Saren is somewhat depressed that she has lost her spanky new phone. She's also very, VERY sorry for the lack of updates. It's been so long since she got a review in her inbox. That said, I have been updating random other stuff. The more perceptive of you may have noticed that I have yet another serial up now, called Adjustment - it's a post-Ike story with lots of Stefan. But no Stefan/Soren, because we all know the series doesn't curve that way. .__________.

In other news... MCM EXPO! Quite possibly the best day of my life. I met a couple of very awesome people, one of whom will be reading this and smiling, stalker that he is. xD I was disappointed that there was only one other FE cosplayer in the whole place (a female Marth), but eh. That's set to change in October. I'm fairly sure Ellipsis will still be running by then. I have a lot to explain still, amirite? Heh.

Also, Three Days Grace is my new favourite band, and there are some gorgeous FE AMVs up on YouTube to their tunes, so give 'em a listen. I'd link, but FF is screwy. Anyway. On with the chapter, and I promise to make it a long one to make up for the lack of updates. I'll even give you some slight fluff towards the end. But no skipping ahead! Just a little DAW moment to make you smile and forget my update failure.

I've decided to screw with canon again. It's the only way I can trust myself to keep my writing original and not use scripted dialogue.

Please review! I want my inbox flooded like it used to be. n_n We're near the 50 mark, too! =O

"Empress Sanaki." Sigrun bowed upon entering the room. The apostle gave her only a curt nod in response before turning to Ike and Soren.

There was a lengthy pause before Soren elbowed Ike in a painful and rather overtly obvious manner. Ike answered with a hesitant bow of his own, getting the message but not quite sure of the appropriate response. Soren could tell from the expression on Ike's face that he had difficulty getting his head around the fact that the apostle seemed to be about half his age. Certainly, she stood barely level with Ike's chest, shorter even than Soren. He doubted that she had even hit thirteen yet.

They waited in silence for several long moments as the apostle attempted to size them up, her unsettling yellow eyes wandering over them. The two of them must have been rather a strange sight stood there together, Soren mused. The thought made him smile. He had made sure that his hair was neatly gathered at the back, not allowing for his usual flyaway strands. He wore lighter robes than usual, for summer was approaching, and his arms felt empty without the usual tome tucked underneath. Still, it would be both inappropriate and discourteous to appear armed before the apostle herself. Such sacrifices often needed to be made in the world of politics.

Ike, on the other hand, had no such misgivings, and was dressed in the same tattered jacket that he usually wore. It had a new tear across the right sleeve, most likely a prize from their most recent battle. Soren made a mental note to have it repaired later. He knew that Ike was too busy to bother with such trivial things of his own accord, yet as representatives of Crimea's princess, they ought to make more of an effort. Unfortunately, Ike was completely oblivious to courtesies such as this, and even the princess herself was doing little to dissuade himself from his usual activities. Soren found it incredibly frustrating, yet what could he do? At the end of the day, Ike was the one in command. There was little that Soren could do without openly overstepping his duty, even taking his recent promotion to 'staff officer' into account. It was, of course, a pale attempt to quell the commotion at Soren's quickly increasing prominence within the company. This mattered very little to Soren. It was only certain members of the mercenaries that appeared agitated, and he cared little for the opinions of others. Except, of course, on occasions such as this, when first impressions meant everything.

The apostle eyed Ike. "You are the commander of the mercenary company escorting the alleged Crimean princess, are you not?"

It took a moment for Ike to process the question. He obviously wasn't used to such lengthy and wordy sentences. His was a world inhabited by actions, where words meant little. And Soren himself was caught between, belonging to both words and comfortable in neither. "That's right," Ike replied. "Your...Highness?"

The apostle laughed at his tentative words. "'Your Holiness' is the correct term of address. I see you are not well-educated in the tongues of the court."

"Not really, Your Holiness, no." Ike scratched at his neck, something that Soren noticed he often did, particularly when words escaped him. "I'm just a humble mercenary like my father was before me. Court niceties weren't exactly something I was expected to need in life."

The apostle paused before giving a stiff nod. "Your honesty is admirable. And this boy is your...tactician, is that correct?"

"It is," Soren responded, not daring to give Ike another chance to open his mouth lest he stick his foot in it.

"Words of your company's exploits have not escaped my ears, nor those of the senate." The apostle's voice was stern. Soren frowned slightly. Her tone of voice made it clear that this was not entirely something to be proud of, which fazed him somewhat. As far as he was aware, they had done nothing that would earn them the disapproval of the Begnion senate. " must understand that you are in a rather precarious position." Soren could not help but notice that she seemed to be talking to him rather than Ike. "You have a girl claiming to be the heir of House Crimea, with absolutely no evidence to support her claim. And she appears not to have the courage to even stand before those she would seek aid from."

Soren swallowed. He had been afraid that their circumstances would be used against them like this. "With all due respect, Your Holiness, Princess Elincia was unable to attend due to sudden illness brought on during our travels."

The apostle smiled sweetly at him, though there was a sharpness to her voice that made Soren tense. "And yet, without her standing here before me, how precisely do you expect me to judge her claim worthy...or otherwise?"

"Perhaps because we've been dogged by Daein soldiers every step of the way," Ike said, a dangerous edge to his voice that was, in Soren's mind at least, cause for alarm. They could not afford to offend the apostle. "Or do you think that happens to any young woman?"

The apostle turned to face Ike. "As a representative of your supposed princess, you would do well to learn your place and hold your tongue." The coldness of her voice surprised even Soren.

"Supposed princess?" Ike's voice was steadily rising in both volume and anger. "I think you're all too aware that Elincia is Crimea's true princess!"

"She has nothing that will lay credence to her claim but a ragtag bunch of mercenaries who will sell their swords and their loyalties as soon as a gold coin crosses their palms." The way that she was regarding him carefully made it clear that she was merely toying with him, but Soren was all too aware that Ike would not be aware of this. She was testing his patience, and Soren doubted that Ike could keep his temper in check for too much longer.

"You make the foolish assumption that because we are commoners, we have no sense of honour or justice," Ike said quietly. "Yet I am beginning to think that it is nobles such as yourself who lack such things."

"A royal knight would be treading a fine line with such a brash statement. Yet for a lowly mercenary such as yourself to speak so out of turn, a death sentence would not be unfitting."

Soren's eyes widened in horror. This couldn't be...This could not be going so terribly wrong, so far from even his worst expectations. His fingers clenched into fists. Bigger fingers closed around his own, as though hugging his hand. "It must be nice to be able to do away with people you don't like with just a snap of your fingers," Ike said calmly. "Where I come from, we have to actually make an effort to sort out our problems." Soren could have sworn he saw the apostle smirk at this comment.

"Come now, Empress Sanaki," a man soothed as he entered the room. Soren was surprised that the apostle allowed him to enter unannounced. Perhaps he was one of her retainers. "It is unfair to hector them so for your own amusement." All the same, he smiled at the sight of the two guests. "I am sure that these mercenaries are every bit as honourable as they claim."

"Hmph. Very well. I shall spare them today, at your wish, Master Sephiran."

What surprised Soren most was not that the apostle was willing to change her stance quite so quickly, as nobles were often wont to do so. What surprised him was that he recognised her retainer the moment he stepped into the room. He was certain that this Master Sephiran was the innocent pilgrim that they had rescued from the Crimean jail not so long ago. Even Ike appeared to have noticed something strange, for he was frowning at the man as much as he was smiling back at them. Soren felt the grip on his hand tighten.