A/N: Hi everyone! I guess I've been missing for a while now, but I've been trying to get back into the game of things. And yeah, I know I have a few other stories running that I need to get back to, but this little baby has pretty much taken over my mind, lol.
Anyway, this will be my first crossover story, and apparently, also the first Tales of Symphonia/Darksiders story on ffnet. It never really donned on me when I played ToS back over ten years ago all the heavy references from old Norse mythology, but at some point between Disney and Marvel's Thor and Avengers movies, and both the Darksiders games did it suddenly hit me. 'Well hell, DS's Tree of Life is Symphonia's Great Kharlan Tree'.
Later on, after reading Aslynn's story Lostlight here on ffnet, the idea suddenly came to me, what if the Lloyd had to take over as the Red Rider, reform the horsemen and bring back to life the great tree? Much planning and scheming later on my part, I came up with this. *evil grin*
I do hope I live up to the reputation of both games, because they really are dam good games with awesome stories, so I'm taking care into merging both universes as best as I can.
This story will take place mainly on Aselia (or Symphonia if you prefer), but there will be quite a few things that will change. Some of those changes are going to be very big. Can't exactly throw in four bad ass riders of the apocalypse and expect things to flow smoothly. But yes, I do have big plans for this. Things start off during the first visit to the Tower of Salvation after Colette released all of Sylvarant's seals.
Next up, the story will start with a T rating for now, but after a few chapters I do plan to bring it up to M. So there will be blood, violence, language and later on adult themes. I'll give out a warning before I up the rating.
And lastly, after much internal debate, I've decided on eventually turning this story into a Lloyd/Zelos adventure-romance. So yes folks, guy on guy romance, aka. Yaoi. It will take a while before those two start to interact greatly, but if this is not the type of thing you would like to read, fell free to hit the back button, either now or when the guys start having feelings for each other.
So, without anything further ado, here we go!
Disclaimer: I don't own Darksiders nor Tales of Symphonia.
The Lost Horsemen
When Lloyd found himself falling to his death within the Tower of Salvation, the last thing he had imagined was to wake up, alive, before the frightening Charred Council. However, when the Council offers him a way to have his revenge on Cruxis, Lloyd finds himself agreeing. Now, he is charged with finding out what had happened to the Four Horsemen, who had disappeared during the Great Kharlan War, and reviving the Tree of Life.
But to do so, he cannot do it as a simple man. Instead he shall move forth under the mantle of War, Rider of the Red Horse.
The first of the new Horsemen.
Far beyond all known dimensions, away from the realms of heaven and hell and all in-between, lay hidden one of the best kept secrets since Creation came to be. A realm of ash and fire, of smoke and brimstone, and far more ancient than all save for a small handful of worlds. And any ancient world was bound to house ancient beings. Ancient and powerful beings. And in this case, some very powerful beings.
After all, who could match the power of the Charred Council? The very beings that enforced an uneasy balance between the forces of light and dark, good and evil, heaven and hell.
But perhaps, what truly drove fear into the very souls of all realms were their enforcers. The fabled Four Horsemen.
Four Riders, birthed from the unholy union of angel and demon but imbued with magics so strong that it made them anew. Born Nephilim, but remade into some of the most fearsome of warriors to have ever existed. And their sole mission, their single purpose, was to enforce the balance.
And when all Four of the Horsemen rode together there was no stopping them.
Or so the legends went.
The tale of the mighty Horsemen had faded away after several millenniums. No sign had been seen of them, not in any realm, not even a single glimpse of a single horseman. And with their absence, trouble brewed.
Demons and angels, for all their differences, were so much alike in mind. With only silence coming from the Charred Council, each side grew evermore bold. What started as little scouting skirmishes here and there, steadily grew in size and destruction. They cared little for the inhabitants of whatever realm just so happened to be their current battleground –they were lesser beings after all– so when no horsemen came to put a stop, both sides gave it their all.
And with the mysterious disappearance of the Horsemen, so too faded away the fear of the Charred Council.
However, in the deepest reaches of this single, hidden away realm, the Charred Council still stood.
Three mountains of hardened stone stood above a never ending sea of molten lava. Their jagged peaks and hollowed out crevices gave them the appearance of giant heads with two eyes and mouth. Yet no life shinned through these beings, instead, swirling vortexes of powerful magic and fire could be seen in each one. A few differences could be found between them, but in the grand scheme of things it was irrelevant.
And there they stood, the same way they had since the dawn of time. Deep within the core of their world, in a cavern so large that entire cities could have easily fit within, they stood in a slight semi-circle before a small platform just high enough so that what few visitors did come did not get killed off by the lava that shook and flared up with each word spoken by the ageless beings.
"Enough! We cannot continue as we are!" shouted one of the effigies creating a deep earthquake that shook the whole realm.
"And yet we can do nothing!" roared back a different one. "Not since the dawn of time, not even after the Endwar, have we become so powerless!"
"All four of the horsemen are dead." The last one groaned in distaste. "Nearly all of our powers gone with them. And here we sit shouting at each other for an eternity."
"Not quite." The first one quickly cut in. "Their souls never passed through the Well. They must remain there, on that dammed world. The Well's guardian still seeks them out, even after his exile from the Heavens. If even only one rider had arrived at the Well of Souls, he would have known."
All three ancients grumbled in various tones. This day had turned out no different than what had occurred for several thousand years, since the sudden disappearance of their chosen enforcers.
"We should not have waited for so long to send them." Chided the leftmost ancient. "Too long did we wait. Our hopes that their war would run its course and resolve itself were ill placed."
