Cleo was waiting for the group at the entrance to the mausoleum, anxious and restless. He relaxed as he saw his four companions emerge, no worse for wear. Relief swept over him as he saw his nephew was unharmed. From their descriptions of Kratos' condition after the attack on Mesaton, Cleo thought his recovery was nothing short of miraculous.
His relief turned to alarm and dismay, however, as Kratos stepped over the threshold of the mausoleum. The Knight stopped, put a hand to his head, and dropped to his knees with a gasp. "Kratos!" Martel cried, kneeling beside him, even as he waved her away. "I'm okay," he said, a weakness in his voice that chilled Cleo's heart. "I'm just a little dizzy. Perhaps I pushed myself too hard after what happened in Mesaton."
"You are most certainly not okay, Kratos!" Cleo said, kneeling next to him on his other side. "You're so pale! You're clearly ill!" Before Kratos could object, he looked around at his companions. "He's in no condition to keep fighting."
Kratos snapped an objection, even as Yuan said, "I'm… inclined to agree, your highness. He became extremely dizzy when we were in Triet, as well. I assumed that the heat had gotten to him, but-"
"Triet is his hometown," Cleo cut Yuan off angrily. "How could you think that he was simply overheated?"
"Triet is his hometown but he's lived in Meltokio for years," Martel interjected, upset by the sudden argument. "Tethe'alla is colder than Sylvarant is and Meltokio is certainly cooler than Triet!"
As Cleo began to argue further, Kratos threw up a hand to silence them. "Assuming that I was simply overheated was an entirely reasonable assumption, uncle. And I'm not ill, I'm just exhausted. I've not been sleeping well, and my injuries from Mesaton have been a further drain on my energy. I'm alright. Truly."
The King regarded his nephew in blank disbelief. "Well," he said finally, "you've already said you are not the leader of this little group." The king's pale blue eyes turned to Mithos, who was standing by, watching and listening with an expression of grim worry. "You are, apparently. Your opinion, young sir?"
Mithos shifted uneasily at the mocking undertone in Cleo's voice. "He'll fight with us."
Cleo frowned, obviously not expecting Mithos to respond in such a way. The half-elf had made it abundantly clear that he didn't trust or care for Kratos. Cleo thought Mithos would jump at the opportunity to be rid of the knight. "Why?"
"For one, he says he's okay," Mithos replied immediately. "I think he's got a better handle on how he feels than any of us do. Second, where's he going to go? Mesaton? Palmacosta? Mesaton is in ruins and he needs to go past Asgard to get to Palmacosta."
The King was prepared to admit that the young half-elf did have a few very good points, when Mithos added, "Third, I don't trust you. Having Kratos with us will ensure that you don't do anything ridiculous like try to have us arrested the moment we defeat that wind demon."
"So you're treating Kratos as a hostage," Cleo replied angrily. "Is that it?"
Kratos shook his head, but didn't respond. "No, he's not a hostage," Mithos said with an arrogant smirk. "Do you really think Martel or I have the power to keep a guy like Kratos where he doesn't want to be? Please."
"Yuan's my best friend," Kratos spoke up finally. "If you really think he'd do something like that I don't know what to tell you!"
"He's not a hostage," Mithos added, starting to get upset. "He saved Martel's life, and mine, and he can go anywhere he wants to. Right now, he wants to go with us, and I agree with him. In what universe does someone treat a hostage like that?"
"You just told me you intend to use him to ensure your own safe passage!" Cleo spat.
Mithos put a hand to his forehead. "I don't know how else to put this, sir. His presence will ensure our safe passage. That doesn't change that he can choose to come or go and we're not going to stop him. Meanwhile, that wind demon might be attacking Asgard as we speak and you're trying to convince Kratos that we're bad people. I, for one, am going to go try to stop that demon. You can argue with yourself if that's what strikes your fancy. Come on, guys."
Cleo stared wide-eyed as Yuan helped Kratos to his feet, and the four companions began to walk away, heading back for Asgard. "You impertinent little brat!" he snarled, stumbling to his feet and following him. "I know you're a half-elf but you do not speak to a King in that way! I would even cuff Kratos about the ears for speaking to me like that!"
"All due respect, uncle," Kratos said flatly, "you would not. I wouldn't let you."
Kratos stopped, and, ignoring Mithos' groan of irritation, turned back on the King of Asgard. "I wouldn't let you," he repeated angrily. "Just because one has the power to do something doesn't mean he should! If everyone actually paid attention to what they were doing it before they did it, we wouldn't be in this mess with the Yggdrasil! You might not like what Mithos has to say, but what Mithos has to say is right and if you can't see that, your priorities need to be adjusted, sir. Badly."
