Title: Renegade Mentality

RPG: Tales of Symphonia

To my readers,

Well it's here... I got my tail kicked and then some(where's a pathetic emoicon when you need one?). The contest was pretty big and most of the people on the contest were those who A) taught/inspired me or B) have pwned me before in other contests.Anyways now that it's all over and done I have rights back to my story! Yah, now I'm gunna make you all.. umm I mean ask you nicely iwth puppy eyedexpression... to read it. As promised long ago, here is my Renegade one shot, Mentality. It's just an insight intoYuan and Botta's relationship. By no means is thisa romantic fic, friendship only,because I'm ossessivly cannon and all that.

KasanSoulblade

He entered the room, spotless steel, the steel plating made him thing of the armor he normally wore. He was a large man, taller then most members of either of his parent races, but then with his twisted blood such abnormalities were to be expected. He was large, muscular, taking much physically from his sire, and he bore his mother's eyes. Normally when such a thing is said of someone there is an implication of weakness for a woman's trait were commonly gentle, and in this he again broke the norm. Oh, he had inherited his mother's eyes, but they were the color of polished steel, and glittered with that same hardness. Stroking the robes, saying without words his discomfort in that one and a thousand other ways he left the sanctuary of steel sheathed walls and floor to step upon carpet. It was crimson, the carpeting was a rich thick crimson that absorbed his large feet quite readily. With his sandals and not his steel toes boots he favored he could better feel the plushness of that carpet, and after a long shift of walking too and fro across steel choked rooms, to tending a machine that fed off of fire mana the comfort was a welcome change. He would now, in normal circumstance, retire to his small quarters. The room was little more then a glorified closet really, with a wooden cot covered in a blanket of white. He thought fondly of his bed, for he had been up since before dawn and it was crawling into the later hours of the night. But one did not ignore summons from one's superior officer, it would if nothing else set a bad example for the troops.

Lifting his head from a pile of papers a blue haired man sporting pointed ears looked up at him, there was a something inherently somber about those glittering slanted eyes . He spared only a moment to scrawl some quick note or other, then set aside his paper work with obvious hesitance. Both men regarded each other in complete stillness, and it was in that still moment that the intruder could see that though this man obviously spent hours hunched over papers he let it effect his strength in the slightest. The half elf from behind the desk stood, his black cloak rustled about him, showing for a moment a hint of something glossy and red underneath, a flash of white, then nothing but black. Held together by way of a uncut sapphire shard set in a clasp of gold the cloak seemed to hunch over the man's shoulders, and obscure him in a mess of flowing black.

Placing a hand over his heart Botta bowed, as was proper form when not knowing the exact rank of the man before him. There were unspoken rules amongst the renegades, etiquettes that had to be followed to keep order. A commander never left his troops, the troops never abandoned each other even in death, and when rank was uncertain between two people it was presumed that they were equals until one showed the other he (or she though females in the order were rare) was of differing rank. The man pulled a lock of pale blue hair from his eyes, stared at him in a way that made Botta mentally shiver, then put a black gloved hand over his heart and bowed with a liquid grace that showed this man favored the elf side of his bloodlines.

"Botta, head of the fifth sector patrol of Sylvarant Triet base, I was sent here to speak to Lord Yuan, if you could direct me to him." The dark haired half elf said as he straightened.

"So you are Botta, I've heard a great deal about you." The man's voice was soft, a bare whisper that carried across the room. Those sapphire hued eyes bore into him, doubling in intensity until Botta felt as if his very soul must be being laid bare before this man. The Renegade commander waited a polite span then cleared his throat.

"With all do respect Sir, I must speak to Lord Yuan, if you do not know of his whereabouts then could you direct me to someone who does?"

"Take a seat Botta."

"Not until you can tell me where I may meet Lord Yuan, Sir."

"You sound as if you have other things more important then to meet the Lord of the Renegades."

Botta smiled slightly at that, the gesture more in response to the humored note in the blue haired half elf's tone then any true feelings of cheer.

"I am weary Sir," He spoke as always with a brutal bluntness. "I have been up long since dawn attending to my duties and it is nearly midnight now."

"I apologize for the inconvenience, it was the only time I've had free in months." The other half elf grimaced. "Take a seat Botta, your hunt has ended, for I am your Lord Yuan."

Managing to keep his jaw from hitting the floor he managed a more formal bow and took the seat, (left for him?) on the other side of the desk. Though his legs felt to be trembling the whole time and his heart hammered making the trip across the floor something under the lines of a great feat. Yuan said nothing, watched, waited, and seemed to expect something of him. What Botta could not guess, groveling, subservience? If that was what the man sought he could look else where.

"Thank you for coming, I apologize but I keep rather... odd hours."

All hours if the rumors were true, Botta had heard that the mans personal guards had made a bet to see when he slept, and it had been a wait of five years to see one night in which Yuan had actually slept for a span of three hours and had woken up as refreshed as ever. What was it like to rarely sleep, to not eat, to never rest? He wondered these things, as perhaps did all the men. And there were moments, moments between action and plans where the men who had actually seen Yuan would describe this wistful longing in the seraphim's expression. They were lead by a Seraphim, a blessed and accursed being touched by the mad hands of Yggdrasil the false angel lord.

"You know of me, Sir?" Botta asked, as his thoughts went no where and no words had came from the man's mouth, if man was even the proper term, for almost a full minuet.

"A bit, some of your recent accomplishments have... been an active conversation piece amongst some of the veterans of the organization."

Yuan frowned, he muttered a curse in a soft delicate language that was -to the outside world- dubbed the language of angels. Rumor amongst the renegades was that a human male who had traveled with Mithos the Hero had made the language long ago and some scholar had discovered it and since it was nearly musical in nature had pinned it to the feathered creatures created by Yggdrasil's hand. Botta heard drawers pull open, and the blue haired half elf bent almost double in his chair to rummage for something. Thinking it safe enough he scanned the room, there was no furniture save the desk they sat at now, a spare chair with a short table along side it, and a book shelf. He could spot no hidden doors, no pin points of light that marked hidden teleport pads, and seeing the man before him was immersed in his hunt extended his limited mental senses to feel about the room. There were no aura flashes marking those hidden under invisibility spells, no tingles to mark magical traps. Nothing... the whole room was for all intents and purposes unguarded.

"Tell me..." There was a tink of glass and Botta shook off the remnants of his mana fueled sight so he could focus on the physical world. Yuan placed two delicate goblets on the table, and besides those rested a large bottle filled with purple liquid. "How long have you served in the Renegades?"

"Twenty some odd years my Lord." What a strange question, Botta frowned, this might be even more serious then he thought.

"Twenty five actually," Yuan corrected, after making a show of counting something up on his fingers. "Yes, twenty five, I personally think that warrants some type of celebration, don't you?"

The blue haired half el- no not a half elf it was a seraphim he must never forget that the man shaped being before him was a seraphim!- poured them both a glass and gripping the delicate stems of crystal in his black gloved hand rose his up in a toast. Baffled the commander followed suit, and downed a half mouthful out of politeness rather then the full mouthful that was custom. He rolled the liquor on his tongue, it was sweet with a hint of clover to it, and it was strong enough to make him thankful that he did not take the full mouthful as had his lord. He swallowed expecting it to go down his throat with the silken softness as it had rolled across his tongue. He coughed as the liquid for all intents and purposes grew, claws, barbs, spikes, and fiery daggers, and crawled down his throat. Gasping he set his glass aside, and watched in horror as Yuan calmly swallowed another mouthful. For a moment he imagined those ice pool eyes to shatter and for a glint of humor to sparkle along the jagged edges of the break, then nothing, Yuan was as still as a pool in the deepest northern region in the heart of winter.

"Twenty five years, years of wandering steel halls gone to the hells for the sake of appearances of serving an apathetic Lord so that Yggdrasil does not turn his gaze upon you. Twenty five years of walking across scalding sands in the hottest of climates for days at a time to protect a settlement of humans that have no care or knowledge of your duty to save them. How far the Renegades have gotten you Botta. How damn far." Yuan took a long draw from the glass and Botta openly shuddered, this was not a drunken rant, but the dark musings of there Lord. "There are no benefits, healers and gels are too precious to use upon those who serve in Sylvarant, a wound that is taken stays till it heals naturally, and still duty must not be forsaken."

