He was not, despite the girl's adamant confirmations to the contrary, cute. In fact, it rather startled him that he was even beginning to address the little toy as "he."
But Colonel Jade Curtiss (Third Division, Malkuth Imperial Forces) did not find the little thing to be cute, adorable or hugable. In fact, Anise's sometimes-doll-sometimes-weapon was more frightening than anything. It was not baffling to the Colonel how she found it so lovable (he was the Colonel, after all; things did not baffle him), but it was certainly a source of constant wonder. Just how could one consider Tokunaga cute, with his-- its-- imperfectly triangular teeth and giant button eyes; with ears that rose to a tied-up point; with a little haversack tied around his-- its-- neck that allowed the girl to jump on when she enlarged the doll for combat?
Or with a faint smell that was a mix of fontech, leather and dried monster blood when you leaned in close enough to it (from the pungency of it, mostly wolf blood of a species found on Radessia)?
He had yet to have a serious opportunity to study Tokunaga. All of the knowledge he'd gathered on the doll had come from watching how it moved in combat in the few weeks since he had met the young girl and Fon Master. From the way it expanded and moved, he gathered that the weapon was reinforced by some manner of highly malleable metal skeleton imbued with fontech, which allowed it to bend, grow and shrink all in response to the girl-- Anise Tatlin's-- fonon frequency. From what he had gleaned, however, the work seemed to be almost Dist-like in its ingenuity and design.
And as much as he hated to combine the words "ingenious" and "Dist," he almost had to admit that it applied, here.
Jade shook his head slowly to clear his mind of errant thoughts, then removed his glasses to carefully wipe off dirt which had collected on the lenses. When he had replaced them, he looked out the window of his office onboard the Tartarus, watching the sunlight skip across the waves left in the ship's wake. He had to start focusing on his report, not on the girl and her doll.
He stepped quickly back to his chair, sat down and began absent-mindedly tapping the end of his pen against his mahogany desk. They were sailing from Daath en route to Grand Chokmah in order to being drafting plans for peace negotiations with the kingdom of Kimlasca. If intelligence could be trusted (which, Jade was often convinced, Peony's could not be), the present ruler of Kimlasca was level-headed and would listen to a fair peace treaty, while his daughter, Natalia Luzu, was a strong advocate for peace and unity between Kimlasca and all foreign entities. Hopefully, this meant their job would not be too difficult. If only he could think about this and not the girl...
There was a sudden knocking at the door, a loud metallic clanging that rang out and echoed along the walls of the room thrice before it died out. Jade lifted an eyebrow at the door as though expecting it to open of its own accord, but the passageway refused to yield to the Colonel's crimson eyes. "Come," he said after a moment of staring down the door.
The door swung open silently, with not even an audible creak. The girl was standing at the threshold, pigtails hanging from her head and doll doing similarly from her shoulders. The eyebrow went up a little more, but then settled itself down again immediately. "Colonel!" she said happily by means of an introduction.
"Ah," Jade replied calmly, settling more comfortably into his chair. Then, lazily, he added, "Ionian Sergeant Anise Tatlin, Oracle Knights, Fon Master Guard, was it?"
"Oh, my!" she cooed sweetly, skipping up to the desk. Tokunaga bounced against her back. "You remembered it perfectly! I'm impressed, Colonel."
He wasn't sure what to make of her, at first. It almost seemed as though she was stricken by him; it wasn't uncommon, of course, but it was slightly troublesome. "Oh, I wouldn't think so."
"It is, though, Colonel," she insisted. "You don't know how many people, even within the Order, get the words all jumbled up!"
"Perhaps you should shorten the title a little," he suggested, setting his pen back on the desk. It looked like he wouldn't be writing much in his report at the moment, after all.
She shook her head. "I earned every one of those titles, so I'm going to use them all!" she announced forcefully.
"Heaven forbid I try to stop you," he replied. "So what can I do for you, Sergeant?"
"Oh," she giggled slightly. "You can just call me Anise, Colonel."
He sighed, resisting the urge to rub his temples and remove his glasses again. Removing them too much usually only served to give him more of a headache. "Very well, Anise. What do you want?"
"Boo, direct and to the point, huh?" She frowned slightly, placing her hands on her hips delicately.
"It would be very difficult to be one but not the other, Anise," he grinned, "seeing as how they mean the same thing."
"It's just a figure of speech, Colonel!" she cried, flustered. Her face was beginning to glow a little red, but he could tell she was just acting annoyed. She seemed to take his comments well in stride, a comfortable and welcome change from many of his own soldiers who took his words entirely too seriously.
"You're very good at going off on tangents, aren't you?" he noted, not willing to be thrown off topic by her any more than necessary. He admitted, silently, that she was quite good-- better than he'd like to admit-- at prolonging conversation.
