This story is dedicated to Zellís Girl, who deserves just as much happiness as the rest of us. Iíll try to avoid spoilers as well, so read on without hesitation. Please?

 

Guns, Carrots, Bunny-Girls, and Commanders

By Al Kristopher

Adhvanit21@aol.com

 

Part One: Stricken Senseless by a Stranger

 

Sheís so gorgeous, sighed Norris to himself. Look at her--just look at her! Sheís cute, sheís sweet, sheís always so upbeat and happy... with that big girlish smile and those innocent violet eyes... (Sigh) It is a tragedy that I shall never have the courage needed to express anything towards her.

The lady of Commander Norrisí fancy, the young woman who had earned this brief period of--for lack of a better word--pining, the pretty and beautiful girl that held his eyes so, was none other than the previous Grand Slam champion, the inimitable Janice. Some people might have been taken aback to hear such news, for many figured Norris the unromantic type, or at least the type who wasnít so easily swooned. And even so, the young Porre commander gave off the impression that his type of woman was more of the serious, somber, and intellectual type, such as he was.

But no, Norrisí gaze was set on Janice, of all people, and from the way he pined over her so, it was Janice alone. People would be less surprised to hear that Norris was spending his free hours alongside the company of one such as Leena or Orlha, even Luccia if one stretched the imagination, but nobody would have pegged him an admirer of Janice.

 

 

It wasnít as if Norris had no taste in his romantic pursuits--far from it, in fact! Janice was indeed everything he dreamt of: sweet, cute, spunky, constantly in an upbeat mood, yet humane enough to care about even the most insignificant or despicable creature. Of course, she was also a bit on the arrogant side, and had a temper as hot as her innate color, and could sometimes be too annoying, especially in the early hours of the morning. But if Norris had been looking for a perfect woman, he would have remained a bachelor forever. Besides, he had his own flaws to overcome.

Norris had first met Janice during his first trip inside the festive bowels of the S.S. Zelbess, a luxury cruise ship owned by a questionable man named Fargo. Though this Fargo was not exactly the greatest of role models, his vessel was the genuine thing, and offered a smorgasbord of sights and sounds for the everyday visitor. He had a small gambling casino, a few dining rooms, bedrooms, a broad deck mostly used for relaxation and tanning, a magic show, and of course, the Magical Dreamers and the Grand Slam.

However, as per his usual persona, the purpose of Norrisí first trip to the Zelbess was for anything but pleasure. The Porre commander, alongside the complex and two-faced life form that seemed best known as Lynx, and an old Dragoon named Radius, had came to the Zelbess after receiving helpful information from a certain adventurer named Toma. This Toma had directed them to the vessel after hearing their queries about the Dead Sea and the Sage of Marbule. At first, the denizens of the Zelbess offered few clues on either topic.

However, upon wandering around the ship, the small trio came across the Sage as he was cleaning the decks, and thus, was that much closer to solving a puzzling riddle. However, there was also the matter of the Grand Slam, and since they had heard so many things about this place, curiosity killed the cat and led him (Lynx) to the inner sanctum of the fighting arena.

"What do you suppose this is?" asked Radius. Lynx shrugged silently, but several banners and posters hanging above and around the room quickly answered the old knightís question. This place, the Grand Slam, was a kind of tournament fighting arena, reserved for monsters born and bred for combat. At first, Norris insisted that they need not waste their time in such a place, and Lynx replied by saying that he had no intention of fighting anyway (especially considering the fact that he didnít even know how the bloody thing worked), and the trio would have left immediately had they not been suddenly spotted.

"Hey! Yeah! You three! Down there!" The trio turned around to see who had shouted out to them, and discovered the current champion of the Grand Slam staring down at them, an insane glare of giddy malice on her excited face. At first glance, she appeared to be a very well-dressed performer, what with her oversized gloves, floppy rabbit ears, and cute puffy tail. But the ears and the tail moved too independently to be a costume, and the gloves seemed more like hands than clothes. This was no human; this was a demi-human.

"...Who? Us?" asked Norris. The bunny-girl nodded her head and grinned.

"Yeah, you guys! Iíve never seen you three before! You mustíve done somethiní special if Captain Fargo let you all down here! So whatíd ya do, huh?!"

"I donít think itís any of your business, young lady," said Radius bluntly. The girl fiercely growled at the older man.

"Grrr!! Who asked you, old man?! Anyway, youíd better answer my question or else!!" And to prove her threat, the demi-human pointed a vicious-looking...... carrot at them?

"Radius..." Level-headed Norris placed a hand on the older manís shoulder, then turned to have his first glance at the girl. Norris was a man who did not believe in love at first sight, yet when he caught sight of the adorable bunny-girl, and the cute way she was growling, and the sweet bluish-violet eyes burning with mischief and life...... well, it was little wonder that he found himself speechless.

"...Well... uhh... Miss..."

"We uncovered Fargoís little cheating operation on that spinning-wheel thingy," said Lynx a little too bluntly. Norrisí face turned pink briefly and he even cracked a rare smile.

"Ah, yes, uh, that is quite true..."

"Oh, wow!" squealed Janice, her anger long dead and replaced by boundless wonder. "So you guys actually beat old Fargo at his own game, eh? Well, not anybody can do that! Iím impressed! Who are you guys, anyway??"

 

They spent about a minute making introductions. Norris tried not to stutter, poor guy.

 

"Cool!" exclaimed Janice. "Yíknow, Iíve heard of Lynx and Radius--I mean, who hasnít?--but I donít think I recall your name, Commander Norris!"

"Th... that is all right," managed the commander. "I... I am not that important a figure in the military..."

"Well, whatever!" said Janice with a sweet smile. "So like, are you guys down here for the Grand Slam?"

"Uh, Ser--I mean, ĎLynxí here was curious as to what it was," indicated Radius. "But since it turns out to be little more than a fighting tournament, we should really be on our way..."

"Nooooo, stAAAAAy!!!!" whined Janice defenselessly. She pointed her carrot to a group of people milling around the Grand Slam. "You see those losers over there? Their monsters are so weak itís not even a joke! Huh! Iím only the champ cuzí I havenít been able to find a suitable challenge! If you guys beat Fargo, then Iím sure you can hold your own against... me!" Stressing the final word with a mischievous smile (and, Norris thought, seemingly aimed at him out of everyone else), Janice gazed at her guests expectantly. Not a one of them seemed terribly interested in dueling with her, not even Norris.

 

 

But to make quite a long story short, the trio eventually agreed to her request. Not only did they fight her, they even defeated her! Despite the fact that Janice appeared to cheat even more than Fargo, and that she whined, screamed, or boasted after every battle (sometimes all three...), Norris couldnít help but keep his studying gaze away from her. A thousand annoyances and imperfections bombarded him from the girlís direction, yet despite her ego and temper, Norris was still...

He couldnít quite define the feeling. He knew for certain that there was no such thing as "love at first sight", and that infatuation was ridiculous and baseless, and love was something that needed to be approached slowly... Yet there was something special about Janice, something that held the Porreís stare even as she screamed and yelled and whined.

"Nooooooooo...!" she moaned. "My... my battlers! This... this is impossible!!" Her ears drooping, her face contorted in sadness, poor Janice was close to tears as her championship was taken away so suddenly (though Norris couldíve sworn that she subtly indicated that she no longer wanted such a prize). Even though it was a silly thought, Norris secretly wanted to leap up to her platform and hold her and tell her that everything was going to be okay. There really was no explanation for these bizarre feelings he was having.

