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A Fragile Soul, Broken

(completed 11/16/2008;Tales of Symphonia)

All right, first mission time. The story in question, "A Fragile Soul"*), is located on Fanfiction.net and is the property of its author, Akisame Moonlight; I want no part of it. Credit for the PPC goes to the illustrious Jay and Acacia; I am merely one of the many who have thought it a worthy endeavor. Tales of Symphonia is property of Namco; "Rahadlakum" is from the musical Kismet, by Robert Wright and George Forrest, adapted from the music of Alexander Borodin. I don't own any of the above items.

Agents Katrina and Samuel, however, do belong to me.

Thanks are, as always, due to my beta, Kali, who while not a PPCer does follow their exploits.

Also, I hear red herrings are delicious.

[*)Editors note: Apparently, Akisame Moonlight began to rewrite "A Fragile Soul" and gave up while Makari still wrote the mission report. Some of the mistakes, like the misspelled "journey" in the summary, are no longer there, and what once was the prologue is all that is left.]


“Phi,” the newly-recruited Agent Katrina muttered under her breath. “Phi. That’s not even a number, unless it’s one of the weird ones like pi and I just haven’t heard of it.” She paused, adjusting the straps of her backpack and taking a moment to glance around. On one side of the hall was a door labeled ‘RC 1010,’ and on the other side one labeled ‘#2816.’ That was presumably a response center as well.

“This would be so much easier if I knew the value of phi,” Kat grumbled. “I’d at least have some idea whether or not I was in the right place. Which would be nice, really.” Sighing, Kat continued her trek down the gray hallway.

Four hours later, Kat had finally resorted to singing old show tunes in a vain effort to distract herself from the endless search. “Virtue is the nectar celestial/ Virtue is divine perfume/ Virtue is the gods’ own ambrosia/ Virtue is—“

And here Kat ran face-first into a wall. “Rahadlakum,” she finished, and backed up a few steps. How had she not seen that coming?

The ‘wall’ was actually a door, with the words ‘RC Phi’ painted directly onto the surface. Under that, someone had thoughtfully added ‘1.61803399, etc.’ in pencil. Kat scowled at the door. “You’re very funny,” she told it, and knocked.

There was a loud ‘thud,’ as though someone had tripped over something and landed on the floor. The muffled curses that followed seemed to suggest that this might have been the case. A few moments later, the door was opened.

Katrina immediately found that she was at least a head shorter than her new partner. Excellent. “I’m Katrina, and—holy battle dung on a stick.”

She had just gotten a good look at the tall man’s face. Something about it had evidently frozen the teenager in her mental tracks, as she didn’t seem to be able to look away.

The man standing in the doorway was a few inches over six feet, fairly well-built, clothed mostly in black with careful accents of red and gray. The flash patch on his shoulder was of a potted cactus, identifying him as an agent in the Department of Mary Sues. His hair was long and black, with prominent white streaks at his temples, and tied loosely back.

Altogether, it didn’t seem as though he was strange enough to cause anyone’s brain to freeze.

He raised one eyebrow, looking the newcomer over. Short, strawberry blonde, freckled, wearing black jeans and a uniform top as well as a gobsmacked expression. “Oh?” he queried curiously.

Kat shook herself, physically and mentally. “You look... I’m sorry,” she began in a slightly strained voice. “What’s your name?”

“I’m called Samuel.”

“That’s not your real name.” Kat sounded very certain of herself.

“It’s not,” Samuel agreed.

When nothing further was forthcoming, Kat threw her hands up in the air in a gesture of surrender. “Fine, whatever, that’s your business. I’m Katrina, call me Kat, and I believe I’m your new partner.”

“Indeed.” Samuel turned and walked back to his seat by the console, avoiding the spiny blue yak-like creature that was lying in the middle of the floor like a particularly lumpy rug.

Kat took a few steps inside, eying the creature carefully. “What is that?”

“Micah. He’s a ypur.”

“Right. Um. Where can I put my stuff?”

Samuel said nothing, but pointed toward one of the two doors that didn’t lead out of the RC. Kat skirted Micah warily and pulled the door open, revealing a tiny bedroom that contained a bunk bed and a pair of small bookshelves against one wall. The bottom bunk looked like it had been claimed by Samuel, as did the bookshelf on the right. Kat had just scaled the ladder and dropped her backpack on the top bunk when an ear-piercing [BEEEEEEP!] split the air. Startled, Kat toppled off the ladder, landing hard on the floor.

Samuel appeared in the open doorway. “Mission,” he said simply. “Tales of Symphonia.” He tipped his head to one side, giving Kat a curious glance.

She stood up and brushed herself off. “I’m quite familiar with the continuum, if that’s what you want to know. I run into almost no one else who is, sadly. ‘Sue?”

With a nod, Samuel returned to the console. Kat shrugged, and ascended the ladder again, fishing around in her backpack. When she found what she sought – pencil, notebook, and a weapon – she leapt off the ladder, landing on her feet this time, and trotted into the main room.

