Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Tales of Symphonia.

Warning: M

Pairings: Sheelos

Dedication: To all of you. Thank you so much. Let me know how you like it, please.

The Totally Optional but Completely Fulfilling Epilogue: Louder Than

I watched them drown into the surroundings as my Rheiard ascended the sky.

A part of me died.

I couldn't not go back to Mizuho, but I couldn't bring myself to leave my friends, either. It was a tough decision, but since they would all disperse anyway it was no use trying to hide from my village.

My village. Heh, still sounds a little surreal. It was always where I came from, but it was never wholly mine.

Well anyway, I landed my Rheiard a short distance away from the village as a safety precaution, and then I remembered that it really hadn't been such a long trek as I had told… him. I walked to the gate and found Orochi and some other members of my clan awaiting me. They surrounded me instantly; I was suffocated.

"Whoa, hey, guys."

"Sheena! You're back!"

"Welcome back, Sheena!"

"Sheena-kun, it's good to see you!"

"Sheena, I have a message from my brother," Orochi shouted through the din. I directed my attention away from the group so I could hear him. They weren't giving me an inch to breathe anyway. "He wants you to meet you on the Isle of Decision—he says it's urgent!"

I nodded and, despite the swarming, was able to get back to my hut and drop off my stuff before leaving with Orochi to finish what I'd started.

Orochi, as mediator, would judge between me and Kuchinawa when we reached the island by boat. I again faced a difficult battle, but by this time one weak man was much, much easier than defeating the scum of two entire worlds. I had nothing to lose. I had lost everything already. It was starting from page one again. And let me tell you, I'd waited for that chance from the moment I realized I couldn't understand Volt.

"Here she is," Kuchinawa hissed. He stood in the shade of the tree, a coward in the open. "Kid brother, too. Hey, MISAO, I see you've finally decided to show up."

"Cut it," I said. "Are you gonna fight me or what?"

"Hell yes. You won't win."

"'S that a threat? 'Cause Martel knows I've been through so many of those same empty threats, and I'm still here!"

"Bring it, bitch."

Orochi separated our verbal volley before it escalated without the set limitations. "Ho, now! The rules: winner is the one who lives. To the death. Winning conditions: if Kuchinawa prevails, Corrine's bell is smashed and he becomes… Chief. If Sheena is victorious, the bell is returned and she is hailed as new Chief of Mizuho," he said. I could tell it was hard for him to watch his brother and a good friend battle to a certain death on one part. "Take the ready." I prepared my cards. Wow, I forgot I still had them on me. "Set? Begin."

Kuchinawa fought dirty. And by that I mean he called me the rudest names and used my Mizuho name in slander. I wasn't sure how he had learned it, either. Maybe since Orochi had this thing for me he snooped… and Kuchinawa…? I don't know. At one point, he said, "Baby summoner's no baby anymore, screwing the Chosen to get herself a title!"

This deterred me for a second, and only that. He used that second to bruise me but I would not surrender so easily. "I don't need to screw him to be a great person. But you're right, I'm no baby anymore!" I stabbed him then, hard, in his core. But it was powerful enough to drive him to the ground in defeat.

"And what proves it is that I'm not going to kill you," I said. I stowed my cards and walked calmly to the boat. No challenge. No fear. No anything, except a new foundation and respect.

I really couldn't have finished him off. After all, Zelos taught me that traitors have reasons, too. Though I don't know what Kuchinawa's was, I had to let him go. And plus, Orochi wouldn't have to lose his remaining family.

Orochi rowed me back to town (we left Kuchinawa to escape for himself. I couldn't let him be so shamed in my village). The villagers enveloped me in this mob-like halo; and then I happened to realize, what had I done?

Honestly, what the hell had I done?

He was right there and I let him get away. I let him.

"What is this commotion?" Tiga shouted across the clamor. The citizens were instantly put to silence as was Mizuho tradition to respect one's elders.

"Vice-Chief, Sheena has returned," Orochi said with a dutiful bow. "She has defeated my brother Kuchinawa and avenged the malevolence of his deeds. The worlds have been returned to their proper positions."