He didnít join her, of course (mostly because he later discovered that most of her "depression" was an act). No, he wasnít the one joining her; it was the other way around. After receiving a sound beating, Janice practically begged to tag along with the trio, and though having such an unusual addition to the party might have dampened progress, Janiceís extended knowledge of monsters and better-than-average fighting skills would certainly come in handy. Nobody else in the circulation knew even half of what the bunny-girl did (except for Sprigg, maybe), and this varied knowledge of monsters and creatures would definitely help in the future.

 

 

And so, Janice joined the ever-increasing party, in which Norris was also a part of. One would think that such a close affiliation would cause Norrisí thoughts to draw out, but no... the Porre commander kept his feelings silent. Norris was an expert gunner, an excellent commander, and a wonderful humanitarian in a very inhumane society, yet for all his positive characteristics, he could not even bring himself to speak to Janice.

Whenever "Lynx" had them both in the same party, Norris did his best to A) perform as dutifully and excellently as he had previously, and B) to not look at Janice for unnecessary amounts of time. Yet Janice was the type where every action was intended to draw attention to her, even the smallest. Her fighting skills were flashy and a bit noisy, her tech skills and magic abilities were even more fully-expressed, and even the way she hopped around was conspicuous. Whether or not she actually desired this attention was questionable, but the point was that it was very hard to ignore Janice.

As the quest deepened and developed, Norris was surprised to find himself thinking of the adorable demi-human more and more. He was even smiling to himself whenever she expressed anger or false-depression or excessive pride. A cry of "Woo-hoo!!!" sometimes drew out a more visible smile, and a victory grin or a battle cry made his heart do a hop. All the logic in the world couldnít dissuade the fact that the esteemed Porre commander had a crush on a demi-human.

 

Sheís so beautiful, he would sigh sometimes. Of course, even her body was not perfect; some would say that ladies like Orlha, or Miki, or Steena had her beat in the looks department, and Norris would have to agree some of the time. Yet it was not merely her outer beauty that drew him in, but her indomitable spirit. Janice had a powerful joie de vivre to her that was unnatural in even most human beings; demi-humans usually did not express such spunk.

Yet there she was, obviously not quite human (though a whole lot closer than others), and yet living out every moment with happiness and excitement. Janice rarely slowed down, or rarely showed true sadness, or rarely was not shining in some way or another. Her innate color did not do her justice; she was a bundle of dynamite, a volcano of explosive awe and joy, a hot-spirited young woman with the flair and fire that was so rare in any other living creature. She sang, danced, skipped, fought (mostly for fun), performed silly acts, and cared not what others thought. As clichéd as it sounded, she was one in a million, so of course Norris had good reason to pine over her.

But sheíd never notice me, he would sometimes sulk. This was obviously not true; most every single girl he had met in El Nido had taken quite a shine to the young commander. Norris was handsome, young, skilled, and he had a powerful sense of humanity mixed in with his strong sense of duty. He had many of the good, solid qualities that women searched for, so who could help but like him?

Luccia had taken a shine to him during his investigation of Viper Manor; Miki had smiled a rare smile of affection for him while he was wandering around the Zelbess; a young lady named Leena stared dreamily at him on one of her trips to Termina; Orlha the bartender always smiled longer and brighter whenever he was around, and even Steena acted less formal whenever he would grace that area of Guldove. Yes, it was definitely true that there was something special about Norris, something that earned him respect from men, admiration from children, and longing stares from the ladies, but even then, he thought that Janice would never really notice him.

Poor guy.

 

 

 

No matter how much I try, I cannot seem to get that young lady out of my mind... I can train all I want, or drown my thoughts out with liquor, or concentrate on pacifying the military, or thinking about the quest at hand... ...Or shudder at what I saw in the Dead Sea...... Yet for all my efforts, there is always that pretty young lady in my mind, smiling sweetly and radiating a warmth from those bluish-violet eyes...

Poor Norris had tried to sleep, but found no success in doing so. His thoughts on Janice had indeed been reduced to pining, and the poor Porre felt that if he didnít let something out, his whole body would turn into flames. He badly wanted to ask Janice out for a date, or at least have the time to get better acquainted with her, yet either time, duty, or his own self oftentimes got in the way. The previous two could be easily overcome, yet the third...

How could I possibly tell her anything? he wondered. Restless, despite the late hour, Norris ran his hand over his forehead and tried to reason things out. The events of recent--having to travel to another "world" and meeting a young man who was exactly himself (in a very literal sense)--had taken quite a mental toll on Norris, and thankfully took the place of Janice in his mind. But as soon as things calmed down, the commander once again turned his thoughts towards the demi-human who had unknowingly stolen his heart.

I... I do not know what I will do... he sighed mentally. ...I will admit that I do have some sort of affectionate feelings for her, even though I barely know her, but... will it not seem strange for me to inquire about a, uh... "romantic outing", especially considering our lack of time spent together previously? ...Ha! She will merely think of me as strange!

No, that is not correct, he muttered. ...From observing her, and from observing other young ladies in my presence, I have theorized that Janice would not only accept, but she would accept happily. I... I am probably not that far from the truth, so why am I so apprehensive??! It is not like I will be rejected! And... not to sound boastful, but I do not think she is "too good for me". But... but...

A zesty woman like that and a "boring man who has no desire for fun", together, as a couple? ...I... I do not think it will work well...

 

...Is that my only concern? he had to wonder. Am I only concerned about how incompatible we would be? ...Am I worrying without ever giving it a chance? ......Sadly, yes. I am not even giving my theory a chance. ...A chance! Ha! Chance! Fate! Destiny! Is that not what we are dueling against? The very "essence" that controls all living things? I am fighting what I need the most!!! ...Oh, God, help me out...

Still quite restless, Norris slipped out of bed with bleary eyes, rubbing his weary face with his hands. After getting a drink of water, he returned to his room and pondered over what he should do next. He might not have been "in love" with Janice, but he most certainly wanted to be. Though he barely knew her, he cared for her very much, and could not get the woman out of his mind. It was Janice all the time, or else the immediate concerns that Fate and Time presented to him. She was (Norris had to admit) very much like the sun: omnipresent, bright, brilliant, warm, joyful, active, intense, and constantly in motion.

And she was driving Norris crazy, without ever having to be even near him.

Blast it! he hissed to himself. Why is she intoxicating me so? Sheís only a demi-human! Only just another young woman, reasonably attractive, sweet, kind, and zealous! Sheís only... only just... another... woman... thatís all...

 

All the reasoning in the world couldnít help Norris.

He was darn close to being madly in love with a virtual stranger.

Something had to give.

Norris sighed deeply, gathered his wits and his nerve, and decided to take a walk.

He was going to get a boat.

He was going to drive that boat very far.

He was going to drive it to the S.S. Zelbess.

He was going to go to the Grand Slam.

And he was going to ask Janice out on a date.

...Or else, die trying.

 

He sure hoped that he wouldnít have to die...

...though he did consider dying for Janice a high honor.

Dying for her... ha, ha, ha...! What a romantic I have become!

