Sorry for the late update, but I was really dreading the Seal of Fire so I ended up dragging my feet with this. This was going to be up on my bday but I wasn't happy with it. Then I said Halloween but nope. After that I thought to myself "Man, I should update this on Sharla's birthday!" That didn't happen either. In my defense I wrote an Omake chapter and I redited chapter one, so there.

You know I expected to be on pass the Tower of Salvation by time I reached Sharla's age but you know, life happens.


Sitting with my legs crossed on my bed, I was readjusting my bow and checking my arrows for the millionth time with the tools from my bag. Sometimes I would raise my arms like I was going to shoot; when the string was released it would rub against my arm. I already had several stinging marks running up and down my arm from earlier battles. It was easy to ignore the pain during the heat of the moment, but sooner or later it's going to seriously mess me up. Not only could I miss, I could also create an opening that could kill me. They wouldn't give me an arm bracer at the base. They said something about not being in a combat unit and the stupid equipment room was restricted to said units. This wouldn't be a problem if somebody didn't forget to give me one.

Stupid Seraphs and their model hair, scary glares, out-of-style suits, backstabbing habits...I wasn't just thinking about Yuan was I? That list could apply for all three of them. And just like that all the unwanted thoughts sprang back up.

In favor of burying my face inside hands I dropped the bow down on my lap and groaned quietly in frustration. There goes the whole self-distracting plan. Why can't I ever lose focus on purpose? Everything right now is so messed up and I just wanted to sleep it off but that wasn't going to happen, not as long as that little problem was still present.

With another groan my hand left my head and started doing busy work with the bow again. It did little to divert my brain from the current hindrance to my sleep.

I was in what you would call "a situation". I was stuck in an inn room with two males with nothing to sleep in; talk about awkward. Usually sleeping half naked was an option but not this time. Or was it? It's not like I moved a lot in my sleep. At least, I didn't think I did. I fall asleep facing the wall and wake up the same way. So if I tuck myself in tight the cover won't come off. I'll have to get undress when Lloyd and Kratos fall asleep.

Does Kratos even sleep? He always seemed to be on night watch whenever a night scene occurred. There was a theory on Earth that he could sleep if he wanted too but it wasn't necessary. I wasn't sure if that was true or not. I could just ask him but, you know, that might not go over well. I guess that meant that I had to change when they both leave the room. I was hoping to wash up though. Damn…

Okay then, Lloyd would leave the room to give Raine the keycrest, Kratos goes out to talk to Noishe after that and Lloyd follows him. I'll have to do it then. It was going to be a pain but at least this will only be for one night. After that I will never see them again until the worlds were reunited, unless I bump into them while they were running around base.

I stopped adjusting my bowstring, pondering on that very thought. Would I still be there? Will I still be part of the Renegades? Will I still be popping those magic zits or will I be home?

How would I even get home? There was always Jord but working with my kidnapper wasn't on my to-do list. Never mind a kidnapper I haven't seen in over two years. The only other option I can think of was Ratatosk; surely the ancient spirit of the Kharlan tree would know something. I smiled bitterly at the thought of meeting the angry squirrel man. The tree spirit would just love to help me out, if he doesn't kill me first. Actually, that wasn't a bad idea now that I think about it. Didn't they imply something about the otherworldly gate didn't just lead the Ginnungagap or am I just misremembering it?

"Goddammit." I hissed underneath my breath. Why didn't they ever go into detail about it? Stupid throwaway line…

"Is something troubling you?" Kratos' deep voice rang out, startling me. If he didn't sound so bored I might have believed he actually cared.

"Oh no. Everything is fine. Thank you for asking." I said politely, refusing to look up at him. Instead I kept my eyes on what I was doing. I must have been working on my bow for a while now. It wasn't anything special, just a plain bow made out of metal and was a little over half my height. "I'm just a bit tired."

"It would be to wise turn in for the night. We have a busy day ahead." Kratos advised from a chair by the window, still cleaning his sword. That could be why his sword was in such good condition, he takes good care of it. "It would be a nuisance to have a fatigued companion dragging us down."

With my temper flaring up I looked up sharply, ready to give him a piece of my mind but thought better of it. Instead I forcefully relaxed my contorted face and adapt a nonchalant expression. "You wouldn't have to worry about that. It's not like I will be staying with you guys." I said airily, trying to keep the acid out of my voice. Whether I was convincing was up for grabs.

"Huh? Why not?" Lloyd asked from the table. He had been quietly working on the keycrest for the past hour, trying to get it done before turning in for the night.

"Well…" I began. Dammit. What was a good reason for me not to join their group besides not wanting to screw up the plot and have a high risk of dying? I like not fighting against Seal Guardians, Grand Cardinals and Angels, thank you very much. "It wouldn't be right for me to just barge into your group."

"But you have nowhere else to go." At that point Lloyd put down the mount in favor of arguing with me. "We can't just leave you here all by yourself."

"Thanks but I can handle myself." I insisted as patiently as I could. "I've been doing great up until now."

"Having several inexperienced fighters is more than enough; we don't need one more slowing us down." Just as expected Kratos chimed in. He sure knows how to make a girl feel awesome about herself.

"But what if the Desians come back? She'll be all alone." The teen argued back, ignoring the insult for now.

"That's not our problem. If you plan on traveling with us you have to fix your bleeding heart. It will only distract you from what's important."

"So helping someone who is in trouble isn't important?!" Lloyd raised his voice, getting up from his seat. "How can you be so heartless?!"

"It's okay Lloyd. He isn't being heartless, just practical." I said to him. There wasn't any reason to let his temper fly. It wouldn't do anyone any good and it was too late at night to be dealing with all of this.