"I see. Well, Sheena, this is cause for celebration, certainly," Tiga said.

"Um, thanks," I replied.

"No, not simply that. It seems also that while you were gone, our Chief has woken from his deep sleep. For this, and for your arduous journey, we shall hold a celebration in your honor!" A cheer was being shouted, something of a praise. What a joke.

It was strange to hear these same voices which just months prior had chanted jeers and words of ill-wishes upon my health and progeny; now, they were celebrating my safe return. But then, for as small as the town was, I realized, most of them don't know me—at all. I had been away for so long studying Summon Spirits that I hadn't attended regular classes like those 'regular' housewives, Ume and Yukiko and Aya. I don't know how to sew to this day, nor how to properly launder clothing, or even how to make about three hundred traditional dishes. Instead I can speak languages like Liquo and Pyro and Aero, and I can create talismans, cards, voodoo dolls, and, on a daily basis, kick someone's ass.

Come to think of it, I really wouldn't have wanted to be born the same as those frail housewives. That would only mean adhering to the strict codes of honor to husbands, and children, and elders. I would have been forced to cook food I don't like, mend clothing I don't own, bear children I don't want, and go to bed with a man I don't love. I wasn't born here, but I know enough about Mizuho to understand that traditions have changed elsewhere. If this is what people do all day, then, wow. They are exceedingly shallow and hopeless. If you have to lie to yourself and be locked up for your whole life, what a meaningless existence you lead. These are the Lifeless Beings. They pretend to care for each other like they pretended to care for me. I know them now.

I had seen the world, and I had traveled with people who cared about my life. We depended on each other, but we reveled in the moments when we didn't have to. I felt more compassion in those strangers than I had ever had with a Mizuho native. Yes, even Orochi. You'd think for being so close I couldn't see his self-oppression, but it's more blatant in that situation, I think.

Well, although I missed my friends terribly, I had to fix this, my home, first.

"That's—not necessary," I told Tiga and Orochi.

"Don't lie to yourself, Sheena," said a voice from behind me. I had not heard that timbre for… "That would be truly running away from your heart, wouldn't it?"

"Grandpa!" I exclaimed. He was standing, walking, or was he, or was I running toward him? I couldn't bow. I couldn't stop myself. My lordly, kind, sweet grandfather: the outside world had mandated physical contact no matter how strict the Mizuho guidelines. I embraced him.

I didn't care about the gasps of the crowd. If their care was superficial, then wouldn't their disgust be also?

"Grandpa, I'm so glad you're back, you're alive, you're here!" I called.

"You've changed so much! If I would have known your new appearance sooner I would have greeted you the moment you arrived," he replied. I noticed he wasn't objecting to the hug. If anything he encouraged it. I never appreciated the small things like that when Grandpa had ruled before. Oh, Tiga, you did practically all of the starvation of love, didn't you?

"Heh, thanks," I told him. I backed away and bashfully let my arms cover my stomach again.

"Look at how beautiful you are, inside and out. That trip you began so many years ago has finally shown the fruits of labor. You have learned much, I can tell."

"I wanna know, how did you wake up?" I asked.

Tiga stepped forward. "His astral body was stuck to Volt's power until—"

"She will find out for herself," Grandpa said. "In the meantime, let me make an announcement. I am full ready to resign my position of Chief and bestow it upon somebody much more worthy than I."

"… Grandpa?" I began. "But you can't mean…"

"You are ready, Sheena-kun. Do not doubt your abilities, for you have traveled long to obtain them. I bequeath my title to you."

"But Chief—excuse me, Igaguri, but she knows not of the ninja lifestyle!" Tiga whined. I mean, really, he whined.

"I believe that for her it is inherent."

I really didn't think my Grandpa would have trusted me with this much power fresh out of his coma. "I-I'll be the successor when he feels the time is truly right," I protested. I wanted to change Mizuho, that's for sure, but not—not now. Not fresh out of a journey. Not fresh out of rejection.

"Whatever you deem fit, then, my granddaughter. But I feel that I'm too old—it's time for someone young to help start over," Grandpa told me. I weakly nodded. "Then let us commence the celebrations and ceremony at once!"

