Alaia Skyhawk: Here you go, next chapter... finally (Grumbles to self about work taking up spare time and also having Writer's Block)

I don't own Tales of Symphonia so please don't sue me. I do however own Krishka, Dallinius (Dalli), Aluran, the Alurannai and any OCs, except Sanaro and Annule, who belong to 2123, Mika and Fiuras, who belong to WingedWithFireyMana, and Gaea Silverleaf, who belongs to Sparkling Moon Phoenix, so please don't steal them...

Chapter 15: Two New Companions

Blue eyes glanced up from above the piece of toast, as their owner bit into the slightly over browned slice. As it had been a few months before, Marta once again found herself sitting in awkward silence eating breakfast opposite one of Lloyd's companions. Raine had questioned them more about Ratatosk and the Centurions once they'd set off from Iselia the previous day, and had also clammed up completely or evaded answering when they asked anything to do with Lloyd's family and his past.

Beside Marta sat Emil, who frowned a little to himself as he took a bite of his own toast, and grimaced as he tasted that part of the crust was a bit burnt. Raine had offered to cook breakfast, with Noishe relaying via Tenebrae to only let her do toast... and to not let her cook anything for meals unless it was to make sandwiches with set ingredients. Why that was the case wasn't explained, but he had a feeling that when it came to cooking, Raine probably had a lot in common with Marta.

As for their other new travelling companion, Noishe had spent much of the previous night chatting to and chucking with Tenebrae. The Protozoan and the Centurion had clearly hit it off, both of them seeming to take amusement from the inexperience of the two youngest members of the group.

Hearing another muffled laugh from the pair, Emil sighed and got up, using putting the tents away as an excuse for some time to think. Raine was clearly a nice person, if a little cynical at times, and certainly the respect with which she was held in places like Luin indicated she was trustworthy. But the fact that she'd been a companion of Lloyd's still niggled at him and made it hard for him to speak to her unless he had to. He was sure she'd noticed, even in just the short time since they'd left Iselia, but so far she'd just left him to figure things out for himself.

Sighing again, he continued to pack up the tents and sleeping gear, although he didn't put Raine's into his and Marta's ver. Raine had one of her own, making him wonder what she had done for the Alurannai to have been given one. But, chances were, if he were to ask she wouldn't answer. If she had done something for them then it had happened during the Regeneration Journey, and that was one topic she'd refused point blank to reveal anything more than general detail about.

Tents packed up, he watched as Raine used her own ver with absent ease before stepping lightly astride Noishe and hooking her feet into a pair of loops in the harness he wore. The protozoan then took flight and idly began to circle while he waited for Emil and Marta to catch up.

Emil frowned, bemused at the hint from Noishe that he was being slow, before summoning his two Sea Wyverns. Was it his fault that the two water monsters couldn't fly as fast as a Fenrilra?

Resigned to the situation, once he and Marta were both mounted and holding onto the makeshift harnesses the creatures wore, he commanded them into formation beside Noishe and they soared towards the southeast. Sat there with the winds ruffling his hair, he once again decided to ask the half-elven healer something, although this time he didn't bother with what he knew she wouldn't answer.

"Raine, I'm curious, where did you come from?" He stuttered a little. "I-I mean, I'd heard you're not from Iselia, so I just wondered..."

Marta had twitched at such a personal question, expecting Raine would avoid it like all the other questions they'd asked... Instead her eyes widened as, after a long pause, Raine actually did respond.

"First, I'll ask you what you something; answer it and I might answer yours. What do you think of the people of Tethe'alla? Do you hate them?"

The young girl hesitated.

"Well uh... I suppose most of them would be alright. I mean, not all of them dislike the Sylvaranti. People are all different, right?"

Raine glanced at Emil, who swallowed nervously before answering.

"Um, I agree with Marta. You can't judge people just because others from the same place have done bad things. It's like half-elves and the Desians, only the Desians attacked humans but both were blamed."

Regarding the pair of them, Raine gave them a tiny smile.

"Good to see you two are learning to keep an open mind now. I'll answer your question... My brother and I are both from Heimdall, in Tethe'alla."

Both human youngsters stared, Marta blinking.

"Tethe'alla! But how...?"

Raine sighed, some past pain shadowing her eyes.

"Our parents pushed us through the Otherworldly Gate, a portal that only opened once every full moon, sending us into Sylvarant to protect us... Back then humans in Tethe'alla's research institutes kept half-elven researchers as tech slaves, locked up in the institute basement laboratories for all of their lives. After it was discovered that my father, a Tethe'allan scholar, had married an elf and had children, there was an uproar. In order to protect Heimdall we had to leave, and knowing that I was wanted by the Imperial Research Institute as a tech slave, our parents did they only thing they could for us... Give us up to the unknown of Sylvarant, and pray we'd have a better future here than in Tethe'alla." She smiled sadly. "So you see, I have reasons to care about both Sylvarant and Tethe'alla. To see the tensions between them is something that causes me great concern. That is why I've spent the last two years travelling, trying to bring about acceptance of half-elves in Tethe'alla, and encourage friendship with Sylvarant. Both of them mean a lot to me."

