Disclaimer: I do not own tales of Symphonia.

Chapter Nineteen: The Ornate Key

Mizuho wasn't far from the exit of the forest. The tops of old-world style houses came into view, and they walked through a wooden gate.

A man dressed in blue ninja clothes spotted them and ran up to Sheena.

"Sheena! What's the meaning of this? Why have you brought outsiders?"

"I am prepared to accept my punishment," Sheena said. Her voice held an edge of formality the others hadn't heard before. "They are travelers from Sylverant. I must inform the vice-chef of our arrival."

"Very well."

The man walked ahead of Sheena. She turned to her group.

"Wait here."

Sheena walked after the man, and the group made themselves comfortable outside of the gate.

Crystal leaned against the pole of the gate and slid down. Her vision was getting blurry.

Colette placed the blue-haired man down and Lloyd kept a watch on him. Eventually, he came around.

"Ughhh…"

"Don't try anything," Lloyd said his hand on the hilt of his sword. "You're our prisoner."

"I like to think, that I'm smart enough not to start anything when I'm not aware of the situation," He replied calmly.

The ninja in blue clothes walked up to them.

"The vice-chef will see you now," He said.

"Alright, let's go," Lloyd said.

He stood up and turned to go, but was stopped by Zelos.

"Hang on, bud. Hikari-chan doesn't seem to be doing to well."

Lloyd looked over at Crystal. Her face was extremely pale and she had her eyes squeezed tight. She was also rubbing her forehead continuously.

Lloyd kneeled beside her and whispered softly.

"Crystal?"

She didn't answer.

"Crystal, what's the matter?"

She remained silent for a moment. With her eyes still shut, she spoke very softly.

"…Can't…"

"If you can't talk, whisper into my ear," Lloyd said.

He leaned in so that his ear was near her lips. She put a hand on his shoulder and whispered to him. Her breath was slightly irregular and her brow was furrowed in pain, but she could still manage to explain to him.

He turned to Raine. "Professor, she say's the technique she used in the forest had a bad effect on her. She's feeling very ill."

Raine peered at her with concern. "I see…"

She kneeled down as well and took Crystal's hand.

"I'm going to ask a few questions. Squeeze my hand for a no, remain silent for a yes. Alright?"

Crystal moved her head up in an understanding motion.

"Do you have a headache?"

-Silence-

"Dizziness?"

-Silence-

"Was that the first time you did that technique?"

-Silence-

"Are you seriously ill?"

Crystal squeezed her hand. She didn't feel well, yes; but she hated the thought of being inconvenient.

"Alright…Can you move?"

-Silence-

"I think we need to have someone carry you, okay?"

-Silence-

Raine turned to the group. "I think she simply exhausted too much of her mana at once. If we can stay in the village or set up camp for a night, she should be alright by morning. For now, we need someone to carry her to the vice-chef's house."

"I'll do it, professor," Zelos said.

Raine nodded and stood up.

Zelos slid his arms under her and carefully picked her up. He followed Lloyd and the ninja to the vice-chef's house.

The walked into the quiet village. The houses were small but cozy, and everyone was wearing Kimonos and Yukitas with sandals. A small stream passed through the village, separating the vice-chefs house from the rest of the buildings.

The group walked one by one over the wooden bridge that attached one side of the stream to the other. Lloyd, who was ahead, opened the sliding door and entered the house ahead of everyone else.

The house was very tidy and neat, with carefully-made tatami mats on all the floors, and beautiful paper that made up the screens. The group took off their shoes and approached the door to the vice-chef's room.

"Enter travelers from Sylverant," said a deep voice.

"Thank you," Lloyd replied.

The walked into the room. The vice-chef was a powerful looking man. His face was slightly worn, but his eyes were sharp. His hair only showed a slight graying at the hair-line next to his ears, and was jet black everywhere else. He sat in seiza position on his cushion and Sheena sat behind him also in the traditional way.

The group sat down on the opposite side of the room with Lloyd and Raine in the front and the rest in the back. Zelos placed Crystal down with utmost care and sat directly behind her. She seemed to sway slightly where she sat. He placed a hand on her shoulder and spoke quietly in her ear.

