Summary: (AU-ish) When Zelos decides to run away, he finds a four-year-old Lloyd scared and alone in the forest. With each other's help, they survive the night and return to Meltokio, as brothers. Prequel to The Brothers Wilder.
Spoilers: DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE FINISHED THE GAME.
A/N: I couldn't help it. I told myself I'd write no parts of this project until I got one more story out of my hair. But since FS:tUP is sooo close to being completed (though it's really feeling choppy-ish), I decided to try and face my action/adventure-y writer's block by starting my next multi-chaptered story: The Brothers Wilder, by cranking out the prequel/prologue as a one-shot instead of a first chapter.
"...And this, and this... oh, can't forget this!" he said, stuffing what he thought to be necessary into his tiny schoolbag. Long ago that morning, he had dumped its former contents into the secret compartment in his closet. After all, there wouldn't be a need for fractions where he was going.
He looked over his possessions one last time before slinging his book bag over his shoulder and scampering down the stairs, screaming, "I'm gonna be late! I'm gonna be late!"
Half-way down, a maid carrying an oversized laundry basket blocked the way. "'Scuse me, 'scuse me! ...Argh, move!" The maid motioned she couldn't make a path for him. He growled loudly and jumped onto the railing to his right. With grace and precision, he slid down the railing and landed audibly on the floor beneath him, still exclaiming, "I'm gonna be late! Late!"
Sebastian looked away from the food he had been preparing. "Young Master, please relax and have some breakfast, it's only—"
"Bye, Sebastian!" bid the young Zelos through a piece of toast he'd stuffed in his mouth as he flew out the door.
His butler blinked in surprise at the unusual hasty manner of his young master. "But it's only eight twenty, school shouldn't begin for another forty minutes..." he mused to himself before shrugging. "Anyone for pancakes?"
Outside, Zelos had dashed all the way over to Trupelos and lingered near the door, catching his breath. Once his breathing was close enough to normal, he entered the shop with all the poise and arrogance his title bestowed upon him.
"Ah, Zelos. What brings you here so early?" the owner greeted him cheerfully. Ever since the winter two years ago, Zelos had been a regular customer, partially because the owner was one of the few people who treated him like what he was—a kid, not 'The Chosen'. That, and candy was a driving incentive.
He never knew what a 'Chosen' was supposed to act like anyway, he just made it up as he went.
"Hi, Mr. Trupelos!" he replied using his especially child-like voice that he always used when he wanted something. "Can I have some candy?"
Mr. Trupelos chuckled, "You know candy is only for after school,"
"Yeah, I know. But I want to share it with my friends and I can't give it to them after school so I was hoping I could just have it now." Zelos then executed his perfect puppy dog eyes. "Please?"
The old man smiled thoughtfully. "If that's the case then I suppose I can make an exception today,"
Zelos grinned eagerly as he received a small bag full of various candies. As he ran out, Mr. Trupelos added, "Remember, you didn't get it from me!"
"Then who'd I get it from?"
The old man just laughed at the boy's witty remark.
Zelos had gotten halfway to the city gates before realizing there was a gaping hole in his plan: the gate guards. They'd never let him through unescorted! The only time the guards ever left their post was when they were needed elsewhere immediately...
"Knights! Mr. Knights!" he shouted, running to the gate with exaggerated panting. "Some-a the people from the slums... attacking the noblemen! They need your assistance!"
One turned to him, quizzically. "Are you quite sure, Chosen?"
"The more time you waste questioning me, the more likely you are to lose your jobs!" he pointed out angrily; in an instant the guards had run off. A good quirk to being the Chosen.
He took a few quick glances around him to make sure no one witnessed his leave. The coast was clear, and he bolted out of the city.
The afternoon sun was bright as the quartet made their way into the gloomy forest. It felt good to be in the shade, but one member wasn't very fond of their new surroundings.
"Where are we?"
"We're in the Gaorrachia Forest,"
"…Yes, it can be,"
Lloyd grumbled something about not liking scary things and held tighter to the protozoan's mane, causing Noishe to stumble out of step to accommodate to the child's wishes. Anna noticed this and petted him affectionately. "You're so sweet, Noishy."