"But-"

"Let's make a deal." I interrupted. Hopefully this will calm him down and focus on his current task, Raine needed that Exsphere and keycrest as soon as possible. "How about we drop this for now and talk about it in the morning, when we're well rested."

He gave me a frustrated look but he still sat back down. "Fine." He grunted. "But I'm not leaving you alone here."

All I could do was stare at him as he took his carving knife in hand and returned to his work. Why is he getting all worked up over a stranger? It's not like what I did was any of his business.

It was quiet in the room again. The only sound that could be heard was the sound Lloyd carving into the ore and that was weird. Wasn't Kratos cleaning his sword? What was he doing now?

Curiosity got the better of me. I turned to see what he was going, only to meet with wine eyes. I nearly jumped when I saw him staring right at me intensely. Rather than look away I stared back uncomfortably. He only narrowed his eyes in response, glaring into my soul.

"Clothes." I blurted out, needing to break the silence. "I need clothes to sleep in."

He raised an eyebrow ever so slightly. "Is that so?" He said in a disinterested tone.

I frowned a little. "Yes..." I said hesitantly, not wanting to say it. "…Do you have a shirt I can sleep in?" It's not like he would need it, being a guy and all. Kratos was at least six feet tall. Any shirt he had would look like a dress on me.

When he said nothing I rambled on. "Because you know, it is really uncomfortable and inappropriate for a lady like me to be sleeping in a room with guys, but I'm willing to make the best of it. So I should be comfortable as I can be, and as you know, I can't be comfortable sleeping in my day clothes. Not only is it uncomfortable, it is also unsanitary. So, tonight I will sleep naked-" Lloyd made a gagging noise. "-and it will be weird for all parties."

Kratos ran his hand through his bangs with a heavy sigh. "I might have something for you." Wait, that was the secret to breaking down Kratos? Being logical and annoying? That explained so much about Yuan. Kratos picked up his bag by his feet and searched through it. After pulling out a neatly folded thin black shirt, he walked over to my bed.

"Thank you Kratos. I knew I could count on you~." I said without thinking. He stopped, narrowing his eyes again and searched my face for something. I squirmed under his gaze. Whatever he was searching for he didn't find or he did and he wasn't happy about it. Either way it was nerve-wracking.

"Is something on my face?" Instead of answering he silently handed over the shirt and back to the window, looking out into the starlit sky.

What a charming man.

XXX

"Okay, it's done." Lloyd announced, pushing his chair back. "I'll go give it to the Professor."

"Awesome." I said without looking away from my toenails. They were almost covered in dark purple paint. It was fortunate that the tiny bottles of nail polish didn't break. Maybe I should make them reimburse me for the other expensive bottles. "After this you'll have to restore her whole collection."

"You think so? A dwarf can do it better."

"Trust me. I have an eye for quality."

"You didn't even look at it."

"But I'm a lady."

"What does that has to do with anything?"

"Everything. You'll understand when you're older."

"But we're about the same age!"

That's when I stopped painting my big toe and looked at him, frowning. I was about to say something about that but Kratos cut me off. "Stop messing around. If you're done working, you should get some sleep soon." He ordered. Was that him being fatherly or just plain bossiness…they're the same thing really.

"I know." Lloyd answered back, annoyed that the mercenary was telling him what to do again. "I'm going to give the professor this keycrest first."

"Fine but don't dawdle."

"Yeah yeah." Lloyd said, walking out the door without looking back. Before he closed the door I saw a flash of white and gold, which he bumped into. He quickly grabbed the body, holding it steady. "Woah, Colette. Why are you still up?"

"I just wanted to talk to you before going to bed, if that's okay." Whatever was said afterward was blocked out when Lloyd completely closed the door. I wasn't daring enough to eavesdrop with Kratos in the room. Ah, well. I had a good guess on what they were talking about anyway.

Now it was just Kratos and I. Logically he couldn't do anything me even if he wanted to. His son could walk back in any minute. It was doubtful that seeing Kratos' sword in me would go over well with him. Even if Kratos managed to do away with me before the teen walked in, the bloodstains would alert Lloyd to any wrongdoings. If he was going to kill me he needed time to get rid of any evidence, time he didn't have. That was why I could calmly paint my toenails purple without any worries.

It wouldn't hurt to double-check though, just in case he was tempted to do it before I leave the group tomorrow.

"So should I sleep with one eye open or…?" I prompted.

Kratos said nothing as he continued to stare out into the night. He wasn't staring at the sky anymore; instead his gaze fell on the night owls that dared to come out. There wasn't any doubt that they are having a grand ol' time out there, almost like they actually had Gald to spend.

Rather than sit here silently with the backstabbing angel, albeit a hot one, I got off the bed and glided my feet in my shoes.

"Where are you going?" Kratos asked as soon as my bare feet touched the ground.

"Lady business." I answered curtly and walked the room. That landed me in the lobby. This inn was pretty small but still bigger than in the game. Instead of having three bedrooms, one on the bottom and two on top, it had five on the bottom and more on top, all visible via balcony.

Balcony…that's where the Wonder Chef is. I didn't even care if he was going to teach me a lame recipe. I wanted to see him and his awesomeness.

The receptionist didn't even look up from her book when I dashed past her and up the stairs. I looked around the balcony, searching for anything out place. When that didn't work I started picking up every item until there was giant poof. I went for the vase at the end of the center balcony. That was where he was in the game if memory served me right. I held the vase in my hands for a minute but nothing happened. Stupid vase. It was too ugly and cheap to summon the Wonder Chef anyway. Just like this inn.

Rather than smash it against the wall to double check I gently placed it back on its pedestal. That's when a nearby door opened and closed. "What are you doing out here?"

I turned around, facing Lloyd. "Spying on the other guests. Did you give Raine the keycrest?" I asked, disregarding the suspicious sound of maniacal laughter.

