It's been awhile again. I completely lost track of time since the last update. So sorry. Been pretty hectic with university and got into a big mess with the courses and requirements and trying to graduate. A few lovely reviews reminded me of my neglectfulness and I immediately sat down and typed up this chapter. I hope you all enjoy it and thank you so much for all your reviews and patience! Welcome to any new readers as well! Enjoy!
Disclaimer: Namco owns Tales of Symphonia.
"Where did you go?" Lloyd frowned, trying to ignore the others who were obviously listening in.
"I had something I need to see about."
"And what was that? You just vanished!" Lloyd snapped, growing more and more frustrated with the man.
Kratos studied him for a moment, then shook his head. "I see. The next time I need to leave, I will tell you."
"I want you to tell me now."
"This isn't the time or place. If we want to reach the forest by nightfall, then we have to leave now." Kratos spoke firmly, looking down at his son. Lloyd scowled, his cheeks reddening, fully aware of the sudden change in authority. He didn't like being talked down to like a child. What right did this guy have to treat him like this? Just because he was...he was his...
He moved away from the man, hands clenched tightly at his sides. He hated the secrets, the lies. Yggdrasill lied to him, Yuan lied, his father lied...everyone lied.
The others followed the father and son more slowly, unwilling to broach on the uncomfortable tension between them. It wasn't hard for Lloyd to notice the debating look on the older half-elf. Raine, he knew, wanted to press Kratos as well. But it seemed she agreed with the decision, for she never spoke up.
"Are you okay?"
He glanced to his side, finding Colette's smiling face before him. It made him hard to stay mad, even causing a weak smile to come to his face, followed by a sighing chuckle. "Just frustrated."
"Oh..." She looked forward for a moment, walking beside him before speaking. "Do you feel bad for Presea?"
"Presea..." Lloyd looked at her, then over his shoulder at the young girl. At the moment, Genis appeared to be trying to converse with the young girl. The young half-elf's face was nearly scarlet and it sounded as if he could barely make a sentence without stuttering over every word.
"She reminds me of myself. When I lost my heart..." Colette wouldn't look at him, keeping her eyes on the ground. She tucked hair behind her ears, trying to smile weakly. "I know she can hear us, when we talk to her. I did, after all..."
Lloyd frowned looking at her. "You did? So you remember all of it?"
Colette smiled weakly, nodding a bit. "Yeah, sort of. Sometimes it's a bit..um...foggy. But I remember you."
His chest tightened, his eyes on her, scanning her. "What do you mean, you remember me?"
She fidgeted a bit, her rubbing her fingers, chewing her lip. "Well at the tower...I remembered seeing you and then...after, when you were travelling with us. When you were making me the key crest and on the bridge when we had to fight and when you and Genis were um-..."
She fell silent and Lloyd hesitated before asking, "When Genis and I were what?"
"Talking about me."
He blinked then frowned, rubbing his neck looking at the ground. "I've been a jerk I guess."
She quickly shook her head, cheeks pink. "No, Lloyd. I'd never think that. I'm sorry I could never tell you, that I couldn't talk to you. I'm sorry I caused so many problems for you to and-"
"Oh...right...sor-...okay." She flushed a bit, looking back at the ground.
He studied her for a moment, then sighed looking around.
"I remember Genis talking to you about how to bring me back..." she spoke up finally.
Lloyd hesitated, then choose to remain silent.
"I...When you said that I was gone, I wanted to tell you I wasn't. But I couldn't and..." she trailed off again, flushing.
"You heard Genis' suggestion. Didn't you? About saying that I-..." Lloyd finally muttered.
She nodded, her cheeks pink. "Yes..."
Lloyd cleared his throat and looked ahead, taking a breath. "I see."
"It's okay that you didn't." She spoke up quickly. "It...might not have worked anyway and...um... I'm sorry, I shouldn't have brought this up."