Lloyd looked up distractedly at Noishe. "Mommy, why's Noishy so big?"
She smiled, answering, "Because he eats his tomatoes," Father and son alike cringed; she'd never pass up the opportunity to tease them.
"Yuck!" exclaimed Lloyd, "But Daddy doesn't eat tomatoes. Why's he big?"
She held his hand, rubbing her thumb over his exsphere. "Your father cheats,"
"Excuse me, Miss Anna? I am the cheater now?" he asked in mock surprise. "When was the last time you—"
"You know we don't have to talk about this…"
"Oh, I think it's right on topic,"
In response, Anna blithely switched the subject, "So, Kratos, just where are we going again?"
"Shifty, you are," he smirked, but answered her nonetheless; "We're going to see a dwarf named Altessa, in order to get you a key crest. I'm surprised your Cruxis Crystal has yet to act up, usually three years is all it takes before, well… you know."
She sighed, "Yes, I do." As they walked on, her thoughts drifted quite a ways before she realized something was amiss. She stopped and turned to face Kratos. "Wait! Why are we going to see Altessa? Isn't he working for Yggdrasill? Surely there has to be a dwarf elsewhere who—"
"There is one other dwarf living on the surface," he said placidly, "but after pulling a few strings in Cruxis, Yuan and I managed to make all work outside of tasks for Cruxis completely confidential. There's nothing to fret,"
Anna still seemed unconvinced, "I don't know…"
"Trust me, everything will be alright,"
She kissed him lightly on the cheek, "I'll trust you with my life any day,"
All the while they had stopped, Noishe managed to preoccupy Lloyd by engaging him in a carefree game of hide-and-seek. When it was Lloyd's turn to be 'it', the protozoan would hide blatantly behind a bush that would only be half his size. Then once he was found, he'd turn around and wait for Lloyd to hide.
Normally, when neither Kratos or Anna was paying attention to Lloyd, it came down to Noishe's job to watch over their son, however in this situation, he saw fit to let his eyes leave the child for a few moments. After all, he could detect him at all times using his sensitive hearing or nose if he was up wind.
After ten seconds, Noishe turned back around and scrutinized the scene before him. It was obvious where Lloyd had decided to hide. Although, the protozoan had to admit, his hiding spot was pretty good—he was up wind of him. His only problem was that generally trees didn't giggle.
Nevertheless, he pretended to have no clue as to where the child had gone—of course it was just the moment the couple looked back at him. Clueless and Lloyd-less; a lethal combination.
Kratos raised a questioning eyebrow before Noishe barked twice, a signal of his resignation.
"Noishe… where did Lloyd go?" Anna asked slowly.
He frowned as much as a dog could, barking twice more. The giggling tree had ceased its laughter and Lloyd was no where to be found. He whined, leaping into the bushes, circling the tree and sniffing the ground profusely. His tail dropped when all he could smell was dirt, too scared to face the two.
Anna instinctively grasped Kratos' hand tightly, something she did whenever she was worried or scared. "Lloyd? Lloyd, honey, where are you?"
As she continued to call out, Kratos shushed her; his angelic hearing picking up muffled screams. He'd told Lloyd to scream as loud as he could if he was lost or in danger. Seeing as his cries were muffled, Kratos was scared to death for his son's safety as he was not alone.
"This way," he said quietly, leading her through a thick patch of underbrush. Just keep screaming, Lloyd, he thought anxiously. I'll save you.
Ahead was a clearing in the forest, and Kratos could easily identify at least one figure standing dead center holding his son—Kvar. He cursed under his breath. "Noishe," he called in a whisper; the protozoan ambled shamefully behind, tail between his legs.
