(A/N) *Cringes behind laptop screen* Hi guys. It's ah- been a while? (almost three years you say? No no, that can't be right) That's not gonna work? Just take the chapter then. I still love these characters. Thanks for everyone who has read and reviewed in my absence.

Where we last left off, Kratos and Yuan had an argument that resulted in Kratos angrily marching off into the woods. He soon found that the party was being pursued, and acted as decoy. Also, Zerai's brother was killed in the war by Kratos' own brother, Typhon.

As always, warnings for mild language.

Disclaimer: Don't own Symphonia.


Chapter 37


A faint glow trickled through the branches and smeared the forest floor with golden light. Kratos took a deep breath, his weary frame slumping as the last of night's shadows were banished with the sunrise.

His legs ached from the hours spent running and he feared his diversion had worked a little too well. He was fast, but he'd left an easily traceable path behind him. Morning dew and naturally damp soil meant concealing his presence would take more time than it was worth. If the Imperial Knights on his heels were worth their salt, they'd still be after him.

His breaths came out in short pants, and he allowed himself a brief respite. His endurance was likely better than theirs. They would be a half hour or so behind him. Kratos ran a hand through his hair and took stock of the situation.

.

He (hopefully) had twenty or so men on his tail, if he had properly caught their attention.

His escape had taken him closer to the lower towns a few days outside of the capital.

Yuan was probably pissed at him. Safe, but pissed.

He carried nothing but his blade.

The others would make it to the last Tethe'allan Summon Spirit within the week.

Yuan was probably really pissed at him.

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He had three options.

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Continue to evade, and try to lose his pursuers.

Surrender.

Fight.

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Kratos could only conclude that he'd dug himself into a very deep hole. How could he hope to rejoin the others with half a legion riding him? They had no idea what danger they were in. If he could, he would warn them against entering any towns. The Military Counsel was cracking down.

He'd hoped, that after so much time had passed, their crimes might have lost their notoriety. Though, it appeared the capital had knights to spare from the warfront. The thought made Kratos grimace.

His steps stalled as he reached a gap in the thickets—the dense brush had torn at his tunic and left thin scratches along his hands and forearms. The land was gently sloping down beneath him, forming a shallow basin ahead. The trees scattered apart, the underbrush thinning, and Kratos got a glimpse of a small town.

It had to be one of the lower towns, he realized with surprise. If he was right in his assumption, Meltokio was only just north of his position. Nyx would be there.

General Tristan would be there.

The thoughts made him both angry and sad. He was so close, but what could he do? If he had an ounce of intellect, he would steer clear. Still, the mere memory of the place left him unsettled and off-balanced. There was unfinished business there.

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He hadn't thought he was going this way, he hadn't meant to come this near to civilization.

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Had they driven him here? In his preoccupation with leading the hunters away from his companions, had he let the sound of his pursuers control his path?

.

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This was dangerous.

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He had hardly come to this realization when the brush ahead of him—not behind, but ahead, dammit—rustled with movement. He was exhausted and surrounded. Kratos' blood froze.

He drew his sword.


"—and your dearest friend fights just like him."

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"Like that demon, Prince Typhon." Zerai's lip curled in disgust and he dropped his eyes to the path again.

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"I have no idea what you're talking about." Yuan scoffed, trying to get a hold of his composure. He didn't know that the human had such a firm grasp on Kratos' origins. What would the fugitive do if he knew the Typhon was related to Kratos by blood? It was too dangerous.

"You are convincing no one." Zerai sighed tiredly. "Just tell me why you trust him—why you are this broken up by his absence—because I can't even look at the guy anymore." It seemed like a completely genuine request, and the human punctuated it with a harsh jab of his boot in the dirt path. His posture was exhausted, wilting and frustrated, and Yuan understood.

"He's a good man." Yuan exhaled. "You see him as an enemy, but we grew to be friends after he sought asylum in Sylvarant." The words were careful, but they were enough for him to gauge how much the Sylvaranti beside him knew.

"Don't dance around it, I know about Latheon Gorge. I was there." The human trained an eerie focus on Yuan, "Sabotage was my mandate. We came from behind the Tethe'allan lines."

Well that answered a few obscurities Yuan had long pondered. Kratos had said he had gotten mixed up with Sylvaranti saboteurs. The animosity between Kratos and Zerai was founded on a hostile beginning, it seemed.

"So you saw, and you still persist in hating him?" Yuan was incredulous.

The fight for the crossing at the Gorge had been one of the most brutal battles the halfling had ever taken part in. Only thanks to Kratos did any of his men survive. That selfless, snap decision had averted the worst kind of bloodshed and cruelly rewarded Kratos with a very long fall and a very long climb that still haunted Yuan's dreams from time to time.

