Disclaimer: I don't own Star Ocean 2, Star Ocean EX, and anything else Star Oceany.

A/N: Yeah, I know Star Ocean 2 is like…more than 10 years old and most of its fandom has dwindled down. I also know that novelizations of the game have been written before. So this story is focused a lot on Claude and Rena and their growing relationship throughout the game. …Yeah, I'm a Claude/Rena traditionalist. Sorry…

The story pretty much takes the same storyline as the game and Star Ocean EX, but I put a lot of my own stuff in here so that it's not entirely predictable. Big fat fatty fat fat big fatty WAFF alert. Please let me know what you think or how this story could be better.

So I'm writing my stories in order of importance. If you want to see more of this story, please review and tell me so, or vote in the poll on my author's page. Thanks much!

\/\/\/

An Ocean of Mirrors

Chapter One

Rise to Fame

\/\/\/

"Stop crying. If you cry too much, you won't have any tears left. You should laugh with me."

…Dias…

"Here, do you want some candy? I'll give you some."

…Where did you go?

"That's right. Hold out your hand…There you go. Is that enough?"

…I miss you…

"I'm Dias Flac. What's your name?"

\/\/\/

"I'm leaving! Bye!"

There was a click, and a moment later the door from a small house in the corner of the village opened. A blue haired youth darted from the steps, red fabric flying behind her like a cape. She was about to turn the corner of her home when another figure appeared in the doorway, screaming the girl's name.

"Hold on just a minute."

The girl turned around, genuinely puzzled. Coming from the doorway was another blue haired woman, wrinkles deepening around her eyes and at the creases of her frowning lips. Arms crossed, the older woman approached the girl and shook her head.

"What, Mom?" the girl asked, tilting her head to one side.

"Don't 'what Mom,' me, Rena. You're not thinking of going to the Shingo Forest again, are you?"

The girl's face scrunched up and her eyes lowered to the ground. Though she was silent, the mother knew all too well her child's desire. She placed her hands on Rena's shoulders and let out a heavy sigh. She couldn't change her daughter's mind most of the time, but with the recent dangers around Cross Continent, she feared for the safety of what little family she had left.

"Why don't you take a break from there today?" Her mother gave a wry smile. "You went there yesterday, and the day before that."

Rena's face shot up, her brows turned upward as she beseeched, "But the Shingo Forest makes me feel so calm, Mom. Why can't I go?"

Turning her head to one side, Rena's mother clamped her mouth shut. There were so many things she wanted to say, but the only thing that formed on her tongue was, "What is it about that forest?"

"I—"

"Rena, it's too dangerous. We just had an earthquake yesterday and monsters have been roaming around these parts. You know that things haven't been right since that Sorcery Globe crashed down on us. Can't you just stay inside the village today?"

Her mother didn't noticed right away, but Rena had already freed herself from the woman's hold. When her child had managed to do that, she wasn't sure. But Rena's mind was elsewhere lately. Her mother wasn't sure what she would do if anything were to happen to her daughter.

"Rena, please—"

"See you later, Mom."

Her mother reached out, but grabbed air. Rena was already around the corner and gone. Though she felt the urgent need to chase her down, Rena couldn't be bought that easily. Even if her mother were able to find and bring her back, kicking and screaming, Rena would find a way to visit that blasted forest.

She always did.

\/\/\/

"My mother is such a worrywart," Rena said to herself with a sigh. "Nothing could possibly be dangerous about this forest. I've been coming here for years."

Inattentively, she was skipping. The sound of birds chirping in the abundant trees above her caught her ears, and she hummed a nonsensical tune to their singing. The deeper she went into the forest, the more alert her nose became to the different scents from various flowers and trees. From above, the sun was hidden behind a canopy of leaves, though small rays of light peeked out through open patches.

"I think I'll wander a little deeper into the forest today," she announced to herself.

From a corner of the forest, she caught rustling and stopped. The bushes continued to brush against each other until a small head popped out from behind. Peering closer, Rena recognized the long ears that stood on end, as well as the small, wriggling nose.