He gave me an odd look. "Yeah. She'll be able to equip the exsphere now." That was good news, so why did he look so down? "I'm sorry."

I blinked in confusion. "What for?"

He rubbed the back of his neck anxiously. "You were dragged into this mess because of me." At first that didn't make sense. He had done nothing wrong but then it clicked. He and Raine must have had that conversation about the consequences of his actions in Iselia, which was total bull. Okay, not total bull but still pretty bull.

I felt bad for him. He looked so dejected with that frown and nervous look in his eyes. Raine must have really got to him. "It's no big deal; I'm not completely innocent either." I sighed lightly, running my fingers through my fringe. Sure if he never ran into me I would met up with Lucy on my merry way, but that was just my bad luck acting up. "On the bright side, you now have a cool story to tell to your kids. 'Hey, dad. What was the coolest thing you've done?'"

I curled my finger around my chin thoughtfully as my voice dropped an octave. "'I only escaped a military base with nothing but my swords and a beautiful partner.'"

He looked at me blankly before snorting. "You're weird."

I pouted, putting the other hand on my hip, arms askew in mock protest. "I'm a lady."

He was about to say something else but a yawn came out instead. For the first time I noticed the bags under his eyes and the way his shoulders slumped. It had been a long week for him. First the incident in Iselia, then traveling with just Genis all the way to Triet, most of which was through a desert and then getting captured by the Renegades. The boy needed a good night's sleep.

Was that why Kratos wanted him to go bed? Did he know that Lloyd needed his rest?

Before either of us spoke again a door open on the ground floor. Speak of the devil…er, Angel. We both looked over the banister to see Kratos walk through the lobby and out the front door. "Where is he going at this hour?" Lloyd wondered out loud. "I'm going to follow him."

"Knock yourself out. I'm going to bed." I told him. Admittedly, I wanted to follow him too but this was father/son time, even if the son didn't know it. We both descended down the stairs. Before we separated I found the need to give him one last warning. "Don't stay out for too long."

"Yes, mom." He said sarcastically, rolling his eyes. I stuck my tongue out childishly in response as I watched him go after Kratos. Well, I had some time before Kratos came back. I better change into his shirt before that. I ducked into our room, gently closing the door behind me.

I stood there for a minute, once again mulling over my strange situation. I swear, my new reality was really surreal. Oh well. There is nothing I can do about it. It would be for the best if I just went bed.

XXX

"Hey! Get up!" A female voice called as she poked me in the head. "You can't just fall asleep."

"Shut up…" I groaned, swatting her hand. Well, I was awake now. Rubbing the sleep out of my eye, I sat up in my seat. Where was I?

Which a quick glance around I instantly recognized this place. It was my favorite tea house. Not only did they make awesome drinks they were also located right near my place. It was a win/win.

"Ellooo. Anyone home?" That voice said, calling out to me again. I focused on the annoyed blonde across from me. She was wearing a white blouse and blue stripped tie underneath a dark blue blazer with a school logo on it. Somehow I knew that she had a black skirt on. I was wearing the same thing as her. If we were still in our school uniform that means we must have come here right after classes. Something about that didn't seem right. "Quite zoning out and listeeen."

I rolled my eyes at her. "I am listening." I told her before taking a sip of the blueberry tea in front of me. Apparently it had blueberry boba in it too. Did I have a craving for blueberry flavor today?

"As I was saying." She said, still vexed. "We should totally go to the concert."

I stared at her blankly. "What concert?" I asked.

"I knew it!" She shouted, making some other costumers stare. "You so weren't listening." She rolled up the magazine in front of her and smacked me on the head with it.

"Oww. That hurt…." I whined, rubbing my head.

That same magazine was slammed on the table with a page displayed in front of me. "This concert" She pointed to a picture of a group of teenagers, all who looked very familiar.

"What the-" I snatched the magazine up, not believing what I was seeing. It was Lloyd, Colette, Sheena, Presea, Zelos and an older looking Genis, all dressed in flashy clothes. On top of the page there were big bold letters that read 'Cruxis Productions presents Kids of Regeneration' "Why do they look like K-pop stars?"

The girl, Holly, gave me of those 'are you crazy' stares. "Cause they are pop stars? Our favorite pop stars?" She paused, thinking something over. "Well it's more like pop punk."

That made no sense at all! They aren't pop stars, they're video game characters. Hell, they didn't even release any character songs for the Tales Of series. More importantly, why in the world is Cruxis a record label?

"Andandandguesswhatwhat." Holly said excitedly, pawing the air.

"What?" I asked cautiously. "Did Jimmy fall down the well?"

Her smile dropped and she slapped me upside the head, hard. Ignoring my calls of "Child Abuse!" she continued on. "Regal and Presea are making a comeback!"

"Presea and Regal…." I repeated slowly. Sure enough, after flipping a page in the magazine I saw a picture of Regal and an older Presea, who suspiciously looked like light skinned Mary from Tales of Destiny. "Over a decade after the death of fellow bandmate, Alicia, the famous band makes their reappearance during the Grand Aselia festival. They will perform alongside the 'Kids of Regeneration'. This historic collaboration will be known as 'Heroes of Regeneration.'"

At that point I stopped reading and leaned back, dazed at what I just read. What the hell is going on?

Then the question died in my mind. Just like that everything made sense and there wasn't a need to question anything. Soon, a wide smile formed on my face and joined in on my friend's excitement.

"When are they selling the tickets?" I asked, practically bouncing in my seat.

"Don't worry about. I already have them." Out of thin air she produced two VIP tickets. "Aren't I awesome?"

"Since if I say no you won't give me the tickets, I will agree with you." I said, taking one of the tickets. "Best. Day. Ever.

