Golden Sun belongs to Nintendo and Camelot, not me. Support them if you like the series! I just write fanstuff. And if you feel like borrowing any of my original ideas, please, go right ahead.

"You know, Karis," Matthew said for probably the twentieth time since setting out, "you don't have to come if you don't want to. Nobody's forcing you to. I mean, you're invited, and you'll be a major asset, but-"

Karis rolled her eyes and tuned him out, focusing instead on building a plan to retrieve the Roc's Feather. By all rights, that probably should have been the group leader's job. But he was clearly planning to play it by ear, and it wasn't like Tyrell was going to do anything about it.

"The plan's still to meet Kraden in Bilibin, right?" she asked, completely ignoring Matthew's concerns. "Is he still traveling with Mia's kids? I'm kind of looking forward to meeting them. Have either of you met them? D'you know what they're like?"

Tyrell frowned. He opened his mouth and threw his arms out, but paused before saying anything. Karis thought that this must have been the first time ever that he thought about something before saying it.

"You do know," he said finally, "that this is going to be a long trip?"

Karis nodded. "Uh-huh. I packed extra clothes, and we've got enough food to last."

"No," Tyrell continued. "I mean... a long trip. You know? Possibly more than, uh, a month?"

"Yup," she replied, voice free of emotion. "Feminine products too."

She took the lead of the group as the two boys slowed their pace, exchanging looks that spoke volumes. Karis ignored them all the same.

They came to a crossroads. One road led to Carver's Camp, and the other led back home to Kalay. She didn't slow. She didn't even stop to consider taking the other route. By now, her father would have received her letter, stating – as opposed to requesting – that she would be part of Matthew and Tyrell's unplanned expedition. Goodbyes were unnecessary. And if Ivan got his hands on her, he'd find a way to make her stay put.

She heard Matthew clear his throat to speak. She cringed in anticipation.

"I, uh," he stammered, "I should probably stop at home to say bye to Mom. You know, while we're in the neighborhood. Might not hurt to stock up on supplies too-"

Karis whirled, her eyes narrowed. "Matthew, look," she said. "We both know this isn't about supplies or goodbyes. We stocked up at Patcher's place, and going home will take us far out of our way. We'll end up keeping Kraden and the others waiting."

Matthew shook his head. "Well, yeah, but..." He trailed off. He glanced at Tyrell with pleading eyes, and was met with only a shrug.

"Do you know what this feels like?" Karis asked. "It feels like you're trying to exclude me from your adventure. Now, you're my friends and I trust you, so I'm inclined to believe that you think this is for my own good. Well, guess what? I'm a grown woman. I can make my own decisions and take my own risks. I want to be part of this, and I can help you. You know I can. Where else are you going to find a Jupiter Adept? We aren't exactly common."

Her friends looked at each other again, each one obviously hoping that the other would think of something to say. Neither did, so Karis continued.

"If it's because you think I'll be a burden, then just say so. But keep in mind that I've lived with this for sixteen years of my life. I know how to handle it, and can do so without any help from others. It doesn't need to impact you at all – if any special arrangements need to be made, I'll make them myself. And if you still think it'll be too much of an issue, then... well, tell me. Don't look for excuses. I'm not stupid."

Tyrell fidgeted with his fingers. "Well, I mean, obviously you aren't stupid. We know that. But-"

Matthew put up a hand, and his friend fell to silence. "No," he said. "She's right. She knows how to handle this. We're sorry, Karis. We won't try to send you home again. But if you need anything, don't be afraid to let us know. We're here to help. That's what friends are for, right?"

"Right," Karis said with a token smile. "I appreciate it. Thanks, you guys."

They continued on at their previous brisk march, and the silence was not an uncomfortable one. They had a mission, and they didn't waste words on the road to completing it.

But despite what she had said to the others, Karis was conflicted and worried. She trusted her friends, but being loyal and being blind were not the same thing. Had they tried to exclude her out of concern, or out of pity? She had no idea. She had never been able to tell one from the other, not when it came to her condition.

Not for the first time, she wished that Ivan's Mind Reading technique had been the curse she inherited.

Those villains had said that they would deposit the boy at either the north or south cave exit, depending on their whims. It was a dirty trick, one intended to split the group. And it worked. Kraden and Nowell had gone north, while Matthew's group had gone south. The cave mouth had detonated behind them to ensure that they wouldn't turn back.

Karis knew that Rief would end up at the south end. She knew because it was just her luck that today of all days would be the one where they picked up a new teammate. She knew because it wouldn't make sense for the villains to abduct the boy, only to return him to his original group – that would just be counterproductive.

And she knew because behind the smell of dust, wood, and gunpowder, she detected a faint aroma of frost and old paper. Not that she would let on why her senses were so acute at that moment. Rief was within earshot, and he seemed like the type that would ask questions.

When they came across the crate, she feigned ignorance, despite every instinct within her that shouted "Human! There's a human in the box! Open it!" She kept quiet when Matthew pondered how odd it was that someone would leave something like this in the middle of nowhere. When the box hopped in the air and Tyrell shouted in surprise, she managed to avoid sighing out loud. She only spoke when he subsequently suggested striking the box.