"It's a bunny," she laughed to herself and then beckoned for the animal to come closer. "Come here, bunny…"

Though the rabbit did not heed her calling, it didn't run away either. Down on all fours, the girl crawled over to the rabbit, cooing and giggling. The rabbit jumped out from its hiding place in the bushes and hopped away, causing Rena to stop in her tracks.

"Awwww," her shoulders slumped. Then, deciding to follow it, she jumped back to her feet. She ignored the dirt stains on her knees and ran after the rabbit.

She didn't have to run far until she caught sight of the pointed ears sticking out from behind a small stump in the middle of the forest ground. The grass cushioned the noise she made as she walked closer. Rena forced herself to halt once the rabbit poked its head out from above the stump again.

"You silly rabbit," she said. "Come here already."

Again, it hopped away and she lunged for it, but only caught blades of grass. Looking up from her spot next to the stump, she watched a fast paced ball of fluff disappear into the distance.

"I'll get you," she jokingly vowed, but pushed herself to her feet and went off in search for the rabbit again.

It wasn't long before she found herself deeper in the forest than she was used to. The thought was quickly brushed aside when she caught sight of two little legs squirming and pushing the rest of its white body under another bush.

"Raaaaaaabbit…" she sang out, slowly moving toward the bush.

I got you now.

Chuckling to herself over her great victory, she stood over the bush, and reached up with both hands.

Her fingers curled around the shrub, and she peered over to the next side.

"Now I…" with sudden force, she split the bush with her two hands and threw herself forward, "…got you!"

But what she saw wasn't the bunny that she had been chasing.

There was a brown face inches from her face, and an unbearable stench attacking her nose. Paralyzed with fear, she could hardly take in anything else except for the monstrous white, teeth.

The beast released a nasty growl, and swung its arm. The force hurled her back over the bush she had just come from. Rena tightly closed her eyes and tried to drown out the deafening roar above her. There was a violent snap, and something heavy landed in front of her. Her body shook from its position on the ground and she felt herself yell.

Finding the courage to open one eye, she was met with two hairy legs, the kneecaps bulging from thick thighs, and she forced herself to gaze higher. A torso like a tree trunk and a powerful chest awaited her view. Rena couldn't help but let a small gasp escape from her lips when she saw the face in full regalia, the fangs appearing larger now than they had before.

The monster's beady eyes beheld her, and a large tongue swept over his bared teeth. Never before had she set eyes on such a creature, but she was positive that this would be the last time she set eyes on anything else.

Screaming, Rena used her hands and legs to crawl backward. The monster pursued at a deadly speed. The creature hunched over and swiped at her with claws bigger than her own house door.

She continued to scream and twisted her body out of reach of the monster's grasp. Rena failed to realize the tree behind her until the back of her head hit the trunk. She cringed and reached for the wound. The ringing in her head grew louder as an array of colors swamped over her vision.

The blurry figure of the monster lunged at her, and she found no strength to evade.

"Look out!"

Something reached around her waist. Rena realized she was rolling, and something—or someone—was holding her close. Breathing heavily, they came to a complete stop a moment later, and she dared to open her eyes. From above, she could make out tinted green clothing and a thin frame that could be anything but a monster.

The figure released her and pulled away. Once Rena was coherent enough, she looked over to who had saved her, but the other body was already on their feet and facing the monster.

It was a man, she realized, with sun-kissed blonde hair that swayed with his agile movements. The clothes he was wearing were unfamiliar to her, a black undershirt and white pants becoming the closest things she could recognize. She wanted to say something, but the man was busy dodging the monster's swipes. Its fist crashed into the ground and created a hole twice the size of Rena's head.

Rena backed away even further, whimpering, but stopped as soon as she saw the man grab a stick from nearby and swing at the monster. She held her breath once the piece of wood collided with its knee and splintered.

"Dammit," the man jumped back, tossing the useless wood away.

He watched the monster circle around him, grunted and then ball its fists. It reared its arm back and took another swing, but the man crouched low. Rena held her hands close to her chest, unable to move or speak.