"No, we allowed their magic and technology to become far too strong. We underestimated the power they had gained, and with it, they destroyed the roots of the Tree of Life. Severing that world from all other dimensions, stranding the horsemen there and cutting off most of our power all at once." Corrected the center effigy.
"At least we have located the planet once more. Yet it will do us no difference at our current power." Grumbled the first of the three. "We have no way to see what goes on in that world, or to find out what fate befell the Horsemen."
A small silence was shared between the three while the whole cavern around them trembled with all the contained ire they barely held within. Once the echoes of the earthquake faded away, the first of the effigies spoke up.
"If not for the fact that our powers were lost along with them, it would have been a simple effort to simply replace them. They were growing too complacent in their role, defying our orders frequently and doing things their own way. Almost as if thinking that they were above us."
"Doable yes. But not precisely easy." Replied the leftmost ancient. "The Nephilim were quite peculiar in that regard. As sturdy as some of the best that heaven and hell had to offer, but with no love for either side. An ideal quality for those that would be doing our bidding in keeping the Balance. Now however, our options are limited. The angels and the demons are out of the question, most of the Old Ones would not bow before us anymore, and the humans are far too frail. Should we choose poorly, we will lose even more standing among the sentient races."
"Not to mention, there will still be the problem about sending a new Horseman to Aselia. With the Tree of Life no longer reaching out to it, it is currently impossible for us to even send a Watcher, much less a Horseman. We remain unable to open a stable enough portal to that world." Added the center monolith.
"True enough. In our last attempt we lost more than a dozen watchers. And what we could retrieve of them was little more than mutilated body parts. We cannot risk the same fate on a Horseman. And throwing even more Watchers at this will only resolve in losing our hold on them. They too are becoming more and more reluctant to follow orders. Fearful of knowingly being sent to their deaths."
"Best not waste any more of them. They are more suited to keeping eyes on the warring battles scattered across the realms undetected than enduring unpredictable energies."
"Which brings us back to where we start." The first most ancient released a plume of ash and smoke that could barely have passed as a sigh. "We have no access to world, directly or indirectly. We would need to find someone who would be desperate enough for a sliver of power, that cares not for the heavens or the hells, and that we could have complete control over them. We cannot risk any kind of mutiny this time around."
The other two silently agreed.
"And where would be find this desperate soul?"
Not even a split second after the words were heard resonating within the hell like cavern did all three ancients feel a rift within the dimensions. A small thing, barely able to be felt at all except by the most powerful of beings, yet it could prove to be just what the Council needed.
All three ancients stopped their squabbles and immediately turned their attentions outward, into a place that existed and did not exist at the same time. A place much like their own realm, hidden away between dimensions that was nearly unreachable…
And a place once occupied by a branch of the Tree of Life.
If the ancient stone monuments could have shown any kind of facial expression, they would have all been sharing equally nasty grins.
It was all a lie.
Everything. The whole journey, right from the very start.
There was no such thing as a Journey of Regeneration. All it was in reality was a long trip across the whole world, in order to speed up the process of killing a person's soul to leave behind a still living body so that the 'goddess' Martel could be revived.
The Chosen… the sacrificial lambs of the world— no, of both worlds. They were handpicked and raised to be tools. Offerings to Cruxis for borrowed time under which one of the two worlds would be able to flourish, while its twin, its shadow, would decay until the hourglass was flipped on its head and the pathway of all mana reversed.
And the horrible cycle would repeat itself over and over until Cruxis had what it wanted. A perfect vessel.
Until then, it was all a game to Cruxis. Humans were barely above the label of troublesome livestock, allowed to remain living for the sole purpose of breeding the perfect Chosen and to 'cultivate' exspheres from them. Half-elves rode under Cruxis' right hand branch, the Desians, and loved nothing more than to go raiding, pillaging and killing humans. Elves and dwarves? Who knew where they stood in the grand scheme of things.
If there was one single truth about the whole thing, then everything they knew, every single story about the great heroes from the Kharlan War, the goddess Martel, the angels, Cruxis, the Desians, and just about everything else than had happened the last 4000 or so years was nothing, but a complete Bold. Faced. Lie.
Just a few scant hours ago, Lloyd too had been among the blissfully unaware of the harsh reality that made the very foundations of his world.
Sylvarant, twin sister to Tethe'alla, had been in a declining state for too long. Ravaged by drought, disasters and picked off by Desians, the world would have lasted perhaps another century before all life became unsustainable.
Naturally, this would have proven to be a wrench into Cruxis' grand scheme, so the big shots decided that the world needed a little… helping hand. They could not simply reverse the course of the mana flow themselves, or all of their laid out groundwork would go to waste. Humans were definitely much more controllable when they remained dumb and made to believe exactly what you wanted them to believe.
For all intents and purposes, they needed it to look like a Chosen had completed the journey, from start to finish, and then make sure that there were no lose ends left behind. And in particularly, to make sure that the real nature behind the Journey of Regeneration remained a secret.
This time however, they decided to go for overkill, since those pesky Renegades were proving to be more and more of a thorn at their sides. Just enough to be bothersome, but not enough of a threat to divert precious resources or mount a full scale man hunt for them. So instead they sent just one person, to infiltrate the current Chosen's group and pose as a bodyguard.
That single person just happened to be the only human among the four Seraphim, the Leaders and Lords of Cruxis.
Kratos. That two-faced, double crossing, sonuvabitch and overall asshole. The bastard had managed to get himself hired as the Chosen's main bodyguard after posing as a wandering mercenary with good skills (and a pretty face to boot). Necessity had overridden caution at the time, but back then, on the very steps of the chapel where the Chosen was to receive the Oracle, the priests had proved to be no match to Renegades posing as Desians. It was however, perfect timing for Kratos to situate himself.