"If someone left a crate here," she said, "it has to have some purpose, Tyrell. Hitting it won't help. Let's just try to open it. Gently."

Initial introductions went smoothly, despite Matthew and Tyrell's obvious dismay. They knew as well as Karis did that it could complicate things. But they did their best to be welcoming, and before long they were chatting with Rief like old friends. Even Karis had some things to say; her advance warning had given her time to prepare herself. She had planned ahead, if only a little.

The four of them gathered their belongings and started heading south. They talked animatedly, and there were several moments where Karis felt... normal. It was dangerous to let her guard down, especially when it was this close, but she had put so much effort into the illusion – for Rief's benefit – that everything was fine, that she almost believed it herself.

But then she caught a scent in the air that the others would never notice, or she felt a tingling itch on her skin, or felt an ache in her joints, or caught a glimpse of the waxing gibbous moon hanging low in the afternoon sky.

The group stopped at around dinner time, and once they had cleaned up after themselves, Karis announced that she was going back to the collapsed passage into Konpa Ruins. It wouldn't make sense to take such a massive detour, she said, if there was another way over the mountains. It would save a lot of time if they found a path that had merely been overlooked. But the others should go on ahead to Harapa, she continued, and wait for her there. It would only be a day or so, and they could spend that time gathering useful information and taking a well-deserved rest.

Rief accepted this explanation easily, and Matthew in particular gave her a smile of either sympathy or gratitude. Karis couldn't tell. But it didn't matter. She went north, they went south.

That night, Karis ran free.

And by the time she caught up with the rest of the group in Harapa, things were back to the way they should be. There was no more pretending. No more need.

Prince Amiti seemed a pleasant sort. Perhaps a bit idealistic for Karis's tastes, but his heart was in the right place, and among royals that made a world of difference. He would succeed Paithos well.

But his attentions were approaching the point of concern.

Somehow he had managed to corner her alone in Ayuthay's underground, despite Matthew and Tyrell's seeming inability to let her out of their sight any other time of day. Now, without anyone to deflect the conversation, Amiti was grilling Karis on a variety of topics.

Some of them were innocent. He asked her what life was like in Kalay. He asked what her favorite hobbies were. Seemingly insignificant bits of trivia like her favorite colors and food were brought into the conversation.

But then he started asking about her parents.

"Oh, well, my dad's Ivan," Karis said. "We mentioned that we're the children of the Warriors of Vale, right? Though my dad isn't technically from Vale, he's from Kalay – old Kalay, that is – and it turns out that only about half of the Warriors of Vale are actually from Vale..."

"What about your mother?" Amiti asked.

Karis tilted her head innocently. "What about her?" she asked.

"Well," Amiti said with a hint of a smile, "she must be quite an incredible woman herself to catch Ivan's eye... and to bring someone like you into the world."

"...Incredible is right," Karis said slowly, carefully, only catching parts of what Amiti was saying, her mind racing to decide what was safe to say. "She was a good person, from what I remember. She died when I was very young."

Amiti's face fell. "Oh. I'm sorry," he said, eyes downcast. "I didn't mean to bring up anything painful."

"No, it's alright," she hurried to say. "I like thinking about her. The few memories I have of her make it all worthwhile." The bond they had shared, even for such a short time, made up for what she inherited.

"You're lucky you have memories," Amiti said. "My mother died in childbirth."

Karis felt a twinge of guilt. She had been so self-absorbed that she forgot. "I'm sure she'd be proud of you if she saw the man you've grown up to be."

Amiti smiled. "My thanks," he said. "There are some things I wish I could change about the world. But..." He placed his hand on her shoulder. "I'm glad we met, Karis."

At that moment, the path of their conversation – complete with the body language and implications, both subtle and otherwise, on Amiti's end – finally caught up with her. Her heart leaped into her throat and her eyes widened in shock.

Gently, uncertainly, she reached up to Amiti's hand, and guided it away.

"I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "I like you. You're a great person. But while I'd love to consider you a friend, I don't think it's possible to be anything more than that."

He blushed and muttered a few apologies. The conversation didn't last much longer after that, and he quietly excused himself to prepare for the group's trip into the maze beneath the city. Karis felt awful treating him like that, but it had to be done.

Time and time again, she wondered what it would be like to just be normal. She could never experience the relationships that people spoke of in poems and bedtime stories. Someday she would get up the courage to pretend, and then maybe she could see how long she could stand to hide herself from her loved one. But not now. There was a lot at stake. She couldn't handle the emotional turmoil that an accidental revelation would bring.

It's not you, she thought at Amiti's back, it's me.


So ends part one of two of this very short story! By now most of you have probably guessed this fic's minor point of departure from canon. Not gonna say what it is outright, but I'm not trying particularly hard to hide the "twist ending." The atmosphere is a higher priority than any revelations here, and I'm expending more effort on trying a different style than on keeping my hints subtle.

Part two is probably coming tomorrow night, and after that I promise I'll get back to DoJ! I've had to put off chapter 68 for several important reasons, and it happens to be a particularly difficult chapter to write as well. But I'll see what I can do.