Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to Star Ocean. This work is not intended for profit.
Author's Notes: A quick little one-shot. This is a revised version. A look at our heroes from an unusual perspective.
Entire sentences in italics represent thoughts. A single word in italics is meant for emphasis.
"More water your majesty?" Lady Nel asked dutifully.
Queen Romeria didn't bother opening her eyes. "We are fine, Lady Nel." She did not allow her frustration to show. It wasn't Lady Nel's fault. Romeria was unused to travel, much less the unrelenting heat of the desert. Lady Nel couldn't be faulted for being attentive, or even too attentive. The redhead was serving, somewhat overbearingly, as both bodyguard and lady-in-waiting. A queen must have some female attendants after all.
"Thanks." Maria took the offered water jug, filled a cup and passed it back. The young woman was struggling in the heat. While everyone felt the strain, the blue haired girl was very fair skinned and it seemed as much a newcomer to travel as the Queen. "Is all this really just to test our resolve?" Maria gestured to the desert looming before them.
The Crimson Blade shook her head. "It's strategically sound. They would see enemy troops coming from far off." She studied the pool of water. "Worse, it would be slow going, moving from water to water."
Slow was an understatement. Even for such a small party, traveling through the desert was proving an ordeal. The heat was constant and oppressive, forcing them to travel at night and take shelter during the day. They had kept a slow pace, mostly for her benefit, since leaving Aquios. Yet, in the desert they had slowed to a crawl. The Queen wondered if without her, they might have made it to Mosel in a single day.
Traveling through the countryside had been relatively pleasant. Years had passed since she'd dared leave the safety of Aquios. Peterney appeared by all accounts untouched by the war. While she had never entered Surferio before, (its sovereignty remained a point of contention among most of the nobility) she had enjoyed the experience. It was one thing to hear reports of the city and quite another to see the various denizens first hand.
They'd even taken one along on their journey.
The Queen scanned the other tent, searching for their newest traveling companion. Roger S. Huxley, future mayor of Surferio, but for now just a 12 year old Menodix who fancied himself a warrior. Or "real man" as he would point out with some regularity. Romeria had concerns, though they went unvoiced, about taking a child on a potentially dangerous journey. But the little Menodix (and to be fair all Menodixes were little) had some shared history with the group and boasted that he knew the desert better than anyone. However, he boasted about a great many things. Part of his "charm" she supposed.
She spotted him digging through one of the traveling packs, almost certainly not his own. Cliff shooed him away, in the sense that picking him up by the scruff of the neck and tossing him into a pile of discarded equipment was shooing someone away. Roger dug himself out and shouted back a retort but nonetheless went in search of something else to occupy his time. He was faring well in the heat, better than the rest of the party. Nothing it seemed, could dampen his mood.
Fayt, Cliff, and Roger, were resting under their own tent. Less for privacy (although everyone had stripped down as much as modesty would allow) and more for her own protection. The ladies' tent had a large rock formation at on one side, the oasis on another. However, that did not come without cost. While a source of life, the oasis could mean death. Water would attract all manner of dangerous creatures. The boys', the men's, tent sat on the other side of the oasis to insulate her from anything that might approach the watering hole.
The queen sighed. The sun was well passed its zenith but there were hours left before they dared travel. She was a patient women, used to sitting and waiting. A queen had to be. But the heat was nearly intolerable. She needed something to take her mind off of it.
With nothing else, best to discuss their objectives. "Miss Traydor. You are confident the Vendeeni will cease their actions against our world once you and your companions leave?"
"Yes your Majesty. The Vendeeni are here for Fayt."
"Do they want to use his powers for conquest?" Lady Nel's tone implied it wasn't really a question. The conversation had perked her interest. Not a surprise, really. There was gossip in the castle, but there was always gossip, about how much Lady Nel had changed since meeting them. Normally, the queen wouldn't have given the rumors a second thought. Then Nel Zelpher, leader of the Secret Legion, had vouched for Fayt and Cliff. She had represented their interests despite the danger they posed to her people.
While Queen Romeria's memory wasn't perfect, she was absolutely sure that had never happened before.
"We don't know for sure." Maria had her eyes closed, arms crossed, with one hand tucked against her chin. "I suspect they want to make others like us."
"Make others?" Romeria asked. As far as the queen knew "making others" would require nine months and a partner. Odd for the blue haired girl to suddenly start being shy.
Maria didn't seem to notice. "Our technology can alter a child's design before it is born."
The queen didn't know where to begin with that statement.
"What?" Apparently Lady Nel was just as confused.
"That 'how' is too far advanced to explain."
Ignoring the blunt response, the queen focused on the intent. "Alter the design in what way? To what end?"