"Lean back."

He started to pull her to him but she didn't move.

Zelos sighed. "I promise I won't do anything perverted, I'm just trying to help you be more comfortable."

Crystal thought for a moment and then leaned backwards into Zelos. He wrapped his arms around her and cradled between his arm and his chest.

"That alright?" He asked.

She relaxed into his arms a bit more and they both listened intently to the vice-chef.

"I am vice-chef, Tiga. Our chef, Igaguri, has fallen into a coma, due to an accident," Tiga said. "Because Sheena has failed to kill you, we, the people of Mizuho, now face persecution from the Tethe'alla royal family and the church of Martel."

"Is that true?' Lloyd asked.

"Yes. Now I have a question. People of Sylverant, what do you intend to do in Teth'alla, the land of your enemies?"

"I've been thinking about that a lot," Lloyd said, sitting a little straighter. "Someone asked me what I'm here for, and what I want to do. I want a world where everyone can have a normal life. I'm tired of people having to become sacrifices. I'm tired of discrimination. I'm tired of people becoming victims," he closed his eyes. His voice sounded weary, almost aged. "I'm tired of it all."

Tiga smiled at him. "You are an idealist. The worlds of Tethe'alla and Sylverant flourish only by victimizing each other. So long as that structure remains, anything you say is mere sophistry."

Lloyd stood up "Then we need to change that structure. Supposedly, this world was created by that Yggdrasil guy, right? That's what Yuen said. If I human or elf built this, then we can change it as well!"

Tiga laughed. "You sound like the hero Mithos. He was a sublime idealist. He ended the Ancient War by insisting there was a way for the two warring countries to coexist in peace. Are you saying, you want to become the next Mithos?"

"I'm not Mithos," Lloyd said simply. "I'm me. I want to find my own path to change the worlds, with all my friends."

Tiga's smile grew wider. "I see. Very well then. We shall search for a new path as well."

Sheena looked at Tiga in surprise. "Vice-chef, do you mean..."

He nodded. "We will use our information network to help you. In return, when the words are at peace, help my people move to the lands of Sylverant."

"But, I don't have any right to decide something like that," Lloyd said.

"All we need is your aid when we move."

"Is everyone okay with us joining forces with the people of Mizuho?" Lloyd asked.

"It doesn't sound like a bad deal," Raine said.

"Okay," Lloyd smiled and turned back to Tiga. "We're going to look for a way to change the two worlds. Let's work together."

"Agreed. Then, I hereby order Sheena to continue to accompany you. This time however," he said, glancing in Sheena's direction, "not as an observer, but as a representative . Make us proud."

"Yes, sir!" Sheena said happily."

"We will start by locating the Rheairds. Sheena attached a guardian to one o them so we should be ale to locate them shortly."

"Thank you very much," Lloyd said, bowing his head in a gracious manner.

"Excuse me, Vice-chef?" Raine said. "Does this village have lodgings by any chance? We have a companion that is ill."

"Ill?" Sheena piped up after being so quiet. "What happened?"

"It's Crystal. She's feeling very anemic after the technique she used in the forest sucked her Mana dry."

Sheena got up and walked towards the brunette.

Tiga watched her. "She's found some friends at last. It would warm the heart of the chef if he could see her." He turned back to Raine. "Yes we do have lodgings. Orochi will show you where to go."

"Thank you."

Raine got the others outside with Zelos still carrying Crystal, and Sheena threatening him.

"If you do anything perverted, I will slap you so hard, your pretty-boy face will stay swollen for the rest of you life."

"Aw, Sheena, that's so harsh," Zelos whined.

Raine spoke to Orochi, and he led them to the well behind the Chef's building. It was boarded up, as if it wasn't in use. Near the top of the boards was a small indentation, just big enough for a key of some sort.

"Um…" Zelos started, staring at the well. "What are we doing here?"

Orochi answered by reaching inside of his waist pouch, and pulling out a small length of brass. It had various indents on it and looked about the size of the keyhole.

He put the brass into the keyhole and turned it left and right a few times. Some clicking sounds could be heard and eventually, Orochi took out they key and removed the boards from the well.

