Disclaimer: I do not own Tales of Symphonia or anything associated with it.
A/N: Hey, so I know it's been a while...sorry~! A LOT of stuff's been going on, and yeah...I won't get too into it all. Anyway, since it has been awhile hopefully this chapter didn't turn out too bad for you guys!
"You should never have been born."
The slight jostle of another persons elbow hitting into his rib-cage startled startled 17 year-old Zelos Wilder awake, his drowsy and tired state now thrown into a more alert one. His eyes momentarily widened and his heart was beating rapidly, though seeing the inside of the classroom, crammed and filled to the brim with various students, set him immediately at ease. He breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "Just a dream," he muttered, letting his eyelids fall shut once more. "From back then..."
"Zelos, everything okay?"
Zelos resisted the heavy urge to roll his eyes at the fake show of concern-in his opinion-before propping his face on the palm of his hand, resting his elbow up on the makeshift desk for awhile. He shot Lianna an annoyed glance from the corner of his eye, making her blink.
"What?" She said in a low voice, knowing that if Professor Raine saw them talking they were both going on the chopping block. Still, it was almost adorable the way the brunette fidgeted nervously in her seat trying and failing to be discreet as she checked herself over, "d-do I have something on my face? Or…."
Zelos simply tuned her out now, shifting his blue eyes forward to where Genis Sage was standing, reading something aloud. "Thanks to all the effort put in by the hero Mithos, the ancient Great War finally came to an end."
Genis was small despite his age of 12 years old, standing at a height of only four feet and eight inches total; In Zelos' opinion he was freakin tiny, maybe that's why his intelligence factor was so damn high, Zelos mused in silence. His hair, much like his sister's, was white with some strands hanging against his shoulders while others were more jutted upwards and askew. His clothes were no doubt elven material, a mix of baby blue and darker navy blue with some easy patterns along the pants leg and opening of the vest.
Zelos recalled when Lianna first introduced them to one another, Genis immediately stating his dislike of the former when Zelos coined the term 'shortstack' for him and laughed while poking him in the forehead when he got frazzled by it. The memory bringing a trickle of amusement onto the chosen's face before remembering where he was.
"Thereafter, the hero made a pact with the Goddess Martel. And so the foolish people who started all the conflict," Zelos glanced catching movement from the end of the aisle and almost grimaced seeing professor Raine was walking back and forth "the Desians, were sealed."
There was a noticeable pause all of a sudden, making Zelos arch a brow in confusion before catching Genis' side-long glance towards Lianna's spot next to him. Zelos felt his own left brow twitch, hearing the familiar sounds of faint snores coming from said girl.
'Little idiot...'Zelos thought, realizing if Raine somehow missed Lianna before then she sure as heck wouldn't now thanks to Genis.
The clearing of her throat had Genis gulping nervously and Zelos doing a mental facepalm, especially with how those frighteningly calm blue eyes zeroed in on the girl beside him. A piece of unused chalk already in hand, and Zelos pitied the one on the other end of that stare.
"Carry on, Genis." Professor Raine said sweetly, though the smile dissipated almost immediately after.
In some ways Zelos thought it a blessing that Raine wasn't more scary looking, but when you shared a gene pool with someone like Genis it just wasn't possible in Zelos' mind, what with the two siblings having the same white hair-albeit hers was shorter and more tamed- and wearing a teacher-esque ensemble as she was, with brown pants and orange vest-like coat. Maybe that's why her temper was always so bad, she needed to preserve order somehow in the classroom after all.
Not that Zelos really cared, after today he wouldn't even be coming back here would he?
"But recently, the Goddess' powers have diminished. Consequently the Desians have begun to rebuild their forces." Zelos had heard all of this before from the priests during his individual studies and frankly didn't enjoy the rehashing of curriculum. His ears picked up on faint whispers coming from his left, barely turning his head to see a few of his female classmates giving him the 'googly-eyes'.
Smirking he sent them a flirtatious wink, more than happy to pass the remainder of class time like this.
...Only it wasn't meant to be.
"Regeneration….of the..." Lianna mumbled, just coming out of her sleep-induced boredom.
"Oh, you're awake..."Was Zelos' off-handed comment just before the piece of chalk went whirring past him in a blur making his eyes- along with those of several other students- widen comically, slamming right into Lianna's forehead and knocking the poor girl flat on her back.
