"Is it just me," enquired Mustadio as he baked under the ferocious sun of Zeklaus Desert, "or has Ramza gotten a whole lot scarier recently?" He cast a quick glance at his companion, Agrias, before returning his focus to the small army of skeletons and bombs moving slowly but inexorably across the vast, shadeless wastes. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Ramza still scratching away at the sand with a stick and muttering to himself, as he had been for several minutes.

"You mean the fact that he can bend the laws of physics with abstract mathematics?" the former royal bodyguard asked. She, too, eyed the approaching hordes cautiously, fingering her sword in anticipation of the impending conflict.

"No," the young machinist replied, then paused. "Well, yes. It still weirds me out that he found a way to quantify experience." That, and the memory of other recent revelations about the true nature of reality, caused him to shiver in spite of the searing heat. "Actually, I meant his attitude towards us, how he treats us these days. He acts like we're less his friends and more pieces on a chess board! You remember that thing with Beowulf a few days back?"

"Gods, yes!" Agrias exclaimed, her face going pale. "He turned the poor man to stone because it had 'a 73% chance to also affect the minotaur next to him'! He didn't even seem contrite about it afterwards, just annoyed that he missed the monster!"

Mustadio nodded solemnly. The knight was still shaken up over the incident, and had refused to participate in today's battle. If he was excepting an apology from their leader, it didn't appear to be forthcoming. The mechanic was about to say more when he saw Ramza stand up and look him dead in the eyes. A chill ran down his spine as he realized what was coming.

"I'm sorry, Mustadio," the blond warrior stated matter-of-factly, "it's for the greater good."

"What?" shrieked the terrified engineer. "No! NO!" A blinding white light surrounded him, then there was pain, and finally nothing.

When he awoke, he could see Agrias kneeling beside him with a look of deep concern etched on her face. "How long was I out?" he croaked as he tried to get to his feet.

"Not long," she answered, helping him up. "Ramza took out half of their number with that volley. He left me to revive you while he prepares his next calculation." Her expression suddenly turned deadly serious, and she clasped his hand tightly in a warrior's embrace. "Swear you'll do the same for me when the time comes," she said forcefully, a hint of fear in her voice. "Swear to me!"

"I, I swear!" Mustadio stammered, unsettled by her tone. He felt greatly relieved to see the tension visibly drain out of her, and a small smile crossed her lips before quickly returning to her customary stern look.

"Good," Agrias responded, releasing her grip on her comrade-in-arms. She straightened her back, then drew her sword and gestured with it at the nearby monsters. "Let us drive these fiends back," she intoned formally, "and tonight, we will see if we can get drunk enough to forget that the man we follow has become a raging sociopath." With that, she charged into the fray, letting loose with a fierce battle cry.

Mustadio sighed and quaffed a potion, which only healed his physical wounds. His last thought, before the battle swept over them, was: What would happen to them if Ramza thought they were all expendable?