A/N: It's that time of year again: my writing season. Here's something new, ever-crazier. It's too late to help me now.

("You've got someone to see you, Boss.")

He stood outside the office on the top floor of Ultima Express's corporate building, listening with large, keen ears to the conversation within.

("Someone. Who?")

The hall he was left waiting in more resembled a hotel than an avenue of business. The wool carpet runner bore a bright red, tribal zig-zag pattern and was plushly kempt, even if it didn't match the gilded sconces and antique Gizamalukian vase. A painting of a fox in the woods adorned one wall, and across, a painting of an eagle in the sky.

("Some rat.")

He frowned at the pejorative. It was simple enough for other races to lump Burmecians and Cleyrans together and dismiss them as "rats." Actually being demi-rodents didn't make the slur any less offensive.

("That's great. Does he or she have a name?")

His friends called him Luth. His full name was gangly and a little too sinister for his tastes.

("I 'unno.")

("So you let this random Burmecian of indeterminate gender walk through the door and get an appointment with me.")

It was duly unfair to assume he was a Burmecian, even if it was a lucky guess. Or maybe not; he was clad in the blue tunic and pale canvas pants that his countryfolk still considered high fashion, never mind the rest of the world trumping the rustic outfit many, many, many embarrassing generations ago.

("Uh, it's a guy. And he's not armed! We checked.")

Hmm, he was just thinking that, despite the awkward pat-down, it was suspiciously easy to pass through security.

("Good to know! Mother of Fuck, Berto. You could ask for their damn name while you're feelin' them up! I might not want to see this guy!")

His ears drooped and his stomach drew into itself as the sense of being unwelcome sank in.

("Sorry, Boss. Won't happen again.")

("Yeah, I'll let you off the hook this time. Bring him in.")

Luth steeled himself as the heavy wooden door cracked and Berto the demi-tapir shuffled out. "Boss'll see you now," he grunted and ambled down the hall on thick legs.

"Thank you..." he barely heard his manners speak over his drumming heart as he pressed through the opening.

"Boss" kept a warm, well-worn space. Lindblum Grand Castle was distantly visible through the west window, from which the late afternoon sun filtered through slatted blinds and painted the oaken tables and walls in gold bars. A fangskin rug was planted in the middle of a false wooden floor. Paper trash wrappers and pizza boxes were shoved against the walls and under the small sofa beneath the window. In the corner, a bean cushion was parked in front of a television station (one a few decades out-of-date), accompanied by a sprawl of video gaming paraphernalia. A giant replica of an ancient map of Gaia hung behind the heavy desk at the head of the room, upon which an old-fashioned typewriter, an electric pencil sharpener and a jade-shaded office lamp squatted over a spread of vanilla folders.

The chief executive officer of Ultima Express was... relaxing at his desk, if that was the best way to describe it. He sat sidelong in a faux-leather chair, one bare foot propped on the counter, one elbow against an armrest and his chin resting in his hand. He was a lithe, boyish creature in loose blue jeans, an open flannel jacket and a white undershirt. His sandy-blonde hair was striped white, not unlike a trend of hair-bleaching that was wildly popular in Treno of late.

"Can you believe that?" Boss introduced, glaring straight at his visitor. "I don't even know who the hell you are and you've just waltzed right into my office. You could be the goddamn King of Burmecia and I wouldn't have had any warning."

It was everything eccentric about him and the flick of a slender, feline tail that clued Luth to the fact that he was looking at a Genome. It was a rare enough sight; one didn't meet many of that ilk, even in Lindblum, the cultural capital of the world. Largely reclusive, Genomes congregated in tiny settlements off the Mist Continent, practicing some outlandish religion that claimed they came to Gaia from another world. Most took them for lunatics and left them alone.

The Burmecian had little time to consider Boss's sanity before he was addressed again. "Cat got your tongue, kid?"

An indignant jolt skittered up Luth's spine. It wasn't an unfriendly question, neither curt nor impatient; if anything, the lazy reclining and slight quirk to Boss's lips suggested amusement. The only problem for Luth was that this young man--and he really looked young, at best in his twenties--just called him a kid!

"No," he finally replied, and at the petulant note in his voice the Genome's smirk broadened.

"Eheheh, you can relax. I'm not gonna bite your head off." His expression leveled. "Unless you really are the King of Burmecia. You're not, are you?"