As she entered, Samuel glanced up from the console. He frowned, indicating Kat’s weapon of choice.

“You don’t talk much, do you?” Kat hefted her ‘weapon’ thoughtfully.

It was easy to see why the quiet man might be unimpressed with her weapon. It was, after all, a ballet shoe. To be fair, it was a pointe shoe, carefully hardened with glue and what was essentially cardboard in strategic places to allow the wearer to balance on the tips of her toes, but it was still a shoe made of pale pink satin, with ribbons trailing from one end.

Kat firmed her grip on the heel, whirled, and slammed the shoe into the wall, toe-first.

The shoe came away fine, save for a bit of discoloration on the satin covering the toe.

The wall did not come away fine; it had developed a hole about the same size as the pointe shoe’s toe. “I managed to get it specially reinforced with some sort of metal – I forget what they called it. Otherwise no way could it do that. I can’t actually use it for dancing, now, but it’s good as a weapon.”

Samuel nodded, and turned back to the console.

“So, how bad is this story?” Kat wanted to know, wandering over. Samuel gestured to the summary displayed on the screen.

Yuan and Martel have a baby. She's shy and fragile but what if she went along with Lloyd and the others on the world regeneration jounery?” Kat read, and hummed under her breath. “Well, that doesn’t sound fun. Extra people on the ‘regeneration journey’ are never a good sign.”

Samuel offered the teenager a small smile. “Disguises?” he asked.

Kat frowned at him. “I’ve got no idea how to program them. You’re the experienced one here.”

“What kind?” Samuel elaborated patiently.

“Right, right...” Kat turned back to the display, skimming through the words quickly, shuddering every so often. “Hmm... generic half-elf soldiers should work. We’ll be able to pass as both Renegades and Desians, that way.” Something occurred to the blonde, and she cautiously poked Samuel’s elbow.

He looked up from programming the disguises, and Kat took that as her cue. “Why ask me?”

“I am... only vaguely familiar with the continuum,” Samuel admitted, in what had to be the most words he’d strung together since Kat had met him.

Kat wilted a little. “I’m going to have to write the whatchamacallit, the charge list, aren’t I?”

Samuel said nothing, only finished programming the disguises and opened a portal.

“Also, I don’t have any sort of analysis device. That’s probably a problem,” Kat noted thoughtfully.

Picking up a mid-sized, easily overlookable bag from beside the console, Samuel shrugged, and stepped through the portal. Kat scowled after him. “He better hope everything we need is in that bag,” she said darkly, knotting the ribbons of her pointe shoe around one belt loop and reaffirming her grip on pencil and notebook. With a deep breath, she headed after Samuel.

Prologue

A bit disoriented, Kat glanced up at the bold type hanging in mid-air. “Excellent, you missed the author’s note,” she said brightly, glancing over at her partner. It took a good deal of control not to bolt for the hills, as Samuel was the very picture of a Desian from the Iselia Human Ranch, complete with leather armor in dull red and brown and a helmet that almost completely hid his face.

She had, luckily, gotten the female end of the deal that did not involve extremely scanty armor and a spear. Her uniform looked almost exactly like Samuel’s, right down to the helmet. Oh, that would be why everything looks odd. I’m looking through the visor, Kat realized, a little late, and, after some trying and failing to raise the visor, simply removed the helmet.

Samuel did the same, setting his helmet to one side as he knelt to root through his bag for something. Kat meandered toward him to peer over his shoulder, though his body mostly blocked her view.

She took a hurried hop-step backward as Samuel stood, pressing a boxy device into her free hand. “What’s this?”

“Canon Analysis Device,” Samuel answered brusquely. “I have the Character version.” He brandished his own, and slung the bag over his shoulder.

Right on cue, a strangled cry arose from nearby, and the surroundings solidified into a vaguely grassy field. Some distance away were four people, all too involved in their own business to notice the Agents... yet, anyway. Kat winced. “Ouch. No cover. We should keep our distance.”

“We’ll miss charges,” Samuel said absently, squinting at the figures.

“There’ll be plenty later, from what I saw,” Kat said, and sits down hard as the tense changes and then snapped back. “Ow! Sweet Mew. That hurt.”

The lone woman in the group briefly became grossly mutated, her face covering her dress. Samuel winced. Kat frowned, and slowly let her eyes unfocus. Sure enough, just as the handbook had promised, there were the Words. “Ah, that’d do it. Her white gown was all covered in mud and dirt and her face as well.

The three males surrounding her, ostensibly helping her through childbirth, abruptly became piles of hair vaguely shaped like people.

“A blued hair man, a blond hair boy, and a red hair man,” Samuel says disgustedly.

Kat swears, and waits for the tense to snap back before she climbed to her feet, tucking her CAD under one arm. “Sons of the pharaohs. Tense consistency is not just for kicks and giggles.” Absently, she noted that the field had become slightly more defined, and was beginning to look a bit like a battlefield, complete with the occasional corpse and broken weapon.

