Disclaimers:

The Jak and Daxter game series and all related elements © Naughty Dog Incorporated

Herz, Doe and Koe Hessian, Rall Hage/Hessian, Amarta Tierth, Brenna Vamilo, and most named KG © Blu

Rheanon and Seima Llast and most named Precursors © Laina

Rfena Veras, Azalea Mirithir, Giu Avaar, Keela Sevah, and Aelyn Adalla © Taitai

Veer Shurra, Melir Varhaden, Kisan Acheron, Emori Geel, Makao Lurish, Amarta Tierth, Brenna Vamilo, and Rune Thian © Nashi

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Authors' Notes: Sorry this took so long to get out, people. Blu has had school and Nashi has had really nasty writer's block and Tai has had no internet at all, so things have been generally crazy all across the board. Here's a new chapter, though, for your reading pleasure! (And, if you do take some pleasure from reading it, could you please review? It really helps with keeping our drive going to get feedback.)

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Eight: Reacquainted

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"Get 'im off!" Daxter shouted. "We've gotta calm 'im down!" He yanked at Jak's hair, a braid in either hand, but it didn't help. Jak stayed where he was, motionless save for the steady motion of his chest as he breathed.

One hand was pressed to either of Erol's arms, claws dug in deep, and one knee was pressed against the older man's abdomen, the other braced against stone under the water to keep him steady. Erol lay underneath him, head almost completely under the water. He'd been lucky—if one could call it that—and upon being tackled, his head had hit one of the larger stones under the water that covered most of the throne room's floor. That same rock was the only thing keeping his head above the water now.

Jak glared down at him, bottomless black eyes sharp and intelligent—clearer than Erol remembered, more alive than he had seen before. Closer to elf than beast. The young man bared his teeth, breath heaving and sharp teeth glistening, aching to rip into Erol's throat and end him forever.

"You shouldn't be here," he ground out.

Erol blinked, eyes widening. Since when was the monster Jak became capable of speech? Nothing made sense anymore.

"You're dead. I killed you."

In reply, Erol gave the slightest hint of a smirk. "Well you didn't do a very good job, did you? Not if I'm right h—"

Jak dug in harder with his claws, the flow of blood into the water around them thickening instantly. Erol gave a grunt of pain when those keratin daggers finally pushed so far into the hard muscle that they scraped bone.

"Jak, cut it out!" Daxter practically shouted, giving another hard tug. "Snap out of it!"

"Why?" was Jak's reply, eyes narrowing to slits. "Give me one reason not to kill this bastard right now."

A long moment passed, silent save for Jak's growling breaths, still save for the motion of his chest—and Erol's—as he breathed. What reason was there? What reason could there possibly be not to kill Erol again, hopefully once and for all?

The redheaded Krimzon Guard took a breath. "Here's a reason," he said, not sounding strained at all in spite of the pain and pressure of Jak, unflinching against the snakes of violet electricity that shot over his skin when Jak moved even slightly. "I don't have the slightest idea what the hell is going on here, and from the sound of things, neither does anyone else. It might be a good idea to get an explanation before you go around killing people."

Jak blinked, eyes widening slightly, eyebrows slanting as his expression shifted from unadulterated rage to angry confusion.

"…You don't sound right," he hissed. Too clear, too simple, too human to be Erol. The voice was the same, the inflection and accent identical—Noble, Jak had been told, like Veger and Damas and Herz's father, Rall—but the tone was wrong. There was no malice, no madness, no underlying threat of torture and agony and anger that pervaded everything. Just…a voice. Too familiar, and yet still too alien.

And plenty enough to break the anger that held up Jak's transformation. With a final hiss he shifted, slamming Erol under the water completely, just once, then curled backward onto his feet, still crouching slightly as the Light in him went to work.

Erol snapped up out of the water, reaching up with his hands—one of them still tied by Veer's leash, the other having been freed on his way up the elevator without the Wastelander seeming to care—to slam both in fists against his chest, flushing the fluid from his lungs as he sat up and coughed as hard as he could.

Jak glared down at him, but the pallor was leeching out of his features, horns and claws receding. The glare held, though, not fading a whit even when the color of his eyes had faded back to that brilliant—but not electric—shade of blue they had been when he was born. They flashed white for a split second as he reflexively tapped his Light stores, washing out the last traces of Dark from the forefront of his system.

