Disclaimer: Can any one organization, such as Namco, be said to own Tales of Symphonia? Surely it has inspired me, yea, inspired us all. In that sense, does it not belong to everyone? Especially me?
New Palmacosta, built from the ruins of Old Palmacosta, was one of many towns that had sprung up following the success of the ultimate world regeneration. Native Palmacostans, what remained of them, considered their town part of Sylvarant. They wanted to resume life more or less as they'd left it, although with significantly less fleeing for their lives. It gets old.
The King of Tethe'alla, who'd paid for the majority of the rebuilding of the town, considered it part of Tethe'alla, and thus wanted it to obey the regulations of any town in his kingdom, viz., give him money.
This might have caused conflict if not for a brilliant (his words) compromise thought up by Tethe'alla's Chosen. The King would have absolute rule over New Palmacosta, on the condition that he never actually tried to rule there. In his stead, there would be a, I don't know, let's call it a Governor-General to manage everything. In exchange, the town would give the king a completely voluntary donation roughly equivalent to the taxes levied from any other town, and, to quote the Chosen, "Everything works out beautifully, right? Now get out of my bedroom so the Princess and I can continue, ahem, talking politics."
"I don't know if any of that's true, though. Zelos says it is." Sheena glanced at a sign outside New Palmacosta as if it would give her answers.
"Why don't you think it's true?" asked Lloyd. His voice was muffled due to the fact that it was coming from the inside of a bag.
"Because Zelos says it is. What are you doing?"
"Looking for our money." He extracted his head and upturned the bag. Nothing came out, not even a moth, which would have been very comical. "Do you have it?"
"No. I don't think so." She checked the myriad secret pockets on her clothing and, turning her back to Lloyd and blushing ever so slightly, made sure she hadn't hidden anything in her bra. There'd certainly be enough room. "Definitely not," she replied, facing Lloyd again.
"Then it's lost, and we're screwed. In no particular order of importance."
"That's not good," Sheena understated. "What do we do?"
"I hadn't gotten beyond that." Lloyd sighed. "I guess we'll have to go back." He tried to mentally retrace their steps: they'd sold their extra equipment, decided to put off buying food and supplies 'til they got to town as it'd be cheaper... and then he mentally kicked his past self in the backside.
Sheena looked off into the distance. "I don't know. I don't like the look of those storm clouds. It even smells like rain. We should stay here. We can probably scrounge up enough for a room."
"Don't bother," said a new voice. The owner of the local inn walked outside to change the sign advertising vacancy. "Last room just got taken. Your best bet is to turn right around and high-tail it to the House of Salvation down the way."
"You don't have anything?" said Sheena. "A single? A closet? A roomy box?"
The innkeeper shook her head. "Sorry. Tell you what, I do feel sorry for you. Why don't you come in for a hot meal before you go?"
The "hot meal" consisted of dry meatloaf with crunchy bits in, but they ate it anyway. In the innkeeper's defense, the place was rather crowded; before nightfall, the inn also served as a tavern of sorts. They had to yell to each other just to be heard over the din.
"Are you sure Regal will even be able to fix the Rheiards?" asked Lloyd doubtfully.
"I don't know," Sheena admitted. "But with his resources, he's our best bet. Did you check for when the next ship to Altamira is leaving?"
"The captain by the bar says they're setting sail in two days. Next one's not out for a week. Then he said I had pretty eyes and I and my twin should join him for a drink." Lloyd pushed his meatloaf-like food around on the plate with his fork. "I think he might have been drunk. I hope so, anyway. That'll be an awkward voyage, otherwise."
Sheena laughed. "I don't know, Lloyd. You do have pretty eyes. I can't blame him for wanting to dock in your harbor." She leaned back and bumped against someone. She shouted an apology, but doubted whoever it was heard.
"You sound like Zelos," Lloyd teased.
Sheena looked playfully offended. "You take that back!"
"You'll be calling me 'hunny' any day now..." he added in a warning tone.
She scoffed. "When that happens, you can kill me." Then she changed the subject. "How much will it cost us?"
"Ten thousand gald for me, you, and Noishe. We'll have to fight day and night for that kind of money. Ugh." Lloyd rested his head on the table. "In the rain."
Sheena patted him on the head. "It's all for the Exspheres, Lloyd."
"I know." He had the grace to look ashamed of his frustration. "It's just that when I got this idea to round them all up, it involved less worrying about money and more... not worrying about money." He sighed. "If only I had some wood or even some paint or something. I could probably make something..." He shook his head and put on a cheerful face. "It doesn't matter. Let's get going."