Again, the monster lunged, causing the man to leap back, but he reached into his pocket this time. Rena watched, mesmerized, as he withdrew something she had never seen before, and pointed it toward the animal.

Before she could comprehend what she was seeing, she was blinded by a burst of light that forced her to shield her eyes. The man let out a cry as sharp as the monster's, but Rena kept her hands over her face, and prayed he was all right. She could feel the heat of the light against her body, and it sent chills up her spine. Curiosity getting the best of her, she ignored the burning sensation the light caused and peered out with one eye through her fingers.

The man stood there, still holding the object. The force of the blast was blowing against him and ruffled his hair and clothes. Rena's attention turned toward the monster, whose body had slowly deteriorated away.

The…Sword of Light…

After a moment longer, the light vanished. Tiredly, the man dropped his arms, still clutching whatever it was in his hands. She could hear his intense breathing, and his chest heaved up and down. Once he was able to gain some composure, he placed his Sword of Light back into his pocket.

"Good thing…I made it…in time," he said in between breaths. He turned toward her, his cheeks budded red from the intensity of the battle.

But Rena's attention was focused more on what he had put into his pocket.

The clothes that he's wearing…and…that beam of light that he summoned. Whatever it was, it killed that monster instantly.

He was advancing toward her, and she jumped with fright.

"Are you all right?" he asked, checking her over. He reached out toward her, "You're not hurt, are you? In that case, can I ask you—"

She screamed and swatted his hand away. Then she jumped to her feet and bolted out of the vicinity.

"Hey! Wait!" she heard him cry out, but was moving too quickly in between trees and over bushes to stop.

She ran until she could almost see the forest's entrance, and passed by the stump she had pursued the bunny at, and even the bush where the animal had first appeared. Rena tripped once, but pushed herself back to her feet before continuing to the forest's edge.

You should stop, Rena.

As though it had been someone else telling her to do it, she obeyed.

He did save your life after all. You shouldn't have run away…

Rena doubled over, her chest stinging from the lack of oxygen. Gripping at the necklace she always wore, she closed her eyes and suppressed the urge to cough.

"Who…who did he think he was? Trying to grab me like that…He shouldn't have…"

I shouldn't have run away like that…He did ask me to wait, after all…

Slightly turning her body so that she could see behind her, Rena waited for any kind of movement from the back of the forest, but saw none.

Hope he's okay…

Fully turning around, she waited a minute longer, the guilt still tugging at her. Her breathing was returning to normal, and her emotions were stabilizing. The more rational she became, the more remorseful she felt for leaving him behind. In order to cope, she paced back and forth for a moment, but he still didn't show.

I didn't leave him that far back…did I?

But after another minute of being left alone in the middle of the forest, the girl began to worry. She highly considered going back to look for him, but found that her feet wouldn't move.

He'll…be showing up shortly…right? After all, there's only one way out of the forest. He has to pass by here if he wants to get out…Right?

Then, jogging up in the distance, the blonde youth stumbled around a bush, his wandering eyes taking in the vicinity. She stopped pacing long enough to see him, and slowly raised her hand to wave. At first he didn't notice her, so she decided to call out to him.

Head whirling in her direction, he saw her, and she could see him smile.

"Good," he called back. "I wasn't sure if you'd wait for me."

"I really wasn't sure if I should or not, but you did save my life, after all. It would've been rude if I hadn't waited," Rena reached for her arm with her other hand and began to rub it. "Sorry for running away like that…"

"Oh, no, don't worry about it," he nervously laughed. "Under all of that pressure, if I had been in your shoes, I probably would've done the same thing."

But Rena was genuinely apologetic. "Still...it was wrong. Please forgive me."

The man combed a hand through his hair and laughed again, "It was pretty scary, wasn't it?"

She didn't share his humor.

Eyes downcast, Rena stopped rubbing her arm and gripped it tightly. She gave a nod barely noticeable, and said, "Y-Yeah. It was really scary. And…and I ran away from you…" Lifting her head up to meet his blue eyes, she blurted out, "I'm really, really sorry."

