Tales of Symphonia fanfiction. We are all grains of sand, falling one by one in the hourglass. But what is to be done when that glass breaks? [Spoilers ahead. Yuan/Martel. Basically the time line of the game from Mithos's viewpoint.]

What would you do when the hourglass breaks? When there are cracks being wrought through your beautiful, flawless work?

Cracks were etched into your heart when they killed your sister. Her life ripped from her body without a moment of hesitation, without a single bit of compassion. It was this compassion that you were trying to carve into the world; to stop the greed for magic and growth of technology; it was just as bad as any form of currency-whoever controlled the most magitech controlled the world, enslaved its inhabitants. And if you-or Martel, or Kratos, or Yuan-got in their way, like so many others, they did not care about the means that were used to be rid of you.

Tethe'alla and Sylvarant were split from each other long before you saw fit to do it physically. The skies were murky from the lack of mana, the water was thick with blood and sweat and the stench of war. Sylvarant was planning to invade, to take back something naturally-unnatural that did not belong to them. Mana. When you stripped it all away, the humans and the elves, the magic and the weapons, the hatred and greed all that was left was Mana. It glittered like gold in the eyes of the poor and wealthy. But they wouldn't listen to you or Martel. The humans wouldn't listen because you half-elves; the Elves wouldn't listen, because you were half-elves. Half-elves were nothing in this world of corruption where the light could do little to beat back waves of oppression. Sylvarant invaded. Tethe'alla's capitol fell. And after watching the faces of men who had lost their families, women who had lost their children and all those in between still the only beings who had sought out your voice in the overwhelming pit of sorrow were Kratos and Yuan, a human and a half-elf like yourself. You were surprised that a human allied himself with you; Martel said that it was a blessing and proof that your words were touching the world.

You attempted to preach your words across both worlds, saying that peace needed to be the goal. Stability. When the mana was used up, what would happen then? There would be no technology, and no War. There would be no wages for mercenaries, no families to protect. Mana is what kept the world turning, and it was limited in supply. Magitechnology used substantial amounts of it; the life of the planet was dwindling. Even when the world didn't listen, you still tried to help them. Still tried to make things better for them. When you were weary, Martel's words would revive your spirit. She believed in the goodness of all beings. She believed that if you helped her set an example for humans and elves alike the rest of the world would drop their arms and follow. And so you continued on. If the War would not rest, and it needed more mana, you would find it. Perhaps finding more would stop the conflict enough for a ceasefire to be negotiated. If you controlled the mana, by proxy you also controlled the powers that were looking for it. Those same powers that burned cities and made children homeless. Those same powers that helped send the message that half-elves were inferior. You would stop things using a little force. And Martel agreed. If they wouldn't listen, you would have to get their attention. Kratos agreed. Yuan agreed.

You did your research; you sought to find the origin of such powerful particles; that which made the land breathe, the skies cry sustaining liquid. There was a large comet, named Derris-Kharlan, floating in orbit of the planet, supposedly the vessel used by Elves to find this world and settle here. They brought the Giant Kharlan Tree with them, the source of mana, but you could not figure out where they journeyed from. You and Martel both had been exiled from Heimdall, and there were no such things as friendly elves as far as half-elves were concerned. It was all a dead end. Martel insisted that there must have been something that could have been done. There had to be, for peace was the natural course of things. Yuan implored you to listen, to not give up and to use your noble heart to restore the world to a better state. Martel was right of course, but your faith in the world-in humans and elves-was degenerating. Every option seemed to be cut off with some form of discrimination. How Martel kept her optimism was beyond you.

More searching however, led you to the spirits. It appeared that finally something had worked, with Martel's well wishes and prayers. She was truly magical in the purest sense. Her smile caused children to cease crying and her voice soothed you even when you were at your most angry. You would be nothing without her. Even as you traveled together to make pacts with the spirits, she urged you on. The Spirits were kind, and they granted you powers beyond your imagination. Never before could you literally feel fire flowing through your veins without fear of pain-never could you show a cold-hearted solider what a frozen heart really felt like inside their body. The shadows on the ground, the wind in the sky-between the Summon Spirits and the Cruxis Crystal, you felt like a god. Your party garnered more attention near the end. Everyone wanted to know who the group of four, with wings that shone as jewels were. And you told them, rejuvenated by their attention. You were Mithos, and you were a harbinger of peace. You and Martel, Yuan and Kratos were trying to stop the depletion of mana. The war was evil, and it was draining the earth. The land was dying. With the help of the spirits, you would revive the tree-but only if Sylvarant and Tethe'alla would stop the War. Otherwise you would let this world consume itself in war, pain and pestilence. Martel didn't like it when you said that. She frowned that sad frown that reminded you of your younger years, when you lived in Heimdall before you were affected by the war. You could not bear to see that frown anymore, and you assured her that you didn't mean it. And you didn't; you would revive the tree to make things better for those who did deserve it, not for those who didn't.

...you had only meant your threat a little.

All of the spirits were kind. When approached with the pact terms of restoring the Kharlan Tree, most of them happily agreed, although some of them were wary and required that you proved yourself first. Even they were no match for the efforts of you and your Cruxis Crystal-aptly named by yours truly. Even when you were attacked along the way by the armies of both countries or by monsters, your and Martel's determination, Kratos's expert strategic maneuvers and Yuan's unbridled strength could not be outclassed. One by one, the spirits fell into your hands, some willingly even, for Martel's goal was pure hearted. You, Mithos the Great, served as her voice to the gods of this world.

Once you found them, you were hoping that they would be able to tell you the true source of mana, since you would not go to Heimdall. The spirits were all birthed of the Kharlan Tree upon its arrival, however, and therefore they could not give you the origins of the comet or where it had come from. Martel told you that there were some mysteries best left undiscovered, and that knowledge of the tree's origins would only spark greed for more technology, to journey away to strip whatever world that mana had come from. And she was right-she was always right. You would let it go for now. The elements at your fingertips were all that you needed. A snap of your fingers and life was at your fingertips. Fire, water, wind, light. Ice, electricity, earth, shadow. All yours. And Martel's, for you would do anything that she asked.

The battles began to lessen. Leaders of both countries began to realize the lack of mana was killing everything. Even their machines were finding it difficult to run. The planet was dying. But Martel was overjoyed at the news because it meant negotiations would soon follow. You began to gain a devoted following, those who swore that they would remember your name until the day that they died. A great hero, they called you. Great indeed. But instead you were modest, for Martel was a greater hero than you could ever be. It was her heart that had kept yours beating, her speeches of light and splendor and the world that could be that pulled you through these dark times. As the two countries neared peace talks, Yuan proposed to Martel, his eyes carefully sliding over to you to gauge your reaction. Yuan had been a good friend, and he certainly had believed in Martel's philosophy. From Martel's squeal of happiness, you deduced that they'd probably been spending time together long before this moment. Even Kratos hadn't seemed surprised at this proposal. It made your mind race, although you kept your calculating expression, even smirking a bit as you saw the smile on Martel's face. She said yes immediately, without hesitation; you were preoccupied in the efforts of remembering how closely together Martel had seemed to Yuan in the past. How long had they been together in that way without your noticing? Martel was your reason for living, and while you loved Yuan like a brother, Martel was the most precious thing in the world. It was her vision that would save it. You would not put that in jeopardy, even for Yuan. You would have to watch them more closely, much more closely than you had before.