The well was much wider than it looked at first. Nearly big enough for two people, and so deep it was pitch black.

Orochi approached the well. He let out a long whistle, changing the note once in a while to make the sound distinct. When he finished the same tune in the form of a whistle came from somewhere deep in the well.

"Stand back."

The group did as they were told and all of a sudden, a long silver hook attached to a rope came flying out of the well and latched itself onto the stone edge. Orochi took out two plastic handles and attached them to the rope. He then lifted himself into the well and hung onto the edge with one hand.

"Be right back."

He let go and slid down the rope out of sight.

"What the heck?" Genis said.

"You'll see," Sheena said.

A few minutes later, a creaking sound echoed its way up the ears of the group. Curious, Lloyd walked forward and peered into the well. He couldn't see anything except for darkness, but the sound was getting closer. He poked his head a little farther into the well when…

"AHHH!"

Blue suddenly obscured his vision making the swordsman fall backwards in surprise. He blinked a few times before he realized it was Orochi standing on something that was inside the well, looking from the surprised boy on the ground to Sheena, who was laughing hysterically.

"Sheena, why didn't you tell him that was going to happen?" he questioned.

"I wanted to see his reaction," Sheena laughed, clutching her stomach.

Raine stepped forward to examine what Orochi was standing on. She cooked her head to one side.

It seemed to be a large wooden bucket, not unlike the washtubs the group had traveled in to get to the seal of water, except these were even bigger. The tub expanded the entire width of the well and looked reinforced with metal around the outside. It was moving up and down the well via a few metal strips along the well's wall that the tub latched onto in places.

"How does this work?" The elder sage asked.

"It's called a Trans. Metal bars along the outside of the tub hook onto the metal bars. We've made it mechanical by using some electric Mana. It's a bit like an elevator."

"I see…"

Orochi stepped off and gestured towards it. "Please divide into pairs and board the Trans. It will take you somewhere safe."

Sheena nodded. "Yes. It's well hidden so we'll be safe."

"Alright then," Lloyd said. He turned to the blue-haired man. "What's your name?"

"Regal," He replied.

"Okay, we'll have to keep you with us for a while."

"Hey, Lloyd," Zelos said. "How's about we let pops help us?"

Lloyd thought for a moment while Zelos explained.

"He wants to talk to Presea, right?"

Regal nodded.

"Well, he'd be willing to help us out while she's with us, correct?"

"I don't know…" Sheena said slowly. "But I started as your enemy too, so I shouldn't judge.

"Okay then. Regal, will you help us?" Lloyd asked.

Regal nodded. "I swear upon my shackles, that I will help you."
Good. Now that that's taken care of…" Lloyd turned to Orochi. "I'll go down first with Regal, okay?"

"Very well," Orochi said.

Lloyd and Regal climbed into the Trans. Orochi clicked a switch on the edge of the tub and it slowly descended.

A few minutes later the Trans returned to the top of the well, empty. Raine and Colette stepped inside and they too were taken down. On the third trip, Genis went down with Presea, and on the fourth, Zelos carrying Crystal.

The redhead stepped inside the tub and kneeled down in it. It was a tad small for two people, so Crystal hung onto Zelos in a tight embrace.

The deeper they plunged into the dark well, the worse Crystal's headache got. Her eyes were having trouble adjusting. The stuffy air made her feel claustrophobic, and the smell of mold got to her nose. The slow movements of the elevator threw off her center of gravity. She felt like she was spinning around even through she couldn't have been moving. Confused, she clung tighter to Zelos.

"Are you alright?" he whispered.

She moved her head slightly to look at him. The last of the light from the outside made his eyes glisten slightly even in the darkness. She nodded and he patted her back lightly.

"We're almost there."

A low thud and a halt of the Trans announced that they had arrived at the lowest floor. A sliding door opened in the cylinder shaped shaft. It revealed a normal looking room, not unlike that of a regular inn. There was a fireplace flickering away in the center of the back wall and a few armchairs were gathered around it. Filling them out was all their companions except for Lloyd, whom was leaning against the wall with Regal. Raine was sitting in the armchair closest to the entrance and was in the middle of a spirited conversation with another female ninja.