“This could be a while,” Samuel said. Kat glanced over at him, and took another look at the Words. Sure enough, 'For hours they sat there, helping Martel with her childbirth situation', was coming up shortly.

“I like what comes before that, though,” Kat noted. “...she did let out some yelps from time to time from childbirth. It's like it's no big thing. Not like she's trying to – actually, you know what, I'm not going to go there.”

Samuel gave her a blank look. “...charge,” he said after a moment, motioning to the almost-forgotten notebook.

“Right!” Kat yelped, flipping the notebook open and starting to scrawl charges across the first page. “Lessee... causing Martel’s gown to be covered in her face, turning Yuan, Kratos, and Mithos into piles of hair vaguely resembling people, at least slightly trivializing childbirth...” She felt eyes on her, and glanced up to see Samuel gazing at her skeptically. “What? I’ve never done it, but I’ve heard some women have almost no problems at all.”

Time wrenched around them, and suddenly there was a loud explosion coming just ahead of them.

“Ah, gorram it,” Kat hissed, clutching her head in pain and sinking to one knee. “Couldn’t we have, I dunno, portaled past that or something? That was not pleasant.”

“Experience,” Samuel said flatly.

The ‘suddenly’ had also transported the pair a lot closer to the four canons, but luckily, they had other things to focus on, such as the bunch of ‘war soldiers’ coming from the direction of the explosion.

Kat tipped her head. “Is there any other kind? Peace soldiers, maybe? Hmm... Can we charge for that?”

Samuel shrugged. Kat wrote it down anyway.

There was a brief, barely-defined battle that involved Celsius, the Summon Spirit of Ice, being summoned to the battlefield to use her ice powers. However, when the blond boy – Mithos – dropped to his knees in exhaustion, the Spirit didn’t disappear as she should have. Instead, she wandered away from the fight, clearly heading in the direction of the two Agents.

“Why is she doing that?” Kat hissed frantically at Samuel, keeping a wary eye on the pale-skinned woman.

“I’m looking,” Samuel responded, sounding a bit irritated. Kat took a moment to praise herself for getting emotion out of her partner, then went back to panicking about the woman who was the very essence of ice, who also happened to be making a beeline for them. “CAD.”

“There’s an idea.” Kat clipped her pencil to her notebook, dropped it, and aimed the Canon Analysis Device at Celsius.

It made a noise vaguely akin to a whimper. Kat stared at the display, which read, [Celsius. Summon Spirit (Ice). Canon. OOC 0.5%. Hide now.]

“Well shit,” Kat said conversationally as Celsius came close. The Summon Spirit stopped about a foot away, watching the girl carefully; around her hands, the air was misting. Probably not a good sign.

“You are not of this world,” Celsius said with certainty. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

When in doubt, go with formal. Kat dropped the CAD and swept Celsius a low bow, as a curtsy would have looked ridiculous in her current uniform. “My lady, I am Katrina, and my partner is Samuel. We are here on a mission to destroy those that threaten the sanctity of this world. Rest assured, we mean no harm to your Summoner or those he holds dear.”

And then Kat bit her lip and prayed.

A low chuckle came from Celsius. “I hear truth in your voice. We’ll meet again, I think. Farewell.” With that, the Spirit dismissed herself, leaving only a melting ice crystal where she had stood.

“Ah. Not once did the Words mention her disappearance.” That was Samuel, who had apparently found the problem area.

Excellent,” Katrina muttered, heart still pounding. “Just excellent. Well, at least we’re not popsicles. I think that counts for something.” She picked up her notebook and wrote with a flourish, ‘Failure to note the dismissal or disappearance of a Summon Spirit whose Summoner was exhausted.’ That done, she tucked the CAD under her arm and glanced at Samuel. “So, we’ve lost them. Ideas?”

“Portal ahead,” he suggested. “Check the Words for missed charges.”

“Why do I keep doing all the work?” Kat grumbled, but started scanning through the Words. “Keep the charge list, Kat. Deal with the Summon Spirit, Kat. Check for missed charges, Kat.”

“You know the continuum,” Samuel pointed out.

“Let me gripe,” Kat requested, and nodded to herself. “Nothing major. Mithos was actually pretty in character, and Martel did die as per canon. We can’t charge for Yuan and Martel not being married upon the birth of their child because the pre-story time is fairly undefined, and we’re still not that clear on Yuan’s morals. So... it looks like... five years ahead... That’s what the italics say, anyway. It’s an undefined location as far as I can tell, so we should just wind up there. I hope. I have no idea how these things work.”

Samuel fiddled with a boxy device from the bag, and activated a portal as per Kat’s request. She followed him through in short order.

The location was uncomfortably defined for Kat’s taste, and she frowned. “Did I miss something?”

Little five year old Amelya ran all around the Renegades’s base,” Samuel read.