"It's Kvar," He explained to Anna, "He's no doubt using Lloyd to lure us here, so I need you to stay here and hide. I can easily get Lloyd back, but if he gets a hold of your crystal…"
She felt a strong tug at her heart, seeing her beloved son in the arms of a murderer. "If he gets a hold of my crystal what? What, Kratos, what?" But by the time she looked back, he'd already disappeared. "It's just a stupid stone…"
Meanwhile, Kratos had circled through the woodland so he could come from another angle, a simple tactic, but useful nonetheless.
As much as Lloyd squirmed, it did him no favors until Kvar was finally forced to hold the boy with both hands to prevent him from escaping. Such gave Lloyd's voice free reign, "DAADDY! MOMMY! HEELP!"
He just smirked cruelly, "Scream all you like, but sooner or later, you won't even remember who you were screaming for in the first place…" With that, he placed his hand atop the child's head and began casting a spell, lightning cackling around him.
Kratos tightened his grip over his sword; not only was he corrupting his son, but the Seraph could do little to stop him. Merely attacking him would put Lloyd at risk, as well as most magic spells. He needed an attack that wouldn't strike Kvar thoroughly, but at the same time, be enough to startle him considerably. Fireball seemed to be his only option.
Lloyd continued to yell, his cries slowly turning to ones of pain as the spell took hold of him. The spell abruptly stopped as the man holding him was struck from behind and stumbled forward, dropping Lloyd in the process. He quickly turned to block Kratos' pre-emptive swing, though a little surprised, the mercenary was unfazed.
With unearthly speed, he managed to knock Kvar off balance and rushed past him over to where his son lay. The impact to the ground did not seem to affect him as much as whatever hex Kvar had cast upon him; Lloyd writhed about on the ground, clutching his head and crying in pain.
Kratos took him in his arms, "Lloyd! Lloyd, calm down. You're going to be alright,"
With difficulty, Lloyd cracked open one eye to look up at his father. "Da… daddy… help…" he cried.
"What's wrong?" he asked frantically. Before he could receive answer however, Kvar launched a barrage of electricity based attacks towards the two, which Kratos managed to narrowly avoid.
He was well aware of the situation he was in. He could not near Kvar to attack, not with his son in his arms; he could not set his son down, as he would instantly be targeted; if he set Lloyd down, he would no doubt run to Anna, and thus she'd be revealed and targeted. Lastly, he could not be hit at all. Kratos could handle it, but surely Lloyd would be electrocuted in his arms.
What was he to do?
He didn't have to do anything. Noishe came bursting out of the bushes—using the same strategy that Kratos had—and struck the Grand Cardinal from behind, leaving a great gash that lined his back. The protozoan then rushed to the Seraph, who nodded and placed Lloyd on his back. "Get out of here, Noishe!" he commanded.
Just as the two fled into the bushes, two Desians jumped out and captured them both, knocking both unconscious. Kvar managed to bring himself to his feet, smiling devilishly. "Ah, Lord Kratos. I should've known you never travel alone. Of course, neither do I…" he said, motioning behind Kratos.
Kratos instinctively turned to see three Desians circled around Anna, two of them holding her down and the other poised to slit her throat. Kvar chuckled at the sight, "You see, your filthy son was just a decoy, and even though you knew that, you still neglected to protect the ones you love. How pathetic."
"One move, and your family dies!" threatened a Desian, pressing the knife closer to her throat.
"No," she cried, struggling against their firm grip. In doing so, she developed small cuts where her skin brushed against the knife; she disregarded them completely. "I don't care what you do to me, just don't hurt Lloyd!"
He continued to laugh at the sight and at Anna's defiance. He sighed, "Oh, never mind all of this. You," he commanded, pointing to one of his minions. "Remove the crystal from that wench, and we'll leave this family be, hm?"
"No!" Kratos protested, withdrawing his sword and charging towards the Desians.
As soon as his back was turned, Kvar shot a powerful blast of paralyzing electricity, hitting Kratos straight on. "Now, now, Lord Kratos. I highly doubt Lord Yggdrasill would be pleased to learn that his teacher had been killed defending a mortal woman, much less going against his orders for an entire five years. You'll have to come with us,"
He struggled to get to his feet, but was forced down when Kvar vehemently pushed his foot against the Seraph's back.