"You should be dead," he hissed.

Erol, breath heaving, entire body soaked, looked up at him with narrowed yellow eyes. "Why in the world do you keep saying that?" He reached up and gingerly ran his fingers over one of the wounds in his upper arms, wincing and giving a hiss of pain, fingertips coming away bloody. "This, I deserve. I'll admit that. You, me, attacking each other—that much makes perfect sense." He looked back at Jak, arching one eyebrow. "But all this talk about me being dead doesn't make any at all."

"Makes perfect sense," Daxter spat, resituating himself properly on Jak's shoulder, placing a hand on the elder man's head and brushing lightly at his bicolored hair in reassurance. "'Cause yer s'posed t'be dead. Jak killed yah. Twice."

The Krimzon Guard blinked, brow furrowing, and looked from the rat back to Jak. "Twice?" He smirked slightly, tongue playing at one sharp canine for a moment as he chuckled. "You really must not have done a very good job the first time around, then…"

"I didn't kill you the first time," Jak retorted. For all the anger in his voice, there was an underlying layer of calm, a hint of what might have been nobility in his demeanor. That was just as odd as the monster he became being capable of coherent speech. "You did that yourself." Now it was the hero's turn to smirk slightly, the expression seeming far less out of place on his face now than it had during his renegade days. "Or don't you remember that either?"

A moment passed as Erol looked around at the people around him. Veer, no longer holding the end of the leash; Sig, looking at Jak like he was afraid he was going to explode at any minute—which, considering this was Jak, was a distinct possibility; Daxter, glaring for all he was worth.

And Jak. Jak, standing tall and straight and proud—since when did he have any pride left?—and giving Erol the coldest, most calculating expression the Commander had ever seen. Not necessarily angry, just…like Erol was wasting his air and he wanted him to know it. It was almost enough to put Erol's more scrutinizing looks to shame.

…Did he remember killing himself? No. No, he didn't. He remembered…crashing. He was fairly certain it was a crash, but he couldn't be positive. There was a flash of purple light and air so cold it burned, then his memory fell to ruin. Was that what they were talking about?

Did he remember killing himself?

After a moment, expression going even, he shook his head in reply.

------

Quiet footsteps broke the silence, two pale figures bringing light and life to the dead gloom of the Temple's lower levels. It had been years since anyone had been down in this section; even Jak hadn't come this way when he was running around the place, and he had gone places no one else could reach.

"I hate coming down here," Mahk hissed, holding the eco-bright lamp Kidinga had provided out at arms' length to illuminate as much of the hall in front of him as possible. "The dust is thick enough to make the floor springy."

Kidinga took a step off to the side and ran one white-painted hand over the wall, fingers coming away caked in oily grey powder. "It's not so bad," the Leaper-racer replied, rubbing her fingers together. "We were supposed to get to work cleaning this place after the incident with Errol, anyway. We just didn't have a chance."

Mahk nodded. "Preparing for the races took priority." His voice was flat, dull, and entirely unimpressed. Regardless of the fact that Kidinga was his best friend and she was a racer in her own right, he didn't have a problem displaying his distaste for the Kras City Championships.

Kidinga couldn't exactly blame him, either. There hadn't been any irreversible damage done to the temple when the Kras Racing Syndicate had opened it for the races, but having a bunch of exploding cars running around through their mountain shooting at each other was more than a little upsetting. This was holy ground, a structure that had been in existence since the Golden Order came into being during Mar's reign. It wasn't just some racing track.

"But that was almost two years ago," she said with a grin, wiping her hand off on her slacks. "So that isn't really a good excuse anymore." She chuckled. "I guess everyone either forgot, or they all feel the same way as you about coming down here."

"It wouldn't be so bad with some more light," Mahk replied in his own defense. "The eco line from the vent that charged the lamps down here must've been broken sometime…" He trailed off as the two of them stepped through an arching doorway and into a massive room, pillars towering up all around him, shelves and shelves of scrolls and books lining the walls. His deep red eyes widened, head tilting back to look at the ceiling-topped highest shelf. This room was amazing.