Kat saw red for an instant. “No. Just no. No, no, and yet more no. There... no.”

“Elaborate?” Samuel requested.

The blonde Agent took a deep breath, slowly relaxing her white-knuckled grip on her notebook. “The timeline is fuzzy, I’ll grant, but not this fuzzy. Cruxis, the organization the Renegades fight, has been in power for about four thousand years by the time of the main storyline. No one knows exactly how long ago Yuan began his betrayal of Cruxis, but there is no way in Niflheim that he up and decided ‘screw Mithos’ in less than five years. Even if he and Mithos were enemies – which seems likely – he would have remained loyal to the cause for Martel’s sake at least. That would probably have lasted at least a good century or two.”

“How long-lived are these races?”

“Extremely, with the right item,” Kat told him. “It’s a long explanation, but the short version is that a special crystal gives the person to whom it’s attached eternal life and nifty ‘angelic’ powers.”

“Right.”

Kat scribbled down the timeline distortion in her notebook.

Shortly, a five-year-old with blue hair sprinted by, giggling, a long navy blue cape trailing behind her. Close on her tail was an older man with the same vibrant blue hair and slightly pointed ears. He was conspicuously missing a cape. Amelya! he shouted angrily. When I caught up to you, you’re gonna be in BIG trouble!

As the man passed by, Kat’s eyes grew wide, and she stopped her scribbling. Non-canon and canon bolted past, seemingly blind to the Agents, and still she followed the blue-haired man with her eyes. Very slight traces of drool escaped from her mouth.

“Ah.” Samuel hooked his fingers into Kat’s collar as a precaution, should the inexperienced Agent lunge. “Lust objects in this fandom?”

“Lord Yuan,” Kat said reluctantly as the blue-haired half-elf rounded a corner and was lost to sight. “Also Zelos Wilder, but I don’t think he shows up.”

“Hm.” Still holding on to Kat, Samuel began to follow their current targets through the hallways.

They reached Amelya’s room in time to see Yuan slap the five-year-old across the face with an icy “Grow up.”

“Grow up,” Amelya repeated mockingly. “Who does he think he is? Some kind of god or angel or something?”

“I could have sworn she was five, not fifteen,” Kat remarked through clenched teeth. She managed to get a line of sight on Yuan with the CAD as he left in the opposite direction, and was rewarded with a [Yuan. Half-elf male (Cruxis Crystal equipped). Canon. Out of Character 33.6%] It didn’t even beep.

“That low?” Kat frowned, temporarily forgetting her annoyance. “Well, I suppose since he doesn’t show up too much in the game, his character is a bit fuzzy, but... Hm.” Saving the mystery for another time, she tucked the CAD under her arm again (“I need a better way of carrying this”) and glanced at Samuel.

He had his Character Analysis Device out, and had obviously gotten a read on Amelya, though the door to the presumed ‘Sue’s room had shut, with the girl inside. Kat trotted over and peered around Samuel’s elbow, reading, [Amelya Yggdrasill. Half-elf female. Non-canon. Mary-Sue (subspecies Daughter-Sue).]

Samuel returned his CAD to his bag. “We’ll portal ahead ‘a few days’ and into her room. It looks like there may be a major charge there.”

Kat winced, but followed Samuel anyway. “No way am I sitting through more of this than I have to.”

They arrived in a corner of Amelya’s room, in time to hear her say, “Oh, goddess Martel, please lend me your aid, free me from thy horrid place. Set my soul free…”

Kat ducked behind a handy piece of Undefined Furniture and, as Samuel did the same, started scribbling in her notebook, muttering darkly under her breath. “Charge: praying to the ‘Goddess’ when only five years have passed since her death. Mithos could not have set up his religion in that short a time. Charge: Yuan, even if he was a completely heartless bastard, would almost certainly have made sure his daughter, of all people, knew the truth about Martel. And that's saying nothing of the grammatical issues...” She glanced over at Samuel, and saw that he wore a grim expression. Obviously, no matter how unfamiliar one was with a canon, the offenses against it were fuel for great rage and the desire to inflict bodily harm.

At that point, the door opened, and Yuan entered. Amelya turned to face him, and Kat braced herself for an argument that sounded like it should be taking place between a teenager and an authority figure, not a five-year-old and the same.

“I’m sorry but I just want to help you. I want to become a better father. I just-”

“Save it! I don’t need your help!” she screamed. “You never cared before, you never even payed attention to me when I was younger. You didn’t even cared about me!”

“Ai, what fun with tenses we have,” Kat muttered, clearly attempting sarcasm. The ‘Sue was crying now, her blue sleeves soaked through by the tears. Kat wasn’t certain this was actually physically possible. Yuan moved toward the girl, attempting to embrace her, and was met with a nasty look.

Samuel growled, low in his throat. Kat glanced to him, surprised. She hadn’t thought humans could make that sort of noise.

“G-go away!” Still sobbing she manage to say those two words. “You’re not my real daddy! My dad would never be this mean to me!”

