A/N: Sorry about the wait! I've been Dracula-obsessing the past week, and couldn't really get into it, but now it's done! Yay! So enjoy...
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The rhythmic tapping of twin footsteps descending flight after flight of steps was slowly becoming hypnotic, with no end in sight. Clouds of dust shot up with every step, since these stairs had been used rarely – if ever – during the millennia since their construction, for obvious reasons. Kratos did not begrudge the menial task of using more conventional methods of transport than warp panels, so much as the loss of time that ensued as a result. The spiral stairway, lit only by smoky orange magi-lights, was cut through solid stone, preventing the Seraph from simply dropping down. Even if he could take such a short cut, his companion certainly could not.
He glanced back thoughtfully, eyeing the man through strands of auburn hair. He was keeping up effortlessly, despite the shackles, despite having just fought against lifeless beings that existed only for combat. Even in the gloom, Kratos could see a faint look of grim determination on the angular face directed at the steps.
He tried to recall what he knew of Regal Bryant. A duke, president of a formidable company in the flourishing world, and most recently, a criminal. Lloyd certainly had strange taste in companions. Forgave a traitor, forgave a murderer…
"Did you know about Zelos?" The question came suddenly, with a hint of accusation.
Regal scoffed. "Lloyd believed in Zelos, until the very end. He believes in you, too."
Kratos nearly missed a step, but disguised the stumble smoothly.
"I don't know why," the convict added. "Even if you are his father."
"…He always was soft-hearted."
The blue-haired man looked as though he might say more, but Kratos stopped abruptly, and Regal only just caught himself from crashing into the Seraph's back. The stairs had ended, leaving the two men standing in a small rectangle of level space. Kratos activated another panel, and the front wall opened just as the previous door had. They stepped out into the murk of the Hall, next to a supply vendor.
In the area to the left, there were two warp panels, one cracked, one still intact and operational. The Seraph teleported first, in a pillar of shimmering lavender, blinding to the eyes after the dimness of the stairwell. Regal followed quickly behind.
- - -
Sheena Fujibayashi leaned crouched up against the root-ridden wall of the colossal pit she'd managed to land herself in. Luckily, she'd only fallen fifteen or twenty feet, before smacking onto a tiny shelf of protruding rock. She wasn't hurt too badly, thanks to her exsphere, but injury on top of fatigue from replicating the Mana Cannon effect – with her own mana, at that – made the task of climbing the wall, ordinarily effortless for one such as she, an impossible feat.
Sighing, she fished Corrine's bell out from where she kept it tucked in the front of her sash. "I guess it's just you and me, now," she murmured, polishing the bell with her thumb. "You and stubborn old Sheena."
She glanced over the edge of the narrow shelf, gulping at the seemingly bottomless hole. Forcing her eyes up, she traced the edge of the pit, and then the series of columns supporting the winding ramp they had descended. It really was a long way up.
"Well, Corrine, do you think they've managed to rescue her yet?" She smiled sadly at the bell. "Colette's not too proud to admit needing help, is she? Not like me… But then, with you, I never had to ask. Somehow, you always knew. I…miss you, Corrine. Ugh, damn it!"
The cry bounced off the stone, echoing faintly. "Why couldn't I save you, Corrine? Why do the ones I love always…"
She trailed off, shutting her eyes tightly to stop the tears, but all she could see was his face. His face. "Zelos…"
She looked up again, just as a light flashed twice at the top of the ramp. "Uh-oh," she muttered.
Tucking the bell away safely, she gripped a handful of roots a foot or so above her head and struggled to pull herself up. The moment she put pressure on her right leg, it crumpled limply, searing with pain. Gasping, she fell back down, causing a slight tremor in her precarious perch. Resigned, she leaned her head against the rough surface of the stone. Enemy or not, she was stuck.
Watching the ramp intently, she waited for the new arrivals to come into view. She drew in a sharp breath at the sight of Kratos. Her thoughts raced. What was he doing here? Was he going to try to stop Lloyd and the others? Would he really kill his own…?
Uncertainty transformed into outright confusion when she saw his companion. "…Regal?" Unless he suddenly had an identical, evil twin… She laughed with relief. "Regal!"
The blue-haired man glanced over the edge of the ramp, eyes searching. "Sheena?" He spotted her, finally. "Are you unharmed?"
"I'm fine, don't worry about me," she found herself saying. Stupid Sheena, ask him to help you! "Go on! You can still catch up to the others!"
"Sheena," Regal began, but the summoner cut him off.
"Look, I can't climb up, and you can't climb down, so just go, okay? I'll be fine, really…"
"We can't–" He gasped, suddenly.
Kratos was plummeting down between the columns, a blur of red and purple. Streaks of azure and cyan flared out behind him, and, wings beating vigorously, he came to a stop in midair, in front of a wide-eyed Sheena.
"What are you…?" the ninja mumbled, awestruck, as a green glow enveloped the Seraph.
Gesturing almost negligently, he murmured "First Aid."
It was as though the fatigue and the aching pain in Sheena's leg simply melted away. "Uh, thanks. I guess." She stood up carefully, using roots as handholds to steady herself. "Why are you–"
Another tremor struck, this one shaking the entire room. A section of ramp, opposite of were Regal stood, came loose, and the large stone tumbled into the pit, smashing loudly in the darkness a few seconds later.
Kratos grimaced, wings still flapping steadily. "Another trap has been activated. Hurry, Summoner, we must…"
His quiet words were drowned out as the shaking resumed, violently and persistently. Deafening cracks boomed, as the columns began to topple, tearing the ramp down with them. As though time slowed down, Sheena watched with sickly fascination as an irregular chunk of rock descended directly towards her. Suddenly, strong arms enveloped her, and there was a shout of 'Guardian!' Through the thin, iridescent barrier, she saw the little ledge crumble away, and then they were falling into darkness, the earthquake swallowing Regal's screams.
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A/N: Yeah, this one was definitely a pain. But I hope you liked it anyway! Depending on how quickly I adjust to school, and how distracted with various other things I become, Chapter 4 should come around in a week or two. Sooner, if I can manage. Until then...review!