Both Emil and Marta were stunned, the former speaking as something in him shifted and he found himself respecting her just a bit.

"The people of Tethe'alla did such horrible things to you, and yet you still want to protect them, and at the same time you want to protect the Sylvaranti too... I don't know if I could ever be as strong as you."

"You will, you just have a few more lessons to learn before you find it..."

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The Church hamlet of Nanlia had changed little in all the years since she'd first set foot here, at the start of a journey that had ended up saving the world. Being so close to Iselia, this village hadn't suffered as many losses as others, in terms of the members of the clergy who lived here. Pilgrims still came to Iselia regularly, and so Nanlia remained an important rest stop for them with priests and priestesses needed to ensure they had a safe place to stay before moving on.

Raine leaned on the windowsill of her tiny room inside the village's House of Salvation. It had taken five weeks back then to cover the distance that she'd just covered in six days, but then flying even at the Wyverns' top speed was a lot faster than walking. She was sure Emil was starting to be a bit less wary of her, although Marta remained rather sceptical. Noishe, at least, was proving more popular... after all, who can resist it when a pair of soppy brown eyes pin you with 'the look' as their owner silently begs you to give them the last of your desert. The fact that by appearance he could have passed as one of the elemental 'monsters' that served the Centurions was also likely part of it. Emil and Marta didn't really think of him as a 'person', but rather something akin to those creatures. It was just as well considering that, if the Alurannai were behind any of Lloyd's recent actions, Raine was sure that Noishe would be relaying the pair's movements to them via the Sentinels. If he was then Tenebrae clearly hadn't noticed, although a conversation she'd heard the second night with the youths had revealed to her that the Centurion couldn't be considered that good at mind speech... He certainly whined when he'd been asked to use it, so they wouldn't have to listen to what sounded to them like a one-sided conversation with Noishe.

She sighed. Why did things have to become so complicated again? After the worlds were reunited as one, all that was supposed to be needed was to help the two sides learn to live alongside each other again. But then nature had started to go awry, compounding the tensions already building between Tethe'alla and Sylvarant... And now all this involving the Centurions and their previously unheard of master, Summon Spirit Ratatosk. The world she and her friends had strived to hard to save was unravelling at the seams, and right now she felt so helpless with regards to what she could do about it. Travelling with Emil and Marta was just one possibility, and while it was true she could have gone off alone, she had a feeling she'd learn more by staying close to them.

Furred feet padded on the wooden floor outside the room's door, a white and green head nudging it open and peering in.

Noishe watched her intently for a moment, before he spoke.

Don't worry too much about it, Raine. I may not know what Lloyd is up to, but I can assure you that whatever he's been doing, he's doing it with his father's permission... If he weren't then Kratos would have Lloyd locked up in Alahnsyr, and there's no way Lloyd would be able to leave if Kratos wanted him kept there. Lord Krishka would see to it.

Raine turned to look at him, reassured, but still worried.

/That may be, but it doesn't stop me worrying. Lloyd is being blamed for so much destruction, and right now I'm finding it hard to figure out how so many people would name him as the culprit and for them not to be right. / She glanced past the Protozoan, to the Centurion who was currently teasing an increasingly irritated Emil. /Are you sure we should talk like this here? Tenebrae might hear. /

Noishe let out a very quiet snort.

Trust me, he won't... I've spent the past six days testing his mind speech ability, and I can tell you this. His range is abysmal, his awareness of mind speech around him is almost non-existent, and he's restricted to such a narrow set of thought frequencies that it's a wonder he can use mind speech at all.

Raine raised an eyebrow.

/Let me guess, you've been telling him jokes over and over at different frequencies until you found which ones he could hear you on, then tested his range, and then tested to see if he was pretending by insulting him constantly on the ones he apparently couldn't hear. /

Noishe smirked.

Correct. He's so sensitive to insults that, if he had heard me, there would be no way he'd have been able to keep quiet. And it's safe for you to 'prod' me to make me 'listen' for you, the Receiver Crystal works on frequencies well outside of his range. He can't hear you, even if you wanted him to.

Raine sighed.

/That's good to know at least. Being able to talk to you without fear of them overhearing may be important later. / She got to her feet, speaking out loud this time and leaving her room. "Come on, Noishe. Let's go get some fresh air. It's a little stuffy in here."

