The Meaning of Birth – 武田地夜
Disclaimer: I do not own Tales of Symphonia or Tales of the Abyss or the characters and story lines pertaining to it.
Chapter 4: Dreams of Memories
Running. Always running. That seemed to be the norm for me now.
The rain fell hard, soaking through my clothes, chilling me. The child in my arms cried fiercely, sobbing for his father who was now dead. His sister ran beside me, her small hand swallowed by my own. She was trying hard to fight her tears, but she couldn't hold them back forever.
I didn't blame them; I wanted to cry too. I wanted nothing more than to just wallow in my sorrow, to let myself fall into the depression of losing such a dear friend. But I couldn't. No, I made a promise to him. I would keep it. Maybe then, after the children were safe, I would cry.
And then I would hunt. I would chase down and kill the men that took their mother and father's lives. I would avenge their deaths.
I glanced back at the village, noting that the once raging flames had finally died down. That was good. At least no one else could get hurt.
I slowed down, the child's cries suddenly louder. I knelt down and hugged him and his sister close to me, whispering soothing words in their ears.
Where are they? they asked silently. Where's mommy? Where's daddy?
I choked, unable to find the words to comfort them. What could I tell them? That they were dead, gone, never coming back? That their parents were murdered by a group a prejudiced fools who were blinded by ignorance, unwilling to accept that which was different from them?
I moved to stand but halted at the feeling of cold steel pressed against the back of my neck. I held perfectly still, barely daring to breathe.
"Why are you here?" a voice asked. It was young, male. He was maybe only twelve or thirteen.
I didn't answer, only held the children closer.
"You know you're not supposed to be here," the boy continued. I felt the tip of the pointed blade dig into my skin, not hard enough to draw blood but enough for me to understand the wielder's urgency. "Why'd you call me out here? Didn't you see the attack? I can't be here."
"Of course I saw it," I murmured. "I need your help."
I glanced down at the children's terrified forms in my arms. There was a gasp as the blade left my skin. The boy stepped around me, his hooded face gazing steadily at the girl and her brother, his eyes wide in amazement. He swallowed thickly and nodded, motioning for me to rise. I did.
The boy looked around, then turned to me and whispered, "Follow me." I nodded and we took off running again.
It felt like we were running forever. Maybe we were. With the dark sky and the steady beating of the rain against the trees, minutes and hours ran together seamlessly.
The boy directed me to a hidden clearing and I sat down beneath a rocky overhang, a slight shelter from this dreary weather. The child in my arms was still crying loudly, holding onto me for dear life. I looked to his sister. She wasn't much better off, but I could see she was trying to be strong. She knew that she was the only family her brother had left, and she wanted to set a good example for him. I smiled in spite of myself.
The young boy crawled out of the rain beside me, shaking the droplets off of his dark, hooded cloak. He gazed at us, eyeing the child in my arms. I could see dear in his eyes, but there was also… hope?
"Yes." I hugged the child, trying to quiet him. "They're like you."
The boy pulled off his hood, revealing his startling blue hair. I had grown used to it after a while; strange and bizarre hair colors were normal among his kind.
"I thought they had killed all of the others."
I shook my head, water spraying as I did. "No. Not all of them."
"Who are they?" the young boy asked, edging closer. He was looking at the girl now, marveling at her moss green hair.
"They're… Catherine's," I answered, using their mother's name. It was dangerous to reveal who their father was. If anyone knew of their noble lineage…
"Catherine's?" The boy's brow furrowed in thought. "I remember her. She was nice to me. I didn't know she has children like this, though."
"She was a good liar." The child was finally calming down, snuggling into my arms as he fell asleep. I frowned, remembering the reason I has called the boy in the first place. "Yuan… Can they stay here?"
"What?" Yuan stared at me. "Stay here? No way! I can barely take care of myself out here, much less a little girl and some baby, too!"
I sighed, trying to ignore my growing frustration. "Please, Yuan. They have nowhere else to go. I can't take them back to the capital, they'll be killed. You know the prejudice is stronger there. This is their only chance."
Yuan crossed his arms. "What about their dad? Or Catherine?"
Yuan was silent, instantly regretting his words. "They were in the village, weren't they?"
I nodded, watching his eyes as he struggled with his decision. They were a shocking shade of bright blue that matched his hair perfectly. It was easy to see why so many were unnerved by people like him, even if he wouldn't actually harm a fly. I sighed at last.
