Well, this is probably nearly unheard of me, publishing 2 updates or stories within the same month. Truth is, I had written most of this somewhere around mid 2016, but I never got around to finish it. It just sat there, until recently when I finally got back some of my drive to finish this up and post it. It actually turned out to be longer than I had initially expected (oh lovely moments of inspiration) and figured it would be too much to read in one sitting, hence why I decided to cut it into two parts and make it a twoshot story.

At any rate, this story is mainly from Zelos' PoV. Mostly referring to his relationship with Lloyd, along with some backdrop into his mind as to what drove him to turn on the group in the later half of the first game. It does take a darker view of some of the events in the game, and makes use of a few other minor plot bunnies mentioned here and there, along with whatever my imagination managed to cook up. Also, it can be considered slightly to somewhat AU, since Lloyd manages to convince Kratos to not leave with Derris Kharlan.

Other than that, this takes place near the end of ToS, covers the gap between ToS and ToSDotNW, and just touches a little bit of ToS2's story. Plenty of spoilers from the first game, and some from the second, just for a heads up.

Quick warnings here: language, violence, some seriously dark/suicidal thoughts, a lot of questionable decisions, and plenty of ZelosxLloyd interactions.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to the Tales of Symphonia, original and sequel, story.

Just in case:

"Oh how I missed them." - flashback speech.

edit on March 9th: minor fixes and corrections.

On the Wings of Freedom.

There were times when Zelos really hated being the Chosen. And former Chosen as it was now. Back when the worlds were still split in two, hardly anyone really gave a dam about him. He was just the Chosen, a placeholder, and the potential get-out-of-jail card if Tethe'alla went into decline. Mostly, he was kept around for political sway, and eventually he would have been no more than a placeholder in order to keep the Chosen lineage going. Despite all the riches, honors and privileges that he had been bestowed with, to Zelos, it was a hollowed existence.

Even now, a couple of years after the world had been reunited, far too many people still clung to the old ways, thinking that the Chosen, regardless of which half of the world they hailed from, were still the main providers of hope and prosperity. Pure nonsense for the most part, but it left both him and Colette stuck playing mediators for far too many squabbles. The life of a full time diplomat was not what Zelos would have picked given the chance, but unfortunately with all the rising tensions and the troubles caused by the Vanguards, the once world renown womanizer had gone back to diffusing fights and twisting truths with his charm and skills at wordplay.

It wasn't much better than when he had been under the thumb of the Church of Martel a few years ago, or playing triple agent between the main moving forces at the time. In reality, it couldn't even be considered as living… merely existing. Even now, to Zelos, most of his life had been but a bitter memory.

Truly, the tittle of the Chosen was nothing but a curse. An empty, meaningless life he had been more than ready to trade anything and everything to free himself from, titles and riches be dammed. Back then, he really had been ready to die… there in that cursed hall inside the Tower of Salvation. He had been so tired of everything. The lies, the deceit, the schemes, the double crossing… everything. That day, he had walked into that tower, mind set on dying there. Yggdrassil wouldn't have kept his word anyway. The sick bastard never did unless it benefited him in some way. Probably would have 'ensured' that he lived long enough to sire a few lab rats for his experiments, and then throw away Zelos' corpse in some muddy ditch.

No. He had planned to die on his on terms: fighting.

Ironically, the same hands to which he had planned to die to, ended being his salvation. Lloyd was by far a lot smarter and wiser than he made others believe.

For most of the journey, Zelos couldn't quite make up his mind about the dorky looking, red clad twin blade. Mostly, the kid was way too naïve to believe that people in general where not inherently 'good'. Other times, the phrase 'as dumb as a rock' came to mind. No kidding, the boy could barely add numbers without using his fingers. Then there were times where Lloyd was a fairly Ok guy, fun to tease, eager to spar, and as always a magnet for trouble. Alright fine, so the boy made him smile (genuinely) a few times. One of those few occasions had been when Zelos had officially started calling Lloyd 'Bud'. It was fun to see his reactions to the nickname. Other than that, the swordsman was dense and as stubborn as a pack mule. And yet, there were some days when the twin blade spewed out some rather inspiring stuff—even if in a corny way. Those were the days where Zelos wanted to believe that there was a way out of the vicious cycle without costing him his life. However, his own self-hatred and disgust usually resurfaced before long.