He was taken aback by her relentless apologies, and he held out his hands to calm her. "N-No, just forget about it. After all, you did wait for me, right? No harm done."

She bit down on her lip.

He doesn't seem to be mad at me. I guess now would be the best time to properly introduce myself.

"I…My name is Rena—Rena Lanford. May I ask yours?"

The man fidgeted with his hands and sputtered, "Uh, yeah. I'm, uh, Claude. Claude C. Kenni, but…Claude is just fine."

Rena noticed his behavior, and couldn't help but laugh. Reaching out, she took one of his hands, much to his surprise, and shook it.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Kenni." He breathed a little at her touch, but didn't pull his hand back. After pumping his arm a couple of times, she released his hand and stepped back. "That reminds me. You wanted to ask me something before, right?"

"Oh." Apparently, he had forgotten. "That's right. I did. Um, so…where are we?"

The question didn't quite register with Rena right away. She wasn't sure how someone could not know where they were. Was this Claude an exception?

He is wearing weird clothes, after all. Maybe he's not really lying about not knowing.

"We're in the Shingo Forest, silly." Then, spinning on one foot, she pointed to the forest entrance, "Beyond that point is Arlia Village."

She expected the man to understand what she was saying, but once she turned back around to face him, he was just as confused as he had been the moment she met him.

"Shingo Forest?" he echoed. "Arlia Village?"

Dropping her shoulders in defeat, the ends of her mouth turned up in a wry smile. "Maybe I…should just show you…"

Taking his hand, she led him out of the forest. Soon enough, he fell in step with her, so she released him and he followed. After a while, they approached a bridge where a cool stream was running beneath it. From out of the corner of her eye, Rena could see Claude looking around him, mouth agape, and taking in all that he could.

She half expected him to question her about everything, as though he had never seen trees and birds, either, but he did nothing of the sort.

"So, Mr. Kenni…Are you a traveler?"

She broke him from his thoughts, and his eyes whirled around to her. "Oh, yeah. I guess you could call it something like that."

"Well," she held her hands out in front of her skirt, and clasped one at the wrist, "where are you from?"

"Uh…" his eyes fell, and his steps became more sluggish, as though her question was a very painful one to answer. "I'm from Earth."

"Urth?" she mimicked his enunciation.

"Earth," he stretched the word long enough for her to follow. "It's a place uh…how should I put this? It's a place far away from here. Like…" he stretched his arms out to the side, "really far away from here."

Her eyes lit up and she gave a bright smile.

"Wow, really? That's amazing."

A distant world…He's got to be the one.

Leaning back, Claude's nervousness vanished, as though he were talking to a child. He shoved his hands into his pockets and puffed out his cheeks. "It's not that amazing, actually."

She cocked her head to one side, but ignored his remark. Dancing onto the bridge, she announced, "Mr. Claude, once we cross this bridge, we'll be in the village of Arlia."

"This is your village, right? Are you sure they won't mind me barging in?"

"Of course not. Besides, it's the least I can do for you saving me."

He was nervous again, and wasn't trying to hide it.

"I didn't do anything that special…"

"Of course you did. Now come on and follow me."

Using her hand to gesture him forward, Rena continued first into the village. She listened to the rhythm of their soles clicking against the bridge, and it followed a short way into the village. When it stopped, she turned to see what the holdup was, and was surprised to see Claude's awestricken face and his wide eyes. She watched his head slowly turn in a semi-circle at the view around him.

Houses were tucked inside of lines of trees, and other buildings, like the church, were tall enough to kiss the sky. A waterwheel was churning the water from the river they had passed on their way into Arlia. There were groups of people working on the other side.

Rena reached out to lightly take his hand, and he didn't struggle to be pulled along. His steps became far slower than when they had first come into the village. Claude's eyes trailed a group of loud, laughing children, and he stretched his neck to follow them as they darted past him and Rena. The bells in the church echoed into the sky, and he jumped. Claude relaxed after a moment and listened to the song they made.

Curiously, Rena watched him more, not sure what was going on in that head of his, but she was nervous, too.

What's mom going to think when I bring him home? What will she think when I tell her who I've found?

