Kratos left the island to fall into the sea and landed in a forest on the edge of the Fuji mountains, craving quiet even though inside he was anything but quiet. In fact…he was smiling. Smiling for the first time in fifteen years. She had come back to him. The family he had thought was lost forever had returned and was alive and well. And together, they would stop the fallen hero.
"Kratos," said a voice from behind him. Kratos whirled around to see someone coming through the trees.
"Yuan," Kratos said. "What brings you to this place?"
Yuan leaned up against a mangled tree and looked at Kratos, his arms folded across his chest. "I was sent to deal with Rodyle…but it seems it was taken care of. Somehow." Yuan looked at Kratos accusingly.
"Hmph," Kratos said. "Think what you like, I played no part."
Yuan walked up to Kratos until their faces were barely an inch apart. "Then would you care to explain why that girl suddenly has a mana signature you know very well?"
"You are assuming I know what you are talking about," Kratos remarked. "If it is as you claim, how should I know what the cause of it is?"
"Because," Yuan glared. "The only one who could bring her back—"
"Is her son," said Kratos. "Or do you pretend you know nothing of that?"
"I don't deny it," Yuan. "Nor is it the reason Anna Aurion has returned from the dead."
"You seem certain it's her," Kratos said mildly.
"Please," Yuan scoffed. "Do you think I'm naïve? I've seen more than you know."
"Clearly," Kratos said. "Is that why you attacked her in Sybak?"
"You didn’t tell her who it was,” Yuan observed. "Why?" Kratos said nothing. Yuan broke into a gloating grin. "Oh Kratos! Kratos, Kratos, Kratos. Your efforts to protect them, how touching. Especially since you are willingly pushing them right into Mithos's outstretched hands. Do you have no conscience?"
"What do you know of conscience?" Kratos asked. "You watched Anna come to grief did nothing to stop it. Why?" This time it was Yuan who was silent. “I still remember every word spoken the night Anna died, my friend." Yuan looked away, struck by a long since ignored topic. Both of the angels could clearly remember that night, mere minutes after Anna had fallen. It had been the first time Kratos had really understood what Yuan’s intentions were and it was the first time Yuan truly saw Kratos’s heart.
Kratos lay on his back where Kvar had left him, staring up at the stars that had broken through the cover of louds. The scent of blood and death was still potent in the air and he could feel his wife’s blood burning his hands. It was the only thing he could feel now.
He didn’t move at the sound of approaching footsteps, didn’t even bother to check if it was friend or foe. He had no friends and he halfway hoped it was an enemy coming to kill him. After all, what did he have to live for now?
Yuan stared down at Kratos. Of course it was Yuan. He would strike now when there was nothing left for Kratos. After a moment, Yuan followed Kratos’s gaze up to the heavens.
"It's the price we pay," Yuan said quietly and Kratos knew he was thinking of Martel. "We should have long since died, to fade into legends because legends force no one to alter their life. We chose immortality and were consumed by it. And for that, we must be alone." Yuan looked down at Kratos.
“I know what you want,” Kratos said dully. “I can feel your intentions.”
“As expected. You always do seem to know everything.”
“If you say so.” Kratos continued staring blankly upward. He knew he should do something, maybe move or even run from Yuan. After all, his friend had come to kill him. Shouldn’t he fight back?
Yuan sighed and drew his sword. “Everyone will lose their souls if we allow the Mithos's age of lifeless beings to progress.” Would that mean Kratos wouldn’t feel this pain? Maybe there was value in that. “I don't care about what will happen to all those foolish humans. It might be the only way to destroy their hatred for us. However...” Yuan trailed off for a moment before placing his sword at Kratos’s throat, the tip poised to cut him and end his agony. “It would mean that Martel's soul would be tied to the Great Seed forever. She will continue to live in suffering. I cannot allow that.”
Anna lived in suffering in the end. Kratos couldn’t help her. He could only murder her and lose his son in the bargain. Why should he then care what happens to Martel or the humans or any of it. Why should he care about anything?
“Help me, Kratos,” Yuan said, a pleading note in his voice. “Release Origin's seal and help me save Martel’s soul. If you do the Giant Tree will grow and revive the planet.” Kratos said nothing and Yuan frowned. “Am I wrong?” Still nothing and Yuan finally settled into a glare and pressed his sword into Kratos’s throat, drawing a drop of blood. “Or is it not a matter of me being right or wrong. Could it be... do you think that Mithos is right?”
