Author's Note: This story takes place one year after the events of Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, and Kingdom Hearts II.
Down in the Ginnungagap Richter braced himself against the door to Niflheim, against the feral onslaught of the demons desperate to escape from their hellish prison. When the attack subsided, the half-elf slumped to the floor, back against the wall, face dripping with sweat.
"Master Richter!" Aqua, the centurion of water, glided over to his side. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine, Aqua." He flipped his hair out of his face and removed his glasses. As he rubbed his eyes, Tenebrae padded into view.
"The demons are fighting against their imprisonment with much more ferocity than usual," the centurion f darkness observed darkly.
"Don't I know it," Richter muttered, replacing his glasses. "Even here - and even with Ratatosk's help - my body still has its limits. If they keep this up...I'm done for."
"No!" Aqua wailed. "What if Tenebrae spoke to Emil? He could- "
"No," Richter snapped. "That kid has enough problems. I made this mess - it's my fault. He never deserved to be caught up in it. I'll pay my - ah!"
The sounds of inhuman screams and snarls accompanied a fresh bombardment from the demons of Niflheim. When they calmed, Richter slumped forward, having never regain his stance. Aqua set a hand on his forehead and relieved his pain, lulling him into a restful sleep.
"Tenebrae," she hissed after the centurion, who had begun to walk away following the demon's rage. Aqua flew past him and stopped. "Are you just going to let him go on like that?"
"Why not? He seems determined to do this alone. Bringing back Emil would only deepen the guilt he carries in his heart."
He pushed past her and continued on. Aqua lingered, watching her beloved sleep. "What about the demons?" she asked in desperation. "You said it yourself that their ferocity worries you. Shouldn't that be a reason to seek EMil?"
That made the dark centurion stop. "Are you telling me that you are actually concerned for the security of the reunited world? That you are not simply looking for a way to save Richter?"
"Or course," she snapped, glided up to him. "I'm a centurion - same as you." Over the last year, she hadn't exactly proven that. Swayed by her love for Richter, she had gone against her true master, Ratatosk, summon spirit of the old Kharlan Tree and Lord of Monsters. "Despite what you think, the surge in the demons does indeed alarm me, and I think that only the return of Lord- "
"Emil was to be given a human life, Aqua! We - all the centurions agreed."
"Lord Ratatosk might be the only one capable of quelling the demonhorde and you know it!"
Tenebrae was silent, then: "I know, Aqua. But we agreed that EMil should be allowed to live out his life with Lady Marta before returning. Even Lord Ratatosk agreed."
"This is a much bigger problem than Emil, or Marta, or..." she stared longingly at sleeping Richter.
"You've changed Aqua."
"I see the centurion in you once again. After your actions this pat year, I had doubted if I should ever see it again. But I was wrong, it seems, and that makes it much harder to disagree with you."
Aqua prepared to say some nasty in response, but realized Tenebrae had just paid her a compliment. Where she human, she would have blushed.
"Here's what I'll do, Aqua: I'll go talk to Emil and Lady Marta. Once then, I'll let them decide what is best."
She knew she was staring, but she couldn't help it. Tenebrae had actually conceded her point, and not disagreed outright.
"Stay here with Master Richter. Make sure he doesn't kill himself."
"Okay. Good luck, Tenebrae."
"And look, that one is Mjollnir." Colette pointed to a cluster of stars that resembled a large hammer.
"Where did you learn all of these constellations?" Lloyd asked. He was laying beside her in a field outside of Iselia.
"From Professor Raine. Some of us were actually paying attention in her class, you know," she scolded gently.
"You sound like like Genis," he groaned, which made her laugh.
"Where is Genis anyway?" she asked after a minute.
"Studying at Palmacosta, remember? He meant to go years ago, but the Journey of Salvation followed by the Vanguard's Blood Purge delayed that. Now that everything has calmed down, he can finally go."
