Happy Birthday Sas! Here's a little tribute to your character, Alain, and your irrational love of cows ;) I'm a little rusty, but I certainly hope you enjoy it!

THE COW RACES

"How far away are we from Fum?" Elinor asked.

Rox shrugged. "A few hours, maybe. Give or take."

"I'd say we're closer. I can smell the cows from here!" Meg said, pinching her nose. Elinor and Rox laughed.

Meanwhile, Alain grinned to himself. 'Cows! I get to see cows again!" He thought, grinning even wider. Soon he was bouncing on his seat from the excitement. Layla gave him a strange look he didn't notice.

As Meg predicted, they came upon Fum within half an hour. As soon as they entered the crystal's barrier, Alain threw the reins into Layla's lap and took off.

"Hey, Alain! Wait up, buddy! Don't leave without us!" Rox called, chuckling.

"Wow, he's really excited to see the cows." Jackie said.

"You think that's what he's so excited about?" Layla asked. Jackie nodded. "Well, it makes sense, since he's the rancher's son and all, but I just didn't think he'd be, well, THAT excited."

The rest of the caravan shrugged in response, starring in direction Alain had taken off to, bewildered at such spontaneity. Papu snorted impatiently.

"Oh, right. Papu." Layla murmured.

"Er, I think I'll go find Alain. Meg, Eli, Jackie, why don't you go find us an inn?" Rox said, appointing them in the same manner he had when he was the leader. They all nodded in agreement, and Layla set herself to caring for Papu, murmuring to herself while she groomed and fed him.

Rox wandered the town, set on finding Alain. "Dang it, where did that Clavat go? There are cows everywhere! He could be anywhere! And he's surrounded by Clavats! They all look the saaaaame!" He grumbled. Eventually, he found Alain in a large, fenced pasture where he was talking to a large brown cow like a dog. "Um, Alain? Alain!"

Alain looked over, startled. "Oh, Rox! Hey! Guess what? They have cow races here! They RACE cows, Rox!" He said, his face lighting up, an unnatural gleam in his eye.

"Um, you okay there, bud?" Alain shook his head up and down vigorously. "…Right. Well, since you're the official leader of the caravan now-not me-it's your job to buy supplies for the rest of the year. Don't forget, okay? Here's the caravan's money." He plopped a huge bag of gil into Alain's palm. "Make sure you get enough to last us, we don't want to stop again."

Alain nodded. "Alright, I just want to watch a few more cow races. This guy's a shoe-in!" He scratched the cow behind its ears.

"Okay… Well, I'm going to go check on the girls and then browse for a bit. See ya."

As soon as Rox was out of sight, Morris, the head rancher, approached him.

"Hey, son. I see you've got some gil to spend, and you seem particularly attached to that cow. How about you participate in a little bet?"

Alain looked at him, weary. "Bet? Um… I'm not so sure…"

"Aw, come on kid. Just one little bet. Just one hundred gil. You could double that money, you know! Got a little lady somewhere? I bet she would love a new diamond bracelet!"

"Or bronze knuckles!" Alain said excitedly.

Morris paused. "…Sure! Whatever she wants, you could give to her! But, you have to have gil, and here, gil makes gil! What do you say, kid?"

Alain hesitated, then agreed. "Alright, I'll do it. A hundred gil on Number Five!"

"That a boy! All right people, place your bets! Which cow's gonna win?"

Alain moved toward the outside of the pasture, waiting as the cows lined up. Finally, the gun was shot and the cows lurched forward.

"Go, go Brownie, go!" Alain yelled, climbing atop the fence and waving his arms. The townsfolk eyed him strangely. "Oh, well, he just looks like a Brownie!" The people simply shook their heads, and Alain went back to his whooping and hollering.

"And the winner is… Number 5!"

"Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssss!" Alain jumped up, and promptly landed face-first in the dirt.

"Here's your gil, kid! How does it feel to double your bet?"

"Great!" Alain said, taking the two hundred gil.

"Now, if only you'd bet more… you could've made a killing." Morris said, giving Alain a sideways glance as he stroked his scruffy chin.

"Yeah…" Alain murmured, stroking his own peach fuzz. "You know what, I'm going to place FIVE hundred gil on this cow! Five hundred!" Alain pushed the money into his awaiting hands.

"That's more like it! Alright, place your bets!"

"And the winner is… Number 3! Alright, folks, that's it for the races today!"

Alain draped his body over the fence, starring at the empty gil pouch. Layla had attempted to drag him away earlier, but to no avail, and left to spend some quality girl time, leaving Alain to bet on cow races. And lose miserably. Slowly, he walked over to where "Brownie" was chewing his cud blankly.

"Why, boy? You were doing so well… I'm sure you're just having a bad day, right boy? You'll be better tomorrow, I'm sure of it. You'll be better, huh boy…" He leaned up against the cow, rubbing his face into its shoulder.

"Um, Alain?"

Alain startled, looking up to see Layla.

