lithic_rune: (Whee!)
[personal profile] lithic_rune
Title: Crosswind (temporary title)
Fandom: Tales of Symphonia
Rating: PG13
Summary: Taking on Kvar should not have been like this. It shouldn't have gone so wrong. Now Kratos is in a race against time with Lloyd's very life on the line.

-Chapter One-


Wind rustled through the leaves, blowing cool across Lloyd's skin. He barely noticed it, his mind focused on the forbidding fortress before them. Now that he knew what happened inside those cold stone walls, even the sight made him feel slightly sick. His hands clenched into fists. All those lives sacrificed...

"Lloyd..."

He looked up, turning his head to meet his professor's eyes.

"I'm okay, Professor," he said quietly. He could tell she was worried. She had been ever since they'd escaped from the ranch. Ever since Kvar had told him about his mother... and his father...

He's lying, Lloyd repeated to himself firmly, shooting a glare back at the ranch. He refused to believe anything that bastard said. He's just trying to make me mad!

Too bad it was working so well.

"Stop wasting time." Without so much as even glancing at either of them, Kratos stalked past. One hand rested on the hilt of his sword as though he expected to be attacked at any moment - and considering how close to the ranch they were, he could very well be right. "Every moment is critical for the lives we intend to save. Or have you already forgotten?"

Lloyd's scowl snapped to the mercenary's back. The man had been even more stiff and irritable than usual, and it was getting on the teen's already tense nerves. "We haven't forgotten anything! We're still looking for the entrance!"

"Keep it down," Raine scolded. "We're trying not to attract any attention, remember? In fact-" She fixed them both with a level look, then shifted it to Colette, Sheena, and Genis in turn. It was a look that brooked no argument. "-it would be best if none of us said anything unnecessary until we find the secret entrance Pietro described."

Lloyd grumbled under his breath, but nodded, as did everyone else. This really was too important to risk making any mistakes and getting caught. The lives of everyone in Luin were at stake, as well as any other human captives in the ranch. Unconsciously rubbing the Exsphere embedded through the glove of his left hand, Lloyd's eyes narrowed in fierce determination.

Don't worry, everyone. We'll be there soon. I won't let there be any more victims like my mom.

-o-


"What? We're going to split up?" Genis's childish cry of dismay split the air almost as loudly as the alarm that had gone off just moments ago.

Thoroughly unsurprised with this turn of events, Kratos held up his hand, cutting off the boy's protests. "There seems to be no other way," he said. And even if there was, he did not wish to take it. Splitting up would accomplish their goals that much faster. The sooner they were away from this place, away from the memories that made it difficult to control his temper and maintain the facade he held in place, the sooner they were back on the path to regenerate the world, the better off they would all be.

But not before he had dealt with some long-unfinished business.

"I would like to be in the group that goes after Kvar," he stated in a voice like chipped ice. The others exchanged looks, but no one questioned him. That was just as well. He wasn't in the mood to answer.

"Me, too!" Genis said.

"And me," Sheena quickly added. The strange assassin who had joined their party had her hand clenched around one of her cards. Whatever other intentions she might have had, it was plain that she wanted a shot at Kvar.

This was going to be a problem. They could not all go. Kratos's eyes narrowed, but it was Raine who spoke up first. "Colette, please choose for us," she calmly addressed the Chosen.

Everyone's eyes landed on the girl.

"Ah, um, well, then..." she stammered under the sudden attention. Her blue eyes darted to one of her friends. Lloyd. Relief automatically flooded her expression. "I'll leave it to Lloyd," she said.

"What?" Lloyd jerked back, startled. "Me?"

"I know you'll do a good job of splitting us up," Colette assured him.

Genis seemed to think for a moment, then gave a sage, wry nod. "He lives only by intuition and instinct."

Lloyd frowned at his friend. "What's that supposed to mean?" Then, as though remembering that they didn't have any time to waste, he shook his head and straightened up. "Anyway, I'm the one that's gonna pick?" He glanced around for final confirmation. At everyone's expectant silence, he nodded. "I'm going to Kvar. I want to avenge my mom. I don't think this is going to be easy, though, so I want Kratos and Sheena with me. We'll hit him hard and fast and take him down. Professor, you know more than any of us how to use these machines, so you need to be the one who deactivates that switch. Colette, I'm counting on you to get all the prisoners out, and Genis, you need to protect them with your magic."

Disappointment flickered briefly across Colette's and Genis's faces, but as Lloyd continued to speak, they nodded. Even if they wouldn't be there when their friend confronted Kvar, they knew their roles were important. Raine simply accepted Lloyd's decision with an impassive tilt of her head. His logic was sound, and, Kratos noted with approval, not merely based on his friendship. It was a definite step of improvement since they had first met.

Or rather, met again. Images flashed before his minds's eye of a child, a woman, a cliff, and Kvar laughing triumphantly. His hand tightened around the hilt of his sword.

No. He forced his anger to still. Now is not the time. Shaking his head, he banished the memories. They would surface again and he knew it, but right now he needed to focus on the situation at hand.

"Let's meet in Kvar's control room," Lloyd finished after the others had reacted to their assignments. "Maybe if we're lucky, you guys can get there before we have to take on Kvar."