“Amelya…”

“NO!”

“Please just listen…”

“Forget it!”

“Please Amelya, I’m begging you.”

“LEAVE ME ALONE!”

And that was when Yuan’s hand went to his dagger, seemingly of its own accord.

Samuel narrowed his eyes, glaring at the child.

And, as Yuan grabbed his five-year-old daughter by the throat and shoved her up against a wall, cutting a thin slice across her neck with his dagger ‘as a reminder,’ Kat had the sinking feeling that she’d forgotten to do something very important.

The CAD under Kat’s arm, pointed vaguely in Yuan’s direction, shrilled loudly, attracting the attention of both characters as she overbalanced and tumbled out from behind the furniture.

“Oops.”

That would be it.

Luckily, Yuan seemed to be a little too far out of character to properly respond to a cringing Renegade who had been hiding in his daughter’s room. He stared at her blankly for a moment, before slowly letting the ‘Sue drop to the ground and starting toward Kat, dagger raised.

Even with mortal peril staring her in the face, Kat had enough presence of mind to note another charge. “Sending Lord Yuan far enough out of character that he doesn’t immediately go for magic or his weapon when faced with an intruder...” she muttered.

“Move!” Samuel urged, and Kat glanced over her shoulder to see that her partner had not been idle, and had opened a portal as means of escape. Gratefully, Kat threw her stuff through, and dove through herself. Samuel followed shortly after.

It was snowing where the portal lead, so they were probably somewhere around Flanoir. Kat stood, brushing snow off her armor, and cast about for her CAD. She finally spotted it a few feet away, half-buried in the snow. Kat picked it up, brushed some snow off the display, and looked over the reading that was still present with some dismay. [Yuan. Half-elf male (Cruxis Crystal equipped). Canon. Out of Character 89.987% CHARACTER RUPTURE!!]

Samuel reached over her shoulder and flicked a switch beneath the readout. “The mute,” he explained.

“It’s not like I’ve used one of these before,” Kat said defensively.

Samuel indicated the obvious labels on each side of the switch. Kat resolutely ignored him.

“Anyway. We’re near Flanoir, it looks like. What say we portal a bit ahead? I’ll go through the Words and snag the most grievous charges from the intervening time, since it seems the worst is yet to come. Wait, is that actually allowed?” The newbie stopped in her mental tracks to ponder that. “I mean, it doesn’t seem we’d miss that many, and we only have to witness the worst ones... right?” She looked to her partner for reassurance.

Samuel gave a small shrug, and made a few adjustments to the Remote Activator. “Major time jump,” he explained at Kat’s questioning look.

“Right!” Kat exclaimed, smacking a fist into her open palm. “Because she encounters Lloyd, which means, according to this world, that four thousand years must have passed. Wow, so don’t want to sit through that time wrench. Also, you still didn’t answer my question.”

“Where do you suggest?”

Kat scanned hurriedly through the words. “After Amelya leaves the Renegade base and joins the group. While we might blend in at the base, I don’t particularly want to hang around on the edges of a fight that anyone who looks like us should be participating in. If that made any sense...” She paused with a sinking feeling. “Samuel? Why have you not said anything regarding the rule-ful-ness of this?”

“That’s not a word,” Samuel noted, neatly evading the question and opening the portal to the appropriate location. Kat scowled at him, but gave up trying to get an answer out of her partner for the time being. She retrieved her notebook, and off they went.

This portal brought them to a fairly undefined stretch of desert. As they seemed to have come a bit early for the main event in this area, Kat took that opportunity to list off a few more charges. “Making Lord Yuan fly off the handle at his flesh and blood for no apparent reason. Poorly defining the timeline and/or not paying attention to the whole four thousand years thing. Turning yourself into ‘a blued hair girl.’ Inserting brief portions of fourth-wall-breaking, first-person narrative into a third person... mm... looks like they were trying for limited. Amelya discovers love in about six paragraphs. Making Lloyd – at least temporarily – into a whiny brat with much less competence in combat than usual, and using that to construct a situation in which Amelya saves Lloyd. Samuel, if I’m phrasing anything wrong for a charge, this is the time to tell me, remember I am completely out of my depth here.”

“I don’t think there is a proper way,” Samuel murmured, eyes on the desert in front of them.

“Right. Anyway. Time skip which we mercifully missed by virtue of being out in the desert. Making Lloyd ‘follow Kratos and yeah’ – that’s an important part of the story, gorram it, and you do not get to skip over it with an ‘and yeah.’ But, wait, I forgot, you're the only important one in this story, miss Amelya.” Kat scowled, jabbing her pencil into her paper harder than normal. “Making Yuan give out a sign of pain – aww, man, too bad we missed that, I wanna see what a sign of pain looks like. Oh, hey, we skipped an entire chapter, excellent.”

