Chapter One

The sun. . .upon his body like the grace of God. The morning dew on the grass. . .the tears of angels. The wind whispered the secrets of time, and made the queue of his hair flow with a curious sinuosity.

And then he was moving.

The blade of one hand slashed out to the left with a rigidity stone itself would envy, as the fingers of the other curled over his heart. Crouching down, he twisted to the opposite side and one booted foot came up in a kick. His fist clenched and punched straight out in front of him, even as the rest of his body prepared for the next move. He progressed through the series of motions as implacably as a river ran, and just as fluidly.

At the last, he dropped close to the ground, thin frame curled into itself, amassing power. The strength of the earth rushed up through the soles of his feet, burned in the muscles of his calves, his thighs. It filled the depths of his stomach, and forced the air through his lungs. A yell exploded from his throat, a rising crescendo that accompanied his body upwards as his legs uncoiled and thrust off the ground.

His right leg lashed upward and outward with savage force, the left bending at the knee and tucking in close to his body. Balance perfect, he landed as the after effects of his cry were still fading slowly away in the faint mist of dawn.

"What are you doing?"

And with that, he was simply a gangly young boy, bouncing about through the tall grass like a rambunctious jack rabbit. A boy who had barely avoided falling flat on his bottom after executing a movement that looked more like a man writhing midair in the throes of death than a great warrior launching a flying sidekick.

Still hunkered down into a squat, the youth craned his neck back to peer behind him. There, leaning forward over the rough hewn rails of a fence, he beheld an inverted view of a girl who looked as if she might match his thirteen years in age. A vivid, upside-down smile painted color on a face otherwise far too pale.

Embarrassed beyond all belief, the boy's neck snapped around like a parrot's and he flung himself in a tight circle to face her while at the same time scrambling upright. And once again, he barely avoided sprawling in the dirt.

The girl gazing back at him was slight and slender. Dressed in a simple cotton frock and light canvas shoes, the latter appeared already soaked with dew. Coppery hair that looked somehow as if it had been. . .buttered? fell around a delicate face with a tiptilted nose. And the most marvelous sapphire eyes he had ever seen sparkled merrily back at him.

"Hello." The smile warming her face deepened. "I apologize for disturbing you. So...what were you doing?"

He did not reply. Could not. He simply stared at her, blinking dumbly. The girl cocked her head in feigned speculation when he did not answer. "Was it. . .hmmm. . .some type of dancing?" The corners of her eyes crinkled with a teasing smile, but he was not one much for jokes and did not catch on. Tanned skin reddening to match sunrise, he shook his head frantically. "No! No. . .Uh, I'm doing. . .trying to do. . .um, martial arts." He trailed off into mortified silence, his lofty opinion of himself dissolved.

Clearly sensing his discomfort, she assured him: "It looked very good."

The girl extended fingers as pale as her face over the fence. "My name is Elehayym. But my friends call me Elly." The boy took the hand gingerly, grasping it for only a heartbeat before pulling away. He barely concealed another blush at the thought of such soft skin feeling the sweat and dirt ground into the lines of his palm. "Elehayym. . . ." He got no further.

"Elly," she corrected patiently. "Because we are going to be friends, aren't we? I don't really know anyone else here."

Seizing upon that statement as one would a lifeline, he asked, "Did. . .you just move here then?"

"Yes. We used to live on the outskirts of Ishtar, but. . .I am ill often and not very strong. Nineveh Monastery is said to have the best clinic and doctors in Nimrod, so my father moved us here. We arrived only a few days ago, and I'm here for my first examination." The boy unconsciously moved his eyes toward where he knew the monastery lay, just over the hill. The next moment, his attention was snapped back to his companion as she widened her eyes and shook her head in gentle self-deprecation. "Look at me, carrying on like this when I haven't even asked your name! Well then, what is it?"

His face twitched in chagrin, and he found himself strangely reluctant to answer. He was saved the necessity when a brusque voice filled the air.

"Elehayym! El-e-hayym! Where are you?"

A bun of chestnut hair rose over the horizon, succeeded by a sturdily built woman in dress and apron. Her eyes sighted immediately on Elly and she advanced toward the pair near the fence. "What in the name of the Lord are you doing over here? And standing about in this wet mess with those shoes! You will catch your death and then all of your father's trouble will be for nothing." That formidable head shook in a combination of irritation and disbelief." Come along, the doctor is waiting!" During the entire tirade, the woman had not appeared to so much as note the boy's existence. All she gave him now was a look of distaste before she was hauling the girl about and marching her back toward the hill.

Despite the rough handling, the girl peered over her shoulder at him and her eyes were inquisitive. And suddenly he found his mouth opening and words streaming out. "Lacan. My name is Lacan!" His face flushed, but Elly smiled at him until the woman's relentless stride necessitated she look where she was going.

Lacan stood there a very long time, watching the crest of the hill, before finally turning toward his own house, over a ridge in the opposite direction.

He remembered the smile.

Written August 2000.

Xenogears © Square-Enix.