Not long after, the small village of Iselia had emptied out its coffers to pay the handsome mercenary's fee, and get everything else situated. The next day the Journey of Regeneration had begun.
The plan however did have a few hiccups along the way. Lloyd and Genis originally were not meant to tag along with the group, but after Forcystus and his Desians attacked the small village, the boys suddenly found themselves exiled and with nowhere else to go. Later, a day into the scorching hot sands of the Triet desert, the boys were captured by what looked like Desians, but where actually Renegades (not that they knew at the time). Genis was released because he was distant kin, but Lloyd was not so lucky. Instead, the brunet had to be rescued by Kratos, Colette and Raine, whom Genis had somehow managed to find and direct them back to the base.
A bit reluctantly at first, but from that point forward, the motley group of five traveled from town to town, in search of the fabled seals to offer their prayers and awaken the spirits within.
On the road, they encountered even more difficult challenges. First the troubles at Palmacosta, where the governor had all but sold the whole city to the Desians for a cure that did not exist. Then Asgard, and the wind monster that terrorized them. Then Luin… the city that had been burnt to the ground by Kvar and his Desians.
There, among the smothering remains of the once vibrant town that could have rivaled Palmacosta, they found Sheena. They had encountered the woman a few times before, where she had made attempt after attempt on Colette's life, but failed each and every time. Usually due to her own clumsiness. However, after Kvar's attack on Luin, the once clumsy assassin became their ally and together they managed to put a stop to the mad man's schemes.
That was also were they learned the disgusting origin behind exspheres.
None the less, with two Desian Ranches completely wiped off the map of the world, the group continued on. It wasn't until they reached the fourth and final seal did things become grave once more, and where Sheena revealed the reason as to why she had been trying to kill Colette before their encounter at Luin.
Two worlds, two sides of the same coin, vying for a limited amount of mana. Sylvarant and Tethe'alla. Sheena hailed the later world, which had sent her to assassinate Sylvarant's chosen in order for Tethe'alla to remain in full bloom. But after seeing the condition of the dying world, her will had faltered, and she could no longer carry out her direct order. This world was in dire needs, and who knew just what would happen to Tethe'alla if it finished absorbing all of its sister's mana.
They made a truce then. Sheena agreed to help Colette to finish unlocking the seals, buying time until they could get their much needed answers.
They did not know what awaited them.
At each seal, a little bit more of Colette died, even if she did gain angelic powers in exchange for losing more and more of her humanity. First her hunger, then the need for sleep, then she no longer felt pain… then she could no longer speak…
Now, she was little more than an empty puppet, floating in place within the cursed halls of the fabled Tower of Salvation. Her soul and humanity snatched away by another backstabbing bastard, the angel Remiel, whom had lured the girl from seal to seal with honeyed words about how proud he was of his 'daughter'.
At least that bastard was not going to go around taking any more little girls away from home to kill off and offer to his upper bosses for the sake of a promotion.
But that left a second, even bigger bastard to deal with. Kratos.
After letting Remiel bleed out on the translucent glass floor within the Tower, the once mercenary, now Seraph had released what he truly was.
An A class asshole.
The man who Lloyd had come to view as somewhat of an older brother or stand offish uncle had been guiding them all to their deaths. The whole time, right from the very start. He was to kill them all and take Colette's body up to wherever Cruxis had their main base at. And when Remiel couldn't finish the job, he stepped up to the plate.
They fought. Deception, treason and desperation fueled their every move, but the angel proved to be more than a match. And yet somehow, the dwarven-raised dead last, the school teacher, the class genius and the clumsy ninja had by some miracle managed to overpower the Seraphim.
He had to have been holding back. Kratos had been almost intentionally making the very same mistakes he had been slapping Lloyd over the head time and time again in order for the younger swordsman to correct his stance. The angel had moved sluggishly, his arms jerking every now and then, and leaving plenty of openings. The almighty and perfectionist mercenary would never have done so, so why was the Seraph doing it? Whatever powers he had been stowing away and hiding from the group should have augmented his abilities, not the other way around.
So they why?
What exactly was going on?
And yet, when Kratos finally laid on his hands and knees, his sword kicked away from who knows where, and his shield cast aside after being rent useless after assault after assault of steel, magics and seals. The man had barely been out of breath, and held no major injuries, when the group was about to move in for the kill when another angel appeared.
This one however, was no pushover. Yggdrassil, the Leader of Cruxis and the Desians, made short work out of the already worn out group.
Three spells from the white clad angel was all it took to render the group unable to fight. The siblings were unconscious from a single holy lance. Sheena had been blasted back into the altar just under where Colette had been floating safely out of everyone's reach, her body slumped over in a clearly uncomfortable position yet she could do nothing. Lloyd too had been blasted back, towards the entrance to the cursed Tower, sliding along the crystalline floors.
Barely was he able to lift his face just enough to see the golden haired mad man, his body succumbing to the pains and the strains of the recent fights. The Cruxis leader remained exactly where he had appeared, with that disgusting smile plastered on his face.
And then with a flick of a wrist, Lloyd felt a massive blast of light right in front of him. His already tired body could not do a single thing to brace for impact, and was sent flying once again.
His head and back exploded in pain with a bone crunching crack as he collided with one of the meticulously carved jade pillars that surrounded the platform. His vision turned white, then began to fade to red, becoming increasingly blurry and more and more dark spots began to dot his sight.
Barely did he manage to remain conscious as his body doubled over, gravity taking hold once again, pulling him off the platform and into the depths below. He barely felt when he crashed into one of the spiraling coffins that floated in place for eternity, destroying it and the fragile remains of the once Chosen.
Darkness embraced him long before he destroyed three more coffins in his descent and disappearing from view completely.