Still, out of the whole group, Zelos could say that the person he would have missed the most would have been Lloyd. Maybe, in another place, in another time, were he hadn't been born to be a puppet on strings, maybe Zelos would have allowed himself to form genuine friendship with the brunette. But alas, he was stuck in the middle of a four way tug a way between Cruxis, the Renegades, Tethe'allan politics and a quirky little group of wanted criminals turned freedom fighters. No one, be it human, elf or angel, could survive something like that forever.

With all the bets stacked against him, there wasn't much of a decision left to be made.

And yet, despite all that, Lloyd saved him. From the schemes he had for so long wanted to run away from, from Yggdrassil and his twisted plans, and most importantly, from himself.

That day, when he turned his back on the odd little group he had been keeping tabs on as he handed over Colette to Ygdrassil, he had every single intention of not coming out alive. And so, as everyone turned on him, he gave it his all. So too did they.

Six on one wasn't much of a fair fight. Zelos didn't make it easy for them, but the group soon overpowered him and struck him down.

Just as he was about to embrace the sweet darkness, Zelos found himself being flipped over, coming to fuzzy image Lloyd looming over him. Tears, full of anger and regret, fell from those big brown eyes. Dying as he was there, he had no strength left to give some sarcastic commentary on Lloyd being a big baby. Instead, he just watched as the boy knelt next to him, and proceeded to drag his mattered body into his lap.

"You're dam lucky I figured out that you would pull something like this soon and prepared for it. Don't you dare die on me, Zelos." He heard Lloyd say.

The last he remembered was Lloyd gently pulling away his blood stained hair from his face and slipping some sort of pill into his mouth before passing out.

A few days later, he woke up in what he later learned was one of Yuan's smaller Renegade bunkers. The blue haired princess himself had eventually come around to check up on him, telling him that Lloyd and the others had managed to finally defeat Mythos for good and that the worlds had been reunited. And also… that Lloyd had somehow managed to blackmail the former Cruxis leader into snatching his sorry comatose ass out of the Tower of Salvation and keeping him under lock-down until he was well enough to move on his own again. Even Yuan wasn't sure what exactly Lloyd had slipped him, other that it was some kind drug that slowed down the body's heart rate. Dwarven concoction maybe. Whatever it had been, it stopped Zelos from bleeding out on the cold, mana pulsing floor long enough for Yuan to get in there and get him out.

Zelos spent the next few days in a bitter state. Slipping in and out of sleep, feeling that he had been cheated from death. He had been ready to die, dammit! Unfortunately, Yuan's part of whatever bargain he had stuck with Lloyd had included healing the red head back up.

Not having much else to do, seeing as Yuan was not about to let him pull suicide, Zelos waited. Lloyd owed him answers big time.

Eventually, Lloyd did come.

What he had not expected however, was getting sucker punched in the face right out of the blue. Much less promptly getting hauled back up and kissed senseless. Or hugged like he was about to disappear entirely… but mostly that second one. Where the hell did the boy learn to kiss like that!? On second thought, why on all of... both worlds combined (ok, that really needed a new name) did Lloyd, country bumpkin from a little backwater town in the middle of nowhere, kiss him, the most notorious womanizer in all of recent history?

The rest of the afternoon was perhaps the most enlightening day of Zelos' life. Lloyd did chew him out good, for giving up on everyone, for taking the easy way out, but mostly because Zelos had given up on his own life. Zelos would never be able to forget how Lloyd had systematically explained some of the subtler aspects of their grand plan to reunite the worlds. It wasn't just about stopping Mythos, Cruxis and the Desians, but also about freeing people from the shackles created by the two world system. To give everyone back their own freedom. Freedom to decide their future, their actions and their lives, not to be blindly dictated around pompous bigots that were only after coin or power.

And to free him, Zelos Wilder, from being a Chosen.

