Hi everyone! It's been a while since I posted a story and I'm really sorry about that. The last few months were tumultuous for me and I found myself knee deep in writer's block and creative doubt. I'm trying to my best to get to a better writing space and I have been working on a couple of stories privately that I hope to post soon.
I wrote this because I always found Sophia's (and Peppita's) characters to be lacking in a lot of ways outside of the main story. I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't played Star Ocean 3 (you totally should) but the player rarely gets to see Sophia's interactions with the party once she becomes a permanent member due to the plot. I think it would have been interesting to see who she would have grown close to as the journey came to a close. I believe if Star Ocean 3 had been a "Tales of" game, we would have got to see that through the skits. Nevertheless, something prompted me to write what I believe her interactions with some of the party members might have been if they'd been showcased. I hope you enjoy this!
It had been a couple of weeks since Sophia had joined Fayt's party in their quest to stop the Vendeeni and life couldn't have been stranger.
From vacationing in Hyda IV, to getting imprisoned in a Vendeeni flagship, to now having to fight beside complete strangers in the span of less than a month was a lot and she was surprised she was holding up as well as she was.
It wasn't all bad, however. She still had Fayt and Peppita, both serving as a speck of familiarity in a situation so foreign to her. But like his father had mentioned before his untimely death, Fayt had changed and she wasn't sure what to make of it. They would always be childhood friends, but he seemed to look at her as more of an ally now than a little sister. Part of her missed the way he used to tease her, while another felt pride in being taken seriously by her sword swinging companion.
That did mean she had to play her part, though. A scepter had been all but thrust into her hands once she'd been treated for injuries aboard the Diplo and before she knew it, she was fighting alongside Fayt (and company) on Elicoor II and Moonbase. With her proficiency in symbology, she quickly took on the role of medic and magic user. This wouldn't have been a problem had she been an experienced mage, but she'd never had to fight before and sitting in a Vendeeni cell for weeks on end hadn't exactly given her the stamina to keep up with her new companions. Her first few fights had resulted in her running around the field like a decoy, praying someone finished the enemy before it caught her in its grasp.
At the very least, Fayt's friends were strong and tolerated her to some extent. Cliff was respectful to her, though he did joke about her magic skills from time to time. Nel came off indifferent to her at first, but had eventually warmed up enough to help her with her casting abilities. Roger reminded her of the kids she used to babysit back in the day, so she found his bravado more amusing then annoying like the rest of Fayt's friends. Albel was downright terrifying in looks and personality, so staying far away from him was her prerogative for the most part. Mirage was one of the sweetest people she'd ever met and if Sophia hadn't witnessed her plow through enemies on the battlefield, she would have thought her incapable of hurting a fly. Adray was loud and confident, but made for an amazing symbology teacher that she was always learning something from. And Maria…well, Maria was a different story.
The blunette was quick-witted, ambitious, and extremely dedicated to her cause. Sophia had never met someone her age so focused and decisive, but she quickly learned there was much more to her than that. Maria not only had a rough childhood, but she'd spent a large portion of her life trying to uncover the mysteries of her parents' research. It had led her to horrifying discoveries that greatly effected the way she saw herself and her current mission. Sophia wasn't sure she could have taken that on herself without losing a bit of her personality (and sanity). It wasn't hard for her to respect the sharpshooter for her drive, but being part of a team with her was a completely different story.
Maria was stubborn (like all of them were, to some extent) and liked to have things her way. It made sense, considering she led the Diplo (and Quark) and already had a pretty dominant personality. That didn't mean she was easy to deal with, and Sophia almost always found herself under the woman's watch as they travelled.
For instance, since both of them were ranged fighters, they tended to be in close proximity on the battlefield. This wouldn't have been an issue if Sophia didn't constantly feel Maria's gaze on her back while she was casting spells. She knew the woman wasn't the biggest fan of hers because of her close relationship with Fayt, but she hadn't expected to be put under a microscope because of it. It almost felt like the Diplo captain was waiting for her to fail in order to prove she couldn't keep up.
At times, it would really stress Sophia out and she would struggle to conjure her spells.
On one occasion, when they'd been exploring a forest she'd forgotten the name of, they'd been ambushed by some local monsters and Fayt had been inflicted with poison during the melee.