'Colette… I failed you… I'm sorry…'
He did not see the very same Renegades that had once captured him appear a split second later fighting off Yggdrassil and the once again standing Kratos before retreating with his friends, including Colette's lifeless form.
As the group retreated back to safety, the leader of the would-be rescuers was far from relieved. 'Shit. Lord Yuan is not going to like this.'
'This child could very well be the answer to our troubles. A true fortune for us that we managed to grab his body before he plummeted into oblivion.'
'He is young and weak, but his soul is still anchored to Aselia. Should we send him back, he should be able to recover in full and carry out our orders… if we decide to keep him alive.'
Three ancient monoliths whispered among themselves as they studied their current center of attention. For once, they were once again whispering to each other telepathically instead of vocally sharing their opinions. Even the vast cavern around them seemed to quiet down, for the ever present earthquakes had ceased in full and even the plumes of magma that once dotted the hidden realm had disappeared completely. Only gentle spires of smoke and soft echoes of living fire could be seen and heard.
What lay out before them, on the only piece of visible rock not submerged in part or in full by the sea of fire, other than the stone behemoths themselves was the body of a young man. A human. His once tanned skin was marred by injuries and bruises from battles, his clothing tattered and thorn in several places, revealing some of the more prominent injuries that the boy had sustained recently. The most concerning of which was the large gash in his back, where blood still flowed almost freely if not for what remained of the once thick leather jacket. Left unattended, this alone would have proven to be a fatal injury.
Not that the infamous Charred Council was about to let their possible ticket to recovering their lost power and status slip right through their grasp. Even though their magics would have been enough to patch up the boy before sending him off to a proper healer, they had agreed to assess the child of humanity before wasting their energies. Instead, they placed the injured brunnet into a state of artificial suspension. The boy would not wake as of yet, but neither would his injuries worsen for the time being.
It had been only through quick action that they had managed to catch the child in the first place. Whatever it was that happened to the boy, it ended up with him falling into a void between dimensions.
A void once occupied by the Tree of Life, where it once connected Aselia to every other realm in existence.
For now, all three ancients observed the boy, trying to gather as much intelligence as they could. Weighing out their options, and determining just what to do with him.
After a few hours of silent study, one of the ancients alerted its brethren to a certain finding.
'There is something peculiar about this boy. He is not quite human.'
'A halfbreed? No… this is—'
'Blood of an angel? No… not quite. Greatly watered down, but still holds some traces of angelic blood... How odd.'
'No you fools! Look deeper! Not at his body but at the very core of his soul.'
The effigies mentally snared at their sibling as they did as told. They extended their senses, reaching out into what areas no longer visible to even the most skilled of magic users and spell casters. Long passed the barriers of flesh and bone, and even the lifeblood that slowly coursed through his veins, did they find what they were looking for. Deep inside, at the spot where the soul was still bound to the body (even if barely) they saw something most odd.
Something that was not supposed to be there.
Something that actually belonged to the Council.
'He contains War's essence?! How can this be?!' One of them all but roared in outrage to his fellow ancients, causing the surrounding cavern to come alive with fire and earthquakes.
'No, it is but a tiny fragment what he contains. Not even a shadow to what War held in his prime. Barely even a drop of water to the vastness of an ocean.' Another of the stone monoliths corrected.
'Indeed.' Agreed the last of the ancients after mulling over some thoughts. 'An interesting scenario none the less. That which this boy contains is nowhere near enough to develop into any of War's abilities, but if he were to obtain the rest of War's powers…'
'… We would have to amplify that faint echo which he already contains for it to be of any real use. But if we did, then we could be almost certain that his body will accept and assimilate the remainder of War's power. Perhaps… his frail human body could grow strong enough to hold the entirety of the Red Rider's power and not disintegrate like some of our… earlier experiments.'
'A tiny human would have never been able to hold a Rider's powers without self-destructing sooner or later, or going completely mad. But this one… might just be able to do it.' Pondered the center mountain.
'Indeed. And if we were to awaken that essence fragment, he should have little trouble finding the remainder of War's soul. His core would resonate to that of War's, and to a lesser degree to that of the other horsemen.' The leftmost offered to the rest.
They remained in silence for a few moments, each ancient contemplating just what this new development could bring. What began as an odd occurrence, a whim followed by little more than curiosity at that point, was becoming more and more akin to what the Council needed.
Not to mention that there was the added bonus, in which the child had somehow come into contact with War's soul. Or at least some fragment of it.
It almost was if they had found their candidate to begin replacing the unruly Horsemen.
But then again, there was always the possibility that this one could follow in his predecessor's steps and also grow defiant. Death had openly defied them on several occasions, particularity during the Abominations Incident, yet he was allowed to remain among the living only because his actions and judgment had stopped an even greater incident, and that for better or for worse, the remainder of the Abominations had been thrown into Oblivion, forever out of reach of everyone… even from the Council much to their ire. Strife had caused several problems due to his short temper and brash actions, often to the point where another of the riders would have to arrive and bail him out and repair the damage. Fury, the only female among the riders held the shortest list of offenses, where mostly her pride and temper had also gotten the better out of her, much like her sharp-shooting brother. And War… well the youngest of the Horsemen had almost as big a tally as the eldest. The Endwar and humanity's demise had become War's turning point, since from that point on the red rider would deliberately go out and find ways to circumvent direct orders…
Too unruly had they all become. Yet the Council could not destroy them outright because the riders had not broken their binding contract: protecting the balance.