"What?" Kvar spat, shooting an impatient glare their way.
All five Desians backed away; in the process of trying to remove Anna's crystal, her mana had spiraled out of control, causing her to transform into a sub-human creature bent solely on survival and destruction. With a powerful swing of her malformed hand, Anna—or rather, what she had become—sent the soldiers flying backwards.
"Damn," Kvar retorted, "Retreat for now. We'll return for the crystal once she kills everything around her… and then herself."
Just before they teleported back to Derris-Kharlan, Kratos looked up to see his wife, in her monstrous sub-human form, howl in rage, and turn on their comatose son.
Zelos picked up the pace, running through the fields and towards the forest as fast as his little legs could carry him. He was terrified, but he kept going. He was scared for someone, thus he kept going.
Running; that's what he was doing, and what he had set out to do. He had fled Meltokio in order to escape his fate as a Chosen, and now he was darting into the darkest forest in all of Tethe'alla in order to fufill part of his duty as Chosen of Mana, to save lives.
He cringed inside, was it truly impossible to escape?
He had heard screaming coming from inside the dense woodland, it was that of a child—surely no older than him, if not younger—almost synonymous with a young girl he had met before his mother died. He'd cared for that girl, but she was taken away. He didn't know who had screamed, or why, but he didn't want anyone else taken away. That if maybe his assistance could prevent other people from being lonely, he'd not be so lonely himself.
Entering Gaorrachia, he withdrew his child-sized sword he had been given for simple sparring purposes. He doubted it would do much in an actual battle, but it was certainly better than a stick.
In the distance, he spotted the atrocity causing the panic. It was gigantic; easily five times his height, with skin the various colors of decomposition and death. Disproportionate and malformed could only begin to describe its sub-human figure.
It bayed, swiping at nearby trees in a blind fury, then held its hands to its head and let out a blood-curdling shriek. Slowly, it calmed, looking around; searching.
Zelos ventured closer, silent in awe as the creature reached with a misshapen finger to caress gently the cheek of a small boy lying unconscious on the ground. Somewhere, he thought he heard a woman crying, but it had to be his imagination; no girl could or should near this forest. The dog-like being lying, unconscious as well, next to the child stirred. Groggily, the dog picked up his head and met the bewildered creature face to face, both silent in their incomprehension.
Zelos soundlessly readied to pounce, should the dog act hostilely towards the creature. Instead, he whined sympathetically and nibbled around the area just below its neck, around what seemed to be a crystal embedded into the monster's skin.
As the dog did this, the creature paid him no heed, merely stroking the boy's face with its finger, sadly almost.
Painfully, the child awoke. "Mm... mommy? Da..." he gasped and hid himself as best he could in the dog's fur, crying and shaking in fright.
That was all the cue Zelos needed; fearlessly he leapt out of the bushes with his sword over his head, prepared to strike. In response, the creature jumped backward to avoid the attack, but in the process, tearing a large chunk of its skin off as the dog had held tight. It writhed in pain from the tear—though it was only the size of a gald—placing its hands on its head again. This time, however, it did not calm down, but instead became senseless with agony.
Screaming inanely, it swung a backhand aimed at Zelos, who managed a lucky side step and avoided the attack. He then thrust his sword with all his strength into the torso of the opposing being, which hissed in anger and began glowing dangerously.
It was then that his cowardice resurfaced and he abandoned his sword, grabbing the hand of the boy and pulling him up. "C'mon, let's get outta here!" Zelos said hurriedly before he could object, the dog running at their side.
They dashed out of the forest as fast as they could, narrowly escaping the explosion coming from the monster. Still the sheer force of the blast sent them flying forward into the grass ahead, but that was only the first wave.
"Stay down!" he shouted, placing his arm protectively over the kid beside him as wood and debris was sent askew in a sporadic manner.
Once everything had seemed to calm down, Zelos removed his arm and took a look around cautiously. "...It's okay... we're safe now," he whispered.