"I can't believe it's finally over." Colette turned on her side so that she could see Lloyd. "With the Vangaurd disbanded, a lot of the hostility between Tethe'allas and Sylvaranti has started to dissipate. People are returning to the Church in large numbers."
"Even without their Goddess?"
"We haven't - I haven't - had the heart to tell them the truth. It would destroy them."
"Yeah," Lloyd agreed with a sharp sigh. "Same with telling them the truth about Mithos. It would - ah, I don't even know. But it would be bad."
"I think maybe that this time, Lloyd, honesty might not be the best policy." She smiled, but Lloyd could see she was conflicted inside. Lying was never something Colette did normally - or very well. That she would even suggest she was will do so was indicative of the gravity of the situation.
Telling the people of the world - Tethe'allan and Sylvaranti alike - that their hero, Mithos, had become the villain, Yggdrasil, leader of Cruxis and the Desians, obsessed with the eradication of free will, and that Martel, their Goddess, was his sister with whom he was also obsessed with resurrecting - telling them that would destroy four thousand years of culture. The implications would be catastrophic.
He sighed. Even now, having slain Mithos Yggdrasil himself, he could not bring himself to hate him. It was painfully obvious that their goals were the same" to eliminate discrimination and prejudice. Although their methods differed drastically, Lloyd saw how easy it would be to slip down the wrong path as Mithos had.
A shale from Colete snapped him out of his reverie. "Sorry. Hey, show me another constellation."
"Okay." She rolled onto her back and scanned the night sky. "Well, that one is Mimir. And that one - " she craned her neck and tilted her head to one side. While she wasn't looking, Lloyd reached into his pocket.
"-That's Orouboros. And that's...a ring?"
Lloyd was on one knee, holding the ring out over her face, a nervous grin on his face.
"I've been meaning to do this for a while now, but - "
"Did you have Dirk make this?"
Lloyd turned scarlet and fumbled his words. "N-No! I...I made it. I mean, her showed me how, but I - woah!" Colette flung her arms around him and carried him to the ground.
"Oh, Lloyd! Do you really mean it?"
"Would I embarrass myself like this if I didn't? Of course I mean it. I love you, Colette, I always have. So...will you marry me?"
"Of course!" she kissed him then, which caught him by surprise. When they disconnected, he said, "Here, give me your hand."
"It's perfect, Lloyd."
"It better be. I spent weeks on that."
"Thank you." She rested her head on his chest and they lay there under the stars. "Let's have the wedding here - at the Temple."
"I wonder if Verius would show up," Lloyd joked. "He is the Summon Spirit of Heart, after all."
"But how are we going to get everybody back together? It's hard to keep track of everybody these days. I don't want a wedding without all our friends."
"I do hope I'm not interrupting anything," came a familiar voice. Tenebrae padded into view above them.
"Doggy!" Colette exclaimed. "Oops, I'm sorry. I mean: Mr. Doggy."
Tenebrae sighed resignedly, which made Lloyd laugh. "Hi, Tenebrae. What are you doing here?"
"I was looking for Emil and Lady Marta. Have either for you seen them?"
Lloyd and Colette both sat up. "No, but they're probably in Meltokio. Brute's trial was today."
"Ah, yes, I had forgotten." A look of distress not commonly seen crossed the centurion's face. "I wonder if 'not guilty by reason of possession' is a valid defense plea," he mused wryly.
"I don't think so," Colette said, not getting the joke. "But you can ask when you get there." Lloyd seemed not have understood the joke either.
"Yes, well, I should get going. Oh, congratulations." He nodded at the ring. "I'm sure you two will be very happy."
"Tenebrae," Lloyd called as he started to walk away. "Could you us a favor? Since you're already going out, could you let everybody know about...this?"
Normally, Tenebrae would have raised a fuss about being used a courier, but he decided against it. this was special.
"Certainly. I'm sure Lady Marta will be most ecstatic."
"Thanks, Tenebie!" Colette said as he vanished into the night.