Kidinga just heaved a sigh and turned to look up at her much-taller companion. "That's a lot of books to go through."

Mahk continued to stare at all the texts—ancient, crumbling scrolls and yellowed books bound in old yakow-leather laying all around them. They really needed to clean this place, protect these books. They'd lost so much in the Purging of Haven City, it wouldn't be right to let all this be lost when it was literally right under their feet…

He loved books. Words, even. He wasn't Head Scribe for nothing.

He also had an entire group of acolytes working under him, and was already formulating plans to get them down here to work on cleaning and moving all this to the upper libraries on the fourth level.

Kidinga nudged him in the hip with her elbow. "Come on, Mahk, we've got a lot of looking to do. Seem wants anything on eco flashes and resurrection that we can find."

"Right…" He started toward the nearest shelf and, delicately, pulled out a scroll. Setting his lamp down on the platform just below the shelf—a counter on which to read, there had probably been chairs here once—he unrolled the scroll as carefully as he could.

He was surprised that it didn't come apart in his hands, the paper was so worn. In this dim light he could barely read it at all. With narrowed eyes he leaned in closer, turning up his lamp and straining to read the text below the sweeping violet-tinted picture painted at the top of the scroll.

"…Sage Acheron…black as night…" He read aloud the broken sentences, blinking. "'Dinga, this is the old story of the Dark Sage," he said with a grin, turning to look back at her. "Do you remember this?"

Something off in the far corner of the room shifted, stone scraping on stone. Both monks snapped to attention, looking deep into the gloom; Kidinga put her hand on her collapsed fighting staff, waiting for something to emerge from the blackness, but several seconds passed with nothing.

When silence had reigned for a full minute, she relaxed and turned back to Mahk, arching one fine blue-grey eyebrow. "Is there a monk alive thatdoesn't?" she replied.

Mahk just shrugged before looking back to the text and reading again. This had always been one of his favorite stories as a child: a clear fight between good and evil, darkness and light, selfishness and sacrifice. No grey area, just simple black and white. Things must have been so simple back then.

Simple, but no less moving, and—if this painting was any indication—most certainly no less colorful. The image was so clear, even after years and years tucked away down here, away from the world and the protection from the elements it could have provided.

He wondered if that was anything like the actual Dark Sage had looked like, horns broken through the skin on the man's brow and teeth bared like those of an animal, skin a deep grey-violet.

Returning to the text, he read on. It was easier to read now, his eyes having finally adjusted to the darkness. "The Sage Acheron, soul black as night, having eyes like embers and teeth like blades—"

"Well that's not very flattering, is it?" A smooth, slightly-accented voice asked just to Mahk's right.

The scribe cried out, jerked and spun around, finding himself face-to-face with a man that couldn't have been much older than himself, standing at exactly his eye-level. Taking an unstable step backward, Mahk discovered that the man wasn't at his eye level because they were equal height. The stranger's bare feet floated a good foot and a half above the ground.

He was flying.

Kidinga was already there, reflexives more honed to defend and strike back than her companion's. Her collapsed staff had been extended to its full length, equal with her height, and she positioned herself between Mahk and the strange man with a single leap over Mahk's head.

She gave him a look up and down, eyes widening when she realized just exactly what she was seeing. "Who the hell are you?" she asked, trying to sound firmer than she felt.

No one should have been down here with them. The only way down was locked, and had been for years; how in the world had this man gotten down?

"That wasn't very nice," the man said, heaving a sigh and putting his hands on his hips. The right sleeve of his long jacket was missing, cut off at the shoulder and hemmed cleanly, but the left sleeve billowed just slightly at the motion, long gold hair swaying behind him. "We've been wandering around down here for hours, and the first people we manage to find to ask directions brandish weapons and start demanding answers that I'd be more than willing to give if they'd just be polite. Lovely place, this." He arched one eyebrow. "Do you like it here? I'm starting to think I don't, if only because you're being so rude."

…Kidinga wasn't sure if the man was insane, or just very, very sure of himself. She also wasn't sure if she wanted to know.

"Wait a second," Mahk chimed from behind her. "We?"