Lloyd, that silly country bumpkin had gone through hell and back, tearing down the very fabric that had sustained a four thousand year old set of lies… all for him.

Zelos was left speechless. Never, not even in his wildest dreams, would he have imagined that someone would have gone to such lengths just for him. Much less some no name kiddo that had popped outta nowhere, claiming that they were friends.

When he finally managed to get his mouth working again, he asked the first thing that came to mind. "Why?"

The answer left him just as stunned. Somehow, throughout the journey, Lloyd had picked up on the little hints that Zelos had unintentionally let slip out. His dislike for the church, how he hated being referred to only as 'the Chosen', his estranged relationship with his half-sister… little odds and ends really. Having grown up being friends with Colette must have taught Lloyd some of the more unpleasant sides of how a Chosen is handpicked and breed for, along with several other unpleasant aspects that came along with the name. Other things were not as obvious, but Lloyd managed to pick them out all the same. Such as how Zelos tended to use only certain tones of voice whenever he was shamelessly flirting, and whenever he talked about something he genuinely liked, he spoke in a relaxed and sincere way. The two had never overlapped. Other times, Lloyd had picked up on his more subtle gestures. From how his posture was leaning, to where he was shifting his weight to during a fight, to the tightness in his shoulders and forearms when he was talking to people he didn't care for, or how Zelos would occasionally lounge around to relax.

Zelos himself wasn't even consciously aware that he did even half of those things. And here was Lloyd, the dead last of his class, who picked up on all of that and more.

Eventually, Lloyd was able to connect the dots, and saw just how much Zelos hated his situation and how desperate he was for a way out. The masks, the flitting, the double meaning jokes, the quick wit and the low lying sarcasm… It really was nothing more than one very big tangle of lies and a mask to keep it out of sight. Not to mention, the dual swordsman had also discovered that Zelos didn't get any enjoyment out of all his sleeping around. He just did it to keep his charade going. Sad part was that Lloyd was actually right.

Despite all that, despite all the lies and flaws and everything else, Lloyd still thought that Zelos was worthy of another chance. A chance at a life free from the binds of the tittle of Chosen. Every so often, Lloyd had managed to come up with some idea to get the red head more involved with the group. Usually it was something mundane like pitch in with the cooking or the shopping. Another favorite of his had been playing cards after dinner, or the not so silent pleading to get Zelos to explain to him his homework. Little odds and ends mostly, simple day to day things that you wouldn't have given them a second thought, like laying on the roof at Zelos' mansion late at night and sharing stories while stargazing.

And yet… for those little moments, it made him feel whole. Like he wasn't the fabled Chosen. He was just Zelos.

Hindsight really was a bitch. Only after Lloyd had pointed it all out did Zelos realize just how much of a dick he had been, and how much he had been about to throw away. Lloyd had never, not even once, used Zelos for his money or his tittle. Instead, he asked for the older swordsman's advice, for his knowledge on some topics, for plans and strategies, things that had no relation at all with that which he hated the most. Lloyd hadn't used him. He never did. Worst of all, during all that time, Zelos had never realized just how much Lloyd went out on a limb for his sake.

Why? It had all started as an odd sort of respect born from Zelos' self-confidence. Lloyd admired in a way how the red head had carried himself around (once the arrogance was pushed aside), always sure of his actions and never second guessing himself. Coming from someone who had just had their whole world turned upside down and then ripped right under them, Lloyd had sought out any kind of stability. As time went on, adversity gave way to friendship. Somewhere down the line, the twin blade came to realize that he liked having the casanova around, perhaps as something more than a friend. They looked out for each other. They helped each other, covered their backs and protected one another. Zelos hadn't realized how much he too had come to depend on the red clad twin blade, until he had been ready to throw away everything.

It shamed Zelos to realize that he hadn't paid enough attention to Lloyd's doings. For being the self-proclaimed expert on love and romance, the twin blade hadn't made so much of a beep on his radar. Women (and men on occasion) of all ages and backgrounds threw themselves at Zelos, but the attraction was empty. They didn't care much for Zelos. They simply wanted the bragging rights that came with parading around with one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the whole world.