Zelos blinked, barely able to stifle the urge to laugh seeing the whites of the poor girls eyes now. Genis breathed a sigh of exasperation whilst shaking his head at his friends misfortune.
'I'm gonna miss this.' Was Zelos' only thought, something he would never admit to.
The class broke out into quiet laughter.
"Honestly..." Raine said with an audible 'tch! Shaking her head while the brunette slowly wobbled upright still looking a tad disoriented.
It was at that moment the humble, easy-going atmosphere was broken by a bright light shining into the room. Something inside of Zelos' grew cold and closed-off, like stone or rock, looking out towards the window. The other kids fell into hushed whispers.
"What was that light?" One girl asked curiously.
"It was so pretty!" Another said.
"And bright!" commented a third.
"Calm down everyone," Professor Raine called out quieting the many voices including Zelos' own, "It would appear that the time for the Oracle has finally come."
'The oracle...' Zelos thought, for some reason his eyes falling down towards the necklace he now kept hidden beneath his shirt.
"I will go and check on the chapel. Everyone is to stay here and study on your own. Is that understood?" Raine said aloud, drawing his attention back towards the front. Zelos knew he should offer to go with her given that he was the chosen, but he just couldn't force the words out…
So he watched her leave instead, rushing towards the door and leaving him in the presumably safer vicinity of the classroom.
"Wait Raine, you can't go by yourself!" Genis called out just before the woman disappeared. He then shot Zelos an accusing look, almost pleading even, "at least Zelos should-"
"No Genis." Raine said, her voice firm and offering no chance of rebuttal. "If this is the oracle then the priests themselves will come for him."
Zelos smirked, offering a nonchalant shrug towards the concerned brother. "There, see? Raine's a big girl and can take care of herself."
He knew he was being patronizing, but frankly Zelos couldn't find it in him to be all that sympathetic. It was his life that was ultimately being thrown out the window so why should he? Besides, everyone's gotta stand on their own two feet at some point or another.
With that Raine disappeared behind the wall, the sound of the front door opening and closing signaling her departure.
Genis was quick to turn on Zelos, expression livid. "Zelos! I can't believe you!"
The red-haired chosen reclined in his seat, using one hand to keep himself from falling while he snickered lightly dismissing the elven boy's anger with practiced ease. "Oh relax~!" He said, smiling the very same infuriating grin he always wore when addressing something that really should be taken with the utmost seriousness, "the priests will be there to help out if things go south, plus she has her elven arts, am I right?"
Genis didn't look at all placated by Zelos' reasoning skills. In fact, the shorter boy looked about ready to slap the other across the face.
"How did someone like you get to be the Chosen anyway!?" Zelos only shrugged in response, humming happily. "You're so selfish and egotistical!"
"You take that back!" The two boys shared a brief look of befuddlement before glancing towards Lianna who had now joined in, slamming her hands on the desk and looking quite offended. "Zelos isn't a egostasis or whatever you just said!"
This time Zelos really did face palm, a sigh of exasperation slipping past his lips taking a good hard look at the girl whom he had known since childhood and wondered for the umpteenth time that day if she had been dropped on her head or something; her stupidity only being matched by her uncanny choice in friends. Still, at least she was good for a laugh.
A sweat-drop appeared on the back of Genis' head looking torn between explaining to Lianna how what she said wasn't a real word or how Genis hadn't actually called Zelos a bad name. "Lia, do you even know what egotistical means?" Genis asked with a raised brow, seeing as the meaning of the word was something they actually covered in class last week.
"No, but it sounds offensive!" Lianna rebuffed, blinking owlishly when she saw how a few other kids had now begun to stare openly. "Hey, wait a minute," Lianna whipped her head around a few more times, "where'd the professor go?"
Genis and Zelos both fell to the ground, groaning.
"D-don't tell me she got so mad she just up and left?" Lianna said, sounding genuinely worried for what she might have caused.
"Lia…."Zelos began, getting himself re-situated in his chair. "Remind me to have a serious talk with Dirk over your poor attention to details."
"She left for the oracle." Genis supplied, sounding a tad more patient. "To check on the chapel?" He elaborated seeing the still blank look in her eyes.
Lianna took a moment, silent as the pieces clicked into place. "Oh, oh yeah that's today!" She said, excited.