 

 

 

 

Norris got into his boat, piloted it to the cruise schooner, got onboard, made a beeline for the Grand Slam, and began to wait. The entire trip there had taken up all of the night and most of the morning, and though Norris still wasnít that sleepy, the fatigue was still plain on him. Since the hour was still early, he decided to go somewhere and freshen up before he met Janice. She deserved the very best, and even though Norris was good-looking no matter what, he would give off a better impression if he looked cleaner.

After resting, and taking a brief shower, Norris looked good enough to kill. Indeed, some of the passengers showed definite smiles aimed specifically at him when he passed them by. Miki, who was uncharacteristically dressed outside of her dancing costume, gave Norris a very obvious wink as he passed her by. Out of politeness alone did he return her gaze with a smile; his attention was drawn to only one. Besides, Miki was the kind of girl who could have any man she wanted; Norris was just one of many.

Climbing into the lower deck of the vessel, Norris passed the room that held Sneff, Lank, Stout, and a few other entertainers. His destination was elsewhere, and with the Grand Slam security guard absent (probably trying to score a few pretty girls in Marbule...), Norris could travel to said destination without hassle. Deepening further into the decks of the Zelbess (which, he had to admit, bore an eerie resemblance to the S.S. Invincible, which he had seen once before), Norris could almost hear the violent sounds of a battle going on below. Apparently, Janice was whiling her time away until "Lynx" could summon her again. Norris hoped that that moment was not anytime soon.

 

Climbing down the ladder, Norris joyfully discovered that Janice was alone in the room, and that the fighting sounds he had heard came from the monsters she was training. All of the Grand Slam was now for Janiceís private use, and though Norris was intruding, he hoped that his company wouldnít be refused. Janice was the type who liked privacy, so perhaps his reception there would determine whether or not a date would be a possibility. Given the situation, Norris was a little nervous.

Climbing down into the Grand Slam, Norris took a brief moment to observe the woman who had been occupying his thoughts ever since the first moment he saw her. Sure enough, she was a pretty picture, and the bold words of encouragement she shouted to her monsters proved that Janice had heart. The woman never seemed to run out of energy, and was always jumping or shouting or making fighting motions in the air, yet no matter how violent her actions became, Norris could tell that there was a rare woman of wonder beneath all that fire.

Norris mustíve stood there watching Janice for some time. He was not so impolite as to interrupt her monstersí training schedule, especially considering how they had fought against Lynx, and so would be patient and wait for her. Besides, he took some kind of joy in simply watching her. But eventually, Janiceís training was over, and all the stress she had accumulated--all .0003 milligrams of it--had been vented out properly and wisely (Norris warmly noted that, while she never held back her emotions, Janice almost never struck anyone out of rage. Of course, that did not include those times when she was playful...).

Meekly, Norris cleared his throat, and hoped that the echoing din in the room didnít mask it. Painfully polite, Norris probably would have stood there forever if this wasnít so urgent. He was so enamored with Janice that he would even sacrifice the impeccable manners he had grown up with in order to get her attention. The small cough worked, and the adorable bunny girl twirled around to see who it was. She peered at him for awhile, trying to place a name on the face, and leaned over just a bit for a better glance. Norris forced himself to look straight into her bluish-purple eyes, but being a gentleman, it was better than looking further down her body...

 

(Blush)

Sheís so beautiful...

...Well, here goes nothing...

 

"...Uhh, Norris, right?" said the demi-human. As stoically as possible, Norris nodded his head.

"Yes, that is correct. And, ah, you are Janice, correct?"

"Yeah," she said. "Whatícha want? Youíre obviously either lost or lookiní for me, because I donít normally see you around here. Ha, thatís why I had to make sure you were who I thought you were!"

So, she at least knew my name, muttered Norris mentally. ...That is... a start...

"Well, actually," he said, "I was, ah, rather looking for you, uh, Janice."

"Really?" she said with a smile. "Cool!! Whatícha want, Norris?"

Oh... the way she just said my name... "Norris"... (sigh) This is going to be harder than I thought.

"Well, ah..." Buck up, boy. You can do this! (All the encouragement in the world might not have helped this poor soul out) "...Uh, Janice, may I ask you a, uh, a question?"

"I guess," she shrugged. "I mean, I donít know nearly as much as some of those other friends of yours, unless itís about fighting or monsters. Whaddya wanna know?"

"N-no, it is nothing about monsters," he said weakly. "This... this has more to do with, ah, you."

"Oh, really?" she said with a big smile. "You wanna know about me?"

Do I ever, sighed Norris mentally. Tíwas slightly unfortunate he did not express this instead; tíwould have been better for him if he had.

"Well... I... guess you could say that," he said. Suddenly, Janice held up a furry finger, and told Norris to "hold on". She then proceeded to leap off of the platform she was standing on, and cutely marched her way towards Norris. Now, they could actually have a real conversation.

"Sorry about that," she said with a slight giggle. "I guess I kinda forgot you were down here. Dopey me! So anyway, whaddya wanna talk about?"

How about the way you have taken over my mind? Or the way you smile so brilliantly that it makes all my days seem good? Or how about the way your eyes are glowing right now, and your ears are being kneaded by your hands...

"It... is a touchy subject," he spoke instead. All the "romantic" gibberish Norris had in mind would obviously be inappropriate, what with the way they were strangers and all. Friendliness, courtesy, and manners came first.

"...Janice," he began slowly, "do not think this too strange a request, but would you, ah... well, would you ever have any inclination to... perhaps... spare enough of your time to... ah, well, maybe spend some time with me?"

"You mean like on a date?" she blurted. Norrisí face became pink, and even Janiceís glowing smile became a little more crimson. She obviously had not anticipated saying such a thing. Norris, who was more flushed than she, quickly came up with an acceptable reply.

"...If that is what you wish to call it," he said. "I would really just like for us to cease being strangers. If... I mean, if you desire it, I would certainly like to get to know the Janice better." Norris actually let a smile out, and almost breathed with relief as things were getting easier and easier to say. Of course, things might not take the turn he would want them to go, but for the moment, he would be happy to settle for a strong acquaintanceship first. Of course, if Janice turned it into a date...

"Wow, thatís really awesome!" whispered Janice in amazement. "I canít believe youíre actually asking me to go out on a date with you, when you coulda asked...... uh, I dunno, Miki, or Orlha, or, or, or... Luccia!!" Now obviously, Janice was a bit on the gabby side, and probably would not stop speaking unless she herself ceased the action (Norris loved her cute, slightly squeaky voice though, and would not have it stopped for anything).

"...Well," began Norris, "I have, eh, become more or less acquainted with Miss Luccia and Miss Orlha, and I believe that Miss Miki may be too burdened by other, eh, gentlemen callers to spare any time." Norris suddenly realized that it was now he who was blurting, and quickly tried to save himself. "No! No! I mean, ah, uh, well, uh..."

"Eh, thatís okay!" said Janice with a blinding smile. "I guess Iíll just have to kick things to the next level, and say weíre on a date! I mean, thatís okay with you, right?" Poor Norris desperately wanted to say, Janice, those are the words I have been wanting to hear ever since the moment I first beheld you, but instead, the poor loveable young man merely blurted out a "Yes, that is perfectly all right with me!"

"Awesome!" squealed the bunny-girl. "I canít believe it! Iím actually going out on a date with Commander Norris! Thisís gonna be SO COOL!!!" And without another thought, the adorable demi-human skipped away, humming about her good fortune.