"Ah!" he'd yelled out, jumping back before he could be hit by one of the monster's follow up attacks.
"I-I'm coming!" she'd screamed, getting into her casting position. She stood there, channeling her energy for the antidote spell that should have started to appear. When it didn't, she side stepped and tried again.
"What's happening?" she whispered to herself, staring down at her staff incredulously.
When she failed to channel the symbol again, she looked up to see Fayt cutting through one of the enemies with a grimace on his face.
"Just give a me second!" she called out, swinging at an enemy who'd managed to clear the distance between them during her casting time.
Before she could try a fourth time, she heard a 'tsk' from beside her and turned to see Maria glaring at her. Before she could explain her predicament, the sharpshooter raised her arm to hover beside her hip and Sophia watched as an orb of symbols appeared beneath it. A few seconds later, she raised her arm in Fayt's direction and they both watched as the poison's effect dissipated.
Sophia felt awful after the battle and apologized to Fayt profusely, who laughed it off easily. That was Fayt, though, and she was sure Maria had been glaring holes in her back the rest of the time they'd been in the forest.
Not knowing who to turn to, especially when one was in a strange corner of the galaxy, she'd found herself in Nel's room asking for advice.
"Don't worry," Nel had reassured, "she had me under her watchful eye when I first met her, too."
"Really?" Sophia replied in surprise, "but you're an incredible fighter, surely she saw that."
"Whether or not she did wasn't the problem. As bold and brash as she comes off, she's very observant," Nel scoffed, shaking her head.
"The antidote spell isn't difficult to master, though. I can help you with it, if you want," she continued.
Sophia had quickly explained that she was sure she'd be able to cast it when prompted to again and left the Aquarian spy's room feeling a little bit better about the whole thing.
But Maria was still on her case.
Today, they'd run into a nasty monster before leaving Elicoor II. Albel had managed to defeat it (making for one of the few times she was glad to have him around) but the party had suffered various injuries, Roger's being one of the more serious ones.
The boy's bravado was endearing at times, but he was clearly in pain and needed medical attention. Since they weren't close enough to the Diplo's transportation rendezvous, she immediately began dolling out symbols to heal some of his surface injuries.
"Can't this wait?" Maria asked, appearing beside her with a hand on her hip. She looked a bit winded from the fight herself, but Sophia was sure she had used her own symbols to heal up once they'd won the battle.
"I'll only be a minute," Sophia grumbled, turning back to the boy standing in front of her.
"I'll be okay, pretty lady, d-don't worry," Roger reassured, though it looked like it was taking everything in him to remain standing.
"That's nice, hold still," Sophia replied, biting her lip as she felt the magic flowing through her. Watching his minor injuries fade as she chanted, she pressed on. She wouldn't (and couldn't) let Maria psyche her out again.
"Once we get back to the Diplo, we'll be able to fix him up faster," Maria stated, walking past the two of them. "You're only prolonging that by standing here."
She could feel her blood boiling but she continued to cast. Maybe it was her ego, because Maria raised a good point. But Roger looked exhausted and was still grimacing as she healed him. To force him to endure while they trekked to the rendezvous was inhuman, in her opinion. He wasn't a soldier or a trained fighter, he was a child. The line had to be drawn somewhere.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Maria turn slightly in their direction again.
"I just said-"
"I'm done," Sophia interrupted, looking up to frown at the woman as she wiped some sweat from her brow.
That caused everyone to stop and stare at the two of them. Even Roger had turned (albeit slowly) to see Maria's reaction. Though it had been fairly quiet in the aftermath of the fight, it was silent now. Sophia didn't care though, and she refused to look away this time. Enough was enough.
To Maria's credit, she looked surprised for about a second before she turned on her heel and continued towards the meeting place.
Sophia let out a breath she'd been holding and inwardly groaned as she felt a headache forming, a sign of her symbol exertion. She felt a hand squeeze her shoulder and smiled when she saw it belonged to Nel, who gave her a reassuring nod before walking past her.
"Thank you, pretty lady!" Roger said with a toothy grin, looking slightly better then he had been moments ago. Sophia gave him a smile as she put her staff away.