In the aftermath of the Endwar, the riders had resumed the vast majority of their duties. Once Earth was purged of the remaining forces of heaven and hell, and those few that did keep their lives ran away with their tails between their legs, the riders had come before the Council and brought their judgment upon them. Plots and schemes were brought to light, including wrongfully slandering War's name, and all of the major participants and orchestrators of triggering the Endwar that still remained alive were also held for account.
In the end justice was brought down upon all. The Council's name was tarnished greatly for their actions, while both heaven and hell had been reminded in a most gruesome manner just what happened to those that tried to take over what wasn't theirs. Some fools among the guilty still denied in full that their actions were not unjust, like Uriel and some of the senior commanders in heaven, and despite their stubbornness to see the truth, they too paid their price. Some lost their heads, others had their wings clipped (one of the highest forms of punishment for those that served the light) or stripped of their rank, and a few others were simply thrown into exile. Hell too brought down their brand of retribution on their own kin, mostly in the form of throwing the guilty into the Grand Blood Arena: a never ending gauntlet of battles until the dammed died from injury, exhaustion or both.
Others faced their fate in a more dignified manner. Azriel and Ulthane had been among these. For their cooperation and their testimony which helped shed light to many a machination that had taken place, each had been sparred punishment from the riders. Instead, they would face justice among their own kin, with one of the riders bearing witness.
It was also the point in time where all of creation began fearing the Horsemen more than the Council…
With their reputation tarnished and their standing among creation the lowest it had been since the dawn of time, the Council knew that they could not afford any more mishaps. That meant no more unruly riders.
'The boy might show promise. Yet we cannot simply allow this tiny human to run unchecked with the power of one of the horsemen.'
'Hmm. Indeed. The last thing we need is disobedience from a new set of riders. The real question would be how to we keep a leash on this one?'
The ancients mulled their options in silence for a bit, before one of them shared its thoughts with its brethren. 'As it stands, the boy will remain stranded on his world. That will be his containment field. This will also be his testing grounds, were we can see and measure his actions. If he if found worthy, then we shall see about allowing him to carry on the rest of the duties of a true Rider of the Apocalypse.'
'And should he fail? What if he disobeys our orders?' the monument on the left asked, still weary of placing all of its faith into another single, risky decision, no matter how tantalizing it was sounding.
'He is mortal.' Replied the rightmost of the ancients. 'Sooner or later he too will pass away, either by the blade or by time. And when he does, he will meet the same fate to that which we just spared him from. At that point, we shall strip him of the powers we lended, and then we can throw his soul back into the void. A lesser Oblivion, but to a short lived human, it should prove more than enough encouragement for good behavior.'
The ancients simmered down and pondered about what they had just shared. It was a very unique opportunity, but it still was a very large gamble. Stretched as thin as they were, another mess up on such a grand scale could very well be the end of the Charred Council, yet none of the three ancient beings wished to be overtaken by much weaker beings.
After a long stagnant silence, the calmest, more rational one of the three ancients decided to share his thoughts.
'Perhaps we should first see if this child even has the necessary mindset to take over War's place. He might carry a fragment of War within him, yet it will do us no good if the human is a weakling and a coward.'
'A valid point.' Another commented. 'Then we will have to awaken the boy to see if he can be of use to us.'
'Very well. Let us heal him just enough for him to awaken. Then we shall have our answers.' Said the last of the three.
A soft humming began to resound within the vast cavern. As far as the eye could see the lava began to bubble softly once again, fueled by the moving energies and magics being wielded by the ancient Charred Council. The air becoming thicker, denser and heavier than usual, even with the blistering heat and smoke that was ever present. All of those energies gathered around the human child gently floating in the air before the Council.
Despite all the power they lost in the last several millenias, they were still a force to be reckoned with. The forces of heaven and hell might have been content to fight each other freely, disregarding ancient pacts no longer in existence, but neither side so far had been brave enough (or stupid enough) to venture an assault on the Charred Council in their own lair. The Council's grasp might have been severely shortened, but they still enough power to completely obliterate any enemy in their presence with little more than a whim.
However, the healing arts were not a strongpoint of the Council, their objectives usually being of a more destructive nature. Still, it was no foreign concept to them. They had after all crafted various servants through magic alone, their most noticeable accomplishment being the Watchers, and to be able to craft true living beings, they needed to know all of the inner workings of a body. The wounds that the human child had sustained were hardly of any difficulty to the ancients.
With great care the Council weaved their magics, forcing bone back into its original place, repairing the fractures, and guiding the flesh back to where it belonged. In silence and with astonishing synchrony, they healed the child before them. They focused only on those injuries that proved to be life threatening or grave in nature, but opted to leave the lesser wounds be. They needed the human to be conscious, not capable of harming himself any further. The pain alone would keep the child from attempting something foolish.
When they were content with their work, the Council released the spell that had been keeping the human afloat. Free from the spell's effects, the boy quickly descended, falling into the platform before the three ancients.
And then they waited.
Never in his life had Lloyd felt such excruciating pain before. His whole body felt as if he had been thrown into the fiery pits within the Triet Ruins and that Kvar had somehow come back from the grave just to further electrocute him while his flesh was still being eaten by lava.
He wanted to groan, to whimper, or to make any kind of noise at all, but his body violently denied his every request, letting instead even more spasms and painful shocks travel up and down through every part of his body. Every movement, no matter how slight it was, was likewise awarded with even more pain. It was as if he was dammed to only know pain from that point on, never to go away, and always the ever bitter reminder of his failures.
Then again, what were his failures? He could not remember… he could not even think anymore. What was his name again?
