Caelestis with a burning hatred—and in his current state, it could have been a literal truth.
He pushed the fact from his mind of who this man was, or claimed to be, as Lloyd battled within himself to keep his mind in check. He trembled unwillingly from exhaustion but stood firmly, prepared and ready for another bout.
But instead, his opposite did not initiate. Instead, he looked downward at his own wound, gingerly letting the sickeningly hot crimson liquid run through his fingers. He then looked back at Lloyd, shaking the droplets from his hand with a sinister smile. Dark wings spread, he took to the sky once more.
In no mood for another aerial round, Lloyd was determined to remain comfortably on his feet when he saw an orange and purple glow against the navy silhouettes of the town's houses. He recognized Zelos and the Eternal Sword immediately and saw a way out. Begrudgingly, he slowly rose into the air with his battered wings for, what he hoped to be, the last time.
Lloyd gathered a breath to call out to his enemy, a taunting, hopeful, diversion. But the name caught in his throat as he stopped when the dark man glanced over his shoulder, as if to acknowledge what was occurring behind him. Lloyd felt his blood run cold. If he knew what was going on, then surely Zelos would become his first and primary target. That couldn't… no, wouldn't, he willed, happen.
Sheena, one rain sodden hand latched to the pointed tip of the rooftop, raised a hand to her mouth in intuitive fear, her white knuckles pressed against her lips. She knew that expression. And she knew that Lloyd had stopped fighting for himself. "Don't do it…" she pleaded soundlessly against her knuckles, watching on even though she knew he had not heard her.
If his presence was not enough to draw Caelestis' attention, Lloyd knew he had to give him good reason to focus on him and him alone. He had to concentrate his mana—that would surely grab his attention, if even for a second.
Cupping his hands in front of him, Lloyd drew every speck of mana he could gather, just as he remembered his father doing before Origin's seal. Except, this time, he would not simply be freeing it into the air. He focused the mana into a glowing, pulsing sphere floating over the palms of his hands. He poured more and more energy into it, watching as it grew in size and power. Before long, it became, of Lloyd's own will, like a vacuum as even he felt himself being drawn into the expanding sphere.
Before long, he felt the powerful ball pulsating in his grasp as it held every speckle of energy, of him, he could muster. With a wordless cry, he released it, aiming the raging beam directly at Caelestis.
Caelestis watched calmly as the powerful beam came screaming towards him. He glanced behind him; Zelos had been gaining a credible amount of power with the Eternal Sword. He would have little—if any—time between the two shots, much less if he was to get his own fired off as well. But he had seen it done before, and if Fate willed it be so, then so it would be.
Right arm crossed over his chest, he waited until the beam settled the right distance from him. When it did, he unleashed his own brand of mana throughout his hand and struck the beam, sending it askew and spiraling miserably into the raging sea. It hit the water with a tremendous splash.
With no time to waste, he transformed that mana into his own rampant beam, hurling it straight towards the defenseless—seemingly lifeless—Lloyd.
He realized with sudden spike of exhilaration, that he did not yet feel the flames from the Eternal Sword's judgment licking at his back. He had time to evade the second shot.
But Fate would not let him.
In the blink of an eye, his final memory resurfaced, along with his Sight. It froze him in the air as he felt sand all around him and an uncomfortable coldness amongst a humid, ocean sprayed environment. Peace. Tranquility. Finality.
It was then he could feel the Eternal Sword's judgment hot and foreboding upon his shoulders. He did not move as he at last understood why his final memory did not resurface until this critical moment.
…There was nothing to remember.
"…so then Lloyd fired, but the guy managed to throw it off and shoot him instead. I shot with the Eternal Sword as soon as Lloyd did, and as soon as mine hit the guy—done. Both of them just… disappeared." Zelos concluded.
All during Zelos' recollection of the incident and how it happened, Sheena remained detached and quiet.