"Janice!!!" called Norris. "Do you not want to know what time we should meet?!"

"Oh, bummer!" shouted the girl, stopping herself suddenly. "Crud! I nearly forgot! AAAHHH, stupid, stupid, stupid!!" With every meaningless insult, the bunny-girl swiped at the air, and turned around to give Norris an apologetic pout. "Ugh! Iím such a clod! I darn near ran off on you without ever hearing anything else! Jeez! Iím such a loser!!!"

"No, no, itís all right!" assured Norris with a weak smile. "I... I can forgive it. Besides, seeing your performance just then was rather amusing..."

"Eh?" said the girl, tilting her head to the side. She laughed once, and urged Norris to resume planning the date. With a face slightly flushed, for it seemed all his fancies were coming together wonderfully, Norris told Janice to meet him on the deck of the Zelbess, wherein he would cruise her towards any spot on the map she desired. Of course, Janice literally leaped at the news (shouting out an adorable "Woo-hoo!" in the process), and let out a grin as she asked whether the date would be formal or informal.

"I would not like to rush things so," said Norris. "Would you care for an informal date first?"

"...I guess," muttered the demi-human, who was obviously disappointed by the news. Poor girl mustíve had fancies of her own, and some of those just might have been an elegant night on the town--or towns! Norris, seeing her dejected face, knew that there was no convincing her otherwise, and desperately wanted to change such a sad face.

"Well, I, uh, I mean, if you have really set your heart on a formal night..."

"Eh, it doesnít matter," sniffed Janice. "Do whatever." Norris, sensing that he should immediately ask her on a formal date (despite the fact that she was obviously manipulating him into one anyway), stepped forth and apologized.

"I am sorry," he said. "I did not realize that you had such expectations. Please forgive me, and if you still want to, we may go on our first date in style." Janice, poor dear sweet loveable Janice, ex-champion of the Grand Slam, slowly raised her saddened head and gave Norris a smile so sweet and loving that all his previous worries and troubles melted (along with some other bodily functions).

"Youíre so sweet," she sang. "Hehe, all right. Iíll meet you here--what time did you say?"

"Let us say, tomorrow," he said. "And as for the time, let us say, eight oíclock at night. If we are to go out formally, I should very much like to see you in a dress." Whoops, I said too much! he spat suddenly. Norrisí face instantly turned dark pink, but Janiceís was almost as red as her innate color.

"...Y... you would?" A pause, and not a very enjoyable one at that, passed between the two.

".........Y... y-yes," he sighed. "I... I suppose I would." Smiling with warmth and sweetness, Janice pointed her carrot at him and made a threat so harmless that it could have been considered a flirt.

"...Well, you had better be in your best outfit as well," she said gently, "or else Iíll just dump ya. There are lotsía guys whoíd like to be in your shoes now, Mister!"

"I would not doubt that for a second," said Norris without thinking. His face became flushed again, and almost turned red as Janice giggled. Her laughter was twice as addicting and wonderful as her smile.

"Youíre sweet. Catchíya later!" And with that, Janice waved farewell and skipped off elsewhere. Norris, poor dear sweet loveable Norris, nearly collapsed on the floor from the sheer relief and joy that was attacking his body. For this assault there was no defense, not that Norris ever would have wanted one in the first place.

 

...Wow, he thought to himself. That actually went very well. She said "yes"! She accepted my proposition! ...A bit... speedily, maybe, but perhaps it will all turn out well in the end. I... know it will...

 

 

Norris smiled all the way back to his ship. The only bad thing concerning him was that he would never be able to sleep that night, so great was his anticipation.

 

 

Part Two: Lady in Red (Innate)

 

Norris felt like he was high on some drug as he sailed back to Termina. He was still in disbelief over Janice actually accepting his proposal of a date, and she had even insisted on a formal one! Norris couldnít believe such hands that he was being given, and expected everything to turn sour, or himself to wake up, in a matter of moments. But no, he made it all the way to Termina without anything bad or disheartening happening.

With numb fingers he tied the boat to the dock, and nervously made it to the Termina bar. There was too much adrenaline flowing through his system from the rush that his previous encounter with Janice had caused, and since he didnít want to look jittery all day, he needed the alcohol. Just a little bit would do him, though--Norris was a man who could only hold such liquor. He figured that Janice would have this numbing effect on him...

Keep your head focused, he repeated to himself. Just keep things together. Get a drink, take a shower, breathe. Sheís not a goddess, Norris--not really, no matter how much you may think otherwise. Sheís just a normal human--erm, demi-human, and she can have just as many faults as you. ...But oh, she certainly does come close, eh?

 

 

(Gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp...)

 

"Ugh..." Norris grimaced at the potency of his drink, and figured that this one alone would be enough to calm his nerves, while still allowing him the ability to walk to his temporary residence without stumbling. As soon as he paid for his liquor, Norris left the bar quietly and ventured home, where he would try and sort a few things out from work before bothering to dress up for his date. The life of a Porre commander sure wasnít easy...

Norris was renting an apartment in Termina while staying over in El Nido. The place was small and a bit pricey, but the convenience was worth every sacrifice he had made. Norris could easily explore all of Termina from his "home", and could also visit Viper Manor and Arni Village, if the task called for it. Termina was a town on the sea, so he could also take a boat and go anywhere he desired. The freedom to use such a machine might have been the key factor in getting a date with Janice. The girl had literally leaped for joy at the notion of exploring the archipelago with Norris.

Though for a formal date, such a thing might not be possible. Oh well, shrugged Norris. I am certain that we will find other things to do. Janice seems like the kind of lady who is never boring, and myself...... Well, I shall be spending time with her, that is all.

 

 

Arriving in his apartment with fresh sobriety, Norris took a very deep breath and wondered what he should do first. It was unfortunately in the dead-middle of the afternoon (a bad time to get a drink, needless to say), and he had told Janice to meet him on the S.S. Zelbess at eight that night. The last trip he had made to the cruiser took him about half an hour, but then again, the ship had been sailing very close to Termina that day. Unless it was still around somewhere, it would probably take much longer to sail there.

Norris estimated that, if the ship was as far away as Marbule (which it frequently visited), it would take him three hours to reach it, maybe. If the weather was nice, less; if it was nasty, more. Even at a maximum of a four hour trip, Norris still had lots of time to go through things and prepare. Showering and dressing would take an hour...

I cannot believe that I am actually thinking about all of this! he exclaimed to himself. It is like a dream! ...A very, very strange dream. Myself with Janice on a nice evening like this? ...A nice formal evening, with good clothes and flowers and...... (gulp) Oh, dear. It seems that, in my haste, I forgot to add flowers.

Poor Norris gained a gray hair as another worry added onto his shoulders, but took a deep breath and returned once again to the organized and stately façade of a Porre commander. He had to remember that this was going to be his first date with the sprightly demi-human, and that no matter how formal things got, flowers were never necessary for first dates. Still, he considered the option, and ended up agreeing to purchase at least one flower, preferably in a color that expressed his feelings for her.