"...with your permission, of course, Mithos," Yuan added to the end of his proposal, when Martel had settle down.

You opened your mouth to speak, but Martel interrupted. "Of course Mithos would approve. You two are brothers, and he knows that you will take good care of me." You nodded to confirm this. Martel knew your heart better than any other person living. Which is exactly why, that evening after the group had retired, she said, "You are angry with me."

"I could never be mad at you," you said, your words true. Surprised, yes. Irritated, yes. Angry, no. Martel opened her mouth, perhaps to explain herself a bit further, but you waved a hand, saying, "Think nothing of it."

The next morning, you went outside, only to see Yuan packing your party's belongings for departure. You were all almost done with your adventure. You had made pacts with all of the elements, and recently, you had acquired Origin: Ruler of All, the Lord over all of the spirits. It was the most difficult battle you had ever faced. Even with the help of the elements, Martel, Yuan and Kratos it had been very close. Yuan had, in fact, come close to losing his life, and perhaps that was what had driven him to be more open about pursuing Martel. You shook your head gently with this new personal revelation, and made your way to Yuan. You had a whole speech worked out: you're the intimidating brother. You had to make it clear that it is imperative that he kept Martel's interests in mind at all times. That she was precious and that you would kill him without hesitation. Her resolve is what began this mission, and she would keep it going. You wouldn't settle for having her heart broken. You wouldn't...

But those feelings dissolve as your footsteps, trudging in the dirt, bring you face to face to the man that you had traveled with for so long. A man that you've essentially spent a life with. One of the men who heard your voice-before you gained the power to make everyone listen. He truly believed in you, and in Martel, and your vision. He had given up what little life he had to follow you, devoted his loyalty to you in a time where the only reward for loyalty was a stab in the back in exchange for a piece of magitech. And as you thought of all of the enemies that you'd fought, of all of the near-deaths, and monsters that you'd saved each other from-not only yourselves, but also Martel and Kratos- your eyes begin to sting with tears that hadn't shown themselves since you'd begun this journey. You placed a hand heavy with the issues of the land onto Yuan's shoulder and you sigh, fire gone from your eyes and you said, "Please, Yuan. Help me take care of her. She's all that I have." When Yuan grasped your hand within his own and squeezed it, you could feel a new bond forged between the two of you, much stronger than before. You two were united by the one thing that you cherished even more dearly than your own life: Martel. That day you set out with more clarity than ever before. You knew what the goal was, how you were going to achieve it and what you would do with the victory.

You were accompanied to the border between the two countries by your party and a host of humans, and half elves that were willing to be brave and accept your call for peace. There were no elves present; you'd known that there wouldn't be. They wouldn't be leaving Heimdall for a long time. Stuck in their ways, they would remain there until their deaths as the world progressed and left them behind.

Everything happened so quickly. Just when you were about to revive the tree, the party was attacked. Humans and half-elves were shrieking. The assailants were wearing black, equipped with masks, faces covered as though that would hide their identities. But a dead man couldn't protect himself from prying eyes. You would rip through them with their magic. This was the brink of the Age of Peace! This was everything that you had worked for, to give Martel what she wanted-to give the undeserving world a break from calamity. Your heart began to burn as Yuan and Kratos beat back the intruders, herding the innocents behind them, and you did the same as well, keeping an eye on Martel as usual. Her magic was protecting them all as well as attacking the men dressed in black. They didn't speak. They didn't need to. You knew what they were here for. To stop the mission, and to give the nations so close to a ceasefire a reason to break out in arms again. But you weren't having it. You were so close, so very close to giving your sister the world that she wanted. The quaking anger rippled through your veins. Your very body was being consumed by flowing lava. You raced through them, spitting lightning, tossing fire, turning the air against them. Behind you, the tree was truly dying, becoming a seed-

Then everything dies. That was the moment that it happened. A human, one from the group that was being guarded by Martel stepped forward, clinging to her robe, a sword already in her back tearing through her flesh. She screamed, and you turned. The human melted-literally, his skin burned from his bones and his muscles and organs soon followed-his scream followed hers, although it was unfit to mingle with her melodic voice. Everyone panicked. Kratos moved to strike the last few attackers who were still fighting, to clamp a hand on your arm, to try to convince you to restrain yourself. But there was no restraint. There was only Martel's pain and everyone needed to feel it, to know what she knew. She'd made so many sacrifices already-the fighting and discrimination, her body having difficulty adapting to the crystals-she didn't deserve this. You rushed to her. She was only cut. Badly, but still only cut. She would live if you healed her.

"Save...them first," she pleaded when you got to her. Yuan remained with her, pushing down on her wounds to stem the blood. He checked to make sure that her key crest wasn't damaged.

"No, I'm not leaving you. Healing will only take a few minutes, Martel, so-"

A shout sounded from a while away. The crowd that had traveled with you was being attacked. Those monsters in black were attacking the innocent. "Mithos," Kratos said, trying to get your attention.

"NO!" you growled back in response. "Martel is more important than any of their lives will ever be!"

"MITHOS!" Martel's pained reprimand reached your ears. With that intense look upon her face there was no reason for her to say anything else. You had to go. She was willing it. Tears streaming down her face, she smiled, for she saw you rising and she knew that you were about to do the right thing. But the truth is that you only knew it was right because she was telling you to do it. A human betrayed her, and because of it she was injured. They were all traitors as far as you were concerned. None of them had tried to protect her. None of them had tried to pull the man away from her. And now she was...she was...

Fine. She was fine. You would heal her when you were finished. You moved forward, away from her body, with uneasiness in your soul. As you raised your sword and began to fight again, it felt different. Effortless. The bodies in front of you crumpled, black clothes stained with blood that only you can see with enhanced sight from the crystal. Kratos was covering you, to keep you from suffering the same fate as Martel, but the fact of the matter was that the air around you was pulsating-you would feel if anyone beside Kratos was behind you. And you continue to step forward, more beings fell with every stroke of your sword. You looked around, taking down anyone wearing black, but all of their faces looked the same, even when you removed the masks. Humans, half-elves. A million of them could have died and it would still not have been worth the life of your precious Martel, the only being alive who cared about these worthless maggots more so than herself. Every stroke of your sword, every flash of lightning, torrent of water, explosion of fire, crackle of ice, shudder of earth, every piece of magic was a killing blow to exact revenge. Kratos said nothing, and you knew that he felt your rage as well. You practically threw all of the "innocents" together so that they didn't accidentally kill themselves with their delicacy. When the remaining assassins tried to run, you dragged them back to you by their shadows and their lives were snuffed out as a candle.

"Mithos!" Yuan called, voice sounding desperate. You looked around. Not a single body lying on the ground was alive. You were satisfied with your work. Martel was dying. The followers tried to approach her, and you blasted them back with a gust of wind. No one else would touch her. You'd had enough of that. She was coughing blood, eyes clouding quickly. "Martel..." Yuan whispered. There were no words in your mouth. If you were to speak, it would have been a curse on mankind. Martel wouldn't want such things.