A world of beings that could not feel pain or love or despair or joy. A world of people who wouldn’t have to lose anything because they didn’t have anything to lose. A world in which nothing mattered because there was nothing. Why did that sound so ideal right now? Anna would hate it. She would scream at him and curse him for thinking that way. She was always so full of hope and joy, always saw the beauty in everything, even in Kratos himself. She wouldn’t want the world Mithos desired. But then, she was dead wasn’t she? Maybe if they were lifeless being, she would still live.
Who knows?” Kratos said without inflection, further angering Yuan.
“I’m not saying that I alone am right,” Yuan bit out. “But, this world isn’t perfect and we do have a responsibility to try to do what’s right. We should at least try do what is best, shouldn’t we?” He was met with silence. “Think about it, Kratos!”
Kratos blinked up at the night sky, unmoving and unwavering and Yuan couldn’t take it anymore. Before Kratos could move, not that he seemed like he was going to, Yuan leaned down and buried his hand in Kratos’s shirt front, yanking the man to his feet and shaking him hard.
“Kratos! Answer me!”
“I don't care!”
At Kratos’s pained shout, Yuan let go, staring at him in horror. Too long had Kratos questioned Mithos’s twisted ideals, especially since he had met Anna. This wasn’t the Kratos he knew, the Kratos who always did the right thing. This was someone else, someone whose eye were cold and lifeless and dark, someone who valued nothing and no one. Someone who had nothing left to give because he had already lost everything.
“I don’t care,” Kratos repeated tonelessly. “I have nothing left. It has all been taken from me. There is nothing here in this world for me. I have no one left to save, no one left to protect.” He stared fixedly at the blood on his hands shining in the pale moonlight. “This world…has lost all hope and meaning for me now.”
“Kratos!” Yuan said, desperately trying to think of ways to cut through the man’s despair. This shell was not Kratos, this giving up was not Kratos. The seal mattered less to Yuan now than did the fact that Kratos was giving up. What hope could Yuan have of killing someone like that, someone who would neither fight back nor even care? Yuan wasn’t much, but he had his pride.
“Nothing matters to me anymore,” Kratos said, meeting his former friend’s eye. “Nothing. I don't care anymore, Yuan. I don't care.”
Yuan never thought he would see a day where Kratos Aurion did not care. He sheathed his weapon.
“There is no worth in killing you no,” he said, forcing himself to keep his voice light, as though it made no difference to him what Kratos did. Yet, as Yuan turned away in a swirl of his cloak, he couldn’t help but try one last attempt at getting Kratos to realize what he was becoming.
“Kratos,” he said softly as he walked away. “You are already dead”
Kratos looked up with a twisted kind of smile as he let the memory go. "I guess you were right."
"How?" Yuan asked.
"I was already dead," Kratos said. “And you were right when you said we have a responsibility to do what was right. I guess I had forgotten that.”
“Yes. Until now.” They both stared off at the spot where the island in the sky had stood, lost in their own thoughts. After a moment Yuan spoke.
“‘This world has lost all hope and meaning for me now,’” Yuan repeated from that night long ago. “That is what you said to me the night your family was lost. Now you are telling me that you have changed your mind?”
“Perhaps.” Kratos said.
Yuan studied his old friend. “You look different than you did that night. More alive, less the shell you became and have been since then. At first I thought it was because of Ada and now because Anna’s soul pushed through but I don’t think that’s it alone.”
Kratos looked up at Yuan confused.
“That boy,” yuan explained. “The boy changed you.” He smiled half-heartedly. “Lloyd is really one of a kind, isn’t he? And I don’t necessarily mean that as a compliment.”
Kratos actually smiled. “Yes he is.”
Yuan smirked. "Don't think it changes anything," Yuan said sternly. "I'm still going to release Origin somehow. I don't care if your son and wife are alive or not."
"I know," Kratos said. "But it will be even harder to do so now." Kratos shook his head. "You must get past Lloyd first."
"That does pose a challenge," Yuan smirked. “But I think I can handle it.” He turned and walked away. Before he disappeared, he turned back to Kratos. "He's a lot like you, you know."
"Is he?" Kratos asked.
"Stubborn," Yuan said. "And always in my way." He turned and walked off, hearing Kratos laugh for the first time in many long years.
It had been several busy weeks for Lloyd and the gang, flying around Tethe'alla and forming pacts with Summon Spirits. After Celsius, they had but one more to go in Tethe’alla. Then they would have to figure out some way to get back to Sylvarant. In the meantime, they were huddled before Celsius, warm for the first time in hours as the battle concluded, but that was fading quickly as the adrenaline died down.
