A/N: Just something I thought of during the Richter sidequests.

Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Namco Bandai or the Tales studios, nor am I making a material profit from this work. It is purely fan made fun. Spoilers abound.

--

The Triet Desert was still quite chilly and snow laden, even if the actual snowing had stopped due to the hatching of Centurion Ignis's core. The party had set out quite some time ago, heading north to the Ossa Trail that led to the port town of Izoold, though they were going to forgo the village in favor of the western caverns near the mountains called Camberto Caves, where herbs grew in abundance.

As they traversed the desert, there was little to be said, even though Emil could be quite the chatterbox when he was really burning to ask or say something. Even Centurion Tenebrae who liked to run his mouth off with his bad jokes and puns held his tongue. The unwelcome guest of the current party might be to blame then.

"Emil," Richter began as they walked, adjusting his slipping glasses, "it's fine if you want to assist me by guiding me to the Camberto Caves, but ..."

"Hm?" Emil turned to look at the taller red-haired man, their eyes of the same emerald green locked. "Is there something wrong, Richter?"

"Well, not wrong, per se." Richter's eyes were downcast, as if he were doubting whether or not he should say his next words. The curious quirk of the brow the younger swordsman gave him decided his answer. He cleared his throat. "It's just that ... are your pets really necessary?"

"They are not 'pets.' " Tenebrae interjected, indignant. "They are my servants, and Emil and Lady Marta's monster companions."

"Fine, then, companions." Richter said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes in annoyance. "Anyway, why is it necessary to bring twenty-five monsters with you?"

"There are only four with us now, Richter." Tenebrae's tone was almost venomous, "the rest have been entrusted to the care of the Katz Guild."

"A-anyway," Emil stuck in a word edgewise to stop the icy arguing. "Like Tenebrae said, these guys are my friends. They've helped us out a bunch already." He cast a fond glance over his shoulder at the four monsters marching behind them, in formation: a gigantic Fenrir boasting a thick ice blue mane, a tall, thinner, more elegant canine beast of the Orion species, an Orca that mysteriously floated in the air, and a cute, tiny Chimera.

They party slowed to a stop, Emil going to the back ranks, introducing each monster companion to Richter. He went to the Fenrir first.

"This is Sial," Emil disappeared in the thick mane in giving the huge wolf a hug around the neck. "He's the second monster I made a pact with. I raised him from a common wolf." Fondly he scratched Sial behind the long pointed ears, the wolf thumped its tail on the ground, stirring up a cloud of sand.

"This is Ceres." Emil continued, going over to the classy Orion, who studied Richter with deep eyes. "I raised him from a common wolf, too. He's also from Lumen's caves." Fitting, Richter thought, as that monster's mana aura was of the light element. Centurion Lumen's element. Leaving Orion, the Knight of Ratatosk went next to the Orca that somehow defied gravity.

"Eridanus," Emil called, and the beautiful, sleek black and white sea creature glided to hover beside its master, receiving a pat on the head. "I made a pact with her in the Dynasty Ruins just south of Palmacosta. She was a sea hog then. Look how much she's grown." He smiled as the Orca nuzzled the side of his face.

"And this one?" Richter asked, looking at the tiny Chimera that rubbed his legs, staring up at him with impossibly large dark eyes, and he could have sworn he heard purring. He was half-tempted to pick it up, but despite its small size and irritatingly cute demeanor, it was still a monster, even if Ratatosk's Knight made a pact with it. The shrunken red wings flapped, the black ears swerving constantly, like a radar searching for danger.

"That's Tierra." Emil supplied, still smiling quite sunnily, despite the frosty clouds his breath emerged in the air in; it was still quite cold. "She's still a baby, as you can see. I made a pact with her in the old human ranch near Iselia. See those wings? She'll grow into a fine Manticore someday."

"A Manticore?" Richter echoed, still staring uncertainly at the Chimera that acted no differently than a common house cat. He'd seen Manticores before, those beasts had been native to the Fooji Mountains southeast of Meltokio, the captial of Tethe'alla. "But, she's ..." So damn cute.

"Do my monster companions bother you?" Emil asked suddenly. "Is fighting alongside them making you uneasy?"

"Well ..." Richter studied the monsters. They did make him just a bit nervous--to him, they were just wild beasts, after all. These kinds of beasts were some he'd fought often when he and Aster were on their field test two years ago. And to have raised such beasts as Fenrir and Orion--rare and powerful creatures--truth be told, struck fear in Richter's heart. Emil looked so harmless and gentle, hardly the fighting type to begin with. And yet when the lad used Ratatosk's power in battle--the change was unmistakable. From a kind boy who couldn't hurt a fly to a frightening swordsman who screamed for blood and laughed as he got it.

