I decided to continue. I reread my work and saw all the grammatical errors and spelling travesties. I plan to fix em. This Chapter is named after Pools by Glass Animals. I listened to Colter Wall while writing, I recommend him. I don't own Star Ocean (disclaimer)


Chapter 8: Pools

"Not Again," the words left Fayt's lips as he reached up to rub his temples. Unbeknownst to the earthling, he had fallen asleep in just his underwear and a t-shirt, so the cold assisted in shaking him as he coughed himself out of sleep. First, he noticed pain and a dry throat from sleeping with his mouth open. Then, he felt his face was squished against a glass window like a kid making funny faces. He pulled his head away from the frigid glass and glanced out the window as his eyes came into focus. He saw slight amounts of snow adorning the front gate of Adray's front lawn. He spoke aloud quietly while sifting through memories of the night prior, "Why am I in the window again?"

No one answered, a result of the early hour. The earthling pulled a small electric device from his pocket and pressed a button, the device informed him that it was 5:48 am. He sighed at the early hour and got up to pee, groggily avoiding all his friends that lay in the room. He didn't want to wake anyone else. As he was about to leave the room he noticed something that a less hungover guy would have giggled at. Cliff's head was lying on the floor, the rest of his body dangling over the small loveseat he slept on. Clair snoring aloud and was lying spread eagle with a leg over Cliff's torso and another hanging off the couch. Her pajama shirt was pulled up far enough to see her belly button. Fayt, not being one to miss an opportunity, moved his headache ridden body over in front of them. The earthling pulled out the small electric device from his pocket, then used it to take a picture. He had a thought as he glanced at the slow burning fire behind him. Realizing someone was awake, he left the room in pursuit of the kitchen and clothes.

A smell of sweet leaves permeated the kitchen, and Fayt was elated to see Adray brewing some of his special hangover murdering tea. A name that Cliff had pleasingly dubbed it with the day before. Fayt sat at the table, "Hey Adray, can I have a glass?"

The old symbologist sat a cup in front of Fayt, "Already on it, what are you doing up so early Master Fayt?"

Fayt took an easy sip of the tea, " Just woke up, my brain decided it, not me."

Adray smiled at the silly comment, "I see, well would you like to take advantage of it?"

Fayt yawned, "Training?"

Adray nodded quietly, then spoke in an uncommonly soft tone for the old man, "I have a good idea to help you channel your symbology on a lower resonance for your sword."

"Let's do it," Fayt responded, then noticed Clair walk into the room, fully dressed in her uniform, The Earthling shifted focus, "Morning Clair."

Now Fayt wasn't the type to get irritated by a bubbly tone early in the morning, but he was the type to be surprised by it. So when Clair smiled her broad smile, bowed and happily spoke to him he was thrown off, "Good Morning to you as well Fayt. Did you sleep okay?"

Fayt responded slowly, "I think so...are you off to work?"

The beauty nodded, "The early bird and all." She spoke a quick goodbye to her father, slung on a black coat that hung on a rack near the font door and closed the same door quietly behind her. At this point, Adray spoke, "She's happier than normal this morning...perfect."

Fayt knew this was just another fanciful dream of marrying his daughter off to a worthy suitor. So the earthling just waited until Adray was done scheming, finishing his tea dutifully in the process. The empty glass being placed in a sink led to Adray leading Fayt to grab his own jacket, then out to the back of his house. Fayt noticed a small table covered in rocks in the middle of the yard. It was the only thing not touched by snow, leading Fayt to a deduction, " Already had this planned?"

The elder man put his thumbs in his waistband, " Yes Sir."

Fayt, spoke while staring at the rocks, "I see that there are runes embedded in these rocks, what exactly am I looking at here?"

The old symbologist picked up a rock from the table, "Each of these rocks is imbued with a different elemental symbol, fire, water, wind, earth, and lightning. They are perfect for your training. Not only does that new sword of yours require precise control, it's very special in the fact that MOST symbological weapons only channel one or two elements. Mr. Lust there can channel any element."

At that point, Fayt returned, "I had no idea it was THAT special. This is going to be tougher than I thought, isn't it?"

Adray shifted in his best and scratched his head, "Correct, Nel fetched the materials for that with the intent of making a special sword, they were difficult to get I'm sure. The reward for her hard work being that there's more skills you can use now with a single blade."

The elder man paused to clear his throat, "So, you have the advantage of already being good at putting temporary spells on any blade. When you harness this one it will be potent. THIS sword can receive a constant channel of energy or hold a long term temporary spell. Therefore the runes serve a good purpose. They kill both dragons with one slash"

Fayt laughed at the off-kilter delivery of an old Earth saying, then he picked up the fire elemental rock, "So what do I do?"

"Simple," Adray stuck his palm out with the earth rock in his hand. He began to funnel symbology into the rock ever so gently, "just keep a steady flow of symbology matching the element in your hand. If you add too much, the rock blows up, too little and it won't work. This will extend your stamina and sharpen control. You should theoretically be able to cast many more short term spells and be able to increase and decrease a steady flow to match whatever a battle calls for. Give it a shot!"

Fayt nodded, "I think I'm most comfortable with fire and lightning, I'll go ahead and try this fire one."

The blue haired swordsman extended the rock in his hand as Adray stepped back. Fayt closed his eyes, then suddenly several small white circles appeared around his hands and the rock began to glow orange. Fayt could feel the rock heat up, he slowly opened his eyes and smiled at Adray, then excitedly spoke, "That was easier than I thought!"

Bang! The little rock blew up, creating a plume of smoke like a classic old musket and sounding much like a small caliber gunshot. Adray laughed boisterously as he pointed, "Easy was it!? Now you see why we named those baby boomers!"

As the smoke cleared, Adray could see the shocked visage of Fayt's face come Into focus. The tips of his little blue bangs had singed and there were small bits of rock stuck to his cheeks, "What the hell was that! I only looked away for a second!?"

Adray responded with gusto, "You lack focus. Hold on a second!" The older man walked to his smithy shop, then brought back a wicker basket, he sat it in front of Fayt. Said earthling glanced inside to see dozens of the little rocks. His internal dialogue read sarcastically, "Oh Great."

Adray gave Fayt a smack on the shoulder, "Keep at it! I'm going to make breakfast."

Fayt almost reluctantly grabbed another one as Adray walked towards his house. This rock shown a lightning rune, so Fayt started in on it with the matching element.

As Adray opened the back door he heard another BOOM and then Fayt yelling, "Stupid rock!"

The old man didn't even turn around to look as he laughed.

Cliff had been sleeping hard until a bang woke him up. He had woken upside down, and in confusion. Once he glanced around the room and asserted his situation, he quickly used his abs to pull himself up on the couch he'd been draped over. The blond noticed Clair's absence, which let him know it was past sunrise. As he noticed Fayt's vacancy he heard another loud boom. He complained, "What the heck is that?"

The big Klausian got up and walked to a small mud room at the back of the house, he looked out a window that garnered sight of the back yard. Fayt was standing with his arm out, then a big burst of light accompanied another loud pop. A small person next the Klausian spoke Cliff's thoughts, "What is Fayt doing?"

Cliff glanced down to see Roger, "I don't know kid, looks like some symbology thing."

Roger immediately ran outside, "I wanna try!"

While Cliff watched Roger approach Fayt from the window and start bartering for a rock, Albel entered and stood next to the giant blond. They sat and watched out the window until Albel broke silence and spoke like a villain in a psychological horror film, "I want to hunt today."

With that, the slender swordsman walked Away.

Cliff called after him, "You know, you're friggin terrifying sometimes ya creep."

"He does have a good point though."

The big man headed back deeper into the house, "Yo, Adray?"

Peterny was still Chilly when Clair and her subordinates had arrived. The morning was a tedious one, filled with paperwork and simple inventory stocking. The only saving grace for Clair and company was that the small church they currently worked out of was warm. Especially the boring white room they sat in. Clair had just given her subordinates a break when the one nerdy looking one called Vaan returned and beckoned to her, "Hey look who I found!"