"Welcome to Arlia," she bounded away from him and announced.

Claude didn't say anything at first, and he walked past her. He made it to another smaller bridge within town that beheld a crystal stream underneath, and knelt down beside it.

"It's so pretty," he whispered, taking off one of his green gloves. He swept his fingers through the water. "I've never seen anything like it."

"Really?" Rena laughed, tilting her head, "Thank you."

He had his back to her and craned his head to see the sky.

Claude said, "Yeah, honestly. I like this place." She continued to stare at him, an awkward moment creeping up on her, and she was glad he couldn't see it. She felt it best for the moment to let him do as he pleased. Even in the passing silence between them while he studied her village, Rena stood back and waited patiently.

This man…Claude, she fell into thoughts of her own. He certainly is a strange one. I still can't get over the weird assortment of clothes he's wearing…or that powerful light he created back in the forest. Is he the one? Well…we are in dire need and he does fit the description…He just has to be the one.

From out of the corner of her eye, she watched him stand up and move toward the bridge. Bringing up a hand, he placed it on the wood of the rail, and rubbed it gently. His eyes were concentrated on the object before him. Rena found it amusing. She had to stifle a laugh at his behavior. From the way he held the rail, she could almost swear that he had never seen a bridge before. He was like a small child—or even a curious puppy, out of its kennel for the first time to experience the big world.

Well…whoever he is, he sure is a looker.

Immediately realizing what she had been thinking, she flushed and turned her head away.

"Say, would you mind showing me around the village?"

She jumped in her boots, but spun around with a warm smile on her face. Claude was standing in front of her, and when that had happened, she wasn't quite sure, or even how she had missed it.

Rena hoped that the coloring had vanished from her cheeks by that point, but hurriedly tried to throw it off, "Of course."

Brushing past him, she extended an arm and pointed to the tallest building behind her.

"This is Velding Church. We hold weddings and ceremonies here. The Father here is a wonderful man. He is always concerned for us and tries to make our lives easier."

"He does seem like a good man," Claude nodded.

"It sounds like they're finishing up a session right now," she hinted at the ringing bells, "or else I'd take you inside."

"That's all right. I'll come back later."

She continued to show him around the village until near sundown, pointing out every building and who was in it, and answering every question that he had. She was amazed that he had so many, and she grew weary after an hour or so, though she kept up with his curiosities as best as she could. More than anything, it puzzled her as to how he could not know about any of these things. They had come as a part of everyday life to her. Rena never stopped to think about how these things affected her, much less explain them to another person.

Certain things amazed her, like how Claude had never heard of herbs. How he had survived so long without them, she wasn't sure.

They were stopped by Lucien at the edge of the village limits, who wondered about Claude's existence in the village.

"Is he your new boyfriend?" he asked.

Face budding again, Rena stepped in front of Claude so that he couldn't see. Giving a nervous laugh, she leaned down in front of the boy and muttered, "No, he's not my boyfriend. He's just a friend that I'm showing around the village today."

Lucien, though his face showed that he was not convinced, allowed the subject to drop.

"Oh, okay. So, say, Rena, I've been meaning to ask...Why do you think Alen has stopped visiting the village lately?"

Relieved that the subject had changed, but thoughtful on the new matter, Rena stood up straight and tapped a finger against her chin. "You know, I'm not sure…"

"Uh, Rena?" a hand fell on her shoulder and she turned to the man behind her. Claude's brows had furrowed together. "Who's Alen?"

"He's a childhood friend of mine from the neighboring town in the north. Though…" her eyes wandered, "he hasn't been by in some time…Now that Lucien mentions it, I wonder why..."

Claude slowly let his hand drop from her shoulder.

"Oh…" was all he said.

And then, as though Lucien had been the one to trigger the topic, Rena found that she could not finish the rest of her tour with Claude in silence.

"Rena, darling!" several girls ambushed them on the eastern end of town, just as she was coming by the general store. "Who's this new guy? I've never seen you walking around with a guy before."

"Yeah, is he your new boyfriend?"

"Well, if he's not, I'll make him mine, then. He's so, soooo cute."

