"I do not own Tales of Symphonia!" – I.K.A. Valian

I'd never been on a boat before. And now, having crossed an ocean, I realized that I never wanted to step onto a floating object ever again.

"It's alright, Alex. We made it to dry land, see?" Marty stomped the sturdy stone pier beneath her feet a couple times. "You can stop feeling sick and get off the boat now."

"Tell that to my stomach," I groaned out. "And the lunch I lost half way here."

"You are such a wimp," said Charles as he casually hopped off the boat and onto the pier. His movements caused the boat to wobble a little, not even enough to cause it to shake anything, but it was enough to cause my head to spin out of control. I held back the urge for all of one second before I leaned over the edge of the boat and let the ocean have the rest of my lunch and the dinner from the night before.

"Alright, everything is set on the… Whoa, you alright, Alex?" Lloyd stood mid-stride, halfway between the pier and the edge of the boat. I looked up at the older version of the baby I was going to somehow save. "Heh heh, I guess not," Lloyd said, laughing sheepishly. I groaned and leaned on the side rail, trying to force the world to stop spinning wildly out of control.

"Feh," scoffed Charles, "Loser!"

I clenched my fist and forced myself up to look at the jerk. He was looking at me as if he was on some high pedestal and I was some worm wiggling about on the ground. My anger quickly caved in though, bowing to the intense nausea swirling around my head. Charles just smirked triumphantly, like he'd won something.

I groaned again as the boat started rocking once more.

"Master, the boy has achieved success with Efreet. He is now able to wield the fire spirit's power against you."

"Excellent… The boy doing exactly as I foresaw. You there!"

"Yes, Master."

"Fill the prison yards. I want a stuffed prison before nights end when they will all be sacrificed."

"Master, the prison yards were already emptied, and they've yet to be restocked with criminals."

"Then restock them with anyone you can find. It doesn't matter who, as long as they're civilians. It shouldn't be that difficult, with a thousand worlds under my control, there's plenty of meat available. Now go!"

"Yes, Master."

"Didn't Zelos say that he and Seles would be meeting up with us around here?" I asked. I picked up and inspected a sword on display, but it wasn't appealing to me at all, so I returned it to the vendor. Lloyd turned from the armor stand that he was standing in front of and shrugged.

"He never was one to arrive on time. Maybe he got sidetracked by something. Or maybe he just stopped for breakfast. It could be any number of things." I nodded and went back to inspecting weapons. Lloyd wanted me to have more to defend myself than a small dagger, even though it did have Efreet's power running through it.

"Hurry up and choose a sword, will ya! God, you take longer to shop than a girl!"

"Hey!" shouted Marty. She marched over to Charles and slapped him on the back of the head hard enough to knock the older boy to the ground. "Girls do all the shopping anyway, so what are you complaining about?"

Charles was on the ground for less than a second before he stood back up and got into Marty's face. Both of them were having a staring death match when I found a sword. It wasn't anything great, but then again, it wasn't as bad looking as my dagger. About a four foot steel sword that looked like it had been freshly forged or re-forged.

It wasn't heavy when I picked it up and swung it around a few times. Lloyd noticed my interest and nodded his approval. I turned as Lloyd paid the vendor and showed the new blade to Marty. Marty, however, was no where to be seen. And neither was Charles. They were both gone.

"Uh… Lloyd, where did they-"

"Hey, Alex, look at this thing!" I turned and saw that Marty and Charles were standing in front of a large, stone obelisk. The four sides of the structure were fairly wide and had words carved into its face. The obelisk was standing in the center of the town center with the harbor on the opposite side, the Governor-General's Office to the left, and civilian buildings to the right.

True, we'd passed through the town center on the way from the harbor to the marketplace, but when that took place, the obelisk was not there. I started walking closer to the stone structure but Lloyd stopped me with a hand on my shoulder.

"Don't go toward that thing," he said darkly. I looked up at Lloyd questioningly, but he ignored me and ran ahead toward the obelisk.

"Get away from that thing!" he shouted toward the crowd now gathering around the thing. He grabbed a few people and tried to push them back, but they just got up and kept moving forward. "Run!"

No one listened to him though, in fact, they flat out ignored him. Marty and Charles were the first ones to touch it, and then it happened. The obelisk started glowing, let out a pulse of light, and then vanished. The crowd, including Lloyd, Marty, and Charles, went with it, leaving me and several other people completely alone. The burgeoning town of New Palmacosta had suddenly lost half of its population. The silence made the city feel as if it had just had its arms and legs ripped off.

That night, after several hours of interrogation by the New Palmacosta Military, I made my way out of the city. They didn't know what happened, at least not any more than I did, but were blaming it on insurgents called The Desian Rebels.