Clair looked up from her papers to spot a young female symbologist who had short and wild yellow hair, so she called out, "Tynave!"

The blond woman bowed and stood, "Reporting mam!"

"Where are the other two?"

Tynave went straight to business, "Sorry mam, I'm alone. Farleen and Lady Nel stayed behind, I was sent ahead to give an update and to request aid. We were close to the main western border of Greeton when we came across a strange gate that blocked our path. It looked much like new technology, but nothing like we've seen from Greeton before. Lady Nel stayed to see if they could find a way around it and asked me to bring back someone from research and development to assist with the gate so we can do a quick analysis. She sent me because of my speed boost symbology, that way we may hasten our return."

Clair thought a moment, "Perhaps she may return before Cliff and Fayt leave, that would be preferable. We can find out answers about advanced technology from them before they leave again. Then they may also see Nel before they go."

She issued orders to her two subordinates, "Vaan, you will accompany Tynave and do the assessment as a representative of Research and Development, as quickly as possible."

Vaan gave his boss a sour look as he pushed up his glasses, "Are you sure m'lady? Am I not needed here today?"

Clair laughed, she was used to his pushback on account of his practicality, "Use that brain of yours, I want them back with utmost haste, so why would I send you?"

The short man rolled his eyes, "Because I use speed boost symbology. I get that, but I'm already busy today."

Clair stood up straight, lowered her voice, then spoke with sarcastic threat, "Are you questioning orders Vaan?"

He didn't know it was sarcasm, a tiny twinge of fear, and a twinge of rationality entered his mind, "No mam, I just thought I'd be better served here, but if you believe I'd be of more use there, I shall go."

Vaan glanced at Tynave, whom he could tell was skillfully stifling a laugh, or at least he thought so. Clair beckoned the man to come closer to her, once there, she spoke quietly to him, "If you wouldn't get so prideful about your work, you'd realize something important."

Vaan thought a moment, a lightbulb inspired him to glance at Tynave, who now gave him a steely stare. A sane man would probably think twice, but his fearless crush reminded him, "A trip alone with Tynave!"

The short man pushed up his glasses, "Thank you mam! Let's go Tynave!"

Clair called to Tynave, "Tynave, try to return as quickly as possible. Cliff and Fayt showed up three days ago for a visit and won't be here after Sunday."

Tynave showed some excitement, "Really! Lady Nel will be pleased to hear that!"

Clair interjected, "What say we surprise Nel?"

Tynave nodded, "Understood, we won't tell her," she glanced to Vaan, "Ready?"

The nerdy man nodded and the pair set out.

Back in Arias, breakfast had been served and eaten. The group of men were now collected in front of Adray's large house. It had hit roughly nine am and the sun had decided to make an appearance. It slowly wicked away the snow topped surroundings as the first man spoke, it being the Klausian. "Now listen up! Albel wants to hunt today, and that gave me a great idea for today's training. What say you boys to a little competition?"

Adray laughed and smacked his fists together in excitement.

Roger puffed out his chest, "Let's do it! I'll show you who the biggest man here is!"

Albel cackled evilly and issued a retort, "I will crush you all."

Fayt placed a hand on his sword hilt, "I'm game, what will we be doing?"

Cliff spoke like an announcer of a martial arts match, "First! Our contestants will go to Peterny to see that butcher Joseph! Next, they get info on some rare animals and monsters! Our contestants will split into three groups, and each will go hunting! The team with the most valuable catch wins!"

Roger bounced, "What's the prize!?"

The big Klausian smirked, he slipped out a Don Juan level tone, "I, Cliff Fittir, wingman extraordinaire, will help the winner get a date with any girl they wish."

Fayt rolled his eyes, "Gee sounds great."

Roger had a much different reaction, his mind swelled with thoughts of beautiful girls, "I'll win!"

Albel had been silent till this point, but the prize irritated him, "What good is that?"

Cliff shifted, bellowed a big sigh that provided a small cloud in the cold, then mocked, "Why, you don't like girls Albel?"

The angry swordsman puffed, "What, no, I like women you bastard!"

Adray began to laugh as Fayt interjected with a quick snap as he skillfully, yet passively, stepped between the two men, "Hey! Why don't we just give all the money earned to the winning team?"

Cliff looked quite disappointed, but the serious notes on Fayt's face made him cave a tad, "Very well! The less important prize can be the money we all earn!"

All of the gentleman nodded in agreement. As the group moved to leave, Adray grabbed ahold of Fayt's collar and began to drag him quickly back towards his home. The elder symbologist called out with boisterous bravado, "You guys go ahead! We shall catch up!"

The group left with haste. Fayt pulled Adray's hand from his collar in protest, it had been choking him ever so lightly, "Let go Adray! What are you doing!?"

The tanned old man did as he was bade, but continued walking until he reached his blacksmith shop. Fayt followed, "Well what is it?"

Adray boasted, "You need another sword until you get used to that one! Come in and take your pick!"

Fayt lit up like Christmas, "Really!?"

Adray nodded, "Hurry and go pick one, I'll be waiting by the east gate!"

About 15 minutes later, Adray stood with his back leaned against a wall next to the road on the east side of town. He noticed Fayt's approach and stood to comment on the new sword tied to Fayt's hip, "Oh! I see you chose Benihime!"

Fayt made a huff as he retrieved the sword from it's black sheath, he held it out in front of his face. It looked like a Katana, save there was no bend in the blade. Unlike Fayt's usual broadswords, this blade only had one tanged edge. The blade's tanged side was silver, and the back side was black, with a wavy red ornamentation along the body. The earthling spoke, "Is that its name?"

Adray nodded, "Yeah, it means the red princess...I'm surprised you picked a smaller blade."

Fayt nodded, "Well I wanted something a little smaller so I could still wear my main sword. When I picked this one up, well I guess you could say it felt right."

Adray smiled, "The soul of the blade was calling to you!"

Fayt sheathed the sword and spoke, "Well, I guess so, let's get moving? I'm getting cold just standing here."

Joseph's cooking was kind of ridiculously delicious. At least, that's what Cliff thought when a massive plate of meat in front of him had been half devoured. Upon learning of their plan to hunt rare beasts that day, Joseph had invited them into the back of his shop for lunch. When the group saw the decor, they were no sort of surprised. Animal trophies adorned the walls, to be expected of a man who dealt in meat. As they all sat down to eat, Cliff laughed at his internal thoughts, "I use antlers in all of my decorating." It reminded Cliff of a play he'd seen as a kid when his family had vacationed to Earth.

As Fayt wasn't present, he kept the thought to himself. No one else would get it. He did however use his communicator to send Fayt a message, letting him know they had made it to Joseph's and to meet where the meat is.

Roughly fifteen minutes after they began eating, said earthling walked into the room with Adray in tow. Upon sight of them, Joseph, who had insisted on waiting for them before discussing any marks, stood to greet them, his massive frame towering nearly to the roof, "Welcome! Have a seat and eat, I'll be right back."

The large man left the room, prompting Fayt to sit next to Cliff, Adray took a seat in between Roger and Albel at the table, all three sat across from the space boys. Fayt glanced at his mates, Albel was destroying a large chunk of meat that resembled a turkey leg from back on Earth, Fayt grimaced at the way he seemed as ravenous as a stray dog.

Adray was looking over the food in contemplation over where to start.

Roger was ruining his precious shirt he'd just gotten with an Ellicooran melon of some sort, spitting seeds at a bucket. After scanning the room, Fayt pulled his communicater from his pocket and asked his Klausian compadre, "Do you think it's okay for us to be using these on an underdeveloped planet?"

Cliff didn't even wait a half second to respond, something about the conversation topic triggered him, "Yeah well considering the Federation turned down our request to even INVESTIGATE this planet for an upgrade to monitored, I don't really care. It's not like we saved the universe right? Odds are they won't be checking any signals. What, you aren't still worried about the UP3 here, are you?"