Genis shook his head in disbelief. He opened and closed his mouth several times before finally voicing. "So that Guy… Caelestis? He was actually Lloyd?"
"Yup…" Zelos said, hesitating. "…But I couldn't really hear all of what they were saying since Sheena and I kept a safe distance during the fight—"
"But why?" Colette asked, trying her hardest not to sound accusing. "Why didn't you help him?"
All eyes were on him and Sheena. Sheena averted her gaze away from the group and Zelos winced slightly, trying to form words. He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Aw come on, Angel. Don't say it like that. It's not like… We just…" He grunted, muttering, "Okay, yeah, this is going to sound really stupid, I know, but it… just wasn't our place to interfere. They were just on a complete 'nother level, like in a world of their own. And even if we did jump in, I've never fought with such a huge thing like the Eternal Sword, and I don't think Sheena's cards would have had much, if any, effect. We would have just gotten in Lloyd's way."
"…Caelestis was able to change forms freely… a shape-shifter." Sheena filled in quietly. "Lloyd, too."
Raine frowned, "A shape-shifter? Both of them?" she repeated skeptically. "But none of the creatures we encountered demonstrated that ability. Perhaps it was just the two of them? Though I that wouldn't make sense…"
"I can't explain that, but," Sheena responded distantly, "Maxwell knew of this. He said they were all shape-shifter kin, escaping from their world because of a disastrous war."
Presea blinked. "So… they were in search of shelter?"
Zelos sighed. "When you say it like that…" he trailed off, slightly cringing.
Presea didn't understand. She tilted her head to the side, blue eyes blankly inquisitive. "…Did I say it incorrectly?"
A moment of silence spanned between them, none sure how to answer her honest question. After a while, Colette frowned slightly, satisfied with their response for the time being—or she had simply forgotten her previous inquiry. She spoke slowly. "Wait, I still don't understand…" she then reiterated, "They just disappeared? …Maybe they got sent somewhere? Would that be possible?"
"It is possible," Kratos replied, arms crossed over his chest, eyes closed. "…but highly unlikely."
Zelos shook his head adamantly. "No. I know for sure they couldn't have gotten sent anywhere. I just know it."
"But to say they simply disappeared…" Presea trailed off, staring blankly ahead, but eyes quivering as if going through mental calculations. "…It does not make sense."
For a moment, a heavy silence stretched between them. Unsteadily, Genis spoke up, looking down at the ground. "Well… if they just disappeared, then what else could it mean besides… death?"
No one could answer his question.
Raine pursed her lips at the soberness that drowned the once lively group of people before her. Though it was not like her, she wanted to break the solemn silence with an attempt at an upbeat tone, but she knew she would have to watch her words closely as to not sound insensitive. But before she could do that, she had to get them over the loss. "…I never thought things would turn out like this." She began gravely. "It's only been a little over a year since we brought the two worlds together, and already we've… lost someone to the events of this new world."
"…Yggdrasil always said the worlds were better separated." Kratos stated broodingly. "…He's laughing wherever he is now."
Genis shook his head, looking down at the ground. His violet eyes were dim. "I… I just don't know what to think. Lloyd seemed perfectly normal just a few weeks ago and everything was fine. It seemed like nothing could have gone wrong…" he paused. "It all just happened so suddenly… I thought I… I thought we knew him, that he wouldn't do something like this… I thought he trusted us…" Genis trailed off, sorrowful.
Regal picked up on the boy's betrayed tone, assuring, "I wouldn't call it a betrayal. He never did us any lasting damage, and fought for our same cause in the end. It was more of… an issue of secrecy, that's all."
Kratos shook his head. "…You all speak of him like he saved us all—like he's some sort of hero." He spat at the word 'hero', alluding bitterly towards Mithos' tale. "He's just an idiot who couldn't learn from the mistakes of those who came before him. …And he paid the ultimate price for it." He sighed heavily. "He betrayed our trust of his better judgment… That's how I see it."
