To my readers:

This is a TOA story archive. It spans a specific time, from when Asch joins the party In Yulia city to when he leaves the group. Rather heavy Asch Natalia leanings, however I don't neglect the other characters. Originally it was going to be three separate stories, however I decided to compile them into one area since my profile is already crawling with stories and it would be hard to find them and read them in order amongst the rest of what I have up.

As always, pleasant reading,

KS

Story 1:

Useful

Normally she's have a part, a role. In battle she served as support, slowing monsters and the like with a barrage of arrows. Before the time where battle was a regular part of her life ritual, rules, and exercising the powers of her station had taken the whole of her time. Once cast from the familiar she had stumbled, ill at ease amongst the rather rowdy Guy, the innocent Ion, and cold Colonel. Tear and Anise had been a shock to her. They were living testaments to the ideal those of Kimlasca secretly cherished despite openly embracing the idea that the sexes were equal in all endeavors.

Women had no place in battle, in war. She'd lived with that mantra running through her head for so long the words had been engrained in her soul. When she'd finally been allowed to learn the basics of combat it was those words that had guided her to take up the bow.

Still, she had tried to be useful. Cooking meals and the like. It was only after setting the ramen while it was in water on fire that the others had firmly put their collective foot down. She wasn't to cook, so she temporized. She tried to learn while she journeyed in the wilds, and while perhaps not the most apt of pupils she did not seem to completely displease those around her. She brought down dinner more often than not, learned how to gut and tend the food for preparation… But the second dinner needed to be put on the fire the food was taken away and she was to stand three feet away from the proceedings.

Still, she had strived, and in the end proven useful.

Now though, it felt as if she wasn't. There was time aplenty, yet nothing to do. She'd tried to join them. Her feet padding across the steel floor of the Tartarus' room, she'd tucked herself into an empty seat. Leaning with ill comfort against the tall backed chair…

X

It was like a throne, yet not as comfortable. The edges bit into the back of her legs. Her pants had thinned and discolored over the course of her journey. By necessity all laundry was done at once, and the white leggings had fast become a pale blue grey. She checked a wince and looked first beyond, then at, the item obstructing the view of outside. The crystal, which hung in mid air, hummed as if in response to her scrutiny. Red light suffused its once grey expanse, and crept from the translucent center outward. Pulsing like a heart, it thrummed and shook, its quakings contained within the small span of air if was permitted. Curious runes, letters that were mostly curl and frill, coiled around the stone. A false planet belt of mysterious syllable and sound…

"You know how to use that?" Asch asked, looking up from his violet stone with some interest.

"Probably not." Leaving his chair and attendant crysal Guy padded up behind her. Forgetting his station the servent crossed his arms on the princess' head rest and set his chin down upon his arms. Blue eyes scanned the text, and Guy let out a chuckle. "Yeah," he confirmed with a smirk. "She doesn't have a clue. Thos'arin Klamtie." He read the text with sure confidence and offered the transilation with ease. "Thor's cannon."

Natalia tried to ignore the patronizing tone, adamatly refusing to snap back or protest... She'd only look the fool, or rather more the fool. Dropping her gaze so she wouldn't have to see L- no Asch's disaprovel she studied her hands. Oblivious to her sudden shame, or perhaps merely pretending to be, Guy leaned a little closer so he could better point at the small stationary symbol. It depicted a lightning bolt cutting through a hammer.

"Now, you see that little fellow?" Guy seemed to have squelched his gynophobia in favor of playing with a fon tech machine. "If you tap him..."

"Guy." Natalia firmly cut in. "If it is truely a weapon than perhaps we should no-"

With a warm laugh Guy reached over her shoulder to tap the symbol. His words "it's perfectly harmless" became a point of irony at a later date.

Eager to demonstrate the wonders of a Malkuth fon tech weapon, Guy reached out. And something, a preasure from the gem, seemed to reach for him. Responding to the sudden chill that went up her spine, Natalia cringed back into her chair, going deathly pale. Lightning was born from pressure, it snapped it's impatient fingers, crossing the span of gem to swordsman faster than the eye could follow. Guy didn't even have a chance to cry out, the power smashed him back five feet where he skidded across the Tatarus' slick steel floors. Managing little more than a breathless squeak Natalia cringed further against the chair, not daring to breath as the residual power from the gems attack hissed a mere inch in front of her nose.

"Don't move!" A voice bellowed at her.

Light came then. A shielding aura of silver tinted light snapped into place around her. The threads of lightning that touched it seemed to quake then fade out of existance. Even the sound of the writhing worms of fonon tech gone wrong seemed to be muted. From a world devorced ot the miniture lightining storm in front of her the harsh voice cried out.

"Damn it, someone shut down the cannon control's defense system!"

A door clanked noisily open on the far side of the room. The Colonel had returned from his quick journey to get some refreshment looked up from his glass of water. Jade took in the scene and with a quiet curse, cast the water down, and forsook the stairs leading to the master control panel. He lept over them with feline grace and the second he was steady reached over to the control panel. A few quiet clicks from the control panel and the gem hissed in malcontent. The storm in front of Natalia slowly disipated, leaving behind only the scent of burnt air. The fon gem ceased it's shaking, the color withdrew, and at last all was still.

Only then, when the gem was a colorless grey tinted mass, did the silver wall disappear.

Pale, shaking, Natalia turned to Jade. "Th... thank-"

Making an annoyed sound in his throat Jade merely pushed his glasses up. Acting oblivious to her thanks he stared at her with unblinking crimson eyes. The princess winced at the silent reprimand in his gaze.