They left the tavern after choking down the rest of what probably counted as meatloaf and prepared to execute the systematic genocide of anything violent and rich in the area. Fortunately for the local beasts, a man stopped them just outside of town. He was rich, by the look of his clothes and a dangling earring with a huge gem of some kind. "Excuse me. I couldn't help but overhear you in the tavern."
"Impressive. I could barely overhear myself," said Lloyd. His ears were still ringing a bit.
"You're an artist, are you not? What's your name?"
"Give me your name--" Lloyd began automatically, but Sheena elbowed him. "I mean, Lloyd. My name is Lloyd Irving."
The man laughed. "I am the Governor-General Dann. You see, your friend--" he indicated Sheena-- "resembles one of the saviors of Luin." Sheena's muttering of "Damn that stupid statue," apparently escaped his ears. "I wondered if you'd be willing to make a portrait for me. I would, of course, be willing to pay you."
"That's very generous and kind of creepy, but I don't mmph mmm hmmph." Sheena's hand wasn't quite that effective as a mouth-blocker, but Lloyd knew that there were certain expections in such sitations.
"How much?" asked Sheena bluntly.
"Room and board until your ship leaves. And fare for the trip." The Governor-General indicated the rapidly approaching storm clouds. "Of course, if you'd rather battle for three days straight in wet clothing, feel free."
"Let me talk with Lloyd for a moment here." She tugged him out of earshot of the man. "What do you think?"
Lloyd shook his head. "Don't you think he's kind of weird? Kind of really, really weird?"
"Maybe," she admitted. "But we need the money. And what could he possibly do to either of us?"
Lloyd had to admit that was true. The odds of him being a significant or even slight danger to either of them were roughly equal to the chances of Lloyd automatically reacting calmly and rationally, or of Sheena's top staying closed. "Fine. If you're sure. I mean, you're the subject here."
Sheena nodded. "I know what I'm getting myself into."
By the time Sheena was nude and sitting red-faced on an old-fashioned sofa trying to draw the courage to call Lloyd to study and replicate her naked body, she'd realized that she'd had no idea what she was getting herself into.
The night had passed uneventfully. So had the next morning, when the Governor-General announced that he had placed the supplies in the "art room," and that Lloyd could start any time they liked. "I realize that your ship leaves soon, so I won't expect this to be on the level of Undine Rising from the Sea. But do try, won't you?"
They probably should have suspected something when the "materials" turned out to be an easel and crayons. But he was rich; rich people were eccentric, which is a special sort of weird in a higher tax bracket.
Then they'd noticed the other paintings in the "art room." "Undine Rising from the Sea, Martel on the Rocks, Spiritua in Light, Celsius and Ice... are you noticing a pattern?" Sheena had looked from picture to picture, feeling a bit more nervous with each.
"They're all naked!" Lloyd had exclaimed. He'd blushed deeply. "He doesn't expect you... I mean, he wouldn't ask you to... You're not supposed to...?"
"He did compare it to Undine Rising," Sheena had remarked. "B-b-but... I mean, I-I-I think he might."
"Well I'm not doing it! I can't! Not with..." The word to describe their relationship escaped him, much as it escaped language in general. "...you!"
"What's wrong with me?" she'd snapped defensively.
"You'd be naked! We'll figure out another way. The Exspheres won't go anywhere without us. I'm going to go tell him right now."
Sheena had wished Lloyd hadn't mentioned the Exspheres, even if it was only because he was so willing to give them up for her. Especially for that reason, really. "Wait!" She took a deep breath. "It's okay. We can... do the drawing."
"No we can't!" If Sheena hadn't been busy sacrificing herself, she might have noticed the nervous warble in Lloyd's voice.
"We have to. The Exspheres could go somewhere. We have to act while our information is still fresh. Honestly, didn't you learn anything in Mizuho?"
Sheena was often nothing if not resolute. If she said she was going to strip and be recorded for posterity, then it would happen. "I guess, but..."
"Lloyd. If it were my mission, my quest on the line here, you'd get naked for me, wouldn't you?"
There wasn't a capital enough letter to describe how much of a "yes" that was. "Of course. But... I can't talk you out of this?"
"No." Sheena did have to pity Lloyd. She didn't know how he was going to be able to concentrate on his art when there was that annoying pounding going on all around them. Thump! Thump! Thump! It was almost all she could hear.
...It was her heartbeat. Stupid. She was an assassin, she'd been trained not to feel nervous in any situation. She'd made a note to teach "nudity awareness training" when they passed by Mizuho again.