"Please..." Martel rasped. "Stop the discrimination, Mithos." You looked down at her, kneel, and stretched out your fingers to her back. They immediately became engulfed in sticky blood. She could speak any more. She coughed again, and shuddered while the magic flowed from your hands. Nothing happened. You began to grow frustrated. Why wasn't the magic working? Were you not powerful enough? That could not have possibly been the case. You concentrated harder.

Kratos put a hand on yours, signaling for you to stop and you almost severed it instinctively. You would have done it, too, if it would have brought her back to full health. He knew this and you could feel his glare on you for your haste. "Mithos-"

"What?" you roar back, biting your lip. Your head began to pound with the effort of reviving Martel. There was nothing that you couldn't do. The seas and the sky and the land heeded your every order. The world would implode if you willed it. Certainly the wounds of a petty human assassin could not outwit your abilities?

Yuan shook his head. "She's-" tears filled his eyes, much like yours had just a few days ago when you had spoken to him. Yuan did not cry. Never was the crying type. And this...this-

"I am sorry," Kratos said. You wanted to deny the truth, but there it sat before you. There was a large heave, a sigh, from her body, and it relaxed completely; Yuan had to hold her in position now. He reached to close her eyes and as he does so her body began to fade, her essence pooling into her crystal.

"No..." you said softly. Your mind was racing, thinking. With all of this technology, there had to be something that could prevent her death. You slammed your hand, charged with mana, onto her vanishing form, and it rippled, becoming tangible, solid. It took an unexpected toll; your limbs felt heavier in a way that you had only experienced while fighting the Summon Spirits. You were weakening. Your power was not enough to bring her back-you were barely sustaining her form as is. Thinking, thinking. You needed more mana to keep her alive. It took no more than a moment for you to realize that the largest source of mana, even if it was weakened was the seedling of the Kharlan Tree, dwindling by the second. If it could sustain a whole world even while it was dying, surely it would revive your sister. You looked around you, at all of the faces and people. Martel body rippled again.

"Mithos..." Kratos said in a cautionary tone.

"I won't let her die!" you said defensively. "She is everything to me." Your body was crouched, and only you realized that you were so weakened that you could not move even if you had wanted. Turning your head was all that you could do, and you made sure to look every single one of the remaining beings in your presence in the eyes as you spoke. "You-you all didn't care for her life, even as she was willing to give hers for you! You would not stop your fighting even as we were risking our lives for the power to save you! This is madness! What sense does this make? Your very planet is dying and only when one person amasses the power to save it do you begin to have hope? You could have taken this world's fate into your own hands. Origin!"

As you summoned the Ruler of All, his stern face and four arms ready to do your bidding, you felt as though gravity had grown more powerful. You were barely keeping yourself above the ground.

"Mithos, let her go," Yuan said. "We can't save her!" he was crying, but he refused to acknowledge it. Kratos's eyes couldn't even look at Martel's fading body.

"I won't give up on her. She didn't give up on me!" you hissed. "I will put a stop to this petty bickering over mana. There will be no more magitechnology. Say goodbye to it now!"

"What exactly is it that you are about to do?" Kratos asked. He thought that you didn't notice his eyes straying away from your face, from her body. But you did. And it was painful, because you wanted to do the same thing, but you didn't have the strength to stop looking at her.

"Origin!" you said, attempting to sound commanding even as your heart was breaking inside. The pain was overbearing. "Make me a sword that will tear asunder time and the fabric of dimensions itself! Sylvarant and Tethe'alla will no longer co-exist."

"Mithos-" Yuan began, but he was emotional. Soft. You would persuade him. There wasn't much time.

"The fighting between these countries has killed thousands-perhaps millions. All for mana, which they are depleting by doing so. The seed is dying. It cannot support all of the life that currently exists." You addressed Origin. "As part of our pact," you said, even though you did not mean a single word, "I promise that I will restore these worlds to their original state when the Seed is stronger but we cannot have it die. We need it to survive." The idea was forming in your head as you spoke. Two worlds, one seed. The push and pull. Neither country deserved full effort from the Great Seed and you would make it so that neither would ever have it.

"It is dying," Origin says, confirming your words.

"Take Martel's Crystal," you commanded Origin, "and fuse it with the seed using the sword that you will create. The power of her Crystal will keep it from dying. The seed will keep her from dying. They will become one. Martel will become what she has always been-the last light in this cruel world. It will be her legacy."

And so your plan fell into place. Martel's sacrifice was so great that even Kratos didn't question your decision. He understood your pain. His pain. You were brothers; he felt it as well. When the Eternal Blade was shaped by the hands of Origin the worlds were indeed split in two. Martel was still alive; you could feel it when the Seed pulsed in your hand. She was there, safe. Yours. The idea of what to do with the worlds took several days to take root in your mind. But with the help of Yuan it was brought to fruition. He thought along the same lines as you and the two of you working together-with Kratos pointing out fallacies for you to correct in your plans-the years went by quickly. There was so much to do, so many plans to perfect. Exire was founded for scorned half-elves and Maxwell was sealed there; you ask if it was possible to modify his pact to keep this isle afloat. He agreed. Yuan suggested destroying Heimdall, but you refused. Those loathsome elves had seen what you could do, even if they were not aware of you specifically. They would not stir from their protective forest, and they would leave you alone. Kratos believed that they would be useful later as well, and you took that into consideration and moved on, as there were more important things to take care of.

You erased all physical evidence of your existence-you did not need anyone seeking yourself out for what you had done. There had been enough uprisings. Now it was time for the lesser beings to take their place, as had been their place for years, though they had shown very little knowledge of that. The three of you, with Martel's soul in tow, migrated to the empty Derris-Kharlan, the meteor suspended in the sky that you'd read about in your books and scrolls when researching the history of mana. You created an organization to monitor and regulate the two new worlds: Cruxis, after the crystal that had helped save Martel's life. You were angels now, the four of you, better than the riff-raff who had begun a war for nothing. Martel had tried to give them all a chance; she had truly believed that if she spoke good things, if she had made an effort-if all four of you had made an effort together-you would succeed. And you failed. You could not have succeeded because there could be no success without Martel. Kratos knew it and Yuan knew it.

Once the worlds were cleaved, you made sure that the previous leaders of Sylvarant and Tethe'alla were slain. Not a single member of their employ was left alive. There were a few sneaky ones, those who attempted to lie in wait for you to turn your eye. But you were angels, not mortal beings, and while some took longer than others the eye of the growing Cruxis did not waiver from them. Without leaders the worlds fell into ruin for a few decades, as kingdoms were known to do while they were rulerless. It was during this period that Kratos and Yuan began to ask what would be done. "You can't just leave them there to kill themselves," they said. "Martel would never want that." And so it was true; you weren't through with those inferior beings yet.

The Seed had been placed between the worlds as a stabilizer; Origin proposed the process of cultivating the Seed gradually. He confirmed that Martel's soul indeed did live on in the Seedling, not that you had needed the likes of him to inform you of that fact. If the spirits of one world were awake, and the other asleep, there would be balance. The flow of power between spirits of the opposite elements, one revived and one in slumber would form links around the seed. The most viable plan, Origin had said, would be leave the Tethe'allan spirits in slumber. Once every millennium while the Seedling began to grow stronger, you would awaken one of the Sylvaranti spirits. A pair of opposites being awakened at the same time would break one of the links, releasing the mana being contained in the flow and feeding it to the seed, making it even stronger. Repeat this upwards to four times to release all of the links, and the Tree would be restored to its former glory.

