Kharlan

A Tales of Symphonia Fanfiction

Revision Begin: 3/11/07

Disclaimer: I don't own Tales of Symphonia, or any of its components. This is a work of fiction meant to honor a great piece of fiction and is in no way intended to undermine intellectual rights. Please don't sue me.

Author's Notes: Did I say summertime? I lied.

This is, of course, a revision of Kharlan. I was re-reading it to get the feel back and discovered that I happened to rather dislike the style I wrote it in. I feel I've come a long way since I started writing it, and that I could do much, much better.

In this, I've decided to delete the previously completed chapters entirely. I have no clue if this is proper etiquette and I apologize if it's not. I admit that I'm too lazy to double-check and that makes me a jerk of sorts.

The upside to this is that this chapter is a prologue, previously unreleased. New material! Enjoy.

-Joshua


"Are we there yet?"

"No."

The young ninja kicked a stone as they walked. He had done as he was instructed, escorting the two humans from the meeting point to their destination... if they ever arrived, that is. It seemed that the situation was more dire than originally thought. Volt was never this testy, refusing to power the Rheiards... again, an erroneous assumption.

The truth was that Volt was exhausted. The ninja kicked another stone, this time more absently than irritated. They'd have never known if he hadn't specifically asked to take that detour to the Temple of Lightning, and it was fortunate they did. They may have dallied for quite some time.

The two he was escorting was an... interesting... pair. The first a member of the royal family of Sylvarant, the second a Baroness of Tethe'alla, under permanent house arrest. Both parties had to be spirited away in secret, due to this ridiculous war and the circumstances they'd found themselves in. It was awkward in more ways than one, for all three.

The young man didn't care about why it was uncomfortable for the humans. It had nothing to do with him. He only cared why it was uncomfortable for him, and that was because they were doing everything in their power to make sure that the tension in the group was tangible. At times the smothered aggression and ill-will seemed to slow his very thoughts, forcing him to plod sluggishly through the muck of their mangled issues with each other. He would be relieved when they could be sent back to their respective homes.

The three of them topped a hill, the young man stopping. His sharper eyes scanned the horizon as he oriented himself, and found their destination. He pointed, his heart sinking as his hand rose. "There, you see? It's just as Maxwell said... worse, it appears."

The humans murmured in dread agreement, the very first time they said anything civil to each other since this blasted job began. "We need to find a way to stop this, Styx," the woman said quietly.

"I agree." Both sets of eyes turned to the young escort.

The ninja held up his hands, as if warding off an impending blow. "I told you, I can't," he said helplessly. "Maxwell has already told me that I wouldn't be able to handle all that mana. I barely qualified to create a pact with Volt in the first place," he added sullenly.

The woman smiled at him, baring teeth. He shivered. He could swear the woman sharpened them... "You did tell us, Kuro. However, you ought to know that only an Elf or half-breed could handle that sort of power flow." The way she said "Elf" gave Kuro a bad taste in his mouth, and half-breed was practically snarled. Even Styx frowned in disapproval. "You're more in the know than we are."

"I don't know any Elves of Half-Elves who would be able to do this," Kuro responded evenly. "I've been living with Maxwell since the people of Mizuho saw it happening. I've told you this as well, Erizabet. And you also know that I haven't been to Heimdall in almost a century."

"Of course. It slipped my mind. Forgive me."

"I'm sure it 'slipped your mind,'" Styx replied under his breath. He ignored the viscous glare Erizabet shot him and said, "We aren't doing what we need to, standing here staring at it. Our mission was to either find someone who could carry out the mission of uniting the Summon Spirits, or to convince our respective allegiances to put an end to this madness."

"And?" Erizabet prompted.

Styx boiled inside, but maintained his calm, patient veneer. "I believe we should go down to the Holy Ground. If we can take back specifics about the Great Tree, I think it will help our attempts at convincing for a peace treaty. It seems that is what we must do, as we've been completely unable to find any Elves or Half-Elves."

"I agree," Kuro said, before the Baroness had a chance to protest.

Erizabet pressed her crimson lips together into a thin line. She was angry, although why was a mystery. "Majority rules," she said flatly. With a flare of her now soiled and torn cape, once exquisite in it's luxury, she swept past the two men and began her descent.

They watched her for a moment. "We better follow her," Styx said quietly. "She's as likely to finish the Tree off as she is to try to save it."

Kuro didn't respond. He fell into step behind the human and forced a stone wall around his heart as they walked. Otherwise, he would have wept at what he saw. The ground had been dead for miles by the time they had arrived at that cluster of hills, but now that they descended into the valley that sheltered the Great Kharlan Tree, dead earth became scorched earth. The closer the trio came to the basin of the valley, the closer they came to the tree, the more clear the devastation was.

Nothing living moved in the valley. The Tree's trunk yet lived, healthy- for the most part. Many of the tree's expansive limbs still bore bright green foliage, emeralds shining in the glory of the sun.