In comparison, Lloyd liked him for just being himself.

To think, all that time and he hadn't noticed that the person that he could get along with the most out of their little rag tag group had developed a crush on him.

If anything, Zelos was the real clueless idiot.

Despite all his little attempts at getting Zelos to see reason, Lloyd did not push his luck. The lad didn't know much in the ways of romance, but firmly believed that if love didn't flow both ways then it shouldn't be imposed on the other. Lloyd hated arranged marriages with a passion that rivaled Zelos' own hatred, and in brunette's mind, any kind of marriage or union out of convenience or for benefits was just as bad. And seeing as how most women didn't see much in Lloyd other than a big dorky kid, dumb brat, or too much of a naïve pipsqueak, the twin blade eventually gave up on the prospect of having a family altogether. Instead he decided to settle for staying close to his friends.

Either way, as much as he liked Zelos, he had confessed that he was not going to pursue or force the red head into anything. Lloyd valued Zelos too much as a friend to lose him completely if he attempted to go after something that wasn't there.

Man, did Zelos feel guilty. After everything he had done, Lloyd was still willing to give him a chance. Anyone else would have sent Zelos to the executioners block, or placed a leash on his neck and done whatever they pleased with him. More than half of his 'hunnies' all over Tethe'alla would have loved becoming Ms. Wilder, as they spent away his fortunes and were catered to their every desire for the rest of their lives. And yet, Lloyd had him at his complete mercy, and instead of going through whatever long suppressed fantasy the brunette had, the twin blade was setting him free.

Or almost free. As forgiving as Lloyd was, he did have his own terms to Zelos' freedom. As soon as the red head stopped with all the 'I-hate-being-the-Chosen' nonsense and learned to live again, he'd be free to do as he wished. Till then, Lloyd would keep an eye on him, dragging him around to mop up what remained of the Desian Ranches and destroy every exsphere they could get their hands on.

"But why?" he had asked again. His mind not wanting to accept that he had been given another chance.

"Because you were my friend, you idiot. Friends don't leave friends behind." Had been Lloyd's answer, along with a soft bonk to the head. However, Lloyd soon grew sad and serious. "Even if you never really thought of me as a friend… I-I'm giving you this time to make up your mind on what you want to do. If you decide… that I'm not the kind of person you want as a friend and that you'd rather go back to Meltokio to your old lifestyle… I… won't stop you."

That confession had been surprisingly painful for Lloyd to say. Ever since then, Zelos had wondered often about just how broken the brunette really was. Colette must have rubbed off on him at one point or another, for Lloyd to blatantly give Zelos another shot at life even when it was very likely that Lloyd himself would get cast aside.

Once upon a time, Zelos would have used whatever he had at his disposal to have his way. Once upon a time, he would have made good on Lloyd's proposal, met the requirements and walk off on his merry little way, forgetting all about the swordsman as soon as he had set foot in Meltokio. Once upon a time Zelos had been sure that no one would have cared if he had jumped off the face of the world…

Not anymore though. Lloyd at least would miss him. And as much as he would try to deny it, he would sooner or later end up missing the younger swordsman.

As much of a dick that he had been, Zelos couldn't bring himself to do something so heartless to suspender-wearing youngster, much less after all the newfound revelations. He might have not returned the twin swordman's feeling on the same level… but he did like the brunette to some degree. Not quite best buds, but somewhere around there. Lloyd did have that something about him that drew others to him, and at some point along the trip Zelos had also fallen to the boy's overly energetic personality.

One awkward silence later, Zelos found himself agreeing to the terms. Partially because he didn't trust himself being alone, and partially because he did not want to go back to what he had been. It would give him time to get his thoughts sorted out, without being in the spotlight. Time to figure out what to do with himself, because other than flirting, fighting and politics, there wasn't a whole lot else that Zelos knew how to do properly. But more importantly, time to figure out what to make of his red clad traveling companion.

