Xonel: Wh- What is this? An UPDATE? GASP!

Seriously, I'm surprised I finished it so suddenly. And hopefully the quality and quantity of the chapter will make all of you think twice about sending your ninja assassins after me.

Norma: Xonel doesn't own Tales of Legendia. If she did, there totally would have been a skit where C talks about the Force after getting her Laser Sword.

Xonel: Yes. As well as plenty of Lord of the Rings and Shakespeare references. Oh, and the Doctor would make an appearance. And KawKawMan would be a real superhero! But anyway, here's the long-awaited chapter which documents all the events of major interest which happened on The Date! Be forewarned that Chloe's insanity starts to show itself just a little bit.

Courtship 101

Saturday: 5:34 a.m.

As usual, I woke up with the sun, although I really didn't want to today. I had only had, what? Four hours of sleep? Add that to the fact that Norma had made this "Dating Pre-Season" and it was understandable that I was completely exhausted.

I turned over onto my other side, deciding to sleep in an hour or two for once.

Almost as soon as I did, my eyes flared open.

Today was Saturday.

I took a moment to stop hyperventilating, then ran a hand through my hair. I told myself not to panic, and decided that if anything, the fact that Senel and I would be on a date later that evening was even more of a reason for me to get some rest. I closed my eyes again.

Of course, I couldn't go back to sleep. I kept thinking more and more about that evening, imagining where in the world Senel wanted to take me. I ended up thinking and staring at the clock for about ten minutes before I got fed up and decided to leave the warmth of the soft and hospital bed.

I dressed quickly, contemplating what in the world I was going to do all day until I was scheduled to meet Senel later on in the evening. Finally I decided that perhaps I could work off some of my nervousness with my usual morning training.

8:17 a.m.

I slammed the Eternal Sword into its scabbard a little more forcefully than necessary as I glared at the clock. All training had done was give me more time to think and worry, my mind coming up with both good and very very bad scenarios, ranging from a pleasant meal at one of the new restaurants that had recently opened up in the on-going, fast-paced industrializing of the Legacy, all the way to me struggling with my dress on fire while Senel futilely screamed "Demon Fist!" at some unknown breed of flaming Eringi. Oh right, those exist.

I sighed. Perhaps I should go for a jog around town. That seemed like just the sort of mindless physical activity that would let my mind wander AWAY from horrible thoughts about every possible disaster that could happen later that evening. Right? Right.

I put my hand on the doorknob to leave the hospital again- the thought of an unsuspecting Shirley crossing our path while Senel and I held hands decided to enter my mind then, sending shivers down my spine as I imagined her turning into a murdering Merines- and opened it to see a face that belonged to the very person whom I myself wouldn't mind murdering at the moment.

Alright, maybe not, but I certainly wasn't particularly thrilled to see her.

"Hey, C."

I blinked. Norma hadn't spoken a single sentence all week that didn't sound like it should end in an exclamation mark, so why was she doing it now? She even sounded reserved, which was odd for Norma, even under normal circumstances.

She had an equally puzzling expression- one that I couldn't read. I don't claim to be particularly good at reading people, but Norma is, well... Norma.

"What happened?" was the first thing I could think to say.

"I know this week hasn't been all that great for you so far, so... I just wanted to say I'm sorry."

I did a double take. Norma never apologized. "Either you're ill, or Raynard put you up to this."

Norma pouted. "No, I really do feel bad. I mean it was fun and hilarious, but I feel guilty for tormenting you so much."

I was shocked, and thus could think of nothing to say.

"So! I've decided to make it up to you!"

Ah ha! I knew she was planning something- there was that same mischievous glint in her eye that told me that even if by some miracle she did feel bad about the whole week of torture she had put me through, she didn't think it was quite enough just yet. "What are you up to, Norma?"

"Oh, come on, C, it'll be fun this time! I promise! You need something to relax and get ready for tonight and I know just the thing!"

I crossed my arms. "I'm perfectly capable of getting myself to relax, Norma. N-Not that I need to," I added hurriedly.

Norma raised an eyebrow. "What were you going to do, C? Extra training?"

"What does it matter what I was-!"

"Need I point out the fact that you'll just get even more sweaty than you already are?"

I don't know why it continues to surprise me that Norma knows just how to push my buttons. She would make an excellent politician, even in Gadoria's massive web of alliances.

A scary thought, that.

8:53 a.m.

"You scheduled spa appointments for us?"

"Yep! The owner here was happy to oblige once he found out I was one of the heroes who saved the world. He's not even charging half price!"

I shook my head as I looked over the list of our scheduled "treatments", most of which were just too ridiculous to believe. "The first thing we're doing is taking a 'Hershal's Cream and Cocoa bath'?" I questioned as I read the description.

Norma looked over my shoulder. "Um, yeah, I guess. I just picked the most expensive stuff."

"You picked the most expensive?"

"Discount."

"Right..." I continued to scan the list noticing that there were two more scheduled treatments in the "bath" category- one with imported water from Rexalia that would have rose petals layered on the surface, the other being- "A 'Royal Hair-Combing'?"

"Ooh! Yeah, the owner told me about that one while I was scheduling all of this. He says they use a shampoo that has this blend of special herbs and stuff thought up by some Crusandi chemo-therapist. They're all natural ingredients- expensive ones too, like champagne grapefruit oil, Rexalian cocoa butter, primrose, and white truffle."

"What? Something like that has got to sell for at least six-thousand gald an ounce." I shook my head, feeling a mixture of disgust and disbelief and skipped down to the next few items. We had massages scheduled which would apparently give us a choice between various expensive sounding oils- like "Hibiscus Rose"- followed by three final appointments that filled me with a much-too-familiar-by-now sense of dread.

"We're getting facials, manicures, and pedicures? Even when I was a noble I never spent this much time indulging my vanity!"