Yuan had said used not wasted, that implied a level of caring, and perhaps it was only that faint hint of compassion in that ice flecked voice that made Botta keep his peace.

"So, tell me, why are you here Botta?"

"You summoned me my Lord."

"A literal man aren't you?" Yuan rose an eye brow, set aside his glass, it was the most his face had moved since this conversation had begun. "Tell me, commander, what kind of man are you? You've spent twenty five years in this Hell, what kind of man has that made you?"

"Half sir." Botta spoke slowly, carefully, there was a hint of something in the air that made him tense and take comfort in the thick muscles that were his mark as a warrior. "I am half man and half elf. My involvement with the Renegades has not changed that."

"How has it changed you then Botta?" Yuan slid back into his chair, it was the false relaxation of a serpent ready to coil then lash out with glistening venom tipped fangs.

"I have a better grasp on the realities of this world." Botta said cooly, determined not to show any of his apprehension. He let one hand slowly slide to the hilt of his blade, gripped it for comfort, this game was far from played out, that's what his instincts were telling him.

"Other men might have said that it has allowed them to grasp the true reality of this world." Yuan murmured, taking up his glass, and lifting it in a toast. "To true reality commander?"

Botta stared flatly at the Seraphim, did not take up his glass. He was not fooled by this show of simplicity, not in the slightest. He shifted his arm ever so slightly, loosened up his blade.

"To the down fall of Cruxis then?"

Still Botta did not move, and the Seraphim smiled a warm and utterly false smile. It was little more then the baring of teeth that would only fool the most simple of fools.

"What would you toast to then Commander?"

"Permission to withdraw to my private quarters." Botta said coldly.

"I've toasted to stranger things." Yuan rose his glass and took a long swallow. "You are dismissed from your post Botta, you may leave."

"Sir?" Botta frowned, not quite understanding. He cursed the half mouthful of drink he had consumed earlier, it must be playing tricks on his ears.

"Did I not make myself clear? You are free to go as you will, you are a free man, after twenty five years of slavery it is the highest reward I may give. You have earned it, your efforts have earned it a thousand times over."

Botta could not breath, he felt as if the oceans that hovered around this base had come into the room and were slowly choking him. He sputtered much as he imagined a drowning man might, composure and calm abandoning him for the first time in decades. Those words that he could not expect, those words that slammed into the heart with the force of a blade.

"What will you do Botta, now that I've given you your head so to speak? A number of men go off to sire families, their children serve twenty five years in my service and the process continues so that I have fresh men to train."

"A good tactic in spreading knowledge of the truth sir..." Was all Botta could manage around the tightness in his throat.

"I'd take credit, but my Second Rene thought of it several hundred years ago... She's dead of course, but then I tend to go through people rather fast." Yuan's eyes glittered in the mana fueled light, they seemed twin mirrors that reflected everything and offered nothing in return.

"Has there ever been an exception to your rule, someone staying more then twenty five years?"

"A few, are you offering to stay longer commander? That is commendable and shows you bear the mark of a man who takes his responsibilities to the Renegades very seriously, but it is something I do not wish to risk. You are in the prime of your life," Yuan leaned forward until scant inches stood between them. "Live that life, you have done all a sensible person should have to do, your service was no mere genuflection in duties direction, you've bleed and seen comrades die for a hopeless cause. Leave while you still have something to live for outside of a war that will never be completed in your lifetime."

"You presume sir, that you have taken away my freedom during my span in the Renegades." Botta returned the stare of those glittering sapphire eyes fearlessly. "You presume that service entails not living, and it is your opinion that this war is hopeless. On all counts you are incorrect. If it is my freedom you are offering to me, then it is my choice to remain here doing what I do best."

"There are a hundred others who could take your tasks up," The seraphim leaned back into his padded chair, his eyes turning into thin slits. "You are not needed here."

"Again, that is your opinion."

"And again you surprise me commander. I can count on one hand the number of people who have had the courage to look me in the eyes and say I am wrong." Yuan's lips curled slightly, he stood, and with soundless steps went to the door leading back into the hall. "Come back tomorrow commander upon the third hour past noon. Don't worry, I'll send someone to you an hour before your appointment so you may brief them on what duties they may need to take over for you. Until then Botta."

And with that Yuan, lord of the Renegades, walked from his office, black cloak trailing behind him with the barest of sighs.

Xxx xxx xxx

"You saw him?" Mystin gapped, for once the mess of eggs on his plate was actually having time to cool. "No one from Sylvarant sees him."

"Magi Mystin, if you do not eat that food before you before it cools the world will most certainly end." Growled Botta's right hand man Aroon.

Officer and soldiers shared a chuckle as Mystin decided to save the world in his own way. He wolfed down his mess of eggs and bread all the while trying to pry Botta with questions. All his soldiers in his small command were doing much the same, and while most others would have found the attention pleasant he did not like it. Command, a commander, more like the leader of a small gang. Knowing that truth he mentally sneered at the title Yuan had pinned on him. He was no leader of men, merely a man who was the voted on amongst a group of his oldest friends to lead in name alone. In all this commander's group consisted of six people, himself, Aroon a swordsman, P'thon a novice magi, Mystin the groups senior magi, Larson the groups sole archer, and the Larson's twin Keeth who served as a scout more then anything else.

"Well," Keeth pointed a fork at his superior as if to spear the details out of him. "At least tell us what he looks like!"

"Did you see his wings? They say he sucks the souls out of the humans who break into the base for food, did you see any of that?" Larson chirped.

"You are acting a bit out of sorts Botta." P'thon was helping himself to the ketchup and turning the yellow eggs red. "So what happened, did he chew you out or something?"

"No, Lord Yuan did not chew me out... not exactly, though I almost feel as if I had been. He was... confusing to say the least." Botta speared a length of soggy yellow, ripped off a portion of his roll, and plopped the egg on top of the bread. He ate his omelet like that, and it took a considerable amount of time, even more so because he was nursing a headache that sprung from that brew Yuan had tricked him into drinking.

"He's like what, five million years old?" Larson looked amongst his comrades and there nods of agreement made him believe that he was in the right. "He's gotta be a little confusing if he's lived that long. Does he say weird words like "thou" when he talks?"

"No." Botta took a sip of his juice. "He talked in the same way we talk, it's what he said that confused me, not how he said it."

Aroon snorted, downed his glass in one swallow, his face tinted red in anger.

"He's a monster, that's what they say of him, and what else I've heard makes me agree what they say. It's not for him a bleed or put my life on the line, it's the cause. Just think of it like that Botta, it makes life a Hell of a lot easier."

"It would be a great comfort to know that the man who started and leads this cause is a man worthy of respect. Speaking of respect..." Botta let his gaze slide over all of his men. "I will be absent from three o clock this afternoon until tomorrow morning, you will be under another man's command and I expect no repeats of the last incident when I had the flu and took leave for a day."

P'thon, Larson, and Keeth, looked innocently at there commander. Having been the main starters of the last incident and having persuaded the more serious Aroon and Mystin into going along with their prank.

"There will be no repeats of the... incident sir." Mystin promised, though his lips twitched in what hopefully was just a fond reminiscence of tying Commander Vidarr up and leaving him hanging like some Trietian pinata in the rheiard chamber.

"There better not be." Botta growled. "Half pay for a month to anyone who I so much as suspect of pulling a prank on the temporary commander."

"Understood sir." Keeth saluted sharply, and forgetting he was holding the fork covered with breakfast it snapped through the motion right along with the hand.

"Wonderful, I just cleaned this damn thing Keeth!" Larson pulled off his steel helmet to pick off the length of greasy yellow.

Playful bickering, grumbling, these were the norms of a soldiers life, his life. He allowed it to wash over him, give him a bit of normalcy. It would be his last bit for some time to come.