Kat closed her notebook, skillfully ignoring the end-of-chapter author’s note that reverberated inside her head. “Ouch. That hurts. Anyway, our ‘Sue should be heading this way shortly. There’re one or two more major things we probably need to get. And why have I been more or less the motivating force on this mission? Aren’t you the senior agent? I’m supposed to be all... trainee-like. Innocent. Vulnerable.”

She looked like she had been about to find more adjectives, but the last vestiges of the pre-chapter author’s note boomed through their minds. -Akisame threw a 34185978674 paged book at him for being such an idiotic liar! P.S. I hate Zelos! Die! Muhaha!-

Some things were impossible to ignore. Kat stopped in her metaphorical tracks. “I’m sorry. What?”

Samuel frowned. “Was that supposed to be an action or a quote?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Kat said darkly, clenching her fists. “How illegal is it to go after the Author?”

“Extremely,” Samuel said blandly. “Oh, yes, this Zelos is one of your L.O.s, isn’t he?”

One of the girl’s eyes began to twitch dangerously. “He’s a player, yes; he’s a traitor, yes; he’s occasionally a complete asshat, yes; but if the wrong choices are made... he does die. I only saw that once, and that was plenty for me. According to the manga, he lives; I dunno ‘bout the anime, I don’t think that part’s out yet. But this... this is...” She gave up, at a loss for words.

Samuel rested a hand on her shoulder. “Chances are you may have to watch him die again, if you continue to work in this fandom.”

“Yeah, but that’ll at least vaguely have purpose,” Kat protested. “It won’t be some piece of... gah! Still no sufficient words.” Awkwardly crossing her arms around the bulky items she carried, she frowned. “Disrespect is a bit too mild, so is annoyance, fantasy doesn’t have the right connotations...”

“Katrina.”

“Hm?” Distracted from her search for a noun, Kat blinked up at Samuel. “That’s my name.”

Samuel motioned to the stretch of desert in front of them.

There appeared to be an impromptu trial going on, complete with courtroom furniture in the middle of the desert. Their ‘Sue was placed as the defendant, with several thieves as judge, jury, witnesses, and prosecution. Interestingly enough, there didn’t appear to be any defense. Not that it was easy to tell, since the thieves were rapidly abandoning their posts in favor of menacing the young, helpless maiden who had recently assisted in kicking Botta’s ass. “Seriously, what the hell?”

“She’s being ‘tried’,” Samuel murmured, amusement coloring his tone. "I believe she intended to be tired."

“Sweet Mew. Really? Wow. Those two aren't even homonyms,” Kat proclaimed.

“If you would kindly refrain from excessive use of italics?”

No,” Kat answered with great relish.

Samuel sighed, placing two fingers against his forehead rather theatrically. Kat happily ignored him, watching events play out.

Amelya ran for her life – though she didn’t run too far before collapsing in the sand, barely five feet from them. Kat instinctively took several steps back, but the ‘Sue seemed to be preoccupied with passing out. The thieves behind her faded into nonexistence. “Why did they do that when Celsius stuck around?” Kat wondered, only slightly whiny.

“Do they show up in random encounters?” Samuel asked.

“Yeah. Oh, you mean since they’re part of the game’s programming and their reason to be here is gone they went back to being part of the amorphous monster-blobs?”

“It’s possible.” Samuel looked like he wanted to ask about the ‘amorphous monster-blobs,’ but he held his tongue.

Kat elaborated anyway. “The overworld encounters are little black blobs with green or blue eyes.”

“Canons,” Samuel interrupted, once more bringing Kat’s attention back to the mission. She observed carefully as a brunet in red and a blonde in white dashed toward them, the former some distance ahead of the latter, and promptly tripped over their unconscious ‘Sue, who in the past three minutes had become half burred by the heavy sand. This manifested as burrs covered with sand that were stuck to a good portion of the girl’s clothing.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say the canon was having fun with this,” Kat said thoughtfully.

She and Samuel watched in silence as Lloyd dug the girl out of the sand – managing to brush off a good portion of the burrs in the process – and clutched her body to him as the other party members approached. Raine quickly cast several healing spells on the girl, and briefly turned her into poison (Kat couldn’t tell what kind) by telling Lloyd that it looked like she’s been poison for a while now.

Lloyd argued with the rest of the group to try to get them to stay with him and Amelya instead of going to the temple right away. Colette, surprisingly, was the main dissenting voice, which made Kat mutter something uncomplimentary. “Oh, all those people out there are counting on me to save Sylvarant as soon as we can! I can’t just abandon all of them!” she mimicked in as sugary a tone as possible. “Whatever happened to ‘how can we save the world if we can’t even save the people in front of us’? That can’t be Colette.” A pause, and then “Hmm... I’m not sure if it was her or Lloyd that said that. Either way, she agreed heartily.” Kat nodded to herself, assured that she was at least somewhat correct.