"Come on, C, live a little! Just relax and enjoy all of it. By the time we're done, it'll be time for you to get ready for your date with Senny. A perfect evening after a perfect day! Think of it as a Girls' Day Out."

I raised an eyebrow. "And why isn't Shirley part of this 'Girls' Day Out'?"

"She's off doing Merines stuff. Besides, she's not the one who probably has me on a hit-list." Norma laughed nervously.

I rolled my eyes, glancing over the descriptions of the last three items. I only made it about five words in before my eyes widened. "A gold-foil facial? You've got to be kidding me! Just think of how many suffering people they could help with that gold!"

Norma gave me an exasperated look that said "can't you keep from going into noble-knight mode for five minutes?" and I shot her a disapproving look of my own. Norma threw her hands up in the air.
"Why are you mad at me? Gold is supposed to be really good for your skin!"

I sighed. "Only you would believe that, Norma."

9:45 a.m.

This wasn't the right place. Certainly not. I must have managed to get myself lost after I rinsed off all that glorified chocolate milk, put on a fresh robe, and signed all those release forms that spa worker gave me (after reading through the first two paragraphs of point two font, I gave up reading and just signed all five pages, hoping it wouldn't come back to haunt me). In any case, this couldn't be the Deluxe Rexalian-water-with-rose-petals bath I was scheduled for. The "bath" was at least twenty feet long! And it looked like it got to be a dreaded four feet deep!

I spoke before I could stop myself, "This is a pool, not a bath!"

10:30 a.m.

I shot Norma a scowl, which she didn't acknowledge, when I saw her lounging in one of the molded, reclining chairs lined up in the room, her head tilted back into a sink of steaming water as two of the spa workers ran combs through her hair. She lazily opened one eye and smiled. "Hey, C, did you enjoy the-"

"No," I said a little too loudly. I immediately felt guilty when all of the spa workers shot me a worried glance. It wasn't their fault I had foolishly tried to overcome my fear on my own, accidentally slipped on the wet marble floor, fallen into the steaming water and almost drowned.

Twice.

"Aw, why not? I thought it was great!"

I tried in vain to wipe the scowl from my face. "I'd rather not talk about it." One of the workers had me sit in the chair next to Norma and they immediately started on my hair. Almost instantly, I found myself relaxing, and all thoughts of giving Norma a good talking-to melted away. I sighed in defeat; I really should know by now that Norma possessed some otherworldly power that kept people from staying mad at her for too long. Or at all, for that matter. After all, Raynard was the only one who would- literally- knock sense into her, and he had been doing that less and less often of late.

Suddenly, my thoughts took a troubling turn as I realized that Shirley had the same effect on people, only with her it seemed far more powerful. Could it be that Shirley was planning on taking over the world through this type of manipulation, instead of destroying it as she had tried to do before? And if that was the case, why did Norma have this strange ability? Could it be that Shirley had taught it to her and they were allies, working together against mankind? Or could it be a behind-the-scenes power struggle between the two and Norma was actually trying to save humanity? But then why would she be manipulating me? Shirley seemed to have some lingering hold over Senel, so did that mean he was her champion? Then, could I be Norma's champion? Did that mean that I would one day have to fight Senel! Or could matters be much bigger than all of this and all of us were merely pawns to some even greater powers, like Grune and Nerifes!

"So, C, are you looking forward to your date with Senny?"

I forced all thoughts of a senile Grune and a wrinkled Nerifes sitting at a table in some park playing checkers out of my mind. The very thought was silly and probably was the result of having two near-death experiences involving water in the space of five minutes. That, or it was from a lack of sleep. Even so, I hesitated just a moment before answering.

"Of course I am. Did you think I wouldn't be looking forward to it?"

"I'm just trying to make conversation here." She paused. "So... How long do you think before he proposes?"

"What? Oh, ah, sorry," I said to the spa workers. I laid back down, feeling guilty for spraying them with water. "I think it's a little too early to be thinking about that, Norma. Or a lot too early, actually."

"Oh, come on! No its not! Although I gotta say, I do feel bad for you. It's taken him this long just to ask you out! Who knows how long it'll be before you two tie the knot!"

I could feel my face heating up. "N-Norma, that's not going to happen for a few more years-"

"Several, I'd say-"

"- If it happens at all! These things take time, time which Coolidge and I want to take advantage of and spend wisely so that we don't- What?"

Norma was making a "tsking" noise and shaking her head, much to the annoyance of the spa workers who had just poured shampoo over her hair. "Still calling him by his last name, C? That's bad. Very very bad..."

I couldn't help but feel worry creeping in at Norma's words. "Why?"

"Would you want Senny to be calling you 'Valens' all the time? Can you imagine that?" Norma made her voice deeper, "'Oh, hey Will, I'm going to be getting dinner with "Valens" tonight, so you don't have to trouble Harriet with cooking.' 'Oh, hello, "Valens", fancy meeting you here at the bakery.' 'Curtis, I was wondering what flowers you would recommend I get for "Valens" for Valentine's Day this year.' 'Shirley, I'm sorry but I can't go with you to the Ferines Village today because I promised "Valens" that I would-'"

"Okay, okay! I get it."

"Do you, C? If you really get it, then I shouldn't hear you ever calling him 'Coolidge' again."

I sighed. For once, Norma actually had a really good point. "Fine. I'll stop calling him Coolidge." It was going to be hard to get out of that habit, though.

"Good! So anyway, how many kids are you going to have?"

11:45 a.m.

After having my dignity thoroughly stepped on during the forty-five minute massage- really, how was I supposed to know I would have to take my shirt off? So what if I was lying face down covered with a towel, it was still very uncomfortable- I found myself trying to sit very still, hoping that this sudden urge to sneeze would go away.