Xxx xxx xxx xxx

Chain mail armor, far more comfortable to him then any robe, hung over his large frame. His steel toes boots rang like bells against the steel sheathed halls, and a helmet made of the same material covered his head. He was aware of how he clanked and clattered down the hall, aware of the other renegades staring at him. But they were Tethe'allan renegades sporting black glossy garb infused with protective charms that would make the fabric as hard as the armor he wore. The norm in Sylvarant was quite the opposite, there was so much a mana shortage that the charms could have destroyed the already deteriorating ecosystem of Triet. Hence he wore archaic physical armor and stood out for all the world like a sore thumb. At least he wasn't Vidarr's size and station, where he had to wear a mess of ill fitting armor that barely covered him, then there would have been high fatalities by laughter amongst the Tethe'allan Renegades. He frowned, though the gesture probably wasn't even seen as everyone seemed intent on the fact he was where honest to Martel primitive steel armor. While everyone was staring at that he considered the split in the path. Gods this base was so confusing, it was at least ten times the size of the Triet base! Little wonder he felt as if he was getting lost. Finally he ordered one of the soldiers to give him directions, then went on his way. He was not to report to the office, no he had gotten there twenty minuets early only to find an aide who told him to go to the combat training room. Or rather it was after going through a mess of aids scattered about the base prying hints that half the time contradicted all told previously, having to deal with given misleading directions, and nobly restraining the urge to throttle the lot and go back to Sylvarant where he belonged.

So strong was his want, his need that when he at last opened the proper door -or rather it slid aside and opened when he stood in front of it- the idea of strangling the seraphim who was waiting for him was very tempting.

It became even more so when Yuan looked at him, the seraphim glanced at the time piece strapped to his wrist, then frowned.

"You are late."

"I was... detained." Botta growled, his teeth were clenched so tight he imagined them ready to snap.

"You are five minutes late." Yuan said in that same dispassionate tone that had grated on Botta their last meeting.

"Tell me, sir was there a reason you ordered your aides to give me wrong direction and be such assess or is it the charming clime on this side to be like that makes it natural?"

Yuan rose an eyebrow, stared at him for a very long time and seemed to be waiting for something.

Well if he was waiting for an apology he was in for a long wait, Botta would curl up and die before taking back those words.

"If I had just gone through the bureaucratic hell you just slogged through I'd be trying to cut the person who was responsible in half." The Seraphim said cooly that face as still as ice, save for the eyes which again had shattered and had that golden tinge of humor about the jagged edges. "You have more patience then an angel Commander Botta, lets see if you have any other skills shall we? What blade do you favor?"

"Scimitar, sir." Botta stared at Yuan, wondering what the hell was going on. Certainly the head of the Renegades wasn't going to demean himself by sparring...

"Since I have never seen a blunted swallow, or a practice blade resembling a swallow I will take up the same arms as you. Have you any objections?"

A small smile tugged on Botta's lips, maybe just maybe he'd be able to get a bit of his frustration out on this man who was merrily turning his world upside down on a mad whim. That was quite the cheering thought.

"None my lord."

Yuan turned to what Botta presumed was a bare white wall, the seraphim muttered a few words put his hand against the metal. Not to interested in that the Commander looked around, all the room which was the length of a fourth of a field and the height of four average sized people if they were perched upon each other's shoulders. It was large, bare, and almost reeked of residue mana from fights. This was no sparring room, no Salle, not for just those who mastered the blade... It was a practice room for warrior and magi, and it was the proper size enough to accommodate large scale training exercises. The floor was very lightly padded, not carpeted, or changed in any mundane way, but there was a springiness to the metal that smacked of mana.

"There is a aura of mana to soften blunt blows that fall upon the all the inanimate objects that enter this room, as well as a pre-set healing spell that you may tap into freely for any injuries you receive."

Botta turned to his General, the man was tapping a few numbers into a key pad that had popped out of the wall. The air besides him sighed and two poles that were styled to resemble scimitars materialized with a soft sigh that hinted of a wind based teleport spell.

"Tell me, Botta, are you a magi?"

"I have some skill in that direction sir." The black haired half elf took the practice sword that the blue haired half elf tossed to him. Botta spun the 'blade' around in his hands, it was lighter then his norm but well balanced.

"Can you fight me as both, as magi and warrior?" Yuan asked.

Those alien sapphire eyes seemed to burn with a need to have this match. How many could stand before him and show interest in sparring with their superior officers? How many would grovel in terror of this officer? Certainly most in the Sylvarant ranch would be terrorfied of him, for Yuan was in their lore a monster who ate the souls of humans, a winged demon, a fallen half elf who had become something no one could understand. It was not so different here Botta imagined, rumors were a norm of a soldiers life, and for all of their technology the Renegades of Tethe'alla were the same as those of Sylvarant. They were warriors waging war against a near immortal foe.

Lead by an immortal, by one of the enemy.

Lead by a man who seemed to be aching for a decent sparring match, for someone not to look at him in fear.

Lead by a man who'd just been the cause of twenty five minuets of absolute hell of running from one side of the base to the other on a wild swimming bird chase.

"I am more of a warrior then magi, but I shall manage, my lord." Botta shrugged with completely feigned indifference as he wondered if he could get a strike to land between those pointed ears before he was cooked. "What are the rules of the contest, sir?"

"Three strikes, non-fatal magicks only."

Botta nodded, stroked his beard and watched his lord take the customary fifteen steps away. Before the fourteenth became the fifteenth the Commander had made up his mind about something.

"Sir," Yuan paused, turned, and his eyes wereeasy to readfor once. They reflected a dread that Botta might actually be stepping down from the match. "They say you are as old as the ages."

Yuan's eyes grew sharp, dangerous, he was touchy about his age it seemed .

"Does it show so much Commander?"

"Of course not sir, I was wondering if you are so old you might know of why the custom of fifteen steps before a match begins."

"I only know one thing Botta." Yuan shifted a bit. "I have made fifteen steps and you are still holding your blade in an at ease position."

Taking the hint the Commander got ready for a fight, and what a fight it was.

Xxx xxx xxx

"So after you blocked his over hand swing then what happened?"

His command and no few others were crowded around his table and all for one honest response about why half of his hair was sticking out to the side. No amount of combing had done anything for it save sent painful shocks across his hands, not even the gel Lord Yuan had given him to apply to the afflicted area had helped. Nothing had worked in the fighting room, nothing outside, and Yuan had sheepishly told the Commander that the electricity was going to have to channel out naturally. And now for his honesty he was being pelted with so many questions that morning that he had promised to give a blow by blow account of the fight that evening and it seemed as if every Renegade in the base had shifted their duties around so they could have an hour or two free to hear Botta's story in the mess hall.

"We held the lock for a bit, then I stepped back and threw a fireball in his face." The men gasped in shock as he admitted to using a 'dirty' tactic, but Yuan had told him to not hold anything back and so Botta had not. "He ducked under the spell kicked both my legs out from under me." As if to agree the back of his legs began to ache just a little. "I rolled the second I hit the ground, got to my feet having to block a few slashes with the flat of my weapon while doing so..." Botta stared at them and he would have sworn the whole damn base stared back.

"Sir?" Mystin looked at him and Botta sighed.

"Don't any of you have some duties to attend to?" He growled, a hind of a blush coloring his cheeks.

"Not that I'm aware of." Aroon smirked. "If you are going to assign us some busy work sir do know that we are all prepared to bitch, moan, and grip, until you finish this story. So it comes to this Commander, do you want to repeat this perhaps once to us and then once more to those who had tasks they could not avoid, or would you rather be pestered by every man in this base until you tell each of us this story and we all are satisfied?"

Botta glared and the Renegade smiled, completely unfazed by the threatening gaze.

But then Aroon had a better threat by far, so why should he be nervous that Botta would do anything to him?

No reason, the idea of having to tell this story a ten hundred times chilled Botta's blood.

"To make a long story short..."

That rose some boos and hisses from the crowd.

"Don't you dare cut this short, it's the only damn bit of entertainment we got in this dust bowl!" One of the senior officers roared.

Botta sighed, admitted defeat with a grumble, and gave in to the demands of those around him and went over all the details.

