AN: Huh, wow, it's been nearly a year since I've last updated this. But like I promised, I will finish this. Don't be fooled if I'm gone for a long time ok? ;) Alright, I'm starting to set up the rest of the story with this chapter now.
Enjoy, Chapter 6: Follow Me.
Anna struggled for a long while, trying everything she could to jerk herself out of the Desian's grasps. But it was no use, she was weak, and the Desians were strong. They barely noticed her desperate pulling, her trying to dig her heels into the ground. They soon joined in with a larger group of Desians, who had been sent to collect more victims to bring back to the Desian ranch.
The camp had been set up by a minor road to Palmacosta, one that cut directly east of the continent, and followed the eastern shore north to the ranch. The area was clear of trees and underbrush, with rolling grassland spreading out on all sides. The camp itself was made on a small rise in the grassland, with the Desians all stationed in a circle around the captives from Palmacosta.
The Desian who had practically dragged Anna here by the arm shoved her roughly into the group of frightened looking people. They ranged from all ages, the youngest looking to be barely in her teens, while the oldest was a man well into his sixties. Anna staggered, trying to keep her balance while not tumbling into any of the people at the same time. The Desians didn't allow her that luxury though, giving her another rough shove towards the ground. The group parted to avoid being fallen on, and she would have landed roughly on the grass if a young man hadn't rushed forward to catch her.
"That's no way to treat a lady!" He growled at the Desians, moving in front of Anna protectively as one of the Desian's hand twitched towards his whip. There was a determined glint in his eyes, as if daring the Desian to punish him for speaking out of turn. He looked to be in his early twenties, of average height, with a slim but sturdy build. His entire body was rigid, as if expecting the Desian to lash out.
The Desian turned away though, knowing there was more important things than to discipline the inferior beings. They'll learn their place in the world soon enough. He took a note of the man though, determined to teach him a lesson once they reach the ranch. He relieved another Desian of guarding the prisoners.
"Thank you." Anna murmured to the man who had helped her out, after she was sure the Desian wasn't going to turn around and whip them all. She noticed an empty sheath belted at the man's hips, and an empty quiver strapped across his back. He turned around to face her, and exhaled deeply. She only just noticed that he had been trembling slightly.
"Don't worry. It's the least I can do." He replied, with a tired smile. He sat down, and stared around at the Desian guards helplessly. There was a fire in his eyes, but it seems as if it was battling the dark clouds of fear with everything he's got. Anna looked him over. He wore clothing that seemed road-torn and worn, but it seemed to fit him comfortably. His movements were smooth and practised- those of a warrior.
Anna took a steadying breath and forced herself to move to a more comfortable position, sitting down, facing the man. One hand stroked the grass absently, pulling a blade loose and rolling it between her fingers. It felt a bit more comforting, giving her hands something to do, but that comfort inevitably vanished as she saw the blue gem embedded in her hand, reminding her of her situation. She felt herself filled with dread as she remembered the wounds Noishe had sustained...would the Arshis be alright?
"Well, my name's Lloyd. I was coming back from seeing the Thoda Geysers when those damned Desians jumped me. So...what's your name?" He finally said after a few moments of silence. Anna's thought snapped back to the present, from where she had been thinking about Kratos and Noishe.
"Oh, my name's Anna." She answered.
"I escaped from the Asgard ranch a few months ago..." She wasn't sure why she added the last part in, but she saw Lloyd suddenly seem to sit up straighter, his eyes shining with renewed hope.
"How did you do it? Maybe we can escape again!" He said excitedly. Anna frowned, wishing she hadn't mentioned her escape. She understood all too well now, how painful it was to gain hope, only to have it crushed before your very eyes.
She shook her head helplessly at the man, turning away to look at one of the Desians leaning comfortably against his spear.
"It's not possible. I wouldn't have been able to do it if not for--" She started, but was cut off as Lloyd shook his head and smiled, putting a hand on her shoulder. He looked directly at her, and it seemed the fire had returned to his eyes.
"You've done it before. That proves it's not impossible." He pointed out. He didn't seem desperate, Lloyd sounded completely sure of himself!
The young man sat back and laid down, placing both hands under his head, fidgeting a bit until he found a comfortable position. "The glass is half full my lady, remember that. Life's no fun if you don't see the good."
Anna watched Lloyd for a few moments, and realized that somehow, she felt a bit better with those words. And then she considered the man she knew would be trying to find her again. She watched the distant sunset, her thoughts with Kratos, and the promise he had made her. They'll free this world from the cycle of mana depletion, and return both worlds back together again. Somehow, one day.
The sun was setting, casting a bloody orange hue on the grasslands. Darkness pooled as an impenetrable blackness in areas of shadow, creating a vivid contrast between light and dark. It was against this backdrop that blue, glittering wings worked to get its owner to his destination. Just a bit faster...