"I didn't see anything." The human admitted, "We were caught early on into the assault thanks to outdated intelligence. I heard the explosions and could see the smoke."

"Well, if you had seen what he did, you would be thanking him." Yuan all but growled at him.

"He wouldn't tell me why he did it." Zerai muttered darkly, suspicion still evident.

"Kratos saw a situation that would have swiftly escalated into a massacre, and he decided to stop it." Yuan thought he had gotten through to the man. Pinched eyebrows crept together; Zerai's expression was a pensive one.

.

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"But why?"

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"Because of people like your brother!" Yuan's voice was getting dangerously loud at this point. Martel and Mithos shot wary glances back at him. He reeled in his temper and spoke the next words quietly.

"A life is a life. There is no other reason."

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Zerai didn't say anything more, but his eyes were a little wider.

.

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They walked on, and Yuan felt Kratos' absence more keenly than ever.

What was happening to him?

Something kept whispering in Yuan's ear, telling him to turn back and find out. Something was horribly wrong. Hadn't the man asked Yuan to keep moving? Hadn't he said something about time? Would he want them to turn back and look for him?


Nyx stood paralyzed, peering over the courtyard. A blot of auburn hair glanced in the light, in the heart of a circle of Tethe'allan Knights. The figure struggled and resisted the prodding of his captors, but he was roughly dragged forward despite it all.

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He could be no other.

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It may have said something about her that her first reaction was to let loose an embarrassingly long array of curses. He was here? Now? How had he managed to get himself caught already? Unarmed, and bleeding from a blow to the temple, he was clearly in no shape to put up much of a fight.

Her second reaction was a sickening sort of relief. While her not knowing was clearly better for Kratos, being able to see him again made her heart tighten achingly. They were different people now—she knew that from last time. But he was still her little brother, and—regardless of distance and time apart—they were inextricably tied together.

She had to talk to him.

.

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Then, the terror began to set in.

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After Kratos' last capture, the Counsel would waste no time finishing the job. Letting the man sit in a cell would only breed more opportunities for escape. They were smart enough to avoid taking that risk.

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They would kill him.

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And they would do it quickly.

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A cry of frustration hung in her throat. She was the Mana-forsaken Queen! Was she powerless to save her own flesh and blood? She had allowed the old crows of the military to reduce her to the point of worthlessness. No longer could she meekly sit and watch as they tore the remnants of the old regime to dust. Not when Kratos was what was left.

It was almost funny.

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One look at Kratos, and she was driven to reckless abandon.

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The palace halls were disturbingly quiet. The day was overcast, and what light tipped through the windows was gray and leached the colors from the tapestries and the stone. Many of the candles stood neglected and unlit in the halls furthest from the windows, leaving them uncommonly dark. Nyx' feet were aimlessly winding through the labyrinth of their own accord.

There was a pit in her stomach and despair thick in her throat, but she did not feel tears welling.

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She just walked on.

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She knew Kratos was hiding off somewhere, and she wasn't sure he wanted to be found. She looked for him anyway. Father had broken the news to them all together, and both Thetis and Aether had simply sat with empty expressions on their faces. Nyx had not had time to process it before Kratos was tearing out of the room clasping the too-large sword tightly to his chest with shaking hands.

He'd gone this way—she was positive.

.

Letting thoughts of comforting Kratos drive her forward, Nyx firmly avoided considering the cause of their suffering. Instead her eyes tracked the glassy marble floors on this side of the castle, relishing the even cadence of the clapping steps. There was no sign of the young red-head, even as she neared the stairwell and slowed her pace.

Would he have gone up or down?

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As she paused to deliberate, her decision proved unnecessary. Shallow, uneven breathing whispered from an alcove to her right. As she approached with newfound caution, Nyx realized Kratos had pushed the thick window pane out, letting a bracing winter breeze tear into the corridor.

She could see him now, sitting on the ledge with legs dangling out over the courtyard carelessly. He was slumped back, and when he turned to see her she could tell his russet gaze was glassy with unshed tears. Thick hair mussed beyond repair, and fine clothes rumpled—Kratos was a right mess. His fingers traced the hilt of the freshly delivered blade again and again.

The nine-year-old looked downright lost.

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"What do you want?" He muttered stubbornly, not quite grimly enough to cover how young and heartsick he sounded.

"I don't want anything." She said after a while, leaning against the ledge so that their backs touched in quiet support. Moments passed like that, silent and cold but never quite cold enough to numb the hurt.

.

.

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"How could he?" It was quiet and too bitter to come out of Kratos' mouth.

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"It wasn't his fault."

"Yes it was." Kratos' back stiffened and his damning words were said without malice but simple anger.

