Metafalss, the land of chaos. A land of unrest, of lost dreams, of general unhappiness. A land where pizza deliveries are never on time, only adding more to the unhappiness and dissatisfaction of the people. Then again, being that this is A.D. 3772, it's likely that none of the Metafalssians even know of such a thing as pizza. Wow. Really sucks to be them. What do they eat, then, on Friday nights when they just want to order out for food because nobody at home wants to cook? What kind of delivery cuisines do they have to choose from out there on the Rim? Do they even have such a thing as Friday nights? What does--

Okay, this is starting to get sidetracked. Let's try this again.

Metafalss, the land of chaos. A land of unrest, of lost dreams, of general unhappiness. A land where milk always curdles before the expiration date, only adding more to the unhappiness and dissatisfaction of--

Dangit.

All right, let's just skip the grandiose, sweeping intro then, shall we? You've played the game, right? You know what kind of a land Metafalss is, right? Good. Then you already know that it sucks to live there, for most people. 'Kay, let's move ahead.

A cursed land....a land that's just crying out for some heroes and heroines to come save it and make it a shining, happy place for all of it's people. Like most other game worlds. They're always suffering. Why is no game world ever happy, dangit?? All these make-believe worlds where all this suffering is going on and all these bad guys running around making those game world citizens miserable....isn't it enough that our own real world is miserable enough? Why?? Why must we face the misery again even within our own entertainment?!? When will--

Oh, hang on a second. Animal Crossing is a happy place. So is Cooking Mama's kitchen. Okay, points taken.

And hm, there's really no actual "bad guy" in Ar tonelico 2, per se. Just short-sighted politicians. Then again, more often than not that's bad enough, eh?

Okay, okay, back to the heroes and heroines. The miserable land needs to be healed of its hurts and wounds and regenerated into a healthier place for all its people -- with rainbows, bell choirs, uncurdled milk, and everything. Because that'd be, like, good and stuff. And it's a good thing that there's heroes and heroines out there in that Metafalssian chaos who have the will, the desire, and the power to heal that land. Like an ace-rookie Grand Bell knight who has more heart than he lets on, and who always wears glasses except when he's in combat -- which is when he probably needs them the most. Or a selfish and bratty Holy Maiden stateswoman who isn't so selfish and bratty as she seems at first, once you get to know her....provided you don't slap her for her attitude within the first two minutes. Or a poor-but-talented Dive Therapist who is skilled at helping to heal others' emotional wounds....and who isn't skilled at very much else, but, "That's OK", as they say in the therapy biz.

Yep, good thing that there are folks like that out there in this world.

Because most of the rest of the Metafalssians are just out for themselves. Like this chucklehead, for instance:

--*--*--*--

A young and scruffy-looking adventurer stood, a tad uncomfortably, before an elegantly-dressed noblewoman of high status -- and of high harido -- within the receiving room of her opulent house nestled within a well-to-do district of Pastalia. She was one of the lucky few for whom life in Metafalss didn't suck. He was jealous. But for the present, he had to keep that feeling to himself, and put his best foot forward while in this noblewoman's presence. Not an easy thing for him to do, personally. But when money was involved, he could make himself do just about anything -- and right now there was money-making business at hand.

Seated before him on a big, poofy, expensive-looking couch, the noblewoman continued.

What's that?

Yeah, continued.

Well, they'd already been talking for some time before we came in.

What? You'd like to know what they'd been talking about before this moment?

Too bad -- not everything has to be spelled out in explicit detail in literature, ya know. You'll get the idea, just read on.

"Well....I think we about have an agreement, Mr. Doof," she said.

The adventurer grinned, ignoring the mispronunciation of his name....which he'd heard only for about the 13th time during this meeting. But he didn't think little nobodies like him went around correcting their social and economic betters. "Thank you very much, ma'am. You won't be disappointed," he told her.

"Mm, yes, I'd better not be. But -- you've given me many reassurances that you and your team are quite capable."

He nodded. "Thank you. Like I said before, we aren't new to--"

She cut him off mid-sentence, the way people who are aware of their own greater status are wont to do. "It's not often you find a freelance adventurer such as yourself paired with an experienced Reyvateil partner. And yet, there's even another member of your team with his own partner as well!"

"Yes, ma'am." It felt weird to have her call him and his gang of adventurers a 'team'. Those guys? No way.

"Ah, Reyvateils...." she exhaled. Her eyes seemed to glaze over momentarily as she apparently became lost in some fond wishful thinking of some sort. The adventurer looked away, wondering what kind of thoughts she could be thinking about Reyvateils that would inspire such a wistful look. He hoped it might be something perverted.

The noblewoman shook herself out of it. "They really are the noblest of all our citizens in this cursed land of ours."

"Yep, they are," he lied. Crap. She was thinking of something pure and noble. Maybe she ought to try getting blasted by song magic from one of those noble citizens sometime.

She smiled -- a very thin, barely perceptible rich-lady smile. "I'm glad we feel the same way."

The adventurer made not a sign. Pure poker face.

"It reassures me that you're not going to be the type who just runs off with my money and wastes it on women and booze," she went on.