"And what of Martel?" you asked. Not a single spirit, not a single half-elf or human had mentioned her since her demise. Not even Yuan. Over the years he had grown hardened, waiting until you had the technology to bring her back. You looked over at him, and he seemed to be thinking the same thing. His expression was thoughtful, something that you had not been expecting from the hardened jaw that you were used to seeing these days. He had grown cold, like you. Martel had been the warmth in your hearts and those wretched things below took it away from you. Fiery anger threatened to overwhelm your heart again, and you clenched your fist while you awaited your answer.

Origin replied that Martel's sacrifice was noble, but when the Seed germinated her soul would be transformed into pure mana. You would lose her. Your eyes closed. The first instinct was to object, but Yuan handled that for you.

"We have done all of this work to stop the fighting, to save her soul and we still lose her? Without her none of this would be possible!" he said, clearly angered. As his emotions waxed, yours waned, and you realized that Origin had no intention of helping you to bring Martel back. He followed the terms of his pact and that was all. He cared nothing for the fact that it was Martel's heartfelt pleas, her ideals instilled in you and your voice that had moved him-along with your sword-to join them in the first place. Did a single soul aside from Yuan, Kratos and yourself give a damn about Martel? Your nails were cutting into your palms with anger, but you stilled yourself from speaking. You would have to work around Origin. If he cared nothing for your goals, you would care nothing for his. You wouldn't let him know that, though.

Kratos objected to his idea. If all of the spirits in Tethe'alla were asleep, he said, there would be little mana there at all and the world would be clinging to life. "What," he asked, "has Sylvarant done to deserve life with mana over Tethe'alla? We cannot play favorites here." It was his statement that inspired it all, little did he know. Right then and there, you unsheathed the Eternal Sword.

"There must be some sort of compromise for this issue, Origin. Surely, you are in favor of restoring the worlds...?" you asked slyly, coyly. Kratos and Yuan were uneasy in the presence of the sword-they had not seen its blade in quite a while. "It is part of your pact with me. You cannot break it."

"Neither can you," he replied, all four arms crossed. He was guarding himself magically, you could sense. He was ready for whatever it was that he believed that you were about to do. "With the Elements back in the worlds, and not with me, what is to keep another from annulling my pacts and forging new ones?"

Origin dipped his head, his arms loosening. It's almost as though he understood you for a moment, although you knew that he never would. "A person would have to have conditions as moving as yours, and a might as great as yours to establish the pacts. Such is unlikely."

That didn't dismiss the concern in your mind. "I am undeterred by that logic," you said. "The leaders of Sylvarant and Tethe'alla didn't think that anyone would be able to oppose them-they didn't think that Cruxis Crystals existed, so tied up were they in their magitechnology. But here I am. Here we are, and the worlds are now split in two, and all of those men and women are dead, as are the scientists. What would I have to do to keep the spirits from prying hearts? Every human and half-elf with a sob story is going to be going after the spirits to do their bidding. And once we sort out this spirit business there is going to be more mana in the worlds than there is presently. Magitechnology cannot be supported, but I believe that magic will. I will not have Cruxis taken away from me before my goal is met. Tell me what I can do. Answer the question."

Origin furrowed his brows, as though he was thinking. The Eternal sword was still pulsing in the air, and the expression on both Kratos and Yuan's faces were pleading to have you put it away. You would not. In his usually defiant-sounding voice, Origin replied, "To lock each spirit in a location whose entry has a condition that is very improbable. Logically it is not in your favor to find that many places for them. For example, you have Maxwell locked within Exire. It is unlikely that anyone will be able to reach the floating isle and defeat him to annul your pact. It would take a heartless man to do it, knowing that the half-elves there will perish. There are only a handful of locations with potential identical stipulations."

You laughed aloud. "As though we have not met enough monsters on our journey. However, I understand the idea." And you did. "My wish, Origin, is to keep anyone from summoning you Even if, although unlikely, another 'hero' emerges to unite the two worlds again, I have the Eternal Sword. Without you to destroy it or summon it for another, I have nothing to fear. Do you understand? The dilemma here it that I require you nearby, for you have been very useful. I thank you for all of your help, as well as that of your fellow spirits." Origin seemed taken aback, not expecting any type of gratitude from you. In that moment you contemplated the idea of you having become as callous as Yuan-perhaps you have. The Ruler of All nodded in response to your comments, and you continued. "I am going to seal you now, Origin," you said casually, as though it were a part of a natural conversation, "within Kratos." The mercenary's eyes widened, and you explained your logic. "He is always near me, and with you sealed within him, I can be assured that no living being will have contact with you until his mana is released. I will not allow that to happen."

Origin said nothing, his jaw set. You looked towards Kratos, and he nodded. "If it will help bring back Martel," he said, resigned to his assigned fate, "I will gladly sacrifice myself. She did the same without hesitation."

You laughed. "Why so serious, Kratos? You are not going to die. Think of it as you becoming Origin's guardian. Guarding is what you do best, after all." Your words were carefully chosen; if Kratos had been better at his trade Martel would be standing here today. Although it is unspoken, you also knew that with Origin sealed away, your pact could be annulled. It was a win-win, all in your favor.

And it was done. Origin was sealed within Kratos while Yuan watched, with the Eternal Sword. With the exceptions of Maxwell and Origin, the Spirits were all to be returned to their former locations, locked away and hidden. And without Origin or the spirits about to defy your will, Cruxis took hold of the world. Rather than Origin's plan to slowly nourish the Seed, with Kratos's aid you established the Church of Martel, dedicated to spreading good across the land as well as keeping their eyes and ears on information. As the leader of Cruxis, you took a new form, more befitting the head of such an organization. Taller, longer hair; you looked about the same age as Kratos—or at least the age he had been when you'd met. And almost as though in response, the years passed by quickly. A goal eventually presented itself: making everyone the same. Getting rid of discrimination and teaching those peons down on Aselia a lesson; Martel's goal. You began experimenting a bit more with Exspheres and Cruxis Crystals, trying to see if there is a way to restore your sister's body from the Seed. Nothing. Derris-Kharlan had its own store of mana, one that you could use to develop technology-all geared towards restoring Martel. You would not fight for it; you would work within your limitations and create what you could. There would be no war on Derris-Kharlan and that made you better than them. You achieved what they couldn't without the conflict.

You created the Desians for this purpose. An artificial race of half-elves, they existed only as beings to experiment on. Decades turned into centuries. Unfortunately, every subject died. Yuan discovered that whatever subject was going to take the body of Martel had to have a mana signature close to hers. You tested your own, willing to sacrifice even yourself to bring her back. But the results showed that your signatures couldn't be further apart; the resonance was off. This angered you, and for the first time you took a Desian and whipped them to death, something that would become a frequent hobby for you later. Kratos suggested that an Exsphere was cultivated for use of the vessel, for a being that cannot perform magic would never be close to Martel's signature. You tried it and ran tests, and the results were still negative, but better. It was then that you made the angels of Cruxis, creatures with Desian build, but equipped with weakened Cruxis Crystals, all of them, so that they could appear to be more powerful. It was these creatures that you used as messengers to the church of Martel. It was they that over the next few centuries would establish the folklore in both worlds that would come to be common knowledge about the four of you. Mithos, the hero who sacrificed himself for the world on the Holy Ground of Kharlan which no longer exists and his companions. He was the inspiration of Cruxis, he whose soul is one with the Great Seed of Mana.