"—Ceremony?" I asked. The hoard of people began to disperse themselves, however vociferously.

"Yes, of course, Chief!" Tiga replied, bowed, hurried off.

"Do not worry about the ceremony. Just head to the bathhouse and I will have someone explain the process as we set up."

I had no choice but to quizzically follow orders. He was still Chief, after all. Though, as I walked, I had the sneaking suspicion that I was in for a very, very revealing mistake.

Bathhouse, pah. It was meant for one or two people to keep belongings safe as they bathed in solitude in the calm river. It was more like a—locker room. At least, it should have been. Inside, as I reached it, two women were waiting to expedite the process. I recognized one as Mizuho's healer, and the other was a gossipy friend of hers. Oh, should be fun.

"Welcome, Successor," the healer said. "I was ordered to explain the process for you as my assistant prepares you for the Sacred Bath." I winced. The friend hastily came around behind me and tugged on the knot of my obi.

I must have caught sudden chills or jumped, or something. It was not a pleasant feeling. Who was this unfamiliar person violating my space? Whatever happened to privacy in this village since I left?

"Sorry if I disrupt you, miss. Quickly now, or the herbs will spoil," she advised.

"The first step, of course, the Sacred Bath, in which you are cleansed of the dirt of your travels," the healer explicated.

A bath didn't sound bad at all. At least it wasn't a shower. Showers tended to remind me of that time in Altamira when Zelos deliberately strode into the bathroom and peeked at me while I was taking one. I couldn't forgive him for that. I'd been singing and everything—guard totally down, hair up with soap. Well, I had to rinse and repeat, so he got away with it, but I was still furious. Actually, that girl was making me furious. You can't rape someone of their clothing! That's just discourteous.

"Then the questionnaire to test your knowledge; afterwards, ancestral ceremonies connecting you to the goddess and allowing you to drink the Tea of Life… Are you paying attention?"

I really wanted to say, "No, I'm being stripped naked by a strange girl and being pushed into a frigid stream against my will," but I just nodded. And actually, as I looked down, besides the pseudo-blood which stained the insides of my thighs I noticed a tiny wiry bit of red-orange hair entangled with the dark halo of my own. I nearly laughed, cried, and had a heart attack at the same time. It felt like, you know, when you try to sneeze, cough, and hiccup all at once but your body can't take it… I didn't mind it being there, because it meant he was still here in some way, but at the same time I prayed that the pushy girl didn't notice. Chieftains are supposed to be appointed as virgins to make sure they're monitored during their rule… Some messed up nobility issue. It would have been the first rule I abolished.

As the cold water enveloped me I wished nothing more than to retreat to my worn traveling clothes. I think I gasped or something.

"The temperature is to wash away your sins," the healer explained. She sprinkled some sort of green dust in my hair. "The clover is to bring you fortune as you enter this new age." Again, herbal showers; the color was red, and it washed away quickly in the dancing current. "Red dragon's breath, for power. Yellow mustard-seed, for potency. White lilies for your… purity." I had no need of her to remind me that I hadn't lived up to my chaste name. I hope she didn't notice the way I tried to cover myself up as though embarrassed at myself for having done a beastly act with some man.

"And the nudity is for…?" I muttered. Then the healer grabbed my scalp and pressed me underneath the water's surface. I felt like I was being whipped by the river, having my skin ripped cruelly from my body as well as the memories that accrued from my travels. I tried to ruminate upon the memory of his supplicating touch, and how I was completely bent to his will, and how he would barely run his fingers through my hair but give me chills nevertheless. Now the chills came from the frostbitten waves, and the hand in my hair was grasping, grabbing, slaughtering. It could not compare to the warm days of my recent past. This was a winter of holy baths. Holy Baths? More like, Holy Fuck These Baths Are Cold.

"All of this is to redeem you to holiness so that you may rule indomitably and infallibly," the healer said as I gasped for air; she had finally let me out.

It all made me appreciate life on the move, the kind of life that didn't involve petty purity and ceremonies and propriety. Damn propriety. I can wash myself with plants if I want to.