"I can't wait until I see Regal!" Holly gushed, waving her hands happily.

"You mean, you can't wait until you see Regal's butt." I teased.

It was almost funny how serious her face got. "It is not my fault that that fine piece of work should be in a museum. Am I right or am I right?"

"You're a pervert, that's what you are." I told her somberly, putting down the magazine. "Isn't he, like, twice our age?"

"But-"

"No butts."

"No, I mean but-"

"I just said no butt. Jeez, you need help. No one should be this obsessive over someone's posterior." We stared at each other for a few seconds before we both burst out in giggles. God, we were so immature.

Our good times were cut short when the large glass windows beside us were shattered a blast of lightning. Our giggles turned into screams as we hit the deck. Holly was the first one to recover her wits. She slowly crawled from under the booth table, peeking out into the rest of the store.

"Holly." I hissed quietly, trying to grab her arm but she seemed miles away from my hands. When she stuck her head out a bolt of lightning came crashing down, lighting up the whole area. She didn't even have to ability to scream. Her body convulsed for a few seconds but then she just stopped moving.

I looked into my best friend's dead eyes, frozen in fear and shock. They were still open, as was her mouth, still trying to form a silent scream. The only reason I looked away from the sight was because the metallic footsteps coming our way. I shut my eyes, trying to back way but I was stopped by something solid.

I held my breath and tried to still my trembling as the footsteps became as loud as my ponding heart. I hoped that I somehow turned invisible and they would just move along and go to the next prisoner… (a part of my mind noted that setting changed but that was pushed back).

With my eyes closed my other senses had free reign. The smell of blood and chemicals became that much clearer, and the screams echoed throughout the halls and traveled through air vents.

My eyes snapped open when I felt a hand touch my shoulder. I jumped up, recoiling to the wall in fear. My muscles locked into place, refusing to cooperate anymore. My eyes stayed on the Desian, waiting for what he would do next. What was he doing here all alone? Where are the other guards? Why aren't the others getting up? This isn't how they usually wake us up. Oh god. Is he here for me? Are they finally coming after me?

For a moment my breathing became very shallow as my mind raced with implications of what might happen. The Desians raised his hand, making me flinch back. Rather than manhandling me he just snapped his fingers in front of my face. I froze in place, staring at his face. His wine eyes watch my every movement. Wait, wine eyes? The visors weren't see through. The more I watched him the more he blurred. The helmet morphed into auburn hair and his uniform turned purple.

Huh?

When I blinked the cell was gone, I wasn't wearing tattered clothes and the Desian turned into Kratos. That's right. I was in Triet with the future Heroes of Regeneration. It was just another nightmare. There was nothing to worry about. Nothing beyond the usual worries, anyway.

So then, why was I still shaking?

I cleared my throat, getting rid of the uncertainty that might have laced it. "Mornin' " I greeted groggily, trying to wipe the crust out of my eyes. The curtains were open, letting the morning sun painted our room with light. It was going to make falling back to sleep impossible.

"I'm going to wake up Lloyd in a half an hour." He stated. I stared at him blankly for a good while, not understanding what he was getting at. What did Lloyd waking up have to do with me? "After that we are having breakfast upstairs."

More blank stares. He sighed. "Girls take longer to get clean, do they not?"

Oh….Oh! He was giving me some private time. What's his motive? "Some do. Some don't." I got out of bed and retrieved my clothes from the basket near the door, making sure all articles of clothing were accounted for first.

Most inns had a laundry service. Guests would drop the clothes at night and pick them back up in the morning. This started a while back, when an innkeeper figured out that travelers hated wearing dirty clothes and didn't have the time to wash them by hand. The inn started washing clothes for a fee. After business started booming others did the same until it became standard. Inns were also one of the few places with washing machines. They were just large tubs with cranks but they did the trick with the right soap, or so I was told one day while doing laundry.

On a side note: I hate those cranks. They are so heavy and hard to use. Then you had to scrub the laundry by hand to get off whatever was left and then throw it back in. It was murder on your shoulders. No wonder whoever was on laundry duty had the day off from work.

The communal washrooms were just as backwards. They were worse than college dorms, my god. At least the shower stalls had curtains but not here. The "showers stalls" had a door on them; small doors covered the torso all the way to the thighs. The shower themselves were just bursts of water. You had to scrub, get water dumped on you and scrub again and repeat. That might not sound bad but it was horrible when there was only three of those stalls and four old fashioned sinks for more than twenty girls, who all want to use the washroom at the same time. And don't even get me started on the toilets.

That was why when I was done and fully dressed I wasn't very happy or relaxed as I should have been. Stupid Sylvaranti technology. I can't wait until I find a way back to the base, somehow. How was I going to do that again?

When I stepped back into in our room, musing about a way back to my personal heaven, Kratos was trying to get Lloyd up. He tried shaking his shoulders but the boy waved his arm around and then plopping it back down. The mercenary grunted in annoyance, not being used heavy to sleepers anymore.

"Wake up Lloyd. We don't have time for this." All he got in response was incoherent muttering. He then tried to pull the blanket off him but the teen just rolled over.

While that was going on I was gathering my things. There was very little to pack so didn't take more than three minutes. A minute of that time was dedicated to pondering whether or not to give Kratos back his shirt. Sure, it didn't belong to me and he was nice enough to lend me it. I should give it back, but it was so soft and comfy. He was also a boy; he didn't need a night shirt. There were loads of fangirls who would agree with me. I was doing this for them. Don't worry girls, I will make you proud.

Plus it smelled pretty and I couldn't resist its allure.

Wait.

I pulled the shirt up to my nose and sniffed it. A strong scent of blueberry filled my nostrils. And was it just me or was that same smell coming through the window. Well, that explained part of my dream.