"Are you okay?" She asked hesitantly.

"Fine! Yeah, I'm fine! Why wouldn't I be fine? I'm great, actually! Great!" Alain stammered.

"Okay, yeah, it's time to take you to the inn. Come on." She took him by the arm and began to drag him away.

"No, Layla! I want to stay with the cows! The cows, Layla!"

After much protest, Layla finally managed to get him to the inn. But, even after she fell asleep, Alain laid on his back and starred at the ceiling.

'I need to find some more money. I need to bet on cows! Brownie was just having an off day, I'm sure, but Spot has great potential. Bessie is still recovering from giving birth recently, so she's no good. But Daisy! Geez, she was a rocket out of the gate today! I just favored Brownie too much! If I go for Daisy tomorrow I can earn all my money back! But… where to get it? I spent the money Rox gave me and my personal stash…"

Alain looked down at his belongings and suddenly noticed all the artifacts hanging around his belt. Carefully, he slid out of bed and fingered them carefully. Some were visually appealing, while others were made of precious metals. He stuffed them all into his bag and took off out the door.

"Alright, ladies and gentlemen! I have a Sasuke Blade here, starting at 300 gil!"

Alain was standing on top of a table at a local pub, peddling off his various artifacts while the people ignored him. "Come on, it's for the cows, people! Do it for the cooooooooooooowwwwwwssss!"

"Son, I'm going to have to ask ye to remove yerself from my table." A Clavat man said.

"But, but, but! The cow races! The cows are RACING each other! Don't you understand?" Alain pleaded. The burly man simply lifted Alain off his table.

"Ye can stay as long as ye stay off my tables, is that clear?" Alain nodded. "Alright, then." He said, walking away.

Alain sighed and moved into a corner. 'But, I have to bet on cows tomorrow! I have to!' He stood up with determination. "Okay, how about a Green Beret? Who wants one?"

"Has anyone seen Alain?" Layla asked as the caravan gathered the next morning in the inn lobby.

"No, I haven't. It's weird; it's not like Alain to take off, especially in the middle of the night." Meg said.

"You don't think… something happened to him, do you?" Elinor piped worriedly. Layla's face drained of color.

"No, I doubt that. Rubicante is too noble for that." Layla breathed a sigh of relief at Rox's words. "Maybe he just started sleepwalking or something."

"I bet he went to look at the cows again! He loves those things." Jackie said.

Meg shrugged. "Could be. It's probably the best lead we have so far. Layla, didn't you say you found him at some… cow… races yesterday? He could be around there."

Layla nodded. "Yeah, let's go."

"Have you seen an auburn-haired Clavat boy around our age? He's a caravanner, so he should be pretty distinct amongst Fum's typical citizens." Layla asked.

Morris stroked his scruffy chin thoughtfully. "Hmm… I can't quite recall. Perhaps a little gil could help me remember?"

"That's awful!" Elinor said. Morris simply smirked.

"Alright, listen!" Layla growled, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt and lifting him into the air. "You tell me where Alain is and I won't break your face. Deal?" Morris nodded. "Alright, where is he?"

"He-he, he came by earlier hoping to use these strange items to bet with in place for gil! When I told him he needed gil to bet with, he said something about going back to the pub, and headed in that direction!" He stammered, pointing off toward a cluster of buildings. "That's all I know, I swear!"

Layla huffed and dropped him on his rear. "Let's go."

"I need to bet on cow races… I need to bet on cow races… I need… Would you like to purchase an artifact? It's only-"

"Forget it, kid."

"Oh, okay… cow races… I need… cow races…" Alain muttered to himself, rocking back and forth.

"Alain?"

"Layla! Do you want to by an artifact? It's only a hundred gil! Special price, just for you!"

"…Why are you selling artifacts, Alain?" Elinor asked.

"For the cow races! I need to bet on the cow races!" Alain's eyes glowed unnaturally.

"Oh boy." Elinor muttered.

"I've got this." Meg said, disappearing for a moment. She returned with a bucket.

Alain cocked his head. "What's the bucket for?" Meg promptly dumped the cold water over his head. "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! COLD!"

"That. Feel better?"

"No!" He yelled.

"Alright, let's go." Layla said, hoisting the dripping Clavat onto his feet. "We need to get you away from the cows-"

"Cows?"

"Exactly. Don't worry, Alain. You just need to kill a couple Lizardmen and you'll be fine." Layla said as they walked out of the pub.

"Why am I not fine?" Alain asked, looking at each of his fellow caravanners.

Rox chuckled. "Let's just say you're a little too obsessed with cows."

"Hah! Right, a little." Jackie teased.

Alain pouted. "Everybody loves cows, Rox. Everybody."

There you have it! Alain is played by SasukeBlade, Layla by Senick, Rox by TheFinalFyler, Elinor by The Trinity Tree, Jackie by Oh Nathalie, and Meg by myself.

I do not own Morris, Square Enix does.