"Yuan. If you cannot take them, they will die. That is a fact."
Yuan cringed. "They really have no one else?" I shook my head and Yuan sighed. "All right. I'll do it." He held his arms out and took the infant from my, grazing his hand over his soft blond hair. "What are their names?"
"Mithos and Martel."
I shifted uncomfortably under the mass of sheets, my mouth twisting in a scowl at the scratchy fabric. I sat up slowly and opened my eyes, surprised at how raw they felt. Had I been crying? I touched a finger to my and cheek noticed distractedly that it was dry. Of course it was. I was an Angel, a Seraphim of Cruxis. I hadn't thought about that in years, and though the memory was as raw and painful as it was all that time ago, I hadn't shed a tear in over four-thousand years.
Though, I also haven't needed to sleep in over four-thousand years. Yet I had just woken from a dream. I supposed it shouldn't surprise me. This world wasn't the same as Aselia. Not exactly… although that depended on who you asked, really. Some aspects were the same, and others less so. Seeing as how mana wasn't the source of this world's power, it made sense that the mana-dependent Cruxis Crystals could begin to lose some of their potency. I looked down at the small stone embedded in my left hand, its blue hue catching a bit of light as I moved. If the crystals began to lose their power, I worried what that would mean for me. My crystal wasn't like the others; if it were to stop functioning, my very life could be in danger. I shook my head, casting those dark thoughts from my mind. Focus. One thing at a time.
Where am I?
I glanced at my surroundings, taking in the small room. The walls were a pale green, yellow even where the morning sun hit. An outdated floral print presided below the crowning, its pattern mirrored on the bedspread and matching drapes. There was a steady tick-tock of a small antique clock on the nightstand next to me. I fisted a hand in the thick cloth, frowning. I would never have chosen to stay at such an inn.
Ah, yes. The Grand Chokmah Inn. We had checked in yesterday, to help the swordsman recover from his Curse. Guy was his name, the blond servant who had attacked him, Luke fon Fabre. My eyes narrowed unconsciously at the thought of the red haired teen. Luke fon Fabre, son of Duke Fabre and third in line for the throne of Kimlasca. I had heard that title read a thousand times in my lifetime. I was familiar enough with him, more than I wanted to be. He and his family were a part of my past that I wish had just remained buried. I would take care to avoid him if I could.
I rose from the bed, turning and neatly setting the sheets appropriately. When I finished, I turned to the nightstand, where my sword and jacket rested. I grabbed both, weighing the blade in my hand as I thought about the previous day.
I wasn't really sure why I had stepped into the fight. I had no intention of becoming involved in their squabble, yet I did. The young noble would have been able to hold his own, I knew that. I grimaced. I couldn't fool myself; I knew exactly why I had interfered. It was because of him, Gailardia Galan.
My jacket settled neatly over my shoulders as I fastened their snaps distractedly. Gailardia. My heart ached at the name. The young man reminded me of someone very dear, someone I hadn't thought about in decades, at least. I tucked my sword under my jacket, hooking the sheath into its slot in my belt, before turning and opening the door to the hallway. I needed to just forget about it, about him, and leave. The quicker I left, the quicker I could find Lloyd, and the quicker I could leave.
"Give that back to me, that isn't yours."
I frowned, moving a hand to partially cover my ear. Though the woman—Sheena, I reminded myself—spoke in a deadly quiet tone in the adjacent room, it sounded like she was practically screaming to me. My ears picked up the small growl the young woman uttered, magnifying it. It was one of the many downsides of being an Angel. The tiniest whisper could sound like a shout.
"This bell is so pretty," a second voice mocked. My mind supplied the name Anise, though I didn't recall meeting her the night before. There was a sweet jingling sound. "I think I'll keep it."
"That was Corrine's," Sheena growled again. I winced at the sound of wood—a chair, it sounded like—being knocked over as I imagined the assassin lunging at the younger girl.
I blinked at turned to the door across from me and the young man who had opened it. It was the swordsman from last night. Gailardia.
"Yes?" I kept my expression and tone neutral as I replied, a skill I had perfected after centuries of practice.
Gailardia stared quizzically at me as he tilted his head slightly. "You looked like you were somewhere else there. Are you okay?"
I hesitated before nodding stiffly at him. He didn't look like he believed me.
"Last night," he started, "you stormed out of the room pretty quickly after I told them my real name." He paused, studying my reaction. "Why?"