The boy sat up as well, he was still scared, but refused to let it show too much. "Who're you?" he asked bluntly.
The young Chosen blinked in surprise, "You... don't know me?"
"No," he shook his head, "What's your name?"
"I'm... Zelos," Zelos answered shakily, albeit grinning; maybe he could be friends with this kid—and not just because having the Chosen as a friend yielded great benefits, but because he could just... be himself.
The other boy smiled as well. "I'm Lloyd,"
"What were you doing in that forest?"
The boy, now known as Lloyd, furrowed his brow in thought. "Hmm... I dunno,"
"You don't remember?"
He just held up his hands, shrugging.
Zelos frowned. He wouldn't be so surprised had this forest been outside a city and he could've just run off. However, for someone younger than him to be alone in a forest—especially the Gaorrachia, the darkest forest in Tethe'alla—seemed just absurd. Then again, a lot of children in the slums were often abandoned; Lloyd could be one of them.
"So..." he started slowly, "You don't know why you were in the Ga... gaorra... in that forest, or what that monster was, but you know your name?" Lloyd nodded, he went on. "So what's this... thing's name?" he said, motioning to the dog that sat behind them.
"How do you know that?"
Again, Lloyd shrugged. "I just do,"
"Is he yours?"
"I s'pose so,"
Zelos nodded, even though he didn't totally understand. He stood up and glanced around at the mess caused by the explosion, searching for a sharp stick to suffice as his new sword. Once found one light enough for him to wield, he turned back to Lloyd. "Let's go to Sybak, maybe that'll help you remember."
Lloyd rose to his feet. "What's a sigh-back?"
He raised an eyebrow and gave him a you've-got-to-be-kidding-me look. "It's a city over that way,"
"Is it far from here?"
"'Bout an hour by foot, why?"
Lloyd bit his lower lip, looking upward at the mostly clear sky. "'Cause I think it's gonna rain,"
"Yeah, right," Zelos laughed. "It's sunny!"
He shook his head, "But it's very hummed,"
The young Chosen cocked his head sideways in confusion. "Hummed? Like someone's singing that it's gonna rain?"
"No... well, maybe,"
He grinned and ran ahead, elated to have a friend to travel with. "So just don't sing the rain song, and we'll be okay!"
Only fifteen minutes had passed before the skies overhead began to grow murky with dark clouds, and only fifteen minutes after that did all hell broke loose as the heavens poured down torrential rains and howled with frigid northern winds.
Lloyd, who hid himself from the winds behind Noishe, who traveled alongside the Chosen, yelled unto the storm, "I told you it was gonna rain!"
"WHAT?" Zelos shouted back, holding his arms over his face as his only shield from the downpour.
"I said," he repeated louder, "I TOLD YOU IT WAS GONNA RAIN!"
The young Zelos scowled; as much as he hated being proved wrong, he hated being rained on more. They had to find some shelter—quick. In his limited field of vision, he managed to spot a small thicket of trees up ahead. "There's a forest over there! Let's hide out the storm for a while!"
He growled and tugged on Noishe's mane, leading him in the direction of the forest.
Underneath the canopy the trees provided, the three remained relatively dry—as dry as they could be after trudging through that squall, anyway. Noishe shook himself dry and Lloyd attempted to do the same, but only gained a headache and was no less dry. Zelos sighed at their antics and took a look around. He then turned back to see Lloyd—in the nude—hanging his clothing from the branches he could reach.
"You're naked!" He exclaimed, "What're you doing! Get your clothes back on!"
As Lloyd finished hanging his sopping clothing, he replied, "I remember that if you're wet, you gotta take your clothes off so you don't catch hyper-fur-me-uh, somebody told me that, but I don't remember who it was… and I hafta use the potty,"
Zelos looked utterly disgusted at his new friend's 'openness', but asked regardless, "What's hyper-fur-me-uh?"
"It's when you get really, really cold and then you die," Lloyd answered casually, as if he'd been asked his age. "You'd better take yours off, too, unless you wanna die and stuff… But I don't want you to die, so I think you should."