With that, the swordsman turned on his heel and stalked after his companions. Cleo watched him walk away, stunned, his nephew's words resounding in his head. "You have no idea," Cleo murmured, a feeling of foreboding tightening in his chest as he turned over Kratos' admonition, applying it to his situation.
They stopped again, turning to him. "Your Majesty?" Martel prompted, her expression concerned, the only one of them who seemed worried about the dark tone in his voice.
Cleo simply shook his head. "It's nothing. Kratos and Mithos are both correct. I… I apologize. We need to get to Asgard and stop that demon."
Mithos inclined his head slightly. "Thank you," he said, an undertone of false graciousness in his voice. Cleo jogged to catch up with them and prepared himself for battle. He couldn't do much, especially now with his pact with the Sylph broken.
But Kratos and Mithos were both too precious to allow to come to harm. Mithos was wrong. While Cleo admitted to being every bit as prejudiced as every other human in Sylvarant, he also understood that it was wrong. More than that, he understood, better than all four of them put together, how vital it was that Mithos succeed.
No, Cleo wouldn't have done something so foolish as imprison Mithos. It would be suicide to impede the young half-elf. He had to succeed, or no one would survive the consequences of this war. The Great Tree wasn't intended to bear this kind of burden.
The wind was almost intolerable by the time they approached Asgard. "We're too late!" Cleo yelled over the howling gusts, despairing.
"It's not too late!" Mithos shouted back. He was having trouble keeping his feet planted on the ground; Martel walked beside him and they clung to each other, Martel keeping a firm downward pressure on her young brother, helping him to keep his footing.
Kratos, struggling huddled with Yuan, repeated Mithos' sentiment. "It hasn't begun its assault yet!" he yelled. "It is simply trying to frighten the people now! We may be able to stop the attack itself if we hurry!"
"Does it look like we're able to hurry to you, Kratos?" Yuan retorted.
Mithos had enough of the conversation. "Less talking!" he screamed. "More walking!"
As they struggled forward, the wind suddenly grew icy cold. Kratos and Yuan released each other to free their weapons. "Beware!" Kratos shouted. "It's about to attack!"
The wind circled them, buffeting and violent. "Swordsman!" a voice snarled from all around them. "I thought I killed you in Mesaton!"
"You didn't," Kratos replied over the howling of the demon's winds, brandishing his sword at it. "Although you'll wish you had!"
The demon bellowed out a deafening laugh. "Oh, it seems you've forgotten how ineffective that sharp stick of yours is against me, swordsman. It will be my pleasure to remind you!"
Kratos stepped forward, away from his companions, looking meaningfully at Mithos. Martel cried the knight's name; "Wait!" Mithos said, pulling her back as the wind whipped around them. "This is personal. Let him deal with this!"
Yuan looked over at the young summoner, wide-eyed. "What?"
"Let him deal with this," Mithos repeated, as he focused on Kratos' actions. Yuan's gaze returned to his friend, and an expression of understanding crossed his features. Moments later, as Kratos lunged at the demon, Martel relaxed, feeling her brother's magic begin to slowly rise. He was taking his time, easing into it, mouthing words of magic so slightly that it was barely noticeable. She could only hope that he completed the summoning spell in time. Kratos was still very weak from the assault at Mesaton; he was no match for this wind demon.
The demon seemed aware of this fact, and Yuan and Martel watched helplessly as the demon toyed with their friend, buffeting with gusts of wind Kratos couldn't avoid, and blowing away from him when Kratos attempted to attack. Despite distraction being Kratos' plan, the swordsman was growing increasingly frustrated with the demon's refusal to fight fairly. "You coward!" he screamed. "Fight me!"
"Fool!" The demon's wind kicked up around them again, circling Kratos. "This was a gift, human, to merely entertain myself until your friends decided to intervene on your behalf. I see now that they intend to do no such thing. And what a shame! To face death and know that your friends couldn't be bothered to lift a finger to try to save you… I hope they don't think I'll spare them because they're not fighting me."
For the first time, the wind demon paid attention to Kratos' companions. He sneered at Cleo, Yuan and Martel, not sensing that they were powerful enough to harm him; when he laid eyes on Mithos, though, the demon sucked in a breath, eyes widening. The creature bellowed, "No!" as Mithos abruptly raised his voice, finishing his summoning spell. Three beams of sparkling light surrounded Mithos, flowing counter to the demon's wind. The light expanded outward, wrapping around the party and forcing back the demon's gale.