/-.-.-...-.-.-.-.-.-..-.-...-.-.-.-\

Emil watched as the half-elven woman and the Fenrilra descended the stairs to the small chapel below, giving a glance to the Centurion beside him and deciding that Raine had a good idea. He followed after her, leaving Tenebrae to his own devices, before setting off down a different path from her once outside.

The village was quiet, the priests and priestesses all tending to the vegetable gardens around each of the settlement's cottages. Besides the thud of tools on soil there was nothing but the wind and birdsong, and a faint whispering melody at the edge of his awareness...

He frowned, wondering where it was coming from, before setting off in its general direction. Walking away from the edge of the village, through the long grasses of the rolling plains south of Iselia, it called to him strangely... Like a melody long forgotten only to be recalled many years later. He continued to walk, becoming increasingly nervous about how far he was getting from Nanlia, until after about fifteen minutes he stopped in his tracks.

A short way away was a cluster of trees, incongruous with the open plains, in the centre of which one tree towered over all the others. Its silvery spear-shaped leaves reflected the sunlight softly, and after strolling beneath its boughs to stand beside its trunk he realised now where the song was coming from.

Awed, he placed a hand on that rough brown bark, before closing his eyes to listen. The song soothed him, brushing away doubts; a long lost lullaby that sent him drifting into slumber. He sat at the base of the tree, leaning back against it before dozing off. This seemed so familiar, and yet he couldn't recall any time that he'd done this before.

"I see you can hear the treesong."

The slightly sibilant murmur had Emil open his eyes, but he didn't flinch. He was too relaxed right now to be startled, not when he recognised the voice.

"Hello Iarask."

The Servant came down out of the air where he had appeared, twining gently around Emil's shoulders and resting his head on one of the boy's arms. There he remained, as he spoke softly to the young Knight.

"I bring news from Lord Yasin, that he has stabilised the mana in the region belonging to Ventus. He is moving south to go to Aqua's altar... The Palmacostan region is more stable than most since Aqua is awake, but he wants no repeat of the incident with the Manitou causing storms. He's going to sort out the mana in that region before he decides where he will be needed most next."

Emil sighed, reaching up to idly pet Iarask's crested head.

"That's good to hear. Palmacosta can't afford for its ships to keep staying in port, and the people can't either." He glanced at the Servant. "Does Yasin know about Raine and her friend Noishe being with us?"

Iarask paused, gazing back with his emerald eyes.

"He does... He spoke highly of Raine's healing skills for a half-elf of less than fifty years, and also asked that I tell you that you can trust her. While it is true she is a close friend of Lloyd's, it is also true that she will put the world first... If Lloyd is truly a threat to the world, she will act to stop him even if she must fight him to do so."

Emil's expression became thoughtful, before for his spoke again.

"And what about Noishe? I've seen Raine talking to him like he understands a lot of things, and Tenebrae chats to him a lot as well... He doesn't strike me as being some sort of dumb animal, for all he likes to beg treats off of Marta like he's a pet or something."

Picturing the image of Marta on the receiving end of 'the look' from a certain Fenrilra, Iarask's tongue flicked a little in uneasiness before he replied.

"Indeed he is not stupid, in fact he is incredibly intelligent. He has already established the extent to which Tenebrae can hear and detect mind speech, and now, when he does not want Tenebrae to hear, deliberately speaks to Raine in thought frequencies that are beyond Tenebrae's ability to be aware of."

Emil stiffened.

"What?"

The Servant sighed.

"Protozoans like Noishe are all strongly associated with others of the three Offspring Races. He will report your movements to both the Greater Summon Spirits and also the Alurannai whom, if they believe your actions have become a threat to the world, will act to stop you as surely as Raine will act to stop Lloyd if that is necessary... You can trust him, count on him to help keep you safe, but do not confide in him anything you would wish remain unknown to the Alurannai." Iarask prodded Emil's cheek with the end of his tail. "Now, the jiisumura who watches over the area around this Sentinel is heading back in this direction. I suggest you go back to the village, for it is better that that individual does not see you here, especially with me."

Iarask then vanished, Emil finally jolted from his peaceful frame of mind by those words.

He got to his feet and hurried from the grove, dwelling on what he'd learned before glancing back. He'd heard of Sentinels from Tenebrae, but this was the first time he'd seen one up close. He hadn't even realised that was what it was until Iarask had mentioned it. The Sentinels helped spread the mana across the world, just like the Centurions and their monsters did... It all made him feel incredibly small.

Turning away and going back to the village, he felt more at ease than he had for a while... He knew now that he could trust Raine, and even though he would snitch things to the Alurannai, Noishe too could be trusted. Two more companions would make the road less daunting, especially now that he knew for sure he could count on them.

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Alaia Skyhawk: There you go, I'll see about getting the next one up in a few days.