The man folded his arms and floated a little higher into the air to look down at the both of them. Looking at him now, Mahk was sure that he would be shorter than Kidinga if he were standing on the ground. "My sister and daughter are here as well, but I'm not very well letting them be subjected to this sort of treatment." He turned to stand sideways to them, letting his arms hang at his sides. "We'll find our own way out, thank you."

He bent his body slightly, and then shot off through the air like a bird, darting around a pillar on his way up through a gap in the ceiling to the next level up.

"Wait!" Mahk called. "Kidinga's sorry, I'm sure she is! Come back!"

That blond head appeared, upside-down, in the gap. "Why, praytell? You're just going to let your little friend hit me with a stick."

Mahk grabbed his lantern and moved over to stand directly underneath the stranger. "No I'm not. I…I'll take you to the head of our Order, and she'll help you. Just give me your name and I'll take your whole family to see her."

"And who is the head of your order? A Sage?"

Mahk blinked—that was one severely antiquated term. There hadn't been any proper Sages in centuries. But Seem was close, wasn't she? Light Eco Saturate, most knowledgeable in the ways of her eco…

"Something like that," he replied.

The man tilted his head slightly. "Which eco?"

Mahk exchanged a quick look with Kidinga, who gave him a look to keep doing whatever he was doing, because it seemed to be working. They couldn't have this man running around the Temple unattended, and if calling their High Priest a Sage kept him from doing that then that was exactly what they were going to call her.

"Light Eco," Mahk answered confidently.

The man blinked, then disappeared into the gap again. Mahk's heart sank, certain that he'd just let this bizarre man continue to run loose in the most ancient levels of the Temple, but a moment later he reappeared. This time, he wasn't alone.

In one arm, he carried a little girl. She didn't look much older than twelve, if even that, and kept her pale arms looped about the man's neck as he carried her down to the ground. Behind him came a young woman, flying herself but not with nearly as much grace as the man.

This would be his sister and daughter.

The man kept his child against him, arm wrapped around her waist without a hint of strain in spite of how close they were in size, and stopped at Mahk's eye level. "My name is Gol Acheron. This is Kisan, my daughter, and my dear younger sister, Maia." He grinned slightly. "Now, how about you bring me that scroll you were reading and take me to see this Sage of Light Eco? I'm sure we'll have plenty to talk about."

------

Razer looked up at the massive metal gate blocking his car from coming to port in Spargus' walls, then turned to Herz with his eyebrows raised. "How do these people get in here, again? Jak told me once, but it has been quite a while."

Herz's brow furrowed. "Oh, we need a…Gate Pass…thinger." The green-haired young man turned to look at their backseat passenger. "Do you still have yours, Your Highness?"

Damas nodded, reaching into one of the pouches on his belt and producing the little coppery device. He held it up and pressed his thumb into the slight indentation on one side, activating the beacon inside and triggering a command for the gate to open. He took a steadying breath and exhaled slowly, trying not to admit to himself that he'd been worried that his pass wouldn't work anymore.

He didn't have a whole lot of time to keep on that train of thought, luckily, because as soon as the gate was open wide enough for them to slip through, Razer accelerated, jerking the wheel to one side mere feet from the inner gate. The car came about even as its arcing motion slid it perfectly into place in an open parking slot.

Razer grinned and killed the engine, tossing the keys to Herz, who stuffed them into the pocket of his uniform pants. Damas looked between the two of them, eyes wider than he would ever admit to, and took a steadying breath.

"Do you constantly drive like you're racing?" he asked after a moment, leaning forward slightly, putting a hand on the back of Herz's seat and looking at Razer.

The Northerner turned and smiled back at him. "Of course I do. Is there any reason I should not?"

Herz rolled his eyes. "Don't worry, Your Highness," he said in reassurance, "Razer knows how to drive. I don't think he's ever crashed away from the track." He paused, bright green eyes slanting to his husband. "Well, except for that one time your aunt told me about."

"I was twelve, Mein Herz," Razer spat, fine black eyebrows jutting downward. "I can guarantee you would do a lot more than just crash if you have been driving at twelve."

"You still crashed," Herz replied, tone almost singsong. "The great Razer Gefahr, at the very beginning of his racing career, had to be rescued by his aunt after crashing into a mistleholly bush."