She paused, the frown returning while she looked at the redhead still sitting beside her. "So then, wait...how come Zelos is still here then?" She inquired curiously.
"That's what I wanna know, as the chosen he should have at least offered to go with Raine." Genis added, folding his arms across his chest and fixing Zelos with a stern glare, "as usual he didn't though."
Zelos scoffed. "The professor said to wait here small fry," Genis bristled at the nickname, "besides it's not that far of a distance last I checked."
The two boys glared at one another, little sparks seeming to fly from their eyes.
"If you're that worried, then why not just go and check on her?" Lianna offered, already halfway towards the door when Zelos and Genis looked up, Genis being the first to react.
"Lia, no! Raine said to stay and study, if you go she'll get mad!" The small boy reasoned, though it didn't take a genius to see the worry that shone in his eyes when he mentioned Raine.
To be honest, it's not how Zelos wanted to spend his last few days in the village, but if the little twerp wouldn't leave him be….
"Fine, whatever." Zelos barely sparred Genis a glance rising from his chair and brushing past him, he paused sending the little shorty a quick smirk and swift poke to the forehead, rubbing a kink from his shoulder while he joined Lianna. "The great Zelos Wilder will personally go to make sure our beloved Professor is doing A-Ok in the temple."
Genis rubbed the spot on his forehead where Zelos poked him with his two index fingers and scowled, feeling a twinge less worried and a bit more fearful. He may not like Zelos all that much, but that didn't mean he wanted the idiot to get eaten alive by a pack of rabid were-rabbits. Not to mention it looked like Lianna was going too, and he actually did like her.
"I'll….go too." Genis said with great reluctance, feeling immensely unsure of his decision right off the bat.
"I wouldn't if I were you." Zelos said flatly, though his smirk was condescending. "The temple's bound to be full of monsters, not to mention the increased activity reported around the village's borders….you're not the best runner, nor do you have as much stamina."
"Frankly, you're useless."
A tick mark sprouted on Genis' head, glaring at the smug redhead. 'Oh yeah, I'll show you…!' Genis thought, wanting nothing more than to prove Zelos wrong.
"Come on, let's go." Genis said, his fear momentarily forgotten as he stalked past the two taller kids and threw open the door. "I'll blast away any monster that tries to stop us!" He declared, leaving behind a smug Zelos and exasperated looking Lianna.
The later turning towards the smiling chosen, sighing, "why do you always have to do that?"
"What? The kid needed inspiration."
Zelos started humming again, folding his arms behind his head and walking away with an air of confidence.
Lianna trailed after them, breaking off into a sprint once they were outside. Her and Genis talking animatedly with Zelos hanging in the back. The red-haired Chosen staring off into the distance, looking down the winding path that lead out of the village and towards the temple.
"Wow, I can't believe we're actually going to see the oracle with our own eyes!" Lianna exclaimed, bouncing on the heels of her feet.
"It is pretty exciting, usually only the Chosen and the selected priest get to see it." Genis added, smiling at the prospect of witnessing such a momentous occasion with his own eyes.
Zelos' felt something deep in his chest, like the twisting, gnawing ugly sensation of a monster trying to claw it's way out. 'They look so happy.' He thought, the smallest inkling of something unusual-Guilt, perhaps?- coming to the surface when a darker, more cynical part of himself chose to chide in with, 'of course. They're not the ones marching off towards their death sentence now, are they?'
"-los! Watch out!"
"Hm?" His head shot up not even aware he had been looking down, just in time to see a red blur diving towards him,-Lia-knocking him down. "Wha-hey!" He yelled without thinking, flustered from her suddenly tackling him out of the blue.
"Lia! Zelos!" Genis' voice rang through the air, followed by a confident sounding command, "fireball!"
Quickly regaining himself Zelos shoved Lia off of him not in the mood for 'play time' or whatever she had in mind, only to catch the burning remnants of a zombie that was seconds away from biting into Zelos' own precious head. He shuddered watching the already rotted flesh turn a charred black, shriveling some more and letting out an evil hiss before falling forward. It's dead eyes locking with Zelos' own just before it's head lolled and whatever lingering spirit that remained vanished completely.
"Are you guys okay?" Genis asked quickly running over, a bit winded. "Zelos, what happened? Why didn't you help us?"