Xxx xxx xxx

Yuan rose an eyebrow as his aide finished his report and kicked up his feet and put them on the -for once- bare desk.

"Magi Mystin, you are joking aren't you?"

"Do I ever?"

"Frequently." Was the seraphim blunt answer.

"When it's important?" Yuan mulled over that then nodded, he knew his aide very well after all they'd worked together for decades. Seeing Yuan was going his way Mystin grinned. "Humble to a fault, looked like he wanted to curl up and die rather then tell how he got a hit on you. Any other man would have been bragging, took how they lasted as one Hell of a compliment of their skills. Him, he was miffed he didn't nail more hits in but accepted it."

"He's not a bad swordsman," Yuan admitted. He firmly grabbed his underling's ankles and threw the legs off of his desk. Mystin was pressing the line between tentative friendship and superior underling relationship a little too far today. Getting the hint Mystin dropped out of his slouch and tried to appear serious. "I want to see him in action."

"You've seen all the footage of him in the attacks against the bandits, you saw that if he hadn't stepped in and over ruled that incompetent jack ass who was running things before we would of lost the base in Sylvarant." Mystin protested, after all Botta was his friend and Yuan's challenge -superior to underling crap aside- was a challenge on him and the man he proudly worked under.

"Inadequate material for what I am seeking."

Mystin leaned forward, almost till his and Yuan's noses' were touching.

"Let me tell you something Lord, I was pissed as hell when you transferred me to Sylvarant to do a job you should of damned well done yourself. I was insulted, and you know how people in Maltokio feel about their honor. You sent me to look, and I spent almost fifteen years doing that looking. I'm not going to tell you I found it, you wont believe me if I do, I'm going to tell you this. I've seen him work, I admire him, and I would gladly die in that dusty hell on one of those vulking patrols fighting alongside him then I would here under any other man fighting cruxis' elite. Triet was grunt work, a training ground and a punishment, we weren't doing anything until that man came in half dead on our doorstep and started fixing things there from the ground up. If one man can make that cesspool of a ranch an asset to our cause isn't that enough?" Mystin stood, bowed, and was going to leave.

"Free him up, I want him on a two person patrol in Triet."

Yuan showed nothing, he rarely showed what he felt, truth be told he rarely felt anything. Mystin knew that, having served the man for some plus twenty years he knew just how hollow a husk his superior was emotionally, having seen and on one occasion forced the man out of one of his black depressions that were proof to that hollowness. Something had changed, it was subtle, very subtle. Yuan wasn't fighting so much as a man would to who was defending against a onslaught in which there was no winning, he was fighting with a little more heart behind it. Something had changed. Some time between his sudden disappearance -it was rumored that it was an emergency trip to Derris Kharlan- and reappearance weeks later after his old Second had died. Something had changed, Yuan wasn't as dead anymore, and Mystin would have paid good gald to know what had caused that change.

"Sir," Mystin saluted, one hand over the heart and a quick bow then went down the halls and ran to the teleport chamber, he'd have to think up an excuse to tell Botta why he was late for the patrol again. Nothing new in that though, he was good at making up half true stories. But if things went over good maybe he wouldn't have to do that anymore.

Xxx xxx xxx

Botta stared at the task master, did not blink for so long the grizzled veteran wondered if the man before him was going to faint.

"Hurull, this has to be some joke."

"N' juke 'ungun, hisself comes in alls high an' mightee siaz in just like de rest o' em. Ee odn't fallows ma talkin' siaz "wha?" few times all fancee like. Finee makes ma wit it down! Wit it e saiz, sos e can follows it."

Botta smiled at the nearly toothless Renegade, it took quite a while to pick up on the old man's dialect. He was the only human in the Renegades as far as Botta knew, came through Tethe'alla training and had served for twenty five years and told "hisself" that he was too damn old to be doing anything else, had no family, and was too damn old to be making one. 'Yas gos ma til I drop lives wit it e blu jack ass' the old man had been so proud to be able to tell that story, now that he knew Botta had seen Yuan and been baited along in the same game he'd gone through ten years ago. Old Hurull's finest moment was that re-telling. Perhaps the baiting game would have come much sooner had not some person messed up the paper work and put Hurull down as a half elf. Yuan's jaw had nearly fallen off -if you took Hurull's story to heart it "hit the blooee floo it deed!"- when the old Renegade had tottered in a sword rattling on his belt, his old eyes squinted up sizing up what he had termed at the time as 'the blue haired poppin jay'. Things had gotten to a rocky start when Yuan had called up his guards to throw -gently- the old man back into his prison cell and search the base up and down for the soldier missing his uniform. It had gotten even worse when Hurull had dryly asked where Yuan's office was, that he had an appointment with the head pointy eared peacock, after he had soundly thrashed the would be prisoner retrievers and cooly threatened the blue haired Seraphim he'd get the same if no answer was provided.

Botta had spent a good half hour listening to the tale, after giving a slightly hurried account of his time with Yuan, and they'd both had a laugh until Hurull had fished out the paper stating who his partner was for the mission.

"Yuan Vor'lesse..." Botta stared at the paper, at the elvish name in that jagged yet elegant script. "That's not a name... It means something in elvish..." Botta frowned, he had been raised by his human mother so knew very little of his Father's language. Shrugging the mystery aside Botta stroked his beard, mulled over it. He didn't have long, this was put under an emergency category, he was to go out in two hours. The patrol was over an area vital to the Renegades shipment of food supply, it was also an area highly prone to bandit attacks. If he were in charge of assigning the duty it would have been his whole company plus three other companies alongside him. It was perhaps the most dangerous patrole that Sylvarant had to offer. He flipped through the rest of the patrols. Strange, while they were written down for a two person patrol in that region the standard three companies were making that run too.

It was all very strange.

"Did Lord Yuan make any special requests to the standard rations or travel equipment? Did he say anything about the mission?"

Hurull shook his head.

What the Hell was going on? Botta frowned at the papers, but they held no answers.

Xxx xxx xxx

It was strange, that was the only word, and he was beating strange to death by thinking it over and over again but no other word captured this. He was walking in the home of all dirt, sand, and dust, in his tan tunic and pants, a steel sword slung across his back, a water skin and some pouches with rations dangling from his belt. Behind him, not griping about the heat, not having taken a sip of water, dressed in elegant attire more suited to some Tethe'allan celebration then travel, was the head of the Renegades. Wiping his dripping face, Botta spared a glare for his traveling companion. Yuan had said nothing, offered nothing, was for all intents and purposes was taking a stroll without a care that they were in bandit filled territory. The man wasn't even sweating for Martel's sake! This wasn't strange, it was too surreal to be reality.

I'm having a dream, a nightmare, Aroon will come into my rooms and smash his sword against his shield to wake me up and scold me for sleeping in any second now...

He held up a hand and Yuan stopped, Botta pointed to what most would of thought to be snake tracks. They were too long however to be true tracks, they were false snake tracks made by rope dragged across the ground.

"The lines are crisp, well defined." Yuan whispered, Botta nodded, that was not good. They had to be less then half an hour old, in the windy dessert such lines had to be re-drawn in the sands every few hours.

"Look for a grave marker." Botta ordered his lord quietly. "Take the left, I have the right, don't call out if you find it come to me." Botta drew his scimitar and Yuan unslung his strange sword staff hybrid weapon from across his back. "Two minutes."

Yuan nodded, walked across the sounds as soundless as the wind across the dunes. If only his clothes weren't so, loud. As if hearing his thoughts Yuan turned to him and smirked, he made a slight gesture. Nothing happened and Botta snorted, not at all impressed with his superiors arrogance. It was he though who was arrogant. Botta watched, and with every step the blue haired half elf took his black cloak, white pants, and crimson vest, slowly lost their original vibrent colors and became more subdued. By the time the Renegade leader had crested the first dune Yuan's garb was nearly indistinguishable from the sands about him. He was now better camouflaged then Botta. Muttering a few choice words about wizards under his breath the Commander began his search, it took less then two minuets for Yuan to return.

"Commander." There was a light feather touch on his shoulder. Botta grunted, looked up from studying a map that the person who'd been here before had set.