He raised an eye brow, unconvinced. "Are you suure…?"
"'Course!" Lloyd chirped.
Hesitantly, Zelos followed suite, and hung his apparel adjacent to Lloyd's. As he was doing so, he spotted a berry bush just ahead and was promptly reminded of his hunger—and his stupidity for already devouring all the food rations he'd packed. "Yay! Food!"
Lloyd perked up at the mention of food. "Really? Where?"
"Over here!" he called, stuffing his hands full of the tiny, crimson berries speckled with black. "I'm so hungry!"
Lloyd joined him quickly. "Me too, I—" Without warning, he slapped the handful of berries Zelos had been carrying onto the ground.
Zelos stood with his little fists at his side, glowering. "What'd you do that for!"
"Don't eat those!"
"Why, I'm hungry!"
Lloyd shook his head, reciting: "'Polka-dot black, stay back.' They're poisonous!"
"Says who?" Zelos retorted, reaching for another handful, but again, Lloyd slapped it away, saying, "Stoppit!"
Before their argument could rise any further, they heard Noishe growl threateningly from behind them, followed by a helpless squeak. Underneath his powerful forepaws, the dog had managed to capture a stray rabbit.
Lloyd grimaced, "Are we gonna hafta eat that bunny?"
Zelos smirked teasingly. "Yup, that is, unless you wanna die and stuff… But I don't want you to die, so I think you should."
After a hearty meal, the storm still raged on, so the boys decided to wait out the storm until morning and had curled up alongside the protozoan's warm, thick fur. Zelos quickly fell asleep, however Lloyd was too preoccupied with trying to remember the blank splotches in his memory to sleep.
He grumbled quietly to himself, rubbing his temple. Noishe cracked open an eye at the child's restlessness and whined softly to catch his attention. "What is it, Noishe?" he whispered.
The protozoan did not respond verbally, but instead, nudged something with his nose. Lloyd picked it up curiously. At his touch, what appeared to be a pebble glowed warmly in his hand.
It soothed him. He didn't know what it was that made him feel calm and confident, but gave in to it's affectionate radiance and closed his chocolate eyes.
…And somewhere in his dream, he thought he heard a familiar voice singing his favorite lullaby.
Morning wandered in with gentle breezes and the chirping and twittering of animals. Zelos was the first to awake, checking immediately outside the forest to see if it was safe to continue on their way. He noticed a swarm of King and papal knights heading towards their location, and he darted back into the woodland without a second thought.
"Wake up! Wake up!" he hissed, gently shaking Lloyd until he awoke. "We gotta go, now!"
Lloyd rubbed his eyes groggily. "Why?"
He rushed over to the tree and hurriedly slid into his clothes. "'Cause the papal knights are comin' to make me go back home!"
"You don't wanna go home?" Lloyd questioned.
"No way!" Zelos replied, throwing him his clothes. "Have you ever had a home? It's—"
"I never had a home,"
He stopped mid-rant. Blinking, he repeated, "You never… had a home?"
He shook his head sadly. "Just running from place to place… couldn't stay anywhere for long…"
"Nobody told me; just keep running…"
Zelos' mouth hung slightly ajar. He'd bee treated to a life of luxury for all the six years of his young life, he didn't know it was even possible to not have a home. Everything he knew—or everything he thought he knew—seemed to go down the drain after this experience.
But he did know one thing for sure: he was the Chosen, whether he wanted to be or not. And his job was to help save people, even though the people of his world despised him because of his birth—because of his very existence—he'd still do what he could to help them; one person at a time.
Zelos then smiled broadly. "Then you can come home with me!" he announced. "And you won't be homeless anymore!"
His eyes grew. "You… you really mean it? I can live with you?"
"Yeah!" he said, grinning even more. "And we can be like brothers! It'll be awesome!"
"Like brothers!" he exclaimed happily, enveloping his friend in a hug.
"…Wait, what about Noishe? Is he a brother, too?"
Zelos gave this a moment of thought before waving the idea away with his hand, saying, "…He can be a butler,"