And why couldn't I get these annoying thoughts of Zelos out of my head? I kept thinking about the time when he saw me in the shower. I wanted to be in a Holy Shower if only to be reminded of him. What was this? Wasn't I purified yet?

And suddenly…

I wanted.

I wanted so much for him to have wanted me that much. That much… So much that he wanted to be with me now, even if my village needed me and hated him, even if they were forcing me into my grandfather's position. Why did he have to go back to Meltokio? We weren't exactly sure of what we were, and it was in no way my childhood fantasy, but I would rather have been with him than be pitted against an old foe and made to be new Chief solely because of a new image.

Why didn't he say something?

Why didn't I?

Then it was just the drying and having an uncomfortable robe draped about my body. They took my clothes—I would get them back. I had to. I thought maybe I was forgetting something in a pocket… I didn't have pockets.

They brought me to the tailor, who had since my return been fussing over a ceremonial gown. It was of an incarnadine color, a deep red. Red. God. The multitude of white and gold linens for an obi, the uncomfortable wooden shoes, the face paint. I hadn't missed this.

They brought me to the rude advisor, who was a cohort of Tiga, I had guessed. He asked me things about the Third Scripture and the Four Directions and the Five Peoples of Tethe'alla, quite numerical. He asked me things about my lineage, asked me to recite grandpa's heritage tracing back about a hundred years. He asked me what it meant to be Chief. He asked me what I thought happiness was as an ideal. I think I told him that one plus one equals two. He didn't respond.

They took me to my grandfather, who lighted a candle. I made some insincere oaths. Couldn't he see I needed… truth…?

Mizuho elected me, and I elected to follow along and… I lost myself.

I was Chief Sheena Fujibayashi of the First Order.


Things went on. Things progressed, things declined. Things just happened.

And then about two months after my induction, a Misao Umeno Fujibayashi received a letter in the post from a certain capital city of Tethe'alla. I immediately rushed to my house to read it in seclusion. I never got letters save from the King; I figured all of my friends were still settling in during that time. This one was different, though. It seemed to be enlaced with a faint and familiar scent that I could not place. I definitely had smelled that breath of foreign life before.

"To the Chief Sheena of Mizuho Village," it read. Underneath it was the elvish letter "S." Upon seeing the elvish a flutter overcame my pulse.

Could it be…?


But who else knows that language?


Oh. Of course. Oh, it must have been she who sent the letter. I got excited and tore the reddish parchment at its ornate waxed "C" seal. I felt almost foolish for thinking it was anyone else's letter.


What's up? Been a while, I guess. Ah, there's something I have to tell you. I don't know why they're doing this; I was certain it would have been called off the second my title was renounced. I mean, come on! They can't keep me from my hunnies!

I nearly dropped the paper. "C" for Chosen. Guess he got to keep the seal...

But, Zelos—!

So maybe you heard from that Derris Emblem a few months ago

Two months, four days, three hours and ten minutes, but who's counting.

I'm… betrothed. To that princess and crap. They're doing it because her mana signature is closest to Martel's. I guess the church hasn't been properly disbanded, huh? Or updated.

"I guess not, you haughty, lying, philandering—!" I shouted at the letter.

Calm down, my Violent Demonic Banshee. I knew you were going to do that.

I laughed aloud, incredulously. I realized that I wanted him very much to be in front of me at that moment. I wanted to slap him. Quarreling with a letter! A letter, no less, that cut off all hopes I had of ever seeing him again. Married. Marriage to Princess Hilda the Harlot. Marriage in Meltokio. Marriage minus Misao.

I'm not inviting you to the wedding, you know. Mainly because you're busy and all, but also because it's not happening .


I figure if I'm not gonna be there, then hell, what's the point of your coming?

Anyway, speaking of the Church, I have to ask you something from the King. I was supposed to ask you a long time ago, but I really, really remembered when we had the rehearsal dinner last night that I needed to see you. Well, I still have to ask you about it. And other things. So! I have decided to meet you at the Temple of Lightning as soon as you possibly can manage. I hope the carrier was fast. I hope you still have your Rheiard. It's going to be lonely over there. Cool how we can still use Rheiards after Volt vamoosed.