Fayt slid his communicator back into his jacket pocket, "I'm not really worried, I don't think it's a bad idea for planets at this level to learn about space expansion. After all, it's not our fault that the Feds wouldn't listen. I mostly worried that they bitch at us about it, I'd rather avoid the damn headache."

Cliff laughed through some surprised feelings, "Well Damn, look whose thinking for himself! You even used two cuss words in one sentence!"

Fayt gave a glare, "Ha Ha, very funny."

Cliff ripped a huge piece of meat off a bone, then spoke with a mouth full, "I'm only screwing around, I'm glad to hear that stuff, proves you actually observe right and wrong in life."

Fayt appreciated the vote of confidence. He didn't voice that however, as Joseph emerged from a back room and sat at the head of the table, also sitting a large book in front of him. Everyone focused on him. His soft voice carried, "You gentleman came to the right place! I'm a bit obsessed with hunting and collecting rare beasts. As well as eating them!"

The wall shrine of mounts fed the sarcasm that was kept in everyone's heads. No one could have guessed that.

They all still listened intently as the butcher continued, "So, what kind of game are you after?"

Cliff spoke up, "Something that fetches a high price, that can be carried back by a single man, and can be hunted before nightfall tonight."

Joseph flipped through his book with absolute haste, "No problem, well the rarest one would be the Twilight Deer in Duggas Forest west of town! It's hard to find and usually the path is barricaded by monsters, it's more about a diligent search."

Cliff spoke up, "I could go for some deer meat."

Joseph ripped the paper out and handed it to Cliff. The Klausian looked it over and Fayt leaned to glance at it. Cliff suddenly got happy, "Hey Fayt, is it just me, or does this look kinda like…"

As he trailed off, Fayt answered, "Yeah, it looks like a Wild West Bounty poster from old Earth days."

Fayt was the only one who understood the giddy Klausian's elation. He was privy to insider info, Cliff had a thing for Cowboy Life. The fact didn't really shock Fayt when he found out. For Fayt it mostly just meant a lot of old fashioned music was heard at Cliff's house.

Said Klausian stood and stretched, Joseph got back to business, "I hope you find one, only a few ever get harvested. The Kingdom monitors their population heavily. So only a few can be taken each year. I happen to have a tag for one. Anyhow, next, there's the Rainbow Bass in the Sacred River and the Monarch Bears northwest of here."

Albel stood immediately, "No way I'm going Fishing! Give me the damn bear."

Adray reached out and grabbed the bounty page for the Rainbow Bass, "Perfect, care to accompany me fishing Master Fayt?"

Fayt nodded, he hadn't been fishing since the one awkward time when his Dad attempted to teach Him a 'survival skill', "Yeah! Sounds fun!"

Roger pulled his juice covered face away from his melon and whined with a mouth full of seeds, "I'm going with Albel then, no way I'm hunting some sissy deer!"

Albel snapped, "No way Brat! You'll just get in my way, you take him Cliff!"

Roger jeered back, jumping to stand behind Adray and pointed at Albel, "Hey, don't treat me like a little kid who needs a babysitter! I said I'm hunting that bear!"

The emo soldier made a fist at Roger, "I said no!"

Roger began to mock his verbal adversary, "Oh I see! You're afraid I'm going to be the bigger man and kill it before you do!"

Albel's eye twitched in anger, "What maggot!?

The Menodix boasted, "You heard me, guess we'll see who gets there first!"

Roger proceeded to spit the seeds in his mouth at Albel, then tripped the Glyphian. As Albel fell over a chair, Roger turned and ripped the bounty for the Monarch Bear out of Joseph's hands, then he ran out the door, "Later Slowpoke!"

Everyone grew dead quiet, expecting an Albel outburst. The Glyphian stood up, and calmly wiped a melon seed off of his cheek. He began laughing like a madman, slowly building up to a scream, "I'll kill that God damn brat!"

He glanced down at Joseph and yelled, "Thanks for the food!"

And with that he flew out the door, his evil laughing being his evil twin.

Fayt and Cliff both ushered an immediate apology, to which Joseph responded just as soft as ever, "As long as they come back with meat, they can break anything...at least he said thank you."

Cliff laughed as Fayt contemplated the fact that he somehow meets nothing but psychos. At this break, Adray, who seemed unaffected by any of it, asked of Fayt, "Shall we go?"

Fayt snapped from his inner sanctum, "Uh, yeah."

As both men stood to leave, Joseph spoke, "Hey, if you need them, there's some fishing poles in the lobby."

Fayt responded, "Cool! Thanks! Hey, good luck Cliff."

The Klausian nodded, "Same to y'all."

Everyone except for Cliff had left Peterny. He had hung around to take care of a favor for his friend and now he stood in the street on the west side of town. He took a seat on a bench that was just a few feet from the old inventors guild building he'd worked in years ago. A quick moment of nostalgia made him sad when he saw that the door was boarded up. He changed focus to the paper Joseph had given him. He was reading details written on it aloud to himself. "When the twilight rises and before it falls, a beautiful deer will heed your call."

The large man made a sour face, "What the hell does that mean!?"

Cliff grunted then stood up, "Guess I'll ask a local."

He looked around the market street until he spotted a young man standing down the road. Cliff could see the man carried a sword on his hip and a bow on his back, but couldn't see his face. The Klausian moved toward him until realizing he'd seen this guy working with Clair recently. Cliff hailed him down, "Hey man, runologist guy, what was your name again?"

The man turned around, instantly recognizing his beckoner, "Master Cliff! My name is Aster, and I'd say I'm more of a warrior than a runologist. How can I help you?"

Cliff trimmed the fat and just answered while passing the paper to Aster, "I need help figuring out this damn riddle."

Aster received the paper, "Ah, well I figured you'd be looking for Clair."

Cliff shifted, "Oh, Is she here?"

Aster responded as he looked down and read over the paper, "Yeah, she's down in the supply store...oh, are you after a Twilight Deer? The riddle is just a hint on how to find it...man, I haven't seen a twilight deer since I was in the Academy. Not that I was looking for one. Though, what year was that?"

Cliff wanted help, not a life story, "Hey, not to interrupt while you're on a roll, but do you know how to find it?"

Aster stopped, "Oh! Sorry, I have that habit sometimes. Well I know how to find one, but give me a moment, let me go grab Clair."

Cliff answered smoothly, "Oh, sure."

Aster disappeared into a shop and returned with Clair at his side. She flashed Cliff a broad smile upon seeing him. Cliff returned a friendly wave and walked up to the two, "Good evening Clair."

Clair smiled, "And to you as well, so, Aster here says you're hunting a twilight deer. Would you care for our help?"

Cliff scratched his head, "Well yeah, but I don't want to interrupt your work."

Clair shook her head then leaned to her right hip, "No need to worry there, we leave work early on Fridays, so we're free."

Aster nodded, "Yeah! So shall we go!?"

Cliff felt bad, but the parameters of todays competition only allowed two man teams. He squashed Aster's excitement, "Oh, sorry buddy, but I only need Clair."

Aster seemed less offended than Cliff expected. The man had a sudden mischevious face, "You mean you WANT Clair right?"

Clair turned a shade of pink seldom seen outside of paint as she snapped, "Aster!"

Cliff chuckled at the joke lightly, "You could say that."

Clair's face then turned as Crimson as her title, "Cliff!"

Aster, selling his act, immediately bowed and apologized, "My apologies Lady Clair, I'll set this guy straight!"

Aster grabbed Cliff's arm and started dragging the Klausian away from Clair, "Come with me you indecent bastard!"

Cliff saw right through the lanky man and played along until they were out of earshot of Clair, "What's up bud?"

Aster let go of Cliff's arm, "You really are an indecent bastard aren't you...in that case."

The warrior pulled a small notebook out of his waistband, "I have all the best places in the kingdom to take a girl for some 'fun' time inscribed here, There's like six In Duggas Forest."

Cliff burst out laughing, " Dude, You're great, but I'm good, I can run my own game."