"You're welcome, you did a great job today," she replied.
The child beamed at her praise and walked away from her with his head held high. She shook her head as she watched him walk off towards the others.
"Well, hopefully that's the end of that," she thought to herself, following after the party. Replaying what had happened over in her head, she almost bumped into Albel as she walked.
Before she could apologize (and pull out her staff for protection), the warrior gave her a rare smile as he passed by.
"Not bad, magic maggot," he grunted. Her jaw dropped at that, but he was too ahead of her to notice.
A compliment from anyone outside of Maria wasn't far outside the realm of possibility, but to get one from Albel was pretty shocking. She didn't know whether to be grateful or insulted (she decided on a mix of both).
She mumbled a 'thank you' before he was out of earshot and continued to walk behind the group.
When they eventually made it back aboard the Diplo, she skipped out on the impromptu meeting Maria wanted to have and ran to her room to sleep off whatever anger was still sitting in the pit of her stomach. She couldn't help but feel proud of herself for standing up to the leader of Quark, however.
The following week found Sophia in the Diplo's meeting room, observing the reactions of everyone who had just heard Fayt and Albel come out as a couple. She was pretty sure that hadn't been on the agenda for the meeting, but she tried to look as supportive as possible. Fayt had been the one to confess, obviously. Albel had stood in the corner, grunting (and growling, she was sure) at everything her childhood friend was saying.
To some extent, she'd seen this coming. Albel was constantly trying to compete with Fayt, even when the blue haired swordsman showed little to no interest in the various challenges he was goaded into. Sophia had initially found this strange, especially since Albel had been a swordsman long before Fayt had even picked up a weapon. That was until Nel had mentioned a time when the party had royally trumped the cocky swordsman in battle and he'd changed his attitude towards them since then.
That made sense, but Albel was a bit obsessive and seemed to constantly watch over Fayt. It was like he was studying him, a predator watching its prey's quirks and mannerisms, looking for a chance to strike. She hadn't expected him to strike at her friend's heart (or at least not in that way) but she couldn't pretend the truth hadn't been staring her in the face for a while now. Their relationship had always reminded her of the teasing one children had on the playground, anyway.
The bigger surprise (or at least the one she'd enjoyed more) was Maria's reaction to the news. While most of the party had seemed indifferent (she could imagine they'd seen signs before she'd joined), Maria was visibly upset. Gone was the smirk that usually sat so casually on her face and the glint in her eye whenever she had an enemy in her crosshairs. Instead, she seemed frazzled and distraught. Her eyes were wide, her mouth was slightly agape, and her brows were furrowed. She was clearly hurt by the news.
Sophia wished she could have felt bad for her, she really did. But it wasn't like Maria had ever cut her any slack. The leader of Quark had been breathing down her neck since she'd arrived and it was kind of nice to see her realize that she should have been aiming that dragon breath elsewhere. It was a petty thought, but she deserved at least that for all the woman had put her through.
She turned to see Nel give her a knowing glance before looking back at Maria, who was shaking her head in an attempt to probably regain her composure.
"Well," the sharpshooter started, drumming her fingers against the metallic surface of the meeting room table, "I still expect you to join the team when needed. I hope this won't interfere with our mission."
Fayt's eyes widened and he quickly shook his head. "Of course not!"
"Or maybe it will," Albel replied with a smirk. Maria sent him a glare that he scoffed at.
"Albel…" Fayt said, his voice taking on a disapproving tone.
Albel rolled his eyes in response. "Fine, it won't," he groaned.
The meeting wrapped up quickly after that, with Maria storming out before anyone could stop her. Everyone retreated to their respective rooms and Sophia followed suit, unsure of how this new dynamic would affect their already dysfunctional crew.
She'd only been in her room a few minutes before she heard a knock on her door.
She almost screamed when she saw who it was.
The swordsman huffed in reply and leaned against her doorframe.
"Could you not be so loud, magic maggot?" he muttered, shaking his head.
"S-sorry," she squeaked, "I just wasn't expecting you."
Albel shrugged and placed a hand on his hip.
"I can't believe I'm saying this but I require your assistance," he said quietly, staring at the ceiling.