"I wouldn't count on it," Kratos interjected firmly. "They will have to cross the compound after triggering the switch to allow us entrance, not to mention releasing the prisoners, and we cannot afford to wait for them, lest we lose our opportunity to attack."

"We'll hurry," Raine promised. "But Kratos is correct. Any chance you have, you must take without hesitation."

"Don't worry, Lloyd," Colette assured him. "You can do it! We all have faith in you!"

"Yeah!" Genis cheered with an upraised fist.

Kratos snorted softly, making sure not to be heard, but didn't say anything out loud. He needed no boost in confidence to be certain that Kvar would not walk away from this fight.

"Thanks, you guys." Lloyd gave his friends a grateful smile. "And good luck. I have a feeling we're all gonna need it before we're through."

"Speaking of luck," Sheena said, eyeing the doors to the room they were in. "I have a feeling that ours is going to run out if we don't get a move on soon. Let's get going."

I couldn't agree more. They'd already spent far too much time discussing their path after tripping that alarm.

With nods to each other, the six of them split up. It was time to get to work.

-o-


The first few corridors were eerily quiet, making their footsteps echo loud in his ears despite the muffling effect of the thin gray carpet that ran down the middle of each hall. The tension only worsened when Lloyd realized that one side of the hall wasn't actually a wall, but row upon row of hexagonal slots to hold the canisters for Exsphere victims. So many of them... His stomach churned at the thought.

A whir of mechanical movement signaled the return of the crane that had pulled one of the canisters from the wall. It latched onto another, uncaring for what it did. Lloyd's heart sped up as he watched. What if there was someone already inside?

"Lloyd."

Lloyd jerked his attention away from the crane and back to the man at his side. Kratos had an unreadable expression on his face, though the hand he'd placed on Lloyd's shoulder conveyed... something. He released it too soon to tell. Sheena, on the other hand, looked at him with no small amount of compassion and understanding.

"There should be a control box in here somewhere to turn off the crane," she said. "We'll need to do that anyway before we turn off the conveyor belt."

He didn't know how she knew that, but he was glad that she did. He certainly didn't know anything about magitechnology like this. "A control box. Got it. So, what does a control box look like? There were a couple boxes down at the end of that hall we just passed. Should we go back?"

Sheena stared at him, then abruptly put a palm to her head. Kratos made a sound that might have been a cough under his breath. Lloyd blinked. "What?"

"Those were supply chests, Lloyd," Sheena explained, looking like she really wanted to sigh. "A control box is usually a box on a wall, or part of a computer station. Just look for anything with lots of buttons."

"Lots of buttons... Hmmm." The young swordsman's eyes were already roaming the walls. That sounded simple enough to spot.

Even so, it took them a few minutes to find the computer in question. Without thinking, Lloyd reached a hand out, then stopped, suddenly frowning. Wait, which button was he supposed to press to turn the thing off?

"Here, let me try." The assassin-turned-ally stepped forward. "I... know a few things about how machines work."

Lloyd was more than happy to step aside. "By all means."

Beep. Beep beep. A few swift keystrokes was all it took for the text on the screen to change.

Shutdown in process.

...shutdown complete.


Above them, the hum of the crane died down. Lloyd looked up to make sure it really had stopped, but there wasn't any movement anywhere he could see. He let out a breath he hadn't been aware that he'd been holding. "That's done it," he said with relief. "Now there won't be any more captives turned into monsters. Thanks, Sheena. You're the best!"

"Yes," Kratos murmured, an odd look in his eye as he eyed their female companion. "We are lucky you knew how to operate that machine. I doubt there are many outside a Desian compound with access to knowledge like that."

The slightest bit of red crept up the girl's cheeks. "D-don't mention it," she stammered, suddenly looking nervous for no reason Lloyd could see. "I've picked up a few things here and there. Besides, it wasn't that hard. You guys probably could have figured it out for yourselves."

"But we wouldn't have been anywhere near as fast," Lloyd said, feeling much more enthusiastic now that they'd managed to accomplish part of their goal, saving lives in the process. "Come on, let's go stop the conveyor belt!"

Easier said than done.

They backtracked to the room where they'd split off from the others. Raine, Colette, and Genis were long gone, of course, but the door next to the window that looked in on the room with the conveyor waited for them with no sign that it had been locked. Lloyd took a moment to glance through it.

"Damn, there's guards everywhere."

Kratos joined him, impassively scanning the opposition. There were at least three groups that they could see, possibly more. "They will no doubt have been alerted to our presence in the ranch. It would be... unwise... to take them all on. However..." His eyes honed in on something, and he pointed. "Notice how much higher the catwalks are than the conveyor belt they surround."

Lloyd followed the direction of his fingers, his eyes lighting up as he caught on. "If we got on the conveyor belt itself, we might be able to get by without them noticing us. But how do we stop the belt?"

"By taking out its power." Sheena grimly wedged between them. "See those six pillars in the middle? Those are the energy cores. If you can destroy those somehow, with an explosion or a strong enough blast of mana, the whole thing will stop. Then we can go up that ramp on the far side."