Aster smiled and nodded with eyes burning respect, "Very well, good luck sir, she's a handful."

Cliff continued laughing as the two men walked back to where they left Clair, she had recovered from her blush. Cliff asked of her, "So, shall we go?"

Clair nodded, she turned to her subordinate, "Aster, may I borrow your bow?"

"Absolutely," the slender man removed the longbow from his back as well as a quiver of red feather tipped arrows from his hip, "Here you are ma'am."

As Clair equipped the bow, Cliff inquisitioned, "You can shoot a bow?"

Clair didn't do it intentionally, but a slight flirtatious tone slipped out as she responded, turning away and walking west away from Cliff slowly she spoke, "I guess you'll just have to wait and see."

Aster's jaw dropped as he whispered to himself, "Since when could she act cute?"

Cliff elbowed the man to gather attention, a massive smirk on the Klausian's face "I think you mean hot, this is gonna be FUN. Game on!"

Albel hit his limit. The brat wouldn't shut up. After he caught up with the Menodix he took the boy by surprise and hit Roger with the back of his sword as penance for tripping him back at Joseph's.

The Glyphian snagged the bounty sheet for the Monarch Bear that the boy carried and started walking along a winter barren creek as he read.

After recovering and complaining, Roger began chatting so much that Albel couldn't retain a single piece of information as he attempted to read. The Glyphian finally snapped, "Would you shut the hell up! Gab Gab Gab, I can't read a damn thing and you're giving me a damn headache! What the hell are you even talking about!?"

Roger paid no attention to the mental outburst, he answered plainly, "I'm talking about girls."

Albel squeezed his gauntleted hand so hard that he shredded his bounty sheet, "Girls! Girls!? Are they so important THAT I CAN'T HAVE ANY SILENCE?!"

Roger pointed at Albel's hand, "Umm, you crushed our paper."

Albel. Was. Done.

No way he'd take blame for the paper, as angry as he was, he was a bit sour brained, "LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO TWERP!"

Roger turned his head away wryly, "Why do you yell everything you say?"

Albel took a deep breath, "I Don't KNOW!"

Roger sighed, shook his head, and spoke, "You're a real nutcase buddy, I dont get why you get mad about girls, should I talk about boys instead?"

Albel picked up Roger by the shirt lapel, the Menodix was grinning wildly as he was hefted into the air. He began screaming/spitting in the teens face, "Shut up before I kill you! I don't want to talk about women because I only care about fighting, and now, you wont shut up, the paper is destroyed, so we can't find that damn bear, and now we're going to lose to those idiots!"

Albel threw Roger to the ground. The boy kept listening with slightly stunned shock at the angry soldier's outburst, "TO top it all off, I'm in a place I've never been and I can't even enjoy it!"

Albel finally took a break as well as several heavy breaths. As he caught them, Roger took another chance to interject, "You need to relax buddy, sorry I picked on you. As far as that bear goes, we're close, I saw one when I was young. They're only a few more miles up the road, off the trail that heads to Gaitt."

Albel simply returned to his typically quiet demeanor. No apology was uttered, just one arrogant phrase, "I suppose I could let you live since you're still useful."

Both of them started down the road again, the crunch of leaves below their feet provided white noise to their conversation. Roger tested the waters again, "I thought that traveling with Fayt and Cliff would have calmed you down and made you nicer."

Albel simply responded, "Woltar says it did."

Roger continued again, "Oh hey, I wanted to ask you if it was possible for me to do an air slash with my axe?"

"Yes, it is, it's even possible to do it with bare hands."

"Can you show me?"

"No."

"C'mon, please?"

"No."

"I'll stop talking if you agree."

"Fine."

So the Menodix shut up. They carried on this way until Roger guided Albel off the road and into a Ravine that had been cut by a creek. As they walked, Roger explained that the bears were small, but extremely fast, and extremely ferocious. There were two more unique details that he filled him in on. The first, they were silvery white, and second, they travelled in packs like wolves.

Roger had planned ahead, bringing some raw meat along. He baited a clearing and the two hunters waited in the trees. Not much time passed when two small white bears made their way into the clearing.

Albel whispered, "Those are them, right?"

"Yeah."

Albel exploded out of the trees and charged the bears, "The one on the left is mine! You take the right!"

Roger followed dutifully, screaming like a madman as they charged. Both warriors were shocked to see the bears charge them. More surprise took place when neither of them connected their first swings.

Albel yelled, "Fast!"

Then Roger yelled, "Not fast enough!"

A few more slashes later and both bears were dispatched. Before any celebration could take place, twelve more bears skulked into the clearing. Albel noticed, "Oh, more of you want some! Come on then! Avenge your friends!"

The bears surrounded them, then attacked. Roger and Albel charged and let out war cries. The battle would be grand!

The sun was roughly an hour away from settling as Fayt and Adray sat along the river that ran east of Arias. Each man had pulled up a rock next to the running water and taken a seat on the large boulders. Both held a fishing pole in their hands, lines cast into the water and baited with some worms that Adray had dug out of the ground. They sat in silence as Fayt observed his surroundings peacefully. The cold air hadn't been enough to freeze the moving river, but it had turned all of the trees on the opposite bank mostly barren. Some whipping wings drew the earthlings attention up to the sky. He watched as a flock of bright colored ducks flew over. After they passed, he stared at the horizon and noticed clouds building again. Thoughts of more snow were interrupted by a sudden pull in his fishing rod. The earthling let out a surprised Yelp, "Woah!"

Adray suddenly issued an order, "Set the hook!"

The inexperienced fisherman did as he was bade, rearing back and setting the hook into what felt like a log. Then the log started thrashing underwater. Adray hollered again as both men stood from their rocks, "Big one! Reel him in slow! Don't put too much tension on the line!"

Fayt began bringing the fish in, "Man, is this thing a tank!?"

It took a few minutes of careful work but Fayt brought the fish up to the bank edge. As he held the pole up, Adray reached down and stuck one hand in the fish's mouth and the other on its tail. It took the majority of his wingspan to lift it. Upon which Fayt noticed big whiskers coming off the fish, so he spoke through excitement, "That thing doesn't look like a rainbow bass!"

Adray nodded as he pulled the hook from the fish's mouth, "It's not! This is a River Cat!"

Fayt questioned, "Is it valuable too?"

Adray walked up the bank and Fayt followed, "They're common, not this big, but they aren't rare enough to win our contest."

Adray proceeded to run a rope through the catfish's gills and tethered it to its mouth, "They are delicious though!"

Fayt's pride for catching his first fish bled through, "Awesome! Let's eat it then!"

Adray passed the fish to Fayt, "Don't touch it's whiskers, it stings badly. Go throw it in the river and tie that rope to something!"

Fayt was surprised by the weight, but he locked his triceps and hefted the fish into the water. He huffed with satisfaction, then glanced back across the river.

"Hey Adray, is that Aquarian territory across the river?"

The old man was baiting another hook, "No sir. Actually, that's one of the few areas you can physically see the border of Greeton lands."

The thought of Greeton made Fayt remember all of his questions about the country. He was currently processing the fact that even the fishing reel he used seemed advanced when Adray interrupted. The old man handed him his pole, and Fayt casted it back out. Both men took their respective seats when Adray spoke, "May I pose a question?"

Fayt nodded contently as he stared at the water, mostly lost in his head, "Sure."

"Are you sure you aren't romantically involved with Nevelle's daughter?"

Fayt's spaced out brain processed the information slowly. When the synapsis figured out who Nevelle was, it realized the girl in question was Nel. It garnered a quick defensive tone, "What? No!"

Adray didn't look at the disheveled earthling, he just stared at the water, "I know that when I asked two years ago, you said no, but I figured since you didn't want my Clair, you may have been posturing for the sake of hidden intent."

Fayt laughed, sure he'd thought about Nel from time to time, but that was because of their experiences together, right? It's not like she dominated his mind all day or something. These thoughts drove his next answer, "I wasn't posturing. I haven't even seen her in two years. No time for romance regardless, even if I had some non-existent secret plan."