Yuan, cleverly, was the one who suggested trying to breed a perfect match for Martel's signature. It was only through combining bloodlines with the most powerful mana signatures-those who practiced the most powerful magic of either world—that could get a signature that was close to what Martel used to be. He was only referring to the Angels and Desians when he had done so, but you took his incomplete idea and made it resplendent. Using the Church of Martel, you established the Journey of Regeneration. It was Kratos's idea to label the person in question to make the journey, "The Chosen." It was catchy, it sounded important, and it would work. The humans ate it up.

"When this 'Chosen' person makes pacts with the spirits of their world," you told them, "they will signal the mana links from one side to fade and awaken those on their own. That will maintain balance. With two worlds trying to take the mana supply, I can be assured that there will be no more magitechnology. No more wars."

"No more sacrifices like Martel's," Kratos said quietly.

"As though another being could have a heart as pure as Martel's," you spat, glaring at him. "Look at them. Even now they still continue to treat half-elves like dirt! Even now, Exire is the only place that they have true peace. And Martel's death is more than two hundred years old! There is no reason as to why this should continue. They deserve nothing more than they currently have. Yuan, how would they treat you-how would they treat me, if we were to take our mundane forms and settle there? You keep in contact with the Church of Martel. How would it go?"

Yuan's voice was dark. "Currently the Church of Martel is the only location that will take in half-elves. Other cities have been destroyed and even attacked because of one half-elf living there alone. Many half-elves need to found their own communities to survive." Kratos had nothing else to say, of course.

"Like I was saying," you resumed, "also, this balance will keep the Seed from growing. With the mana links remaining in place they will absorb what the seed produces and it will not grow. Martel will not die."

"We promised Origin we would return the seed," Kratos said. Always the logical one.

"Yes," you said, the words running over your tongue like drizzled honey, "and we will. But Martel must be given justice first. She deserves a new body. She deserves to be here with us, as a founder of Cruxis! As one of the four true Angels. I will not stop until she is here beside me. The world will suffer as she did." It was shortly after that conversation the phrase "Four Seraphim" was coined. It projected the four of you, including Martel, as the founders of Cruxis. "But I digress. Each journey made will also keep the Spirits at bay. They will be under the impression that another is attempting to reunite the worlds, but the Chosen will be taken over. We will provide them with a Cruxis Crystal at their birth." Kratos began to object again, but you were three thoughts ahead of him. "-ah ah ah. Without the Key Crest. With every battle they will succumb to the same effects that I did-that we all did-and by the time the journey is finished they will be the perfect shell for experimentation with Martel. Aselia will lose one human every few years-I'm sure that no one will notice. They will have made the sacrifice to bring the world back to what they perceive as normal. The mana will flow, and the other world will be in decline, and the time until that country makes the journey, the top magical families will be brought together by the Church."

They were both stunned by the coherence of it all. Even Kratos couldn't deny that it fit together almost perfectly. Although you would be credited with the conception it was truly a network of inspiration-even from those who were not considered allies. And so it began. The Church began to preach of the return of Martel through a vessel born of the most powerful mages of the ages. That alone was enough to subliminally urge the most powerful parties together-in this, Tethe'alla developed more so than Sylvarant; in the former, the most powerful were becoming leaders, taking the story of you and your companions and spinning it into the basis for another kingdom. Tethe'alla needed leaders, they said, that would not let the world sink into the waste that led to the "Great Kharlan War". That was something that you became annoyed with over the years: as the stories developed, for some reason there was always the word "great" mixed in. The Great Kharlan Tree, The Great Hero Mithos, The Great Seed; it made no sense to you, but it didn't hinder you goal so you would tolerate it.

Spiritua was the first "Chosen" for the journey, her Cruxis Crystal delivered by you in person, in your Cruxis form when she had been a child. She was from Tethe'alla and a failure at least. Borne of the families of Kharlyle and Yyip-as noble as humans dared become at that period of time-she believed that she was going to bring the world to peace. She was rather timid when she had begun her journey, priests accompanying her to reassure her. But over her adventure she began to grow in her power-she practiced night and day to master her arts and magics. You watched her closely. Each sacrifice brought her closer to being a lifeless being, to being the perfect vessel for Martel. She said nothing of the sacrifices that she was making-her loss of senses, even though the priests already knew. But as she made pacts with each of the Spirits in her "world", she grew more insolent. She deviated from her Chosen's Path on several occasions, even venturing to the King of Tethe'alla, in his newly constructed city of Meltokio, to intimidate him with her magics. She became insolent, driving away unarmed humans and half-elves with strikes of lightning and spears of ice. The commoners began to doubt her intentions and many believed that their world would die because of her. By the time she completed her journey, several cities had attempted to refuse her rest there, and she had begotten the nickname "Angel of Death and Destruction." She both spied upon and denounced the King at every opportunity, insisted that the Angels should run the world and not greedy, selfish, stupid humans and half-elves. You awaited the end of her journey, as you were growing tired of her running mouth; she knew nothing of which she spoke. The last seal was located on the "Holy Ground of Kharlan," where you had constructed a temple of sorts for the occasion, one to cover up the barren ground where Martel spent the last moments of her physical life. It was there that you greeted her, and told her that she must give her heart and mind to restore the world. You would take her to Derris-Kharlan and she would be with you as a reward for awaking Martel. She replied that to be with you was her heart's desire, and she would do whatever you wished. She displayed such distaste for the world; she wanted to leave. In the end, you gave her what she wished. The Cruxis Crystal absorbed every bit of the humanity that existed within her. She was a shell. Perfect. As promised to Yuan and Kratos in your plans, Spiritua's efforts reversed the flow of mana and Tethe'alla became the first flourishing world, maintaining the majority of the mana that flowed through Aselia. Sylvarant as a consequence, went into decline, and the Church of Martel began their work in that world.

...and then she tested negative as Martel's mana match. You were infuriated. Spiritua, who had made pacts with the spirits, was much too powerful for you to leave alone. If something happened she could be possessed by any other spirit.

"What will you do with her?" Kratos asked. "Surely not kill her?"

"I could," you said, but that was not the option that you were thinking of. "I believe that there is another use for her. But she has a Crystal, and that I cannot permit. There are only four Seraphim, and even the Angels have lesser Crystals. There will not be more. I will tear her wings from her and give her an Exsphere instead."

Kratos's face turned red, presumably with anger. "You can't take the Crystal from her. She'll die. That's just as bad as killing her."

You defended yourself. "It is better than that. If I can replace her Crystal with an Exsphere, she will be loyal to me. As of now, she is lifeless. Her mind has left her body and therefore she is not alive. Her pacts are broken. If I allow her to keep the Crystal she may one day attempt to overthrow me. She is scum to me, Kratos. All that I hold dear are you, Yuan and Martel. I will not be fooled into believing a woman who is but a pawn in my plans. I will oversee the transplant, and we will revise the journey. I do not like the idea of our Chosen having the power to kill you or Yuan. Strong you may be, but with the power of half of the Summon Spirits future Chosen will be a threat to you."