Lloyd gripped his sword hilt, glancing at her and then ahead. His ears burned and he wondered if his father was listening to this conversation, since he was only a few feet ahead of them. It was more than likely. Then again, it wasn't as if he had ever said what they had talked about...
"Well the key crest wasn't suppose to work either. So...who knows," he added finally, clearing his throat again.
He looked at her and noticed her genuine curiosity. He shook his head slowly. "No. A normal key crest shouldn't be able to contain a Cruxis Crystal. But you woke up somehow...so, I'm not really sure what happened."
Colette blinked and then frowned. "I... they were going to take you away again. I couldn't...I didn't want you to go. I didn't want to lose you again, not after just finding you. I was worried..."
Lloyd stopped and stared at her, frowning. "What?"
"On the Mountain. When the blue-haired man hit you and took you away. I was scared I wouldn't see you again. That's why I called your name."
At that point, the others had caught up, pausing next to them. Lloyd stared at her, frowning shaking his head when Raine spoke up.
"From the sounds of it, combined with the key crest and Colette's concern, it was enough to bring her back from her soulless state."
"Is that possible?" Sheena ventured, frowning. "She was supposed to have forgotten everything."
"That is not entirely true." They all looked at Kratos, who had turned, eyeing them. "While the Chosen does indeed lose her heart and memories, it's a matter of transfer, or containment, if you will. Her consciousness was merely sealed within the Cruxis Crystal."
"So if that's the case, and the crystal is still attached to her body, the connection is still there." Raine ventured.
"In a way, yes." Kratos nodded.
Genis frowned and looked at Presea, hesitating. "So...does that mean Presea can come back the same way? Could Lloyd just make a key crest for her like he did Colette and-"
"The key crest wasn't supposed to work," Lloyd frowned, frustrated. "Besides, I don't have anything to make a key crest out of and even if it was enough, apparently she would need some kind of dramatic situation to happen to bring her back."
Genis hesitated and frowned, looking at the young girl. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
"I think the best course of action is to continue on to Altessa's and see what sort of answers he can offer us. If need be, we can find the necessary materials for a key crest." Raine gave Lloyd a passing glance, before scanning the rest of them. "But at the moment, we are wasting time, talking about it."
"Tell me again, why we aren't using the EC?" Zelos piped up. "This long walk is killing me."
"You could use the exercise, you lazy Chosen." Sheena grumbled.
"It draws too much attention and would be useless once we reach the forest anyway," Kratos answered.
The conversation continued as they all started moving on. Lloyd hesitated and looked over at the young half-elf standing next to Presea. "Why don't you tell her you love her? Maybe that'll work."
Genis blinked looking over at Lloyd who smirked. The young boy turned scarlet, giving him a scowl as Presea stepped away, following the others towards the distant forest. Genis scoffed. "Well you never know. It might have worked with Colette. Apparently she cared enough about you to wake up when you were in trouble."
Lloyd frowned. "Yeah...well, she wasn't wearing the key crest at that time anyway."
Genis snorted. "So are you saying you do love her?"
"You heard me."
"I never said anything of the sort."
"Well maybe you should."
"The guy who stutters when talking to a girl is giving me relationship advice?" Lloyd snorted, then laughed, following the group.
"Well at least I'm not in denial that I like Presea!" The flushed boy countered.
"That's pretty obvious."
"And Colette's affection for you isn't? You are such a hypocrite."
"Will you boys hurry up!" Raine shouted back at them, frowning.
They twitched and glanced at one another, picking up the pace to catch up with the group waiting for them.
"I want him found, Pronyma."
The woman flinched, bowing her head lower at the sound of his voice. It was chilled, irritated.
"Yes, my Lord. We are trying to locate them right now-"
"How could you let him slip away. Just...vanish?"
"I...I don't know, Lord Yggdrasill-"
She fell silent and he eyed her before scanning the area. It had been a long time, since Lloyd had vanished from the Tower of Salvation. In the beginning, he had little concern that the boy was out of her reach. Lloyd's reaction at the Tower of Salvation concerning his friends was proof enough of the boy's loyalty to Cruxis.