"Oh, shut up." Razer might have been pouting, which looked more than a little ridiculous on a man of his stature. It was a little closer to a scowl, though, which kept from completely shattering his image.

Damas grinned slightly—if nothing else, these two were amusing to watch.

Herz just kept up his grin, standing up and swinging off the rollbar to get out of Razer's car. "I've never been to Spargus before," he said as he stopped and leaned against the unused car door, waiting for Razer and Damas to disembark as well. He looked at the massive inner gate, thick eyebrows arching slightly. "Always wanted to see it, though."

Razer shrugged, turning to watch as Damas hopped out and onto the ground in a series of movements not quite as fluid as they could have been, but far more agile that one would have thought a man of his age was capable of.

But then, this man was a member of the house of Mar, and descendants of the hero were said to have Light Eco infused into their very genetic makeup—there was no doubt that granted a slowed age rate. Hell, Razer himself—and Herz now, as well—aged significantly slower than most, and all he had under his skin was Green Eco. It was no wonder Damas was still in such good shape.

"I have not been here in some time, but this is hardly my first visit," the Northerner explained easily. "During the first years that the championships took place in areas other than Kras alone, I had a few trips out here to race."

Damas looked at him then, as though seeing him clearly for the first time, and his deep violet eyes narrowed slightly in scrutiny for a long moment. Razer looked back at him and blinked once, just barely tilting his head in curiosity.

Herz, coming around the car to meet his husband, looked between the two of them. "…Your Highness?"

He didn't take his eyes off Razer, voice low when he finally spoke. "I thought I'd seen you before. You're the man that got Shiv so interested in racing that he left."

Razer smiled. "That would be me, yes," he responded. "And in case you are curious, Shiv is in decent enough hands these days. He is not half bad behind a wheel, either. Someone trained him fairly well before he finally headed off for Kras."

"Whoa," Herz interjected, turning to stand sideways to both Razer and the king. "Wait, what? Shiv's from Spargus? Shiv?"

"Technically, he is from Haven," Razer corrected, "but he was in Spargus by the time he was eighteen or so—that is when I met him."

"…Shiv. As in the redhead. With no ears."

Damas looked at Herz, then back to Razer, a small edge of shock evident on his features—a ripple running out through his eco field strong enough for both other men to taste when they breathed. "What happened to his ears?"

The Northerner waved a hand in dismissal—horribly disrespectful, but very much Razer—as he turned toward the inner gate. "A very long story," he replied, taking Herz's hand and starting off with him practically in tow. "And not one for this moment, I think." He glanced back at Damas and smiled. "I do believe you have a homecoming to take care of, Your Highness."

------

It was a decidedly surreal experience to be serving men wearing armor that was coated in red after so long getting accustomed to blue. Thick tattoos, short-cropped hair, ages that didn't seem right at all, and faces that she knew. She remembered these people. A lot of them.

Tess had been pretty young when the massacre happened, but that didn't mean she couldn't remember the Krimzon Guards from those days. There had been photos of the fifty-three that died being passed around the slums for years after the fact; from one set of dirty hands to another, pale eyes memorizing lined features and praying that something would be done one day to avenge them. She remembered tracing more than one face with her calloused fingers when she was little, wondering what the man behind the tattoos had been like, if he had friends and family that missed him, what it would be like it she'd lost her cousins, the only family she had left…

That didn't mean she wasn't freaked out. If anything, the familiarity made it worse. There were some younger ones that she had served drinks to back during her Underground days, which was more surreal than anything else.

So far, only one had recognized her, and then proceeded to ask what the hell mad scientist she pissed off, and if she needed someone to kick his ass for her. She had, of course, politely declined, and offered him a free drink for being so nice.

Not that there weren't days that she felt like beating the tar out of the ones that had done this to her, but it wasn't exactly intelligent to sit there and openly announce that she wanted to shoot the head off a god. Seriously, though, the least they could have done was asked. Being with Daxter was great—she loved him more than anything. Being like Daxter, though…that was harder. It had been long enough now that she was pretty much used to it, but she missed being more than two feet tall.

It would have been a lot easier to get a headcount of how many dead Krimzon Guards she had in her bar if she were a little taller. As it was, she was forced to hop up on top of a shelf and give a look out over of the room, counting as quickly and correctly as she could manage from such a position.