"Excellent," sneered Celsius. "It would appear that my freezing chill is but a summer's breeze to you. Now, speak your vow. A vow worthy of my power!"
Sheena stood tall, having grown more confident since conquering Volt. "For the sake of creating a place in which the two worlds no longer must sacrifice one another, I ask that thou grant me thy power!"
Celsius nodded. "Understood. Use my power well."
"COLD!" Lloyd shouted after the summon spirit vanished. "Let's get out of this freezing place!" he shivered, blowing on his hands. Colette walked over and took his hands in hers, trying to warm them. Lloyd blushed, but smiled gratefully at her.
"You're such a wimp Lloyd!" Genis sighed as they trooped out, shivering and groaning about the cold.
Except for one member of their party that is.
"In the meadow we can build a snowman! And pretend that he is Parson Brown. He'll say 'are you married?' We'll say 'no man, but you can do the job when you're in town!'" Anna danced as she walked, scooping up snow in utter ecstasy and tossing it up into the sky gleefully. She had always loved the cold and snow. She remembered how the lake in Luin would freeze and her dad would take her ice-skating. On earth, she and her mom would build snowmen and make snow cream. "Later on! We'll conspire! As we dream by the fire! Singing a song, as we go along, walking in a winter wonderland!"
"Must be another one of those earth things," Lloyd said.
"It is," Anna replied. "It's called a Christmas Carol!"
"Christmas?" Colette asked. "What's that?"
Anna stopped dead. "You don't have Christmas?" Everyone shook their heads and Anna sighed. "I will acquaint you with Christmas this year! Just you wait!"
As they emerged into the snowy field between the seal and Flanoir, there was a loud rumbling noise. Overhead the sky was torn with swirling gray-purple crowds, oozing with the aura of evil. There was a great crash and a white hot bolt of lightning ripped from the sky and turned the land to flames somewhere ahead of them.
"What's going on?!" Zelos cried.
Presea's face went white. "That's…the direction of Ozette."
Genis looked up at the sky puzzled. "What could it be? There's a staggering amount of mana flowing from that lightning."
"I have a bad feeling about this," Raine said.
As one everyone turned to look at Anna, who was dead white. I had forgotten about Ozette. I had forgotten what comes next: Ozette’s destruction…and his arrival. Anna thought fast. She could steer them away from Ozette. She could lie, she could prevent them ever approaching the burning village and finding the boy collapsed by the flames.
But Presea’s face, the torment there as she feared the worst…Anna couldn’t do it. She owed Presea the truth. She couldn’t deny the girl grief for the only home she had, even if the price was steep.
And besides, if they didn’t meet the boy now, who knew what other measures he would take to trap them and trick them?
"We have to go to Ozette,” Anna said, meeting Presea’s eyes. “I’m sorry, I thought we had more time but…it has been destroyed by Cruxis."
"No!" Presea gasped. Quickly the group boarded the Rheairds and headed for the village. When they arrived, a scene of horror met their eyes. The blackened sky formed a cruel contrast to the flickering red-orange light cast by the flames enveloping the village. The charred smell of burning wood was everywhere and the intense heat washed over them in waves. Buildings collapsed as they watched and the horrible smell of burning flesh began to permeate the air.
"This is…horrible," Presea said, shock bringing back her monotony.
Lloyd looked around in disbelief. "Why?" he demanded of Anna. "Why did they attack Ozette?"
Anna opened her mouth to reply, unsure of what to say when one word from Colette stopped her dead.
The house nearest them collapsed, burning logs crashing to the ground. Their light illuminated a blonde boy of about Genis's age, unconscious on the ground by the flames. Lloyd dashed over and pulled him away from the scene of destruction. Anna studied his pale hair, soft features, and childish innocence with nothing but pure loathing. Ignoring the look on Anna’s face, Lloyd led the others away from the main village and they took refuge at Presea's house, which was unharmed.
Anna continued to glare as the boy woke up, sitting up carefully as though he was hurt and innocent of the destruction around them. It was all she could do to remain silent as the man responsible for her death looked at her son. How dare he?! He has no right to lay eyes on my boy, not after everything he's done. You evil, viscous, insane, black-hearted wretch! Curse you, Mithos Yggdrasill!
"What the hell happened here?" Lloyd asked.
"I don't really know," Mithos said. "Suddenly, lightning fell from the sky, and angels attacked the village."
"Angels?" Raine asked, a hint of suspicion in her voice.
Mithos pretended to look confused. "They had wings. Those with wings are angels… right?"
Lloyd clenched his fist. "Damn you, Cruxis!"
