A.N: Spoilers until second visit to Zaleho Volcano. This is intended to follow events in VilyaSage's fic "Beginnings," but it stands alone.


The Tartarus was surprisingly comfortable for a military vessel, Anise thought. The hallways were decently wide, and though the walls were metal and utilitarian, the bunks in the cabins were soft and the rooms were warm. Ion was currently asleep in one of these bunks, exhausted from their recent escape and forced to rest by his young Fon Master Guardian. This left Anise to her own devices for the moment. Wandering down the corridor, the little girl lazily explored her new surroundings and reveled in the feeling of being free.

She had been worried while they were leaving Daath. Every step she took increased her dread that Oracle soldiers would be running right behind. But they hadn't been, and now they were on the Tartarus and safe, for the time being. Better yet, Anise now had no way of contacting Mohs. He would find the note she'd left soon enough and learn that Ion was on a Malkuth landship, but by then they would be far away, and figuring out which of the six giant vessels the Fon Master was on would take some time as well. Anise just hoped it would be enough time. She wanted Ion to succeed and didn't want these soldiers, and Colonel Curtiss, to be in danger because of her.

The crimson-eyed colonel was certainly an interesting character. She had not met the man before, when Ion had visited Malkuth on official business and secretly been asked by Peony to help prevent war. She had heard stories, however. Jade Curtiss, sometimes called the Necromancer, was apparently the Emperor's closest friend as well as a terrifying force on the battlefield. The soldiers on the Tartarus didn't appear to be reanimated corpses as some rumors maintained, but Anise still felt sure that at least some of the tales had truth to them.

Overall, though, Anise decided that the Colonel did not seem to be a bad person. He was a bit caustic, but he seemed to have warmed to her all right. Of course, her charm would work on anyone after awhile. Anise suppressed a giggle, and idly speculated that the man probably had some money to throw around. The Curtiss name was not a light one, and being best friends with the ruler of a nation had its benefits as well...

Lost in dreams of wealth and marriage, Anise tugged on the handle of a nearby door and pulled it open, stepping inside before fully noticing her surroundings. Then she stopped. It was a small room, furnished with chairs, desk, bookshelves, and a tidy bunk. Behind the desk, a certain brown-haired, spotlessly-uniformed man looked up from a stack of paperwork, blinking curiously at her through his silver glasses.

"O-oh," Anise said, her hand still on the door, her face reddening in embarrassment. "Sorry, Colonel... I was just sort of exploring and not paying attention..."

"Really, Anise, you sound like you were interrupting me during something awkward," Jade replied, with that unreadable smile Anise had noted he favored appearing on his lips. She tried not to blush harder. No, he hadn't been doing anything particularly incriminating—outside of her imagination, anyway.

"Yeah, but I shouldn't have just barged in here," she covered quickly. "Sorry... you look kind of busy, I'll just go now—" She turned to the door.

"Oh, this can wait until later," Jade replied, pushing aside the papers. "Actually, Anise... may I ask you something?"

"Sure, Colonel," Anise replied, turning to look over her shoulder.

He pointed at the doll hanging from her back, now grinning out at him. "I've been wondering about that, actually."

"Oh, you mean Tokunaga?" Anise replied, pulling him off her back. She walked over to the Colonel's desk and handed him to the man. He looked rather interested as he turned it over in his hands. "Bet you want to know how he works, huh?"

"Yes, if you are willing," Jade replied, with the slightest trace of humor. "He certainly gives you an... unique battle technique."

"Well, I don't really know the details," Anise replied, shrugging, "And I shouldn't really tell them to you even if I did. But he works using fontech that responds to my fonon frequency."

"So only you can operate him," Jade mused. "Quite ingenious."

"Isn't it?" Anise beamed. "My fr—I mean, the God-General Dist made him for me. He's really helped me out a lot!"

"Is that so," said Jade, and Anise wondered if she had imagined the cold tone and narrowed eyes that accompanied those three words. "That figures, I suppose..."

Anise tilted her head to the side. "What?"

"Oh, nothing," he replied easily. "It's just a very unusual design."

"You like it?" Anise beamed again, wider this time. "Actually, I used to make a lot of Tokunaga dolls. Dist just modified this one so I could use him in battle."

"Is that so?" Jade replied, smiling and turning over the doll carefully in his hands. "You know, a psychologist would probably interpret a lot from this."

"Huh?" Anise asked, perplexed.

"Well, the reasons behind why you chose these specific features for Tokunaga," Jade replied. "Some would say the art reflects the artist, Anise." He held the doll up more into the light. "The patchwork nature of it denotes a frugal life in the church, for instance. This one is made of good material, but you probably just used whatever you could find for the others, correct?"

"Well, yeah," said Anise, unsure of where he was going with this.

"The shape is similar to usual stuffed toys, like bears and rappigs," Jade continued. "This would indicate a fondness for childhood. Yet at the same time, Tokunaga is most decidedly not cute and cuddly in the conventional sense. This shows that you also want to be seen as grown up."

He tapped a finger on the button eyes. "The eyes are different colors, showing that you have two sides to your personality—probably the child and the adult, as I already stated. And finally..." He removed the finger from the buttons and ran it around the stitching of the mouth. "The insincere smile hides your true intentions from the world."

"Wha..." Anise said, staring at the colonel. The man was still looking down at the doll. Her entire body felt frozen. He couldn't know... could he? No, that was completely impossible...

The red eyes glanced up, sparkling into her own. "But of course, you're not like that, are you?"

For one long moment, Anise could only stare back. Then she frowned as convincingly as she could, and stomped her feet loudly on the wooden floor. "Hey, what do you mean, 'insincere'? And Tokunaga is plenty cute and cuddly!"

He laughed gently, and offered the doll back to her. Anise snatched it immediately. "I was merely stating what could be interpreted from it, Anise. Psychology is not my specialty."

"Oh..." said Anise, a slightly higher pitch than normal in her voice. She quickly stifled it. "Still, Colonel, it's not nice to say things like that to Tokunaga! It'll hurt his feelings!"

Jade continued to smile. "Oh dear, I am sorry, Tokunaga. Will you forgive me?"

Anise made a displeased noise and returned the eternally grinning doll to her back. "He'll consider it."

"I'm very happy then," Jade replied, with only a little sarcasm.

"Well... I shouldn't take up any more of your time, Colonel," Anise said, stepping away from the desk and smiling back perhaps a little too widely. "Will I see you later today?"

"Most probably, considering the small size of this ship." Jade glanced down and began shuffling through the papers again. "If you or Ion need anything, don't hesitate to ask."

"Of course!" Anise said cheerily, and left the room as quickly as she could.

Outside, she leaned back against the metal wall. Detaching Tokunaga from her back, she stared into its unfeeling eyes and tried her hardest not to tremble.