Things had not gone smoothly after that. When the others had caught wind that Zelos was still alive, most had been downright livid. The former Chosen could not fault them for refusing to travel or work with the double crossing red head; he was having a hard time trusting himself with anything. At least Lloyd had worked his own magic once again, opting to keep the two groups separate for the time being. After which, everyone broke off to do their own thing. Rebuilding the newly rejoined world would take an enormous amount of effort, and tackling it from different angles was better than bull heading their way around.

The breakup was surprisingly effective. Regal used his finances and the Lazareno Company towards rebuilding the hardest hit areas and to improve relations with the lands formerly belonging to Sylvarant. Raine and Genis were off trying to help half-elves integrate better into society. Sheena and Colette took on the remnants of the Church of Martel, working towards dismantling the Chosen system and putting a stop to the power struggles amongst the clergy. And lastly, Presea made good of her inhuman strength by rebuilding Ozette.

They also got some unexpected help in the form of Yuan and what was left of the Renegades, and surprisingly, from Kratos (whom Lloyd had also somehow blackmailed into delaying his self-imposed exile). The information from the Seraphs would soon prove invaluable to clearing out exsphere storage places and dismantling the Human Ranches. The two Seraphs also handled the bulk to tearing down Derris Kharlan or other Cruxis strongholds. On the side, they also gave Sheena and Colette some ideas on how to handle the Church, much to the ninja summoner's relief.

All things said and done, it left Zelos alone with Lloyd for the most part. The unlikely duo went from place to place, collecting exspheres and rounding up Desians that were still looking for trouble. Additionally, Zelos also thanked the fact that they tended to stay away from civilization. Only out of necessity did the duo go to towns to restock or get some rest. Their initially rocky start eventually gave way to a peaceful lull, which Zelos welcomed wholeheartedly. But at the same time, while he was getting better, Lloyd was doing worse.

First it started as Lloyd having trouble sleeping, or that he was dead-beat tired a lot more than usual. Then, the brunette started to evade going into towns (his newfound popularity probably wasn't helping much either). Lastly, Lloyd constantly fidgeted, not being able to stay still in one place for long (worse than usual), and was almost looking over his back, as if expecting someone to attack him. Not that Zelos would let anyone attack Lloyd, no matter what reason, but it did leave a few pangs of guilt within the magical swordsman. As the days went on, Zelos saw less and less or the overly energetic and kind hearted swordsman, and began seeing a man that was trying to get away from something.

Initially, Zelos thought that it might have to do with Lloyd being away from the rest of his friends for so long, all his time being used up keeping the ex-Chosen in line. Yuan and Kratos began to notice too, yet they were also at a loss as for what to do. Genuinely worried, the ruby red headed swordsman had offered to stay and bug Yuan for a week (to which the blue haired half-elf had a few choice words to share in protest) so that Lloyd could go and hang out with the rest of the regeneration group. The brunette had accepted, albeit somewhat forcefully, but he had returned, the newfound hero became increasingly skittish.

It wasn't until a few months later, when both swordsmen found themselves taking a break while inside a system of caverns deep within the Hima Ridgeline, that several centuries ago housed the lower half of a Human Ranch, that Zelos found the reason to Lloyd's change.

As they had been resting, with Zelos' turn to keep watch, the red head had leaned over to shake the twin swordsman awake, seeing as how Lloyd had been tossing and turning almost non-stop, all the while fidgeting and whimpering at odd intervals. As Zelos reached over to shake the boy awake, instead of a groggy swordsman, he got a face full of pristine white feathers.

Beautiful, glimmering feathers, gently glowing in autumn hues taken from the lit wick of their oil lamp, made up an impressive pair of swan-like wings protruding from Lloyd's back. Unlike the condensed mana wings shared by the Seraphim and the Chosen, Lloyd's looked solid and natural, like real wings from a bird. As beautiful and majestic as they were, once Lloyd jumped awake and saw the extra appendages, the brunette had gone into hysterics. When he couldn't will them away, he blindly ran deeper into the tunnels. Zelos made a mad dash to grab their things and chase after his frightened friend.