Most of the branches, however, were blackened, the leaves adorning them either shed long ago or drained of life, brittle and ready to fall the moment they rotted far enough. Where those limbs connected to the trunk, the black deadness spread, like little skeletal fingers clawing to rob life from the living. Both humans had stopped as they came to flat ground once again. The man stared in mute horror at the tree. Styx was a good man, Kuro was not surprised by his reaction to this atrocity. He was, however, stunned by Erizabet's.

The woman noted that the young ninja stared at her, and lifted a shaking finger to point at the tree. "Tell us, Kuro," she said in a small, frightened voice. "Tell us that we're merely spoked by this sight, and that we're not seeing what I believe we are." Kuro's eyes followed where she was pointing; his sharp eyes saw clearly what Erizabet and Styx obviously so feared. A lump formed instantly at his adam's apple and refused to allow sound from his throat. "Tell us, Kuro!" Erizabet demanded in her growing hysteria.

Somehow, at the human woman's command, he found his voice. "I cannot," he croaked. "That is blood. The Great Kharlan Tree is bleeding."

There was silence among the three. "I think we have enough to make our cases," Styx said shakily. "Let's go."

"You still haven't said how I can tell His Majesty about this when I'm not permitted to leave Flanoir," Erizabet retorted, suddenly forgetting the horror she had expressed only moments before.

"And I have told you that this issue is yours to deal with Erizabet. And I'm not discussing it here. I'm leaving, with or without-"

"Hush!" Kuro hissed. "I thought I heard something."

"Yeah, you heard this pompous fool running his mouth-"

"Shut up!" Kuro snapped, chopping the air with his hand.

The ninja was already stalking forward when Erizabet protested. "How dare you! You aren't to speak to me in that manner, you-"

"Silence, Lady," Styx cut her off. "I heard it too. Voices. How far, Kuro?"

Erizabet bit off her angry diatribe and fumed furiously. "A quarter to a third of the way around the Tree," Kuro replied, as loudly as he dared. "Two of them." Styx put a hand on the hilt of his sword, and again, Kuro slashed the air. "Unnecessary. It sounds like a woman and a child."

"Necessary," Styx replied, creeping forward. "We have no idea what kind of- of ghouls would come to this place."

"We're ghouls?" Erizabet said, making no effort to stifle her voice. Kuro wasn't sure he could take much more of the woman, thinking darkly to himself that if she didn't shut up- soon- he would ensure her status as a ghoul.

The voices abruptly ceased, and Kuro cursed in Elvish. "They heard her," he said grimly, no longer muffling his own voice.

Styx drew his sword, the sound of metal against metal reverberating around the valley. "Show yourselves!" he called forcefully. "Move slowly, and without sudden movement!"

The two unknown persons moved gingerly. The first thing the trio saw were two sets of hands, one small and the other delicate. Next came the body attached to the small hands, a child of about twelve. The owner of the delicate hands showed themselves next, revealing a woman, her age indeterminate due to the grime on her face. Both appeared horribly frightened, both appeared emaciated. "I told you they were a woman and child," Kuro commented. "Put your sword away, Styx."

"Not yet," the human noble replied.

Before the noble could issue any demands, Kuro gasped in frustration. "Look at them! They're nearly starved and look like they've been dragged through a swamp! They're no danger."

"We don't know that," Erizabet commented briskly.

Styx offered no agreement, and didn't need to. Kuro ceased his protestations. As Erizabet said, majority ruled. "Who are you?" Styx demanded.

The child pressed his lips together, his blue eyes flashing defiantly behind a mess of blond hair. The woman, however, did not seem to have his inclination to trouble. "I am Martel. This is my little brother, Mithos. We mean no harm, travelers."

"Why are you here?" Erizabet said, imperiously. Kuro wanted to gag. Even Styx hadn't sounded so self-important.

The child spoke now. "We came here to die, apparently," he snarled. "We hoped to be able to shelter here for a while, if not forever, but nothing will live here and we have no place to go. So if you people could just go away and let us starve in peace, we'd really appreciate it."

"Mithos!" Martel snapped, then sighed, dropping her hands wearily. "I apologize for his disrespect, but he speaks the truth. We have not eaten in almost two weeks, have not slept in three days. This was our last resort." She wiped a hand across her eyes, sighing in despair. "If you would kill us, do so quickly. If not, then leave us to our deaths in peace."

They're half-elves, Kuro realized in wonder. Styx sheathed his sword and Erizabet gaped. "What are you doing? You heard the wench! They're going to die anyway! Kill them!"

Kuro couldn't stem the rage any further and rounded on her. He was shocked into silence when Styx beat him to the punch. "Shut your mouth, woman!" he boomed. "No one is going to die this day, unless I end up murdering you for your arrogance! Do you realize who they are?"

"I know what they are," Erizabet hissed. "They are dirty half-elves who are already bent on dying. It's not every day the creatures aren't trying to cling to their pathetic lives. If they want to die, do the whole world a favor and kill them!"