Colette's heart ached at the words that poured from Kratos, her eyes wide and appalled. Her eyes were becoming wet. "Kratos…! How—"
"How can you say that? He was your own son!" Zelos snarled, his eyes ablaze in disbelief and anger. He closed the gap between them in a few quick strides, flared up. "Don't you care about him at all?! He was your only son, and you cast him to the lions! And now that he's dead, all you can do is point out what he did wrong? …You're heartless!"
Immediately, Raine pulled the former Chosen backward a few steps, her hands tightly gripping his shoulders. "Zelos, calm down. Everyone has different ways of coping wi—"
"Coping?!" he repeated incredulously with a horrible laugh. "If that's coping, I don't even wanna know what he's like when he's angry!"
"You'll find out soon enough unless you calm down." Raine hissed, authority firmly backing her words.
Angrily, he threw her hands off his shoulders, shouting, "How can I relax?! The first person to truly trust me and see any worth in me is dead!" he then groaned, "This is all so stupid! It's just ridiculous! He thought he had to do this all by himself… That idiot!"
"I'm glad you see it my way." Kratos muttered, without a trace of emotion. " Now, Zelos, I need you to use the Eternal Sword and send me back to Derris-Kharlan."
"…Already?" Colette asked, tilting her head to the side.
He nodded. "The longer I spend here, the farther Derris-Kharlan drifts from this planet. Before too long, it will be out of the reach of even the Eternal Sword. …And I cannot stay here."
Zelos snorted, with still a few feathers ruffled. "Too many memories, huh?" He uncrossed his arms and summoned the Eternal Sword, exchanging glares with the Seraph.
"Do you know how to use it?" Kratos questioned cautiously.
"I can figure it out." Zelos replied coldly, pointing it patiently in his direction.
With a loud whine, Noishe ran towards the Seraph from his position in the back of group. He stood before his, brown eyes heartbreaking as he stared up pleadingly at his first master. His tail hung low between his legs, and his oversized ears flopped down near his head. He pawed at Kratos with another pitiful whine.
"No, Noishe." Kratos murmured, lightly stroking the protozoan's head. "You have to stay here. You have to stay here and…" he paused. He could feel the words forming in the back of his mouth. You have to stay here and protect Lloyd for me.
He then remembered his own words a long time ago in the carefree city of Hima. He could still feel the uneasiness tense his muscles as if it were still the day before he led them into the trap. "That's funny." He pointed out mirthlessly. "If what it means to protect the Chosen is to cling to her in a time of need, then the word 'protect' must have changed significantly from my understanding."
Kratos felt a wave of guilt and shame rush over him, for his actions had been no different. Although he hadn't really been given any alternative role in the scheme of things, he hadn't been there to at least see how his son met his end. Come to think of it… he really hadn't been there at all.
Noticing the growing silence, he lifted his hand from the dog's head. "…You have to stay here and… evolve." He finished slowly; even Noishe could tell how shallow his words had become. The dog whined softly, sliding his wet muzzle under the man's hand before licking it in a final farewell tribute. As soon as he removed his hand from the dog's reach, Noishe hung his head and backed away, never letting his crestfallen gaze leave his first beloved master.
Kratos then nodded stiffly, gazing over at those around him. "Good luck with this world. I wish you the best." He bade; Zelos flicked the sword, and he disappeared into a flash of light. The ground where he once stood became barren, and Zelos dismissed the powerful blade. He turned from the group, walking off.
"Excuse me. I need a moment to think." He said.
They were silent as they watched Zelos storm off, but none of them felt it ill at ease to stand there simply in the presence of one another. It had been quite a while since they had all gathered as a group under peaceful circumstances. Though it was cruel, in its own way, the silence offered them solace, and only a fool would let it pass them by.
The group spent the next few days at Zelos' mansion, Raine and Regal, as the eldest of the group, wary to let anyone go through this alone. Although it wasn't everyone's first experience with the death of someone close to them, it didn't change how they were affected by it. It did help.