Adray read the coy attitude that belied the comment, so he pushed a little, "Surely, you must at least agree that she's an attractive woman?"

Fayt was only slightly taken aback by the question as he remembered Cliff's hotness scale had scored a 10 of 10 for Nel. He was never sure why, but his brain had a hard time admitting his similar answer out loud. The hesitant feeling seeped through his answer as he muscled through it, "I mean...yeah, she's certainly pretty."

Adray laughed, "Indeed, I'm surprised that Nevelle had such a handsome daughter! She's quite powerful too!"

Fayt nodded in full agreement there, "You got that right, she's an impressive fighter."

Adray nodded, "Is that not an attractive trait too?"

Fayt shifted nervously as he thought before responded, "I mean, yeah, I suppose it is an attractive trait. I don't really dislike soft girls either, but I do prefer tougher girls…"

Adray smiled and looked at him, "So, what's the problem?"

Fayt had a loss of words for a second, this whole conversation suddenly felt like a trap, "Alright, for this conversation's sake, suppose I was into it. It's not like Nel is the type for romance, she's all business. Protect the good people and fight the bad ones. She's so busy with it, so wouldn't that just end in heartbreak if I fell in love with someone like that? Besides, we literally live world's apart."

Adray gave an almost mortified look to his young cohort, "You're an idiot with matters of the heart Master Fayt, all people are the romantic type in some regard, have you ever dated a girl?"

Fayt snapped, "What!? Yes I have, I was a normal guy in school when I was younger!"

Adray had a small realization, "My apologies. I forgot, you're very intelligent, but still young. How could I expect you to understand a shrew like Nel when all your experience is as a pup!"

Fayt mumbled a small defense to himself, "I went on a few dates in college too jerk."

Adray didn't pay heed to the mumbling, he redirected back to the original topic, "Alright, so you say Nel is too serious to be romantic right?"

Fayt nodded.

The wiser man continued, "Well, consider this, Nel is a warrior, and you're a warrior, do you agree?"

"Yeah."

Adray continued, "And for you personally, as a warrior, what is the most important thing you can carry with you, essentially a reflection of your soul?"

Fayt thought about it philosophically for a few seconds, then he answered, "Well two things, "First is my grit to persevere." The Earthling then reached his right hand down and gripped the sword Nel had made, "Second, my sword."

At the end of his sentence, a lightbulb went off In Fayt's head. He sat his fishing pole down in front of his feet in the dirt and drew the Crimson Lust from It's sheath. He stared at it as Adray spoke, "Starting to understand?"

Fayt rolled his eyes as he thought to himself, "This was a trap."

Adray continued out loud in a very informative speech, "Nel is a warrior, whose life is embroiled in battle. Even though you are different people, She can understand you to your core. She gifted you a sword. Even knowing she may never see you again, she made that amazing blade for you. Is that not romantic?"

Fayt was slightly dumbstruck. How did he not process that possibility before? He wasn't fully convinced of what Adray hinted at, but it was certainly something to think about. He felt a sudden excitement, like some tiny light in the distance of his heart.

Adray spoke again as Fayt still sat silent and re-sheathed his sword, "Also, regardless of how serious she takes her work, it's still just a job. Even Clair is home most nights. Just something to think about."

The earthing picked his fishing rod back up. "I'll keep that in mind...Thanks Adray."

The elder man laughed, "Hey, no problem! Fishing is a man's romance after all! Dig to your core and discover your truest feelings!"

The blue haired disciple laughed happily, "Yes sir."

Cliff and Clair had just dispatched some small fry monsters. They now moved through a deep part of Duggas Forest slowly. Clair lead the way. She had already explained to Cliff that she had experience hunting the area, so the man was content to follow her lead. Being behind her had side benefits.

Apparently, hunting these deer was a right of passage for students in the army. So she hadn't been here since she was in her teens. Still, she pulled it from memory with ease.

She led them to an area wrought with hot springs. The warmer the air became, the more plants seemed to be surviving the onset of winter. She explained, "It's not far now, be sure to keep your voice down. We shall set up just over that hill."

Cliff nodded, "Very well, you just give the word and I'll knock this fancy deer's lights out."

Clair's voice became slightly serious, "You will not, these are not just some random beast of foul intent. They are majestic animals and deserve nothing but a clean kill. Thus, the bow." She put her right forefinger on the Klausian's chest, "I will not let you just beat it to death."

The small fierceness brought out Cliff's flirty gab, "Yes mam. Passion looks good on you."

The silver haired beauty pulled her finger off his chest with a quick snap, "Oh, be silent."

She turned and quietly beckoned for Cliff to follow her as she walked out of sight and over the hill in front of them. Cliff smiled and followed. Once he stepped over the hill he was pleasantly shocked.

Clair stood in the middle of a field full of pink flowers that resembled the shape of carnations. Trees surrounded the area, slowly releasing falling leaves to the ground. Lightning bugs had started to flicker as the sun had just set. A small creek that featured a waterfall ran behind where Clair stood. The whole area seemed like a dream of long forgotten spring in the dead of harsh winter. Clair was standing several paces ahead of Cliff when she turned, cocked her head to look at Cliff, then spoke softly, "Beautiful, isn't it it?"

Cliff looked in awe, she seemed a faerie in a field of fantasy, "Yeah, it's stunning."

His gaze lingered as she spoke back, "We should hide behind those small trees."

They made a quick hunting blind out of some shade and sat. Clair had instructed Cliff to be still, "They only appear for a moment at twilight, we must be as silent as possible."

They sat in utter silence. Cliff stared at the creek, his mind drifting with the current. He'd fallen into a trance when some motion in his perephiral vision triggered him to glance at the source. A dark brown colored deer with wild spiral shaped horns had silently approached the waterfall. Cliff was first surprised at the majestic countenance of the animal, but was pulled from the thought when the deer looked directly at the man. He panicked internally, "Damn it! How did it spot me, I only moved a quarter inch?!"

Suddenly Clair exploded from her sitting position, in a matter of a second she'd drawn the bow. Cliff watched as the quick movements of the girl swirled the wind around her, causing falling leaf petals to surround her like a tornado as she released an arrow. As she pulled the bow down, petals fell around her body, and the lightning bugs showed off in her aura. It felt like he'd just witnessed perfection. The silver haired girl looked down at him in his crouched position, her face full of prideful happiness. She grabbed his right hand with both of hers and bounced cheerfully, "I got it!"

Cliff felt a butterfly in his gut, he spoke to himself sarcastically, "Uh Oh."

Clair kept ahold of his hand and began dragging him into the clearing, her elation was about to burst, "Come on Cliff! Let's track it."

Cliff nodded, "Sure thing "

...

Peterny had grown dark and the air had turned sharp. The small town had many lamps burning some sort of oil, they littered all the buildings. This provided a beautiful glowing ambiance for anyone weird enough to be outside in the cold hours after dark.

Cliff and Clair had just entered through the towns western gate. The Klausian had a large deer slung over his shoulder. The Ellicooran woman had her coat zipped up to her neck to fight the cold. They had been chatting about more details involving the events from two years ago when they entered the trading town. Cliff had noticed the smell of smoke from the houses, then he spotted a group of people standing under a lamp in front of Joseph's butcher shop. He recognized Fayt, Adray, and Joseph. As they closed in on the group, Albel's snide voice was heard from behind them, "You're slow, last ones back."

Cliff chimed back, "Pipe down."

Fayt spoke, "Welcome back."

Adray noticed his daughter, whom he didn't expect to see, "Clair! What are you doing here?"

She spoke through puffy cold cheeks, "I went hunting with Cliff."

Adray smiled mischeviously, "Wonderful! You're bonding!"

Joseph cut them all off, "Sir Cliff! You managed to bag one! Let me see it!"

Cliff passed his fellow massive man the deer. Joseph lay it on the ground, "This one is beautiful! I see you already gutted it! I appreciate it."