At least Norma had stopped asking me uncomfortable questions now that she had to keep her entire face still as well.

12:00 p.m.

Needless to say, the fifteen minutes spent during our facial went by far too quickly, because as soon as the thin sheet of gold was lifted from her face, Norma started firing questions back me, making the already unpleasant manicure and pedicure that much more of a test of endurance.

I let out an audible sigh of relief as we walked back toward the older, more familiar part of Werites Beacon.

"So I was thinking we'd get some lunch now, my treat."

I gave Norma a suspicious look. "Norma, what's with all the sudden generosity? Even if you find the idea of putting me in awkward positions amusing it's not like you to be willing to spend this much money."

Norma was obviously trying not to smirk. "Maybe it's because its not my money I'm spending."

I halted. "I better not get a bill from that spa sent to me. Come to think of it, they did make me sign a lot of papers."

Norma spun around, Oresoren eyes at maximum power. "Why would you get a bill, C? How could you ever think I would do something like that?"

I narrowed my own eyes. "Norma..."

Norma laughed, letting the innocent expression drop. "Nah. It's all Red's money, actually." She continued walking.

I followed. "Sandor? Why's he letting you spend his money?"

Norma laughed nervously. "Because... he's a good friend! Yeah! Why else would he let me borrow money? I mean do you even need a reason to ask him for a favor? It's not like I'm planning something with him. Geez! Why would you even think that?"

"I didn't think that. But since you mentioned it, what are you planning?" My eyes were narrowed once again. "You know what those papers were, don't you?"

"It's nothing! I told you!" In a slightly calmer tone, she said, "You worry too much, C. Relax a little and focus on your time with Senny."

Unfortunately for me, that was all it took for me to quit being suspicious and continue my wondering about what was going to happen that night.

1:23 p.m.

After not-much debating, we decided to try a new diner toward the 3 o'clock end of Werites Beacon, close to Lumen Spring, which was so creatively called "Lumen's".

We walked in and were immediately led to a booth near the window by a surly waitress with a permanent scowl who reminded me a bit of Thyra. Once she practically threw the menus at us, a rare and peaceful moment of silence ensued. I figured I should enjoy it while it lasted.

"So I was thinking of getting breakfast. What about you, C?"

So much for silence. "I'm leaning toward the Chicken Caesar Salad, myself."

"Man, you really are a health nut," Norma said. She paused and gave me an odd look. It almost seemed... calculating.

"W-What?"

Norma's eyes snapped back to her menu. "Nothing..." She paused. "Oh, by the way, Senny said he would meet you at the hospital around six."

I blanched. "What?"

In my mind I screamed. I only had four and a half hours to finish my mental preparation! I had assumed Senel and I wouldn't meet until at least eight! And why was Norma so calm? I knew it made no logical sense, but it honestly felt like there should be a sudden extreme earthquake, or the heavens should rain down fireballs! It was such an odd event, and I really couldn't understand why the reality of the situation was suddenly crashing down on me. I mean, I had been hoping- longing- for this for over a year now! It was one of those ultimate epiphany moments where it didn't matter that technically Senel and I had been "together" for a few months already. And why? Because for the entire duration of our relationship so far- and I was barely coming to this realization of self-discovery right now- it had felt unreal. Norma was always nagging us, making the whole thing seem like more trouble than it was worth. Senel had told me that Curtis had been acting almost exactly the same, only he insisted that the man was far more annoying than Norma, which I could actually believe when I thought about it. But worst of all was the fact that lately- meaning ever since that incident out on the small dock with Sandor- Shirley didn't seem to feel anything toward our relationship at all. She didn't seem spiteful, hateful, or even sad. In fact, she seemed even more friendly and gracious than before Senel and I had shouted our feelings at eachother. It made me nervous, and now I realized that I had felt like something was going on that I couldn't see. That perhaps Shirley was planning something. I felt like being with Senel was just an illusion- one that I was bound to lose. But now... Now that our date was only a few hours away, things finally felt real.

I know it wasn't the most righteous thing to think, but I felt triumphant. I had won. And Shirley- other than the Sandor incident- seemed to be taking the loss far more graciously than I had thought might be the case. Shirley was a friend, and we were close, but in that moment of epiphany a sudden surge of incredible respect for the girl took hold in my mind. From now on, I would be sure to remember to force Norma into including Shirley in all of our "excursions". Especially if she planned on tormenting me like she had this past week- Shirley could be firm when she wanted to be and she might be able to make Norma back off.

"Um you might want to start eating, C."

I blinked. "Oh, right." I hadn't even noticed when our order had been taken, let alone when the food had come. I stabbed some lettuce with my fork and began chewing. With my epiphany came a sort of... electric feeling. I wasn't sure if I was nervous or excited.

"Yeah, so we'd better hurry up a little. You're gonna want time to get ready."

"Time to get ready? I only need about fifteen minutes, Norma. At the most."

Norma rolled her eyes, letting out an exasperated sigh. "C, C, C... You really don't understand these things, do you? But that's alright, that's why you've got me!" I raised an eyebrow. Norma didn't seem to notice. "Getting ready for a delicate situation such as this requires time and careful planning."

"Planning? What's there to plan? Thanks to you, I already have a full ensemble for tonight."

Norma grinned. "Yeah, but you're forgetting one thing."

It immediately clicked. "Wait a minute, you don't mean-"

"One very important and key thing to this operation."

Dang, I really thought she had forgotten. "Norma, you've got to be kidding."

"Oh, I don't kid in these situations. Well, not much."

"Norma..."

"We still haven't figured out what you're doing with your hair. But for now, hurry up and eat so we can get out of here!"

5:59 p.m.