He would have lots of time to think of what to get. For the moment, he subjected himself to his ever-increasing pile of paperwork. Most of the mountain came from Porre, mostly concerning the Frozen Flame or the events surrounding Viper Manor, but there were bits and pieces of more personal issues tucked away in there as well. Norris drew in a deep breath and let it out as a sigh as he beheld his mighty pile of papers. Things wouldíve gone a whole lot easier for him if he had ended up a selfish, bullying, greedy, tyrannical cheat like most of his fellow Porres... Yes, it would have been easy, but it would have also been wrong.

And so, "Mr. Goody Two-Shoes" sat down and began to digest through the cluttered mess of papers that had been sitting in his room. Thankfully, some of them had been ignored for so long that their only use was in a wadded-up ball, deftly tossed inside the nearest wastebasket. One down, and a gazillion to go, he muttered as he threw the first paper away.

 

--------------------

 

Four miserable hours later, Norris was gaining some definite headway in his paperwork. He had already rammed through a large chunk of papers (while tossing a few of them away), but even after four solid hours of working (and a major cramp and blurry vision from so much reading and writing), he was still nowhere near completing the whole pile. Poor Norris sighed, rubbed his weary eyes, and decided to put the rest of the papers off tilí another day. He had procrastinated before, why shouldnít he now? Besides, this time he actually had good reason for shrugging off his work.

Janice. A date with her made the past 240 minutes seem like mere heartbeats.

 

Norris spent the next few minutes in search and interrogation, but unlike those darker times where it had been his superiors in the Porre military who gave him such orders, this time around, his purpose was for pleasure. Having been raised in such a military, Norris was largely unfamiliar with the popular trends or fashions, or even the best times for cruises, concerts, and shows. He didnít know when and where the Zelbess would be during this time of the year, so he asked around the port city.

The luxury ship was anchored off the island of Guldove, a mere hourís drive from Termina even in the most distasteful of weather conditions. Adding in the time it would take him to shower and dress, with the time it would take him to sail back to the Zelbess for his date with Janice, Norris discovered that he had two whole hours to call his own.

Not wanting to spoil his appetite, nor was there a desire to return to the tedious amounts of paperwork that patiently waited for him back at the apartment, Norris decided to take the rest of the day off and focused everything on himself. He so rarely got personal time that for the first few minutes, he honestly didnít know how to respond. Ancient habits that had been hammered into his system were being kicked up again like so much dust, and poor overworked Norris sucked up the dirt in a masochistic whiff.

Norris finally snapped and left Termina as quickly as he could. Getting away from a busy port city like that was important to him; after all, how could he expect to have a personal moment in a town so bustling and crowded? No, he needed time to himself, even if this time was spent in a walk to Shadow Forest. The idea, which came to him suddenly, seemed to interest him, and having nothing really better to do, Norris made his way to the gentle forest and decided to rest in its mystical groves.

 

 

 

Norris spent a good deal of time in those unadulterated woods, mostly in a well-deserved nap or a quiet fishing session, but his built-in alarm clock told him that if he truly desired the date with Janice (and did he ever!), then he would have to leave soon. The Porre Commander walked away from Shadow Forest with his mind clear and calm again (and thankfully, his gun still fully-loaded, which was a blessing considering how populated with disagreeable critters the forest was), and headed back to Termina. He still had a few minutes to spare--but then again, it was gentlemanly courtesy to appear at a date a few minutes ahead of schedule.

Coming back to his apartment with about two hours and five minutes to spare, Norris went to the shower first and cleaned himself up. He brushed his teeth, flossed, clipped his nails, shaved where it was necessary, combed his hair, and just for a touch, he dabbled on a very faint whisper of incense. His best suit, a rich evening suit that he had been given as a graduation present from the Porre military, looked as good on him as the day he first wore it to that extravagant ball. ......Sadly, Janice had not been his date back then.

Ha, ha, ha... wishful thinking! snorted Norris mentally. I must truly be thinking of her too much if I am recalling such an event! ...Though it would have been nice if I knew her back then, I suppose the timing in everything worked out well. Maybe "fate" had something to do with it, eh...?

Whether it was fate or chance or coincidence or whatever, Norris was grateful to the powers that be for his meeting with the adorable demi-human. As he dressed, though, a very faint ghost of negativity began floating around inside of him, whispering things that were despicable to him. The ghost spoke in the tongue of a stiff old bigot, wretched and foolish in the ways of thinking.

"Sheís a demi-human," said the ghost. "You know the policy concerning Ďthemí and you humans. ĎDemií is a word that means Ďpartialí or Ďbelowí. Sheís below you, Norris--only Ďpart-humaní. Despicable. Do you know what would happen if somebody caught you with her?"

I know very well what would happen, replied Norris firmly. They would wish us good evening and be on their way! Begone, vile creature of the past! Better for you to find victims in the Dead Sea! Things have changed since your prehistoric nonsense!

 

The ghost died easily, and left Norris for good.

 

It had never crossed Norrisí mind before, but perhaps that raggedy old specter had a point, albeit a rather dull one. It was true that not all of the populace was so open-minded about human-nonhuman relationships. Why, it had only been very recently where such pairings had became acceptable. Norris could only look to Fargo and Zelbess (whom said vessel had been named after) for such an example--or better yet, towards Nikki and Marcy, who carried such blood in their bodies. It was true that some would not completely approve of the pairing, or of the date, but it was not their opinion that Norris sought.

As it had always been the case with him, he let his conscience and his heart be his guide. The destination? So far, it was Janice all the way--or, as things saw to it presently, the S.S. Zelbess. After all, Norris did have a formal date to attend to, and despite having not been on one in some time (perhaps even never; who knows?), he still did not want to give off a rude impression. Besides, what powers on that world could stop him from seeing the woman who had so occupied his thoughts? Not even the waves could halt him--Norris arrived at the Zelbess safely, and with minutes to spare.

 

The sly Porre soldier had bought a bellflower from the Termina markets, just for her.

 

 

 

 

Norris unfortunately had to wait a bit longer than expected--about fifteen minutes past the hour to be exact--but that was okay, because he was patient and understanding, and figured Janice to be worth it (or, at the very least, busy at the Grand Slam). And when the adorable bunny-girl finally did arrive, Oh was she ever worth it! Patrons whistled lustfully as the young lady climbed out of the lower decks of the ship, her body completely bare except for a shimmering dress as red as the womanís innate.

Norrisí face turned a very similar color as his date marched up to him in her same childish manner. The dress was stylish, sexy, and sensible, hugging the entire body of the girl tightly from the chest down to the thighs, yet it was remarkably flexible (considering how agile Janice appeared in the gown), and though it made its wearer as hot as the color indicated, the dress left so much to the imagination that she couldíve displayed it to her grandparents.

"...Wow!" whispered Norris, obviously short on words. "Miss Janice, I would not usually be so blunt for a first date, but let me say that you are looking quite magnificent in that!"

"Likewise!" she squealed, her face beaming in a huge grin. Norris didnít know which was better, the dress or the smile, and considered himself fortunate to be able to have both in such a girl as this. Shyly, for he felt Janice was all the more unapproachable in her formal wear, Norris extended his arm and linked up with his date.

"I... I am glad you could make it," he said nervously. "I... became slightly distressed when I could not find you after eight oíclock."

"Oh, crap!" blurted the girl. "Did I really keep you waiting that long?!" She hastily grabbed Norrisí wrist and checked his chronometer, and literally screamed out in horror. "AAAHH!!! Eight-fifteen?! Have I been keeping you here for fifteen minutes? Oh, MAN! Oh, JEEZ!! Oh, BUMMER!! Iím such a doofus!"