However, time was dragging on and Yggdrasill no longer shared that confidence. He didn't have the boy for that long and once out of his reach, Lloyd was susceptible to their influence. Especially if Kratos was there. The boy had vanished, apparently during the fight.
"I want him found immediately. Do you understand me, Pronyma?"
"Of course, Lord Yggdrasill-!"
"Then why are you still here?"
The woman flinched again, then rose quickly, bowing to the man, apologizing and quickly warping away. He sighed, rubbing his eyes in irritation.
"Incompetent fools. All of them. But I suppose fools are the ones with the most loyalty," he spoke aloud.
It was undeniably true. The boy had been utterly foolish and naive, and his trust easily won over. He recalled how easily it had been to pick and poke at the boy's past, at his current predicament. Twist the reasons and the truth of the situation around completely and gain his trust.
Of course, it had been fun and nice. It had been many years since he had assumed his childhood form to gain the boy's trust and while irritating at first, he had begun to enjoy the sparring and the talks they had.
In fact, Lloyd was a lot like himself. He'd hardly admit it to anyone, but Yggdrasill found he shared a lot of the same ideas as the teen. There were differences of course, but the concepts were the same. It had been refreshing...
But now he was gone.
He turned pacing across the room. The past year will have been a waste, if the boy was allowed to socialize with that group and worse, socialize with Kratos, who had betrayed him, again. If he could bring Lloyd back here, away from them, get him alone where they could talk once more, Yggdrasill was certain that it wouldn't be hard to resurface everything he had been taught.
After all, he was Lloyd's friend.
"So, whenever a person enters this forest and walks through these pathways at night, the ghosts of the murdered people come after the traveler and-"
"You are seriously a child. You know that?"
"Aw, Sheena, you ruined the atmospheric tone I had built up," Zelos pouted.
"Are you kidding me? No one was scared of your story."
"I don't know, Genis looks a little jumpy," Lloyd offered.
"What? I-I am not! Besides you kept looking around while he was telling it!"
"I was looking out for enemies."
"You were totally scared-"
"Honestly, you boys have been bickering this entire time." Raine snapped. "Will everyone just stop talking for a few moments?"
They all fell silent, eyeing the flustered woman warily. Lloyd was certain he saw Kratos smirk and give his head a small shake.
Lloyd sighed and looked around the dark forest. He had to admit that the forest was a bit creepy, of course, Zelos' story had to be completely fake...
A lot of strange plants seemed to be stretching at odd angles, attempting to follow the weak sunlight that actually managed to slip through the thick canopy. But it was starting to get dark, and the path difficult to see.
They were following Kratos, who claimed to know the quickest path through the forest. But after awhile, he stopped completely, raising his hand to signal them.
Lloyd frowned, glancing around Colette, who was before them, trying to see what it was that made his father stop when he heard it suddenly. A rustle overhead.
Immediately, he threw his gaze upwards, scanning the branches and leaves.
Casting his own gaze skywards, Lloyd gripped his swords warily. Then he heard the rustle and spotted the few loose leaves fall slowly to the ground.
Kratos' blade was already out when a figure dropped from the trees branches, just a few feet from the group. A metallic clang echoed in the forest as the figure slowly rose. Lloyd's eyes widen at the sheer size of the figure. He was huge in width and height, probably even taller than his father. The shadows silhouetted the man, but it only made him all the more large.
"Who are you?" Raine immediately stepped forward, next to Kratos, gripping her staff firmly.
"I mean you no harm. I am not a fool to attack a group of your size and skill alone. I merely have a request."
"Oh yeah? And why should we believe a guy that hides out in treetops in a spooky haunted forest?" Zelos hooked his thumbs in his pockets, smirking. Lloyd frowned, eyeing the calm man before shaking it off and looking back at the stranger.