Zelos didn't answer. Truth be told, he had zoned out so much that he hadn't even realized they were in the midst of a battle, but he didn't want to tell them that. Was it because he didn't want them to worry? Or was he just being selfish again? He couldn't say for sure.
"Hm, oh sorry, sorry!" Zelos said, pouring an abundance of cheer into his voice and attempting to look at least a little sheepish, "see I was actually thinking of that cute blonde back in class. What was her name again, Rebekah?" He frowned, making a noise of consternation while holding his chin, "or was it Abbey?"
Genis however, grew frustrated again and stomped his foot to get the taller boys attention. "You're unbelievable! We're out here fighting for our lives, and you're thinking about girls!"
"Aww, don't feel bad~!" Zelos said waving a dismissive hand through the air and doing a stretch. "You're protecting the chosen on the Day of the Oracle, consider it a public service."
Genis could only gape in disbelief before lunging, trying to scratch the other boys eyes out with his smaller hands, only for Lianna to stop him. "Lemme at him! Lemme at him!" He started throwing curses at the redheads back as he walked, keeping mostly to Lianna's side for the sake of his own sanity.
"….I know I've said it before, but I really don't see how you can be friends with the guy." Genis said after a good chunk of time passed between them. A few more monster battles serving as the perfect means of relieving stress for Genis; Zelos was a good fighter, being able to utilize both swordsmanship as well as a bit of magic. Still, Genis always hated his attitude.
"He's really not all that bad." Lia said, offering a cheerful smile, "He just...um..." When the brunette trailed off however, Genis was left unconvinced.
The small little elf boy turning his gaze forward looking at said redhead's back once more, a single thought running through his mind.
'This is the guy who's supposed to save the world? We're doomed.'
It didn't take very long before they arrived at the front steps of the church. A fact that only seemed to trouble Zelos really, as the other two were more focused on the commotion going on near the top of the winding staircase.
"What do you think is going on up there?" Genis asked, the familiar cowardice crawling it's way onto the surface making his voice tremble slightly.
"I don't know, but we should-…." Lia paused in her words, sparring a quick glance over her shoulder in Zelos' direction and seeing the way he took an involuntary step back with his shoulders trembling lightly. It was almost like...he was afraid?
The realization made Lianna's heart twist uncomfortably, the thought that someone like Zelos -Overconfident, hyperactive and sometimes goofy- was afraid of something made her feel angry for some reason, not at him but the indirect cause of said fear. She didn't like seeing him like this, she wanted him to smile like he always does around her. She much preferred it when everybody was happy, including Zelos and Genis even.
"Lia?" Genis said, his voice nothing but a whisper now.
From atop the staircase the familiar sound of metal clashing against metal rang out and Lia knew that if they go up there, whatever the reason, someone had come with the intent to harm. If they came to the temple though, then their target would have to be…
There were no words to describe the boiling inferno of rage that overcame Lia in that moment, it was bad enough someone could be hurting the Professor and Phaidra, – Zelos' grandmother – but the thought that Zelos was their real target.
When she spoke again, there was grim determination lurking in every word.
"We have to go. Both Professor Raine and Phaidra are up there," she said trying to instill confidence in the other two – mainly just Genis.
"No, I'll go. "Zelos said, the few traces of fear in his expression were gone now, showing only a sad acceptance and equally bitter realization. "Chances are whoever is up there attacking the place, they...they probably came for me."
The soft admission when spoken aloud somehow made the small pang of guilt inside Zelos' stomach grow tenfold realizing Genis- even though they didn't always get along- didn't deserve to lose his sister because of Zelos. And Phaidra, despite knowing they weren't actually related by blood, shouldn't have had to die for his sake either. What kind of Chosen would that make him?
A pathetic one really, letting two women fight his battles for him. He turned suddenly, meeting Genis and Lia's eyes, mustering a convincing smile and saying in his usual fake cheerful voice, "just wait here for me and I'll be back before you know it! The great Zelos will save the day, no problem!"
He turned intent on somehow calming his somewhat frayed nerves -not his fault dying wasn't on his list of things to-do, thank you very much!- when a hand grasped onto his wrist stopping him from leaving. He didn't trust himself enough to turn around completely. Managing a small sideways glance to see that it was Lianna who stopped him, her own face set into a fierce look of determination.