Well, I hope to see you there.

Take care of yourself.



PPS—Could you hurry up? This tux is kind of suffocating .

I stood agape in the frame of my doorway, wanting to shout and dance, and strangle the man. But none of those are allowed in Mizuho's public domain. Instead, I re-read the last bits. They were real. Wow. Wow. I thought I was going crazy because his handwriting was just… it seemed like so long ago.

No time for reminiscing; I put the letter on my desk in a hasty wreck and ran for the closet. He would expect me to be in my old ninja garb, wouldn't he? At any rate, I had remembered that I had forgotten to take things out of the inside pockets of my clothing from two months ago when they stole it from me. I rummaged through the back of the large closet. A flash of purple caught my eye—there were my things, right where I left them.

I donned my old digs, happy to discard my flashy kimono. I couldn't stand those dresses. I felt them cling to me as they had in the good days; although, I had to admit, it was colder now and I would most likely need a cloak of some sort on my little adventure. I'd worry about that later. I was off to find Orochi.

Venturing out of my house I caught the attention of the first attendant I saw. "Aya-san, would you mind finding me a cloak and collecting about two days' worth of food?" I asked urgently. The girl I had known in my childhood looked at me as if I were raving mad, but bowed and set forth to complete the task given her. I, in the meantime, put the note in my old holding spot, right at my rib through the ribbon.

It was then I remembered what I had forgotten to extract those months ago.


I knew it wasn't there, for I couldn't feel its jagged edges or golden lumps anywhere. Where had they taken my half-spider relic?

"Sheena-kun! What ails you?" a voice from behind me asked in a polite manner. It was Orochi, bowing again to his supposed superior.

"Oh! Just the man I was looking for," I said. "And stop bowing. My eyes are up here." He obeyed and stood straight again, apologizing in mumbled phrases. "I need you to find something for me, haste-post-haste. It's a spider figurine; well, half of a spider, actually. It's gold and probably cracked all over, but I need it. I'm going on a mission as soon as Aya comes with my stuff."

"A mission?" he asked. "To where?"

"I got a letter from the King this morning and he needs me to join him in a clandestine meeting place. You understand."

"Wh-what if the letter was false, and somebody is just out to assassinate our new Chief?" Orochi questioned, panicked. "Let me go with you. I'll make arrangements."

I jumped at the bit. "No, Orochi, I can't have you come with me. I know it was from him. It's in his handwriting, it has his seal. Nobody can imitate that. And—… it smells like him…"

"Smells, Sheena-kun?"

Apparently I had let too much slip, but I recovered with, "Yes, of course it smells! The palace—er, it reeks of kingliness. I know that this letter is real. You need to find me my spider!"

Orochi was slow to oblige, but he bowed nevertheless. "I suppose…"

"Please, today?"

"Well, it's just that I have this feeling that it—"

"Sheena-kun, your cloak and food," Aya gasped, running to my side and prostrating herself before me. I mandated her rise.

"Thank you, Aya-san. Make sure that Orochi does as he's told and finds my damn spider," I told her. She seemed delighted with the privilege to oversee one of the top officials in his duty, as she was basically a lowly peasantish wife. "I'll come back for it, Oro-chan."

I collected the cloak and basket of food, and, with quickened pace, walked to the gate of the town. Orochi was loath to see me disappear into the forest, but I tried not to mind. I had been rather rude to him, hadn't I. I regretted being so forward in my actions, but it seemed that he knew something I did not about the figurine, and I did not want to acknowledge the fact that it was probably stolen and exchanged for gald in some city miles away. I would apologize to him later. Right now, the only thing in the world was that I was going to see Zelos.

I mounted my Rheiard, the purple-striped one. I tried to keep my cloak close to me as I ascended into the chilly air of November, but it was difficult to keep my mind on anything. I sailed with the greatest haste possible to the north.

It was a tower of the gods. It was the Tower of Salvation. Granted, it was the tower that had once killed my people, but now it wasn't that at all. Now it was a beacon of hope.