Thirty-five, give or take a few. That wasn't a lot, not in the long run, but almost all of them were in red. It was a little frightening.

And now she was worried that Krew was going to come hovering down through the skylight and ask what the hell she'd done to his bar. And maybe sit on her. Sitting on her would have been bad before the Precursors left, now it would leave her as little more than a pancake. The kind you throw away when you find them in the fridge. You know, orange and fuzzy.

When Keira showed up and offered to take a shift, Tess wished she could smother her with even a fraction of the adoration she felt at that moment.

"God, Keira, thank you," she said, heaving a sigh as she climbed down from her perch and finally just collapsed on the counter, holding a hand to her head and closing her eyes as a headache flared behind them. "If one more of these guys asks what I am, I swear I'm gonna whip out a prototype from somewhere and just blow the whole place to smithereens."

Keira gave a sympathetic smile. "Sorry for not coming in sooner—I was back at HQ with Rhea and Ashelin." Her smile faded. "Rhea told me what happened. At least, what she thinks happened. You know, with her you can never really be sure."

Tess sat up straight at that, ears perking in spite of Keira's warning. No one really knew what to think of Rhea, and they had every right to. How many girls went around telling people that they were gods in elven skin? Really? Not that Tess didn't believe her after everything she'd seen, but…it was still hard to tell sometimes where Rhea's real memories started and the fabrications that had been placed as a stopgap in her head ended.

"So?" The little Maker queried. "What happened?"

The younger woman reached up to brush back a lock of sapphire-green hair and mulled over her thoughts for a moment before giving Tess a somewhat worried look. "The Precursors brought everyone back. Something about restoring balance to the planet or something. Too much light, not enough dark, too many neutrals that never got to choose sides."

Tess officially didn't like this. "And by dark, you mean…"

"I mean people like Praxis." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly before adding, quieter, "And people like Erol."

Tess swore under her breath.

------

Damas had spent enough time in Spargus to know what to expect from its people. When he first arrived, his reputation earned him more respect than his lineage had, and there was absolutely no reverence brought on by either. Where the people of Haven had been awed by the realization that they were in the presence of a man who shared blood with Mar—the Mar—most Spargans couldn't seem to care less.

So Damas was a banished king, so he was a descendant of Mar. So what? He still had to carry his own water from the well, still had to barter his own things for food and fabric, still had to prick his fingers learning to sew his own clothing, still had to earn his right to stay here.

When he married Sirei and became king at her side, his tasks and privileges had changed somewhat, but there was still no Havenite reverence. He was king, and a good king, but in the end he was still just another Wastelander.

Needless to say, all this made it very surprising—downright shocking, even—when Damas found the people in the city staring at him in awe and parting to let him pass as he made his way to the palace.

Now, at last, he didn't doubt that he'd been gone. Even dead. There was nothing else that could give these people, hardened warriors the lot of them, such expressions of wonder.

He couldn't tell if it was a good feeling or not, the believing. It just was.

Razer and Herz walked behind him, like some bizarre entourage, the younger of the two feeling the insecurity Razer had spent far too long working out of him inching back. Razer could feel it, of course, and took his hand in reassurance, doing his best to project a collected calm through his eco field strongly enough for Herz to sense it.

Herz relaxed as they walked.

Damas did his best to keep his eyes straight ahead, but finally found them straying to one side when a familiar voice gasped, "Merciful Precursors…" His deep violet eyes caught Makao, the dark-skinned blue-eyed city resident monk, falling to his knees and just staring in disbelief.

"Your Lordship," the man whispered. "Is it…?" The Wasteland king allowed the acolyte a nod, and it was as if the simple motion broke a floodgate in the crowd.

They cheered. Cheered as they hadn't since Prince Mar was born, with such fervor as to make one wonder if they were heading off to war. Damas smiled—this was the Spargus he knew. Power and confidence and clear, bright voices caught in the desert wind.

He was home.

Before long he made it to the lift that would take him up to the palace, to his throne room, and turned to look back at escorts before he stepped on. "Are you coming?"