"They set the rocks and pinned under the second layer was a brown length of fabric." Botta siad before Yuan could say anything else. "It's a code, they are going to lay a massive attack in the trail and steal our supplies. We're less then ten minuets behind the main strike force." Botta pointed to the map, who ever had drawn it had been an arrogant one, not bothering to wipe the traces of his scheming from the earth.

"The three escorting groups for the caravan are probably right there." Yuan pointed to the lower corner of the map. "They are not in range of the ambush, they wont be in range for a few hours."

Yuan pointed the symbol that represented a lone dune that ran right by the road. Behind which the bulk of the enemy would be hiding behind. They wouldn't be like children ducking behind a tree, they would have tan blankets over themselves covered with sand and when the caravan stopped by the dune for the night... Botta had seen the ploy, had been in one of those escorting parties when the bandits had shed off their sand covers and risen slashing the night guard's throat then going through the ranks of Renegades. If he hadn't been up to use the privys at that time... Well no alarm would have been raised in time, that's for certain. Stroking his beard Botta mulled over the map, recalled the medical supplies that the caravan was to pick up, they were too vital to have them wait any longer, and their human contacts could only hold the goods in Izoold before questions got raised by the populace.

"Can you contact the magi with the escorts and let them know what we've found?"

Yuan nodded, and Botta waited for some protest, some form of questioning. Yuan closed his eyes, lifted his gaze to the heavens and went so still he might as well have been a statue.

"They want to press forward, they say the goods can not wait." Yuan said distantly, and Botta realized the man was still in trance waiting for Botta to give a counter order of some type.

"Tell them we'll pick off as many as we can and give them a status report on the remaining enemy forces every two hours until sunset, at that point we'll give them a final report and then join up with the escorting party if we can."

"You are insane." Yuan growled cracking open his eyes to stare at the Commander and seeing that Botta was serious repeated himself. Then the blue haired half elf's eyes dilated and he went still again. He seemed to be listening then blinked and shook himself. "They're even crazier then you. They are making bets, half of them say they will have less then half of the enemy to deal with and the other half say they wont be bothered because you'll kill all of them."

Botta shrugged, studied the map a little longer then rolled the hilt of his blade in his hand.

"I guess I'll be seeing how true those stories are." Yuan muttered, spinning his weapon in his hands and at the gesture Botta smiled slightly. If the man was half as good with that weapon as he was with a sword the bandits would be in serious trouble. "What are we to expect? You're the expert here and I'd be a fool to not turn to you for some sort of briefing."

Which showed to Botta that of all things his Lord was no fool.

Botta gave a hurried report while they walked, not daring to speak above a whisper, while they began their hunt.

Xxx xxx xxx

"Shoot um!" One of the bandits howled, practice however had made them both adept at working together, and even as the first arrow fell the Renegades split their paths offering two moving targets rather then one. Botta charged the fighters, using his brawn to keep them at bay while Yuan picked off the archers with brilliant flashes of lighting. There was no thunder, scarcely any screams past a few war cries on the enemies side. There was a familiar hiss, a thump, Botta smashed his free hand into the face of one of the swordsmen, paused only long enough to bend, slash the downed man's throat, then came up to block the next swordsman's slash with the edge of his blade. He shoved, forced the man back, and a barked warning of 'shield right' made Botta step back and shield his right eye. Lighting smashed into the earth, there was another hiss and the groups magi dropped over dead.

"The magi, kill the wiz-" Botta bulled his way through the knot of his foes, found the veteran archer and slammed his blood slicked blade into the man's gut. The man was so intent on giving orders he didn't see the attack in time to fumble out a knife. The Renegade kicked the man off of his blade, ignored how the man with a howl clutched at his guts as they spilled onto the sands. Spinning in his heel the black haired half elf made a gesture, threw a fireball and his foes scattered to avoid the flaming projectile. Still they focused on him, as they were supposed to, only one of the swordsmen broke off in order to go after Yuan.

Yuan had shown time and time again he could protect himself however so Botta would again have to trust his Lord to not die. It was the same primal trust that Yuan was putting in him.

Botta backed off from the knife swipe of the bandit in front of him, knowing full well that they favored dipping thier knives in snake venom and one nick could be his last. He caught the second to last swordsman's long sword with his own and was trapped it in a lock. He tried to wrench his blade free but the human was stronger then him. Seeing the half elf's panicked look the man armed with the knife laughed and turned his weapon over in his hands to get a good stab in...

xxx

Yuan blocked the wild charge. He smashed the thrust aside with the flat of his blade even as the man continued his charge unable to stop. The Renegade leader continued to spin the weapon in his hands, twisted the hilt so that he would not strike with the flat but rather the sharp in it's next rotation. He neatly cut off the offending hand that held the weapon in one pass. He halted the cycle that would have brought the sharp around to slice his opponent's head in twain in one pass, lashed out with a kick to the bastard's privates instead. The critically wounded human fell to the ground with a moan that did nothing to stir the seraph's pity. Hmm Botta was having a few problems, lifting a hand the Renegade chanted the words to a spell, stars of purple light hovered about him as his voice rose even as the mana about him shivered under the power of his will.

"Gods of sky fire hear my voice, strike down these fools who stand against the goals of your champion! Show your rage, let it fall down from heaven at the call of my voice! Indignation!"

xxx

It seemed as if the fates did not like him for the last archer, a well trained man, lifted his weapon though his fellow archer was little more then a smoldering hunk of vulture food less then ten steps away and put a bead on the larger of the two Renegades.

"Botta disengage!"

Botta let go his sword and ran, even as silver streaked purple runes materialized on the sands. Recognizing the spell Botta ran like all Hell was after him. The humans looked down, transfixed by the light. And fools that they were and one of them tried to pick up one of the squirming silver lines. Electricity snapped from the rune, rose from the outer edges of the circle of power and formed into a purple star. There was a roar and a sickening sizzle, the group of corpses lay stuck to the half glass half molten sand. Unfortunately so too was his sword lost in the mess of molten sand, glass, and men.

"Not exactly elegant or subtle..." Yuan looked over his handiwork and put a sleeve to his face to block out the smell. "I imagine they all heard that."

Botta gave up looking for the molten puddle that was his sword and looked to his Lord.

"Thank you sir, I owe you my life."

"You owe me nothing, I owe you a sword." Yuan corrected, waving off Botta's thanks with a hand. "How many more do you think that leaves."

Botta considered, they had run into eight groups like this already. He felt all of those encounters as a weight, to his chagrin he was slowing down... He pushed away those thoughts, tried to figure what he knew of the bandit snake clan and frowned.

"Just the leader Sir." Botta rubbed at his head, indifferent to the blood he was smearing, it was theirs anyways and he could waste some water and take a bath later. "He'll be at the ambush site already, he'll have five archers, five knife welders, and... Well normally that's the situation, but since we have a hostage why bother guessing?"

Yuan nodded, rolled the dying man over with a well placed kick, the bandit groaned looked dumbly up at the Renegade.

"Well?" Yuan hissed, eyes burning. "How many of you wretches were set to kill my men?"

The bandit squinted up his black eyes and said a few choice words about Yuan's mother. Lightning snapped between Yuan's fingers, and the seraphim looked ready to cook the man for his comment.

"My lord, if you would allow me to extract the information?"

Yuan growled something in angelic and took a step back. Botta walked to the downed human, knelt at the man's side so that all the man could see was him.

"Suitable..." Botta feigned eyeing the man over, taking up the airs of a man purchasing cattle. "Barely salvageable but it still has some uses despite it's vulgar tongue. I imagine we could cut out the offending member when we go back to the ranch."

The human paled, or rather the skin about his eyes did so, they could see nothing else of the man for the mess of cloth wrapped about him.

"You have two ways to die brigand, by blade in heart or by torment in the ranch, which is it going to be?"

"Blade..." The man shivered as the cold of death began to take him. He hadn't much longer to live, but this death of being left to bleed to death on the field and rot was a dishonorable one. Knowing the Triet people as he did Botta expected that answer.

"How many hunters were sent to pick off this pray, how many clans? Answer that and you'll get your proper death."