"Ah, ah, ah, itís, ah, all right!" stammered Norris, trying to keep the frantic girl calm. "Itís okay really it is! I, I do not mind the wait!"

"But fifteen minutes?! Ohhhh...!" Janice moaned and gave her date a priceless puppy-dog pout, ears drooping and all. "Iím so sorry! Norris, you are the sweetest thing ever for not ditching me!"

"Now why would I do something like that?"

"I dunno," squeaked Janice sourly. Her face was twisted in an apologetic grimace, and her hands were wringing each other fiercely. The girl was obviously horrified over her own lack of punctuality. Norris, however, gave her a smile and placed his hand on her bare shoulder.

"Really, truly, I would not have left you, Janice. I... I, well, I have been looking forward to this for... well... an unbelievably long time, so... do not worry. I would have waited a whole hour, all right?" She gazed into his genuine face, pouted sadly once more for good measure, and squealed out doubtfully.

"...You would?"

"I would most definitely!" he replied. "Now please, do not pout anymore. You look much prettier when you are smiling."

 

Did I just SAY that?!

Did he just SAY that?!

 

Two faces turned Janiceís-Dress Red, one of them considerably more flushed and embarrassed that the other. Poor Norris, perhaps a little too prematurely, had expressed a shred of his thoughts towards the demi-human, something he had been rarely declined to do towards anything, unless he felt passionately enough about it.

Passionately enough...? ...Translation? ...Yes... we, ah... hehe... Oh my... Loss for words!

"...You think Iím pretty?" asked a radish-red Janice. Poor Norris stammered and kept silently frozen. Not a word escaped his petrified mouth, but Janice sure had a lot to say. "...Holy cow! Commander Norris of the Porre military thinks Iím pretty?!" Her contagious smile spread to him, and finally he gave her a response.

"......Yes. I... I do, very much..."

"Sweet!" blurted Janice, and then the girl belted out a "Woo-hoo!" so loud that every patron turned their head to see what the disturbance was. Norris loved the way she was always so enthusiastic like that, and might not have feared the attention on the surface, but...

"Ah, yes, uh, well, umm..."

"This is so cool!" shouted Janice, balling her large hands into fists and letting her eyes sparkle. "Oh, man! Wait tilí I tell everyone about what happened here! Theyíre gonna be so jealous that it wonít even be funny! Hehehehehehehe...!"

"Miss Janice..." Janice, the poor dear sweet loveable girl, suddenly realized that her date was still there, and jumped in surprise. Her hand slapped over her mouth in shock, and a bead of sweat marked her flushed brow.

"Oh, whoops! I almost forgot about our date! Heh, heh, heh..." The pasty smile she gave him was cute but hardly convincing, so with a sigh, Norris linked his elbow with hers once again and officially started their date, albeit twenty minutes behind the originally-intended time.

 

 

"So, Miss Janice, where would you like me to take you this evening? Remember, our agreement was for a boat ride to anywhere in the world."

"Yeah, I remember," she replied. Janice was carefully following Norris back down to where he had parked his boat as they spoke. The night was cool and beautiful, with stars and the twin moons out to brighten up such a splendid night. Norris had feared that a spell of rain would fall anytime soon, but the skies kept clear and beautiful all night long. The two found their way to the boat, and Norris started the engine while waiting for his dateís response.

"...Well," she said after putting some thought to it, "you know, Iíve always wanted to go to Marbule."

"Eh? Why? Were you not born there?"

"Oh no!" she replied. "I donít remember exactly where I was born, but I know Iíve lived almost half of my life on the Zelbess. Of course, that ship wasnít even made until about ten years ago, so I was really wandering around the world until I turned twenty-three. But, no, Iíve never been to Marbule in my whole life."

"You never even went there when Serge summoned you?"

"No, never." A pause. Norris guided his boat into the open sea, letting the sound of the engine and the lapping of waves be the only sounds in the world. Marbule and Guldove were hotspots for demi-humans in this part of the world, and to hear a well-traveled woman like Janice claim to have never been there was a bit disappointing. He concluded that it would be courteous of him to take her to such a place on their first date; Janice, more than likely, would be tickled pink.

"...I have been there," he said. "Quite a few times, actually. At first, the entire place was abandoned, save for two explorers and a few nightmarish specters. However, the next time I visited there, the place was beginning to bustle once again, with humans and demi-humans working side by side, as if the place had become another Guldove. It truly was a marvel to see."

"Cool! But does that include the, eh, Ďotherí Marbule?" Norris looked at Janice and shook his head.

"No, that one was different, but I have been there once before as well. But, this Marbule is a lot nicer. You would definitely like it."

"So youíre really taking me there?!" she grinned. Norris nodded his head, and received an enthusiastic "Woo-hoo!" in return. He even gave Janice a smile in return, and tried not to do anything else that would excite her as he led her to the city of demi-humans.

Part Three: More Than They Seem

 

It was just Norris, Janice, the boat, the water, and the stars, as far as the eye could see. It was like looking straight into a romance novel, only better, because Norris and Janice were actually experiencing everything around them. They felt the rock of the boat as the waves splashed against it, and they saw the glow of the stars as they beamed down, and smiled at the presence of each other as the tiny boat sailed towards Marbule, and the first official date between Norris and Janice.

All the feeling in the world couldnít quite describe how much Norris had been looking forward to this day, this hour, this moment. He could have been feeling anything, from uncontrollable giddiness to unbound excitement--or just uncontrolled and unbound in general. He still wasnít sure if any of this was real, and even now, he doubted Janiceís presence there in the boat with him. How long ago had it been since he was an astute but dull Porre commander, keeping out of the circulation of dating and sticking his nose to the grindstone? Days, was it? Had it only been a few days ago?

Unbelievable. And now he was in a boat, puttering along towards the city of the demi-humans, with the woman that had been in his mind for so long, now out of his mind and in that very dinghy. Truly unbelievable. Oh, the trip to Marbule took forever, but Norris was glad for the delay. More time spent away from the public was more time spent with Janice, and that made him quite happy indeed.

"Hey, how long do you think itíll take us to get there?" piped Janice suddenly. Norris had no idea.

"Well, I would say that at the rate we are going, it might take us...... probably, perhaps, two or three hours."

"Holy cow!!" exclaimed the demi-human. "Are you sure?! I mean, canít this thing go any faster?"

"Marbule is very far away," noted Norris with a ghost of a smile. "Remember, the S.S. Zelbess was around Guldove when I picked you up, and thatís practically on the other side of the archipelago. But I would not worry. That only leaves us with more time spent getting to know each other."

"Oh yeah!" she exclaimed with a smile. "I almost forgot about that part! So, uh, Norris, you mind telliní me a bit about yourself? I mean, aside from the fact that youíre a super-cool commander in the Porre army, and that you fight with a Ďguní thingy, and youíre so incredibly handsome and sweet and--uh, whoops!!" Janice grinned sheepishly and covered her mouth with her hand, but it was already too late. She had revealed much more than Norris was expecting.

"...Do you really believe that I am...... ah, well, that I am what you assume me to be?" A pause.

"You mean the part about you being cute and sweet?"