It took a lot of effort to catch up to Lloyd, and even more to pin the boy down, especially seeing as how the wings had also come with angelic strength. If not for the slight glow emitted by each feather, Zelos would have been hard pressed to find the fleeing brunette. Thankfully, Zelos had gotten in some practice recently fighting people with superhuman strength (truly, having Yuan, Kratos and himself under the same roof for a full week was a disaster waiting to happen. They hadn't been able to go for more than six hours before fists and magic went flying) and had managed to immobilize the younger swordsman by pinning his arms to his sides and wrapping his own arms around Lloyd. Between the brunette's protests and sobbing, Zelos was able to somewhat piece together what had been ailing Lloyd for so long.

Lloyd had become an angel.

Zelos wasn't sure when it had happened, since no one had informed him about it, but he was fairly sure it had to have happen between the points where he had been defeated by the group after double crossing them and when he started to follow Lloyd around looking for exspheres. However, in that three week gap, a lot of things had happened; the most important of those being Mythos' defeat, and consequently, the fall of Cruxis, the reunification of the worlds and the birth of the new World Tree (with Martel as its guardian spirit). On top of all that, add the fact that Lloyd was the son of a fully converted angel and an Angelus Project escaped test subject, and had been running around using his late mother's pretty much bona fide Cruxis Crystal (which had been suspiciously missing since Zelos had woken up after the trashing he got) for who knew how long. In short, Zelos theorized that the Key Crest that Lloyd had been wearing must have delayed nearly all aspects of the angelic transformation until something happened and Lloyd got everything in a single go. It also explained various aspects of Lloyd's recent behavior, like not wanting to go near cities or anyplace loud and noisy, and lack of appetite and sleep.

Theories aside, Zelos held onto Lloyd for an unknown amount of time, comforting the swordsman the only way he could think of. By embracing him.

Yes, Lloyd was precious to him. The goofy, energetic, hopeless dreamer of a boy he had met just over a year ago had wormed himself into the once cold hearted ex-Chosen. The current agony going through Lloyd did not fit him one bit. Zelos was determined to help the Eternal Swordsman no matter what. So he held on and listened as Lloyd finally shared what was on his mind.

"All this time… we were fighting Cruxis. Angels. Now e-ever since we rejoined the worlds, people have been looking at m-me like I'm some kind of g-god. L-like how e-everyone used to worship C-Colette… I can't b-barely go to markets w-without getting swamped by people a-asking for blessings o-or getting m-marriage proposals by the d-dozens. T-this isn't right! I don't want any of this! But if they see my w-wings w-who knows what they will do!"

Well shit. With the new gap in power and with the fall of the Church of Martel, there were a whole lot of lost people that were desperate to believe in anything. The tittle of Hero had suddenly left Lloyd in a tight spot, being looked upon and admired by all those lost souls. And number one sought out bachelor by the sound of it as well. Unfortunately, desperation often leads to horrible decision making, and if Lloyd accidentally released his wings in public there two possible results: either Lloyd became the new Mythos and was worshiped head and toe, or he would be envisioned with having some sort of ties with Cruxis and overthrew Yggdrassil to take the position as overlord of the world. Zelos wasn't sure which one was worse. No small wonder why Lloyd had been so out of character.

Despite Lloyd being fairly level headed when it came to important decisions, the dwarven raised swordsman knew that power was the vilest of temptresses, and that it corrupted even the best of men. Mythos was one prime example of just how far power could distort a person. Lloyd feared that he would become another Mythos, and Zelos feared for the cherub just as much. The life of a Chosen in a prosperous world would pale in comparison to what Lloyd could receive. That was one thing Zelos would never wish upon anyone, much less on Lloyd.

"Lloyd, you can't cure stupidity." He said softly as he gently tilted Lloyd's chin up in order to see eye to eye. "There will always be people that can't think for themselves and will blindly follow the first thing that remotely looks like a half decent leader. Ignore them if you have you. Or you could go into hiding. Let them sort themselves out. Colette can keep them busy, she's better at that sort of stuff anyway."

"B-but I d-don't wanna be a-alone." Lloyd protested trying to hide his face into Zelos' pink coat again, but the ex-Chosen didn't let him.