"So Ada was telling the truth after all," Presea muttered.
"Presea, are you okay?" Regal asked, much to Genis's annoyance.
"I'm fine," Presea replied, clenching her own fist like Lloyd. "But…this unsettling irritation…is this anger?"
Zelos looked at Mithos, his eyes shining with everything he knew. In that moment, Ada was so dizzy with gratitude for the chosen’s presence, she thought she would faint. Zelos know him too, even if he is spying for him. Perhaps with the right persuasion, Zelos can help me keep Lloyd safe from him.
"I'm impressed you survived.” Zelos said, barely covering the sarcasm in his tone. “Are you the only survivor? What's your name?"
"My name is Mithos," he said. "I lived by myself on the outskirts of the village, so…"
"Wait,” Genis said suddenly, studying the boy intently. “Are you a half-elf?"
Mithos took a step backward. "I…I…no," he stammered.
"Relax," Raine assured him. "You can tell, can't you? We have the same blood flowing through our veins as you do."
Mithos's eyes widened. "You're half-elves, too? But you're with humans!"
"It's okay, we're all friends!" Colette chirped.
Mithos looked at her in disbelief. "Humans and half-elves as friends? You're lying!"
Genis shook his head fiercely. "No, it's true. My sister and I are part of this group."
"Your reaction is understandable," said Regal kindly. "I've heard that the village of Ozette is particularly known for its contempt for half-elves. If you lived an isolated life in this village, you must have suffered."
"And I must have sprouted wings," Anna muttered sarcastically under her breath.
"What happened here?" Altessa and Tabatha appeared, taking in the destruction of the village.
"What are you doing here?" Lloyd asked.
Altessa shifted uncomfortably. "I saw the lightning of judgment fall towards this village. But what in the world—?"
"It was the work of Cruxis angels," said Presea, her voice edged in anger.
"Presea! You've regained your true self?!" Altessa looked as though he wanted to ask how, but thought the better of it. "How could they do this? Is this their punishment for failing the experiment?"
Sheena jumped at that. "What do you mean, punishment?"
Altessa backed away. "Nothing. It's nothing!" he turned and fled.
Lloyd ran after him, but Tabatha blocked the way. "THE MASTER BELIEVES THAT IT IS HIS FAULT THAT OZETTE WAS DESTROYED."
"Altessa is connected to Ozette?" Colette said.
"YES. EXCUSE ME. I AM WORRIED ABOUT THE MASTER." Tabatha went after Altessa, leaving a stunned Lloyd in the dust. Presea stepped forward and said, "I'm…going to follow him."
"Yeah," Lloyd agreed. They convinced Mithos to come with them and followed the dwarf to his home, where he told them of his connections to Cruxis. Anna's mind kept drifting, partially because she had played the game so many times she could recite this in her sleep, and mostly due to the fact that her head was starting to hurt rather badly, just like it had when she was trying to break free. She rubbed her forehead and excused herself, ducking outside to get some fresh air.
Anna walked over to a boulder and flopped down, leaning against it and staring up at the blue sky above, casting around for something to take her mind off the pain of her headache and he rage at Mithos. Somewhere up there was Derris Kharlan…and Kratos.
Suddenly, her head felt like it was on fire. She yelped and clutched her skull, her eyes going dark as the pain increased. There was a faint, rather familiar sounding chuckle.
Touching. Absolutely touching.
Anna grinded her teeth together to prevent crying out. She knew that voice and she be damned before she let him cow her. I didn't know you could read minds Mithos!
That wasn't smart. As soon as she named him for who he was, a spasm of pain shuddered through her brain and she had to choke back screams.
This isn't mind reading, fool Mithos snarled. It's telepathic communication. I wouldn't expect you to understand, inferior being. I can only read what is in your conscious thought.
Get out of my head! Anna snapped back, trying to keep her thoughts suppressed. Mithos hadn't figured out who she was and she meant to keep it that way.
Now now, Mithos scolded. I can't do that! Somehow you know who I am. What are you a Renegade? How could you know me?
None of your business! Get out!
Mithos laughed again. Not until you realize just what is going to become of your friends should you give me away.
In her mind, she could see Lloyd standing in front of her, his swords out, fear in his eyes masked by tears of sorrow and anger. At his feet lay a crumpled Colette, blood blossoming across her front, her eyes opening and unseeing. Zelos lay some feet away, his head severed from his neck. Sheena had been cut to ribbons with her guardian seals. Regal had been strangled with his handcuffs. Presea was split lengthwise in half, her axe lodged in her spine.