Cliff rubbed his hands together, "Thank Clair for that, that was all her. She shot it too."

Joseph spoke her a thanks and invited her inside to warm up. She had agreed when Roger appeared from some unknown spot. The Menodix called to Joseph, "Wait! Joseph! You have to pick a winner!"

Joseph threw the Deer over his shoulder, "Easy! Cliff's team wins!"

Roger and Albel both snapped, "What!?"

Roger complained, "We brought back 14 of those bears! I had to borrow a cart from an old lady just to get them here!"

Joseph replied smoothly, "You broke the rules, the challenge was for one mark you can carry back, now I have to stay up all night cleaning those bears! You both need to learn restraint."

Joseph disappeared inside his shop and Roger followed him. Clair quickly followed them in as well. Albel had already turned away and walked off alone to sulk in the cold dark. This left Cliff, Fayt, and Adray alone outside. The Klausian initiated more conversation, "How did y'all fare?"

Fayt puffed a big breath out then stuck his hands into his jacket pocket, "We didn't catch any Rainbow Bass, buy I did catch a big catfish."

Cliff nodded before Fayt returned a question, "Have fun?"

The big blonde answered vigorously, "Hell yeah, Clair is a whiz with that bow, pretty amazing all around. It was fun to watch."

Adray slapped the Klausian on his shoulder, "Care to carry on the Lasbard bloodline yet?"

Cliff laughed, "I'm starting to think about it."

Adray headed inside the little shop after speaking, "Good enough for me!"

Fayt had been heavily shocked by Cliff's last statement. This man committed to no woman. He knew any girl had to be some sublime creature if there was any hope of taming Cliff. He also sensed the hint of seriousness in the Klausians demeanor. The earthing started by repeating, "What do you mean you're starting to think about it? You serious?"

Cliff looked up at the sky, "She's the coolest chick I've ever met."

"No way, is this happening?" His internal thoughts turned into spoken rationality, "I mean, she is awesome."

Cliff grabbed Fayt by the shoulders and looked his young bro in the eyes like a man desperate for water, "And she's crazy hot too."

Fayt burst out laughing, "Some things don't change. If you were to fall for one girl, it would be a hot chick with a bow."

Cliff pulled his arms away, "I have good taste...She's like a girl version of you."

"Huh?"

Cliff continued, "You know, nice, not soft."

Fayt laughed and spoke sarcastically, "That's gay man."

Cliff laughed and made the best girly face he could, then attempted to hug Fayt, "What's wrong with that snookems."

The earthling fought off Cliff's comedy assault, "Get off!"

Cliff let go, then punched the earthling on the shoulder, "Lighten up kid."

As Fayt rubbed the new wound, The Klausian headed inside the shop. Once in, Fayt started laughing internally about the exchange. He continued for a few seconds before stopping to think about the days events. He was just picturing the red haired woman who'd been a topic earlier when seemingly out of nowhere Roger slapped Fayt's leg.

"Quit daydreaming!"

Fayt slapped Roger in retaliation on the back of the head, "Wanna fight buddy?"

Roger rubbed his head, "You sound like Cliff...no, I wanted to know if you would come with me to drop off the cart that Albel and I borrowed today? Clair says it's too dark for me to go alone and won't budge about it."

Fayt's first thought was to dinner, Adray hadn't let him eat yet, "Why don't you just take it back tomorrow?"

Roger stood up straight and huffed, "Cause I PROMISED the lady I would bring it back tonight."

Fayt had seen this attitude and knew there was no changing the stubborn teen's mind, "Fine...where does she live?"

"Surferio."

Fayt's eye twitched, "That far?"

Roger gave the puppy dog eyes, Fayt glared a moment, "Fine, let's go"

A group of four familiar Runologists were moving at amazing speed on the path from the border of Greeton to Peterny. It had been an arduous trip. It was decently bearable until the sun went down. The further west they traveled, the colder it got. The temperature took a toll.

Two of the four had a harder time in general, they both carried an extra passenger piggyback. One such passenger spoke to the man who carried her, her voice was high pitched like a scared child, "Are you doing Okay Vaan? It feels like you're slowing down."

His lungs burned, "Sorry Farleen, I'll push harder!"

Two hundred feet in front of them the other pair of Runologists were starting to pull away from Vaan and Farleen when the rider called out, "Tynave, slow down and match their pace, there's no hurry or a need to be seperated."

Tynave slowed down her running as asked, even though she DID have a reason to rush, two good reasons in fact, "Yes Lady Nel."

Vaan and Tynave eventually caught up. When they did, Nel asked, "Are you two okay?"

Vaan took labored breaths while still running. Farleen answered behind the muffler she wore to ward off the cold, "I think Vaan is about to die."

The male runologist snapped, "I'm fine! My lungs are just stinging from the cold."

Tynave called out, "Would you like your scarf back?"

He breathed visibly hard out of his nose, "No way!"

Farleen cut in, "But Vaan, your legs are shaking hard too."

Their red headed leader spoke, "We can stop and rest."

Vaan's pride was unjustifiably slighted, a common male trait. Especially in front of women they like. He started running harder, "I said I'm fine! I'm not a baby after all!"

The phrase triggered a memory in Nel's head that would have possibly pulled a smile from her lips if she wasn't in mission mode and being toted by someone in the cold. The guy he quoted's face did pop in her head for a seconds before she recentered focus, "Very Well! It's not far now Anyway! Let's move faster!"

All three subordinates called in unison, "Yes mam!"

So they continued for another 45 minutes until they made it to the glowing lamp lights of Peterny. It was a welcome sight to the cold travelers. After taking a few steps into the sleepy town Vaan collapsed to his knees, then his chest belly flopped as he yelled through hard breathing, "We made it!"

Farleen helped the worn man to his feet. Nel had already stepped to stand in front of the group, allowing Tynave to grab Vaan's opposite shoulder, both ladies helping him not to fall over. Farleen spoke first, "Thanks so much, I'll buy you lunch tomorrow to thank you for the ride."

Vaan nodded as Tynave interjected and helped the man straighten his now snow covered glasses, "I've got him."

Farleen let go of the man, allowing him to lean his dead weight into her partner. Farleen then rubbed her purple haired head in a sad attempt to heat it as she walked to approach her boss.

Before joining them, Tynave began pulling off the scarf she wore, "Here, let's warm your face up."

Vaan suddenly angered his worn muscles by standing, then made the most manly face he could muster as he looked at his crush, "No way! I gave you that to keep you warm today."

He was admiring his delivery as Tynave chopped the top of his head, "Idiot! I won't let you freeze to death! Stop acting so tough!"

Vaan went limp, requiring Tynave to hold the short man up again. Farleen called over to her friend, "Wow! Y'all are so cute Tynave."

Tynave rolled her eyes before their boss interrupted, "Are you done fooling around? We still have a report to finish."

Both of her subordinates answered, "Yes mam."

Nel turned around and began to walk away. She took the chance to deliver something she had a knack for, an extremely rare and cutting sarcastic comment. This one inspired by a friend from the past, "You can play lovey dovey when we're off the clock."

Farleen giggled under her breath as Tynave actually blushed. Another rarity.

Upon seeing their boss leaving, they both snapped out of it and rushed to follow her. Nel went back to business when they caught up, "It's too late to report in, we'll stay at the Inn tonight."

The group walked ahead, and as they did, a small sound of fanfare started to grow in volume. Nel knew the source, The Biting Kid, the local roughneck bar. Her group planned to do what they usually did, walk right past it so that they didn't stir up a brawl. The local ruffians didn't like to be policed.

They had just passed it's front door when it swung open with a bang. The whole group looked to the noise. A tall and thin man with spiky black hair and red eyes was stomping his way toward the street. He wasn't graceful, one glance proved he was intoxicated. He was muttering something to himself when Nel's group recognized him. The red haired soldier shouted and put a hand on the hilt of one of her daggers, "Albel Nox!?"