"You won't. I'll go with you." He stated firmly, gazing into those deep russet eyes that had never looked so beautiful as they did at that moment, in the soft light emitted by Lloyd's ethereal wings.

The brunette tried to pull away to no avail. "B-but I-I'm—"

"You're you, Lloyd." Zelos leaned forward and pressed his lips on Lloyd's brow, causing the red clad swordsman to grow still. "You've done enough for both worlds to earn a free pass on a few quirks. So what if you have wings? You're just part of the club now." He released his own sunset orange wings to emphasize the point. "We'll just work on helping you hide them better, eh?"

Lloyd had frozen for a second, before wiping some tears away with the back of his hand, when Zelos had eased his hold on him. A small, real smile made its way across the swordsman's face as he wrapped his arms around Zelos' back. "Thank you Zelos." He whispered into the crook of the red head's neck.

After that, the two of them grew closer. Lloyd had gotten some of his old confidence back, and with the help of Zelos and the two remaining Seraphim, he was no longer afraid to go out in public. Learning to control his newfound angelic qualities took a lot of trial and error, especially figuring out how to tune out the sudden heightened senses. On the other hand, Lloyd had taken to flying like a duck takes to water. He was a natural at it. It made Zelos happy to see Lloyd smile freely again, eager to explore new areas and discover new things.

Maybe that was when Zelos realized that the twin swordsman had him wrapped around his little finger far better than he had initially thought. Oddly enough, he did not mind it much. Lloyd had been the one to give the red head a new reason to live. That reason was Lloyd himself.

Before he had even realized it, the former Chosen had been dotting over the brunette, keeping him out of too much trouble and on track with whatever needed to be done. In the evenings, he'd sit down with Lloyd and thought him how to move around politics and how to stay out of unnecessary drama. In exchange Lloyd thought him various things about living off the land and workmanship.

And some days, they'd lay down in the grass and stargaze during the night. Lloyd was quite the avid storyteller, knowing dozens of stories regarding most star systems. Zelos wasn't sure if the brunette was making them up on the spot, or if he had a complete library's worth of folklore stuck in his head. Either way he came to enjoy every second of it.

Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to last.

Despite all their efforts, a sizable chunk of Meltokian Royal court went back to their power plays and tried to bring the former Sylveranti nations under their rule. No surprise there when the Silveranti cities started to get hostile. There were a few times when even Regal had stepped up to the plate and gently told the diplomats to get lost. (That man had the patience on par with Martel's for all points and purposes, and getting him that riled up said something.)

Not long after that happened, a resistance of sorts began to rise up against the Tethe'allan monarchy. They called themselves Vanguards. It started off with good enough intentions, until it all went to their heads. After a few months, the Vanguards became no better than the Desians. It didn't take much digging around to discover that some of the Desians that had survived the destruction of the Human Ranches and the subsequent hunt carried out by the members of the Regeneration Group, had joined the Vanguards and took it as a means to carry out their old lifestyle of pillaging and ruling by fear. Yuan had been particularly pissed off when he found out, since he had pardoned a good number of them on the condition that they were to strive to incorporate themselves into normal societies and leave behind their past.

Zelos would have bet the better part of his money that Yuan had been behind the mysterious disappearance of a large number of the Vanguard army.

Regardless if it had been Yuan's doing, Kratos' (there had been a few very interesting rumors going around about a dark red haired man busting skulls wherever the Vanguards had been stirring up trouble), Lloyd's efforts of trying to both ensure the Silveranti cities that he was not going to allow Meltokio to enslave them, or somehow a mix of negative propaganda and a lot of defecting, the Vanguards started to quiet down. It bought them a few more months of peace and calm before things started to take a turn for the worse again.

At the time, Zelos had once again been traveling with Lloyd to a few sites. First to what had once been another former Human Ranch tucked away and hidden not too far away from where the Toize Mine now stood, to ensure that nothing had been left behind and that there were no traces of recent human activity. After that they would travel towards Flanoir where the weather was unusually warm and where several flash floods, (not avalanches but floods, as in liquid water) had been reported in the surrounding area. They wrapped up their loose ends in the Toize Mine in no time at all and headed straight to Flanoir. To say they were shocked when they arrived was a severe understatement.