Normally, I would be upset, but right now I was just glad that the torment was over. Even so, I couldn't help but say, "You spent almost two hours messing with my hair... just to decide on this? This was the first thing you tried!"

Norma laughed. "Just in time, too. Senny will be here any minute, now."

As if on cue, we heard the door open downstairs and someone walk in. I think Norma saw the suddenly terrified expression on my face, because she actually smiled reassuringly.

"You'll be fine, C. Just relax."

I couldn't even force myself to reply because I heard Senel's voice asking something- probably if I was in my room.

Norma hugged me, then opened the door to leave. "Well, gotta go! Be sure to tell me all the juicy detai-"

"Norma," I said faintly. "He's going to see me."

"Um... That's kinda the point, C."

"I know, but..."

Norma frowned slightly. "What're you so nervous about? It's just Senny." Her smile returned before I could even think up a response to that. "You'll have a great time. You'll have fun for once instead of hiding here in your cave all day doing paperwork or looking over reports." She started to close the door behind her. "Just remember, you're not allowed to take any swords with you."

And with that, the door clicked closed. I blinked for a second, confused at her sudden change of topic, then shook my head slightly. I lifted my pillow, revealing the single item that I needed, and stuffed it into the four thousand gald purse Norma had forced me to buy. I took a second more to calm my nerves, then walked out the door.

I closed said door behind me and started down the stairs. I saw Senel leaning against the far wall next to the door, looking off to the side. I was thankful to see that he wasn't wearing his Alliance Marine uniform- I had been thinking all week of how ridiculous I would feel if I was the only one wearing something different. However there was another problem: Senel was wearing a grey leather jacket, a teal t-shirt, grey pants, his usual shoes, and his bracers. A pack rested on the floor next to his feet.

He was dressed far less formally than I was, and the pack... well, I didn't want to dwell on what that could mean. Needless to say, I was dangerously close to wanting to strangle Norma for putting me through this entire week for what now appeared to be no good reason.

Thankfully, Senel decided to look up at me at that moment and give me a good reason: his expression.

Having been forced to attend many formal social events when I was younger, and having basically unlimited funding and the best seamstresses at my, or rather my parents', disposal, I didn't think too much of my outfit. I wore forest green slippers that had a shorter heel than my usual boots, fastened by simple gold buckles on the sides. My dress, too, was fairly simple, although if it hadn't been for Norma I'm certain I wouldn't have chosen it myself. Also forest green, the satin dress was sleeveless- leaving my arms bare- with a v-neck that was cut low enough that I really didn't want to think about it (Norma of course had rolled her eyes and said something about how she couldn't take my complaints seriously when I thought shaking hands was something normal couples would do and again pointed out how revealing my uniform was, to which I decided to shut my mouth). The skirt flowed down nicely, ending in a very slight flare at my ankles. Around my neck was a simple golden necklace given to me by my mother; a thin chain weighed down by a small pendant that surprisingly remained hidden beneath the neck of my dress. On my left wrist was a simple gold watch, this one left to me by my grandmother on my father's side. On my left shoulder was my near-empty leather purse, dyed to the same shade of green as the rest of my outfit. My make-up- thank the Creator- was also simple. Norma had been content to stop after applying a lighter green eyeshadow and a more natural shade of the five fancy lip balms she forced me to buy. My hair was left straight, the only change being that my beret was replaced with a single long gold barrette that kept my hair from falling in my face, as it usually did.

Overall, everything I wore was simple. Elegant, perhaps, but certainly not more impressive than what I had been forced to wear when I was a kid. Even so, it must have been a shock for Senel to see me wearing something like this. Needless to say, the look on his face was very satisfying.

He tried to clear his throat, his eyes still wide. "Chloe, you..."

I couldn't help but smile. "I what?" I asked.

"I mean... heh." He coughed into his fist. "You look great. Let's go." I could feel my face turning red at the obviously sincere, and therefore awkwardly given, compliment as he turned and opened the door for me, picking up his pack in the process.

6:37 p.m.

We took the duct to Maurits' Hermitage, but Senel led me slightly away from the old base, through the trees. He seemed more and more eager the further we went in the trees. Eventually, my curiosity won out.

"Where are we going?"

Senel smiled. "You'll see. I think you'll like it."

I continued to follow him, choosing to remain quiet until we got to wherever it was we were going. Eventually we came up to a cave that gave off a faint bluish glow from inside.

"A ruin?" I asked. "I don't remember seeing one here."

Senel nodded. "It was pretty well-hidden. Will asked me to help him exterminate some monsters in the area and we came across it. We decided to explore inside and, well... It's pretty impressive."

"I see." I had never really been one for ruins, but I would just have to trust that Senel was right and I would be impressed. This was the closest to being outright excited as I had ever seen him, so that alone must mean that whatever he was going to show me was worth the trek over here.

After about a minute of walking, Senel decided to speak. "So how has your week been?"

I couldn't stop myself from letting out a humorless laugh, to which Senel gave me a slightly concerned expression. "It wasn't too bad," I reassured him. "Norma was just getting on my nerves."

Senel nodded. "Yeah, I can imagine. The Bouncers have been giving me a hard time too, as I've told you."

I raised an eyebrow. "Both of them, now?"

Senel nodded. "Isabella's not as pushy, but she's started in on it too."

I chuckled. Senel joined in and I felt myself starting to relax. Maybe Norma was right for once. Maybe there really was nothing to worry about just because we were on a date. We were still the same people, after all.

"So I take it your week hasn't been the best either?" I asked.

"Not really," Senel said lightly. "But of course its already picked up today, so I can't complain too much."

I felt my cheeks burning again. Did he not even notice that compliment he just gave? Apparently not, which I liked for some reason. "Yeah, same here," I agreed.

We walked on a bit further, eventually coming to a door that resembled the automatic doors found on the bridge of the Legacy.