"Just Snake... nine..."

Botta nodded, pulled a knife from his belt and placed it over the man's chest. Gritting his teeth, for while the Trietian bandits felt this was proper it was murder in the eyes of his own people, Botta lifted the blade. A hand closed over his wrist, stilled the killing stroke.

"I'll do it."

Botta looked up in surprise, saw for a heartbeat understanding and compassion in Yuan's eyes, then it was masked by the ice.

"Thank you Sir..." Botta stood, his legs were twitching, as were his arms. He was on the verge of collapse, normally he had his soldiers alongside him and they could take a fight or two for him, he had hunted down then fought against some neary fifty bandits in one afternoon, little wonder he was so tired. Not really caring how he looked he sat, facing away from the thief, lowering his head and giving himself the luxury of panting like a exhausted dog. Of course this was only a short rest, he'd join up with the caravan in two hours and be standing watch along with the soldiers just in case the bandit was lying about the numbers of his men. He indulged some more, took in a full mouthful of water and closed his eyes. Had he an extra flask he might of poured some water on his face just to counter the damning heat.

There was an all too familiar sick sound of blade sliding into flesh, a grunt. Botta flinched at the sound, he'd been doing this sort of thing for years and still he winced at the sound. There were times when it was the only sound in the stillness, in the darkness, that were his nightmares. He capped the water flask, suddenly not all that thirsty.

"We can't stay here." Botta muttered, eyes still closed. "This area's stagnant mana pool is influenced by the temple of fires mana flow. All the scavengers in this area are influenced by the proximity of the temple and neither of us are water magi."

"You should not be this weary." Yuan protested. "Certainly as a commander you should have had lions share of the ex-sphere's I've had sent to the ranch." Botta cracked open an eye, lifted his arm. It was standard for all Desian's to wear their ex-sphere's on their fore arm of their dominant arm, so too was it Renegade policy. Yuan's gaze slid over the blood marked arm, slid over the bruises and saw it to be completely bare of ex-sphere or crest. "You countermanded a direct order Commander Botta." Yuan's voice was as chill as ice.

"I do not carry the burden of the dead in the Ranches." Botta slumped weakly against the small boulder who's shade he was now shamelessly hogging. "My concerns are for the living."

There was a lengthy silence as Yuan mulled over that. Not having the courage or strength to open his eyes the Renegade rested. His steel hued eyes flared open as something smacked into him, he stared dumbly at the water skin, his Lord's unopened water skin.

"As are mine, though we express it in different ways. Rest Commander, I'll sent the last report then we'll return to the base."

"The Car-"

"If they can't protect themselves against the few bandits we might have missed they don't deserve to be called Renegades. That's a direct order given in person, and if you're fool enough to try to walk back after I teleport us to the Base then you deserve what you get."

Botta gave up with a sigh. His last sight as he closed his eyes yet again, was Yuan, face tilted to the heavens lips moving in response to that which only he could hear.

Xxx xxx xxx

Somehow he had made it to his room, he faintly remembered leaning on someone's shoulder on the later half of the trip, but who's he could hardly recall. Memory came back to him like fragments of a broken vase that someone had 'thoughtfully' chosen to sweep up and dispose of the largest and more valuable of the pieces. As his alertness trickled into him in he came to recall more of the final walk. His guide had been wearing a long cloak, he knew that because he'd tripped on it. Fuzzily he recalled being given orders, but could not recall what they'd been. Charming... Botta rolled over, his eyes staring at the room so familiar that even bathed in darkness he could pick out everything he owned. A small chest with his extra garments lay on the right hand wall, by that was a small night stand with the rooms sole non roof attached lighting unit. Right besides that an alarm clock, just out of reach. The other side of the room had a pile of books -he had no way to go to Triet and purchase a book shelf and bring it back here so he did without- and a few daggers and other tools piled up in a corner by the door that helped him tend his weapons and the odd and end task. He focused on the clock, two in the morning, far too early to expect anyone else in the base to be up and about. He rolled onto his side, gave up on trying to remember, and gave up on sleep. It wasn't coming, so he was just stuck awake at an unholy hour. He got up, a little sore, aching, but he was still young enough to not suffer overlong from pushing himself to his limits like he had yesterday.

He reached out, after a bit of groping he found the damned chord to turn on the lamp. Damn it, despite what the man had said when Botta had bought the infernal thing the bloody string must move every time he needed to turn it on. With a soft click the magitech light shed it's soft golden radiance over the room, and he blinked, stared at the mess of knives he kept in thier sheathes laid out by the door. There had been an addition to his pile, last he knew he owned no extra sword, certainly not a sword of red hue. He'd have gone to examine it but nature called, a painful urgent cry that made him rush to the privy. While inside Botta decided the hell with it, the sword had waited there for him to wake up ten more minuets would cause no harm. He smelled of dust and battle field warmed over, the scent turned his stomach so he did something about it. A while later Botta staggered from the bathroom feeling a little better, unfortunately more awake, but then hadn't he given up on sleep earlier? He went to pick up the strangest of additions to his weapon pile, someone had slid a note about the hilt. Botta slid the letter off, turned the envelope over in his hands. No one had written a note on it indicating who it was for but then having something put in your room was a pretty damn obvious hint that it was meant for you. Ripping the white paper the Renegade pulled out the letter, a first scan made him doubt he was awake and since he was alone he indulged in the childish response of pinching his shoulder to see if he was asleep. It hurt, just like the rest of him. So this was no dream, and none would dare this as a prank.

Second Botta,

I give you a holy span in order to set you affairs in order. All your possessions will transferred to your offices in Tethe'alla at the evening of the seventh day. On the morning of your transfer report to my office after second watch.

Yuan

Botta felt the world spin, he stared at the letter, stared at the words, and sat down. There was no chair, but the floor served him well enough. He stared at the title before his name, wanting to protest it, certainly Yuan must be insane to consider him the slightest capable of the great responsibilities a Second was to uphold.

He decided to try pinching again and now had a another sore point on his arm.

This wasn't a dream, this obviously wasn't based on mad whim for Yuan might be a little eccentric but he wasn't crazy. It was reality, he was now one of the most powerful men in the world. Second only to the rouge seraph of Cruxis that served as their overlord. Other men would have been elated, thrilled at the power now in their grasp, in the throes of idealism they would declare that they would change the world, that it would be them who finally broke the strangle hold Cruxis held over the twisted worlds. Botta only felt a numb confusion, and somewhere within him something was quietly acknowledging that he would now be one of the few men who would be guiding a small army that was oh-so slowly uprooting Cruxis' influence on the worlds. His life would be bathed in the blood of his comrade as each decision would dictate the life and death of his allies. His life would be spent getting to know the frustration that the war would go on for centuries a frustration that he knew now would be multiplied immeasurably by the fact that he knew every aspect of this silent war. He would know, there would be no illusions now, there would be no waiting while those in headquarters gathered their reports and gave orders.

He saw Yuan as he had in the Tethe'alla office, a hint of a mocking smile about his lips as he lifted his glass.

"Other men might have said that it has allowed them to grasp the true reality of this world."

Little wonder Yuan had smirked while he said that, little wonder.

Xxx xxx xxx

Botta had tried to keep it quiet, said he was being transferred, meant to leave it at that. That was when he learned Mystin was Yuan's personal spy. Mystin had heard of Yuan's decision, -Botta wondered if the man had influenced it somewhat- and had spent every second of his off duty telling everyone else. The Renegades of Sylvarant had, much to his embarrassment, thrown him a party.

"Being Second doesn't mean you forget how to have fun!" Aroon told him after the third glass of spirits. Botta just drank his meed and while enjoying himself had not allowed himself to indulge so much that he would be in agony with head pains come morning.

Not to say he avoided an overindulgence headache entirely just that he wasn't crippled by it.

Watching his possessions go through the portal had been something of an experience, a sad one, he'd lived in that room for twenty five years and if felt strange to see it emptied. The room seemed hollow, and rather chill now that there was no mark anyone had lived in it. He meant to follow his things, set up his room himself but was firmly ordered by a man in glossy black tunic and pants to let it be. They had orders to over see everything, he'd been given a map of the premises and then left to stand alone in a hall. Considering it was close to dinner he decided to seek out the mess hall.