And yet, the pain suddenly receded. It did not go away entirely, but it did step back, retreating like an early morning's low rolling fog after a heavy storm. Just enough to grant some visibility, but also enough close enough to remind you that it was still there. Watching… and waiting…
The smell of fire and brimstone was what hit Lloyd first as he slowly came to. It reminded him of Efreet's fiery domain, but on a whole new scale. Almost as if he had fallen into a live volcano, not the smoldering ruins of a once great city. The heavy air, thick with smoke and ash brought tears to his eyes, and nearly made Lloyd go into a coughing fit. Not even that one time he had nearly burned down his dad's workshop when he was little by accident, did the smoke stung as badly as it did now.
Not that this place remotely even looked like Dirk's forge to begin with.
'Where am I?'
When his tired body refused to move (Why did everything hurt so badly?) he tried instead to wrack his brain for answers. Trying to remember what was the last thing that he did… or anything for that matter.
Wait… was that blood that he could smell? W-was… it his? But how-when did he get injured? What—?
And then suddenly, it all came flooding back to him. The Tower of Salvation, the betrayal… everything.
Panic driven, he forced his body, ignoring the oppressive pain, to lift itself up in order to see where he was. Was he dead? Did someone throw him into a Desian Ranch? Where were his friends? Where was Colette!?
But what he saw was neither the gruesome inside of the Tower of Salvation, nor the stone and metal labyrinths that made up a Desian Ranch. No, instead he saw fire and red hot stone as far as the eye could see, with the sky darker than that abandoned mine shaft in the Ossa Trail, and everything covered with the smoke coming from bubbling lava. It was as if he had fallen into the very pits of hell.
Something told him that he was in deep shit.
"So you have finally awakened little human."
Lloyd nearly jumped out of his skin upon hearing that deep rumbling voice that he could have sworn it sounded more like a massive earthquake that an actual voice. With adrenaline and fear overriding any pain he had been feeling up to that point, the young swordsman quickly managed to turn around to see were that voice had come from.
What he saw were three fiery mountains standing tall above the sea of flame, each with holes for eyes and a mouth from which came a swirling vortex of destructive energies. One of these mountains alone would have been more than enough to fuel the nightmares of a full grown man, but with three of them standing right next to each other… hell, he'd bet even the almighty Seraphs would have been running for their lives. And to make matters worse, each monolith extruded sheer power like no other. Overwhelming power.
And as for Lloyd himself, well, he was very much screwed over. Barely able to prop himself on his elbows as his legs refused to move at all, he was not going anywhere. Never had he felt so tiny and puny as he did at that moment.
"Child of mankind."began one of the statues, snapping the swordsman from his panic driven stupor. "State your name boy."
For once in his life, Lloyd's brain kicked in and knew that he could not answer with his ever famous 'Give me your name and I shall give you mine'. That phrase alone had nearly killed him several times already, and he had a feeling that those stone mountains would not stop at simply killing him if he answered with that.
Given the dire situation, he opted to reply with the truth. His throat, dry and raspy from the surrounding smoke, made speaking a lot more difficult that it should have been, but he forced himself to answer. "L-Lloyd I-Irving."
A few seconds passed in silence before the whole undermountain began to shake once again. "Hmm. Very well, Lloyd Irving, you are the first human to stand before us since the dawn of time. But do not think yourself privileged, child of man. If not for our mercy, you would have perished, tormented for all eternity as you fell into the void. It is by our will that you are even here."
"We spared you from your fate because you have something we desire. Answers."said another, slightly different voice.
"Comply to our demands and we might let you return to your world alive. Defy us, or answer untruthfully, and you will be begging for death."
Lloyd gulped, because he had little doubt that the three mountains would not carry out their threat.
Still, in the back of his mind, he couldn't help but wonder what such powerful beings could want from a dwarven raised kid. Despite all the mess he had recently seen in his life, surely it was nothing outstanding… Even if his mom had been a subject to some crazy Desian scheme and the exsphere that came from her body, the very same one still attached to Lloyd's left hand was a bit out of the norm, what could they want from him?
"We are the Charred Council. We were the ones that brought an end to the never ending wars between heaven and hell. It was we who finally created the balance between all the realms."
"However, your world, Aselia has done something to alienate itself from the rest of the universe. We desire to know what it is that has happened to your world."
Aselia? Lloyd raised an eyebrow at the name. He had known his world as Sylvarant for all of his life, but Sheena had called her home world Tethe'alla. Maybe that was what the world had been called before it was split in two?
"ANSWER NOW HUMAN. Our patience is not as eternal as we are."One of the voices commanded, causing the cavern to tremble even more violently than before.
Lloyd flinched and quivered a bit at the shout. He desperately tried to gather his thoughts, trying to piece together was little he knew. And considering that the greater bulk of what he had been made to believe for so long was nothing but a whole bunch of lies, it left him with little worthwhile. What did he actually know to be real? So many lies, so much deception, and everything so perfectly organized that it only served to show just how inconsequential he actually was.
He was nothing more than a troublesome kid on death row. He went from the frying pan and literally, straight into hell.
And so here he was, somehow alive but bleeding badly, with everything below the waist not responding to him in the slightest, and before beings so powerful that made Yggdrassil look like a cooling ember compared to a sun in the middle of summer. And what was he doing? Probably just borrowing time before he got swatted again… and this time into the surrounding molten rock.
Tears began to form on the rims of his eyes, and his breath hitched in his throat. 'I really am going to die this time.' There really was nothing that he could do, could he?
'Just tell the truth. I'm already a dead man so what's to lose?'
A sad, dry laugh escaped Lloyd's dry lips upon the realization. If anyone had seen him, they probably would have thought that he had finally gone mad. And maybe, they wouldn't have been too far off. So, once he regained his breath, he gathered the words and began. "M-my world… we knew it as S-Sylvarant. It used to be part of a single world, b-but it was split into t-two…"
As he went on, the words came easier and easier out of his mouth. All of the sadness and despair that filled his heart and mind somehow helped the words flow. And also, it helped vent out his frustrations, and ease the burden of his heavy heart.