As the demon shrieked its rage, the three Sylph blinked into existence around it. The three summon spirits attacked at the same moment, overwhelming the demon; subdued, the demon howled once more before the wind quieted to the gentle, warm breeze produced by the Sylph's own magic.
Yutis glanced around, frowning, until her gaze fell on Cleo. The frown softened as she said, "It is a relief to see you are well and unharmed, Your Highness."
Cleo inclined his head in acknowledgement and cut to the chase. "You've clearly subdued the demon; but what do we do with him now?"
"That's the million gald question, now isn't it," Fairess answered, looking around as well now. Her gaze fell on the palace, and she grimaced. "We could put him in there, I suppose. How quickly can you get it evacuated?"
Kratos and Cleo looked at each other, both men clearly balking at the suggestion. "All due respect," Kratos said in a halting voice, "but there are hundreds of people who reside in the palace, and who are taking shelter there after the demon's first attack. Sealing the demon inside the palace would displace all of those people, and we don't have shelter for them."
Yutis' sour expression returned. "Do you see anywhere else to put him, swordsman?" she demanded. "We can't destroy him. We're not strong enough to. You aren't, either, that much is absolutely evident."
Sephie, gentler than her sisters, offered, "As long as our pact remains fully in tact, our seal will hold. I don't think Mithos intends to violate his pact with us; therefore the demon should stay there for at least as long as Mithos lives."
Cleo grimaced, not liking this decision he had to make. But then again… "I don't have much of a choice, do I?" he asked quietly.
"No," Sephie replied. "All due respect, sir, but we wouldn't be in this position if you'd taken our advice and not broken your vow with us. This is largely your fault. While housing is a concern, it is yours, not ours, and no one is going to die if you evacuate that castle. He's going in there whether you do or not."
The king's jaw clenched, his eyes flashed with indignant anger. For a moment, they all thought that Cleo was going to lash out at the summon spirits, declare their plan unacceptable and demand that they come up with a new one. But then he bowed his head in submission. "Can you hold him for four hours?"
All three of the spirits seemed to relax then. The warm, comforting wind around them calmed further. "I believe that is well within our abilities," Fairess answered graciously. "Just focus on getting the castle completely evacuated. We'll seal him inside when you give us your okay."
Cleo nodded. "We need to go," he told the four companions. "Come on. We need to do this as quickly as possible."
In just under four hours, the Sylph gratefully appropriated Asgard Castle to seal the demon. "I was getting so sick of listening to him," Yutis griped. "He went from whining at us that we were his sisters and we couldn't do this to him to swearing that he'd rip us all limb from limb if we didn't release him."
"It's done with now," Cleo replied. "He can't harm anyone else, correct?"
"As long as our vow is not broken," Sephie answered, gazing at Mithos.
Mithos inclined his head to them. "I won't break that vow, I promise," he said solemnly. "We don't want that thing getting out to hurt more people, ever."
"Hopefully time will weaken him," Fairess said. "It would be nice if we could someday vanquish him, rather than just sealing him."
"If that's a possibility," Kratos said, "it'll be after the people deal with rebuilding. I'm sure that between the Mesaton refugees and those who were hurt in the demon's attack here, they want to have some time to breathe before we think of vanquishing him."
"Plus, we have a rather more pressing issue," Mithos added. "We're just a tiny bit closer to saving the Great Kharlan Tree."
Cleo's demeanor turned even more serious. "Indeed," he said, his tone genuinely respectful for the first time since they met. "I believe I have some information that you might find useful in your endeavor, young summoner. I'm still working out where exactly we're going to stay, as the castle was, as you know, being used as a refuge, but we will figure it out. When that happens, I would appreciate it if you and your companions would join me for the night. We have much to discuss."
Seeing Mithos about to decline, and abruptly as well, Kratos intervened. "We would be happy to accept your gracious offer, your majesty," he said quickly.
Cleo smiled tightly at Kratos' save. "Then I'll have one of my personal guards escort you to the proper place at the proper time," he said.
As Cleo walked away, Mithos turned to Kratos angrily. "If I'm your leader, then why aren't you letting me lead?" he demanded. "I want nothing to do with that jerk!"
"And I don't blame you," Kratos returned. "I'm not even going to try to make excuses for his behavior. That said, he can be very, very useful. He says he has information. Snub him all you want after we get what we need from him. Doing so when he's willing to help is nothing short of utterly foolish."