"I see! How fascinating!" She was saying.

Zelos walked forward. "Hey guys."

"Oh, Zelos!" Raine looked up surprised. "Bring Crystal over here."

Raine, as well as the female ninja, stood up and lead Zelos over to a long lounge chair. The ninja went to a cupboard and got out a pillow and blankets. Zelos laid Crystal down, and Raine took the items from the ninja and helped Crystal get settled.

"Lay here and recuperate. You should have your Mana back by morning."

Crystal nodded and Raine went back to her chair. Zelos followed and slumped down into the last empty chair. He sighed and closed his eyes.

"Why does that girl always get into trouble?" he asked.

"Hey, she got into this trouble saving your neck, remember?" Lloyd said, glancing over at Crystal.

Zelos gave a lazy wink. "And what a pretty neck she saved."

Genis rolled his eyes, and Lloyd just shook his head.

The sound of the sliding door revealed Sheena, stepping out of the shaft into the light. Upon seeing the female ninja, Sheena ran over to the girl. "Hina! I didn't know you'd be down here!"

The other girl smiled. "I was stationed down here after my last mission."

Sheena turned to the rest of her group. "This is a friend of mine."

"I'm Hina Jeganshi. At the moment, I run this safe house. It was good of you to come, travelers from Sylverant."

Hina grinned. Her long red hair tied up in a pony-tail on top of her head and the cross shaped scar on her cheek gave her the look of a delicate tomboy.

"Thank you for helping us," Lloyd said.

"Hey, Professor?" Zelos started. "What was so fascinating?"

"Oh, yes. Hina was telling me about this place," Raine explained. "During the Karlan war, this was a secret storehouse to keep civilians safe. Mizuho used it to keep their leaders and the children of the village out of danger. But it was here for much longer before the people of Mizuho found it."

Raine turned to Hina. "Could you show them?"

Hina nodded and reached in her pocket and pulled out a key. It was very ornate and carefully decorated. It was all gold, with swirls of crystal embedded in the head of it. Two crystal angel wings sprouted out of the tip of it. The key sparkled in the dim light of the fireplace.

"It's so pretty…" Colette said.

"What's it for?" Lloyd asked.

Hina nodded towards another sliding door at the end of the room. "Come see."

They followed her to the door. Raine looked over at Crystal to see that she was fast asleep.

Hina opened the door. They were in a cave lined with small torches. The smell of fresh air on a breeze reached their noses.

"Hope you're all up for a small walk," Hina said.

Lloyd nodded in agreement and the group followed Hina through the cave. The slight strain on Lloyd's legs made him think the ground was slanted upwards. Soon they saw an orange light glowing at the exit.

They stepped out of the cavern to find themselves outside again but this time, they were higher up. The smell of the air was fresh and cool, and the horizon could be seen by a nearby cliff.

Lloyd looked behind him. Mizuho could barely be seen behind the hills that covered the distance from the well, to wherever they were now.

"This way," Hina said.

She led them down a path that wound around the mountains ahead. The grassy hills were covered with wild flowers, such as daisies and bluebells. Big bushes of pink flowers and lush green leafs were in various places on the mountains. Lloyd looked at each of them, and sometimes saw that the large plants encased small spaces of land like natural tents.

"Where are we?" Raine asked examining a flower by the road-side.

"This is a secret place no one knows about," Hina said. "Since nobody comes here, the plants can grow without inhibitions."

"So, why are we here again?" Zelos whined.

"I told Raine about an alter out here. We suspect no one ever found it, so we keep it safe from prying eyes. I think you'll find it interesting. Especially since you travel with that girl…"

"Which girl?" Genis asked.

"The one you call Crystal, who is sleeping at the safe house."

"What do you know about her?" Lloyd asked with a tone of suspicion.

Hina glanced at him, and then moved her gaze back to the path before answering. "I caught a glimpse of her eyes. Golden color. There's something special about her, isn't there?"

"Why do you say that?"

"You'll see."

Lloyd didn't pursue the subject further and continued to follow Hina in silence.