Very much like ... Richter shook his head. "No, it's just a little unusual is all. I won't scorn perfectly good help."

"That much is clear." Tenebrae snorted at Emil's side. Emil gave him a look, frowning.

"But what about you, Richter?" Emil asked, head tilted to one side quizzically. "You have Centurion Aqua with you. Doesn't she employ monster servants?"

"She does." Richter said, with a minute shrug of his shoulders. "But I fight alone."

"That's kinda sad." Emil said, tucking his chin inward. "Isn't it better to have companions to fight alongside--human or monster?"

Richter stared for a long time at Emil, surrounded by his monster companions plus Centurion Tenebrae. There was never a moment in his life where Richter felt so utterly and completely alone. He and Emil were so much alike--Emil had grown up alone, without friends, oppressed by the people he lived with. And now that the boy finally garnered some courage for himself, he was alone no longer. He had friends, both people and monster he could count on. Who would always watch his back. It looked so unnatural for a fearsome Fenrir to be nuzzling Emil's shoulder affectionately like that. People and beasts have always been in fierce opposition.

"The only reason I fight alone," Richter said slowly, "is because I am able to fight alone. I can use healing artes, so I have no need for others to help me in a fight."

"That's right." Emil replied, catching his fist in one hand. "That night outside Izoold, I got hurt by that dragon, and you used Heal to help me."

"Yeah." The redhead said tonelessly. "But mid-level healing artes are all I can manage for now. Advanced ones like Cure or Healing Force are beyond my current ability."

"All my companions can use magic." Emil supplied with that same wide smile. "Even healing artes."

Richter quirked a brow, lips parted. "Really? Those don't look like spell-slingers."

"They aren't." Tenebrae said. He sat like he always did before he handed out explanations. "Emil used the powerful monster grimoires to teach them those spells."

"Monster grimoires?" Richter repeated. "Spellbooks? Are you serious?"

"Yep!" Emil nodded. He rummaged in his bag, pulling out various leather bound tomes. "Undine's Whisper, Affection ... Aska's Embrace, Sylph's Circle, Volt's Whim ... and even some like Luna's Punishment and Slyph's Mischief!"

Richter took one of the grimoires from Emil, flipping it open, examining its pages. "Where did you get all these?"

"I had them synthesized from various craftspeople in different cities and villages. Undine's Whisper and Affection can be purchased in town, though."

A profound silence wherein Richter stared at the monster grimoire in his hands. He took a deep breath.

"Is there ... a reason why civilian shops sell monster spellbooks? You're the only one raising an army of monsters."

"Well, actually," Emil cupped his chin thoughtfully, "Alice can control monsters."

"But she only has so many. You, on the other hand ..."

Emil shrugged. "Ah, well. Whatever the reason, they sell monster spellbooks. If it's useful, make use of it, is what Marta says."

" ... Indeed."

Tenebrae's tail swished in the cool sand impatiently. "Now, if we're quite done here, the Camberto Caves are still a ways off, and I'd like to get this over with as soon as possible."

"No wonder Aqua calls you spiteful." Richter murmured under his beath, but he turned on his heel and continued the march.

--

Richter had prided himself on his ability to survive in the wilderness, if nothing else. He had keen hearing, excellent eyesight, and a good sense of smell. On his last journey he had spotted monsters from at least a mile off, and his quick spell casting left them dead before they could come too close. And if close combat was required, he usually sliced them into two before they could do so any more than scratch him or Aster. Richter was proud as a warrior.

But next to Emil's monster companions, Richter looked like a weak little nothing.

They had finally reached the Camberto Caves, combing through each of the caverns and herb bushes for any sign of the insect shell Richter had been seeking. The caves were rampant with different breeds of monsters, mostly plant (those giant mushrooms of doom), insect (giant killer praying mantis), and even some unlikely enemies (what the hell were dragons doing here?!). Richter and Emil were parting shrubberies of basil, sage, and other herbs, inspecting the plants and soil for any trace of the insect shell. Sial behind them raised his head, ears perked. The fur down his back stood on end.

With a sharp bark that startled Richter, Sial lunged through the stream, breathing icy vapors as it attacked a giant praying mantis that had been intent on hunting them. The mantis slashed with its pincers, but the thick fur protected the Fenrir's rippled flesh underneath. It swiped with its claws, clamping its jaws at the giant insect monster. The mantis dodged, and one of its slashes landed. The wolf threw its head back and howled.