"After how he's treated us, you want me to bother?" Mithos snapped.
"And that's not an option!" Kratos snapped back. "Part of being a leader is being able to swallow your pride and do something you don't want to do. Especially if it is something that will be helpful in the long run!"
Mithos' only response was to glower angrily at him. Kratos sighed, shook his head, and headed off in the direction that Cleo had gone in. The quicker they got this situation resolved, the faster they could get back on the road and the faster Kratos could get away from Asgard and his uncle. If only Mithos knew just how little he wanted to entertain Cleo, he'd understand.
Unfortunately, in order for Mithos to understand that, Kratos would have to tell him things that he wasn't willing to talk about. So much for doing things one didn't want to do but would be helpful in the long run.
Hours later, Kratos stared up at the starry night sky, unable to sleep. He was exhausted; he wanted desperately to join his companions in slumber, but it seemed that his body had other plans. Despite his exhaustion, he felt as though he was wide awake, completely refreshed and ready for another day of hard traveling.
His uncle's information was going to be useful indeed. He'd been informed, while they were working on reshifting the people of the city, that King Meltokio had been in contact with Asgard and wanted them to surrender Kratos immediately. According to the messenger, the Princess had argued vehemently in Kratos' defense and told King Meltokio of many things that he'd been previously unaware of, and now was willing to listen to Kratos' defense for killing his son.
The messenger was told that Kratos had been granted asylum and a recounting of Kratos' version of events, given when the party first arrived. As it was clearly self-defense, Cleo wouldn't be turning his nephew over, no, and Kratos was currently on an extremely important mission from Cleo at the moment anyway.
All this was done without Kratos' knowledge and the messenger was being escorted back to the border before Kratos found out about it. The disgraced knight hadn't been the slightest bit pleased with this information; he knew that Meltokio would take that manner of refusal as an act of aggression and could think of fifty different, better ways to phrase just about everything. "There's nothing that can be done about it now," Cleo said with a wave of his hand. "Right now, you need to focus on getting Mithos those pacts. You'll be heading back to Tethe'alla soon enough for the pacts from the spirits there. He can wait. The Great Tree cannot."
That had been the end of the conversation, as far as Cleo was concerned; and he'd turned the conversation to their quest. They'd taken a detour to help Asgard; by Cleo's estimation, it was probably better for them to go form the pact with Luna and Aska. That would take them deeper into Sylvarant and ensure that any forces King Meltokio sent after Kratos would be stopped before they could reach the party. They would then report back to Asgard for further instructions in their journey back south to Palmacosta. Cleo would send a messenger to Maxwell to let him know that they would be returning to him shortly to finish their circuit around the world and to make contact with his summoner in Flanoir to alert her that they would be on their way.
It was that last part of the plan that had Kratos unable to sleep this time, he was sure. He knew who Maxwell's summoner was now; he asked for confirmation, but Cleo became quiet and reticent, telling him only to focus on the tasks at hand before traveling to Flanoir. When Kratos appeared to prepare to argue further, Yuan put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. "Leave it alone, Kratos."
And so, it was clear to Martel and Mithos both that Kratos, Yuan and Cleo all knew who the summoner in Flanoir was, and that, whoever it was, it was causing Kratos an immense amount of turmoil; it didn't take much observation for Mithos to see that Kratos' turmoil was supplemented by a healthy dose of pain. A former lover? A former friend? Whoever it was, Mithos felt bad for Kratos. He couldn't do much about it except brace himself.
Kratos didn't want anyone's sympathy, gruffly brushed off the half-elf child's expression of concern, and went out to a park, where he laid down on the grass, stared up at the sky, and stayed there. Awake. Ruminating. Dreading.
Mithos was still worried about Kratos; however, he also would not be brushed off like that, especially not by a human. It took him several hours to figure out how he would get Kratos to start talking to him. But finally, he had it.
He would ask Kratos to teach him how to use a sword.
It wasn't hard for Mithos to come up with an excuse why Kratos should do that: he hadn't drawn his weapon once in this journey so far, choosing to support his companions with magic. Kratos was observant, from what Mithos could tell. He'd have noticed that by then. He was sure Kratos would want him to learn how to use a proper weapon. After all, one's magic didn't last forever.
The boy approached Kratos cautiously, determined that if he was asleep, Mithos would leave him alone. He'd noticed that Kratos wasn't really sleeping well, either. Unfortunately, it was dark and Mithos couldn't tell one way or another; he'd have to ask and risk waking him up in the process, if he was sleeping.