"You're not going alone." She said, and a part of Zelos wanted more than anything to agree with her, to say he knew she would support him. Only his heart throbbed painfully, the horrid memory from earlier reminding him-
"You should never have been born."
-he could trust no one. That no one cared about Zelos, the sacrificial lamb. Still, he wanted so badly to be able to confide in Lia all his fears. To tell her how terrified he was because dammit, he didn't want to die. He didn't want to be the Chosen, not now or ever.
"Lia, let me go." He said instead, keeping all his feelings locked away-far, far away and buried deep. Only she didn't, instead she tightened her hold on his wrist, letting her hand slip a little further down so that her fingers slipped into his palm.
"I'm going too. I can't let you go this alone." Lia said, dead-set on following through with her words.
Zelos blinked, something starting to sting in the corner of his eyes. He thought it funny, how he'd never noticed just how warm her hand had been up until this very moment.
"I-I'm going too!" Genis spoke up, reminding the two that they were in fact part of a trio. Each watching the small little elven boy's knees tremble a little more while speaking, "y-you know the two of you can't make it without me."
"Excuse me?" Zelos said, already recovered from his brief internal strife. "Last I checked, I had to step in when you ran out of mana in that last fight, short-stack."
"Sh-shut up! You and Lia don't even make up half a brain, I have to be there!" The smaller boy huffed.
Deep down Lia knew he didn't really mean it, but figured he was just trying to sound tough to the taller redhead.
"Wha-at? Listen here, pipsqueak I could flatten you in less than five minutes if I really felt like it." Zelos said, purposely leaning down so he could tower over Genis. Before the two could go any further, their petty argument dissolving into something of a minor tussle, a figure emerging at the top of the stairs caught the attention of the three.
"-Pastor!?" Zelos yelled, paling some when the elderly man collapsed after staggering about halfway down, showing the bloodstained silvery shining blade protruding from his back.
The group of three rushed over, with Zelos kneeling down beside him then followed by Genis.
Genis' eyes were wide in shock, trying to shake the old man, figuring he was just exhausted or something. "Hey!" He said, unable to keep the tremor out of his voice, "y-you okay?"
"Cho-..." A bloodied hand gripped Zelos' own gloved one in an iron-like hold when he tried to feel for a pulse, causing him to flinch. Zelos positioned himself closer, looking into the watering eyes belonging to one of the few priests whom he actually liked, Pastor Adam being one of the very few to see him not as the Chosen, but just Zelos.
"Pastor," Zelos began in a gentle tone he so rarely used anymore. "What has happened? Why is the temple under attack?"
"D-….Desi….ans...a-are at...tacking….th-the….tem...ple!" Zelos' brows furrowed in concentration trying to hear the hushed last words of the Pastor, silently piecing the broken syllables together. "Pl-please!...G-go…..ge...t…..th-the….ora...cle!"
"I will." Zelos promised quietly, seeing a single tear making it's way down the withered, aged face.
"I-I re...gret….that I….will….not...be able….t-to pro….tect….the….Cho-" The words cut off, his grip on Zelos' hand going slack.
Zelos saw that his chest wasn't moving, coming to the grim realization the man was gone for good before either Genis or Lia did, something cold filling his stomach. Nevertheless something inside of him still wanted to believe – he couldn't be gone, right?- and so he attempted a little first aid. The soothing, greenish-blue glow from his healing arts might have gotten rid of a few cuts and scrapes along his body, but ultimately had no effect in reviving him.
"No..."Zelos whispered, his voice not even a whisper anymore. Someone was dead because of him.
"He's gone…." Lia said in a sad tone, resting a hand on Genis' shoulder to stop him from shaking the too cold, too dead corpse anymore.
Zelos felt like something in him was about to shatter. Still, he bit his lip hard enough to draw blood in order to stop the trembling of his fingertips which were now stained with that oh so horrid shade of crimson-at least his gloves kept it from getting on his skin- slowly rising to his feet. He exhaled a deep breath, blowing a few strands of red from where they fell against his headband.
"Come on," Lianna said acting as the pillar of strength the other two needed. "We have to go now."
Zelos nodded. He needed to do this, it was now or never.
'No more running...' he thought, feeling his heart drop down into his stomach, dread filling his entire being.