There in the nest of grass and brush below me by only a few hundred feet was a dot of red. The red hair belonged to Zelos. I wanted to kill him for making me come to this place. The Rheiard dove down and came to rest close enough to the redhead that the wind upset his hair. Without any intention of upholding grace, I flung myself off of the Rheiard, cloak flying, and tackled him.

"Waaah—Sheena!" he gasped, trying to regain control. He leapt out from underneath my grasp and stumbled to his feet. I clumsily stood as well. "Well, that's certainly a welcome. Hello, hun!"

I was enraged. I don't know why. "HUN! That's all I get for dragging my ass all the way here to see you? I had to make so many arrangements last-second! Do you know how frustrating that is? And to the Temple of Lightning, no less! Only the place that reminds me of everything bad that ever happened in my life!" I screeched. I barreled toward him and began to swing at his chest and arms, and I think I got him once in the jaw.

"Whoa, augh, ouch—whoa, Sheena, stoppit for a sec! I did not mean it like—oof!" He didn't push me or fight back, he just kind of raised his hands and caught mine, and they stopped. I was seething.

"I swear to goddess, Zelos. Why am I even doing this…?"

"… Well, you know why. And then there's the fact that the King needs to speak with you through me," he said kindly, readjusting his collar. I noticed that the collar was formal. He wasn't wearing pink. It was a black tuxedo, accented with depressed indigo lapels and silver buttons. His hair was tightly braided in the back. I realized that the hells he had had to go through were fashion-related as well.

"I'm sorry about not telling you about the Hilda thing," he said, noticing that I was scanning his formalwear. "I thought you knew when you heard it at the Derris Emblem and just didn't want to talk about it… I kind of thought you'd beat me up like this."

"Heh, sorry… sorry about that, Zelos," I muttered. I became something of a human again.

"Don't worry about it. Maybe that's what I needed, a slap in the face to bring me back to real life… Wow. Do you know that at this moment I'm missing my own wedding?"

I looked down at my feet and managed to chuckle. "Crazy, isn't it? I never thought you'd settle down so soon."

"Not to her," he replied sadly. "So, ah… What's new with you these days?"

"What isn't new…?" I said. "It's been all hoity-toity ceremonies and ridiculous titles, that's what. I'm Chief. Can you believe it? I now rule over a bunch of ninjas in Mizuho who have no sense of guidance."

"So you still haven't moved?"

I looked at him. "Where would we move?" I asked. "Nowhere in Tethe'alla is uncharted, and I'm sure in Sylvarant it's the same."

"Actually," he began, "they don't really know about Sylvarant in the Church. They just know it exists, and that it's bad. The only person from anywhere near high society that's been there is me. As if I'd go squealing to them."

"… Oh, the Church of Martel, that's right," I said. "They're not bothering you, are they?"

"Just to marry Hilda already and make some kids and grow old or get killed; and all of this, soon. Well I don't want to marry somebody I don't love. If anyone, at least make her a hunny, or something! I mean, come on. She's smart and just and all, but she's not for me. I'm no prince, you know that. They all know that."

"And so you're running away again?" I mocked. He didn't find it as humorous as I thought he would take it; the lines of worry yet rested on his brow.

"Not running, doll. Evading."

"Is that what we're calling it now?"

"Aren't you running from your title, too?" he asked. I had to sigh, because he was right, and he knew it.

"I suppose you could call it that. Wow, what great promises we make," I remarked. "I don't want to run from things, really. I just don't want to have to be tied down to them."

He searched for something in his pocket. "Yeah, is that true? You don't want to run? At least I still have my spider," he said, pulling it out and showing his half to me in the rude sunlight. I blushed.

"Y-yeah, well, it wasn't my fault! They stole it from me!"

"Doooon't wanna hear it," he sang. He pulled another chunk of gold from his pocket.

"—What? That's my…"

"I know," he said smugly. "As for how I got it, that I don't know. It showed up in an envelope at my door one day. It looked Mizuho, so I figured it was from you, but then I remembered that friend of yours, Orochi…"

He didn't. He couldn't have! "Orochi stole my figure to give to you?"