She was right. There was another part of the conveyor belt off on the other side, one sloped too steeply for anything to go up while it was on. That must have been the part Raine had mentioned that was blocking their access to the control room. But if all it took was an explosion to stop it... "If Kratos casts Lightning-"

The mercenary cut him off. "That would draw far too much attention. Lloyd, the Sorcerer's Ring uses mana as well. As it is right now, its effects are too weak to accomplish what we want, but if you can find an outlet to charge it, it should be able to reach the energy cores and destabilize them enough that they shut down without an explosion. Even if the Desians take note, they will most likely assume that it's a malfunction."

"Uh..." Actually on second thought, maybe now wasn't the best time to ask what a malfunction was. Still, even if he didn't entirely understand, the important thing was they had a plan. "Got it!" He pulled away from the window, already taking off his glove and fishing the ring out of his pocket. The Sorcerer's Ring always worked better when he wore it, but he couldn't when he had the glove on. Normally, he would have used his right hand, too, but today...

Today it felt more appropriate to have it on his left, closer to his mother's Exsphere. He had a feeling she would have wanted to be a part of this. The Exsphere glinted softly in the artificial light as he slipped the Sorcerer's Ring on. He tucked the glove in his belt. "Okay, I'm ready."

The others nodded and stepped away from the window, though Kratos took one last look in the room. Seeming to see whatever it was he was looking for, he held up his hand to keep them from heading off. "I believe there is an outlet just through the door."

"That's convenient," Sheena remarked. "But then, I guess it makes sense. If they needed to do any maintenance on the conveyor, they'd want to have an outlet nearby." Her comment earned another scrutinizing look from the elder swordsman in their group, prompting her to hastily add, "Or, uh, that's what I've heard."

The words didn't seem to do anything to make Kratos look less suspicious.

"Who cares what it's there for?" Lloyd said impatiently. "It's there, so let's use it!" Without waiting to see if the others objected, he strode over to the door. As soon as he neared it, it slid open with a hiss that almost, almost covered the others' exasperated sighs.

"Lloyd, be on your guard," was the last admonishment he heard before he stepped inside and nothing more could be said for fear of calling attention to themselves.

The room was huge and completely dominated by the machine sunk into the middle. The steel-banded conveyor belt, though empty, continued to run on each side of the the of the cores, ready to deliver cargo the minute it arrived. Lloyd could hear voices, the low murmur of guards, but nothing distinct over the noise of the machine. The nearest guards had stopped towards the end of their side of the catwalk and were busy discussing something, their backs turned to Lloyd and his companions.

Not wasting any time, the teen crossed the upper landing they were on, the white streamers on his jacket fluttering lightly behind him. There was only one thing that could be the outlet Kratos had described, a pedestal below a network of tubes and wires built into the wall. Energy crackled above the pedestal, ready to use. Without hesitation, he plunged the Sorcerer's Ring in. The hairs on the back of his hand lifted as mana raced around it, and his skin tingled with the flow of energy, especially around his Exsphere. It almost hurt, in fact, but he stuck it out. It only took another moment before the ring seemed to flash.

There. Nodding to the others, he pulled his hand back out. That should be charged enough.

Now came the tricky part. The guards had still not noticed them, partly because the lip of the entrance onto the conveyor belt block the three of them from view, but in order to get down the stairs and onto the conveyor itself, there would be several moments where they were completely exposed. They'd have to be quiet, and they'd have to time this right. Lloyd crouched down, edging forward as far as he dared. Kratos and Sheena stayed just behind. Any moment now...

A guard turned his head and Lloyd held his breath.

"...wonder what... stopped..."

The rest of what the other guard said was lost, but whatever it was, it distracted the first into turning his head back around.

Now!

Silent as wraiths, the three slipped down the stairs and swiftly dropped onto the belt. Lloyd's heart pounded as he waiting for an alarm to be called.

Nothing.

Nothing.

The conveyor moved them along.

We made it. Lloyd sighed with relief, then straightened up. Still trying to be as silent as he could, he jogged against the direction of the belt. The farther up the belt he started, the longer the chance he'd have to get off a good shot. His two companions followed him, more so that they all stayed together than because they could do anything to help him now.

Okay... He took a deep breath. His hand still tingled and itched, but he ignored the feeling as he aimed. This was important. He had to concentrate. Focus on the mana and the energy cores...

Destabilize the cores, Kratos had said. How much mana did it take to do that? Lloyd closed his eyes briefly, letting the mana in the ring well up. He had to get this right the first time. If the guards noticed them, he wouldn't get a second shot. With that thought in mind, he focused every fiber of his being on the task. His own ability to control his mana wasn't great. He hadn't been born with that mana, after all. The mana was a gift from the Exsphere.

From his Mom.

Mom... He opened his eyes. Clenching his hand into a fist, he poured out every bit of energy he had.

This is for you... Mom...

The energy flared and shot out. The effect was instantaneous, and he barely had time to hear Kratos's and his own startled gasps, before blinding white energy filled his vision, and a deafening roar his ears. The entire world shook for a moment.

Then everything went to hell.

-End Chapter One-
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