I glanced down the hall, not wanting to meet his gaze. "I was surprised. That's all."
Gailardia waited for me to say more, but I didn't. He shuffled his feet awkwardly, busying his hands with the tie on his sword. This conversation wasn't going to go anywhere, and I didn't want to waste much more of my time avoiding his gaze, so I turned down the hall and began making my way towards the front of the inn.
"Ah, wait. I want to say thank you. What happened in the forest…" I stopped as he trailed off, but I didn't turn to him. "I could've hurt someone. I could've hurt Luke." I cringed at the name. "You saved him and I owe you for that. Let me make it up to you."
I frowned. Him? Owing me? The idea was absurd, too absurd to even consider. "No. You don't have to do anything like that."
I heard Gailardia approach me and imagined him placing his hand on his hip, cocking his head to the side with his wry grin. The same way he always did. "You don't have a choice. I pay back my debts."
I pay back my debts…
I grimaced, disappointed in how little it took lately to drudge up those old memories of mine. "You want to repay me?" I asked bitterly.
"Don't let it happen again."
I left him standing alone in the hall.
Most of the others had gathered in the lobby, I noticed. Sylvarant's Chosen was sitting patiently at a small table with the two young women from Gailardia's group. The three were discussing possible tourism opportunities within the main city. Well, Colette and the young princess were; the soldier, Tear, was trying very hard and unsuccessfully to argue against it. Closer to the front desk stood the half-elf, Genis, along with Zelos and Colonel Curtiss. My eyes settled on them, listening idly to their conversation.
"So you haven't heard from Raine or the others?"
Zelos shook his head, irritation plain on his face. "No, I already told you. I've been here with Sheena since I woke up."
"Oh. I was hoping you had seen my sister." Genis' face fell, and I felt my heart move at the sight.
"Well, it seems like we keep running into you curiosities without meaning to," Jade pointed out. "I'm certain that if we continue as planned we will run into your friends sooner or later. Right, Kratos?"
I nodded, not bothered by how the man had called me out. I could see in the way his eyes scrunched up when he looked at me that he didn't trust me. That was fine. I was used to it.
"Lloyd and the others will be here," I tried. I hesitated to add somewhere, but my mind thought it anyways.
Genis glared and turned away from me. "I don't need to hear that from you, traitor."
"What about you?" Jade asked me. "Will you be tagging along as well?"
I blinked, slightly startled by the question. I hadn't even considered that as an option. I knew what I wanted to do; I had spent part of the previous night planning my next possible courses of action, but following this group was certainly not one I had considered.
"No, that's all right," I replied evenly. I wouldn't admit that I was unnerved by the man. "You shouldn't have too much trouble finding their companions. I have a few matters of my own that I would like to take care of anyways. Besides that, I think I've caused enough trouble for you all." I glanced at Genis who was still turned away from me.
"Mr. Kratos." I turned around to see that Colette had risen from her seat, her fists clenched firmly at her sides. "Do you really think that we'll find Lloyd and the others?"
I watched her carefully, wondering why she was asking me, of all people. She seemed very serious in her in inquiry.
"Yes. I believe that you will find them."
"Then you don't need to go away."
I blinked, taken slightly aback by her statement. What did she mean by that? The girl had locked her eyes with mine, daring me to look away. Did she actually want me to travel with them? No, I cautioned myself, she had no reason to want that.
"Chosen," I began, "you would be better off if I were to leave. I've caused many problems for you before, and I'm sure that other members of your group may not want me here, either. You shouldn't trust me… I'm not a good person."
Colette shook her head. "I don't think that you are a bad person."
"What?" Genis started. "Of course he's a bad person! He tricked us, even tried to kill us, plenty of times!"
"Kratos is really strong. I know if he wanted to hurt us, he could. But he didn't, which means he must not be a bad person." Colette caught my gaze for a second time, and my eyes moved quickly away. "I think… he had a reason."
A reason? Of course I did: Lloyd. Mithos promised his safety as long as I carried out my duties. Granted, I realized far too late that he had never intended to keep that promise. It was because of that I had decided to visit Lloyd that night in Flanoir. I had wanted to apologize to him, to try to make up for my mistake by assisting him in stopping Cruxis… even if it meant releasing Origin's seal. Of course I had a reason, but there was no way she could know that… was there? Perhaps the girl was far more perceptive than I had realized.
Gailardia entered beside the lobby beside me, patting my shoulder in a friendly gesture. I flinched. In my distraction I hadn't heard him approach. I was losing my edge, it seemed.