Zelos shook his head. "No, no. He found it near the river and said it was burning my address into the ground. The spider was looking for its other half, so he sent it to me, not knowing that maybe… he should have sent its owner instead?" I took the figurine from his hand, and between us we matched up the pieces to form the whole spider. It hadn't been whole since before we found it at the Emblem. The spider latched itself into one piece.

"… Creepy," I said. "It's alive?"

"I think it was just trying to tell me something. I've kept it in my pocket ever since we had them, and it started to bite me about the time you left that morning. I took it as kind of a sign," Zelos told me.

I blushed fuchsia again. Was he trying to tell me something?

"Oh, that you needed to talk to me about that thing with the King that you forgot." I was past articulation. Some hope in my heart still remained that maybe he was trying to tell me that he wanted to be with me, and I had to go with it. I wanted it. I coveted it. I needed it, really.

"Oh! Yeah, that… Almost forgot again," he said almost as stupidly as I. "He wants you to be some sort of Emissary of Peace to Sylvarant."

I was startled. "The King wanted me of all people?"

"Well, I suggested you, but he accepted. I played to the audience for irony. Emissary of Death becomes Emissary of Peace… haha? Anyway, it's because I wanted you to move Mizuho to the Linkite Tree. It's the only uncharted area in all of the worlds, and nobody needs to know but us."

"… Why do you need to know?"

"You told me before you'd tell me where you moved, come on!" he whined.

"Actually, that sounds like a perfect idea," I said in realization. We would be able to live in a secluded area that wasn't too far from civilization, the pinnacle of what the Mizuho ninja location ought to be. And nobody would live in ransom, and nobody would live in fear of Volt. The Sylvarant Summon Spirits were much more hospitable, anyway; our new mascot could be Aska—

"Really? I thought so too. At least, I hoped so. So I gave a notice to your Orochi and told him to tell you that you should start the moving process," Zelos said. "I'm re-hiring my servants to help you with the move to Sylvarant; once you get past the Renegade Base, you're on your own, though, for safety purposes of your own. And we'll stop all the caravans. I don't care how much money it takes, really. Anything for you."

"Oh, stoppit," I said, avoiding his excited eyes. "But thanks." I clasped his hand and looked over at the ocean. "Emissary of Peace? Sure. I get to travel, right? And I get to see you occasionally."

"I hope a little more than occasionally!"

"Ha, ha, we'll see. If I can stand you, maybe. And then, what happens once I'm done traveling to restore order?"

"You can settle down in New Mizuho."

"Oh… So I'm not running away, I'm just delaying?" I asked smartly. He smirked.

"You could call it that. And I'm not running away, I'm just relocating?" he said. He turned the spider over in his hands and watched it intently.

"…Sure? But where are you relocating then? What, do you want to get out of your limelight in Meltokio?"

He paused.

"Actually, I wanted to… talk to you about something," Zelos admitted. Again with the dodging! I didn't know if I could wait for him to tell me what I needed to know.

"Zelos, if you have something to say, just spit it out. Don't be afraid. I'm not running from this spot, and neither will you. I'll sit here three days if I have to. I have enough provisions to last me. I'm not going to move no matter what you tell me, and I'll swallow a thousand needles if I lie!" I said. He gripped my hand, put the figure in his left pocket again, turned my shoulders to face him.

"Remember that time in the Tower of Salvation when Orochi showed up without telling you who sent him? That was me."

I smiled. "I figured as much."

"I wanted you to be safe under someone you trusted, and not one of my sleazy cohorts, so I brought him."

I waited. "O…kay…? That's it? That's all you had to tell me? Well, thanks, I guess."

He shook his head, and seemed to notice something. With a childish fussiness he reached back at his violet bow and let his hair free. Crimson crimped locks. And he ran one hand through it, which afterwards he brought in front of himself for me to see.