I nodded to myself, smiling affirmatively. That settled it. I was keeping the shirt.

"Lloyd, get up now."

More babbling with a side of, "I don't…school."

When I turned around with my stuff (bag, quiver, and bow) I saw Kratos slip his hands under the mattress, lifting it up slightly. "This is your last warning."

That won't end well. Rather than stick around to see how it would play out I slipped out just in time to hear a loud THUD, followed by a groan. Yup, not sticking around for the rest of that.

I walked towards the stairs, heading towards our meeting place but I stopped on the bottom step. Taking a glance back at the front door, I wondered what was stopping me from just walking out. I have my stuff together and I had a general sense of where the base was. I could walk out, buy some gear and just leave without looking back. There was nothing holding me back…except my empty stomach and guilty conscious.

With a loud sigh I continued on my way. When I got upstairs the rest of the party were sitting around the table, eating pancakes with orange juice. Three pairs of blue eyes looked up the moment the door opened. "Good morning." I greeted.

"Hello."

"Morning."

"Good Morning!" I sat down in between Genis and Colette, taking the last spot at the table. Lloyd and Kratos will have to sit on the floor or the beds. The mercenary won't mind but Lloyd might complain. That'll serve as motivation to get up when he is called. After all, food is the perfect conditioning tool, just ask any animal owner. Speaking of animals, I wonder what Noishe will eat.

"Where are Lloyd and Kratos?" Raine asked, not looking up from her book.

"Kratos is getting Lloyd up, or at least trying to." I told her, pouring lots of syrup on my pancake. "The boy sleeps like a rock."

"That's what I thought." She sighed. "Hopefully we can break him of that habit." If the journey doesn't break him first.

"Like that'll ever happen." Genis said, taking in a piece of pancake. "If Dirk couldn't do it then it's hopeless."

"Don't talk with your mouth full." His sister chided.

"He must have really good dreams." Colette supplied. "That must be why he sleeps so much."

Never really thinking about it that way I had to mull it over. "You mean heavy sleepers have a lot of fun dreamland?"

"Yes! Maybe they are so much fun they don't want to leave." She said happily. That did make sense. It was like when you are having a lot of fun in Disney World. You would want to stay there forever and ever, because really, why would you leave?

"Then what's their secret to having so much fun?" I wondered. This could be a breakthrough for light sleepers everywhere!

"Maybe it's the way they fall asleep." Colette guessed.

"Uh…Lloyd can sleep in any position, remember?" Genis reminded her. "Remember the time he was in that tree?"

"That was when we were playing 'Order of Mithos' right?" I twitched. There was that phrase again. I feel like there was something I was missing. Was it a part of a legend or was it history?

"No no. It was during 'hide and go seek'."

Sometime during the conversation Kratos walked in with a sour and wet Lloyd behind him (not even going to ask). He kept giving Kratos these angry glares, like it would make Kratos implode or something. While that would be morbidly entertaining to watch I don't think Raine would appreciate him imploding the strongest member of their group. Not to mention Mithos would be upset.

Raine bopped him on the head (lightly) with her book for being late and made him eat on the floor. She didn't offer Kratos a seat either. Maybe that's because she didn't like him? Not that he cared. He didn't bother with sitting down anyway. He just took a plate and ate while leaning on a wall.

Meanwhile, Colette was trying her best to cheer him up. It would have worked too if Genis wasn't poking fun at him. Raine sighed and shook her head with a small smile on her face. She must be used to these kinds of happenings. It was an occupational hazard for a teacher. Man, teachers must hear a lot of weird things from their students.

While Colette and Genis were talking a while back I fell quiet, feeling content with just observing. It all seemed so surreal, like I was in a dream or at a convention with really good cosplayers or even in a live-action adaption. That may sound silly but it's true. There wasn't anyone who would be completely unfazed at the prospect of being surrounded by video game characters. That sort of stuff only happened in fan fiction but here I was, eating breakfast with the Sylvaranti half of the Symphonia crew (technically Kratos was a Tethe'allan but details). The only thing missing was some sort of advisor like a personification of my GameCube or something, but that would be ridiculous. I was on my own. There wasn't anyone that can or will help me except me, myself and I.

Unable to keep up an amused expression, I looked anyway from the group's antics in favor of staring at my blueberry and strawberry pancakes. That's right. I couldn't depend on anyone anymore. Eve was supposed to be some kind mother hen, with the way she took in and protected whoever needed help but even she couldn't be trusted. If a fox was trying to get into the pen, putting her chicks could be in potential danger; she would sacrifice one chick to save the rest of the nest. Then there was Silvio and Elliot. I couldn't go to them. If I told them the truth they would think I was crazy. Then again, Silvio might have believed me but I would only put him in danger. The Desians were sure to kill him to get to me, same with Elliot. Until these guys save the world I had to stay in the Renegades. Yes, I would only leave after Cruxis was gone. The only down side was that I had to deal with stuck up Tethe'allans, bitter Sylvaranti and the psychotic Vanguard.

Man, that Ratatosk plan was sounding more and more likely. Oh well, I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

I rested in chin on the folds of my hands as I went over that one more time. Staying in the Renegades until the world was united was something I thought about before, and I thought I settled on a plan but now my mind wouldn't rest. Maybe the voice in my head would finally shut up if I make my plans clear.

Plan A: Stick to with the Renegades (and Yuan in general) to find answers but nothing else, doing otherwise is dangerous. Then start acting on my own when Cruxis is gone.

Plan B: Just accept that I was stuck here and start a new life.

If that wasn't a sound proof survival strategy I don't know what was.