And so the days came and went and after a while, duos and individuals began to branch off and say their good-byes once more. Regal was the first to leave, as his duties at the Lezareno Corporation were far from over. Presea was next, and, although the bombard of unfamiliar emotions had rattled her, she managed her steel veneer and set off back to Ozette to help rebuild her hometown.
A day thereafter, Raine and Genis set out their campaign once more, escorting the crestfallen Colette home along the way. Sheena opted to leave behind them, but Zelos implored her to stay another night. Although he normally had sketchy intentions when asking the sort of favor, she knew it wasn't like that. She figured maybe he was really taking this hard, or perhaps he didn't want her travelling back to Mizuho by foot out in the rain since the Rheairds had all been taken. Nevertheless, she wasn't ungrateful for the offer and took him up on it.
As the rest of the day came to show, he just was a little in need of company for another day. Although, he seemed to be even more broody than before, or ever. This slightly unnerved Sheena, but she didn't say anything towards it.
It was early the next morning when Sheena decided to take her leave. Zelos arose to see her off, dark circles traced under his lively blue eyes—he hadn't slept well the previous nights. As she gathered her belongings together, she brooded in a thick silence. She appeared ready to set off when she set her belongings down.
"…Zelos," she finally said, her voice rasp from little use. He looked to meet her gaze. She cleared her throat a bit, "I, uh…"
But he simply gave her an understanding smile. It gave her the courage to go on. "You've… been there for me this whole time and… I really appreciate it. We might not always get along, but… you're really a good person."
His eyes softened as he continued to smile, his gratitude and relief manifesting in his stature. He paused a moment before asking, "Where are you headed?"
Sheena blinked. "…To Mizuho…" she responded slowly. "…Where else?"
He shook his head, taking one step closer so she could tell he was serious. "No… where are you really headed?"
When she saw the look he wore, she immediately cast her gaze downward. Stuttering, she ran her fingers through her raven hair. "S-so you noticed…"
"Of course." He replied smoothly. "It just wouldn't settle right with you after something like this to just go back to Mizuho, now would it?" he chuckled softly. "Come on. I know you better than you like to think."
"I guess so," Sheena stated, a bit flustered. She hesitated before continuing. "I'm… I'm going to start where… Lloyd left off. I'm going to rid the world of all the exspheres so that no other souls have to suffer. Maybe by helping them, I hope it will soothe my own as well… And… you know, maybe… I just have this feeling that I'll find what I've been looking for somewhere along the way. Something tells me to start… with Izoold."
Zelos perked at this. "Izoold? You mean, you think somethin's still out there for you in that tiny fisherman's village?"
Slightly embarrassed, she sputtered, "I-I don't know…" she rubbed the back of her head, chocolate eyes looking downward. "I just have this feeling, alright? I think if something's still out there for me, then I might as well go find it… y'know?"
"I understand." He nodded gently. He remained silent before the soft padding and sound of nails clicking against the wood floors caught their attention.
Noishe meandered out from the hallway, still mellow. He understood what had happened, though still couldn't fathom that both his first and young companions had both left him alone in the world. The protozoan was pitifully heartbroken; his enormous ears sagged, his tail dragged on the ground behind him and his head hung low. He was a miserable sight to behold.
He trodded over to Sheena, his muscles sore as he had barely moved since their arrival here a few days previous. His skin had begun to hang closely to his frame. He brushed past Zelos, nuzzling Sheena's legs as only a dog could. He curled himself around her before placing his muzzle under her hand, looking up at her with hopeful brown eyes.
Zelos grinned. "Well it looks like Noishe has found his new travelling companion, huh?" He then laughed, "I didn't think he could fit in as a lap dog here anyway."
Sheena looked down at the trust-filled dog; she wore a glimpse of a smile. "Is that true, Noishe?" he asked, rubbing his head softly. "Are you coming with me?"