"My…assistance?" she asked, tilting her head slightly. What would he need her help for?
Albel ran a hand down his face and clenched his teeth, confusing Sophia even more.
"You're pretty good at healing spells," he started, "would you teach me how to cast them? The simple ones at least."
Of all the things he could have asked for, she definitely hadn't been expecting that. She stood in shock for a second, unsure of how to respond to such a simple but unexpected enquiry.
She was quiet for a second too long, apparently, since he continued before she could reply.
"It's so that blue haired friend of yours doesn't end up dead before I get to defeat him, that's all," he blurted out.
Sophia continued to stare at him, his explanation dawning on her slowly.
"I…" Sophia started, blinking like an owl. Albel looked like his patience was wearing thin (even though she hadn't done anything) so she tried to piece together a response quickly.
"Sure!" she said brightly. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather ask Nel or Adray? My symbology is a little different from their runeology."
Albel rolled his eyes.
"I'd rather die than ask that Aquarian scum to help and I don't have time for that old man's sermons," he explained.
While Sophia didn't like him talking about her friend and mentor like that, she understood that this was just Albel's personality. Plus, she did find it sweet that he wanted to ensure Fayt's safety on the battlefield.
"That's fine, I'll teach you," she replied. Albel nodded in reply.
"Could we start later today? If you aren't already busy," he asked gruffly, as if it was physically hurting him to be considerate.
"That works for me. I don't see Maria calling us in for another meeting today," she replied honestly, surprising even herself as he spoke.
Her words seemed to surprise Albel as well, since he chuckled darkly before responding.
"She probably won't, given how dramatic she was earlier."
Sophia didn't know why, but she couldn't help but laugh at that. It wasn't just a giggle or titter either. It was a laugh that made her body tremble and her eyes water.
She could hear Albel chuckling as well and that only validated how she felt. After all Maria had put her through, it was funny to see how someone else saw her in that moment in the meeting.
"It's the truth, magic maggot," Albel said when she calmed down.
"No, I know," Sophia replied, wiping at her eyes, "that's why I'm laughing."
"But I'm happy for you guys and I hope she comes around," she continued with an honest smile. Albel looked away and shrugged.
"Well, I'm sure he'll be happy to hear that," he muttered, his cheeks turning a dark red. Sophia smile only widened when she realized the swordsman in front of her was just as happy to have her support.
They agreed on a time and place to begin their studies and Albel left her to her thoughts soon after. She couldn't help but shake her head as she watched him sulk down the hallway.
While she was happy for Fayt and his scary (yet surprisingly sweet) boyfriend, a part of her couldn't help but feel bad for Maria. The woman probably didn't need her sympathy, and wasn't too deserving of it either. Still, part of her understood. If she had loved Fayt like that, she would have been hurt too. She might have handled it worse, if she was being honest with herself.
Still, the two were far from friends and Sophia doubted the sharpshooter wanted to hear anything from her right now. She let that thought pass as she pulled out her spell book and started flipping to the section on recovery arts.
Teaching Albel healing spells came with its own set of challenges. On one hand, the swordsman's casting speed was much faster than she'd expected and clearly surpassed that of most of the party members. She'd made the mistake of questioning this aloud once and unintentionally exasperated her student in the process.
"Are we not supposed to cast quickly? We're in the middle of a war here," Albel had spat. Sophia briefly wondered if this was because he was actually surprised or if he was just incapable of accepting a compliment.
"Well, yeah! But I'm not even sure if I'm that fast," she admitted.
"Then you should be working on that," Albel replied shortly.
"You're probably right about that," she acquiesced. She decided not to mention that she could have been working on her own spellcasting had she not been helping him work on his. It wasn't worth getting sliced and diced.
"But that's a good start at least," she tried again. "We won't have to worry about grabbing an accessory to cut your casting time down."
"Whatever," Albel grumbled. Sophia vividly remembered holding back a sigh before continuing the lesson.
However, it soon became apparent that Albel's issue wasn't speed but potency. His version of the healing spell couldn't heal much, no matter how much effort he put into it. Part of Sophia believed it was due to his lineage and Elicoor II's reliance on rune-based magic. While similar, Symbology was a different ball game entirely and required a deeper mental connection with a user's weapon instead of their runes. Sophia's staff served as a conduit to channel her magic and while Albel's claw had potential to do the same, he would have to learn how to use it on his own. To make matters worse, she couldn't ask Nel or Adray for advice out of respect for Albel's (prideful) wishes.
