It wasn't, Ike was fond of arguing, like She was really what you could consider a problem. One of the many benefits of having a goddess around was that it tended to work wonders for advertising. Seeing as She generally cared little for what the common mortals thought of Her, Boyd's poster ideas (THE GREIL MERCENARIES: WE KILLED GOD) eventually pulled the vote and could be seen throughout Melior.

The trouble, they countered, was that they weren't about to get any work. When you spent a good few weeks frozen in stone under the judgement of the mother of all life, it tended to mop up any major personality flaws. The assassin's and thieves' guilds were losing members like wildfire, while the ranks of the clergy swelled- all meaningless to the Mercenaries, of course, but there was a far bigger threat.

There were no more bandits.

Ashera had made Her (admittedly somewhat flashy) return to earth, and it had wreaked absolute mayhem on the Crimean criminal underworld (which had never been all that outstanding to begin with). The Royal Knights scoured the countryside incessantly in search of brigands, ruffians, and overall ne'er-do-wells before ultimately conceding defeat. With heavy hearts and extremely light wallets, the Greil Mercenaries watched in sorrow as Crimea was declared "completely crime-free."

"What the hell are we supposed to do?" Boyd grumbled, tirelessly rummaging through the larder in search of increasingly precious foodstuffs. Not only was their lack of funds taking its toll on their pantry, but their resident deity's voracious appetite brought new meaning to communion. "If you don't have a war, you're supposed to have bandits. That's how it works. That's how we get paid. So where did they all go!?"

"Methinks our beauteous goddess hath frightened them into obedience!" Gatrie replied as he lazily flicked a few specks in the lamplight. He was still a tad sore from his last sparring match with Mia. Judging from the various bruises and healed scrapes still adorning his person, it was not difficult to discern the victor.

Wearing low-cut shirts like that in battle was not fair. At all.

"Stop that; you sound like Bastian." Oscar and Rolf were engaged in a fierce but silent game of cards, the latter taking a hefty beating ("It's not a real poker face if your eyes are closed, you jerk!"). Oscar lazily checked the moonlit front yard for approaching bandits, suppressed the tiny twinge of sadness he felt at the lack thereof, and returned to cards.

"I don't even see why we have sentry duty anymore." Boyd complained. He'd managed to procure a long-forgotten sandwich from the deepest depths of what some mages called Abaddon but what they referred to as the bottom of the fridge. "She's freaking omnipotent. She can probably tell if someone on the other side of the continent is even thinking about attacking us."

"I sort of think Ike feels bad for us." Oscar replied, laying down an ace of Swords and chuckling at Rolf's inarticulate screams of wordless rage. "It's not like we get to fight anything anymore. Between the two of them…"

Gatrie scowled. "I take offense, sir! Are you implying that we're useless?"

The green-haired (herbal shampoo could do anything) paladin shrugged and nonchalantly plucked a few coins out of the pile, casting a look of (very) mild concern towards his hyperventilating younger sibling. "All I'm saying is that between the goddess of all creation and Ike, the rest of us are, well, let's just admit it, something like an honor guard, you know? Breathe, Rolf, studies show it's good for you."

"-but- you- not- fair- How did you get six aces!?"

"I wouldn't call us an 'honor guard' so much as I'd call us 'those guys who sit around twiddling their thumbs while Ike goes Aetherhappy and Ashera rains down holy judgement'." Boyd seated himself and rested his head on his fist, scowling. He'd tried to learn Aether in his spare time and had ended up with a crapload of head injuries for his troubles. No moreso than the usual fare, but still, it was kind of annoying having to attend a furious Rhys' patented Safety Seminars.

"Oh, I wouldn't say we're completely without purpose." Gatrie smiled wistfully. "Sometimes our Heavenly Mother might need a bottle of water, for example, or Ike might feel like a biscotti. Who's going to fetch these things, gentlemen? I shall tell you: we, my friends, are entrusted with that great responsibility. We are as squires to the gods."