Herz shook his head. "We'll wait down here for a while." He grinned, raising his voice to be heard over the shouts and cheers and pounding footsteps as runners raced through the city to spread the news of Damas' return. "Trust me," he continued, "you're gonna want some time alone with Jak."

The man supposed he could understand that, and nodded as he stepped onto the lift.

"Oh," Razer added, "on the chance that we do not get to see him ourselves, do give Jak our regards." He smiled, head tilted slightly, and again Damas nodded in reply.

Then the lift began to move, and up he went.

------

"If he doesn't remember," Daxter hissed, "then I say we remind 'im. With a nice reenactment. Usin' the original players an' all that."

Jak sighed and shook his head. "No, he's…different. Something's wrong."

"Something's always been wrong," Daxter chided. Sig gave Jak a look stating his agreement, and the hero shook his head again in dissent.

"Then maybe something's right!" he suggested, waving a hand toward the spot where Veer held Erol tethered, over on the other side of the massive room. "I don't like the reality of it any more than you, but we can't kill him until we know what's going on, all right?"

Erol gave Veer a look, yellow eyes slanting back up from the sweet-smelling Saquite bush in the pot in front of him. "You know what I don't like?" he whispered. The Wastelander arched both dark blue eyebrows. "The way they're over there talking like they think I can't hear them."

Veer actually chuckled a little, and looked about ready to say something in reply when the lift clicked and began to whir and creak. He heaved a sigh. "Oh great, what now?" Jak, Daxter, and Sig seemed to be feeling the same way, because they all gave the device a wary look as it worked.

Then it crested the mouth of the shaft, and those expressions changed instantly. Sig's shifted to one of surprised, then to a relieved half-smile; Daxter just stared, dark blue eyes wide; Jak looked on in amazement, as though afraid to believe what he was seeing.

The lift stopped, and Damas stepped off onto the stone.

He smiled at Jak—the young man's hair was bound back in braids now, like the true Wastelander that he was, and Damas was pleased to see that he still wore the coppery Precurian armor he had been awarded piece by piece during the Daystar War. He stood a little straighter, more confident and less arrogant, less wary of himself, and Damas couldn't help but feel a swell of pride.

He had been gone for years, but Jak had still finished growing up perfectly nonetheless.

"I've been told I've been gone for quite a while," he said with more ease than he felt, stepping across the stone pathway toward them. He did feel much more comfortable in Jak's presence, at least. They had always matched well.

Jak just nodded.

"Welcome back, Your Lordship," Sig said quietly, taking a step away from the throne.

Damas' smiled softened. "It's good to be back." He took a breath and looked around. "I think I've missed this place."

His eyes lit on the two figures off on the other side of the room, currently making their way back over one steppingstone at a time. The larger of the two was Veer—goodness his hair had grown—but the other…

The king's smile fell, voice dropping to an icy hiss at the sight of Erol. "What are you doing here?" he demanded.

The fiery-haired man shrugged. "The same thing as you, apparently. Coming back from the dead, inspiring shock in everyone that sees me, and so on." He held up his hands, bound together at the wrists. "Only I'm on a leash."

"You should be dead," Damas stated darkly.

"That's exactly what Jak said," Erol grinned, slanting his eyes on the younger man. "One could almost think the two of you were related."

Damas ground his teeth and looked at Veer. "Get him out of my sight," he spat.

"Right away, Lordship," Veer replied with a grin. "An' welcome back from me too. S'good t'have you home." He turned then and gave a tug on the leash, then a yank when Erol refused to move. The Krimzon Guard gave him a positively scathing look, but started after him anyway, wading through the water now.

As they headed toward the lift, Jak shrugged his left shoulder. "Go with 'em, Dax," he said quietly. "Make sure Erol doesn't try to pull anything."

"Roger dodger!" the ottsel replied a little too cheerfully. He took a leap from Jak's shoulder to the floor far ahead, and then took another leap from the floor to Veer's shoulder when the man reached the lift. "Good luck," Daxter hollered, smiling at Jak as he started down the shaft.

Damas decided he had quite enough questions without wondering what that was about. Instead, he walked up past Sig and took his seat. "Report," he commanded. "What is Erol doing here?"

"We're not sure, Your Lordship," Sig replied easily, happy to be reporting to a higher authority again. As good as he was at it, he would always prefer following Damas' lead to trying to fill his shoes. "Veer found him in the Waste and brought him back here—he'll be put in a holding house now."