Maria glanced at Lady Nel's runes. In her current state of undress, nearly all of them were visible. "We have runes too. Only our runes are smaller. So small you can't see them." Maria studied the palms of her hands, the tips of her fingers. "And there are so many. Imagine if every drop of blood in your body held a thousand runes."
Righteousness or blasphemy, Romeria could not say. The secrets of runology were a gift from the gods themselves. While some were blessed with potential, only the sacred markings and the rituals involved could grant those powers to the faithful. At least, that was what she had been taught, what she had believed all her life.
If the reports of Master Fayt's abilities were true…
It was a lot to take in, too much for an already difficult journey through unsafe lands. A heavy silence fell over them and Queen Romeria regretted choosing the topic. The two younger women were hesitant to speak freely in front of her, not uncommon in the presence of a queen. Although she doubted how talkative they would have been otherwise. Lady Nel was a well-known workaholic and Miss Traydor appeared cut from the same cloth.
So the task of making conversation fell to her. "I think Master Fayt is doing very well."
"Your Majesty?" Lady Nel didn't follow.
"His prowess in battle is well known" she explained. That was true for both Fayt and Cliff. Their victories against all three of the Glyphian brigades were quickly becoming legend. Though their companions were not citizens of Aquaria, it was a great source of pride among her people that they could boast a swordsman on par with Albel the Wicked.
"Fayt's swordsmanship is impressive." Lady Nel eagerly agreed. There was no small measure of pride in her voice. "His skills were essential in our victories, particularly over the dragon brigade." She lifted her own cup to her lips.
The queen was struck with what she could only call divine inspiration. She nodded thoughtfully, bided her time, and then struck. "And in terms of physique, Lady Nel. I find Cliff too overdeveloped. Master Fayt is very well balanced."
Nel choked and sputtered, a faint red gracing her cheeks.
A lifetime of carefully schooling one's features came into play as the queen pretended to misunderstand her response. "You disagree, Lady Nel?"
"Of course not your majesty. I…ah" Lady Nel flushed further. "I mean…"
Romeria almost laughed aloud at the red haired (and now red faced) woman's response. Force of habit, she was sure, but too good an opportunity to pass up. "That's two in favor. You Miss Traydor?" The blue haired woman was blushing as well, made all the more obvious on her paler complexion.
"Swordsmanship has its benefits it would seem." Queen Romeria mused, catching Lady Nel's gaze. If Lady Elena were present she would have joined in the teasing. Shame. The two girls needed a bit of laughter in their lives.
"Yes, your Majesty." Lady Nel mumbled. Clearly uncomfortable, she quickly changed the subject. "Your Majesty, I should prepare our meal now." Rising to her feet, she hesitated. "I… will ask Fayt to take my place. I'd rather his sword and runology be close at hand."
Queen Romeria was pleased. Her thoughts were much the same. Evidently, she had chosen her bodyguards well. Their journey had not been without incident. Lady Nel was skilled but the Secret Legion specialized in intelligence gathering, not combat. Besides, Lady Nel refused to leave her side, standing with her as far back from the battles as was possible.
Cliff's strength was apparent even to someone as unfamiliar with combat as herself. The blond man would charge the enemy ranks, scattering them with just his fists. The queen didn't understand why anyone would choose to fight without a weapon, surely such physical gifts would be more effective behind a sword or an axe. However, she could not argue with the results.
The blue haired girl sitting on her right was quite the opposite. Miss Traydor made it a point to stand back (almost as far back as herself) and make use of her strange weapon from a distance. It was like nothing the queen had ever seen or heard of before. Some might liken it to runology but a Holy Mother's vision would not be fooled. Whatever its source, it was not runological though Miss Traydor did possess some runological talent.
Of the three (she had difficulty thinking of the young Roger as a combatant) Master Fayt seemed the most versatile, moving throughout the battlefield using both sword and spell. Like Miss Traydor, Master Fayt had the gift of runology. He'd tended to his comrades wounds when necessary, although his primary focus was always to engage the enemy before they could close ground on Lady Nel and herself. How he and Cliff fought in their plate armor without tiring amazed her. It didn't appear to slow them down in the least.
She considered teasing Lady Nel again. "That sounds wise," she relented. She didn't want to be too cruel. With a nod, Nel took her leave. Once again, all business. The queen had a slight change of heart. "Lady Nel." She called.
The redhead turned to face her with the professionalism the Zelphers were both praised and pitied for. "Your majesty?"
A little cruelty had its place. "Tell Master Fayt, he need not don his armor. This heat is so unforgiving. We would not want to burden him."
Lady Nel bowed, a little more stiffly, and started towards the other tent.