And this was how she ended up on the couch, in a naked-yet-tasteful pose that still communicated that anyone who tried anything was in for pain.
Well. There was no point in keeping Lloyd waiting. All that remained was to call him in.
The door opened, and she was relieved. Now Lloyd seeing her wasn't her fault anymore. It was a completely nonsensical reaction, but it made her feel better. Instead of Lloyd, however, it was Dann that entered, carrying a basket. "Did you like my little joke? I thought you--"
"Aaaah!" Sheena shouted. She grabbed a pillow and covered everything indecent, which only served to draw more attention to the fact that she was naked at all.
"Aaaah!" Dann shouted back.
The noise drew Lloyd in with both swords drawn. Seeing Sheena's distress, he shouted, "Aaaah!" which shocked Dann, causing him to shout. Then all three of them shouted again, as if for good measure.
"Why are you naked?" asked Dann after they were done.
"Because..." Sheena hesitated. It'd made perfect sense at the time, when it was just her and Lloyd and the naked Summon Spirits on the wall. "Because!"
"Don't be! Stop being naked!"
Holding her pillow very carefully to keep prying eyes from seeing anything she normally kept hidden (though she wouldn't have minded if Lloyd tried prying a little harder, not that she said as much) Sheena made her way to her clothes. "Why are you even here?" she asked Dann.
"I brought real supplies." He held up the basket as evidence. "Did you think I really wanted you to imitate one of the saviors of Luin with crayons? In the nude?"
Lloyd sheathed his swords and shrugged. "It made sense at the time," was the only explanation that he could offer.
Lloyd made an expansive gesture that, at the same time, cited the paintings as evidence for their assumption and informed Dann exactly where he could stick his indignation. "Fine," Dann relented. "But please... refrain from being nude on my furniture. I believe there's a sign somewhere..."
Over the next couple days, Lloyd painted a clothed Sheena. It was easy work, if slightly rushed. The fact that they couldn't really speak to each other made it easier, even if it made Lloyd want to title the painting "Awkward Silence."
Perhaps the worst part of it all was that Sheena was a little disappointed that Lloyd hadn't gotten to--hadn't had to, rather--see her naked.
The painting wasn't quite finished when it was time to leave. The important message was conveyed, though. Indeed, the fact that he hadn't had time to actually color properly had forced him to make do with mere suggestions of color. This gave the painting an artistic depth that Lloyd wasn't actually capable of. Dann liked it, anyway. After their miscommunication, there was little chance he wouldn't for fear she'd sit on something else naked.
"I look kind of... elegant. And beautiful. I-i-in the painting, I mean," Sheena observed. "I'm not like that at all." A little color flooded her cheeks.
"You can be elegant. Sometimes. And you're always..." Lloyd didn't finish, but both of them blushed more deeply. "I don't think I'm ever going to look at crayons the same way again, you know. Not without thinking about..."
"Yeah, tell me about it," Sheena agreed. "What kind of joke is that?"
"I know!" They laughed. "Come on, let's go get those tickets from Dann."
Dann was waiting for them by the door, tickets in hand. "I appreciate this. Your friend, she really does resemble the girl from the Luin statue. Come to think of it, you don't look half unlike the boy in the fountain."
"Yeah that's great bye!" Lloyd snatched the tickets and dragged Sheena out the door.
"What was that all about?" Sheena demanded as soon as they were outside.
"I wanted to get out of there before he had you draw me naked." He laughed, but Sheena didn't. Lloyd failed to notice her lack of humor, though, as he was busy calling Noishe.
They made their way to the ship with plenty of time to spare. Fate seemed to have found something else to play with for the moment. "Come on, let's go check out our room," said Lloyd excitedly. "I've never been on a ship this big before."
"I'll be down in a minute," said Sheena. Lloyd hurried away, the last thing he heard from Sheena being, "Do you mind if I borrow these?"
The room was far from huge, but it was more than enough room for the two of them. A life spent in various inns and houses of worship quickly adjusts one to small spaces.
Sheena appeared after a minute carrying what looked like a notebook. She had something else hidden in her hand. "L-L-Lloyd? Would you... I mean, do you wanna... how about you draw me again? I mean, would you?"
"Sure, Sheena," said Lloyd. Sheena placed the paper on the bed and handed a pack of crayons to Lloyd. Lloyd colored a little. "I don't think I can use this without thinking of you being... you know."
"Yeah. I do know."
Lloyd looked down at the crayons, then back up at Sheena, who was blushing, then back to the crayons, then to Sheena again.
And, still horribly red, she smiled.