Emil was there waiting when Marta came out of the Meltokio royal prison. "How is he?"
"Brute's fine," she replied quietly. Emil always thought it strange that she referred to her father by his first name. "He's mellowed out a lot since we removed Solum's core. He regrets the decisions he made with the Vanguard last year - I think he's genuinely sorry." Marta stared off into the morning light. "I think he wants to change."
"He's not angry that his trial was held in Tethe'alla?"
"No. He's lucky that it wasn't in Palmacosta."
The memory of the Blood Purge made Emil shudder. It had been a night of his death and birth. The real Emil Castagnier had been slain, and an amnesiac Ratatosk had assumed his identity - in the form of Richter's dead friend, Aster. Just thinking about it made his head throb.
"How are you?"
"I'm fine," she said with a sigh. "Sad, I guess for Brute, but glad that they decided no to put me on trial - lucky Lloyd has some influence over the King of Tethe'alla, huh?"
"I should think so. He did he help save the world. Worlds," he amended.
Silently, Marta fell into Emil's embrace, resting her head on his shoulder. "It fells strange, you know? We hated Lloyd for so long, and it turns out that he was the good guy."
"Nothing's ever what it seems, Marta." He knew that more than anyone. Deep down inside, Ratatosk groaned.
Oh, give me a break.
Only Emil could hear the Summon Spirit and he ignored him.
the night was suddenly split by a scream. Both Emil and Marta turned in the direction it had come from. A woman came running down the street and went right past them. They moved to intercept whoever it was chasing her.
"A monster." A strange, writhing black figure scrambled along towards him and stopped a distance away, staring with its two golden eyes. It seemed like a shadow come to life.
Emil reached down into himself and brought Ratatosk's power to the surface. "Monster! Here me: I am Ratatosk. As Lord of Monsters I have forbidden them inside towns and cities. I command you to leave this place." When the thing refused to leave, he raised his voice. "Begone from this city!"
In response, the shadowy monster lunged at Emil. He brought his sword up to block - too slow. Just in time, Marta sprang forward, cutting the monster down with a single wipe from her spinner. The monster vanished in a puff of darkness.
"What was that?" Emil asked no one in particular.
"Not a monster of darkness I'm familiar with," answered a voice from behind.
"Tenebrae!" Emil spun around to greet his centurion friend.
"Emil. Lady Marta. Lord Ratatosk."
Marta threw her arms around him. "It's so good to see you again."
"And you aw well, Lady Marta. How is you father?"
"Fine. They found him guilty of course, but he's doing alright."
"What are you doing here, Tenebrae?" Emil asked, both for himself and Ratatosk.
"Ah yes. Lord Ratatosk, we may have a problem down in the Ginnungagap. The demonhorde is throwing everything they have against their imprisonment."
"That's nothing new."
"Perhaps not, but Richter is weakening. Every day he holds is another one closer to his eventual...death, I suppose is the only word applicable here."
"That shouldn't happen. The mana flow goes right to the Ginnungagap. I set it up so that he would never weaken - not in mana, at least. Aren't the centurions assisting?"
"Yes, but I fear it is not enough. Something has changed." He said no more, but it was enough to concern Ratatosk.
"Very well. Thank you, Tenebrae. Emil, if it's alright with you, I'd like to return to the Ginnungagap for a short time to investigate. Marta may come along as well."
"Oh, yeah," she retorted. "That's exactly where I want to go."
"In the morning, then," Tenebrae diffused the situation. "And before I forget, Colette and Lloyd have asked me to invite the two of you to their wedding in two months time."
"A wedding?" Marta brightened up immediately. "That's wonderful! Wait, that means I have to buy a dress - and a tux for Emil."
"What?" Emil and Ratatosk said in concert. "But-"
"This is important," she insisted. "You two go down there and do whatever. Meanwhile, I'll go shopping for both of us."
Ratatosk laughed inwardly at Emil.