"You're an abomination of a human being," Styx said in icy tones. He turned back to the two bedraggled half-elves and extended his hands. "I apologize for my harsh behavior," he said quietly. "I mean no harm, either. In fact, I would like to help you."

"Styx!"

"You're lying," the boy said through quivering lips. "You're a human. How could you want to help half-elves?"

Martel pressed her lips together, green eyes flickering in suspicion. "I'm inclined to agree, once again. Considering one of you obviously wishes us dead-"

"She will be going her own way very shortly," Styx responded. "I am Styx, the governor of Triet of Sylvarant. This young man is Kuro of Mizuho. I would take you to Triet. There's someone there I would like you to meet."

"You know nothing about us," Martel replied. "Why would you want us to meet anyone?"

"We do know something about you, though," Kuro said. "We know you're half-elves. We're looking for Elves, and half-elves."

"Why?" Mithos demanded, immediately.

"It's too difficult for me to explain," Styx responded. He motioned to Erizabet. "She is a summoner. The Spirit she has a pact with called the plight of the Great Tree to her attention, and she called it to mine and the people of Mizuho. Her Summon Spirit, Maxwell, has asked us to take steps to try to rectify this situation. One of those is to find a Summoner capable of uniting the Spirits." He fidgeted uncomfortably. "Maxwell himself needs to explain further than that. I'm not sure I quite understand it myself."

"And since you two are half-elves, he would like to take you to my Summon Spirit to see if one of you could do so," Erizabet drawled. "Styx, this is nonsense. Don't you think that if these wretches had an ounce of talent in them, they'd at least be able to wash their faces?"

Kuro interjected. "Do I appear to be one of Mizuho's most talented agents? Don't judge a book by it's cover. Not everyone is as transparent as you are, Lady."

"I'm afraid she's right," Martel said softly. "Mithos and I are too weak to use any magic. We-"

Styx cut her off, desperation creeping into his voice. "It matters not. We can help you, get you your strength back, and then-"

"Are you dumb?" Mithos demanded. "Neither of us are summoners, either! We can't help you!" The overly-tough facade melted away from the boy suddenly; his face ashen and weary, he covered his eyes with a dirty hand. "Just go away."

"No," Styx said. "I will not. We're not far from the border. Half-elves are treated much better in Sylvarant than they are here, even if there is still discrimination and prejudice. You'd be safe in Triet, I assure you. You'd be safer anywhere in Sylvarant than here."

"We can't help you," Martel said numbly.

Kuro noted with increasing amusement that Erizabet's evil scowl was becoming more demonic by the second. "But we can help you," the young ninja said. He held a hand out to the two. "Come with us. Let us get you food and someplace to wash and sleep, and I'm sure Maxwell can help heal your wounds. Decide once you're well again if you can or can't help us. If you can't, you can do what you like."

The two young half-elves looked at each other; both were wavering in their decision to die. "What about you?" Martel asked, keeping a hand protectively on her small brother's shoulder. "You're from Mizuho. You're Tethe'allan. How do you not hate us as viciously as she does?" Martel nodded her head in Erizabet's direction; the woman finally turned away with a snarl.

Kuro didn't bother looking at the noblewoman. "You said why yourself. In Mizuho, such feelings as hatred and racism are seen as dangerous flaws in ourselves that must be overcome at all costs. If I do hate you as Erizabet does, then it's my duty as a ninja to squelch that. It's ugly and has no place in a good heart."

"Do you hate us?" Mithos asked.

"Does it matter?" Kuro returned. No. I could never hate my own kind...

Martel seemed satisfied with Kuro's answer. "As long as the Lady won't come with us, then... I guess we can try. Thank you."

Mithos nodded in agreement, and now Erizabet sputtered into action. "Wait a moment! Kuro, you're our guide!"

"Yes, I am," Kuro replied calmly, turning to face the enraged woman.

"You said you're going back to Triet!"

"So?"

"You can't go back to Triet!"

Kuro shook his head patiently. "Triet is where my Chief stationed me, Lady Erizabet."

"How am I going to get home?" the Baroness wailed.

Styx saved Kuro the pain of answering the banshee. "You're a resourceful woman. You'll find a way. Let's go, lady and gentlemen. Hopefully we'll be across the border by nightfall."

"You can't just abandon me like this! Styx!"

Styx smiled at her, the first time he'd offered such an expression to the woman in almost thirty years. "But I'm not abandoning you. You're talented and, as I said, resourceful. You'll be fine, Erizabet. Take care."

As they walked away from the raging woman, Kuro finally let his aggression out as a loud, obnoxious cackle. "Will she really be okay?" Martel asked, looking back in concern. Kuro was impressed.

"She will be," Styx responded. "She hasn't managed to get herself killed so far, unfortunately. She'll probably outlive all of us combined, poor world..."