Don't think don't think don't think don't think don't think don't think! Anna shrieked it over and over in her head, trying to keep Mithos out, trying to stop the images he was projecting into her mind.
Ah, and what becomes of our hero Lloyd? Anna could hear the sneer in his voice as Lloyd was stabbed through the heart, right before her mind’s eye.
"NO!" Anna screamed, lurching to her feet. "You bastard! I'll kill you with my bare hands!" Against her will, images of Lloyd and Kratos burst to the forefront of her mind: Lloyd being born, his first steps, his first word…Kratos looking at the stars with Lloyd perched, on his shoulder, Kratos teaching Lloyd how to hold his tiny wooden swords, Kratos holding her close…
What?! snapped Mithos. How can this be? You are dead! He paused for a moment, scanning what little of her mind he could access. Oh…Oh I see…you are her after all…well then it'll be all the more pleasurable to destroy Lloyd right before your eyes, should you give me away.
Anna got to her feet, clenching her fists. Anger such as she had never known was coursing through her, doubled—no, tripled—by a fierce desire to protect her son. "Mithos…BEGONE!" At once, the pain, the voice, the images vanished. Her mind was her own again.
"Ada?" Anna turned and saw Lloyd coming out of the house. "We decided to stay here for the night. Why don't you—what the?!" Anna had sprinted over to Lloyd, grabbed him, and hugged him very tightly.
"Umm…" Lloyd blushed bright red. "Ada? If Cole—er—anyone sees this…"
Anna released her son and tried very hard not to cry. "I'm so sorry, Lloyd," she whispered before fleeing inside. She wouldn’t let Mithos win, she wouldn’t let him hurt her son. What was she going to do?
"…up! …Wake up! Lloyd! Wake up! The Professor's gone!" Colette shook the unconscious boy but to no avail.
"Genis?" Anna called.
"Aqua edge!" Genis said heavily. A shower of water rained down on Lloyd, drenching him into wakefulness.
"Gah!" Lloyd coughed and sputtered. "Wh…what?!"
"The professor's gone," Colette said, leading the way outside to the others.
Lloyd looked confused. "What are you talking about?"
"It seems Raine left a note saying she had something she wanted to investigate and then left," Genis said, shoving a piece of paper into Lloyd's hand.
"SHORTLY BEFORE DAWN, I SAW A RHEAIRD HEADED SOUTH. PERHAPS THAT WAS RAINE," said Tabatha
Regal looked up at the sky. "South…so in the direction of Altamira."
Zelos raised an eyebrow at Regal. "Now that you mention it, Her Highness was acting just a bit strange yesterday. She was going on and on about the Otherworldly Gate."
"What should we do, Lloyd?" Presea asked.
"I'm worried about her being by herself," Genis muttered distractedly, already eyeing the wing pack nearby.
"Let's go find her,” Lloyd said, wiping water from his eyes and jumping out of bed. “It's not good for us to be separated right now."
Mithos hesitated by the door. "Ah…um…will you take me with you?" Mithos asked. Anna glared, but only because she was sure he couldn’t see her. "I'm worried about her. There are monsters all over Tethe'alla right now. This is the first time I've met another half-elf besides me, so…I want her to be okay."
"Sure," Lloyd said, "Let's just go."
"If you harm him, I will kill you," Anna muttered, knowing full well that Mithos could hear her.
Instead of going to the Otherworldly gate right away, Anna pretended she couldn’t find it so that they would have to stop off in Altamira first. She wanted to distract Mithos as much as possible from Raine and Genis while she frantically tried to think of a solution.
Damn Damn Damn! Anna thought furiously as they wound through the maze that was Altamira. What do I do!? Yggdrasill knows all about Kratos's relationship to Lloyd AND that I'm alive. If I know Mithos, and I do know the demented son of a bitch, Kratos will suffer for this as will Lloyd. Forget the timeline! I’ve got to find a way to stop him!
She looked up suddenly when the group drew to a halt. They were at Alicia’s grave already? Had she missed George completely? Some look out she was! Presea stood before her sister’s tomb in complete shock. If she had been a normal girl, one not frozen in the currents of time, she would have sobbed, broken-hearted, for the last of her family was dead.
The exsphere in the gravestone shone brightly for a moment. Suddenly, a hazy figure rose from the cursed orb like a ghost. It was a girl who looked almost exactly like Presea, but older and with shorter hair. "Presea…” she said in a ghostly echoing voice. “Sis! It's you, isn't it?" Alicia smiled.
Presea stepped forward, hardly daring to believe it. "Alicia?!"