I sighed inwardly. On one hand, I think I was taking this pretty well. If I wasn't already living on this world I might have panicked or something. Meeting three (four?) canon characters beforehand also helped. Kvar didn't give me time to digest any musings either. After I met him I just sort of accepted everything that was thrown at me without giving it much thought. That wasn't really my fault though. How can anyone concentrate on anything besides surviving was beyond me. That could be why I'm not wreck now. I just accepted everything, even this little scene playing out in front of me.

On the other hand, I didn't want to be here. I don't mean in just in this room, I mean in Sylvarant in general. It was too dangerous. There was a reason why this kind of stuff was in works of fiction only. Maybe if someone asked if I wanted to go world hopping it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe if I could just go through a magic door anytime I wanted I wouldn't be disgruntled. Maybe if the world overlord wasn't after my damn skin I could actually enjoy myself. Maybe if I brought into a peaceful era all would be good and goddamn dandy. If it wasn't for Jord mixing up me and my sister I would still be in school. Why did this have to hap-

I closed my eyes mid-thought, breathing rhythmically before I could work myself up over something I couldn't control. There wasn't anything I could to except try to survive and make the best out of this. I just had to focus.

I was still going to choke Jord next time I see her, if she actually shows her face.

"Sharla?" I looked up at Colette, who seemed concerned about something. "Is something wrong with the pancakes? You've been staring at them for a while."

"Oh no it tastes lovely." I reassured her airily, making her smile again. "That's the problem. When I eat it all there would be nothing left, which would be a shame."

"But it's food. It's supposed to be eaten." Lloyd said, crossing his arms. "You cook it, you eat it. Simple."

"Cooking is an art form and you can't eat art without sharing its beauty first." I thought I saw Kratos look up but when I glanced his way he wasn't paying any attention to us.

"That's right" Genis agreed. "Cooking isn't just mixing ingredients together. It's all about technique and skill." He looked at Raine cautiously when he said that.

"and love~." I lifted up my plate, which had on piece of pancake left on it and a ton of maple syrup. "Like this. The love put into this pancake is what makes so…divine."

"Are they that good?" Colette asked curiously, staring at me with an excited smile. If she had a tail it would be waging.

"uh-huh. It has a unique flavor to it." I said, fighting down a blush. The thought of Colette with cat ears and tail was just the cutest thing ever. Would they be blond to match her hair or white to go with her personality? What about everyone else? What color would their tails and ears be?

"Thank you." Colette chirped. "I never cooked anything for this many people before, so I wasn't sure they turned out well."

"You made all of this?" Lloyd asked from the floor. "All by yourself?"

She giggled. "Well, Mr. Kratos help too! We woke up really early just so I can make everyone something special." Lloyd gave her a hard stare. It only lasted a second before it was replaced with a bright grin. I was the only one who was looking at Lloyd's face so no one else noticed.

"That's amazing Colette." He simply said.

"If we're done here I would like to discuss our next move." Raine said, rising from her seat. She took out a map out of a shoulder bag and placed it on the table after it was cleared, prompting Lloyd and Kratos to come closer.

"Wait." Kratos said, interrupting her before she even started. "You're forgetting something."

She gave him annoyed look. "Yes, you're right." Her eyes left Kratos and landed on me. "Sharla, what are you going to do now?"

"Um...What am I going to do?" I played with my bangs as I thought about it. Truthfully I had a goal but the method achieving it was a bit flaky. "I suppose that I could just find another caravan to travel with." I lied.

"So you're going to keep traveling?" Lloyd asked with concern dripping from his voice. "Are you sure that's alright?"

"Nothing else I can do. Being wanted is hard work." I said nonchalantly, still toying with my hair.

"Wouldn't you put the group you're traveling in danger?" Genis questioned, looking worried. "You're a criminal to the Desians. They will do whatever it takes to recapture you." I was silent for a moment, trying to think of what to say. He might have been thinking of what happened in Iselia

"What about Palmacosta?" We all turned to Colette, who smiled at us. "They have a strong militia right? Wouldn't it be safe there?"

"Yeah, good idea!" Lloyd's eyes lit up as he smacked the table excitedly, almost spilling the cups. "You can go there. We can even take you."

"What?" All three adults said in unison.

The professor yanked his ear. If she pulled any harder she might tear it off completely "We are on a perilous journey. It's too dangerous for a civilian." She scolded harshly.

He tried to get out of her grasp but it was useless, she had a strong grip his lobe "ow ow ow. C'mon professor, I'm only trying to help."

"Remember the last person you tried to help?" He stilled. "Are going to make another Marble?"

"That's different." He mumbled.

"No it's not. You're putting someone else in the same situation-"

"Professor." Colette called, stopping the lecture. "There shouldn't be another seal in the desert, right?"

Raine closed her eyes recalling the information. "Yes. Triet Desert was Efreet's domain. The probability of another spirit sleeping nearby is slim to none."

"Then I don't see a problem with taking Sharla along for one seal. After that we can escort her to Izoold."

"Why Izoold?" Lloyd asked, rubbing his ear once Raine let go.

"Oh I get. That's good thinking" Genis said. "To get out of the desert we'll have to go through the Ossa trail and then restock at the nearest town, which would be Izoold."

Raine stared at the smiling girl, unable to come up with a rebuttal. Eventually she sighed, a sign that Colette won. "Alright, but only to Izoold."

"No." We looked at the frowning mercenary. Well, Lloyd glared angrily, ready to argue with him already. "We will be fighting at the seal. Taking a civilian along will be hazardous to everyone."

"Actually…she is an archer. They typically stay away from the frontline." Genis hesitantly told the intimidating mercenary. "It would be a good idea to bring another support fighter."

"Please, Mr. Kratos." Colette pleaded, holding her hands together. "It is in Martel's teachings to help others, and it's only to Izoold."