Fortunately, Kratos noticed him and sat up. "I'm awake," he said quietly. "You aren't disturbing me."
Reassured, Mithos approached without hesitation. "I wanted to ask you for a favor."
"I want you to teach me how to use a sword."
That immediately had Kratos' attention. The swordsman stood up, nodding approvingly. "Very well. Do you have any experience with edged weapons?" Mithos shook his head, and Kratos replied, "Use words, please. While that was obvious, you want to get into the habit of verbally responding to everything. Your companions will not be able to see visual responses while you're in battle."
Mithos made a face at him. "Do you think all half-elves are stupid enough to not know that, or am I a special case?"
Kratos looked him in the eyes and replied, "I speak from personal experience that got two of my friends killed in battle. It isn't a matter of stupidity, it's a matter of habit. When you're heavily engaged in something requiring all of your attention, habit takes over. If you're in the habit of responding with visual cues, you will use them in battle without thinking about it. Use words."
"O-oh…" Mithos could feel himself blush, feeling awful at the stern tone Kratos took with him. "B-but wait! You nodded to me when you agreed to teach me!"
"I was nodding to myself. You did not ask me a question; you issued a statement. Furthermore, I followed up my nod- the visual cue- with words that acknowledged your statement. I've not contradicted myself. Use words."
"No, I don't have experience with edged weapons," Mithos finally mumbled, thoroughly reprimanded now.
"You might want to work on speaking clearly as well," Kratos said, his tone lightly teasing, "but we'll overlook that. What weapons do you have experience in using?"
Mithos blanched. "W-why do you want to know?"
"So I have an idea of what techniques you're already familiar with."
Kratos set him with a stern look. "Lesson number two- don't lie to your companions. I see the way you move in battle, even if I've never seen your weapon. You use one. What is it?"
He didn't like Kratos' authoritative tone, but he liked the idea of Kratos deciding not to train him even less. Thus, hesitantly, he drew his weapon and showed it to him. Rather than laughing or commenting on what it was, Kratos simply nodded and said, "A kendama. Alright. The first thing we must establish, then, is-"
"Is that I fight with a toy," Mithos cut him off bitterly, humiliated and looking away.
Kratos put his hands on the boy's shoulder. "Yes, that is the most common use for it," he said. "It is also an instrument to exercise dexterity, reflexes, and coordination. You can use it as a weapon because it is designed to be used as all three. I assure you that there is nothing to be embarrassed by here."
Mithos managed a rueful smile. "I appreciate you trying to make me feel better, but…"
"Mithos, I cannot use the kendama for anything at all. I cannot even play the game."
Kratos held out a hand. "I'll demonstrate if you allow me to use it." Mithos eyed him incredulously, but gave it to him. "Thank you. Now, keep in mind that I am a knight, your senior in years, and now, your instructor. At any other time, we are equals. Now? We are not."
The young half-elf nodded, getting Kratos' implication: if he wanted to make Mithos feel better, he'd chose to do it in a way that he didn't lead Mithos to believe he was more skilled than Kratos. There was no reason for him to fake failure in this case.
Yet fail he did, one, two, three times. Mithos could tell that the swordsman was genuinely trying to catch the ball, but it was no use. After the fifth failure, Kratos handed it back to him, glaring at it vehemently. "I've never been able to use a kendama," he said, the demonstration, even though it was voluntary, taking a toll on the man's pride.
As for Mithos, he was wide-eyed. "Wow. And you were really trying, too. It's super easy for me and Martel. Is it because you're human?"
Kratos shook his head. "No, I don't think so. Neither Yuan nor his father can master the thing, either, although his father does come close sometimes."
Mithos looked at his kendama thoughtfully, and then channeled the magic into it that he needed to collapse it into something he could carry in his pocket again. "Anyway… that's the only weapon I have training in," he said. "Nothing at all like a sword."
"On the contrary," Kratos said, grinning broadly. "I must ask you to stick with the kendama for now; I will procure two wooden training swords before we leave, and we shall train together. I'll start you with exercises that you should be familiar with due to your experience with the kendama. At least, you will find the motions familiar."
"Can't we start now?"
"You need to sleep."
"I'm not tired."
"Well, I suppose that is a problem," Kratos said, and then nodded to himself again. "Come, then. I'll see if the blacksmith is still awake and can provide us with our practice swords. A little training will cure you of your insomnia very quickly."