That too was something of an experience, the second he'd told one of the men his names they had become stiff, formal. He put up to it for all of a half hour and seeing that the tension was not dissipating set about doing something about it. He'd made a speech and the men stared at him trying to get over their shock. There had been no fancy words, he was blunt spoken and had told them the honest truth, there were no lines to read between, it was the message that they were all having problems swallowing.

"Seriously?" One of the younger guards squeaked.

"It's custom where I served and so long as none of you have any objections." Botta shrugged, he then spotted something on the floor under a white cloth. "What is that?" He pointed and the men went red.

"N..nothing..." Squeaked out the guard, who it seemed had become the spokesmen of the Tethe'allan soldiers.

"Really, it doesn't look like nothing." Botta walked to the block like item, pulled aside the fabric and stared at the strange device not quite believing his eyes. "So who got drunk enough to set this out here in the open?"

There were some scattered laughs at that.

"One of the magi Sir, got drunk, decided to fuse the thing to the floor so it could tap into the electricity that runs under the compound."

"That actually tops the stunt one of the Sylvarant magi pulled freezing the seats of the mess hall and making us slide out of our chairs."

"Don't give Rath any more ideas, Sir!" Came a voice from the crowd, at that Botta smiled.

"As long as we're in this room it's just Botta. If you're feeling rather "sir deprived" then step out into the hall and sir your heart out, frankly I am weary of it."

The took only a few moments to think that over, then out came a hidden dart board, a few darts, some dice was pulled out of pockets and a few decks of cards out from sleeves. If he had the time he might of joined in on a poker game, the knife that was in the jackpot certainly was a nice specimen of blade, but he wolfed down his food and left, his leaving went unnoticed.

And as odd as others may take that it was a good thing, the sooner he came to blend in with the soldiers the better.

Xxx xxx xxx

He despised the sandals, missed his steel, but it was becoming his norm. If he walked about in his armor he drew attention to himself, so he wore the slightly less inconspicuous toga styled robes. He wore the robe with the same ill comfort as he had the first time he'd entered this room. His feet sank into the carpet, as before, and the man before him hesitantly set aside his paper work like before.

It was like the first and the last time, forever the same

There was that empty seat, and there was a bottle of wine and two glasses on the desk.

Botta scowled at the bottle and Yuan smiled.

"Just some juice." The Seraph said innocently.

"You said that last time Sir." Botta said cooly, staring at the bottle with some genuine fear.

"It was the fourth day of the fourth month, it was a day meant for pranks, I swear it is not hot sauce and I wont magic it to turn into hot sauce the second it touches your tongue."

Wearily Botta took his seat and allowed Yuan to pour the juice.

"Grape juice?" Botta blinked, staring at his superior in surprise.

"A younger relation to most wines." Yuan sipped his cup, he was eating now, drinking too, almost acting more like the half elf he had once been. Part of Botta's duty as being Yuan's Second was to understand the existence of his superior, to look past the horror stories and see the true horror. Yuan could not sleep, could rarely eat, and could sometimes drink. He was pushing on the walls of his existence, following the example and defiance of another Seraphim by the name of Kratos Aurion. This Kratos was the same man who had struck him down some months ago while Botta had been serving in the Triet base. That brush up against the "angel of death" had happened long before his promotion had been considered and he went through his testing to earn his spurs.

"An agent in Falnoir said that frozen juice is considered a child's treat, they call it... eyas crame..." Botta frowned at the strange word, made even stranger by his blotched attempt to say it.

"Really?" Yuan considered his glass thoughtfully, waved a hand over it and stared at the solid chunk of grape juice in his cup. He picked it up, tried to nibble on it, but it was by far too hard to break and too large to pop into his mouth. He put it down into his cup and set it aside to melt and become drinkable on it's own. "Strange people, Falnoirians."

Having made a patrol thier once Botta could not argue that. It was strange to be able to go into a town and just walk around, but his build was more or less human and the tell tale points of his ears were hidden by the earred snow caps. He was free to honestly brouse shops and wander around, something on the lines of an unexpectedtreat for him. The citicens of Falnoirall presumed he had a rheiard -something not unheard of amongst the middleing class of Maltokio- so no questions were asked while he aranged to make his purchases and purchases for the base. The Renegades were a more or less self sufficient organization, but among thier number not one of them figured how to make descent furr coats, and veryfew were proficient at hunting in polar regions. Something he was changing with his 'stop leaching the Sylvarantbase of it's suplies' policy. He had been infuriated to see that the bulk of the goods the Sylvarant "Ranch" had beenshipping was going to an area filled with wild life perfactly suitable for eatting. If nothing else after he had been dragging many of the unhardened troops in freezing snows they had began toughening up somewhat,only those with naturaly frail constitutions were given some slack.

"So, what newshows of lazynss and gluttonyhave you foundwithin my Ranchthat you find morally offensive and wish to radically change?"

"Nothing Sir, things seem to bechanging at theproper rate."

"So it's to waiting then?" Yuan sighed. "It is always that, waiting..."

Yes, a lesson that Botta was growing all the more familiar with, it was perhaps the most bitter of all his lessons.

"Yes Sir," Botta's lips curled into a smile that was part bitterness, part irony. he had always hated waiting, and now it was his job. "It comes to waiting."

Yuan stared at him, cocked his head, and then chuckled saddly.

"I wore that expression on my face for most of my mortal life." Yuan whispered. "Is there a time we don't wear it?"

"Sir?" Botta frowned, recalled with an icy chill the dark ranting Yuan had favored him with some time back.

"We are the supposed champions of justice, of good, trying to uproot a system so evil and twisted the very spirits of the words are revolting, at least that's how things stand if you ask my somewhat mystic Brother Kratos." Yuan stared at the ice, the frozen juice, and looked off at something far far away. "Why can they openly parade themselves in the light and we must cling to the shadows?"

Botta frowned, stroked his beard, this was one of those times, one of those times in which Yuan came to him as a living being, as a mortal, and most grudginly as a friend, in need of guidance. Yuan had no other friends, no one to look to for help or even to freely talk to. Yggdrasil was insane and the cause ofthe maddness they fought, Kratos was lost in his own pains forsaking the world and falling back in full on his strange mystic path and forsaking all logic it seemed, for he stood unwavering by Yggdrasil waiting for some non-existant being called an Origin to annouce when a Chosen One of the Summon Spirits was to come to power. In that both Botta and Yuan were of the same mind, Kratos had at long last scumbled to insaniy after losing his wife and child, and was now as much of a threat to the Renegades as Yggdrasil was. All plans to admit him into the order were forsaken, and so too was most hope for a fast conclusion of the enemy.

"They only can walk openly because no one has opened thier eyes, the world has closed thier eyes because Yggdrasil has usedall of ourgreatest strength and perverted it."

"Religion you mean? There are those without it, who hold no faith to the 'Goddess Martel'." Yuan looked grieved. "She hated that you know, Kratos said it as a joke one day and some humans picked up on it and started some cult. They were doing good, helping others,but held to the ideal that Martel was the embodyment of good. Perhaps good incarnent. She did not want to be thought of like that, not as a goddess, as a good person yes, but devine? She would have been disgusted, but the idea caught in that twirps brain and he woudln't let it drop. I think next time I see Kratos I'll punch him, gently of course since he'smy foresworn Blood Brother and gone through hell these last few years, but he still deservesto be punched." Yuan tucked his long blue hair behind his pointed ears. "You have a lot of patience to sit through my rambling Botta, you can leave if you wish."

"Permission to cor-"

"Botta, don't make me go through this agian.You have standing permission to speak your mindin this room, outside of it, you could call me a pompus jack ass on the top of your lungs in the hall outside the mess hall so long as you were justified. What am I wrong about now?"

"Not religion sir, but faith."

Yuan frowned, his sapphire eyes glittered in the light, then seeing as his Second wasn' going to keep going without some encouragment he offered that.

"Go on, you've caught my attention."