The queen sighed internally. The redhead was hopelessly lost when work wasn't involved.
Queen Romeria watched Master Fayt approach, sword at his side but without his shirt or armor. The queen almost smiled. Had Lady Nel realized she was joking? Either way, what had gone through Lady Nel's head when speaking to Master Fayt?
"Your Majesty." Master Fayt bowed before taking a seat next to Maria, maintaining a respectful distance from her royal person. The blue haired girl was still blushing faintly, looking everywhere but at Master Fayt.
Romeria allowed herself a smile. It was far too easy to embarrass these girls... With that in mind, she caught Maria's gaze. Romeria pointedly ran her eyes over Master Fayt's lean and muscled form, then glanced back at the young woman and bit her lip suggestively.
Maria stiffened, scarlet spread across her fair skin. She fixed her eyes to the ground.
Master Fayt noticed Maria's discomfort, the color on her cheeks. "Are you feeling alright?" He asked, oblivious to her little game.
"I'm fine." She still refused to look at him.
"Really makes you miss climate controlled planets."
Climate controlled? Best not to ask.
It was difficult to imagine someone so…cheerful could possess such power. The Arrow of Apris. Many had suspected when word had first spread of their arrival. A strange object, falling from the sky, made from materials unlike anything they had ever seen. Master Fayt was nothing like what she had imagined. Not his youth, his compassion, or his ridiculous blue hair. For the queen, there was no longer any doubt. Their knowledge was undeniable. Their origins unbelievable. People from other worlds?
How else would one describe prophets from the heavens?
The Arrow of Apris was to end the chaos. The queen, like everyone else in her country, had expected the end to come through the fires of war, not by negotiating a peace. She stared into the horizon, where Mosel stood. If they succeeded here, peace would return to the land.
Was this too the will of the gods?
"You're sure we shouldn't have set the cooking fire here?" Maria gave Master Fayt a sidelong glance.
The queen stopped pondering the will of the gods and turned back to her companions. Watching the two of them now, they didn't look like weapons of war.
"The scent will carry. Could attract animals." Fayt replied, an odd smile on his face. "Nel will just have to make do."
"It wouldn't be so bad if you and Cliff didn't eat your weight in food every day." It almost sounded like a reproach but Maria's tone was as close to playful as the queen had ever heard from her.
There was no denying that. Fighting all manner of beasts (and the occasional renegade Glyphian soldier) in full armor might not tire them but Fayt and Cliff certainly worked up an appetite. No matter the planet, growing boys were much the same. It was oddly comforting. Master Fayt gave Maria a sheepish and endearing smile. "Do you really want to sit next to a cooking fire right now?"
Maria pondered the question with exaggerated seriousness. "Hmm, I suppose not."
The blue haired youths went back to watching the other tent. Lady Nel had a pot of water and rice set over the fire and was slicing something green with the practiced ease you'd expect from a Crimson Blade, stopping only to berate one of their traveling companions. Roger hovered at her elbow, determined to win her attention. While Cliff appeared to be sampling various items, eating some and casually discarding those that didn't meet his approval.
Cliff picked up something bright orange with a red stem, taking a generous bite. Fenroot, if she wasn't mistaken. Her guess was confirmed when the large Klausian immediately began coughing and spitting. Nel paused in her work, saying or snapping something at him. It was impossible to tell, being so far away.
Roger's small frame shook with laughter.
"Dinner and a show." Master Fayt murmured.
Cliff made a grab for one of the water jugs but Roger beat him to it, dancing just out of reach. The blonde man lunged after the little Menodix. Roger scrambled away from him, knocked over the makeshift table and dropped the water jug in the sand. In desperation Cliff seized the pot of boiling water, with his bare hands no less, took one sip, spit it out, upended the entire pot and ran for the oasis.
The man was quite swift when he needed to be.
Maria buried her face in her hands. Master Fayt laughed openly, a clear and pleasant sound.
"How can you find this funny?" Maria snapped, evidently she disagreed.
His answer came with an easy smile. "If you don't start laughing at Cliff's antics, you're going to lose your mind."
Miss Traydor was silent for a long moment. "I think you're right. Mirage and I are too far gone."
After drinking his third pot of water and dumping a fourth over his own head, Cliff finally stood up from the oasis. With said pot in one hand, he trudged back to the tent. Only to stop short as Lady Nel started screaming at him.
"Not one word!" She screeched. Unfortunately, their tents were set quite far apart. Despite Lady Nel's considerable lung capacity they could only make out pieces of the conversation.
"...worse than useless…" Nel threw what looked like half a turnip at the blond man. It sailed past and ended up in the water. "…go protect…" A carrot this time. More like a throwing knife, found its mark. Cliff fended it off with his pot. "…screw that up!"