"Do you think so?" she asked warmly, curling hair around her finger in a blatant attempt to look cute.
He just chuckled. "What would you like, Anise? Surely you came all this way for something."
She rocked back on her heels for a while, looking around coyly. "I just wanted to get away from Ion for a while," she said, though her tone betrayed that this was either not true or not the whole truth. "He's a great guy and all, but sometimes he's just so naïve and trusting that you want to get away for a few minutes to regain your objectivity, you know?"
Jade leaned back in his chair, studying the girl in a new light. Despite her mostly childish desires to look cute and attract a rich husband (and despite the fact that she carried a doll everywhere), she was much more grown up than he had first believed. She was an interesting case to study, if nothing else. "And you, I suppose, are the counterweight to his unbridled optimism?" he suggested, folding his hands in front of him on the desk.
"I guess you could say that," she replied with a cute grin. "But I also have to look out for him, too." Her voice suddenly dropped in pitch.
"Oh?" Jade intoned, looking at her more seriously. Her tone suggested she was about to become much less jovial. "Is that why you came up all this way?"
"You seem like a nice guy and all, Colonel," ("I most certainly do not," he thought to himself), "but you have a reputation as the Necromancer." She regarded him seriously and with a steady eye. "I want to know why so that I can determine for myself exactly how much danger Ion will be in on your ship."
He feigned being hurt. "Anise, surely the fact that Ion trusted me enough to board my ship--"
"We already said Ion was naïve and trusting. I'm the 'counterweight to his unbridled optimism,' remember?"
He leaned forward, his head resting on his folded hands, eyes scanning her keenly. She looked back at him with unblinking brown eyes, trying to match the intensity of his stare. She seemed... honest. Sincere. Above all, not the kind of person who could ever pull the wool over his eyes.
"Ten years ago, there was a massive spike in the population of monsters that lived around Grand Chokmah," he lied, his face betraying no tell of his bluff. "Several squadrons were sent out to deal with as many of the monsters as we could handle to keep the area around Grand Chokmah safe. The unit I commanded gained notoriety because of my actions."
"What did you do that was so special?" Anise asked quickly, eyes narrowed.
"Whenever we defeated a party of monsters, we took time to gather salvageable organs from the carcasses of the enemies we had slain," he continued. "When we had time in the field, we would test out various fonic artes on a variety of organs to see what fonic types scored the greatest effectiveness and damage on an enemy monster's internal organs. Our research data was invaluable in preparing a text that informed other units how best to go about slaying other monsters."
Anise's face fell for a moment. Jade wondered briefly if he had been too cruel with the story he had told her, but this fable was still much nicer than the truth. She shifted her weight to her right foot, causing Tokunaga to dance against her back for a moment. "You defiled the remains of monsters just to gain tactical data?" she said, astonished
Jade felt a rare need to defend himself. "Well, we--"
"That's ingenius," she giggled, smiling broadly. "I thought with a scary name like the Necromancer, you might have done something really bad involving dead people. But you're not really a scary guy, are you?"
Jade was at a loss for words for a moment. Then he answered, "If that's what you'd like to believe, I suppose I have little power to stop you. But there will be… consequences… if you try to convince the rest of my crew I am a 'not scary guy.'"
She saluted. "Aye, Colonel! Your secret is safe with me!" Then she dropped the gesture and laughed. "You know, you're really a lot like Tokunaga, aren't you?"
He blinked, leaning back in his chair again to take in her words. "In what sense?"
"You look scary on the outside," she admitted, "but you're really just a big softie on the inside, huh?"
Jade pretended to act serious. "I am no such thing," he said quickly. "You really shouldn't run around putting words in my mouth or ruining my reputation! Really, that's a very terrible thing to suggest..."
She just giggled harder. "Okay, okay, Colonel. That secret will just have to be safe with me, too!" And with a final salute, she skipped out the door, pulling it shut behind her, again without a squeak, leaving the Colonel alone with his thoughts.
He reflected deeply upon her last comments. If it was true that he was like Tokunaga, that silly little doll, it wasn't because of their tough exterior and soft interior, as Anise suggested. Rather, it was more because of how Anise looked at them; Anise could see past their rough image to see something else. Of course, that was only because he had lied to her about his past, and only time would tell if she would be willing to look past that if she ever learned the truth. But if they were to travel together for a time, it was a start.
Jade and Tokunaga. Tokunaga and Jade. Each with a smile permanently etched on his face, never betraying a thought to the world. Most tellingly, though, was that if they were alike at all, Jade realized, it was not because they were truly similar, it was because Anise had the ability to love a hideous creature like Tokunaga unconditionally.
Which explained why she could tolerate a monster like him.