Damas nodded. "He is one of the ones that came back, isn't he?" He looked to Jak. "Your friend Herz said you killed him."

Jak started to reply, then stopped to blink in confusion. "Wait—Herz?"

"He and his…partner gave me a ride back here from Haven," the king explained. "He's also the son of an old colleague of mine."

"So…So Herz is here?" Jak tried not to wince when Damas nodded in reply. That was just so many levels of bad. Herz hated Erol as much as the next decent Havenite, but he was also scared to death of him. And dating the psychopath's ex-boyfriend. And likely to run into him and Daxter both—the latter of which had yet to forgive the half-blooded Havenite for falling for Razer back during the Kras City Grand Championships.

Jak hoped he would be okay…

"Yeah, I killed Erol," he answered at last. "Gave him a Peacemaker blast to the face."

Damas couldn't completely stifle his grin. "Well done. But he's back now—who else?" He looked between the two Wastelanders before him, eager for a proper status report.

It was Jak who gave the reluctant reply. "Praxis is in Haven—but he's been taken into custody by the Freedom League, so don't worry about that. Everyone that died in Dead Town is back too."

"And most of the folks that died in the big Dark Maker attack," Sig added. "None of the monks, from what I've heard, but we've got a couple KG here with family now."

Damas was silent for a moment. Then, "Sirei?"

Sig shook his head. "No sign of her." He closed his good eye. "I'm sorry."

The king tried not to look disappointed, or hopeful a moment later when he queried the last name he had. "…Mar?"

Jak and Sig exchanged a glance. "Uh…'bout that, Your Lordship…" He trailed off when Jak held up a hand, then used that same hand to reach into a pouch on his belt and withdraw a smooth, reddish object. He held it out to Damas.

"This one's yours," he said softly when Damas had reached out. He dropped the carved crystal into the older man's hand, and Damas blinked in surprise at the sight of his family seal. He checked his vest and, sure enough, his seal wasn't there. He hadn't even realized it was gone…

Then Jak reached up to tug at the strip of leather around his neck, pulling his amulet free from behind his breastplate. "This one," he said, voice still low, "is mine."

------

"This is stupid, you know," Erol stated plainly. "What are you going to do, lock me up and leave me there? Jak said you couldn't kill me until you found out what was going on, so that's really all you could do."

Daxter shot him a withering glare, and his high voice came out in a growl. "If that's all yah can think of t'do t'someone in confinement, then you musta been a lot softer on Jak in prison than he thinks you were."

The Commander shrugged. "You're not me," he stated easily. "You probably couldn't come up with half the things I did."

"You keep tellin' yourself that, buddy, but when you wake up in th'middle o' th'night an' there's something huge an' pointy gettin' shoved down yer throat—"

"'Ey," Veer interjected, turning to give Daxter a stern look even as he gave Erol's leash a tug. "No threats 'til after he's in holdin'. S'pointless otherwise."

Daxter didn't seem to like it, but shut up anyway. He did, however, keep up in his valiant attempt to bore a hole in Erol's head through the force of his glare alone. Erol, unfortunately, remained lacking a hole in his head for the duration of the trip down the lift.

He was thinking rather deeply, though, trying to piece the fragments floating around in his head into some cohesive image, something that he could use to explain what was going on. Apparently, he had been dead. That couldn't possibly be true, so he dismissed it as people overreacting when he crashed. The people here recognized him—including King Damas, in spite of the fact that Erol had just been a boy when the man was banished—which was just bizarre. He did have a reputation, though, so he supposed that could explain that.

Jak was different. That thought stood out the most at the moment, being the least explainable of most everything he'd been through today. Even waking up buried in the desert made more sense than Jak being relatively sane.

He thought he'd done a better job than that.

…And he really didn't like the fact that that thought made his insides cringe a little. What was wrong with him?

The lift lowered to a stop, and Erol looked out at the city before him. Or, at least, he would have, if a certain dark-haired, pale-skinned figure hadn't been standing in just the right place to catch his attention.

Yellow eyes met brilliant green, and Erol tried not to stare.

"…Razer?"

------