"And the rest." Janice shyly smiled back, and made every attempt to shrink back in the boat. She had revealed far too much, poor girl--but at least she spoke her mind, and didnít keep her feelings hidden. Norris was merely surprised that his interest with Janice was not completely one-sided.

"...I guess," she said quietly. "I mean, most of what I just said was a fact, right? I mean, youíre from Porre, and youíre a commander, and you fight with a gun..."

"Correct, so far," he replied. Janiceís face grew redder as she continued.

"And the rest...... well... uhhh, letís just say that itís an opinion of mine, heh."

"So would I be correct to assume, then, that you have held interest in me for some time?" he asked. Janice grinned, shrunk back even further, and her face almost began to match her dress.

"Eek, well, gee, if you put it that way, I guess... I mean, arenít you a super-cool guy with good looks, great manners, and a real sense of integrity?" Norris, unsure whether he should be flattered, confused, or embarrassed, merely dug for a response in his frozen mind, and came up with something completely lame.

"I... suppose... But, are you truly interested in me?"

"YES, okay?!" she shrieked. "Yes! Jeez! Ack, itís so embarrassing! What would a crazy demi-human like me ever have that would get the attention of a well-to-do Porre commander? I mean... gosh!!"

"So you have been interested in me..." muttered Norris, mostly to himself. Janice sighed and nodded her head.

"Yeah... I guess it sounds a little silly."

"No, not at all," he replied. "...As a matter of fact, I have... well..."

"So itís the same deal with you, eh?" she said emptily. Norris nodded his head, and the girl squealed and squirmed again. "Ack, I canít believe this! I so cannot believe this! Man! Wait tilí everyone hears about this! Iím gonna be the envy of every girl in town!!!"

"Excuse me??" said a puzzled Porre. "What do you mean, the envy of every girl?"

"Well, duh! Youíre only, like, the most outrageous and eligible bachelor out there! Heh, every lady I know would just die to be in my position, but here I am, lilí olí me, and I didnít have to do nothiní, I think."

"Miss Janice... perhaps you do not quite understand things," he said. "I do not know where you get your resources, or where such news comes from, but let me assure you that I am most definitely not some prize to haul around and brag about to your friends."

"I know, but--"

"I also do not think your, ehhh, beliefs are straight either," he continued. Norris had actually interrupted somebody, Heaven forbid! "I do not think of myself as an Ďeligible bachelorí, nor do I think of myself as Ďdesirable to womení or some such. It is true that I bear many good qualities, but what makes you think that this is all there is to me?"

"You mean thereís more?" said Janice with a smile. Poor Norris rolled his eyes, and the girl burped out a laughter. "Iím just kidding, Iím just kidding! Hey, hey, donít be so uptight!"

"Do you think that is also one of my qualities?" said Norris darkly. Janiceís face turned ashen, and the girl slinked back to hide yet again, though her embarrassment was much darker this time. She had to admit that she had only seen Norris as so much--as this and this and this thing over here--and though she figured there must have been more to him than just good looks, good manners, and a good rapport with other people, Janice never really considered that there might have been more--much more--to Norris than she thought.

"...Iím sorry," he sighed after a long pause. During that intermission, Janice had gotten a look, a really good look, at the man she was going out on a date with. She had not been lying when she said that she had been eyeing him for some time, and that she was looking forward to this day as much as he had. And... yes, she might have been too ridiculous by blurting out that whole Trophy Boyfriend mess, but... Something in Norrisí lack of focus told her that he would forgive all.

"No, I should be apologizing," she sighed. "Iíve been so short-sighted and ignorant, and youíve been so nice to me all this time. I should just... jump in the ocean!"

"Hahahahahahaha!!!" Janice had not expected Norris to burst out in a fit of laughter--heck, Norris didnít see it coming himself--but it had been enough to break the thin ice between them. Norris apologized for his rude outburst, and begged Janice to not drown herself over something so ludicrous. Besides, he had a confession to make.

"I suppose we should both take a dip in the ocean," he said, a smile still left over from his earlier laughing bout. "Janice, it really is wrong of you to cart me around as a Trophy Boyfriend, and I wouldnít like it in the least, but... I think that Iíve been treating you with the exact same stereotypical ignorance."

"...............Care to run that by me again?" Norris smiled at her and agreed.

"All right. ...Janice, I too have prejudged you before ever getting to know you. As a matter of fact, I knew almost nothing about you when I asked you out for this evening, except from what I had observed during our first meeting. I first thought you as little more than a zestful young lady with a lust for life and an ever-present smile on her face."

"Thereís not much else besides that," noted the girl. Norris smirked in disbelief. "No Iím serious. You just said my entire life story in, what, three seconds?"

"Janice..."

"Sorry," she giggled. "Iím a bit of a prankster. Seriously though, youíre right. Thereís a whole lot more to Janice than what youíve said, and I guess I can forgive your misjudgment if you can forgive mine."

"Agreed." The two shook their hands on it, and decided to spend the rest of their time on that boat getting to know each other better. After all, going into a relationship purely for bragging rights was incredibly shallow, and neither Norris nor Janice wanted something so meaningless. They honestly were interested in each other; it just seemed that they needed to get to really know each other first. No problem; they had hours to spare.

 

 

Okay, itís ladies first, so letís start with me. My nameís Janice, hehe, my Innate color is Red, and my occupation is Monster Trainer on board the S.S. Zelbess, but even before I set foot on that ship, I was on my way to becoming the world champion monster trainer. I was born outside of El Nido, from a mother and father who were... eh... well, letís just say that they werenít the same species, which probably explains the ears and the tail. Ya know, most people canít even tell that Iím a demi-human. They just think Iím another exotic performer. Anyway...

I dunno what happened to my parents after my twelfth birthday. I, uh, kinda ran away from home, and went on this really wild quest to hunt and train the best monsters out there. I donít know what I was thinking, but hey, I was just a little squirt back then. It was, what, ten years ago? ...Yeah, itíd have been ten years ago when I last saw my folks. Jeez, you think I should check up on them or something?

Oh, uh, anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the quest. Anyway, I got really good at finding strong monsters--or maybe they got good at finding me, since I was small and defenseless. But hey, that was okay--I had a way with those creatures. Steena--you know, that shrine maiden in Guldove--she told me that I had been born under a special star, and that I had the ability to sooth monsters and make them listen to me. I guess it helps to have these skills, especially at that young age!

Anyway, I guess Iím boring you. No, donít say that--I am, really! Anyway, long story short, I slowly became a really good monster trainer, and when I turned... oh, gee, was it fourteen? Yeah; when I turned fourteen or so, I kinda joined up as a permanent crewmember of the S.S. Zelbess. I heard they were looking for a good monster trainer, and so I just HAD to take the job! I got it, and Iíve been the champ ever since, at least until Serge, you, and that old guy beat me. There really isnít anything else to me. I had a good and happy childhood, and I loved my line of, erm, "work". I canít say that Iíve ever had a really bad day in my whole life. So, what about you?

 

 

 

I am afraid that my story is not quite as interesting as your own. I will not blame you if you fall asleep... but just to be on the safe side, perhaps you should have a handkerchief handy. Itís quite... a depressing tale, letís say. It begins, as you would think, around my childhood, which was a reasonably good one for the first six years. I lived in Porre, naturally, which is not too far away from Guardia. Those first years that I spent growing up in that sleepy town were among the best of my life.