Kratos nodded. "You express concern for my life."

You wheeled around, thrown off by his strange response. "You truly believed in Martel. I cannot ask more from a brother than that."

Kratos's eyes softened, just for a moment, and it was the first time that you had seen him in this way since Martel's death. "I am critical of you because I want you to consider all possibilities."

You smiled. Indeed, his ploy of Devil's Advocate for every argument you make was helpful-there were many holes that you may not had seen otherwise. "And I plan because I am concerned for your life. I would not have you pass as Martel did. Either of you." There was no more that needed to be said.

It was then that you called in Yuan. The three of you together journeyed to each of the locations, in the cover of night to deal with the spirits. With the Eternal Sword, the sword that would do any and everything, it was not difficult to manipulate them without their knowing. Origin could not protect them, and because you were manipulating mana your task was accomplished without speaking to a single spirit, although they would undoubtedly notice the magical change taking place. They would be angered with you, of course, for not restoring the tree after all of these years. You would deal with that at a later time. Using the sword, the seals for the Chosen themselves became the mechanism to release mana into the world; the spirits served as the links to hold the worlds apart and nothing more, and they were sent to eternal slumber. It was exhausting work, even for you, and you found yourself spent for days after the task. It had taken almost everything in you to keep Martel alive, and a bit less to split the worlds, but it was a scary thing to feel your seemingly infinite energy leaving your body. It made you feel weak, as though anything could kill you on a whim. Vulnerable, and you did not like that feeling at all.

After you recovered, there was the issue of Spiritua to be handled. Kratos would not let you forget it, and neither would Yuan once he'd gotten word of it. With your strength restored, you crafted a Key Crest. This restored her personality. She was bewildered at first, but you commanded Kratos to knock her out for the time being, and he did so without question. You did not want to listen to her incessant chatter, did not feel like explaining what she was doing here. You had no patience for that. With her soul restored, you removed the Crystal and replaced it with an Exsphere. The Crystal, being worn by her for such a long time, had a deep imprint in her flesh and spirit. Any other person than yourself would not have been able to do what you just did. You took pride in that. It did not go without its side effects, however. Even mere moments without the Crystal to curb her power—magical power that her human body could not handle—caused her body to begin to mutate until the Exsphere was put in place. Yuan averted his eyes, but Kratos watched with a morbid curiosity. It wasn't that bad, by your standards; her fingers and toes had begun to change to claws and talons, but the worst of it was her wings. Without the Crystal they had been the first to shift, each section of her wings becoming something like a bat's: leathery with a claw at the top and on the end. Six of them spouted, not from her back but floating as your wings did. It was truly an interesting phenomenon but you were glad for it as it meant you did not have to remove her wings as you had promised.

The girl awoke crying. She believed that she looked hideous. You informed her that she had not been able to awake Martel, although she had somewhat restored the world. A lie, of course, but one that would keep her off of your back. She need not know the whole story to be a pawn, and you would kill her had she refused to do your bidding, anyway. That much Yuan and Kratos had both agreed upon. You had attempted to get Kratos to speak to the girl since he pitied her the most, but it was brought to your attention that you were the only one she had interacted with from Cruxis since birth, and you were forced to do your best savior act for her. You reassured her that things would alright, that she was still one of the most powerful being in existence-which was actually true, to some degree-and you graciously offered her a position serving you. After a few meetings, she accepted your offer, especially after you mentioned that she could keep an eye on the King of Tethe'alla, for you were aware of his treachery. However, there were greater things at work here, and the main goal was restoring Martel. That was as much as you were willing to explain. She pledged her fealty to you. That was good enough. You made her Lady over the Desians for they were growing in number, and outfitted armor for her unique form including gloves, boots and ornate gold casings for her multiple wings. She expressed the wish to no longer want to be a part of the world below, and she abandoned her name. When Kratos inquired as to what she wanted to be called, she said simply, "Pronyma." The next time that you met with Yuan and Kratos, alone, you promised them that if other Chosen did not match Martel you would not be so nice. Considering how long it might take to find a match for Martel's mana signature, you could not take in every cur from the streets and make them into personnel. You wanted to be surrounded by people you trusted. They would not fault you that.

Years began to pass again. You made more minor changes to the journey of regeneration, to suit your needs in both Tethe'alla and Sylvarant. Derris-Kharlan was hidden from the eyes of both countries using the Tower of Salvation, the only passageway from the comet to Aselia for security purposes. It was partially constructed for the convenience of the "lesser angels", as you called your minions with physical wings, Pronyma and also the Desians, expanded from the temple previously built on the Holy Ground of Kharlan. The Church of Martel began to build some sort of hierarchy in Tethe'alla, claiming all sorts of untruths about Cruxis and the true nature of Angels. It was interesting, as the centuries found themselves falling through your grip, how each country developed a bit differently. Tethe'allan scholars began to seek out the magitechnology of the past, researching why they consumed so much mana. They were leagues behind you, however, and therefore you allowed them their space. You and Kratos began your own experiments to seek an alternate way of achieving Martel's mana signature. Chosen after Chosen were failing in both worlds to match her essence. You did not think it would be so difficult. Your searching led you to try to cultivate a perfect Exsphere or Crystal to accelerate a person's signature to match Martel's. Centuries turned into millennia and there was no relief. Sometimes at night you could do nothing but pound your fists against the walls of your chambers-all you wanted was Martel back in the flesh. Why must it have been so difficult? Why did it have to take so long?

The years were taking a toll on Yuan and Kratos as well. All they did was train, for outside of specific orders from you it was the only thing that they had to do with their lives. They were growing just as restless as you. So you gave them more work. Kratos began to supervise many of the Angelic researchers on Derris-Kharlan, and Yuan was sent to supervise the Desians, who were growing in number. Sooner rather than later, the Desian population was sent to live and mingle with humans and half-elves in Aselia. They were rejected, as you expected, and therefore they formed hordes that pillaged the world of humans, more easily in the declining world. Yuan reported later that they were using Humans to make Exspheres, and once Kratos's Angels proved that humans showed exponentially positive output for Exsphere power, the hierarchy for Cruxis was finally put in place. The Desians were the bottom feeders, as clearly they were no longer even useful in the labs-they were grunts, made for the difficult work that was not worthy of Kratos and Yuan or yourself. It would make no sense for any of the Four Seraphim to travel down amongst the humans for every single little whim.

Somewhere in the midst of it all, you were given reports of the presence of a Dwarf hanging about the Church of Martel, asking to speak with Martel herself. This was perplexing. The Dwarves were a race that had been wiped out almost before the Kharlan War, and it was likely that this particular being was even older than you, in your two thousand years. A threat, surely. Despite your ability you know not what powers shaped the world-this man may be able to give you answers. However, when you meet him in Martel's stead he offers nothing but a vessel for Martel-An android, a piece of technology from the "Old World" as he called it, that he still had the knowledge and means to construct. Androids, he was informed, used very little mana in comparison to larger machines, but only Dwarves could make them.

Your instinct was to torture the information from him.

"You cannot do that," Kratos said, ever the brazen counselor. "If you have not gone to Heimdall to murder and pillage the Elves for their secrets, it would be unjust for you to do the same to a race that is very much in danger of extinction."