From the depths of the water erupted Eridanus the Orca, beautiful whale song filling the caverns as she body slammed the mantis to help Sial. The wolf scrambled back, glowing as he concentrated for a healing arte, First Aid. Once his wounds were healed, he leapt back into the fray, and Eridanus pulled back, her song becoming an incantation for a spell.

The waters rose to form floating spheres, which bore down on the mantis and exploded in pressured bursts. The Blessed Drops gave Sial enough time to throw an Icicle Rain. Just before the mantis would have expired and ceased to be, Emil threw out his arm and called, "Tenebrae!" The Centurion of Darkness appeared from a black cloud, throwing his head back and howling as Sial had done. The pact magic circle drew itself beneath the giant praying mantis, and Emil's eyes darkened to blood red. There was nothing but silence as Ratatosk's Knight and the monster stood, the Knight binding the monster to his will.

Finally, Emil's eyes returned to their normal color, bright green like the leaves of a young springtime tree. He sighed, and approached the huge praying mantis. It didn't move. He slowly put his hand on its head, patting it. The mantis clicked what could be called its mouth, leaning into the touch. Emil laughed.

"His name is Hoarfrost. He used to live on the open plains between here and Luin before the climate started changing. So he took refuge in here." He leaned closer to the mantis, and the insectoid seemed to be whispering something in his hear. His eyes went wide. "Wow, he was actually looking for a lady mantis."

"Lady mantis?" Richter repeated, jaw unhinged. He cleared his throat. "So the, uh, mating season was upon them?"

"Well," Tenebrae interjected, "It is autumn, according to your calendar. Mantis mating typically begins in autumn in temperate climes."

A long pause in which Emi absently pet the mantis's head, and the others were awkwardly thinking over the situtation. Finally, Emil said,

"There's nothing stopping us from looking for lady mantises while we're journeying, right? Let's go for now."

"Yes, let's." Tenebrae agreed.

As they continued through the caves, Richter studied Emil and his monster companions. They worked well, in and out of battle, and really seemed to share a bond of some sort, between pact maker and spellbound. He wasn't sure if this was because of Ratatosk's power extended to Emil, but the boy and the monsters appeared to understand one another, as in actually communicating. This was evident when the timid boy made a pact with Hoarfrost the Killer Mantis. There was a pang of loneliness as Richter watched them all.

Before long, the party required rest before they could continue forward. Richter cooked a meal for himself and Emil (which hadn't turned out to be very palatable, to Emil's misfortune), while Emil had in turn cooked meals for his monster companions. Richter thought it strange at first, since these monsters were predatory and therefore could hunt for their own meat, but to his surprise, the monsters ate what their pact-maker cooked for them instead. During the break, Emil leaned against Sial the Fenrir, and spoke with the other monsters, sometimes laughing in the apparent silence. He looked so happy.

Richter stared at the garbled mess in his bowl that hardly passed for edible food, metal fork clenched between his teeth as he thought. He turned away from Emil and his monsters, muttering something about wanting to watch out for possible enemies or lady mantids (not like he could tell the difference between male and female praying mantises). He heaved a deep sigh.

From the vapors in the air emerged Centurion Aqua, hovering at Richter's shoulder. Brow knit with worry, she whispered,

"Is something the matter, Master Richter?"

Gnawing on the fork between his teeth, Richter answered, "Aqua. Am I able to make pacts with monster companions?"

Aqua quirked a brow. "Hmm? Well, I don't see why not. But it'll be through my power, not Lord Ratatosk's."

"Will that make any difference?"

"Not really, I'll just be casting the pact magic." A small smile came to her face. "Actually, if you're willing to learn, I can teach you how to cast the pact magic, so it's not like you'll need me to do it all the time!"

"Pact magic ..." Richter murmured. "So fundamentally, it's not so different than making pacts with summon spirits."

"If you want to get technical, no. But summon spirits aren't like monsters. It's a little different, like with the summoner making a vow and such, but at the base level it's the same." She folded her arms, looking into Richter's eyes. "Why did you ask?"

Richter looked over his shoulder. Emil had fallen asleep, curled up against Sial's body. Eridanus glided through the waters nearby, Tierra lying at Emil's other side, and Hoarfrost studying his new master with curious mantis eyes. Tenebrae looked on, what could be called a smile on his face. Richter shrugged, sighing.

"I was just thinking it's gotten a little ... lonely."