"Regardless if you're athiest or devout there is a faith he's layed out.A faith based on logic and facts. From the perspective of the most impious individual the Chosen goes from place to place and wehre she goes properity touches thatregion, she may or may not speak to angels, open seals, but the Chosen is a catalist for... well good things to happen. That's the faith, the knowledge that this happens no matter what, it's historic, you can't seperate it from the history even if you do the most impartial retelling of any history in Cruix's time.The Chosen is the acknowledged causeof good thing happening, it's a fact, it's the truth." Botta recalled his understanding that things may no be as they seemed.When he sawan angel in Ozette he had felt dread, fear,terror, he was not supposed to feel such things in the presence of the devine. At twelve he had decided that there was one of three things wrong, either there was something wrong with him, something wrong with the angel, or soemthing wrong with both. He was currently living under the assumption that the second was right but there were some days the thrid looked pretty damn true too. "The only thing artificial is the situation, the worlds were not meant to be split, yet they were."

"The 'only' thing," Yuan chuckled. "You make it sound so insignificant."

"It would be if this system weren't in place.Thisreligion, thedestruction of innocent Chosen's, the Desian system, it was done for a good cause, but that goodness was lost when the ritual was established."

"He's taken away the right of people to act freely, to know, when he split the world he split it's potential in twain."

Botta shrugged muttereed somethign about the warand Yuan scowled.

"Yes you know of the war don't you?They've told you of it, the blood thirsty savergrythat occured whenTethe'alla first tried to make itself the ultimate one power in the world. It wasn't like that, it's another of Yggdrasil's lies. Tethe'alla originally had no such objective in mind, they didn't care about anything that occured beyond thier dynasty." Yuan clenched his fist. "They were influenced by something not of our world,beings of Nehfilnif you believe Kratos,demons is what we called them. They had thier claws inboth monarchies of Tethe'alla and Sylvarant, they were pulling the strings and while the two countries waged war we were scrambling around those war zones fighting both sides hunting those... things." Yuan growled, rubbed his shoulder like a man would rub an aching scar. "We put Sylvarant on equal footing with Tethe'alla, all but dragged the remaining monarchs together and forced them to sign that damn treaty."

Yuan laughed bitterly at Botta's stunned expression.

"The king of Tethe'alla was beingsuch an ass, insulting us all and threatening to excomunicate us, Kratos fainally told the man to shut up or his heads would be excominucated from his body and the lower head would be used as a gag for the higher one.If he insited on talking after thatthey'd have to put this offso another Kingcould bebrought in. Mithos had nothing to do with the damn signing of the treaty, Martel kept her hands over his ears for most of the meeting because Kratos was being extreamlyvulgar that day."

"That, is not the thing that would be put in a history book my Lord." Botta said at last, after beating back his suspiciously timed coughing fit with a large gulp of juice.

"More interesting then some dry old man's recounting of numbers and facts don't you think?"

Botta smiled slightly, nodded, and took the bottle and poured himself another glass.

"When does the bitterness go away Botta?" Yuan was back tostaring athis glass. "When we save theworlds? What if not then?"

"The sweetest draught has a bitter aftertaste my Lord. It is so we don't drown in the pleasure and forget everything else."

"So little sweetness." The seraph put aside the glass, stared at his hands. "So few pleasures."

"The world is not bitterness my Lord, it is only our perspectives that makes it so. When we lose appreciation for small things, small blessings, we grow to think that there is only loss for us, we only look to our dispair.Certainly all is not lost, not our cause nor our joys, we must merely snatch them up where we find them."

"No matter the cost?" Yuangrowled. "I know a man who did that, he took a woman as his own andhad a child and the consequences of that lead to his insanity."

"He a least had that time, thathappiness. I will safely wager a months stripend that if you asked him if it was worth it hemight say it would have been better forthem if he had not stepped into thier lives, butif you listen closely you will never hear himdenounce that timehe had with them. He will never say "I wouldtake it back", he might say he should of but never that he would of.There is perhapssome significance in that Yuan-erm- my Lord."

"I was wondering when you'd get the courage to call me that." The seraph smiled. "Please, continue to call me by my name, I imagine you've been doing so to yourself already."

Botta hid his embaressment with a sketchy bow, turned on his heel and at the door paused.

"Do you need anything else, L- Yuan?"

"No, my friend," Yuan seemed to taste the word slowly, as if in part savoring and dreading it. "Thank you, but I'm quite capable of dealing with my own paperwork. I hardly need a nanny."

"A paper shreader is what you need, Sir."

And with that Botta left, Yuan considered the joke. To be more realistic he washopeful it was one,with Botta it was hard to tell sometimes. Well if it was not it certainly was practical, burning certain documents, exspecially offensive ones,left an unpleasent reek in the room for days.And being underwater there was no window to open... While he liked watching thefish swim by the windows he did not particularly wish to envite them into hisdwelling unless it was on a plate, the more offensive organs removed, baked, with a slice of lemon on the side and a generous blob of tarter sauce... Tapping his fingers against the desk he thought it over, then made a temple of his hands he pushed the tips of his digits against each other.

A paper shreader, he liked that idea the more he thought of it.

Tapping the small grey button on his desk a small boxroseout from the false wood.

"Jasker,put me through to supply depo."

"Sir." If a com could radiate relief this one did.

There was a hiss of static then a strangevoice replaced Jasker's.

"L...Lord Yuan?"

Checking a sigh at the mousy, inoffenisve, groveling, voice on the other line the Seraph allowed himself only to grimace.

"I need an item that would be in the Tethe'alla elite section." He paused, allowed the man to scramble through the sheaf of papers to find the list. "A magiteck paper shreader, do we have oneon stock?"

"We did..." Yuan could almosthear the man's thoughts about beingtormented to death, his soul sucked out of him to feed his Lord's angelicpalite. "B- Second Botta picked the last one up a few days ago, three days in fact."

"When are we scheduled to pick some new ones up?"

"Next raid? I think... I'm not too sure... I don't arange these things but the task master said we were scheduled to loot Kvar's ranch in a mounths time and normally that's where we get most of our technology supplies from."

"If you could let the task master know sometime before the next raid that we are out of shreaders?"

"Yes sir."

Yuan let go of the button and cut off another appologetic speal. He sighed, ah well he would just use his knife like always. He capped the bottle, slid itback into the small refrigerator he kept inhisoffice and considered all of what Botta had said. He considered the next meeting in Derris Kharlan that would be occuring in a month and made another decision. He pressed the button, a nervious Jasker answered -probably in shock that Yuan was using the com system twice inone day wherehis norm was once every fewmonths-and was hastily put through to the bursur.

"Concerning Second Botta's pay I would like all of his next month's stripendto be held backuntil I give farther orders on the subject."

"Yes, sir." The Renegade seemed leary of taking a full pay from a comanding officer, even if it was under Yuan's order.

"If he asks tell him he'll get it back depending on how something we discussed pans out."

Yuan firmly cut off the bursur, he'd never likedpeople involved with money as a mortal it was hard to imagine that after four thousand years of life that that opinion had changed any.It hadn't, if nothing else his opinion of money counters and paper pushers had dropped over the centuries. He looked around forlornly at the paperwork, the never ending pile of papers that would come through the slit in his door.It was then a flickure ofknowledge came upon him, a dry chuckle not touched by bitterness fell from his lips.He hated paper pushers when he was as guilty as being one as the bursur. He laughed softly, leaned back agaisnt his chair and considered the cup, picking it up the fished out the smalled bit of frozen grape. He broke it in half,and not feeling hot or cold the substancehad no taste or texture for him until the ice beganto melt. Bits of the juice dribbledagainst his tongue, slow coming flikures of pleasent taste off set by spans of waiting. Perhaps all waiting wasn't bad, not when it wasn't bitter waiting. Rolling thefrozen juice on his tongue Yuan picked up the first of the papers, the tingle of pleasure, of his weak tastewasn't much, but it was a small counter against the bitterness of waiting, of gambling the lives of those around him for the right cause.

It wasn't much, but then no one here really had much. It was better then nothing though, and he'dsettle forthat for now.