"Wow, it feels tense in here," he joked. "Everything all right?"
Jade smiled. "Of course." Gailardia nodded in return.
"We're just waiting for Luke and then we can go." I tried to take a step away from him, his closeness beginning to make me feel uneasy, but his hand on my shoulder tightened. "You're coming too, right? I'm serious about paying you back."
I frowned before glancing at Colette. She was smiling. I'd have to remember to ask her later what she had meant by "reason." Perhaps it would be all right to travel with them after all.
"Yes," I agreed at last. "I shall accompany you, if it isn't too much trouble."
Genis fumed and Colette drew her hands together in excitement. There was some idle chatter among the girls, but Zelos and Jade both just watched me. I sent a glare back in Zelos direction. We may have been in a different world, but I remembered why he was here. I knew what his true goals were, and I wanted to make sure he knew it. He sniffed and turned away, flicking a lock of hair at me in response.
My eyes widened in sudden pain and I fell, gasping for air that my lungs couldn't seem to catch. I felt Gailardia's hands on me, his voice dim, asking if I was okay. I didn't respond. I couldn't.
Answer me, dreck!
That voice… I knew that voice.
Though my eyes were open, I couldn't see anything but a swirl of colors. My head was throbbing and I didn't register anything going on in the real world. All I could focus on was the pain.
Damn it, answer me! …About time. You need to get out of Grand Chokmah right now. …What the hell does it matter? Just do what I say!
I felt like I was listening to one side of a conversation; the other must have been lost amid the pain and colors. A high-pitched ringing started, its frequency increasing by the second. And with each decibel it rose, so too did the pain. I may have cried out once, but I didn't hear it.
As suddenly as it began, it stopped. The pain was beginning to fade and I started to breathe again. The sound of Gailardia's voice came back and I could feel his hands clenched against my shoulders and back. I took a moment to regain myself before trying to stand. Colette and Tear had gathered around me as well, both of them asking about my condition.
I ignored their questions. Though the pain was gone, I still felt extremely light-headed and dizzy. I swayed to the left and Gailardia caught me, wrapping his arm around my waist for support. I blinked, startled by the unwelcome contact, but too out of sorts to push him away.
"Guy! Jade!" We turned more or less in unison to see Luke fon Fabre running towards us from his room. He looked out of breath, though I doubted it was for the same reason as I. "We have to leave, now."
Gailardia blinked at him. "Leave? Why all of a sudden?"
"Asch said we need to get out of here," Luke explained. "He said something was going to happen."
Asch…? I wondered, suddenly recognizing the owner of the voice.
I tried to stand on my own, pushing Gailardia and the girls away. It took a moment, but I was able to stand without swaying.
"We have to go to St. Binah anyway, right?" the Genis asked. He caught my eye by mistake and shot me a glare that Yuan himself would have been proud of.
"Yeah," Luke agreed. He glanced at me, but quickly looked away. I got the feeling that I made him uncomfortable, but I wasn't sure why. He and I had never actually met, and despite how I may have felt about him, he didn't know the first thing about me. "Is Kratos coming too?"
"I would like to accompany you, yes. If it isn't too much trouble." I was pleased to hear that my voice had managed to stop shaking.
Luke hesitated before saying, "Sure. The more help we can get, the better."
"What?" Genis gaped at Luke. "You're letting him come? Even after what we told you?"
Luke shrugged. "Maybe he's had a change of heart."
Gailardia nodded. "Why not." He glanced at me, numerous questions barely hidden in his eyes. Questions I didn't even want to entertain.
Genis sighed. "Fine. Don't say I didn't warn you though." He stomped away sourly.
Luke looked up at me, a serious look in his green eyes. "I heard about what you did to them. I'm fine with giving you a chance with us, but please… don't turn on us the same way. There are way too many lives at stake, and I won't let any more people die because of my choices."
I stared him, taking in his words. I smiled inwardly. The boy had grown more than I had expected. That was good. Maybe there's a chance that it would all work out after all. I nodded, and he walk off, satisfied by my response. I felt Gailardia's hand on my shoulder again.
"I don't think you'll betray us." His hand tightened slightly before dropping. "I bet you have a lot riding on this too, huh?"
"What makes you think that?"
"Call it… a hunch." The young man grinned at me briefly before following the others out of the lobby.
I sighed. This… will be much harder than I thought.