This meant that most lessons ended in frustration for Albel that the spell caster could do little about. He was making improvements, but Sophia doubted healing surface scratches had been his goal when he came to her.
Their lesson today wasn't going much better, and she decided on a break before the swordsman really blew a gasket. To his credit, he'd offered an apology before she'd stepped out of the diplo meeting room. It did little to settle her nerves, however.
The cool air of the hallway helped her clear her mind and refocus her thoughts. She didn't want to tell Albel that it would take him longer to master the most basic of healing spells, but she didn't know how else to assist him without external help. She debated telling Nel that she needed help with the spell herself, but she was sure the spy would see through her and then Albel would probably attack both of them.
Letting out a groan, she turned to head back to the meeting room when she almost bumped into the last person she'd expected to run into.
"Oh, Maria!" she said, looking up at the sharpshooter standing in front of her.
"Busy with Albel, again?" the blunette asked, resting a hand on her hip. She was wearing her regular battle attire but had pulled her hair back into a low ponytail.
"I…well," Sophia stuttered, her eyes widening as she tried to come up with a good enough excuse.
"Don't worry, I'm not here to pester you," Maria interjected. "I'm sure he has a good reason for meeting up with you every couple of days. It's just hard to keep secrets in here, trust me, I've tried."
"I'll try to keep that in mind," Sophia replied with a nod, unsure as to why Maria was being nice to her all of a sudden.
"Good, you should," Maria said with a small smile.
"By the way," she continued before Sophia could give an excuse to leave, "I'm surprised at how well you're taking the news about those two."
Sophia blinked. She hadn't expected the diplo captain to bring that up, especially when it had been more than a week since that infamous meeting.
"Oh, well it wasn't that big a deal to me," she replied honestly, running a hand through her hair. "I've known Fayt for so long and I always wondered if he played for the other team. Now, I just know for sure."
Maria's eyebrows rose under her light blue bangs and her eyes widened slightly.
"Really, is that so?" she asked, though it sounded more self-directed than towards Sophia. "I guess I didn't know him as well as I thought."
Sophia bit her lip, unsure of how to respond to that.
"I used to think everyone would leave that kind of stuff for after the war was over," Maria admitted. Sophia tilted her head slightly.
"Really? If anything, I would think people would be more expressive now. We don't know what tomorrow holds so it's probably better to say how you feel today."
Maria seemed to ponder that thought before nodding slowly. "I didn't consider that."
"Fayt still respects you, I'm sure. I don't think either of them will impede on what you're trying to achieve here," Sophia tried to reassure.
"I don't think so, either," the sharpshooter agreed.
"I thought he'd fall for you, though," she continued, crossing her arms over her chest.
Sophia laughed, even though she'd figured that to be the case. "You know, at one point I wouldn't have minded that," she admitted. "But I'm happy for him and you should be too."
Maria looked down and Sophia feared she was going to tear up for a second. But the blunette looked up at her and smiled what was probably the most genuine smile Sophia had seen on her face.
"You might be right, I should be," Maria said with a nod. "He's been a good friend and supporter of mine. I'll try to keep that in mind."
"I think he'd appreciate that," Sophia replied.
Maria was silent for a second before she spoke. "You know, I can see why Fayt likes you so much."
Before Sophia could think of a reply to that, Maria turned on her heel and started walking towards the cockpit.
"Well, sorry for interrupting your meeting with Albel," she said over her shoulder.
"I-it's okay!" Sophia replied with a wave, still a bit in shock over that confession.
As she walked back to the meeting room, she couldn't help but smile to herself as she thought about their conversation. She still didn't fully understand the Diplo leader, but she was glad they'd been able to find some common ground.
When Albel managed to heal Fayt in the middle of battle a week later, Sophia made sure to give Maria's shoulder a sensitive squeeze before pointing the next enemy out to her. The sharpshooter seemed a bit stunned at first but followed her lead once she recovered.
It was a start, at least.