Rena's face scrunched up and her brows lined the tops of her eyes. She marched around them with her new friend in tow. They all reached out to grab Claude, examining his blonde hair and strange clothes. He gave a nervous laugh as they chatted about his masculinity, feeling him up all the while.

Angrily, Rena spun around and tore him from their grasp.

"He is not my boyfriend. And he doesn't have time to be frolicking around with you." Yanking him down the road, despite his protests and stumbling, Rena gritted her teeth and ignored everything else except for what they had said before.

Boyfriend.

Of course he's not my boyfriend. I just met him. It's too early to even think about that.

But it didn't stop there. She passed by the grocer and he said the same thing. The little kids she often hung out with asked if her new boyfriend would be playing with them, too. And even the Mayor's maid remarked on what a cute couple they made.

By the time Rena got home, she was furious.

"Come on, Rena, don't take it to heart. It's not that big of a deal."

"This is my house," she hurriedly changed the subject. "Could you wait outside for a minute, Mr. Kenni?"

"Huh? Well, sure, but—"

She shut the door on him.

Falling back against the door, she took the opportunity for a breather. Never had she been so furious. …Or was that flustered? No, no! Never mind that. She couldn't believe that the townsfolk could think that…Claude…had been her boyfriend.

"They just don't know what happened," she mumbled. "They're all such nosy people." But she had to regain her composure.

Now was the time to finally announce to her mother who it was that she had discovered. If she appeared upset in any way, her mother would instantly forget about what Rena had to say and, instead, tend to her bad mood. She might possibly even send her to her room without supper. Forcing a stiff smile to her face, she stood up and dusted off her clothes. Creeping up the steps, she looked around the corner. Her mother stood in the kitchen, finishing dishes, and Rena took a deep breath.

Now's my chance.

Dashing into the next room, she continued into the adjoining kitchen and grabbed her mother.

"Mom! Mom!"

Balancing herself against her daughter's weight, Rena's mother set down the dish she was drying, and tossed the rag aside.

"Rena, welcome back," she laughed. "What is it?"

The girl didn't share her mother's laughter and instead held her by the shoulders like her mother would often do when scolding her. She gave such a grave look that it took her mother by surprise and the rest of her laughter was swallowed back into her throat.

"This is really serious, Mom. Something big has just happened."

Her mother wasn't often skeptical of what Rena had to say, but she also wasn't used to her daughter coming off as so humorless either.

"Really? Just what in Tria has you so worked up, girl?"

"You've got to believe me, Mom. It's finally happened."

"What's happened, Rena?"

"He's here—right outside our door."

"Honey, who? Who has arrived?"

She lightly shook her mother and hissed, "The Warrior, of course."

Flabbergasted, Rena's mother could only manage a, "What?" for the first moment until she could fully comprehend what her daughter had said.

Rena was incredibly worked up by now, "The Warrior. The Warrior of Light, Mom. The one from the legends. He's finally come to save us."

Startled, Rena's mother pulled away and took a couple steps backwards. She knew her daughter wasn't one to tell tall tales, but this was just too ridiculous.After all, legends were only legends. And that legend had been around for quite some time.

"Rena…listen to me, Honey. Are you sure about what you're saying?"

"Yes, Mom, he's wearing foreign clothes, and he says that he's from another world. Oh, and he has the Sword of Light."

"T…The Sword of Light…?"

Rena leaned forward to take her mother's hand and pulled her forward, "Yes, yes. He used it to save me in the Shingo Forest, Mom. I'm telling you, it's the Sword of Light."

"Saved you? What kind of trouble did you get into in that forest? See, this is why I've told you countless times not to go there—"

"Mother." The woman paused long enough to stare her daughter in the eyes. "The Warrior of Light is here. Do you know what that means?"

It was too much for the woman to take in all at once. Until she saw the man, there would be no way she could pass judgment on her daughter's story.

"So, where is he now, Rena?"

"He's right outside. I'll go and get—" Rena turned and halted in mid-sentence, Claude's presence taking her by surprise. She jumped back and let out a gasp, causing the man to take a step away from her. He cautiously brought up a hand to rub against the back of his neck, something Rena noticed he often did.