"Natalia, as I understand it Batical is somewhat conservative in it's tutalage of fon tech. It would be for the best if you'd leave controlling the Tartarus to those more experienced." Biting her lip Natalia nodded, slipping out of the chair without a word. Nerrowed crimson eyes flicked off the princess to fall upon the servant. "Really Guy, now's not the time for a nap."

Guy groaned, though more likley from the pain of his recent electrocution then at the Colonel's sally.

Crimson eyes took in the rest of the room. They noted how Asch quietly flicked his fingers, casting off seventh fonon with a grimace. Anise had taken a place in front of Ion, both holding him back and protecting him from just in case the lightning storm spread. As the Colonel settled more comfortably into his chair he pushed his glasses up once again, though it was hardly needful. Natalia was curiously casting her gaze around the room, perhaps wondering who had cast the protective shield, then when Guy moaned louder she went to him so she could heal his hurts. Anise began to scold Ion about rushing into things he couldn't fix, Ion was appologizing in his usual meek and mild manner... The scene of young adolecent love hidden in a underling superior relationship was rather cloying, so Jade turned away from that scene rather firmly.

Just in time to catch Asch sinking into his chair. The God General was staring just a bit too thoughtfully at the fon tech stone. Pointedly the God General turned his head so that one ear was trained in the princess' direction...

Snorting as he realized his delema -he was surrounded by younglings in love- Colonel Curtiss kept his peace and offered only his omnipresent mocking smile to the preceedings.

X

They sipped on water from time to time. Rather than be a manual task, the stearing of the Tartarus seemed to be an arcanist heavy one. She watched the proceedings from afar after finding some rags and wiping up the spill then disposing of the glass out an open window. Under Jade's orders she wasn't to go off exploring alone, the God General's had probably left some surprises on the ship the Colonel had said. Asch had gruffly agreed, saying that Arietta had wandered the length and width of the land ship unescorted and even he wasn't sure what she was cappable of.

"Besides talking to monsters." Natalia had commented.

To her attempted joke Asch had raised one crimson eyebrow and turned from her. She wasn't sure whether or not there had been a hint of smile on his lips or not.

Faint light surrounded all those seated in front of thier purple control crystals. A kind of aura that one could clearly see from the corner of the eye, but when one turned it appeared to have been nothing but a trick of the fon lamp's light. Ion had been the first to stand and walk away from his stone. The young fon master had muttered something about a headache and Natalia had been on hand to gently steer him away from the crystals and tell him to lie down.

Without protest the boy folded himself on the steel floor, but he was shivering. It was then Natalia noted how late it had beome. Shadows cast by the cannons and ornate fonic designs embedded on the side of the dreadnoght were like dark teeth reaching into the ship. Checking her own shiver Natalia spent a fruitless span looking for a clock, but for all it's effecincy the Tartarus had no time piece within it's pioleting room.

Another shiver from Ion descided her. Gathering her courage Natalia went from piolet to piolet. first was Anise, the girl was chagrined to see Ion was looking so pale. A few soothing words delivered as a whisper and a request was all that needed to liberate Tokunagua. Large stuffie in hand, she returned to Ion, and set the toy under his head. It was the oddest pillow imaginable, but the white clad fon master snuffled against it, casting her a smile of thanks. Then she went to the Colonel, traversing the stairs he had eschewed for the sake of speed. He looked up at her approuch, frowned, but a few quick words and a gesture to Ion was all that was needed. The Colonel shucked off his coat and tossed it to her, casting Jade a warm smile she mockingly wrapped the coat around herself and walked as that street preformer Noir had. Keeping the awkward giat up as she descended the stairs.

Jade actually laughed at that, his crimson eyes warming with heartfelt amusement. With a salute to convey his thanks for the entertainment the Colonel sat down and went back to work.

Considering the button encrusted garment Natalia drapped it over the shivering Fon Master, and at last the boy's shivering stopped. But though he was warm she was still cold. She considered Guy, but the servent's short yellow coat just didn't seem worth the trouble of bothering him. Rather reluctantly Natalia let her gaze drift to Asch, that long black talbard looked so warm... But it wasn't proper to ask, not for herself... The solution for her delemia came from the most unexpected source.

"Asch." Looking up from his work the God General turned to the sleeping form of the Fon Master. Eyes half closed, wits lost in a haze of warm sleepiness, Ion yawned. His green eyes slid closed even as he mumbled to himself. Stretching to shake off the miasma of sleep Ion offered his startled subordanite a warm smile. "Could you please give Natalia your tabard? It's awful cold out today... wouldn't want... her to catch... a cold..."

The last was murmurred into Tokunagua's brown side. Snuggling into the little stuffed animal's embrace Ion driffted back to sleep with an odd squeaking noise.

Asch blinked, looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time then stared at Natalia. Whatever thoughts he had remained behind his closed lips and unreadable green eyes, but he did unbuckle the leather straps on both sides of his tabard and offered it to Natalia. She shyly took the garment, but turned it over in her hands, completely baffled as to how to put it on.

"Stretch out your arms." Asch ordered, keeping his voice so not to shake Anise and Guy out of thier working trances. When she did so he pulled the heavy garment over her head. With skill he avoided ruffling her hair as he guilded the large opening where the two halves met over her head. One slow circuit around her was all he needed to gather the dangling leather straps and set them in place. He tightened them, not as tight as a corset but not as loose as she had imagined it would be. Absently smoothing the black and red garment in place Asch looked her over.

Whatever thoughts he had flickured behind the green gates of his soul, he smiled though, as if amused.

"Thank you." Natalia managed.

He turned, though not returning to his seat he stared at the gem. The violet light was fast fading from the stone. Almost shyly Asch twiddled with his fingers, refusing to reply.

At last, confused more than hurt, Natalia backed away and lay down by the fon master to try to sleep.