"Aside from that," Yuan pointed out, "if he had been planning to do harm to our plans to revive Martel, he would have done it already. Being as old as he is, he must remember the world before the War. He could have gone around collecting artifacts or preaching the truth. He did not. He was hidden during the War, away from humans and half-elves and technology. Clearly he wants to live in peace. He's a smart man." As always, Yuan considered the perspective of a cut throat. "He is not stupid, Mithos. He called for Martel at the Church; he knew that he would not be met by her-his offer was ready. He knows what he's doing."

Kratos and Yuan were there when you questioned him. "What is your name, dwarf? We have not been properly introduced."

"I am Altessa, of a city that no longer exists. What shall I call you?"

"I am Yggdrasil. And what is it that you hope to gain here?"

"My home is overrun with misplaced travelers and roamers-and Desians. I wish a place of solitude. I know who you are," he said, "and I know what you have done. It makes no difference to me, for I am still alive and I am glad to see the magitechnology gone. I am aware that you can keep me in my solitude. I offer my services in exchange for that. Martel was a wonderful woman. She did not deserve her fate."

Your hands clenched. However, he was showing compassion for Martel so you let the sin of speaking her name out loud pass. "How many more Dwarves are there?"

"I do not know. We keep to ourselves, and I have not seen a single one since long before the War. I know what you are thinking. There is no one here to turn against you. Just I myself and myself alone. There are no others waiting to ambush you."

"And you will not tell me how to make such a thing myself?"

Altessa shook his head. "The last of the accursed technology will die with me. To hell with it all. I am a craftsman, but I am no war bringer. I would sooner die than reveal what I do to anyone."

His resolve was as steel; he was impressive and therefore you hired him, allowing him to make his android. It was a process that Kratos oversaw, as you knew that he would soak up whatever information he could glean from the process. Even if you would not know how to create such a machine, you would indeed try to learn how to handle certain materials in an expert way, or different combinations if possible. It took several months, as each piece was crafted by his own hand. He did not bring anything with him other than his hands and requested nothing but ordinary tools for welding and the molding of metals. It was amazing, watching him worked. He worked every day from morning until evening, went to sleep in his chambers, woke up and did the same thing all over again. It was discovered while he was working that he could craft other things: Key Crests, for example, something you hadn't been able to make other than by magic until then. He didn't mind showing you how to make the Key Crests. It pleased you to work with him for the short time that you did. He had the drive that reminded you of yourself, of your goal, and better-he did not want to interfere with it. It was the first time that you had been truly impressed by another being, and a pity that it could not have been a human. Despite his vow of silence about the process, he did speak to you about other things. Dwarves, apparently, were the pioneers of magitechnology, using machines to make every day life on Aselia a bit easier for the old and the weak. They stuck to themselves, hidden away from human and elf eyes alike. They had their own warrior's code, a code adhered to by the old and young, strong and weak. Their rules stressed compassion for mankind, strength and wisdom. It was because of their customs that magitech had not grown to be as consuming as when humans got their hands on it. Once that happened, humans sought to eradicate the Dwarves, as they were the only race that could potentially outclass them. It was for that reason that he would rather die than pass off his knowledge. He had no children, and there were no more elves to even substantiate such an idea. He would not corrupt a halfling, laden with the burdens and temptations of men, with information that could become dangerous in the wrong hands.

And he produced a beauty; an Android girl with no name, green hair and eyes that had just a hint of Martel in them even without the Crystal. She looked perfect. She had no personality at all, but if things were successful she would have one soon enough. There was a small slot, under a chest plate with probes that were taken to the Great Seed and connected there. It didn't work. There was no response, no matter how many times you stimulated the exchange between machine and Seed. Nothing. This was the first and only time an attempt occurred where you cried. It wasn't fair. Years and years, life after life, and still none of it was good enough for Martel. It simply emphasized how much better she had been, how superior. You wanted to rouse her spirit to hear her say something to you, something reassuring to replenish you. But there were no words and emptiness filled its place. You did not emerge from your chamber for days. This particular attempt had cracked another part of you-something that you'd thought had been taken away when Martel died. Your devastation frightened Altessa, and he fled Cruxis quickly. Yuan and Kratos let him, for he had done nothing but fail. Another failure. Your life was full of them.

When you went back to work it was with a new, hardened attitude-more like Yuan. You were tired of being disappointed and you began to wonder-did the humans down there get tired of being disappointed? Were the half-elves tired of having to hope, all the time for something to get better? People were not moved by reason; they did not think with reason, and they were not affected by it. Only pain seemed to move people-emotional distresses. No one cared about how magitechnology was obviously harmful. Eyes only watched fearfully as Martel was taken down by a knife in her back and it was sad. Chosens who were not a match for Martel were disposed of, and the experiments for an Exsphere or Crystal that matched her signature continued. The cycle of the back and forth exchange of mana between the two worlds remained constant. But you cared less about that, less about people and more about Martel. If humans and even other half-elves couldn't be moved by Martel's grace, you would not be moved by theirs.

The Desians were allowed to collect and abduct humans in larger numbers in the declining world, to make more Exspheres. To keep up pretenses Desians were always moved to the declining world; you didn't need anyone suspecting you while you were doing your research. Another millennium passed as water through a river. Then another. The Desians were a much larger group than the natural half-elf population. Kratos's faith in science was running thin. Yuan said that he could no longer remain in the same space as Martel when she was not alive. You gave them jobs on the surface, supervising your Desian Cardinals. There were eyes everywhere, and the world had changed so much on the surface even if it was the same at heart-you didn't want to risk anyone breaking apart your perfectly balanced scale. It was just a matter of time. You were getting closer and closer to the match with every Chosen. You would not be betrayed by your own pawns. Pronyma worked as delicate ears and eyes throughout both worlds, reporting changes in culture and discoveries pertaining to science. Aselia could not catch up to Cruxis. If anyone advanced too far, Pronyma would take care of them; it was that simple.

Kvar, one of your Cardinals, proposed the idea of attempting to cultivate a Cruxis Crystal inside of a human, rather than simply an Exsphere. It was a tempting conjecture. If such a feat could be replicated later with a Chosen, there would be a near guaranteed match for Martel's signature. Guaranteed, he'd said. Finally someone was making progress. You gave him the funds and the land to experiment upon immediately. When you called Kratos and Yuan to you to tell him of your plans, you were so excited that you could barely contain it.

"Now that we have reached this point," Kratos said, "what will you do when Martel is back?" he asked the question with power behind it, as though he had been waiting to ask you that question for years. You could tell that such was true.

"Let's not bother rushing that idea," Yuan said. "I think that we should cross that bridge when we get to it. We've never seen anything close to bringing Martel back. Why treat this like it's a factor that we have to deal with?"

Kratos grimaced. "It is a factor that we have to deal with. If this is relatively successful, it will be time. We have spent all of our lives for this goal. What shall we do with the victory?"

It was a question that you hadn't considered for a long time. What would you do once Martel was back? "We will lord over the world," you said.

"What about the tree?" Kratos asked through gritted teeth.

"Are you kidding me?" Yuan said. "They don't deserve the tree-look at the world! Look at what they've done to it? Why should we give it back to them? So long as they're living and are healthy, what does it matter?"