"E-Excuse me, Rena. I didn't mean to barge in. It's just…you've been gone quite a long time, and after you slammed the door in my face…"

"You slammed the door in his face, Rena?" Her mother's words were dripping with irritation.

Slouching, Rena kept her eyes away from her mother and on Claude instead. "I…I'm sorry about that, Mr. Kenni…But could you wait for me outside just a little bit longer?"

He seemed to have the right idea in asking if something was the matter, but her pleading face made him think twice.

"All right. Do you mind if I have a look around in that case?"

"Oh, no, go right ahead, Mr. Kenni. I'll come get you when I'm done here."

He gave a quick nod and started for the door. "All right, I'll see you later, then."

She waited until after he left through the door before dropping her head.

"He surprised me," she said a moment later. "I hope he didn't hear what we were talking about…"

When she turned back to her mother, Rena was taken aback to see her advancing forward, eyes wide and face pale.

She was just about to ask if her mother was okay, when her mother cut in, "Was that him?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah, that was him."

"Are you sure we should just leave him out there by himself? If what you say is true, then he has no idea where he's at."

It took Rena a moment to realize her insensitivity. "I…I think he'll be okay…" but she trailed off, her mother's stern face making her swallow the rest of her words.

"I think it would be best if you asked him to come inside, Rena. Go out and find him."

"Yes, Mother."

"I've got things to do," her mom was already moving back into the kitchen, "so take your time, okay? Go show him around the village."

Convinced that the other woman was no longer paying attention to her, Rena turned to face the door that Claude had vanished out of just moments before.

I already showed him around… she thought, annoyed. I wonder what's on Mom's mind though. Probably cooking. She really likes to cook.

"Rena, are you still here? Go and get him already."

Snapping out of her thoughts, Rena moved to the door and grabbed the handle. "Yes, Mom," but she stopped halfway, an important thought crossing her mind. "You…actually believed me."

She was surprised that her mother could hear her, and from behind, Rena's mother said, "Why wouldn't I believe you, Rena? You've never given me a reason to doubt you. And besides, you're my daughter. I love you."

A smile cracked at the girl's face. She whirled around and raced back up the steps into the kitchen. Throwing her arms around her unsuspecting mother's form, she cried, "Thank you, Mom."

And, as quickly as it had come, Rena was out the door, shouting that she would be back home shortly.

\/\/\/

"Where is he?" Rena looked from side to side, concerned. "I hope he didn't wander out of the village. I feel so bad now…If I can't find him, Mom won't be happy either."

The only clues she had to go by were what the townsfolk told her.

"Oh, your boyfriend? He was here just a moment ago. He was asking lots of questions, like about 'masheeens,' or something like that…"

"Rena, about that man you were with…Well, he was here just a moment ago."

"You mean that boy? Well, he had some lump of metal in his hands and showed it to me. Had no idea what it was, though."

Wherever Claude was now, he was leaving behind a trail of crumbs, and had certainly garnered the attention of the townsfolk. That left Rena in a slightly better state of mind, but it wouldn't be any better until she found him.

She made it to the western end of town, jogging up and down behind houses, asking questions, but everyone who had seen him didn't know where he had wandered off to. She finally went from door to door to see if any of the girls who had been badgering them earlier had taken him in from off the street, but even they weren't sure where he had gone.

"He's a real cutie, Rena," one girl winked at her. "You sure he isn't your boyfriend?"

"I'm sure," Rena flared, balling her fists.

Laughing, the girl used a hand to calm the other. "Easy, easy, I was just asking. But, seriously, if he's not your boyfriend, then what are you doing with him? I haven't seen you with another guy since Alen came to town and Dias Flac before that. But…I haven't seen either of them, lately…"

"Mr. Kenni is new into town," Rena explained, her attitude simmering. "I'm just showing him around town."

"Just showing him around, huh? Well, if you say so." The girl turned to leave, but said over her shoulder, "You know, he took a real interest in that church. Maybe he went in there."