There was a yelping noise, followed by a thud, and Kratos was startled out of his thoughts, taking a moment to descend, placing a foot firmly on the ground to stop his momentum. He then landed completely, dismissing his wings as he rushed back to where Noishe had fallen.
The Protozoan had done his best to keep up with the angel's brisk pace, and normally, it would have been easy for him. But he was still injured, and Kratos never had the time to do a full medical inspection of the Arshis to know where and how to heal the canine properly.
Noishe seemed to have tripped on his own legs, and his tongue hung out of his mouth as he panted for breath. He had managed to get up by the time Kratos got to his side, sitting on his haunches and trying to stand. He whined as he put some weight onto his injured hind leg.
Torn between two loyalties, Kratos looked to the west where it has been reported that a group of Desians had camped out. Anna was probably with them, and the sooner he got to her the better. He couldn't bear to think of what the Desians might do to the young woman. He wanted to take out his wings again, and fly as fast as he could to rescue her from the half-elves corrupted by Mithos's ideals. But he couldn't leave the one friend that has stood by him since the Ancient War. Noishe, who had bravely and selflessly done everything he always could to protect those around him.
Kratos looked back over to the west helplessly one more time, and then sat down next to Noishe, putting on hand on the Arshis, motioning for him to lie down and rest. Noishe resisted for a moment, for he wanted to go save the woman that had become his playmate as badly as his master, but eventually, he gave in and laid down on his side, making sure his weight wasn't on his injured foot.
The two friends sat together, watching the sun finally disappear under the distance horizon, across the ocean to the west. There wasn't much to feed a fire off of out here, so the two didn't make one. It was early summer, so the night shouldn't be too cold for Noishe, and temperature has never bothered the angel.
"It's so quiet without her isn't it Noishe?" Kratos asked, and the Arshis whined in response. Kratos petted Noishe absently, running his fingers through his soft fur, and picking bits of grass and dirt from his coat.
He'll get Anna back safely no matter what. Pushing away his concerns about her wellbeing, for they could do nothing now but worry him more, he thought about how they could reach their goal of returning the world to normal, while being safe from the Desians. There isn't a place in Sylvarant where the Desian's arms don't reach.
There isn't a place in Sylvarant...
It had taken them nearly a week to reach the ranch. Which was actually not too bad, considering that they had almost traversed the entire continent. The Desians had always talked about building a new ranch nearer to Palmacosta, and now that Governor-general Kieth was taken care of, there wouldn't be anything to oppose them.
Those who had been captured by the Desians were substantially weaker than when they had started off. The lack of food, the non-stop walking and working, and the exposure to the elements...it was too much for some of them to bear.
Anna did everything she could to make sure the others were unharmed. She taught the children not to talk back to the Desians, and the adults to do as the half-elves said. It pained her greatly to be imposing these rules, the rules of slaves, upon these people, but it was the only way most of them will be able to survive the trip.
Several members of the caravan had tried to escape, each and every time unsuccessfully. Their failure and the ensuing brutal punishment discouraged the others to try the same. Everyone was losing hope, some denying their situation, others just moving forward with broken resignation.
"Ouch." Lloyd winced as Anna tried her best to clean his wounds. Lloyd had tried to make a final break for it just as they reached the Ranch, and the Desians had not been generous with him. The entire caravan was now stationed right outside the ranch, as two Desians were sent in to announce their arrival.
"Well, it was worth a try." Lloyd shrugged as he gingerly pulled his shirt back on after Anna did all she could for him. "If I only have my sword back, I'll show those bastards not to mess with me."
Anna didn't respond, wishing that Lloyd hadn't acted so irrationally. Every single time the group sees a failed escape, they lose more and more hope. And it was terrible, seeing a group of such demoralized people, of seeing that hopelessness in people's eyes, to see their shoulders bent with sorrow.
The doors to the heavily guarded ranch opened up as a Desian came out of the facility, talking to the Desian that had lead the Caravan. The group was prodded to their feet, and directed towards the opening to the ranch. Seeing those steel walls, the electricity crackling along the top, the smell of sweat and blood permeating the air, panic began to grip Anna again. Where was Kratos? The man might not even know what had happened to her, to know where to look. Would he bothering going through all the trouble to find her?
As the door slammed shut behind them, Anna found herself wanting to simply just let go of the hope of being rescued.
They had gone slowly on account of Noishe's wounds, but neither could the Desians go very quickly on account of all the people they had in the group. So by the time the Desians reached the ranch, Kratos and Noishe were just behind them.