Kratos ran his fingers through his bangs exasperatedly. It looked like Martel was the keyword, plus Colette had a lot of sway cause she the chosen and stuff. "Fine, but she will have to fend for herself."

The three youngest member of the group whooped in celebration of their victory over the adults. "You hear that? You get come to the first seal with us." Lloyd beamed at me.

"Seal of fire…" I said, dumbfounded at what I just witnessed. This wasn't supposed to happen at all. The adults were supposed to win. Lloyd wasn't supposed to be this stubborn over a stranger and I wasn't counting on Colette's support. How did this happen? And don't I get a say in this? Believe me, I wanted to object to all of this, I really did but the words got stuck in my throat, especially when I took a look at Lloyd's and Colette's faces. They were so excited to help someone, how could anyone say no.

"Yes, the seal of fire." Raine said coolly. "As our new traveling companion you deserve an explanation." She didn't look too happy about explaining things to a stranger but she managed to not look too annoyed. "Colette is current chosen of mana and we are accompanying her on the journey of regeneration."

I forced out a small smile and said "That's awesome". It was a lackluster response that raised a few eyebrows but how was I supposed to react to something I knew for years?

And that was how I became a guest party member. That was just great. I was starting to regret not walking out when I had the chance.

XXX

After Raine pinpointed the ruins of an ancient city on the map, based on what they gathered from other archeologist in Triet earlier, we went shopping up and accommodated for three extra people. We just got some more healing items, another tent to protect us against the sand and wind at night, and a desert cloak, a canteen and goggles for me, which I paid for with the money I still had (Lucy was going to kill me). Kratos eyed a clothing stand that we passed but he said nothing, knowing that we shouldn't waste more gald. I liked to think he was plotting ways to get his shirt back,

Once we were done we went back to the stable, where we left Noishe and exited Triet. Or at least we were trying to leave the Oasis. Kratos and I were near the entrance, ignoring each other presences. He was looking at the group as they saddled Noishe like a pack mule while I stared out into the desert, dreading the walk ahead. The professor said that it was only going to take few hours to get to the ruins. That was not counting any monster encounters or any other factors, like the heat! This was going to suck big time. There was a reason why I never went hiking.

With nothing else better to do I crouched down, making sure that the bindings around my calves sealed off the bottom of my pants and any exposed skin. Unlike everyone else I didn't have boots, instead I wore slippers. They were kinda thick but they still didn't stop snakes or scorpions from getting to my feet.

I was still on the ground when I heard Lloyd's shout of "Noishe, wait!". It was the only warning I got before my hat was suddenly pushed off, exposing my messy hair. A wet nozzle started sniffing the back of my head. The creature circled around me, smelling my whole body this time. I stiffened up. I was used to dogs doing this but Noishe was not a dog, no matter what Lloyd said.

With one last whiff he backed off completely, going over to Kratos and rubbing against him affectionately. The man gently scratched Noise behind the ears, making him wag his tail.

"Sorry about that." Lloyd said when he stood next to me, watching Kratos deal with his pet. "Noishe usually doesn't like strangers…"

I tilted my head to the side in thought. "I wonder if he was picking up Kratos' scent on me."

"Yeah…Noishe does like him, for some reason." He said, almost offended. I snorted.

"Jealous?" The scandalous look was priceless. Good thing Genis took a picture of it with a Polaroid. Wait, Genis had a camera?

Raine stopped Lloyd before he could take the photo by force. "Save your energy for the journey."

Just like that we were on our way to the Triet ruins. As we traveled I snuck glances at Noishe, who was trotting along next to Kratos. I wonder…

XXX

Noishe Worries

XXX

Noishe: *Whine*

Kratos: ...What's wrong?

Lloyd: Noishe is worried about you because you haven't drank any water at all.

Kratos: I'm fine. Give priority on the water to Genis and the Chosen.

Colette: I just had a lot earlier.

Genis: I drank plenty, too.

Lloyd: There you go. Noishe is worried about you. Stop being so tough and drink a little.

Kratos: Humph...All right.

Noishe: *Howl*

XXX

We're Not on Vacation

XXX

Lloyd: I am seriously tired of this desert.

Kratos: Well then, do you want to go back to the village?

Lloyd: How am I supposed to do that? I was banished!

Kratos: Then stop talking as if you are on vacation.

Lloyd: ...Sorry.

XXX

I'm fine...

XXX

Lloyd: Man, its hot...say...can we go back to town for a bit?

Kratos: What are you talking about? We haven't broken the seal yet.

Lloyd: But man, not only is it hot out here, but we've been walking back and forth for a while now and I'm all worn out.

Sharla: He does have a point. Maybe we should take a break.

Colette: I'm sure we're almost there, so let's just hang on, okay?

Genis: But Colette, you don't look so well, yourself.

Colette: I'm fine. I'm fine, don't worr...

Genis: Colette's collapsed!

Raine: Oh no! She's been pushing herself too hard.

Kratos: I should have noticed. Let's rest for a bit.

XXX

"Lloyd, what is the relationship between the surrounding mountains and the Triet ruins?"

"Umm…uh…something with Efreet…?" There was a collective sigh from the Sages.

While we made our way the seal of fire, Raine decided to give her students lessons related to the Triet desert. Why she would ask that while everyone was burning up was unknown. Her questions ranged from geology to history to magiology. As expected, Genis got all of the questions right. As also expected, Lloyd got most of them wrong. Oddly enough, the ones he got right were related to battles fought in the deserts and the tactics that were used.

"That's obvious. Everything here is related to Efreet." Genis sighed tiredly. The poor guy was red as Lloyd's jacket.

Raine moved on to her other student. "Colette, do you know the answer?"