Noishe's tail wagged weakly, but his eyes became ever stronger with each stroke.
Quietness spanned between them as they looked into the brown eyes of the protozoan. It reminded them both of his young master. "…You know…" Zelos started softly, unsure as he began. "Lloyd, uh… before all this—we would occasionally get in touch, y'know? He never really took a break from what he did, but he'd take the night off here and there. We'd always spar or talk or whatever pretty late into the night and… no matter what the topic, he'd always somehow come back to you." He chuckled lightly at the memory. "If he wasn't bombarding me with questions about you and how you were—not that I really knew, but he always asked—he'd be saying stuff like, 'I really miss Sheena', or, 'I wonder if Sheena would ever be able to leave Mizuho', or, 'Man, I really wish Sheena could've joined me'. Things like that. …He was always thinking about you."
Her smile faded when she realized, "In the end, though, that's what… killed him." When Zelos gave her an inquisitive look, she elaborated quietly. "I always told him to stop trying to fight for everyone else, and to stop worrying so much about the world and everyone in it. But he never did. I tried to convince him to fight for himself, but he never seemed to take my advice."
Sheena could feel her eyes begin to burn and her head began to twinge. She pursed her lips together tightly, attempting to rub away her the wetness in her eyes discreetly by pretending to be rubbing at her temples. But it wasn't fooling Zelos.
Before she knew it, he had closed the gap between them and wrapped his arms around her with pitying eyes. She felt herself tense, at first, but as she knew she could no longer hold her tears back, she let herself fall into his embrace. She brought her hands down to her chest and hid her face under his chin.
"I'm so sorry, Sheena." He whispered, kissing her softly on the cheek.
Kratos could not tear his gaze from the window inside of the tiny planet as the world he once knew and sought to protect glimmered, a distant memory soon to disappear amidst the vast darkness of space. He could not stop envisioning the past and what he left behind, even though he knew it was for the better, if the worlds were to begin anew.
Still, every memory pulled at his heart; he could still hear Martel's cheery voice, a young and innocent Mithos' laughter, Anna's melodic tone and his young son's bubbly giggles. He could still feel every fiber from the past at his fingertips, but as soon as he twitched to clench it, a blast of cold reality pushed it out of his grip.
Maybe now he knew what true loneliness was.
A few rooms down, Yuan typed away madly at a keyboard, occasionally glancing up at the screens surrounding him as he scanned the flickering images for the resemblance of an odd mana trace detected drifting through the ocean. The further they went, the weaker the signal became, but he was determined to find the source and product of the disturbance. If it could save him having to travel an eternity with a brooding, disheartened friend, then he would do whatever he could.
He ran one hand through his blue hair, muttering under his breath as he flipped from image to image. Suddenly, he stopped, leaning in towards the screen, his green eyes growing wide. He found it.
"Kratos," He called. "Come in here, quick."
A few moments later, the man trudged into the room, gazing with empty eyes at the various screens. Yuan typed in a few more commands and the image he had focused on consumed the whole width of the wall.
"…Look at this…" Yuan murmured, pointing towards the flickering oceanscape. Kratos leaned over his shoulder, squinting to make out the form lying in the wet tidal sands. He slowly pulled back, a skeptical realization beginning to take shape.
Yuan leaned back, a genuine smiled curled on his lips.
Post Note: As a courtesy to the end chapter, I ask you, please leave a review, be it anonymous, signed it; anything. Even if you've never left a review before. I just want to know how many people I've been able to reach through my writing.
The next story in this series will give closure to the events here. It will be three chapters long and take place in three arcs, entitled "Fated to be Free". I hope to get it out within a month or so.
Now that this is over, for the time being, if you are still interested in any action/adventure fics of mine, then I recommend Prisoner of War, a dark-romantic piece, and The Brothers Wilder, a more light-hearted adventure work.
Well, then. Until Fated to be Free. Thank you all for your support!