"We made a vow," Kratos said, "to do Martel's will. Martel would have the Ancient Tree returned to its glory. We know how to. Origin saw to that. Now you want to act against the very woman we are doing this for?"

You felt the anger swell in you as Kratos assumed Martel's role. There was no reason for it. He was not her voice; you were, had always been and would continue to be, even after she was brought back to you. Without another word, you slapped him. His jaw felt hardened, solid, and even though you had hit him he did not yield. He stared you in the eye as you told him, "You presume to know Martel more so than I?" You turned and you left, without so much a word to either of them.

That was the night that everything began to break apart. The rest of your life seemed to do nothing but flicker before your eyes. You had complained that everything had taken much too long; the War and ending it, and finding Martel a new body. It felt like you had lived a thousand lifetimes, and while you had not quite done it, you were pretty close by comparison. Now you couldn't get enough time nor could you make it slow. The Angelus project yielded surprisingly good results after a bit, but Kratos saw that it was ruined. He'd lain with that human girl and had a son-they both perished for his insolence and he deserved it. When he returned to Cruxis, broken and shallow, feeling again the same pain you'd all felt at Martel's passing, you said nothing to him. He would soak up that pain; soak it up and use it as his armor, as you and Yuan had. There had been no logical reason for him to betray you in this fashion, but people were not moved by reason. They were moved by force and by authority; you needed both if you were to ever make your point in life. While what happened to prisoner number A012 hadn't been your order, it seemed that what gods might have existed had made the decision to intercede on your behalf. You had Pronyma tail both Yuan and Kratos after that incident. They had lost faith in the return of Martel, and years later you found them spending most of their time on Earth, randomly rising to help the Humans fight against the Desians-Yuan even founded an organization specifically to do so. All of that was no concern of yours. The Desians were expendable. If protecting Humans made the two of them feel as though they were making a difference, it was fine-Pronyma was told not to interrupt their work so long as they were not interfering with the Summon Spirits' slumber, the Seals of Regeneration or the Seed. Those were his three treasures, and all would be fine so long as they were not disturbed.

...and for a time they were not. But again, time began to flow away from you; Kratos's stupid, insolent son corrupted the Chosen of Sylvarant, found the Otherworldly Gate-formed by the latent energies of the slumbering Seed-and even managed to get his hands on the Chosen of Tethe'alla, this being a year where both worlds produced one each. Yuan even began to help them, out of some strange sense of loyalty to the child. Each layer that you'd wound about Martel, each piece of the puzzle that you had put together for her armor were falling one by one at the hands of this boy. You persisted. He would have to wrestle your power from you. You sent the Cardinals after him, one by one, after his party had begun to make pacts with the Spirits. Even when they were not defeated you still rested easy. You had Origin. Regardless of Kratos's loyalty to that abominable child, you would not lose. Origin was locked away. But when that girl made the last pact, the Seed sputtered out of control and Kratos betrayed you once and for all. Everything up to this point was simply disobedience on his part, something that could have been forgiven. As you had told Pronyma, so long as they were not directly interfering with the Spirits, the Seed or the Journey, let them be. And so Kratos had been wise enough thus far not to interfere with those things until he shed his life's blood and mana, breaking the seal that held Origin. It was here that you knew that your downfall was imminent. It was alright, though. You were willing to be sacrificed to bring back Martel. She was all. She was the culmination of everything that you had worked on thus far. The cracks had slowed your work, but the girl, Colette, the Chosen of Sylvarant, she held the hourglass together, for she was the perfect match. What you had been waiting for all these years, she was it. She was Martel.

"No, Mithos, not that. I've been watching all this time. Unable to move, unable to do anything, I watched all those foolish things you've done. Have you forgotten everything? We stopped the Ancient War because we dreamt of a world where humans, elves, and those in between could live in harmony. If things were going to end up like this, perhaps the elves should never have left Derris-Kharlan. If they hadn't, people like us would never have been born..." Those were the words that had come from her lips, through the vessel. There was just too much to take in. Your world was dying, but Martel-who was also your world-was there, standing in the flesh. You should have known that those would be the last moments of your life, because they were passing by so quickly. Too quickly. There were tears on your face that you didn't remember crying, and even though Martel was right in front of you time refused to stand still for her, for the Goddess of the world who had only wanted the best for everyone. But you understood her. You knew what she wanted.

"So…so that was it…Martel, you just wanted to leave this filthy world and return to Derris-Kharlan...Yes, of course. That world is the homeland of all Elven blood." And so you had tried to move her, to take her where she wanted, but that horde of filthy humans wouldn't let you. You wished that Kratos or Yuan were present, to stop them-despite their betrayals they had been just as much of a part of this as you had, and they still believed in the goal, however small or however many separate pieces they disagreed with. They had never opposed you directly, as they had hoped that Martel would be restored, and they would have helped you fight if you had ordered it. Life was slipping from your fingertips-the boy had obtained the Eternal Sword from Origin and even you could not oppose its power. This was exactly the sort of end you'd feared all those years ago, and then it was happening as though there had been some sort of prophecy. And you were defeated. You had known it from the moment you'd seen the Eternal Sword split in two for the boy's liking. Kratos's devil spawn, the boy who had carefully peeled open millennia of work and taken everything that you'd wished to keep for Martel. The boy who cared nothing about the true evil of the world, the humans and lazy half-elves who would easily slay Martel and those like her for nothing but material possessions in a degenerating world that may take them with it. You had been struck down by the sword that had been your idea to create, told by a boy merely a fraction of your age that what you had done was wrong and that you were the evil plaguing the earth.

You felt your mana pouring out of you in gallons like never before. It was the first time you'd ever felt such a sensation, and you knew that this new experience heralded your death. The Angelus child, Kratos's son, stood above you while your body faded away like Martel's had, feeling your energies being consumed by the Crystal and you said spitefully, venom carefully carved into every word, "I'm tired of playing your game of good and evil. Hurry up and destroy the crystal. If you don't, Derris-Kharlan will continue to drift away."

"Mithos..." The boy said. He pitied you. They all pitied you.

Your strength was seriously ebbing now. You couldn't move, and when you moved your lips to speak you discovered that it had taken effort to put that edge in your voice all these years; you could no longer do it. "Do it now! Before I, too, am no longer myself..."

Genis, one of the two half-elves that traveled within their party, had spoken up on your behalf, "Lloyd! Please...help him! Let him die while he's still himself." Your eyes narrowed. You didn't need anyone pleading for you.

"All right."

Finally finding your voice, you knew that there would only be time for you to explain one more thing. "Farewell, my shadow. You, who stand at the end of the path I chose not to follow. I wanted my own world, so I don't regret my choice. I would make the same choice all over again. I will continue to choose this path." And you would. You would always choose Martel, always choose Kratos and Yuan, even if they betrayed you; even if they could not help you. For it was they who had reached out when they heard your voice; they who had backed you, mourned with you, they who had begun the timer on the hourglass that had been your life. That glass had cracked when Martel had been struck down, but despite their faults and mistakes they had been what had held those cracked pieces together for all these years. It was fitting; regardless of what side an hourglass was turned upon, the sand still fell grain by grain in the same fashion. And so would you.

The End

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