Night began to fall, slowly but surely, as the party began to set up camp. Kat sat down after about half an hour, setting her things to one side and making an attempt to push the sand up in front of them so they wouldn’t be seen when Amelya woke. Samuel watched her ineffectual efforts for a while with a small smile on his face, before urging Kat to her feet and directing her around the campsite to a conveniently placed sand dune on the other side.

“Yeah, you’re funny,” Kat said darkly, and they continued their observation.

Shortly, the half-elven ‘Sue woke, clung to Lloyd, and was dragged away from said idiot hero by Colette. Amelya was apparently terrified of the girl who went around naming stray dogs things like Kitty, Teddy, and Binky.

Less than an hour later, the sky began to lighten. Kat figured this was probably ‘just before dawn rose,’ which practically begged for questioning as to how dawn could rise, as it was a time of day rather than an item, and why dawn was coming about an hour after nightfall.

“Canon is... slightly stretched,” Samuel said, when Kat asked him. “It’s not behaving like it should. I can’t say as to specifics.”

“Lovely,” Kat said in a hushed tone, making an idle note of it in her notebook. “Now, let’s see... there we go.”

Sweet, naïve Colette had begun to toss moderately-sized rocks at Amelya, the last of which drew blood.

The Sue was so bold as to ask the Chosen why the other girl hated her so.

She was answered with the startlingly illogical “Why? WHY? WHY!?! You know why!?!”

Samuel frowned. “Colette is... generally good-tempered?”

“She’d apologize to Sephiroth for getting in the way of his sword,” Kat said absently, tightening her grip on her pen until her knuckles began to whiten. “This is definitely not her style. Hey, does the CAD tell you whether or not it’s a character replace—“

She suddenly noticed that her partner was no longer beside her, even as Colette proclaimed “Lloyd’s mine!”

Kat then spotted the tall, red-garbed man stalking toward the campsite with blade in hand. Amelya was staring at him, wide-eyed. None of the canons had noticed him yet.

Swearing, Kat grabbed her CAD and notebook and bolted after her partner. “This is a very bad idea!” she called as he entered the camp, heading for Amelya. She received no answer; he was intent on his mission to destroy the 'Sue.

Amelya screamed in terror, pointing at Samuel.

A certain person who was not as asleep as he pretended lunged for Samuel, sword raised. The agent turned just in time to counter it, and was henceforth involved in a furious swordfight. “Yeah, that’s why,” Kat groaned. “Kratos doesn’t sleep. Did I mention the whole bit where he’s older than he looks and has enhanced strength? Yeah...”

Amelya had not stopped screaming as Kat entered the camp. This woke Raine, Genis, and Lloyd in short order. Colette was staring at the fight, dumbfounded.

Kat was heavily outnumbered. She decided to improvise. “Yo, Colette! You hate blue-lady? It’s your lucky day. We’re here to kill her. Buy us some time?” she pleaded as Lloyd started toward her, drawing his swords, and Genis began to chant something distinctly magic-y.

To her great surprise, it worked, further solidifying her belief that this might be a replacement instead of the actual Colette. The girl dashed toward her friends, averting Genis’ focus with a well-thrown rock and proceeding to get in Lloyd’s way. She seemed reluctant to hurt the boy, but she was at the very least slowing him down, and that was what Kat needed. She grabbed the stunned ‘Sue’s wrist and pulled her a few feet away from the fight before casually hooking her legs out from under her and sitting on her torso.

“What are you doing?” Amelya shrieked.

“The Duty,” Kat answered without a second thought, finding her place in her notebook. “Mmkay, I’m only going to say this once and it is going to be fast, so pay attention. You, Amelya Yggdrasill, are charged with royally screwing up your tenses to the point of changing tense in the same bloody sentence, turning the characters into hair by improper word usage, trivializing childbirth, redundancy in the case of ‘war soldiers’, failing to mention the dismissal of a Summon Spirit and therefore nearly getting me and my partner flash-frozen, timeline brutality for your own convenience, praying to a Goddess that shouldn’t even exist yet, severely mischaracterizing Lord Yuan for your angst, inserting first-person narrative into a third-person Ra-knows-what point of view, discovering Twoo Wuv at first sight, trivializing important pieces of the story, and honey, that’s just the highlights. Let’s just catch the rest with a nice ‘severe abuse of the English language,’ and we’ll be ready for the pièce de resistance.”

Kat paused, took a huge breath, and grinned nastily. “You, Amelya Yggdrasill, are also charged with being a Mary Sue. For this crime and all of the above, you are sentenced to death. It would be inventive but my partner is getting practically massacred by Kratos. Any last words?” She clumsily drew the sword that had come with her disguise; now was not the time to mess with bludgeoning the ‘Sue’s skull in, no matter how badly she wanted to break in her pointe shoe.

!!! Amelya said, staring at the raised sword in terror.

“I didn’t know you could pronounce punctuation like that. Good job.” That said, Kat aimed, closed her eyes, and stabbed with all the force she could muster. She felt some resistance, but not much; when she opened her eyes, the sword had passed all the way through the ‘Sue’s throat, and the girl was staring at her with blank, accusing eyes.