"My name is Regal. I was hired by the Pope to capture the one known as Colette, but that is not my purpose here. I have no wish to follow his orders."
"Me?" Colette blinked, confused.
"The Pope eh? What's that old, fat man want with her." Zelos frowned suddenly, but his voice remained light, curious.
"I do not know. I was hired alongside three other men. We were to ambush you in the sewers, but your group was too large and I called it off." The man turned his attention to the Tethe'allan Chosen, studying him for a moment.
"Why are you telling us all your plans?" Raine countered, drawing his attention.
"So that you understand my sincerity when I request to speak with that young girl." Regal gestured towards Presea.
"Presea?" Lloyd looked over at her frowning. But before he could get another word in, Genis was leaping forward, brandishing his weapon.
"No way! I'm not letting you anywhere near her you creep! You have about ten seconds to get the hell out of here before I-"
"Calm yourself, Genis. Do not let your emotions best you." Kratos calmly interrupted, successively drawing the boy's attention.
Genis blinked, then frowned, shifting his position consciously, taking a more casual fighting stance. "R-right."
Lloyd grit his teeth but turned his irritation to the man. "Why do you want to talk to her? Do you even know her?"
"No, I do not. But I wish to ask her something."
Kratos stepped forward. "Regal. Bryant I assume. The Duke that was charged with murder and sentenced to prison. Owner of the Lezorano Company."
The man physically stiffened, but nodded after a moment. "You are correct, though I am surprised I was recognized as I am."
"Duke Bryant? Seriously?" Sheena stared.
"The one, thee only, Babe." Zelos smirked. "I thought I recognized you. Back from one of the princess' birthday parties."
"That was many years ago, Chosen."
"D-...Dad? You know him?" Lloyd frowned coming up beside his father, warily.
"Not personally, but I hardly see him as a threat."
Raine scowled. "Well, I'd like to argue that assumption. He is an hired assassin or kidnapper. Either way, he hardly condones our trust so readily."
"I think he seems nice." Colette offered. "He told us our plans and he just wants to talk to Presea..."
"Colette, you can't be serious! What if he hurts her?" Genis exclaimed back.
"Oh...um. Mr. Regal. Are you going to hurt Presea?"
Lloyd sighed, "This really isn't the place to be having this conversation. It's not like Presea can have a conversation with him anyway. Not with the exsphere on her."
"Exsphere?" Regal frowned stepping forward. "So...she is a victim as well..."
"What do you mean, 'as well'?" Raine narrowed her eyes.
Kratos stepped forward, sheathing his weapon. "Lloyd is right. It's getting darker by the minute and we are wasting time standing and talking about this. Until Presea has a key crest, any information you desire from her will be fragmented. If you wish to speak with her, you'll have to wait."
"I see. Yes, of course. We must help her first. If I may be so bold as request..." He paused, glancing around the group. "May I follow along?
"You have got to be kidding me..." Genis muttered.
"I have no qualms about it." Kratos nodded, without waiting for the others' comments. "Let's go."
Raine scowled severely, but merely moved closer to Colette, guiding her along after Kratos. Genis likewise put himself between Regal and Presea, giving him a nasty warning look.
"Well, Bud. Looks like you are no longer the outcast of the group here." Zelos smirked nudging him.
"I still can't believe this guy is the famous Duke Bryant..." Sheena muttered, eyeing the giant man. "And he's still wearing handcuffs."
"Well he is a prisoner." Zelos shrugged. "Come along, let's get going before the ghosts come out."
"You are such a child."
Lloyd frowned, still gripping his sword as he watched the man. He was wearing handcuffs, like Sheena said. But Lloyd also noted the metal greaves on the man's legs. He scanned him slowly before Regal finally glanced at him.
"I'll take the end," Lloyd spoke flatly.
Regal studied him then nodded and proceeded after the others. Lloyd hesitated a moment longer, then followed as well.