"Alright, close your eyes and take my hand," he said softly, holding out said hand.

Thankfully, my brain froze for only a second at the thought of actually holding Senel's hand. I did as instructed and he led me through the door. I heard it swish softly closed behind us.

And then I noticed it. I don't know why I hadn't noticed it before- perhaps it was because I was enjoying the time with Senel. But now I heard it: the unmistakable sound of thousands of tons of water moving.

"Senel..?" I said, with just a... slight tremor in my voice. I wasn't scared, of course. Just caught off guard.

"Don't worry. Just open your eyes."

Hesitantly, I did as he said.

I have to admit that this was one time I sincerely wished that water wasn't my natural enemy. I couldn't even begin to describe what I saw in front of me. Words wouldn't do it justice.

The door we had walked through led into an enormous circular cavern made entirely of crystal. It looked like the Crystal Forest, except it was of a darker shade of blue. Several cliffs lined the walls, forming ring-shaped ledges around the entire cavern. The crystal formed natural staircases at various points around the room, leading up to the topmost ledge. Several waterfalls lined the walls of the cavern, forming streams that met together in the center of the cavern. Giant boulder-sized chunks of crystal rose up out of the floor all around the room, pulsing with a soft glow.

"What is this..?" I asked in awe. The cavern must have been the size of the entire city of Werites Beacon, if not larger.

Senel shrugged and shook his head slowly. "We don't know. It looks like it might have been part of the base of the Legacy, but we have no idea what it's for. Will said he wanted to come back and check it out more thoroughly later, but I figured it would be fine to bring you down here."

"Senel, this is incredible..."

That was all I could possibly think to say. I had no idea something this big was hidden away within the Legacy. And then I almost immediately felt stupid for thinking so because no one had suspected that the Quiet Lands had been hidden away all these years, so why not a giant crystal-waterfall cavern?

I was so awestruck by the cave that it took me several moments to notice Senel was looking at me. I blinked. "W-What..?"

Senel shook his head and looked away. "I didn't say anything. Anyway, I thought we could just, you know, spend time here and talk."

I suddenly found myself wishing I had come up with some cue cards. "Alright."

Senel smiled. "Great." He led me up one of the staircases and we settled on one of the lower ledges, not high enough to tire either of us with the climb, but high enough so that we could look out over the whole cavern, sitting with our backs against the wall behind us.

We sat in silence for a moment, and oddly enough, I found the dull roar of the waterfalls easing away my nervousness. It was official; Norma was right. I was going to enjoy spending time with Senel, and it wouldn't be awkward or weird at all.

Now if only I could figure out how to comfortably sit on the floor in a dress.

"So how are things going with Gadoria?"

I coughed and had to quickly turn my face away from Senel. I knew he was talking about the restoration of my House, but there was something else related to Gadoria that I had been pushing away from my mind for... kind of a while now. "Well enough," I managed. "You know how bureaucracies are. I'm sure its going to be at least a year before any real progress is made on restoring my House."

"That's weird. I would think they would be doing everything possible to get on your good side, now that you've saved the world and everyone knows what a powerful eren you are."

I felt my face heat up and coughed slightly. "Well, there are plenty of people who have taken an... interest of sorts in me."

"They should!" Senel sounded upset. "They should be begging you to come back to the nobility! Without you, the world wouldn't even exist right now!"

"I'm not sure you would really like the kind of interest I'm getting."

Senel didn't seem to hear me. "I mean seriously! You guys are always talking about how slow I can be- don't think I haven't noticed- and even I can appreciate how lucky I am to have you!" Senel's face took on an endearing red tone as he realized what he just said. I'm sure my eyes were as wide as I thought, because he looked away, embarrassed, and this time it was his turn to cough into his hand.

He glanced at me when I didn't say anything. I couldn't think of anything to say. Suddenly, my nervousness returned in full force, and I gulped, glancing down at the ground.

I ventured to look at Senel again, and was caught off guard to see him staring at me intently.

"I really do mean that, Chloe. I'm lucky to have you."

My throat caught. All I could do was blink and meet his gaze. Our eyes locked, and a vague thought about the utter cheesiness of the situation (I mean seriously, this was straight out of To Love a Pirate, when Claudio and Odette were stranded on that island during the hurricane and had to seek shelter in a cave. Not that I've read the book at all.)

Senel leaned forward slightly, and my heart started to pound in my chest. I was in dangerous territory now. Things always started like this. Going beyond a handshake was bound to get us in trouble. That's how things always worked, wasn't it?

Still, I couldn't help but be excited. Sure I was nervous, terrified even. I mean, I thought I was lucky just to have held his hand, but the way things were going, we might actually hug! Despite my nerves, I found myself following Senel, leaning forward slightly. I struggled with myself, hearing Norma's voice in my head saying that it was about time our relationship picked up and stopped moving at glacial speeds. At the same time, the rational side of my brain, the part of my mind that wasn't infected with what I would from then on call "Gnorma-germs", was screaming at me that "You may be a knight, Valens, but you're in a cave alone with Senel! If you're not careful, this won't just be a hug, but a kiss!" Creator forbid!

Mustering my strength, I started to open my mouth to break the tension and say something-anything- that would stop this dangerous turn of events. Senel spoke first.

"You look really nice with your hair like that," he said barely above a whisper.

Strangely, that comment did manage to break some of the tension. I could feel my cheeks redden slightly, but for once I didn't care. I chuckled,"Heh. I guess I'll have to thank Norma for something after all."

Senel joined in, chuckling, and soon our chuckles evolved into full-blown laughter, restoring the atmosphere to a comfortable level.

"Thank you for bringing me here, Senel," I said, once our laughs subsided.

Senel smiled. "Don't even mention it. I'm glad we got to spend time together today." Abruptly, his expression became more serious. "Chloe."