"If he was stronger, if he chose differently he might still be holding this stupid thing." The edge of the sword was clanged against the stone ledge with enough force to leave it ringing. As one of Typhon's final requests, he had expressly instructed the weapon to be delivered to Kratos. Nyx felt her heart in her throat as she considered what his final moments must have been like—mortally wounded on a dirty battlefield with corpses and bloodied men for company.

And with all of the chaos around him and death staring him in the face, Typhon was thinking of them back home. Of Kratos, and their practice sessions, of laughter and of better times. She choked on words.

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"Typhon did his duty, and he did it well."

She knew Kratos was searching for a reason, but there was none. It was sad, it was brutal, and it was true.

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"He left us. He said he'd never leave us."

"I know."

.

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And Kratos' back began to shake. Nyx felt tears on her cheeks.

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She had sat with him on that day in solidarity. Now that Thetis and Aether had perished as well, she would be damned if she let Kratos be yanked out of her grasp in the same way, in the same war, by her own people.


Kratos knew that for once, he was in way over his head.

The thought left panic curling in the pit of his stomach.

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He'd been alone many times. He relished the solitude and the independence. Never before had it come back to bite him like this.

Never before had his isolation gotten him killed.

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He was hopelessly outnumbered, and outmatched. A (quite frankly, ridiculous) number of guards marched him down to the private dungeons in the Tethe'allan capitol's castle. They weren't going to risk placing him in the Meltokian prison he had already escaped from. He knew for a fact that these cells were far more secure. There was one way in and one way out.

And he was alone.

.

.

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He was going to die.

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A cold feeling of certainty crept into his bones.

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And Yuan wouldn't even know.

Would the others be able to manage the final Summon Spirits without him? Could they do the impossible and stop the War that was killing this Mana-leaking world? Could Yuan keep them on track?

They were running out of time.

.

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He wouldn't be there. They'd have to do it without him. Did they realize how urgent the state of affairs really was? Could they feel the world giving up like he could?

They were running out of time.

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He wished he had told Yuan that when neither of them were taken by anger.

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The men that had watched over him as a child walked as faceless, helmeted drones. He swore the man ahead of him was Huberton, he had the tell-tale, left-side limp. The warm nostalgia that struck him upon entering the royal courtyard (where Typhon had taught him the sword and where he'd laugh and point out shapes in the stars at night) was not enough to banish the awful dread. Instead, the feeling left him dizzy, his captors shoving him forward to keep pace, grabbing him by the arm when he didn't respond quickly enough.

His father would glance down at them from the balcony near the throne room. Kratos' eyes dashed up to look before he could even convince his heart that the man wouldn't be there.

Instead, he saw Nyx.

Pale as a ghost, her shocked countenance filled the window.

.

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She looked so like their mother.


He was taken to a dungeon beneath the castle. It was dim, and dank, and rarely used. She was grateful that he was sequestered in her personal safe house, and not in the city prison. She might be able to talk to him here. Now prepared to forgo caution, she walked about the castle with purpose.

Her saving grace came unexpectedly. After a small amount of prying, she found that General Tristan was out of town on military business. Kratos' fate was up in the air for a while yet. It was a small mercy.

She had never tested her boundaries this flagrantly before, but the guards were generous in giving her leeway to move freely throughout the palace walls. She made her way to the dungeon with her heart in her throat, relaxing by degrees as she neared the basement without being halted by foot-soldiers. She made it all the way to the gated entrance before a suited Knight barred her path.

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"I'm sorry, ma'am, but you cannot enter." It was the voice of Reginald. He had been a good friend to the Aurions throughout the years, but it seemed he was still bound to his duty.

"I am your Queen, and he is my brother. You will let me pass." Her voice did not shake, and she saw another guard join his comrade upon hearing the commotion.

"You'll try to help him escape. We can't take the risk." Reginald's eyes were understanding through the plating of his helmet. She might be able to convince him.

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"I have to talk to him. You know what they'll do to him. I may not get another chance." The edge had crept out of her voice, and she was left using the sad truth to whatever advantage she could pull from it.

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"My lady, I'm sorry, but I ca—"

"What's the harm in it?" The younger guard nudged his companion. "So long as she doesn't have any weapons, and someone accompanies her."

"The General wouldn't be pleased with this arrangement."

"The General is too distracted by the medals on his tunic to pay attention to these sorts of things." The young man muttered seditiously, "Just because he's lost his sense of decency, doesn't mean we have to."

Nyx looked upon the second guard gratefully. She didn't know him. Perhaps he was new.

"You should watch your tongue around here, Ver." Reginald warned him, not without some warmth, "If someone else heard you disrespecting the man in charge, you might disappear." His eyes flashed. While he spoke as if he disagreed, he was also stepping out of Nyx's way, tilting his head as if to instruct the younger to follow her.

"Thank you." She said, surprised, hesitantly stepping into the lowest wing of the castle.