"No, ma'am. I'm a man of character."

She slowly looked him up and down. His messy, beat-up clothes, his unkempt hair that looked like it hadn't been washed in days, his headband that was supposed to look adventure-ish but looked more like a bad fashion statement....and were those girlie tattoos peeking out from underneath his three-quarter length sleeves? Not to mention that three-quarter length sleeves were typically women's apparel.

"You certainly do have character, young man," she said, losing her smile. "Nevertheless, I will take you into my service." She rose from off her pricey couch. "You don't happen to have a telecell, do you?" she said doubtfully.

"Oh yes, ma'am. Both my partner and I do."

Her eyes widened. "I'm impressed." Telecells were pretty hard to come by for the average NPC in this world. Sure, they're overabundantly common in our real world....annoyingly so. But this place is a different story. Let's see....lookup....lookup....terminology lookup.....ah, here we are, "Telemo". Most telecells were government issue to the Grand Bell knights, and there's no indication that telecells were commonly available to the general public. Which makes sense given that Metafalss' economy probably sucks. So most likely they're either not cheap or most commoners are simply too poor to get one. Okay now....exit menu....exit game.....turn off console. Research can be a pain.

The adventurer made a stab at bluffing his way past her impressed-ness, hoping to avoid the question of how exactly he got his impoverished mitts on not one but two telecells. "All part of the adventurer trade, ma'am," he said.

"Not from what I've seen," she replied.

Crap. She wasn't buying it.

"Well, we try to stay ahead of the curve," he tried.

"I understand," she nodded.

Whew.

"Well good," she said, "then you will be able to keep in touch with me regularly about your progress. I expect it."

"Yes, ma'am."

Their meeting drew to a close as they wrapped up some final details, including the financial transaction, and to stay in contact they also exchanged telecell tunes. Yeah, tunes instead of numbers. Makes sense, huh?

Yes? No?

Oh, come on! Just because it's not officially documented anywhere in the Ar tonelico canon that telecells are dialed by tunes doesn't mean it can't be made up. It's called being creative. You've tried it before, haven't you? Fun, isn't it?

As he prepared to exit, he bowed slightly as he began, "Thank you very much, it's our pleasure to ser--"

"No, thank you, Mr. Doof. Good luck, and Goddess be with you."

Cut off again.

"Yes ma'am, you too."

--*--*--*--

"Frickin' Goddess! The people I have to put up with for money," he thought to himself as he stood on the train on his way back to Rakshek.

Okay, like eating your vegetables, exposition is no fun, but it has to be done at some point, for the sake of a healthy body, or story. So hold your nose and swallow, because here we go...

Actually, vegetables are pretty tasty on pizza. But alas, this is Metafalss. No pizza.

'Kay, now here we really go...

His name was Lance Deufe, adventurer for hire. The 'Deu' portion of his name was properly pronounced 'dough', but perenially mispronounced as 'doo' by the uninformed, which included most of those who read his name in advertisement listings of adventurers for hire, and subsequently contacted him and his party asking if they could please speak with a Mr. Lance Doof. He got tired of correcting people long ago. He considered it as one of his many curses in life, to be stuck with a name so easily made to sound goofy. And it didn't help that a certain Reyvateil someone never got tired of the joke.

Then again, his name's kinda goofy anyway, no matter how you read it.

Twenty years old, still in the prime of his life, he scraped out a living doing adventure-type stuff on behalf of those too unskilled, or important, or lazy, or delicate, or fat, or old, or sickly, or young, or scared, or busy, or stupid, or clumsy, or....you get the picture. Those who can't or won't do it for themselves, for whatever reason. Adventuring's kinda hard, really. He doubted he would have survived this long without his Reyvateil partner. Even after all this time, he still sucked at hand-to-hand combat. Oh, he knew enough to get the job done, more or less, but one of those Grand Bell knights could dust him easily, that's for sure. But the adventurer's pay was often really good. Folks knew the business was dangerous, and they were glad to hand over a fistful of leaves to guys like Lance to take care of their wants or needs for them. Yet the expenses were often really bad. Weapons, armor, healing items, food, diquility, dualithnode crystals, inns, girly bath stuff, booze, perverted doujinshi. So even after all that work and all that pain, he was still poor. Sucked to be him.

There now. That wasn't so bad, was it?

The train finally pulled up to the station at Axis Courtyard. After disembarking, he glanced over the plaza. It was crowded, as usual, but there at the base of Raksha he spotted his gang of adventurers and went to join them. Another fighter like himself, two Reyvateils, and a female fighter. She was the new girl of the group, but she was better at combat than both of the guys put together. Fantasy female fighters tend to be that way. She was younger than both of them, too. The guys felt inadequate around her, poor saps.

Oop, some more exposition got out there without adequate warning. Oh well -- deal.

Thinking about the nice, fat infusion of cash he just procured from Miss Noblewoman From Pastalia, who had put so much faith in him, he loudly declared to his Reyvateil partner:

"Hey! Woman! Let's go get some booze!"