The Ranch was nestled in the crook of a mountain range, surrounded by forest and the ocean on one side. It was a hard trek here for Noishe, who didn't seem to be recovering. The daily pace they pushed to travel at has not allowed the injuries to heal properly. Kratos wanted nothing more to have told Noishe to stay and rest, and allowed Kratos to go to Anna by himself, but he couldn't leave Noishe behind.
Because he wasn't planning on coming back.
Kratos sensed the Ranch before he saw it. His angelic senses allowed him to pick up the distinctive smell of steel walls and advanced magitechnology. He could hear faint conversations in the distance, and the noise of many people shuffling around.
"We're getting nearer." Kratos told Noishe, slowing his pace and landing on the soft, rich soil of the forest floor. It was noon, with sunshine streaming through the leaves and speckling the ground with flashes of gold. Bird chirped happily, and squirrels went about their business. It seemed all too peaceful and merry for an area surrounding the Human ranch. His translucent wings dissipated as if insubstantial, and he waited a few moment for the struggling Noishe to catch up.
They walked the rest of the way to the ranch, until they could finally see the huge facility in an opening in the forest. It was dark and gloomy, a stark contrast against the natural world around it. There were many guards around and on the walls, but most of them seemed lax about their security. And why not? They were in the middle of nowhere, with the people of the world fearing them. Who would dare to attack this mini-fortress?
The group from Palmacosta were staked outside the door, as they were waiting for entry. Kratos held himself in check, his discipline keeping him from charging in and finding Anna. How badly he wanted to let her know that he was here, that she'll be fine, and that he hasn't abandoned her. He couldn't even be sure if Anna was still alive or not.
Noishe whined impatiently, but he held his ground as well. Even if he didn't know everything that was going on, he understood enough that Anna was here, or should be here, and that they'll rescue her soon.
Both of them tensed as the door to the ranch opened. They watched as the group began to enter the ranch, with Desian prodding them on. Kratos turned to Noishe, casting a quick first-aid spell to help Noishe get through the next little while, and then the two ran towards the gate. A few Desians spotted them, hollering orders to each other.
Kratos had been in this Ranch before, a long long time ago, when the ranches were first built on Sylvarant as Tethe'alla rose from their mana deprivation with a successful journey. Though it has been so long ago, Kratos's memory has never failed him before.
He and Noishe slipped into the gate just as it closed behind them, at around the same time the Desians have gathered enough wits around them to set off the alarm. They will have to be fast about this. This plan was rather risky, and frantic, but Kratos didn't think of that now as he drew his sword and cut down the nearest Desian that tried to stab him through.
He took out his wings, and the mere sight of them froze some of the Desians. Those wings meant he was an angel, and under the hierarchy of Cruxis, angels were above Desians. Fortunately, there weren't many Desians out in the courtyard, and not many stepped forward to try and stop him.
"Kratos!" a familiar voice cried from the crowd of prisoners, and Anna shoved her way past the others, stopping at the edge of the crowd to stare at him, tears rimming her eyes. She mouthed something that even Kratos's sensitive hearing couldn't pick up, but he knew that she had whispered the words 'You came.'
Kratos nodded and ran towards her, Noishe at his side. The group of people from Palmacosta didn't seem to know how to react, and most shied away as Kratos drew near, leaving an empty area around Anna before Kratos reached her. He wanted to hug her right there, to reassure her that everything will be fine, but this isn't the time or place.
He grabbed her hand and ran towards the central building.
"Where are we going?" She asked frantically, struggling to keep up with his long strides. She was relieved to see Noishe beside them, although she could see his limp and the pain of running with his injuries.
Kratos didn't have time to answer her, reaching the central door to the building and quickly forcing it open. He caught a surprised desian in the face with the hilt of Flamerge, dropping the half-elf to the ground unconscious. With a single deft movement, he grabbed the Desian's spear and handed it to Anna, who accepted it awkwardly and not feeling all that confident.
Kratos had let go of her hand at this moment, and allowed his wings to dissipate. Flying isn't going to give him the same tactical advantage inside the building as out in the courtyard. And it marked him too well.
"Follow me, quick!" He told Anna, and ran down the corridor to his right, keeping his pace slower so that Anna would not lag behind. Noishe stayed between the two of them, his injuries preventing him from joining the fight, but his size helped deter some of the Desian anyways.
Anna barely knew what she was doing, and it was a good thing that Kratos was taking care of any Desians they met before they could reach her, because she's sure that she'll stab herself accidentally with the spear if she tried to use it.
She nearly jumped as someone grabbed her arm and spun her around, but he was relieved to see that it was Lloyd. He seemed to have shoved his way through the Desians to get to her, and he carried a stolen sword in his hand.
"Why are you going deeper inside?" He cried out. "Get outside, we're trying to force the gate open!"