From high above on top of their rheiards (Yuan had let them keep the ones that they had *borrowed* during the Journey of Regeneration), the two swordsmen could see that spring had come to the island, after who knew how many years of never ending winter. Streams, rivers and waterfalls dotted the outer ridges that had long stood as a natural barrier around the winter wonderland, snow still present in some of the peaks where the sun had yet to reach, yet for the most part it was thawing. And rather quickly at that. Around Flanoir itself, several lakes and lagoons had started to form, their edges showing tuffs of fresh grass and shrubs coming to life after their long hibernation.

As beautiful as it was, both Lloyd and Zelos knew that dangers could be well underway if the snowcaps continued to melt away at such a rapid place. So far Flanoir had fared well, thanks to having been built on higher ground, but the muddy marshes that were starting to form throughout the main road joining the city with their docks, were causing havoc on caravans and suppliers. Some of the locals had already started working on canals in order to allow the water to flow away from the main areas and into the sea.

Relieved that the civilians were not in immediate danger, the two heroes went on to inspect some of the other areas nearby. Celcius' temple had remained mostly frozen inside, but the outside of the cavern showed signs of thawing as well.

If Flanoir was thawing, what else could be happening around the world?

Unsure if the sudden changes were natural, the world's reaction of trying to right itself after four thousand years of being split in half, or if something else was afoot, the two heroes quickly sought out Yuan. Thankfully, the old seraph had actually been nearby, in his old Renegade base. What they had not expected was to find both Yuan and Kratos at the base, along with a dozen or so former Renegades, or that the old base suddenly looked more like an underground canyon than a secret military facility.

While Yuan had decommissioned the base shortly after Mithos' downfall and had removed anything and everything dangerous or incriminating, the half-elf had left a few things behind, turning a few of the old rooms into monitoring stations. The base's location had made it an ideal lookout post, as well as a place for Yuan to send and relay information to his remaining underlings. It had proven handy for mopping up the remainders of Cruxis and the Desians initially, but lately their focal point had been the newly formed Vanguards. As handy as that was, they had not taken into account Flanoir's sudden thawing and that the base had been on the lower side of the mountain ridge, meaning that sooner or later, all of the newly formed water would flow straight at them. Hence why they had found Kratos and Yuan decked out in diving gear, their inhuman resistance allowing them to wade into the near freezing water for more than a few short minutes, rescuing some of the Renegades that had been trapped in during the unexpected flooding and subsequent cave ins, as well as setting off underwater detonations in order to create a straight path from the upper entrance of the base, to where the boarding docks had been down belowl. The former Chosen and twin blade wasted no time in donning spare sets of diving gear and pitching in.

Once the rescue operation had finished, and everyone was warming up next to a fire, Yuan and his scouts reported their recent findings. Other than the Vanguards stirring up some trouble here and there, Flanoir was not the only place feeling sudden weather changes. Triet for one had been experiencing cold snaps, and the surrounding areas near Asgard had been pelted with several storms and a few hurricanes lately. Other areas had shown milder weather changes, such as prolonged dry seasons, or constant rains. The half-elf planned to re-enable small parts of his old bases as soon as possible and set up a few other posts as monitoring stations. At the very least it would give them a better picture as to what was going on, see which areas are the worst hit and which areas could potentially be next.

True to his word, Yuan got busy. Within a few months he and his Renegades managed to get five lookout posts and monitoring stations across the reunified world, along with a small bunker that doubled as the main information professing site hidden under the Garocchia forest, and coincidently about a ten minutes flight from his new house near the new Kharlan Tree. Usually Kratos and Yuan took turns watching the tree, one staying nearby and the other running recon or simply doing errands. It made for a good system that was updated often, and every time Lloyd and Zelos would swing by they could catch up on whatever events were taking place. If something really serious came up, one of the seraphim would contact them on one of Yuan's communicators, and they could head over asap.

Like Palmacosta.

A/N: Next chapter will be updated either tomorrow or within the week. It's mostly done, just needs a few tweaks.