From what I remember about Desians, they operated out of places called ranches. But that information was from a few years ago, so it probably wasn't all that relevant anymore. Just to be sure though, I was intent on making my way to the closest Desian Ranch and seeing what I could find. Unfortunately, I was stopped at the city gates.

"No one passes," said the fully armored guard. He and his partner had crossed their poleaxes and wouldn't let me close enough to the doors to even touch them. I gave a frustrated sigh and slumped my shoulders.

"I need to get out of this place."

"Sorry kid," said the guard. "Even if you were the Pope of the Church of Martel himself, you wouldn't be able to go out these gates."

"Great." I sulked back toward the center of town. Just as I rounded a corner, and passed a particularly dark side alley, an arm reached out and grabbed my by the back of my shirt. Firmly grasped, I was dragged back into the alley.

I nearly punched my assailant in the face when I recognized it as Zelos. Behind him was standing Seles. Both had worried looks.

"What happened," asked Zelos.

I glanced back and forth between the siblings. "Some kind of abduction, only I've never seen one done during broad daylight. It took half the town's population, Marty, Charles, and Lloyd with it." The two looked at each other and then something dawned on me. "Hey, how did you two get in here? The gate's locked."

Zelos snorted confidently. "There's no gate that can keep the Great Zelos Wilder from getting where he wants."

"Yeah, and the Great Zelos Wilder just happened to use the sewers to get in and out." Zelos pouted at his sister and went off into a corner to sulk. Seles sighed melodramatically. "Such an inflated ego, my brother has."

"Okay, that's great, now we can get out and find that old Desian Ranch." I received odd stares of mixed emotion from the other two. "What?" I asked incredulously.

"Why would you even want to go into the old Desian Ranches?" asked Zelos.

"I was interrogated by the New Palmacosta Military after the event and it seems that they suspect some kind of Desian insurgency is behind all of this. I figured that I'd start by looking into where the Desians used to hang out and see if there were any clues as to what's going on there. Plus, I need to find the Water Seal, which Lloyd said was near the old Desian Ranch."

"That makes some sense," said Zelos. "Let's go then."

Zelos lead the way back toward the gate. Just before we reached the gate though, he made a hard right down another dark alley. It was a dead end street, however, at the very end was a sewer man-hole. I walked right past it and was looking up at the wall, wondering how we were going to get over it, when I heard the scraping of iron over stone.

I didn't even need to turn around to know I wasn't going to like what I saw. "I can't believe you actually meant that we're going through a sewer!"

"Tough luck, kid," echoed Zelos' voice from below ground. I grimaced and glanced into the round man-hole. The metal plate that normally was to have covered it had been moved to the side. The smell wasn't so great either.

I groaned and shook my head, psyching myself up for this. "I can't believe I'm doing this." Once I was more comfortable with the idea of going into a sewer, I took a deep breath and climbed into the hole.

Marty's eyes fluttered open and frantically pivoted back and forth. In the darkness that encapsulated her, the only thing she could feel was the cold sweat forming all over her body and the tightly bound straps holding her down on some sort of flat surface.

"Martel? Is that you?"

"Yes, Lloyd it's me," she responded. She looked in the direction that Lloyd's voice had come from.

"Thank goodness." The relief was evident in his voice. "You're the first one after me to wake up. Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," she replied, giving her bindings a few good yanks. "But I'm all tied up."

"Yeah, me too."

"Where are we?" she asked. She stopped fiddling with her bindings and forcibly calmed herself down. Panicking will not get me out of here, she told herself.

"We were kidnapped by the Vanguard."

"What!" she shouted. Her voice echoed into the darkness until silence reigned once more. "What was that?" she repeated a bit more quietly.

"Like I said, the Vanguard has abducted us and what seems like half the population of New Palmacosta."

"How is that even possible," she wondered aloud.

"They used a teleporter to put that obelisk into the middle of town. It acted like a beacon for them. When enough people for their plans were close enough to the obelisk, they activated the field again and teleported us here."

"How do you know all this?" Lloyd was acting surprisingly calm in this situation. And he had an uncanny way of talking about what happened, as it he'd seen it all before. In fact he had seen it all before, as he was about to explain.

"It was what led me to discover the Vanguard in the first place. Back almost a year ago, a similar vanishing act took place in Luin. The people passed it off as rebels attacking. But there were also some local tales about how whole pilgrimages disappeared without a trace."

"You mean this has been going on for many years?" she asked.

"Yes. I decided to look into and discovered that Cruxis and the Desians did as well. They wrote it off as instability between the two worlds. But that would have made it impossible to happen again once I recombined the worlds three years ago."