"O-Okay! Yay!" the short, brown-haired girl cheered in her sweet and cute-sounding voice, even adorably smiling and raising her tiny fists in the air and everything. She was nineteen.

Yeah, they're both underage. Like that really stops people?

Noticing Lance's cheery look, the other guy asked, "You got the job, then?" His name was Burl, and he went by Burl. Yep, Burl. Sounds manly, eh? Not really -- he was about as manly as Lance.

"Nah, just thought I'd waste the last bit of our cash on me an' Cloche here," he said...um...sarcastically? 'Sarcastically' feels so overused.

"Awesome. Then lemme go waste it with you," he replied. Okay, so he caught on.

"Hey!" the other Reyvateil with feisty, strawberry blonde pigtails spoke up. "I wanna waste some too!" People usually called her Kanna. Burl sometimes called her pervy names while cruising around in her Cosmosphere. How he has avoided getting slapped with a Critical Down so far is a mystery.

Lance gave them a cold look. "I don't remember inviting you guys."

"Thbbbtt!!" Kanna spat, giving her tongue some fresh air.

"Mature," he said.

Kanna and her feisty pigtails were unfazed. "Look who's talking! Anyway I'm hungry!"

"Talk to your man," Lance said lazily, wrapping his arm around his Reyvateil partner's small shoulders and starting to walk off in the general direction of a local tavern. Burl followed suit, walking alongside.

"You have the cash!" Kanna declared, following behind. Persistent, ain't she?

Lance blithely pulled out a few high-denomination Leaves from his stash and held them up, which Burl promptly pocketed.

"Now he does, too."

The female fighter trailed behind them silently as they all headed off to celebrate their newest job by getting juiced. Her name was C.P. She didn't talk much. When she did talk, it was usually to make sardonic comments, which made her a rather charming conversationalist.

Joke. Laugh.

Her long dark hair tied back in a braid, she walked along smoothly, thinking about the job ahead, and not booze, because she didn't drink. She just never picked up the habit. Besides, it's hard to be a good fighter when you're drunk. Unless you're some kind of Drunken Master. Which she wasn't. So she liked to have her wits available just in case. You never know what can happen at a Rakshek tavern, especially with these guys. Why, just the other day she had to bail the others out of a song magic duel that they were losing pretty badly, which all started when a drunken Lance was caught leering and drooling over another Reyvateil's--

Huh?

Oh! You're still wondering about the "Cloche" Lance mentioned quite a ways back? Sorry for getting off track. Yep, Cloche is his Reyvateil partner's name, and obviously this is a different Cloche, not our 33rd Holy Maiden of the Grand Bell. She just shares the same name as our Lady, but none of her characteristics, poor girl. And if it wasn't obvious before, read back a-ways. This Cloche is a brown-haired girl. And she's nineteen. Not our Lady Cloche.

Speaking of which, Cloche turned demurely to Lance. "So did my blouse help cover up your tattoos?" she asked.

Lance recoiled. "Gech! Don't call it a blouse while I'm wearing it! Makes me wanna take it off!"

"How does it even fit you anyway?" Kanna blared from behind. Lance was a fairly scrawny guy, but Cloche was smaller still.

"It's stretchy," he said.

"Well, you can take it off now," said Cloche. "Here's your shirt." She held out a folded and cleaned article of adventurer's clothing to him. Aw, ain't she sweet, taking care of her man's things like that?

Lance put on a pouty face. "But...I wanna keep this on."

"Eh? Why?"

"It's your clothes. It's special."

"But it's gotta be uncomfortable."

"Yeah, and you threw such a fit over putting it on in the first place," said Kanna. Then she added, deepening her voice to a mockingly-manly pitch, 'I don't wanna wear girl's clothes'..."

"Well now I do because it's hers, so there."

"But wouldn't you feel better in this?" She offered him again his regular clothes.

"You watch, Cloche. He's going somewhere pervy with this. I can smell it."

"What could be so perverted about a blouse?" she wondered aloud.

Lance said nothing, but picked up his pace a little, trying to distance himself before he was cornered.

She caught him firmly by the arm before he could get far. Too late.

"Well??" she insisted, while still emanating a general sense of cuteness.

How could he resist such a glare?

So he slowly admitted, "Um....uh, well....it's just....your breast-ises have touched the inside of this, and I wanna keep them close to my heart for as long as--"

"Aaaah!" Cloche squealed, going absolutely red in the face. She dropped his own clothes and grabbed the blouse, tugging at it hard, trying to yank it off Lance. "Give it back! Give it back!"

Now that it was out, he no longer cared, laughing as he was being jostled about, "You made me say it! You made me admit to it!"

"Give it baaack!"

"You're gonna rip it, and it's your blouse!" he laughed.

She let go, but raised her hands as if preparing to sing. "I'll blast you!" she threatened.

"And torch your own clothes?"

Kanna and Burl decided that this was a good time to leave them and let them fight it out on their own. Just in case Cloche actually blasted him. Wasn't likely, though -- she was usually the good girl. Usually.

C.P., however, finally spoke as she walked past. Yep, finally -- dialogue from the girl of few words.

"Mature," she said.

Oh well, only one word. There'll be more later.