Albel looked up with a snap, burped, squinted, then his eyes widened. He commenced with drunken shouting, "Nel Zelpher! What the hell are you doing here!?"

Nel stepped into a fighting stance, "That's my question! This is my country!"

Albel paused and had a deep drunken thought before bursting Into some weird mix of giggling and his shrewd voice, "Oh yeah, you're right!"

Nels whole group glanced at each other in a highly confused manner. What the hell was going on here?

Albel looked over the group, "I see the gangs all here!" He glanced to Tynave and Farleen, "What were your names again? I haven't seen you since I kicked your asses!"

Both girls gave him a glare. Albel didn't mind as he walked up and poked Vaan's passed out face on the cheek, "Whose the half dead guy?"

Tynave slapped his hand away, "Don't touch him."

Nel yelled this time, "Albel! Why are you here! Answer me!"

He turned and yelled in her face, "I was invited!"

She pulled away and covered her nose, he reeked of alcohol, "By who?"

The Glyphian shook his head, "Your friends! I should have figured you would pop up if those idiots did."

Nel couldn't think of anyone in Peterny who would just invite Albel over, "What friends?"

Albel burped loudly, patted his stomach, then walked down the road, "Go find out for yourself lazy wench! Friggin women are so loud here."

Nel was curious, she gave the order for Tynave to take Vaan to the Inn and for Farleen to keep an eye on Albel. The red head walked into the tavern on her own. Once inside, she was witness to quite the party. People were singing and drinking. The place had a much friendlier vibe than usual. It threw Nel off for a bit as she scanned the room. First she spotted a problem.

Adray, in a bar.

Next she noticed Joseph next to Adray, but Nel couldn't place for herself how she knew him. She had bigger fish to fry regardless, "Did Adray bring Albel here?"

She was just about to step towards Adray when a shock happened, her best friend walked up to Adray's table carrying 2 pints of beer and a large grin on her face, "Why is Clair here?!"

Her friend never went on any escapades with her father.

Nel dodged several rowdy patrons and approached her friend, who now sat at the table next to her Dad, "Clair?"

All three who sat at the table glanced up at the puffy cheeked woman fresh from the cold. Clair's eyes went wide as her father yelled, "Nel! You're back."

Clair quickly hugged her friend, and Nel noted her overly bubbly attitude, bigger than usual, "Welcome back!"

Nel nodded as they released the embrace, the redhead asked, "What's going on in here? I just saw Albel."

Clair smiled bashfully, "Well, actually…"

She finished by pointing towards the side of the room. Nel took a look, only to see four men dancing on the bar. She recognized one of them, but her head didn't believe it, so she spoke his name aloud, "...Cliff…?"

The man in question paused whatever sinful attempt at breakdance he was commiting. He looked at the redhead and yelled, "Is that who I think it is!?"

He jumped off the bar, his massive body made the flooring shake. He ran toward her like a foster kid whose mom came back, "Nel!"

Before Nel had any chance to react, Cliff picked her up in a hug so tight she could barely breath, "It's been forever! How the hell are you!?"

He released Nel, causing her to fall to the floor. The whole exchange left her brain and clothes disheveled. Several witnesses laughed as she stood and fixed her clothes, speaking with exited but forceful toneage. One might confuse it for anger if they didn't know her, "What are you doing on Ellicoor Cliff? Has something happened?"

The Klausian laughed as he patted her on the shoulder a little too hard, "What, I can't go on a vacation unless someone needs beating up!? You're too serious!"

She glared at him, so he continued, "Relax, only visiting for fun! Just hanging with Clair and the boys!"

Adray and Joseph lifted their glasses and gave a woot, a loud clink and a big swallow of beer followed for both of them. Nel settled into normal thought. After the worry was gone, genuine glee took it's place. The appearance of Cliff was welcomed, and it likely meant an obvious fact, so Nel asked, "Cliff, are you here alone?"

Cliff gave her a hinting look, "You mean Fayt? What? Am I not enough to satisfy you? I'm hurt."

Nel sighed, "Glad to see you haven't changed." Her voice deepened, "So is he here or not?"

The Klausian spoke under his breath, "Geez Scareee."

The familiar jab actually drew a small chuckle from the serious woman, "Is he here or not?"

Cliff nodded, his drunken antics prevalent, "Well yeah, he's my bro, we're inseperable."

The big man suddenly paused and felt around his body desperately, as if he were looking for something. The searching ceased when he shouted, "Hey, Aster, what did you do with my beer you sunnuvabitch!?"

The Klausian headed for the bar as Nel made a useless attempt to stop him. Adray, who was surprisingly the most sober, answered her initial inquiry, "Master Fayt went with young Roger on a delivery to Surferio a few hours ago."

The confirmation of his presence had initially roused a happy feeling. It was replaced with a tiny hint of disappointment. Adray picked up the change of mood when Nel spoke, "That's unfortunate."

Adray spoke with a smile, "Do not worry, They will be back later tonight if they left early enough, or first thing in the morning if they slept in Surferio."

Nel nodded, "Well I have to see the Queen in the morning. I'm due to deliver a report. That reminds me, I need to give Clair my initial report."

Clair, who had sat her head in her arms, looked up from that position on the table. She hiccuped then spoke sluggishly, but clearly, "tHat Can wait till MoRNing."

Nel noticed it immediately, "Clair! Did you drink alcohol?"

The silver haired beauty sat up quickly and gave a warm floaty smile, "I only drank two pints. We're celebrating."

Adray boasted in a proud tone, today he had earned father of the year. "Clair harvested a Twilight Deer today on a hunt with Master Cliff!"

The whole bar gave a loud cheer. Before Nel arrived, that news had spread and seemed to be that night's excuse for the party. Suddenly, Nel just felt overwhelmed by this bar of ruffians partying the night away. This whole situation was confusing. Apparently half the party from two years ago were hanging out, had gone hunting, and now most of them were drinking In the seediest bar in Aquaria?

"What the hell did I miss?"

Roger had roped Fayt and himself into listening to an old humanoid man gab for hours. Everything was fine until Fayt recognized the couple who Roger had borrowed the cart from. It was the same pair that let him and his Friends sleep for free in Surferio...at the cost of an old man who really didn't let them sleep. It happened again. They forced Fayt and Roger to stay for dinner. Which Fayt didn't enjoy too much, as it was just a bunch of variaties of nuts. Nothing else. The Earthling even had to make a promise to come eat with them again before they would let him leave. Roger seemed to love the talking and the food, so when Fayt grabbed the boy and forced him out the front door, there was protest. Though when they got moving, Roger settled down. Snow that looked more like crystallized air had slowly begun to fall as they crossed the plains back to Peterny. The trek's only real obstacle was the cold, so they made it back into town around midnight. Peterny was wholly dead when the two entered the Town Inn. Cliff had messaged Fayt on his communicator to let him know they had reserved room 3 at the inn. So when Fayt guiltily woke up the front desk clerk who looked really sleepy, he simply gave the name of his party and retrieved a key. The earthling apologized for waking the young woman and they headed to thier room.

Roger noticed the empty beds after they unlocked the door, "Where is everyone?"

Fayt sighed, "Probably still partying, let's just get some sleep."

Albel had eventually made his way back to the Tavern, quickly followed by Farleen, who came up to Nel and gave a speedy breakdown, "Hello again ma'am, all Albel did was walk around town square and laugh to himself, he's very drunk ma'am."

Nel glared at the Glyphian, who had just slapped Aster across the face and proclaimed him a "maggot." This somehow initiated a chugging competition, "Yeah I can tell."

She made a quick survey of all her cohorts drinking and laughing...even Clair. If she'd been awake, perhaps it could be fun, this type of regalia was a benefit of peace time...but she just felt tired, "Let's Go get checked in at the Inn Farleen."

Farleen made a mental note to spill the tea to Tynave about Lady Clair drinking. She didn't mention this to her boss however. She just nodded and the two of them left. It didn't take Nel much time to check in on her other subordinates and drop off Farleen. It had grown late, nearly 1 am, so The time had hit for her to head back and round up the children at the bar. She set out into the cold night, quickly making her way to the tavern.