"So if it wasn't dimensional instability, then you're saying that people who just up and disappeared all this time have been taken by the Vanguard?"

"I didn't know for sure who was taking them until I ran into one of them in Meltokio. He was running away from Zelos of all people. Apparently, I wasn't the only one looking into these mass kidnappings. The King of Tethe'alla had ordered Zelos to look into it and he'd gotten a lead in a bar where a drunken man kept rambling on about occult meetings and human sacrifices."

"So what happened to the guy? And who was he anyway?"

"We forced him to take us to the next meeting place, which just happened to be in their stronghold. At first though, we thought he was an innocent who had overheard or mistakenly seen this ritual, but then his eyes started glowing and he started rambling on and on about the revenge he'd have on us." Lloyd paused for a second and then continued. "He wasn't a savory one, that first Vanguard. That night, after he'd led us to the base, he cut his own neck and we thought he'd killed himself. We were wrong though. He showed up again, just in a different body. That's the reason they kidnap people, they're harvesting people to use hosts. And when they're done with them, they just kill themselves, go back to the base, and pick out a new body."

Marty gasped in astonishment. "They're harvesting us to use as bodies? That's just as bad as those Exspheres."

"Yeah," agreed Lloyd. "Actually, that spell you used with Alex's knife was the first time I'd ever seen one of the Vanguard die. How did you do it?"

"It was nothing I did," said Marty. "He actually stabbed me with it. Then instead of killing me, the Mana Efreet had infused into it started to spread through my body. After that, the entity inside of me just burned away, though it screamed the whole time. When I recovered, I just did the same thing, only instead of stabbing Genis, I projected Efreet's Mana into his body. It seemed like it would have the same effect."

"Well, it's good that you finally found a way to get rid of those bastards. They've killed hundreds of thousands already. There's got to be a way to stop them once and for all though."

"Maybe there is." Marty once again pulled on her restraints, but like before, didn't get anywhere. "How are we going to get out of this?"

Just at that moment, a door opened behind Marty. It creaked on its rusty hinges, squealing until it ran into the metal wall. Marty blinked a few times, letting her eyes get used to the light. Lloyd was off to her right, strapped down just like her, and glaring at the person who was standing in the doorway. The light from beyond the door cast the person's shadow far into the room, and caused it to elongate as the person walked into the room.

The figure closed the door after walking into the room, once again casting the entire place into darkness. People outside the room soon began to hear screams of agony.

"I can't believe I did that!" I jumped out of the drainage pipe and onto clean, and none smelly grass like an alligator was going to bite my legs off if I didn't. "That was the most disgusting thing I've ever done!"

"You should quite whining, we've got a long way to go, and the sun's almost up."

I turned to Zelos and scowled. "How many time have you done that?" I shouted.

Zelos paused for a moment, scratching his chin thoughtfully. Then a lecherous grin spread across his face and he started walking away. I shook my head in frustration. At least it's over, I thought.

"Don't let him get to you," said Seles. "He's a pervert. He snuck out of the city at night all the time and had to sneak back in using the sewers when he finished with whatever girl he was with that night."

I choked on and stumbled. "What do you mean, whatever girl he was with that night?" Zelos looked over his shoulder, that lecherous grin spreading wider. Seles rolled her eyes.

"Don't get him started," she said. "He is a dirty pervert through and through."

"Let's not get lost in complimenting my gorgeousness," said Zelos, crossing his arms and puffing out his chest. "We've got to get to the Old Human Ranch before anything bad happens to those people."

"What do you mean? You know where they were taken?"

"Actually, we came to New Palmacosta to meet up with you guys before we, that is, me and Lloyd went to the old ranch and destroyed it... again. So we were going there anyway, just happens that things have changed and now it's a rescue mission instead of just a demolition target."

"Well then let's hurry up," I shouted. I took off running as fast as I could. Then I skidded to a stop and turned around. "Which way is it." Seles laughed and Zelos sighed.

"You know, you act more and more like Lloyd the more I'm around you. I suppose it can't be helped, though. I mean how can you compare to this?" Zelos puffed out his chest again and rested his fists in a manly fashion on his hips.

"He'd have more luck comparing himself to a goat," said Seles flatly.

"Guys!" I whined. "Which way is the ranch. The others could be in danger."

"Don't worry," said Zelos seriously. "The Vanguard doesn't use their victims until they've been acclimated and that takes at least a week, so we still have a little time."

How does he know… Suspicious, I asked, "Zelos, how do you knowthat?" At first he didn't answer. Then he took off running. "Zelos!" I looked at Seles, she shrugged and we both took off after Zelos.

"I'll explain on the way," Zelos said as we caught up to him.

Please review, and as always, thanks for reading.