"I'm so happy I can see you again before I disappear," Alicia said, her initially cheerful voice becoming mournful as her fate became all too clear to her.
"What's going on?" Presea asked. "Are you still alive?"
Alicia looked as though she wanted to cry. "I…I exist only in the Exsphere. Soon, even my consciousness will be gone. The Exsphere killed my body and absorbed my consciousness."
Presea was shaking as an unfamiliar tide of emotions welled up inside of her. So many things she had forgotten how to feel were pouring out of her as she looked at her sister's consciousness. "I can't believe you've become a victim of the Exsphere as well…"
"Presea," Alicia begged. "There’s little time. Please grant me my request. Before I disappear…please find my master. Please find Master Bryant! By killing me, he…"
Alicia's voice trailed off as she vanished and Presea's eyes widened in horror.
"Alicia!" Presea cried. "He killed you?! Please, tell me what happened!"
Silence fell. Presea couldn't begin to quell the storm of emotions inside of her. She turned to the others. "Lloyd, please, help me find Alicia's killer."
Lloyd walked up to Presea and put his arm around her. "Of course. We'll beat this Bryant guy to a pulp and drag him back here!"
"Yeah! I won't let him get away with killing your sister!" Genis said, punching a fist in the air.
Presea looked away, unsure of everything at the moment. "Thank you."
Lloyd looked up at Anna, who was wiping away tears. Their situation so closely mirrored her and Kratos's own experience that she felt as though her heart was breaking. It brought out so many emotions.
"Ada," Lloyd said. "You know who the killer is." Lloyd looked back at the gravestone. "Where is he?"
Anna opened her mouth and closed it. She couldn't bring herself to rat Regal out. Lloyd narrowed his eyes. "Do you know who can lead us to him at least?"
Anna turned away. "Regal. We must tell Regal. He'll know what to do."
Lloyd nodded and led them outside. Mithos stood still looking at the grave. Anna looked ahead and saw the others in a small conference in the elevator as it disappeared. "Exspheres are terrible things, aren't they, Genis?" Mithos said innocently, not knowing that it was Anna there and not Genis.
Anna walked up to Mithos and tapped his shoulder, swinging one fist back. As the boy turned, she punched him with all of her strength.
But Mithos stepped aside with blinding speed and seized Anna wrist. He looked her in the eye and crushed the bones in one squeeze. Anna screamed.
"You test my patience, inferior being," Mithos said, walking away from Anna as she fell to her knees, cradling her wrist and looking the Seraph in the eye. "Do not think of doing so again," Mithos sneered. "I suggest you stay here for a while. I'll tell them you offered to stand watch over the failed vessel." He laughed as the elevator shut and descended.
Anna growled in pain. Her wrist hung limply, bleeding profusely as shards of bone emerged from the skin. Tears of both physical pain and emotional pain raced down her face. The past few days, weeks, the time she had spent in Symphonia recently, her short life before and after the ranch, the life she lead on Earth, all of it, came rushing out in a torrent of tears.
"Damn," she moaned. "Why…why must fate be so cruel." She tried to move her wrist, but nothing happened except a spasm of pain that made her cry out.
There was a rush of wind overhead. She looked up in time to see Kratos descend, landing in front of her. She didn’t even question why he was there, she knew he was likely following them as he did his own tasks. He crouched next to her and gently lifted her wrist. "Mithos," he muttered before casting healing wind on her wrist.
"Thanks," Anna said, wiping the tears away. Kratos reached in his pocket and withdrew a handkerchief, which he used to wipe away Anna's tears. She looked up at him and saw that his face was dead white, his eyes ablaze with fury.
"Kratos," she whispered, flexing her wrist. "He knows. He knows about me."
"I know," Kratos replied tightly. "He wouldn't have done this otherwise. I assume he knows threatened Lloyd." Anna nodded. "I see…"
"Kratos," Anna wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his chest as he hugged her close. "What is he going to do? I'm so lost here. This isn't part of the story!"
"I don't know, Anna," Kratos said. "I don't know. I was afraid of this. It's why I have tracked his progress with Lloyd and you." He looked at her and brushed the hair away from her face. "I'm sorry that I couldn't stop him from breaking your wrist."
Anna laughed softly. "As if it's your fault, love."
Kratos smiled. “Anna what happened to Ada?” he asked, unsure if he would get another chance to ask.
“She’s still here,” Anna replied, tapping her head. “And here.” She tapped her heart. “Neither of us were comfortable with the Anna or Ada scenario so we mashed it all together. I am Anna Adalais Aurion.”