Any other day, Lloyd would have loved to spew a grand tale about how awesome he was and how he had been the one guarding Colette along her Journey, but after recalling the last events that he could remember, his resolve had all but shattered. He felt tired, worn out, his humiliating defeat weighing heavily on his shoulders. Part of him just didn't care anymore. His anger at everything was only outmatched by the despair he felt. Whatever beef these guys had with his world, then they could be his guests and go take it out on those assholes that called themselves Seraphim that completely screwed up both worlds. Besides, much like Magnius and Kvar, the Council was probably just toying with him, and would kill him off as soon as they got whatever they wanted. He couldn't walk, he couldn't fight, he could barely even move. Throwing himself into the fire hardly felt enticing, so he just continued on with his story.
In a daze, Lloyd forced himself to relive the last few months of his life. He kept his explanations short, trying to focus on the more relevant events, mainly on how Cruxis had manipulated all life on both worlds so serve one mad man's vision of an ideal future. He also spoke of the Journey of Regeneration, and how it was designed to move the mana from one world to the other. He briefly mentioned the events at each of the Seals that they had visited, and the troubles they encountered along the way, leading up to the Tower of Salvation. He finished up with his encounter with Remiel, the traitor Kratos, and finally Yggdrassil, who had been the one to throw him off the platform and into what would have been his death.
Once he was done with his tale, the whole cavern had calmed down. The lava no longer bubbling as harshly as it had been not long ago, and even the maelstroms that the Council had for eyes and mouths looked less violent, less unstable. An uneasy silence stretched for an unknown amount of time, and Lloyd, too drained and too tired to care much, just stayed there and waited in silence, lost in this thoughts. Whatever it was that they were thinking it probably was not going to be pleasant for the swordsman.
"Tell us child."One of the statues said after who knew how long. "What would you say to a chance at carrying out your revenge on Yggdrassil?"
Now that snapped Lloyd out of his dark thoughts. Immediately, the Council had his full attention.
"W-What? W-what do y-you mean?" he asked.
"There are… some things of ours that are currently stranded on your world, or worlds seeing as how there are now two where there once was one. We require someone to go retrieve it for us. In this endeavor, this Cruxis organization and those who form it are more likely than not to be the main obstacle in retrieving them."
"For now we might have a common enemy, although our end desires differ. You want revenge. We want back that which is ours. Perhaps we can come to an agreement."
Part of Lloyd wondered what exactly had Yggdrassil done to piss off the Council, but hey, the bastard needed to be stopped anyway so maybe these stone monuments were on to something.
Besides wiping the ugly smirk off of the Cruxis leader's face sounded oh so wonderful right about now. And giving that bastard Kratos a good thrashing too.
And yet, a tiny part of his mind was telling Lloyd to think it over. That there had to be some catch to it.
"A-and if I r-refuse?" he dared to ask softly.
"We shall kill you."Was the ancient's reply.
Soo… technically, it was either do what they say or die. How lovely. Not really much of a choice there. But then again, a shot at taking down Cruxis for all they had done, and maybe, just maybe, saving all of his friends, even Colette, would be more than worth it.
Besides, if he was going to die anyway, then why not take all those bloody bastards with him?
Maybe it had been the hit he took to the head when he collided with the jade column, or a combination of blood loss and his wounds, or maybe he just wasn't right in the head anymore, but Lloyd found himself replying with a small grin on his face.
"What… do I have to do?"
The cavern rumbled, differently this time. Not quite as it did when the Council spoke, instead it was more like the Council was pleased about something.
"Once, we had our enforcers deal with the most troublesome of foes that threatened the balance. They were the Four Horsemen."
"Over four thousand years ago, we sent them to your world, Aselia to deal with a war that was getting too out of hand. Most likely this was what you referred to as the Great Kharlan war. This war was threatening the very fabric of creation around it, and in the end it destroyed the Tree of Life that anchored it to all other worlds. Since the Tree's destruction, no souls have been able to pass into the afterlife, remaining trapped within the world itself."
Holy crap! Then that meant that there were over four thousand years of souls lingering between the worlds? And with all the death and destruction caused by Cruxis and the Desians?
Then… if Lloyd had died, after falling off that platform inside the Tower of Salvation (more like Tower of Damnation), would he too have been trapped too?
Was his mom stuck too? And Marble, and everyone else that had died to create exspheres?
A new sense of dread began to spread through Lloyd's gut. Whatever he had gotten himself into, it was no longer about just saving Sylvarant and Colette. Heck, not even personal revenge. There was something bigger, much bigger at play, and he was beginning to think that what little he knew about the worlds was a lot smaller than he had ever imagined. And this, suddenly discovering that there were thousands, if not millions of trapped souls lingering about, was probably just the tip of the iceberg.
The ancients gave Lloyd a few moments so that the gravity of the situation could sink in before continuing.
"With the destruction of the Tree, our Horsemen have become stranded as well. We know not their fate, but we require that they be found, rescued if needed be, so that we can begin to reestablish the Balance that has been crumbling since their sudden disappearance."
"Umm… but how do I fit in all this? I'm just a human." Lloyd had started to become increasingly unsure about just what his role would be in all of this. Whatever was going on, he was clearly way in over his head. This was way worse than that exam he took in Palmacosta along with the rest of the Group. He had been struggling with basic math when a good chunk of the test revolved around theoretical whatchamacallits that he couldn't even pronounce right.