I blinked, sensing danger again. "W-What?"

"I wanted to ask you something while we're down here."

My heart started to pound again. "What is it?"

"Well, the water in the center of this room is pretty still, and fairly shallow..." He paused, looking down below, where all the streams of water met in the center of the cavern. He looked me in the eye. "I know it bothers you that you can't swim, so I was wondering if you would let me teach you how."

My eyebrows flew up, and I'm fairly certain I looked like a startled Lizardman.

"Don't worry, I don't mean today. I just thought, well... I never did really repay you for helping me back in the Quiet Lands all those months ago... Like I said earlier, if it wasn't for you, I don't think the world would even be around right now."

A distant part of my brain registered the huge compliment he just gave, but all I could actually say was, "Swim?"

Senel frowned. "Well, yeah. I mean, you don't have to right away. I just thought maybe you'd want to learn so you can stop beating yourself up about it."

I nodded numbly as another thought entered my mind. If I allowed Senel to teach me how to swim, that would mean both of us in very little clothing, in very close proximity. As much as the idiotic romantic in me liked the idea, the Gnorma-germs hadn't infected me enough to keep me from thinking that the earlier threat of a hug didn't seem so bad now.

How could either of us resist kissing in a situation like that?

"Senel, I'm not sure if..."

"Don't worry. If you want, I can ask Shirley to help too. She and Stella taught me to swim, and she is Ferines after all. If I can't keep you from sinking, I'm sure she can."

I felt a brief flash of prideful annoyance at Senel's slight smirk, but let it slide off me. I couldn't really deny my lack of buoyancy, especially after the Waterways, without lying through my teeth. "You're not going to let me get out of this, are you?"

"Nope."

I shook my head. Senel was being stubborn, and he was worse than me when it came to bullheadedness. Well, it couldn't be too bad. With Shirley there, neither of us would be tempted to even shake hands. Of course, I tried not to think about the possibility that my earlier revelation about Shirley was wrong and she was still out to get me. Hopefully she wouldn't decide to send Senel away to get something while I sank into a watery grave... No, she wouldn't do that. After all, she's not the Merines any more, not really. I hope.

I sighed. "Fine. Although I'm probably gonna regret saying that."

Senel smiled again. "No you won't. Trust me, you'll feel a lot better once you know how to keep your head above the water."

I gave him a half-mocking glare. Not able to think of anything original, I gave my now-cliched, "Despicable," before turning to look back down at the cavern below.

A comfortable silence passed between us, as we both looked out at the softly-glowing caver, listening to the rumble of the waterfalls. Senel opened the pack he had brought, taking out two Mabo Curry Pies, and passing one to me. I smiled in thanks and took a bite, only now realizing that a few hours had passed since my lunch with Norma, and I was actually pretty hungry.

After I managed a few bites, Senel abruptly said, "You should talk to Will and Madame Musette."

I swallowed, then raised an eyebrow. "About what?"

"Your House. I would think Madame Musette at least might be able to help you out. She could send some influence your way and convince Gadoria that you really are the hero people say you are. They'll have to accept you back into the nobility then."

At the mention of Gadoria, I remembered all the letters I had been receiving and trying to forget. "Senel, it's really not a huge deal..."

"Sure it is. Besides, it should be easier now. You yourself said that you're getting attention."

I cleared my throat uncomfortably. "Not the sort of attention you think..."

"What do you mean? Don't tell me things are worse now?"

I shook my head. "Not in the way you think..."

"Then what do you mean?"

I sighed. "I have suitors, Senel." I looked away.

Senel remained silent, and I took his silence for shock. "Don't worry, all of the letters I've received so far are from typical nobleman I can't stand. But... well, there are quite a few that have sent them to me. I'm sorry, Senel, I meant to tell you about this, but it just felt so awkward, and we've both been busy anyway, so..." I looked back at him and saw that his silence wasn't the result of shock, but barely contained humor. "What?" I asked a little sharply.

Senel couldn't contain himself any more and exploded into laughter. "You thought that would upset me? Chloe, you can't help how other people act. Besides, I think its pretty ironic that they're all after you now. I think I'm finally understanding just how shallow a typical Gadorian noble really is."

I raised an eyebrow, but couldn't help smiling myself. "Yeah, it's pretty bad. In all honesty, I'm glad I'm away from it all."

Senel stopped laughing and his eyes softened. "Me too, Chloe. I'm glad you came to the Legacy."

9:13 p.m.

Somehow, conversation with Senel never got slow or boring, despite my earlier fears that I would run out of things to say. Even more chocking was the fact that I slipped into calling him "Senel" instead of "Coolidge" so easily. Time went by quickly, and after a couple of hours, we decided that we should probably start heading back out toward Werites Beacon.

We left the main cavern and started back through the ruins, still talking along the way. I had just remembered this great joke about a squash, a Peepit, and some gunpowder and was about to open my mouth to tell it when we heard the strangest roar/screech I have ever heard. The roar/screech was followed by a startled yelp.

Both of us wheeled around and gaped at the monster before us.

The thing was ghostly and ethereal, it's very skin (or lack thereof) torn in places, exposing bones, muscles, and sinew. It stood about ten feet tall, with a wide girth of at least three or four feet. It was covered in mangy fur, the color of which was impossible to determine since the whole thing took on an eerie bluish-white color. It's eyes glowed an angry red.

The thing was not human, though it's form was vaguely familiar.

"It's an..." Senel paused, gulping, "an Oresoren?"

The creature let out another cry, so loud this time that both Senel and I had to cover our ears.

When the thing stopped, Senel shook his head to clear it a ran forward, fist pulled back for a punch. Amazingly, it landed.