Kratos chuckled. “Leave it to you to bend already broken rules.” He reached out and cupped her face with his hand. “Anna…I am so glad you are back in this world, I—.” he broke off, turning to listen behind him. "They're coming." He turned away and opened his wings. "I'll be watching. If he dares to lay a hand on you again…I'll tear out his throat with my bare hands. Watch over Lloyd."
"Kratos," Anna said as he drifted upward. "If he touches one hair on Lloyd's head he will feel my blade pierce his blackened heart. I promise you that."
Kratos actually ground his teeth in anger. "I dare not think of him harming Lloyd. I couldn't stop myself if I did."
Anna smiled and blew him a kiss. "Go, my love."
"Anna,” he said seriously. “No matter what has happened I just want you to know…I love you." Anna smiled and he disappeared, just as the lift opened to reveal George.
"Oh you're still here?" he asked, recognizing Anna from earlier. "Did you know Alicia as well?"
"Something like that," Anna mumbled as the elevator opened again. She gasped and jumped in front of George, unsheathing her blades as Vharley strode across the terrace.
"Hah!" Vharley laughed. "George! At last I have found you." He looked Anna up and down. "I don't know or care who you are little girl, but clear off it you want to keep that pretty little head."
Anna smiled. "I'm going nowhere, you treacherous snake." She shot a demon fang at Vharley, who unfortunately dodged. "How dare you destroy lives for your own gain?"
Vharley laughed and looked at George, ignoring Anna completely. "Tell me the password to the inner area of the Toize Valley Mine! Now!"
George backed away, but made direct eye contact with the disgusting man. "I don't know anything about it."
Vharley laughed and started forward, as did Anna. "Wrong answer!"
"How about I tell you instead," said Regal. Anna skidded to a stop as Vharley turned to face Regal, who looked at his enemy with hate to halfway rival Kratos's. Of course…no one hates like my angel. Wait…that isn't a good thing!
George gasped. "Master Regal! What are you doing here?"
Vharley sneered. "So the president himself decided to pay a visit. Perfect."
Lloyd and the others looked confused. "President?"
Regal walked up so that he was face to face with Vharley. "The route to the Toize Valley Mine opens by my voice print and cornea scan. Forcing it open would undoubtedly cause the Exsphere mine area to collapse."
"Is that so?" Vharley scoffed. "In that case, Regal, you're just going to have to come open it for us! I'm gonna be out of business if I don't get my hands on some more Exspheres."
"I think not," Regal said. "Besides, Rodyle will soon be dead. You will not have anyone to unload huge numbers of Exspheres on."
"Are you stupid?" Vharley snapped. "I don't need Rodyle. I've got the Pope himself on my side! And there's plenty of people around who'd love to get their hands on some Exspheres!
Presea hefted her ax and strode forward. "That's enough. I cannot forgive you for killing an innocent person."
Vharley laughed. "Soon, the King will die and the Pope will take over. And when that happens, I'm going to grind your pathetic Lezareno Company into the ground!"
There was a familiar looking puff of smoke and Vharley was gone.
"Wait…" Sheena muttered. "That looked like…but it can't be…"
Regal regarded his servant. "Are you all right, George?"
George bowed. "Yes, Master Regal. Thank you."
Regal nodded and turned to his companions. "My name is Regal Bryant. I was granted the title of Duke by His Highness, and am also the president of Lezareno Company. Although, it would seem that the Chosen already knows me, as does Ada, obviously."
Zelos looked uncomfortable. "I saw you at one of the Princess' birthday parties."
Sheena rolled her eyes. "Oh, yeah…I'd forgotten that this guy's actually a member of high society, too." Zelos winked at her and laughed.
“Wait," Colette gasped and shook her head. "Then that means Alicia’s killer…it can't be…Regal?"
Regal turned away as Alicia's exsphere began to shimmer again and her ghostly form appeared again. "Alicia!" he gasped, reaching up as though he could touch her.
Alicia smiled. "Master, I'm so happy to see you again before I disappear."
Regal looked down at his shackled hands. "I'm sorry. Even after death, you still suffer…"
"It's all right. It's not your fault."
Presea, who had edged away from Regal, looked at her sister. "Alicia? What do you mean?"
Regal looked up longingly at Alicia, as though sheer force of will could bring her back. "Alicia and I were in love."
George chimed in. "Then I, his servant, interfered and forced them apart."
"Alicia was handed over to Vharley," Regal explained. "He wanted to use her in an Exsphere experiment."
"Was he…trying to create Cruxis Crystals?" Colette asked.