"As you are now, you wouldn't last a day against the battles that are taking place all over the universe. Given how long it has been since the Tree's destruction we must prepare for the worst and assume that the Horsemen are dead. To this, we must find worthy replacements for them. Four successors, one for each rider." Said the leftmost effigy.
"Their power and their remains lie somewhere in your worlds. Your task shall be twofold. First and foremost you must recover the remains of the Horsemen and then to find someone worthy of bearing their title and might. Secondly, you must find a way to reconnect Aselia to the Tree of Life. From the ashes of the Kharlan Tree as you called it, there should be a way to revive it or to sprout a new one." Continued the center monolith.
"However you will only be able to do so after recovering all four of the Horsemen. You will need their combined power in order to resurrect the Tree. For this reason alone their recovery takes precedence over all else. And in order for you to accomplish this, you shall be the first of the new Riders."
Barely had Lloyd managed to croak out his question when he felt astoundingly powerful magic suddenly hoist him up into the air. As much as he tried to squirm for freedom, whatever spells the Council had used on him held him in an iron grip. From his new vantage point he could see how the whole cavern began to shake with renewed energy, dust and stone falling off from whatever unseeable ceiling as the large sea of lava twisted and churned from whatever energies where suddenly fed into it.
And from the small area of fire enclosed by the Council and the platform Lloyd had been on up until that moment, rose something else. Something that looked a lot like a large broadsword.
"You, Lloyd Irving of Aselia, shall become the new Red Rider. War."From the massive sword that had just risen from the fiery deeps, a strange blood red aura began to appear, surrounding the strange blade, before concentrating into a single bright sphere of chaotic energy on the very tip of the weapon's hilt. And then, without warning, it flew straight at Lloyd, hitting him squarely in the chest.
Lloyd screamed in pain until his throat was raw and could no longer make any sound. Massive amounts of pain, even worse that what he had felt before awakening not so long ago, coursed through him. This time, it felt as if his blood had been replaced with the very fires that filled the Charred Council's domain, burning, eating him, from the inside out. At the same time, it also felt as if someone was twisting his guts, almost ripping them apart, along with every single bone in his entire body. Something was happening to his body… as if the Council had suddenly started to systematically rip away every part within him and replace it with something else, something far stronger…
And just as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. The next thing he knew, Lloyd found himself panting heavily on his hands and knees back on the platform (when did he get down?), eyes closed and facing downward, as his body shaking from exhaustion. And yet, he felt different from before. He felt as if raw power had suddenly been pumped into him.
"We of the Charred Council bestow upon you his name and tittle, as well as the weapon that made entire armies of both Heaven and Hell tremble in fear. Chaoseater."
With every last ounce of energy left within him, Lloyd forced himself to look up, at the strange blade from where his newfound power had suddenly originated from came from. It was a massive blade, taller than he probably was and wider than his arm length. But perhaps what really stood out was the series of gruesome skulls that were placed along the flat side of the blade, surrounded by a jagged edge that looked like it would cut through metal and stone like a hot knife through butter. Overall, it certainly looked every bit like something that could cut down armies as if they were blades of grass.
"This is but a small fragment of the power your predecessor held."WHAT?! Lloyd could barely believe what he was hearing now. "You will have to obtain the rest of it on your journey."
"As a Rider, you shall from henceforth answer to us and strive to serve the Balance between all living beings. But first, you must find the other Horsemen. Seek them out, along with the rest of War's belongings for you will surely need them. And should you stumble upon Cruxis or those that you called friends, you may do as you wish."
"But keep in mind, young Rider, that should you fail in either of the two missions that we have given you, we shall extract from you the powers we have bestowed upon you and find another, more worthy replacement, while throwing your soul to rot forever in the abyss. Now go, AND DO NOT DISSAPOINT US!"
Magic suddenly started to build up around Lloyd and he had no time to react before he was thrown across entire worlds.
At some point, exhaustion had finally won over him, causing him to lose consciousness. The last thing he could vaguely remember was the sudden sensation of flying through clean, crisp, smoke free air, followed by a hard earth beneath him as sounds of a forest surrounded him.
'I guess… I made it. Heh. I'm… back… I'm alive.' With a weak smile on his face, Lloyd found himself embracing sweet slumber.
The next time Lloyd woke up, he wondered if he had just had one hell of a bad nightmare. His body was stiff and sore, his throat dry and parched, and overall, just plain worn out.
"G-guys? W-where are we?" he asked as he tried to roll over. Good gods, did he fall asleep without putting down a bedroll? No wonder he was sore.
But then it registered him that no one had answered him. "Guys?"
As tired as he was, he forced himself to sit up straight, and began to look for his friends. Instead he found himself alone in a sparsely wooden area, and a giant sword half impaled into the earth not five feet away from him.
Memories suddenly flooded to him. The betrayal at the tower, the revelation of the origin behind the worlds, and the meeting with the Charred Council.
"I-it wasn't a-a-a… d-dream? A really bad, and scary crazy d-dream?" he softly asked out loud in barely a whisper.
As much as he would have wanted to deny it, that sword before him was no lie. He was now one of the Riders. One of the Horsemen…
While his brain tried frantically to process everything that had happened, Lloyd suddenly felt as if a new presence had crept up behind him. In a jolt, he turned around quickly, yet found nothing out of the norm. Shakingly, he took a few steps back, before putting a tentative hold over Chaoseater's hilt, the nearest weapon at hand since both of his swords where nowhere to be found. If there really was something out there getting ready to attack him, then he was not going down without a fight.
But after several tense moments, nothing came. Lloyd looked around in every direction and nothing.
Just as Lloyd was trying to force himself to relax, he heard a voice in the back of his mind. It was deeper, rougher… and definitely not his own.
'W-who… are you? W-Where… am I?'