Lady Nel had the chef's knife in one hand and her longer blade in the other. Gesturing towards the ruins of a meal and the now cowering Menodix, her voice reached a fevered pitch. "...and take… with you!"
Cliff backed away, not taking his eyes off her, pot raised as if expecting more produce based attacks.
"Tell Fayt …"
The blue haired swordsman hummed softly at hearing his name.
Cliff slowly wandered over to their tent, empty pot in hand and a despondent Roger in tow. "So…ah." He scratched the back of his head. "Nel feels my vast combat experience should be put to use seeing to her Majesty's safety." The expression on the blue haired man's face was decidedly unimpressed. Cliff cleared his throat. "Fayt. I can handle this. You mind giving her a hand?"
Roger perked up. "I'll do it. No problem with the oaf outta the way!"
Master Fayt's hand shot forward, catching the young Menodix by the tail. There was an indignant yelp as he dragged Roger back. "Stay here." He rose to his feet, sword at his side. "Might as well," he glanced sidelong at Cliff, "food poisoning out here would kill us."
"Hey there, Fayt." Cliff called as Master Fayt began walking away. He held the cooking pot out to him. "Here."
Master Fayt shook his head and tucked the cookware under his arm. "Smooth Cliff."
Cliff turned to the remaining group members, saw the stony expression on Maria's face and choose to sit on Queen Romeria's other side. Roger paced sullenly next to him.
The Queen opened her mouth to thank Cliff for his aid or some other needless pleasantry (the heat was taking its toll on even her social graces) when Maria launched into a tirade. So Romeria just covered a smirk behind one hand and enjoyed the show.
"Was that the best you could do?!" The blue haired girl barely held her temper in check.
"What do you mean?" Cliff sounded honestly confused.
Then she let go of it completely. "I meant was that the best excuse you could come up with! I already know you're a hazard in the kitchen."
"I'm not that bad-"
"He was right, food poisoning would be fatal right now."
"You tell 'em!" Roger glared up at the towering Klausian.
"You're the one that knocked everything over," Cliff shot back.
But the Menodix wasn't paying attention to him anymore, staring into the distance, frowning.
Something had caught the boy's attention. Romeria had never seen such a serious expression on his face. Following his line of sight, she found the source of his discomfort. In the other tent their makeshift kitchen had been (mostly) sorted out. Lady Nel and Master Fayt worked, sitting side by side.
It was only through sheer force of will that Romeria managed not to smile. It was almost too adorable. The little Menodix had such an obvious crush on Lady Nel.
The two of them worked together smoothly, passing the occasional item between them. Lady Nel was again using the cutting board. Master Fayt stir fried the ingredients as she prepared them. The redhead held a small plate out to him. Master Fayt thanked her, he was too polite not to, took the offered plate and returned his attention to the pan. And Lady Nel… let her eyes linger on him while he wasn't looking.
The queen's eyes widened. Perhaps Lady Nel's answer wasn't purely out of habit.
Why Lady Nel, what would your father say?
They continued working, the occasional glance between them. Until Fayt stopped abruptly and stared at her. Lady Nel must have felt his gaze. She paused, locking eyes with him. Fayt brought one hand towards her face.
Romeria leaned forward.
The spell was broken as Master Fayt casually picked something orange out of her hair. Lady Nel growled in frustration, raked her fingers through her hair. She glared angrily in Cliff's direction before turning her glare on Master Fayt, now doubled over in laughter. More words were exchanged. How Romeria wished to hear them! Master Fayt held up his hands in mock surrender.
Anger turned to embarrassment and Lady Nel rubbed her eyes wearily. After giving her hair one last check she picked up an onion and hunched over the cutting board. They carried on for a few minutes before Fayt started speaking to her again. She shook her head but visibly relaxed and stopped slicing into the onions like they were renegade Glyphan soldiers.
Master Fayt deposited the contents of the skillet onto a serving dish. Lady Nel passed him the sliced vegetables and he returned the pan to the coals. He said something to her before returning his attention to the food, stirring the contents occasionally. The Queen couldn't be certain, not at such a distance, but she thought she saw Lady Nel narrow her eyes at him. Then she suddenly leaned sideways and bumped Master Fayt with her shoulder.
Maybe there was hope for her after all.
A/N: This one came out a lot longer than planned. It's always a challenge getting into a character's head, particularly when you don't interact with them much in-game. I've enjoyed observing the party's (specifically Fayt, Nel, and Cliff) interactions/dynamics from the outside. I'd do it more but there are so many events that involve just the trio of Fayt, Nel, and Cliff. Please leave a review. Feedback is always appreciated. Even flames have their place.