I took out the object I had stowed away in my purse, and it hummed to life. Norma had, fortunately, forgotten that I had kept the Laser Sword, thinking that it might come in handy to keep a weapon that was easily concealed.

I circled around and attacked the monster from the side with Tiger Blade. The thing let out a growl when it realized that Senel and I were willing to fight it. It started to shake from side to side, waving its short arms in the air, forcing Senel and me to fall back away from it. Senel rushed back with Phantom Dragon Dance and I followed with Phantom Blade.

The battle turned into a blur, as it often does. Both of us let our fighting instinct take over, guiding us through the motions. When I think about it, it's almost like a Force that's guiding us. Perhaps its some unknown side-effect of eres.

We both jumped out of the way when the thing let out a defeated howl and fell forward. Before it hit the ground, it vaporized into nothingness.

"Well that was weird," Senel said, catching his breath.

I nodded. "Indeed. And we can't even show it to Raynard, now."

"Yeah, he's going to be disappointed about that."

I looked at Senel, raising an eyebrow, and we both started to laugh at just how disappointed the scholar would be.

My laughs ended abruptly when I remembered something. "Senel, did you hear that noise earlier?"

"Uh... You mean the thing's roar?"

I shook my head. "No, I heard something that sounded human. Raynard is the only other person who knows about this place, right?"

"Yeah, as far as I-"

Senel was cut off by another, louder yell similar to the one I had heard before the battle. The yell grew louder, and it was only a matter of seconds before we heard the sound of pounding feet on stone.

Senel and I exchanged a glance, slipping back into fighting postures. Before either of us could so much as lift our weapons, a figure dressed all in black with bright red hair whizzed by us, racing toward the exit. We spun around, watching the figure leave.

"Hey, isn't that-?"

Senel was cut off again by another roar/screech. We both turned back around, dreading the inevitable.

A wall of Oresoren-monsters was racing toward us, running on all-fours, looking like some herd of rabid otter-zombies.

Both of us let out rather undignified screams like the true warriors we are and ran, following the path of the black-garbed figure.

We ran the full distance of the ruin, fear pushing us past our usual limits. The only thoughts bouncing around in my mind were those of survival, and of the utter unfairness of zombies that could actually give chase beyond a slow crawl.

We came back around the last bend in the path after what felt like hours of running and finally saw the exit up ahead. One of the things let out another roar that sounded especially close to our ears and we both shrieked, putting on an extra burst of speed.

Seconds later we were out of the ruin, the light of the full moon giving the trees around us an eerie glow. We turned around, panting heavily, only to find that our pursuers had vanished.

I collapsed against a tree, feeling relief to a degree that I had never known. Senel let out a sigh and I knew he must feel the same.

I took a minute to steady my breath, fatigue quickly catching up with me now that my life wasn't in danger, then glanced at Senel. "Well, that was certainly... unexpected."

"I know. Some date, huh?" I stood up straight again. Senel shook his head. "We should probably head back before we're attacked by sparkling vampire goats, or something."

I nodded and we started walking.

9:44 p.m.

When we stepped off of the duct's platform, my eyes immediately landed on a small cafe that had been built between the city and Port on Rage. For some reason, the faint muffled laughter, the warm yellow lights, and a good cup of coffee seemed especially welcoming right now. I had vaguely been wanting to check out this cafe/diner for a while, but never had the time. Besides, I still needed something to calm my nerves.

Senel caught my gaze and nodded. I smiled thankfully and let him take the lead as we walked toward the small building.

He opened the door and we were hit with the sound of hysterical laughter. I raised my eyebrows as I walked in, taking in the small tables and the stage at the back. A man wearing a ridiculous costume of Elizabethan-era noble Rexalian clothing was standing in front of the mike, waiting for the laughter to subside.

Senel walked in behind me and a man behind the counter to our left nodded toward a table for us to sit at.

The laughter quieted. "So I went home, right, soaked to the bone and covered in splattered tomatoes, and you know what my mom says? They all say the same thing. She says 'Now what did you learn, Bill?'" Laughter erupted again at the man's high-pitched imitation of a mother's voice. "What did I learn? I'll tell you what I learned, Ma! Fans are vicious when you keep them waiting! I mean, seriously, did they have to throw that hammer?" He waited again for the laughter to die down. This time, I found myself chuckling as well. "Yeah, so the moral of the story is never produce your own plays, folks. I'll see you all next time."

What happened next brought all my old suspicions back in an instant.

Norma stepped on stage and shook hands with the man, then grinned and stepped up to the mike. "I hope all of you guys are looking forward to more of Bill Shockspeare's work in the future! You'll be seeing posters about his official debut as a playwright very soon! I hope you all can make it!"

A young waiter came to our table, distracting me from hearing the rest of what Norma was saying. "Hey, what can I get you guys?" he asked with a smile.

"I'll take whichever your darker roast is," I replied.

"The same for me," Senel added.

The waiter nodded. "Alright. That's two of our "Earth Dragon Blend". Can I get you guys anything else? A blueberry muffin, or a piece of chocolate mouse cake, maybe?"

I looked toward Senel and shrugged.

He nodded. "We'll try the cake, I guess."

"Got it. I'll be right back."

Unfortunately, by the end of the exchange Norma had already left the stage and disappeared. Even more unfortunate, I now knew that my suspicions which had slowly been building up this past week were well-founded. Norma was planning something, and it would undoubtedly involve me being miserable.

Apparently, that Bill Shockspeare guy was the main attraction for the night, because nearly everyone left right after we ordered, leaving only a couple of groups of people who were all sitting at the far corners of the room.

When it came, we drank our coffee and ate our shared piece of cake mostly in silence, only speaking enough to agree that the coffee was alright, but not as good as Stardoe's, and the cake was excellent to the point of rivaling the famed Flan-Cake.