Noishe had stopped to bark at them, the fighting having riled him up pretty bad, and he wasn't in the mood for Anna to be dawdling behind. Kratos kicked a Desian away before spinning around in response to Noishe's bark.
"Hurry!" He called. Anna nodded and ran towards Noishe and Kratos, Lloyd now following her. She wasn't sure what Kratos had in mind, but she had to trust him. Lloyd stayed behind Anna, fighting with the Desian shortsword in his hand easily, moving with the confidence of one who had used a similar weapon for many years. Unlike Anna, who was used to seeing the inside of the Desian's bases, Lloyd still seemed to be gawking at all the unfamiliar technology. Nothing distracted him enough from his fighting though, and he skillfully repelled any attackers that tried to get near.
The foursome finally broke into a large room, and Kratos moved quickly to shut the door after everyone entered. He turned to all of them, his eyes on Lloyd for a moment. The man just shrugged, and looked around.
"Why are we here, and not outside?" Lloyd asked. "It feels like we've trapped ourselves here."
As if to accent his point, there was a loud bang against the door, and it caved in slightly. Kratos watched door anxiously for a moment, and then headed towards a group of computers to the side. The entire room was rather bare, except rows upon rows of computers lined against the walls. Lights danced along lines on the walls, pulsing with energy. The centre of the room was wide and bare, as if something large was usually showcased here.
"We can't stay in Sylvarant any longer." He explained to Anna, and there wasn't really any time to explain everything to Lloyd. He pressed a few things into the computer, and the middle of the floor opened up slowly, revealing a platform that began to rise. That platform supported a blue machine. Two wings folded out from both side, and the entire thing looked like a mechanical Wyvern.
The door seemed to explode as one of the Desians cast a spell on the other side, throwing the entire door into the room, nearly missing Lloyd. Kratos swore, knowing he didn't have enough time to program a safe destination. He grabbed Anna and ran towards the odd machine, which had now stopped ascending, and was hovering slightly above the platform.
"Get on on the Rheaird." He told her, and then turned to help Noishe get onto the machine. Anna did as Kratos asked, still trying to process what Kratos had said. We can't stay in Sylvarant any longer.
"I don't know what's going on, but best luck to you two!" Lloyd cried out at them, saluting both of them with his sword. He then turned to face the group of three Desians that are now forcing their way into the blasted door frame.
Kratos climbed onto the machine himself, hoping that the Rheaird could take all of their weight.
"Wait, we can't leave Lloyd behind!" Anna cried out, but she knew that whatever this machine was, it wouldn't hold much more. She was practically sitting on top of Noishe, and Kratos was barely on it. Lloyd will have to fend for himself.
Kratos started up the Rheaird, and sent it forward.
"Hold on." He murmured to Anna, hoping he had the settings right and that the Rheaird was charged. If it wasn't, that would be the end of them, and they'll be splattered all over the opposite wall.
A fireball exploded behind them, sending debris flying everywhere as it destroyed equipment in the area. Kratos jerked as something large easily passed through his unarmored black sweater, and embedded itself into his right shoulder from behind.
And then, the world blurred a bit, then disappeared, and time seemed to stop. The feeling of traversing the plane between the worlds was a familiar one to Kratos, but it shocked Anna, and she instinctively panicked. Noishe howled and clamped his jaws down onto her clothing, because if she fell off the Rheaird, she'd be lost between the two worlds.
And then, everything seemed to come back to them.
The nothingness gave away to pure, blinding white. The Rheaird crashed into some sort of soft powder that absorbed most of the impact. Then came the frigid, paralyzing cold.
When the world stopped spinning, Anna looked around to see that they were half-buried in a snowbank, her clothing soaked from the melted snow and ice surrounding her. Noishe was struggling beneath her, and she quickly toppled out of the machine to let Noishe go.
Kratos was a few metres away from the flying machine. A large piece of steel fragment, what remained of some machine back from the ranch, was embedded deeply into his shoulder, although the backpack had deflected everything else that might have caused serious injuries.
She and Noishe rushed to him. He seemed semiconscious, but unresponsive. When the Rheaird had appeared here -wherever here is- his weakened grasp with his injured arm had not been able to hold on, and he had been flung from the machine. The fall had forced the embedded object even deeper into his flesh.
Anna was shivering uncontrollably by now, and she could barely feel the tips of her fingers and toes. She looked to the distance, and could see a dark dot against the white. She logically knew that it was a town, but she couldn't grasp it. Why would there be snow here, when it was summer?
But those thoughts weren't present as she and Noishe trudged one step at a time towards the town, carrying Kratos between them.
She had to trust Kratos, whatever he had done to bring them here.
AN: Yes, I gave Lloyd a namesake. Yes, this guy's a lot cooler than Lloyd XD No I don't think he'll show up again. He's probably dead...