When she approached, all the fanfare was dead. She opened the front door to find a room of 20 people passed out on the floor, most of them sleeping. This included Cliff, Clair, and Adray. Adray asleep on the table he sat at earlier, Clair on the floor next to him, and Cliff behind both of them with his back on a stone wall.

She lingered a moment, then glared when Cliff and Clair snored almost simultaneously, "Forget it, let them sleep in their mess, I can't carry that many people anyhow."

She hurried back to the Inn and made for the private room she'd reserved when the thought popped in her head, "Fayt and Roger weren't there at the Tavern? Does that mean they're staying in Surferio or stuck in the cold and returning late?"

The redhead knew she had to leave at first light, so it was likely that she'd miss their return and there was a chance that she wouldn't get to see Fayt at all unless she ran into him that night. The thought of not seeing him after so long felt dreadful. He was a big part of the new life she had attained and she'd be lying if she didn't think about outer space and her interplanetary adventures all the time.

More thought had been given to her far off friends who helped to save her home.

Even more subconscious thought was committed to the most layered and one of the most righteous men she'd ever seen.

One that had a direct hand in the trajectory of her life.

She'd already seen Cliff, but for some reason she couldn't fully analyze, losing this small chance to see Fayt seemed to make her gut hurt.

So the Runologist decided to wait on the hope he'd come back soon with the Menodix. Openly sacrificing sleep for the personal priority.

It had started again, Fayt was being harassed by yet another nightmare. This one was a near repeat of one he'd had a week ago. He was back on Vangaard again, but this time it was far more vivid. He was running into the little Village that his old friends Niklas and Meena lived in. As he approached, the sound of a large explosion went off, then most of the buildings were on fire. People were screaming and running past him as he dashed to his friends house. He made it only to find the house was already engulfed in flames. He kicked the door down and rushed in to find a terrible sight. Little Meena sat crying and holding her brother Niklas, the boy dead in her arms. Fayt let out a scream as he woke up and snapped to a sitting position. The Earthling was breathing heavily and saturated in sweat. A quick glance to gauge his surroundings revealed the mostly dark Inn he slept in. He groggily pulled his communicator out and read the time, "Three am? I've barely slept three hours?! Damn freams keep ruining my REM sleep."

He couldn't get his lungs to slow down as easily as normal, "That dream was really vivid...I'll go for a walk and put it out of my mind."

The young man had the realization that he was talking aloud in a shared room. So he grew quiet and used the light on his communicator to scan the room. No one but Roger was there.

The boy surprised him, "How did he sleep during my yelling? Oh well, I wonder where everyone is. Maybe they went back to Arias."

Fayt knew Cliff wouldn't answer a call while stupored out, so he settled on the walk, he could just leave the rest for the morning. The Earthling threw on thicker pants and his jacket, then quietly stepped out into the inn's main hallway.

A gentle smell of fire occupied the halls.

That scent always brought Fayt some peace, something he hadn't discovered until landing on an underdeveloped planet. Earth used artificial heat for everything, but Ellicoor had blessed him yet again with natural oak. The scent helped calm his anxiety as he walked down the hallway. He was making sure to walk quietly enough to not wake the front desk clerk again. So he tiptoed his way into the main lobby of the Inn. He stopped when he'd noticed a small fire burning in a cobble fireplace. He walked over and held his hands over to warm them. As he did, he scanned the room. He first saw the attendant fast asleep at her desk. Then observed the rest of the darkened room. The fire lit some of the corridor, permitting him to see most of it clearly, save a couch that sat under a window.

However, a small beam of light cast through the window from the street lamp outside and onto a portion said couch. Fayt had a double take and his jaw nearly dropped upon seeing a familiar body sleeping awkwardly in the light on the couch. The Red hair and uniform was a dead giveaway, "No Way!"

He still needed to confirm his eyes weren't executing wishful thinking. He slowly motioned across the room and got his confirmation. He recognized the pretty face and the notable blue and black scarf she wore. He smiled down and thought to himself, "Well hello there Nel Zelpher, fancy meeting you here. Don't you look lovely when you sleep."

To Fayt, she seemed quite cold. He'd contemplated waking her up, but that excitement was overshadowed by his chivalry, "Best to let her sleep."

Instead, he headed back to his room and grabbed a blanket off of his bed and brought it out to the lobby. He gently covered her body with the blanket, careful not to wake the sleeping beauty. As he pulled the wool up to her shoulders he came a few small inches away from Nel's face. He froze there a moment and just stared. He admired her until Adray's voice teased in his memory, "Is that not romantic?"

Fayt quickly stood back up as he shook off an invisible blush, "What the heck am I doing leering like a creep, I'll see you in the morning Nel."

With that, Fayt headed outside of the building and out into the night to walk the frigid streets.

Roughly half an hour later Nel awoke. It was either instinct or the dying fire that woke her up. Either way, she knew she was chilly. She thought rapidly through several topics, "Damn! When did I fall asleep? Did I miss them? Where did I get a blanket?"

She searched the room and quickly noticed the fire had gone out in the little lobby, "No wonder it's so cold."

The redhead saw a pile of wood next to the fireplace and quickly took advantage of it. With some stacking and a small bit of fire symbology she had rebuilt a fire in no time. She heard a voice call to her, "Thanks Lady Nel."

The voice in question came from the woman behind the front desk. As Nel approached, she spoke to the clerk, "No problem, apologies, I did not mean to wake you."

The clerk yawned broadly, "That's okay, it's my job to keep that fire going all night, I'm technically not supposed to be nodding off."

Nel nodded and fell silent for a moment before deciding to inquire, "Say, Did a guy with Blue Hair and a Menodix check in tonight?"

The clerk nodded as she rubbed her eyes, "Yes ma'am, they did...It may have been a dream, but I think the blue haired gentleman went outside a few minutes ago...not sure what crazy person just goes for a walk in the middle of the night when it's that cold."

Nel spoke with a bit of intensity, "Really, how long ago did he leave!?"

The clerk woke up fast, "Half an hour ago if I had to guess."

Nel darted back to the couch and grabbed the blanket she'd been gifted. She wrapped it around herself like a cape and darted out the front door. The clerk was wide eyed, "I don't know what he did, but that guys dead meat."

Outside, Nel first noticed that it had actually started to snow again. Just a slow and steady sifting. Snow was always exciting for an intelligence operative. Snow meant tracks and tracks meant a trail. Only one set of tracks, so it had to be him. She didn't want to lose anymore ground so she followed the prints with haste. Her vigorous running nearly made her slip in the snow. She regained balance and kept running.

It was only a matter of seconds when she made it to the town square. The small oil lamps still burned strong, each revealed the sideways falling snow in a hue of yellow. They allowed the smallest bit of effervescent light to illuminate the area quite fetchingly. Nel used the light to glance down and scan the footprints again. Her eyes followed each footfall as they walked from her feet towards the center of the square. The tracks ended at the feet of a man sitting at a small snow plated table. His arms crossed and his head tilted back, facing the sky. He was making little intentional puffs of cold air from his mouth much like a cigar smoker. The blue mop of snow soaked hair was the final proof. "Fayt!"

She closed the distance between them, her approach garnered Fayt's attention. The Earthling simply glanced from his seat, and upon realizing who it was he stood slowly.

If he had not seen her earlier, the surprise would have been exuberant. As it stood, he beckoned, "Morning Nel, you sure woke up early."

She had stopped close enough to properly lock eyes with Fayt. The moment seemed to freeze.

Blue and purple Iris pools cut the snow in half.

Fayt waited a few silent seconds, he waved to garner her attention and asked awkwardly, "Hey. Earth to Nel?"

Fayt watched her with confused anticipation. He waited for a response until Nel smiled perhaps the largest she ever had. She quickly buried her cheeks behind her scarf, "Welcome back Fayt."


Thanks so much for loving Star Ocean.