"The church?" Rena blinked several times, the thought crossing her mind.

Come to think of it, when we first got into Arlia, that's all he looked at, too. Maybe she's right.

"Good luck, Rena. Hope you find your boyfriend."

Snarling again, she shouted after the retreating girl, "For the last time, he is not my boyfriend!"

She earned the stares of some of the people in the vicinity, but Rena didn't care. She whirled around on one foot and stomped off. The nerve of some people.

Her storming transitioned into a walk, which slowly progressed into a run. When she reached the other end of town, she found the church to be abandoned and silent, quite uncommon for the after-service hour. However, the door was ajar, which was stranger than its unusual silence, and she slowly reached out for the handle. Rena pulled it back and stepped inside, the sudden darkness embracing her.

She couldn't see very well after that, and stumbled around until her hand grasped the back of one of the long pews lining the hallway. Using it as a crutch to guide her, she proceeded forward. A dim light from the very front caught her attention. There was an assortment of colors that passed through the light, and the floor glittered behind the podium. Standing before the stained glass window was none other than Claude.

Despite her clumsiness, he had not heard her come in. His attention was focused on the figure in the window, the outline of a man with golden hair and strange clothes holding a sword up to the sky. Tremendous rays of light escaped from its tip, and his red cape flowed elegantly behind him. She watched Claude reach up toward the window, though it was far too high up for him to reach.

Rena clasped her hands together and curiously watched his reaction toward the picture.

So he's found it…the picture of the Warrior of Light. Maybe…does he recognize it? I doubt he's scorning it from the way he's looking at it. I'm not sure…should I wait for him to finish? Mom did tell me to take my time…

Her knee slapped the side of one of the pews, and she let out a small yelp, her hands immediately reaching down to comfort it. Claude must've turned around by that point, because he called out her name and she could hear footsteps coming toward her.

"You okay?" he asked.

"Yeah, I just bumped into this," she patted the wood backing of the pew with one hand and used the other to rub her tingling knee.

"Be more careful," he told her and waited for her to stand. "I have a question."

"Hmm? Yes what it is?"

"That man in the window…" she gazed up at him, but his attention was turned back to the stained glass picture. He used a hand to point at it, "Who is that?"

"Uh…" she wasn't sure exactly how he'd take to her explanation, but she thought to try it anyway. "That's the Warrior of Light."

"The Warrior of Light?"

Rena shot him a puzzled stare.

He knows, right? Maybe he's just playing dumb.

"Yes, the Warrior of Light. Legend has it that when our world is in peril, he will come and save us from despair."

"Really…?" She wasn't sure if he was listening to her completely or not. The picture had him so mesmerized that he hadn't torn his gaze from it since pointing it out to her. Even before he had known she was there, it was all he could look at. "A Warrior, huh? Do you believe that, Rena?"

His question brought a smile to her face.

"I do," she said with a nod. "Very much so."

"I see…" Amazingly enough, he was able to turn his head away to stare at her. He shared her smile and closed his eyes. "I envy you," he whispered, almost too low for her to hear.

"Huh?"

"It's nothing. So, since you're here, does that mean that you're finished with your housework?"

"Uh, yeah. Mom says she wants you to come back to the house now."

"Is she all right with that?"

Rena let out a laugh. "Oh, I'm positive that she's okay with it. She wants to thank you for saving my life."

Though he shared her laugh, his was much more nervous. "It…It's okay, you know. I didn't do anything that special…"

"Please, Mr. Kenni," she bowed. "Allow me to express my gratitude. Come back to the house with me."

Taking him by the arm, she led him from the church, thanking the darkness that surrounded them that he couldn't see the grin tearing her face into two.

I wonder what the evening's going to have in store for this event. I can hardly wait to see.

\/\/\/

Bah…I'm really trying my hardest here to not make it seem like I'm writing the game's script, or ripping off from the anime. Heh, how am I doing? I already have some more chapters written out, but I'll probably revise once I get more comfortable with this. Please review and let me know (Kindly. This is my first Star Ocean fanfic.).

ML