Regal nodded. "It seems so. But the experiment failed." He closed his eyes, still telling the story as the painful memories raced across his mind.
Regal stood near the sea on the edge of Altamira, a desperate, broken man as he faced Vharley. He was terrified for his love, but his voice remained firm as he spoke to Vharley. "I've fulfilled my promise. The mine is yours. Now, please, return Alicia to me!" He didn't care. All he wanted was to hold Alicia in his arms again, to tell her how much he loved her.
Vharley snorted. "Sure thing, bub. You can have her. I don't have any use for a failed piece of work like that, anyway."
"What?" Regal snapped. A huge shadow emerged out of the darkness. It was a horrible, scaly green monster.
Vharley waved his hand unconcernedly. "This is Alicia! She wasn't compatible with the Exsphere experiment. It worked just fine on another from her family." Vharley laughed and strode away.
"Master Regal…" It was Alicia's voice, mutated by what she had become. "Please…kill me!" Before Regal could react, Alicia swung at him, throwing him back into the railing seaperating him from the beach below. Regal struggled to his feet as Alicia pursued, all the while begging for death.
"I…I can't. I could never kill you with my own hands!" he moaned.
Her voice was faint now, as though it were fading away. "It's because I love you that I want you to do it!"
Regal dodged another blow as her heart began to crumble. He looked up as the woman he loved faded before his eyes. This time, as she swung at him, he seized the scaly arm in his hands and twisted, feeling the bones break and hearing her scream.
Regal returned to the present as Alicia spoke. "Master Regal killed me in order to save me. It was the only way."
"Just like Marble…" Genis said mournfully.
Alicia smiled at Regal. "I'm so glad I got to see you again in the end. I have no regrets, now. So please, Regal, stop punishing yourself."
"Alicia…but with my own hands, I…"
"I will disappear very soon," Alicia said. "So please, don't leave me anything to worry about. You don't need those shackles. You've suffered enough."
Regal shook his head. "I took the life of the one I love. These are the symbol of my crime, as well as my punishment."
"You don't need that punishment anymore. Please, Regal…" Alicia begged.
Lloyd stepped forward, his eyes hard. "Genis and I once experienced the same thing you did. And I also imagined what it must have been like…for my dad. When my mom turned into a monster, and he struck her down. He must have suffered as well."
Anna put her hand on Lloyd's shoulder, trying her best not to cry again.
Regal looked at Lloyd in horror. "Your father did the same thing?"
Lloyd nodded. "That's what I heard. I don't know if the decisions you or my dad made were correct, but I don't think my mom would have wanted my dad to punish himself and live the way you have."
"Of course she wouldn't," Anna said. "If someone you love saves you, there is no reason to seek vengeance or punishment. That isn't what love is about, Regal."
Regal looked at Alicia. "Is that true?"
Alicia nodded. "Yes. It's just as they say. At least, I don't want you to live like that."
Regal thought for a moment. "All right. But I will never use these hands as tools of death. I swear that to you. To you and to Lloyd. And once we have defeated those who use Exspheres to toy with people's lives, I shall remove these bonds."
"Thank you, Regal." Alicia looked at her older sister. "Presea…I think I can finally rest in peace. Please destroy the crystal before I am totally absorbed into the Exsphere."
"Why?" Presea said, a hint of hope in her voice. "Can't you stay like you are now?"
"If I stay like this, I will live on forever. An isolated consciousness, unable to even speak, existing for eternity. It would be true hell."
Lloyd looked at Presea and Regal, leaving it up to them. "Presea, Regal, what do we do?"
"Please, set her free," Regal said sadly.
Presea nodded. "Yes. Goodbye, Alicia."
Alicia smiled and vanished. "Thank you. Presea, please forgive Master Regal. Please." As her voice faded, Lloyd drew his sword and destroyed the Exsphere embedded in Alicia's gravestone.
Anna watched Lloyd as he surveyed the group. She felt the tears fall but made no effort to stop them. The situation was so close to home for the wielders of the twin blades. Anna wished more than anything that she could tell Lloyd that both of his parents were here, fighting beside and for him, protecting them with everything they had. She knew he was thinking of it…of Anna and Kratos and how his life too, had been torn asunder by the exsphere. She could see it in his eyes, the shadows, as Regal and George finished their tale. She could see it in the way he lightly brushed the exsphere as they found the location of the Otherworldly Gate. And as they soared over the skies of Tethe'alla, she could feel a powerful mix of sadness and love for her son, wishing with all her heart and soul that she could ease his sufferings.