"This is my engagement ring," he said. "Or rather, was." A sturdy gold band studded with diamonds and rubies was curled around his ring finger. "But that doesn't mean I'm getting rid of it." I laughed. Ever materialistic. Then he plunged that hand back into his pocket and brought out a small velvet box with a gaudy fake rose tied to it. "This was supposed to be Hilda's. This morning I woke up, and I went to my dresser and saw this box, and I thought, 'Wow, I really don't think I want to give this hunk of metal to a girl I don't know at all.' And the rose reminded me of something you said before about roses being your favorite flower, and I remembered that I'd never paid you back for all those times you'd saved my hide—"

I looked at Zelos's eyes again. Tears welled up in mine. "I never told you that they're my favorite flower."

"They're mine, too… I was just guessing. Hilda wanted roses, but she said they were never her favorite. They just needed red and white-lilac roses at the wedding because it looked pretty. When I looked at the decorations a few days ago, it just—it reminded me of you, and how I really should have told you this something before.

"Now, I'm going to give you this box… Sheena, oh, stoppit with the waterworks, I'm not being that sentimental!" he chided. I had to wipe the girlish tears from my face and pretend like I was myself again. He had no idea of what he was doing to my psyche. "You can't cry," he said. "You have to promise me you won't cry, 'cause I'm sure this is not the conventional way you would have imagined."

I took a deep breath. "I promise I won't cry… God, why am I crying? Chiefs don't cry," I mumbled.

Zelos let a grin appear on his face. "But fiancées do." My eyes went wide.

"Wh—what! You're not…?"

"Well, only if you want to call it that. I just want to call it giving you a little present that you truly deserve," he said. He opened the box, and inside the finely-cut diamonded ring glittered with hope.

"—I can't… I can't… I—Zelos, I don't even know what's going on between us!" I shouted in disbelief, half-laughing, half-hyperventilating.

"Neither do I!" he chuckled. "That's the point. We're not going to get married or anything, don't think of it like that, but this is your gift from me for being so lovely… Because you're the only person I'd want to give it to."

Incredulously, I took the ring from its velvet constraints. Zelos stopped me, and took it in his hand instead, and put it on my right finger. "Doesn't it go on the left?" I asked.

"We're not engaged, Misao... We're confused, and we're running away, and we're jeopardizing our cities, and we're…"

I hesitated to add on to his explanation. I wasn't sure of what he was blabbering. I wanted to believe it was what I thought it was. "… In love?"

He nodded. It wasn't the word to throw away, as we both knew. Neither of us had experienced enough in our childhood to know what that deep connection really was. But if his heart was swelling like mine, and if he really entrusted me with the ring that belonged to a wife…

I laughed. I burst out laughing. He did, too. The whole idea was magnificent, brilliant, humorous, sinister… but perfect. We fell to the ground and looked up at the sky, and I knew.

He loves me.

"You know, I was never too damn sure about anything in my life, but since I have the option, I think I'll stay here with you," Zelos said in a low voice.

"Well, well. Zelos Wilder, finally settling down," I remarked.

"Nuh uh. I'm just making sure you want me. It doesn't mean we're settling down at all, yet." Nobody could fetter the spirit of Zelos: no father, or mother, or master, or wife. I was fine with that idea; though I did find him a right bastard to make me think he was proposing. I was fine with this, though. Just existing, knowing that all of my trust went to a good cause. He will return, and I can run forever and come back to him, and he can run forever and come back to me.

"Oh, but in due time you'll want to, when everything's back to close to normal. Now that we don't have Raine on our tails, we have plenty of time to make up for all the things we missed."

"Aw, that's no fun if we have to wait for things to get normal. We're not normal!" he insisted.

"No, but that doesn't matter."

"Mhm…" He closed his eyes.

"And you're one lucky son-of-a-Chosen it doesn't."

"Yes. Yes I am."

"And I have the feeling we're going to have a tough time getting anywhere if we don't get up."

"Eh, I can't."

"Neither can I! I'm so dizzy," I said, eyeing my ring. His.

"Well, we have all day, and tomorrow. I have a feeling we'll need until tomorrow."

"… I have a feeling we're going to have tomorrow…"

There were no more lazy words to be said. We just stopped speaking, and looked up at the sky. It wasn't purple or foreboding or absent of color or stars. It simply was, and the sun came out from behind a cloud and made the grass look majestic. Nothing needed to be said.

We're going to have tomorrow.