It didn't take long to find Kratos after that.

Every other cell was empty.

The dark was not as bad as it could be. Light still drifted down from the stairwell behind her. Here, the castle was narrow and claustrophobic, with passages so stifling that she could run her hands across both walls while she walked. The ceiling was lower, and the masonry less refined. The arches were still elegant, but they were hewn from thick slabs, left coarse and unyielding.

Her footsteps echoed. The guard that followed her, Reginald had called him Ver, left a few paces between them and his tread was somehow gentler than hers. While she marched, he meandered.

Kratos was on her right. She almost missed him. He was leaning against a wall, hands shackled in front of him with a long chain latching into a hook in the center of the room.

It was a small room.

It was possible he had a concussion, because he still seemed dazed, and the blood streaking down the side of his face was telling.

"Kratos." It felt good to say his name. He stirred and twisted his body to face her, as her frame draped shadows through the cast iron door.

"Nyx?" His surprise and confusion were strangely endearing. He hadn't expected to speak with her.

"I didn't think I'd see you back here so soon." she choked out, crouching in the doorway to match his eye-level.

"Not asking me to leave already, are you?" he jested tiredly, but she detected an undercurrent of sorrow. She smiled.

"What happened?"

.

"I made a careless mistake." Kratos shook his head, "It doesn't matter anymore."

"And your friends?"

"I don't know." He sighed. He really didn't look well.

"Are you okay?" She could see his eyes dart out to examine the guard behind her.

"Fine." Curt. She didn't believe him for a moment.

.

"You look well." He took a long glance at her with a rueful smile. "I am sorry for this."

"Don't be." She chided, "We hardly got to speak last time. You owe me this much." His eyes drilled into hers with intensity.

"I owe you much more."

A shadow fell across his face, and she sat herself on the dusty stone to get more comfortable. Ver, the tactful guard drifted a few more paces down the hall—not quite out of earshot, but pretty damn close to it. She could see how this had Kratos relaxing in increments.

"Any news from Kharlan?" his quiet question.

"My search party only confirmed your report. There are no signs of survivors and too few bodies to account for the entire missing village. On top of this, many of those that investigated for me quickly fell ill. The holy land is more than poisoned, it's poisoning all who touch it." Her head bowed in distaste. The military leaders had waived off her concerns and proof of disaster, focused instead on a new stratagem they believed would give them an edge against Sylvarant. Tethe'alla already controlled Kharlan, and it appeared the military was much more interested in the land controlled by Sylvarant.

"I was afraid it would escalate quickly." Kratos grimaced, "I believe that it will only be a matter of months before Kharlan is exhausted, and the mainland experiences the same. Perhaps less than half a year."

Cold crept up the Queen's spine, the swift spread of the disease was far worse than she anticipated. There must be some way to combat the mana deprivation. "Have you found a solution?" Her hopes had not crawled too high, and Kratos' short nod of affirmation lifted them immediately.

"It may be a long shot, but the boy you met last time, Mithos, is capable of summoning spirits with incredible power. We were seeking them out to better control the worldly mana, and perhaps to create a third-party strong enough to get both sides to step down."

"The blonde child?" How could a boy so young control power enough to save the world from itself? Kratos looked so convinced, but he did have a significant head wound.

"He is less of a child now, than he was." Kratos sighed, "But he has a good heart and good people with him. It is more than possible that they will pull off a miracle."

"You seem fond of him."

A half smile curved Kratos' mouth.

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"Don't tell anyone."

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She couldn't help but laugh. Resolve twisted in her gut.

"I'm going to get you back to them."

The world needed this to happen, but more than that, she couldn't let him die here.

"This is not on you, Nyx." He spoke sternly, "You cannot risk yourself for my sake. I will not have it."

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"You owe me, Kratos. You left me with nothing but a kingdom and corpses." Her voice grew steely as she purposefully inflicted the blow. She had to, if she was going to extract this very important promise. He dropped his gaze and she could see the years of remorse eating away inside.

"Promise me that you will do anything it takes to escape if the opportunity presents itself. This is one you cannot break." Her fingers found his through the bars of the cell, squeezing tightly. The fire in his eyes spoke of a brewing fight. Before the disagreement could leave him, she barked, "This is the favor you will repay me for years of solitude and the burden of your leadership." It broke his rebellion immediately.

"Don't make me accept this."

She had already won.

"I will not watch you die." Another press of her hand against his, "Promise me."

She knew what she was asking, and she knew that he would not like it.

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"I will do what it takes." His teeth ground together.

"Whatever it takes." she reminded.

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"Whatever it takes."

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(A/N): This dramatic return to Meltokio has been planned for quite some time. Their time in Tethe'alla will be soon coming to a close, and it's impossible to do that without closing down loose threads in the capital.