She closed her eyes and bowed her head in thought. "The mountains were created when Efreet erupted the nearby volcanos, destroying a nearby city." She recited. There was something about that that was nagging me but I couldn't figure out what. "Right?"

"That's correct." The professor smiled at the chosen; pleased that somebody paid attention in class but then she frowned at Lloyd. "Remember that. It'll be on the next test."

Lloyd's shoulders dropped in despair. "You mean we actually have to do schoolwork?" He whined. "But we're on a journey to save the world." The teen just couldn't get away from school.

"The brain is just like any other muscle. If you don't exercise it then it will become useless." She tried to lecture but all the huffing made it lose its effectiveness.

It wasn't long after that that we spotted ruins in the distance but it was farther than it looked. The rest of the trip took another thirty minutes. When we entered the ruins I expected the see the oracle stone right away but lo and behold the city ruins were actually a city. There were a few run down houses here and there, and foundations but it was mostly just large walls. Everything had an antiquity feel to it. Now that I think about it these were like the ruins to the Mediterranean civilization, like Rome, particularly the few houses that looked like they were in good condition.

Ah, this place was like Pompeii. That was what was nagging me. Pompeii and this city were destroyed the exact same way, maybe without the angry summon spirits causing the volcanic catastrophe but the point still stands.

"Ah, so hot…man, I'm beat." Lloyd whined from the front of the group, interrupting my musings.

"See? You're already worn out." Genis said, but he didn't sound much better.

"I'm sick of this desert." The teen complained once more. I couldn't really blame him. The only environment that even compared to the desert was the tundra. "Can we hurry up and break the seal already?"

"Oh? I assume you now where the seal entrance is?" Kratos said condescendingly.

"Well…no…"

"Then stop whining and start looking." It was so hard not to make a face at the mercenary. He knew where the seal was but he wouldn't just push us in the right direction.

Finding the entrance to the seal had proved to be tedious. We've been walking through the city for a while but so far there was nothing that even resembled the seal. It would have been a good idea to take a break but the fascinated gleam in Raine's eyes told us that she hasn't even noticed our fatigue yet.

Suddenly Noishe started whining, tucking his tail in-between his legs as he backed away. "What's wrong, Noishe?"

He got his answer when Kratos drew his sword. "Be on your guard, there are enemies about." He commanded, prompting everyone to do the same.

Out from the side of one of the houses were a group of fire elementals, five in fact, joy.

The Sages immediately went to the backline, so to speak, as Kratos and Lloyd rushed forward. They each took on one; Kratos was on his own while Genis chose to help Lloyd. Whelp, it looked like Colette and I will be working together.

Our enemy sent off three fireballs before we could even aim properly. With a squeak, Colette dodged by spinning to the side and then releasing one of her chakrams. The ring skimmed the edge of the monster and then returned to the wobbling girl's hand.

Instead of doing fancy foot work like her, I stood my ground holding my bow out in a defensive position and shouted "Damage Guard!" The fire ball hit the shield and both of them dispersed upon impact. The sheer force of the blast pushed me back towards the Sages, making lose my footing. I promptly fell on my butt. That wasn't supposed to happen.

"Oof!" Maybe dodging would have been better. If I did that then I wouldn't be left wide open. Luckily Colette had my back. With a shout of "Ray thrust!" her chakrams sliced the shell, which didn't seem to be completely solid. Rather than standing up I stayed low to the ground, shooting the monster from below. Our attacks made it back off. It didn't have a face so it was hard to tell what it was thinking.

Whatever the case, its larger friend came to its rescue. It fired a large fire ball right at me, catching me off guard. "Ah!" I yelled when it hit, falling once more. There weren't any blisters on me but it still burned, a lot.

Before it could get me again another chakram stopped it in its tracks. After catching her rings Colette ran to in front of me, blocking any fireballs that may come. "Are you alright?" She asked worriedly.

"I'm fine." I told her through clenched teeth as I got back up. Out of the corner of my eye I saw two lights, each coming from the Sages.

"First Aid!"

"Aqua Bullet!"

A warm light surrounded me, slowly healing the first degree burns. When the light faded I could still feel a light sting but it was bearable. Is this seriously the best she could do?

While I was healing three water pellets raced through the air. They all hit the bigger elemental, interrupting the spell it was casting. It reeled back in what could be only be guessed as pain. The two rings around it stopped moving as its red glow faded. While it was weakened Colette and I released our respective techs.

"Ray Thrust!"

"Piercing Line!"

The mana charged chakrams and arrow hit their mark at the same, causing it to explode into fiery bits. We covered our faces to protect them of the small blasts. There was a second blast right behind the first. When we lowered our arms we saw Kratos sheathing his sword. He just took out the monster for us didn't he?

Noticing that there weren't any enemies left, we put away our weapons too. That was relatively easy. If the rest of the fights were like this then the seal would be cakewalk.

Kratos didn't share that sentiment at all. Right after the fight he just looked at all of us with an exasperated expression. "This is going to be a nuisance."

"What is?" Lloyd asked, irritated at the older man.

"Ah, nothing" Kratos said, trying to cover himself. "Anyway, it would be a good idea for you to learn techniques to protect yourself."

"Are you talking about self-defense training?" Colette asked curiously.

"Something like that." I said, stealing his line. This way I didn't have to sit through this tedious scene and the whole déjà vu thing. "He's talking about techniques to raise your defense during battles. Once you grasp the theory, the rest should be easy." I looked up at Kratos meekly. "Right?"

He looked pretty unnerved or at least as unnerved as Kratos could get. It's almost like I took the words right out of his mouth. "That's right… Once you grasp the theory, the rest should be easy."

And so began Kratos' defense lesson.


Next Time: Bastard Angel Fake Daddy and Flaming Kitties, for real this time!