"You got her a glass of water and she said your eternal judgement would be slightly less painful than ours, don't get excited." Boyd snapped. Sheesh, Ike's courtship of the mother of all life was even more of a nuisance than they'd expected. Gatrie's reaction was predictable, of course. Mist and Shinon had developed a habit of gagging theatrically whenever the lovesick couple walked by (the former in good-natured sisterly teasing, the latter suffering the consequences of the previous night's Happy Hour).

Still, none of it explained why Soren had taken to curling up under furniture and in dark corners, mumbling to himself and casting hate-filled glances at the goddess whenever in Her presence. Maybe, Boyd's admittedly persevering mind theorized, he was jealous. It was hard to blame him, Boyd wouldn't mind hooking up with Ashera either. He'd asked Rhys about it (the base's natural aficionado on all things romantic) and received an awkward "Well, I think you're… half right…" in response.


The worst part was, Ike hadn't given them any warning or anything. There they were in that M.C. Escher endless tower, all psyched up and ready to take Nietzsche's philosophy to a whole new level. And there was Ashera, sitting and glowing and booming and generally doing all manner of godly things. And that was when their fearless leader had decided to confuse "killing the evil goddess and saving the world" with "making out with the evil goddess and completely screwing over any chance of the Mercenaries ever having work ever again."

He could still remember the combined noise of Elincia sobbing, Lethe growling, Aimee muttering shadowy phrases to Volke that absolutely exuded murder, and Soren vehemently declaring his intention to kill himself with a moist sponge. From behind him, he could hear muffled cries of equal parts shock, protest, and happiness as Yune succumbed to peer pressure and decided to tongue-wrestle Sothe. For their part, Ike and Ashera had really gotten into it: Boyd didn't know where his commander had learned that thing he did with his tongue, but he had since decided it was vitally important that he find out.

And thusly the Greil Mercenaries did save the world once more, albeit in a decidedly different fashion than last time (of course, knowing Ashnard and Ike, that was debatable). Whereas their previous plan of action had led them to a prosperous world full of freedom and humanity and, more importantly, lucrative job offers, Ike's apparent seduction of the mother of all life had saddled them to a joyless and barren state of non-employment. It didn't help that his new celestial girlfriend was a seven-foot-tall package of sheer righteous nuisance, either.

The burly warrior leaned back in his chair and groaned, gazing out into the cloudy night. "So boooooored. Isn't there anything to do?"

Rolf threw his cards down and yelled something that involved lots of words, one of which was "cheater". Oscar chuckled good-naturedly. "You could join me in a rousing game of poker, brother."

"Yeah, because it totally sucks to have money." Boyd patted his own meager pockets in frustration. "Man, it's all that damn goddess' fault. I tell ya, she-"

"Consider very carefully how you want to finish that sentence, mortal."

At Rhys' request, the choir of angels that usually sang heavenly praise when Ashera walked into a room had hung up their wings and gone on to form a successful musical group (no one could say no to Rhys, even a goddess). The loss did not, however, make Ashera's entrance into the mess hall any less impressive. Her black dress trailing the ground, the goddess regally floated through the doorway and concentrated all of Her heavenly wrath into a glare at Boyd.

The warrior shifted his eyes to the left. "-iiiiis looking even more divine than usual, right comrades?" Oscar, Rolf, and Gatrie nodded their agreement, the latter a bit too enthusiastically for comfort.

Boyd had to admit it was true, though. Ashera was whiny, arrogant, overbearing, obsessive, and woefully out of date as the result of having slept for the greater portion of a century ("Why would water need to run? It doesn't have anyplace to go.") but there was one thing you could say about Her: She was hot as hell. The incarnation of Order ran a hair though Her crimson tresses, which were tussled and wild as if She'd been in combat. She appeared to be perspiring, or at least, She would be if goddess had sweat glands.

He knew he'd been hearing weird noises from Ike's room.