We stood up again, Senel paid, and we found ourselves walking back out into the moonlit night.

"Wait," Senel said softly.

I turned around and gave him a questioning look. Wordlessly, he led me to the open area behind the diner, stopped, and sighed, staring up at the moon. He stayed like that for a moment before he met my eyes. "Chloe, I'm sorry. This wasn't exactly how I had imagined our first date would go."

"Why are you apologizing, Senel? There was no way you could have known about those... things."

Senel obviously noticed the tremor in my voice, because he frowned. "You shouldn't have had to be scared like that on our first date."

I raised an eyebrow, feeling a brief flash of annoyance. "I recall you being pretty scared, too."

Senel's cheeks flushed red and he rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, well, I get scared sometimes." Then, he added almost too soft for me to hear, "Like in the Waterways."

I felt a small pang at the memory, and what he must be talking about. Suddenly, my sense of our relationship only being an illusion threatened to return. "Yeah, me too. Shirley was in a lot of trouble, then."

Senel gave me a look. "You know, for all your and everyone else's talk about me being dense, you have your moments, too."

I raised an eyebrow, and decided to let him explain before I retaliated.

"I wasn't talking about Shirley," he said. "I was talking about you nearly drowning."

I saw something in his eyes, then. I can't explain it, but I suddenly knew that when I had been pulled under the water all those months ago, terrified that I was about to die, Senel had been just as scared as I was. Maybe at the time he had been afraid to see someone- anyone- die right in front of him. Maybe he had been afraid that one of his friends, even if we hadn't been on good terms at the time, was about to die right in front of him. But somehow, that fear had turned into something else since then. It had changed from a simple fear for another person, or even a friend, into a fear for me. A fear for Chloe Valens. A fear for his best friend. And now it was possibly a fear for someone more than simply his best friend.

And I knew that that was the real reason why he wanted to teach me how to swim. He had covered up that reason earlier by poking fun at me, but now I understood that he was more worried than anything else.

"I don't like it when you're scared, Chloe. Especially when you're scared for a good reason. I don't know how to react to it. I..." He took a step toward me and lightly held my hands. "I like you because you're so strong and confident," he said softly.

Before I could even remember that I usually felt weird when Senel said I was strong, the world around us vanished. It took a very long two seconds for me to realize what was going on.

Senel was kissing me.

My eyes closed automatically. It wasn't "electric" or "fiery" at all, as I had come to think it would be. Rather, it was very simple, his lips against mine, and it filled me with a quiet contentment. Warmth spread through me, but it was a peaceful warmth. It was comfortable, and somehow I knew that this was right. My heart seemed to swell, not with the feelings of inexperienced passion bordering on lust that I had felt before, when Senel was unattainable. Rather, it swelled with a kind of love that was entirely new to me. It swelled with a simple wish, that Senel's very soul would know peace and happiness.

And in that moment, I felt childish for shying away from the thought of physical contact. I had convinced myself that I was being "pure" and "knightly", but that wasn't the truth at all. I was afraid of kissing, and even hugging, for some reason. For the longest time, I had tried to keep all contact between us devoid of any sort of affection. At this point, I didn't know why I had been so afraid of physical contact, but I did know that that fear was vastly unnecessary.

Senel pulled away after only a moment. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I just didn't know how to say what I was trying to say, and-"

"Senel." My arms wrapped around him, hesitating only briefly, and I was happy to find him returning the embrace. "That's how."

"How what?" he asked softly.

"How you should react to my fear. When I'm afraid, I just need you to be you. You remind me that I don't need to be afraid. You remind me that there are other forces watching over us, and I'm not going to die until I'm meant to."

Senel met my eyes and let out a brief chuckle. "Well, that's a slightly morbid way of putting it."

I smiled. "But it's true."

We stood like that a moment longer, then Senel coughed slightly. "Well, we should probably get back."

"Yeah. We'll need some sleep to prepare for the onslaught of questions. I just hope Norma isn't waiting for me at the hospital. If she is, I have a few questions for her."

"What do you mean?"

My eyes narrowed. "She's planning something. I don't know what, but I know I won't like it."

"Maybe we can talk Will into stopping her."

"I don't know. Norma can be pretty crafty when she wants to be."

"True." We both sighed.

"Well," Senel offered me his arm, "shall we go?"

I gave a mock gasp. "I didn't know you could act like a gentleman!"

"Yeah, I think that Shockspeare guy got to me with his costume."

We both chuckled, but I took Senel's arm and we both walked back to Werites Beacon.

As it turns out, Norma was right about one thing. I hadn't had anything to be afraid of.

Well, aside from ghostly Oresoren zombies.

...xXx...

Xonel: Yeah, you read it right. It's Shockspeare and not Shakespeare. And yes, his "stand-up" routine about being attacked by fans with tomatoes was my guilt leaking through. Verily, I tellest thee that I most humbly beg thy pardon for mine ill-paced updating. 'Tis a vice that I must struggle with, like a mouse struggling to eat his cheese while his head is crushed by the bar of the trap.

Anyway. I really hope this lived up to everyone's expectations. As you can imagine, I worked really hard on it, and it really was giving me trouble in some spots. I wanted to give you guys an extra long chapter after such an extra long wait.

So! Look forward to more, because even though she's started to show signs, Chloe still hasn't actually gone insane! You'll see more of 'ol Bill Shockespeare, and the Oresoren ghost zombies. I know this chapter was more romance than humor (not too much more, I hope), but we'll be back to pure comedy by next chapter. Well, at least in the Shakespearean sense of comedy, which basically means that it will be "happy" instead of "sad". Hey, so this chapter was a comedy!

I can't force you, but if you feel the slightest bit inclined, please take a minute to review this chapter. All of your opinions matter to me, so at least tell me whether I just wrote something horrid or not. :)