Samuel and Kratos’ fight, unfortunately, didn’t stop, though Lloyd, Genis, and Raine ceased to oppose Colette. The probable replacement turned around, blinking dazedly at Kat. “I... what?”

Kat located the CAD with some alacrity and directed its attentions to Colette.

[Colette Brunel. Human female. Canon. Out of Character 113.94% and dropping (CHARACTER RUPTURE!!)] "Hmm. Guess she was just enormously out of character. That's a relief." The CAD didn’t beep, thankfully; Kat had worked out the wonders of the switch. Really, it was a wonder the things came with sound in the first place.

That taken care of, and most of the canons quiescent for the most part, Kat looked over at Samuel, who appeared to be holding his own. “Can you two please stop fighting now?” she called plaintively, not really expecting it to work. In fact, she was expecting to have to get creative.

Thus, Samuel surprised her when he threw his sword into the sky, did two neat backflips away from Kratos, and snatched the sword out of the air.

By the hilt.

“What?” Kat managed, one eye twitching dangerously.

Samuel looked at the shorter agent, obviously confused. “What?” he answered, albeit with a completely different emphasis than Kat had.

“Excuse me!” Raine said loudly, taking a few steps toward the agents as Kratos scowled and sheathed his sword. “Would you mind explaining exactly what is going on here?”

“I, uh...”

Samuel took this opportunity to make a run for their sand dune. Kat glared at his retreating back, and tried to come up with something. Hopefully Samuel would be coming back with something useful.

“Well?” Kratos prompted, sounding very, very dangerous.

“Er. You see, it’s like this,” Kat began, drawing her words out as long as she could without sounding suspicious. “Me and my partner, that’s the guy over there, came here from a very long way away in order to, er, how shall I put this?”

“Simply,” Raine recommended.

“Gah,” Kat said eloquently.

Luckily, Samuel skidded to a stop beside her around that time, brandishing a silvery stick and wearing sunglasses. He thrust a second pair at Kat, and, recognizing the thing in his hand, she hastily put them on. “If you could please look here for a moment...?” he requested.

They looked. Even if you’re paranoid to the point of insanity, people tell you to look at something and you look at it, even if it’s for the briefest of seconds.

That was enough.

FLASH.

Kat removed her sunglasses and located her CAD and notebook as Samuel began talking quietly. “You’re on the journey to regenerate the world. There was never a strange girl named Amelya, nor a man and a woman who came after her. Colette, you’re not a possessive bitch.” That said, he removed his own sunglasses, bodily threw Kat over his shoulder, and made tracks for their sand dune before she could so much as screech about it.

At the sand dune, with a quick glance at the dazed canons behind them, Samuel located the Remote Activator in his bag without much difficulty and fiddled with it for a moment, opening a portal to their response center.

“Wait, Samuel—“

Samuel grabbed his bag, and dragged Kat through the portal. It snapped shut behind them, and Kat crossed her arms in a huff. “I was going to say, we didn’t do anything about that corpse!”

The tall man stared at her silently. If she squinted, there might be a hint of ‘Oops’ in his expression. “It’s the desert,” he offered after a moment.

“I suppose the birds will be happy,” she muttered, turning away. “So, Sam, you pieced together that bit at the end pretty well, nice job. And are we always supposed to neuralyze them?”

“Samuel will be fine,” he corrected her. “And I’ve never gotten a straight answer on that. I do it just in case. It seems to work, and I’ve noticed no harm coming of it.”

“That has got to be the longest string of words I’ve ever heard you put together,” Kat said with some admiration.

As if to make up for that, Samuel smiled slightly, and made his way to the chair by the console, skirting around the ypur that still lay in the middle of the floor. He picked up what looked to be an abandoned book – The Count of Monte Cristo – and began reading once more, not even bothering to move his bag from where it had fallen.

“That reminds me,” Kat said after a moment of watching him, “how exactly were you holding your own against Kratos? Even if he was out of character enough that it affected his fighting skills, he’s got four thousand plus years of experience under his belt, along with angelic strength. Most humans wouldn't come away practically unscathed.”

Samuel looked over the top of his book at her, raising one eyebrow. “My dear Katrina.”

“...yes?” she said hesitantly after a moment of silence.

“I never said I was human.” That said, Samuel resumed his place in the book and began once more ignoring the outside world.

With an exasperated sigh, Kat put the CAD on top of his bag and went to the bedroom, climbing into her bunk. It had been a long day, made no shorter by the ‘Sue or her partner’s eccentricities, and she was starting to wonder if signing up for this had been smart.

Still, there was little that could compare to the feeling of triumph at the end of it all, the satisfaction of knowing that particular 'Sue was dead. Yes, she could get used to this life.

Perhaps a nap was in order, though. That would be nice.

Katrina was by no means adept at realizing when she was taunting the Universal Laws of Comedy.

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