When Luth shook his head, Boss lightly quipped, "Good, I like you better already. That guy's a prick. You can tell him I said so."

While the Burmecian's mind fumbled around traitorous notions, the Genome plowed ahead. "So, what's your name?"

He shook himself steady and answered, "Luthane Crescent," trying to muster all his pride. He wanted to make a strong impression, even for this mockery of professionalism. "I do hail from Burmecia," he added as a matter-of-fact.

"Crescent?" Boss's brow rose with renewed interest. "Really?"

"Yes, why?"

Boss shrugged. "Nothing really. I'm pretty good friends with the Crescent family."

"Yes, that's actually why I'm here. I need to--"

"What's your mother's name?"

"Er, pardon?"

"Your mother. She has a name, right?"

"Celia..." He was growing unnerved under the erratic scrutiny. "Celia Crescent."

"Ah. I keep forgetting you Burmecians still take your family names from the mother's side." He rolled his wrist. "Go on, go on."

Luth swallowed and proceeded. "I'm here about my great, great-great-grandmother, the legendary Dragon Knight Freya Crescent."

A pensive shadow fell over Boss as his gaze dipped to the desktop.

"I recently acquired her diary, an old family heirloom..."

The stoic wave was replaced with a flash of alarm, Boss's eyes flaring a bit as he straightened in his seat. "Whoa, hold it."

Luth held his breath as Boss fished into a desk drawer and produced a pack of cigarettes. He promptly lit one in his mouth and offered his guest another. "Want a smoke?"

The Burmecian's muzzle crinkled with distaste. "No thanks, I don't--"

"That's good. They say these things'll kill ya. Eheheheheheh." His cynical laughter coasted through an obscure joke and died on a somber note. "Heh. Ahem. So, you want to know about your great-great-great-grandmother."

"Yes, yes I do. Anything you can tell me, please," he entreated.

"I gotta ask: why?"

"I'm, um, I was training to become a Dragon Knight. For my Pilgrimage, I must rediscover my heritage--"

Boss grimaced and waved him off. "Oh no no no, not that Pilgrimage crap. I didn't know you guys still did that, either. Man, Burmecia's like a damn time capsule."

With a fluid bounce, he was on his feet and pacing around the desk. "Okay, so you think because of my ancestry I might know a thing or two about yours. That almost makes sense, but what's so great about the past, kid? Maybe it's not all it's cracked up to be. Maybe it's more than you wanted to know." After one more brisk drag, he snuffed out his cigarette on a glass coaster, stopped and faced the Burmecian, his arms crossed challengingly. "Some people are better off not looking."

Luth wouldn't be daunted. He extended a big, tawny hand, beseeching, "I still want to know. I have to know."

Boss stared hard at him. His eyes were like his voice: clear as a deep lake, wide-set and easygoing, yet in the shallows just a little feral--just a little crazy. "You're stubborn..." His mien cracked with another grin. "But I like you. You're honest, kid. You're also the first Burmecian on his Pilgrimage with the balls to come to me. Not that I can help you much. I mean, shit, you've got your supergranny's diary there. That should tell you more about your family than I ever could."

"Oh." Crestfallen, Luth trudged back the way he came. "I see. I'm sorry to waste your time."

"H-Hey now, wait a sec." When Luth glanced back, he was asked, "What do you do?"

The demi-rat blinked. "I'm sorry?"

"I mean, for a living. What do you do?"

"Actually..." Luth was frank, "I was hoping the answer I received here would help me figure that out. The pledge I made for my Pilgrimage was to find my path in life."

Boss brightened with some mischievous brand of authority and skipped to the door ahead of Luth. "No shit? So you're looking for work? Wait right there."

The Burmecian floundered for a second in his wake. "Well, wait, not exactly..."

He was too late; Boss had already stuck his head into the hall and bellowed, "Hey, Berto!"

"Hey, Boss!" the familiar tapir called back from several doors away.

"Weren't you in the mail room, like, last week?"

"Yeah, Boss."

"Who promoted you?"

"You did, Boss."

"Oh. Well never mind, go back."

"Aw man..." Berto was heard whining into the distance as Boss leaned back into the room. He turned to Luth and eagerly clapped him on the shoulder.

"Wha'daya know, a position just opened up. You're hired."

Luth practically gagged. "W-What?!"