"That is what I thought you said." Ashera sniffed, and pushed a slightly salivating Gatrie away as She glided for the pantry. The three men and one adolescent boy all looked away discreetly as the goddess bent over and began mimicking Boyd's search for food. As She busied herself, he quickly scarfed what was left of the sandwich; it wasn't like She needed any extra calories, right?

Although, from the look of it, She was getting plenty of exercise…

He quickly shook his head and tried not to notice how extremely clingy Ashera's dress was, nor how voluptuous her pale skin was at the moment. A single glance at his companions elicited similar expressions of helplessness; Rolf's eyes were the size of dinner plates, Gatrie's jaw had dropped several inches, and Oscar's eyes were actually open.

"I damn it," Ashera cursed, standing up. Her imposing height only served to accentuate all the best parts of Her. "Don't you insufferable mortals have anything edible left? Honestly!"

The crease of the young fighter's forehead was a sure indication that Boyd Was Outraged. "You're the one who scarfed everything down, greedy guts!"

He might as well have struck the goddess across the face. "How DARE you refer to your goddess as 'greedy guts'! If this room wasn't so tiny I'd smite thee!"

"She's certainly smitten Ike…" Oscar muttered underneath his breath. Rolf nodded sagely; Shinon had told him all about these things.

Ashera faced Boyd nose-to-nose, or at least as close to it as possible when one is a goddess. "In case you forgot, boy, I'm the creator of all life. Forgive Me for working up an appetite."

"If you're the creator of all life, why not just whip up something yourself!?" Boyd demanded furiously. Oscar scanned his tone for traces of jealousy and sighed in relief; the last thing they needed was two Sorens. "I thought goddess existed on, like, the belief of the masses, or something. Can't you just magic some, I don't know, goulash?"

"Me bless you." Ashera sniffed haughtily and left for the door, Her marble skin practically gleaming in the candlelight. Having searched the heart of the pantry and found it full of want, She moved to the fridge. "We do exist on belief. But a meatball sub works just as well." Her search was a success, and Her stony face lit up with delight. "I suppose I could cook up some wieners…"

"From the look of it, she's been doing enough of that for one night…" Oscar muttered. Rolf chuckled, and paled when the goddess looked back at them curiously.

"You mortals laugh over the strangest things." Ashera sniffed, alleged omnipotence apparently failing to register the hungry stares of four single young men. "Ah-ha! Excellent! I've found some melons."

Oscar moved a hand over his lips. "So has Ike, I'd wager." Rolf's mouthful of orange juice promptly voided itself out his nose.

"Listen, Ashera, can we talk?" said Boyd, glaring at his snickering siblings. "I'm not so sure about this whole. You know. Dating situation. You and Ike, and all that."

"Funny; your friend Soren started to say something similar." Ashera replied, luminescent eyes not deviating from their hunt for sustenance. "I wasn't really paying attention, but he eventually just sort of descended into a wordless rage. I do recall the phrase 'he's MY sexy hunk of manmeat' was repeated frequently."

"It's not like that." said Boyd quickly in complete defiance of the Christmas photos still saved in Shinon's sock drawer for a rainy day. "I'm just saying, isn't it kind of… awkward? I mean, he's a human, and you're… not…"

"What are you, some kind of racist?" Ashera treated Boyd to a quick disapproving stare, and he spluttered with rage as his three companions joined in. "Shit like this is why I wanted to destroy the world, you know."

Boyd gave up. "Fine. You know? Fine. I'm just saying, though- your kids? So screwed up."

Ashera ignored him, picking up her bounty of hot dogs and watermelon. "Let us see, all I require now are some buns…"

Oscar didn't even need to say anything. Rolf doubled over in laughter.

"Bah, I'll find some later." Ashera stood and made her way to the door. "I go now to Ike. He may be a good sight more polite than this oaf-" She glared at Boyd, "-but it's not like he'll come to Me."

"Debatable." Oscar murmured as the goddess left the room and Boyd slammed his fist on the counter. Rolf immediately suffered a severe nosebleed.