My father was a well-known and respected man in the military, and he taught me everything I know, from treating other people nicely to skills in combat. He was a wonderful role model for me, and I have spent my entire life modeling after him. Unfortunately, he died when I was ten years old--died in combat, no less. The death was an honorable one, and my grieving mother and I were reasonably compensated by the military. Three years later, she met and married another man, and this is where my story changes.

I did not like this man, and not simply because he was not my father. This man was not the honorable type--not the kind that my mother should have married. He drank, and gambled away our money, and grew abusive, and spiteful. He would sometimes come home in a rage and beat my mother... and sometimes, he would even beat me. I bear a scar on my back from one of these alcohol-induced beatings, and my mother......

Well... let us just say that I could endure living with that creature no more. I enlisted into the Porre military academy as early as I possibly could, and used some of the grant money I was given to move mother and myself to Choras, which was further up north. My stepfather chased us down, as I thought he might, but by the time he found us, I had the strength and the influence of the military to keep us safe. My stepfather was placed behind bars, and for awhile, we experienced a shaky period of peace.

Around my graduation time, I was sent down here to be part of a search team, the same team that was assigned to gather information about the Frozen Flame. That was about five years ago, around the same time that General Viper and his dragoons disappeared from Viper Manor--no, wait, that was four years ago, was it not? I apologize; I sometimes lose track of history. In any case, Iíve been down here ever since. My mother is safely living somewhere in Guldove, living away her days in peace and quiet; I have not heard anything else from my stepfather, nor do I have the desire to.

I guess you could say, that is all.

 

 

Norris took in a deep breath and drank a bit of water from his canteen to clear his throat. He did so hate to speak about his past, especially concerning the disgraceful successor to his fatherís name, but it had been so long since he really opened up to anybody, it just came out all on its own. Norris was glad to have all that pent-up darkness now lifted off his shoulders, but wanted to apologize for revealing so much to somebody who was still somewhat of a stranger.

Janice was looking on with quiet wonder and a solid attentiveness. She had listened to it all, had clung to every word, and sure enough, she was feeling slightly sad over hearing such a tale. Naturally, she never knew that the respected Porre commander had had such problems in his youth, and that he had been forced to grow up so fast. Janice felt for him, out of her heart, and felt compelled to reach out and make him as happy as he possibly could.

"...Nice guys like you shouldnít have bad times like that," she said. She then leaned forward to give him a kiss on the cheek, and smiled with sugary warmth at the honorable man; loveable Norris had been completely taken aback by her sudden act.

"I... well... thank you, Janice. The brief moments of joy that I find in life makes my past seem more bearable--and a nice young woman such as yourself truly brings a new feeling into my life. I do not often encounter somebody so upbeat and chipper."

"But you should!" she insisted. "Norris, you deserve all the happiness in the world after the misery youíve been through! Jeez! If I can help you out in any way..."

"You have already, dear lady," he said, as he smiled and took her hand into his. She grinned sweetly at him, and gave him a flirty wink. Norris cleared his throat, and casually noted that Marbule was but a stoneís throw away from there.

"Wow," said Janice, craning her head over so she could see, "that sure didnít take as long as I thought it would. I guess telling each other our pasts sure takes up a lot of time."

"Indeed," he agreed. Carefully, Norris puttered the motorboat over to a nearby dock, and tethered it up so it wouldnít sail off. He then gently got out, and helped his date as well. The city of Marbule was magnificent at night or in the day, but after what they had heard and experienced, the place would be even more romantic and brilliant. The night sky, filled with stars and two moons and a soft wind, would make this date worth a mountain of gold.

"I can tell we are going to have a great time," said Norris as he led Janice into the city. The adorable bunny-girl hugged his arm and leaned her head on his shoulder, and profoundly agreed as she entered Marbule for the first time in her life.

 

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

 

The things that they saw and did in that city went by in a blur, fast and smooth like rippling silky waves, mixed in with the dark-blue of the night, and the chirping of crickets, and the affairs of evening activities. To sum up the evening, it was literally the best time that either of them had: not only because Janice was seeing fellow demi-humans and skipping around the diverse city for the first time ever, but also because she was spending time with a man she really was starting to like, and who deserved the same happiness she experienced every day.

And of course Norris felt plum-out intoxicated the whole night through. Janice was all he had thought her to be and more: she was a sprightly creature with a childís enthusiasm and wonder, and had a heart as big and warm as a fireball. She was also kind, and attentive, and hung onto every word Norris said, and went out of her way to make sure he had as much fun as she was. The two were an odd couple, yes--but in a much more subtle way, the pairing made perfect sense.

And so, the night passed, the hours rolled by, and the date ended. Janice finally resolved to leave Marbule after spending four glorious hours there; Norris himself had just stifled a yawn.

"Pity I must go back to work tomorrow," he said sleepily as they sailed back to the Zelbess. "I would very much like to continue this date."

"Well we can always schedule another," she replied with a big smile. Norris returned it and heartily agreed.

"That we can. I would very much like to do something similar with you, sometime in the future, when both of our evenings are free."

"Hey, feel free to stop on by any time you want!" she exclaimed. "Iím never gonna be too busy to see you! ...Hey, yeah, thatís it!"

"Hm?"

"Why donít we have our next date on the Zelbess? I know it sounds a little weird, especially since I live there, but itís a really great place, especially now with old Fargo being a nice man again." Norris smiled at her proposal, and nodded his head in agreement.

"That sounds good. Then, when next I am available, I shall come on by and visit you on the Zelbess. You shall have to come around Termina sometime as well, to see me. My house is not much to look at, but I guarantee that you are always welcome there."

"Aww, you are so sweet!" she squealed. Janice hopped forward and gave Norris a big hug, moaning happily as she squeezed him. Norris, probably overwhelmed by the lovely ladyís signs of affection, tentatively returned the embrace.

"So," said Janice, pulling away to look him in the eye, "isnít it customary for the gentleman to kiss the lady good-night?"

"Just what are you suggesting?" he replied, a faint chuckle in his words. Janice squinted her bluish-violet eyes with a cute smile.

"Nothing fancy. I donít wanna rush things. Letís take this nice and slow. That way, if we break up suddenly, we wonít leave with guilt riding on our backs."

"If we break up," he added slyly. Janice giggled and squealed again, and slapped his arms playfully.

"Youíre so wicked!! Gaaahhh, Iím so lucky to have a nice guy like you as a boyfriend!"

"ĎBoyfriendí?" She smiled and winked at him again.

"Yeah, sure, why not? Why, are you interested in seeing other people?" Norris only entertained the thought for a second before answering.

"No. I most certainly am not."

"Then my boyfriend you are!!" Janice grinned maniacally and pointed her carrot at him, looking like a lunatic the whole time, but Norris didnít care. That silliness, that loveable eccentricity, was what made Janice Janice. It was who she was, now and forever, and something like that should not be changed--not that Norris would ever consider changing it at all.

 

 

The two finally arrived at the large cruise ship, with about seven hours to spare before the sun rose up again. To conclude the date, Norris did lean forward to give Janice a kiss, but on the cheek, as per request. Janice still smiled at the action, and waved farewell as she climbed back onto the ship. Norris sighed to himself as he watched her leave, then went about sailing towards his own home. To be perfectly honest, he couldnít wait until their next date--no, he could not wait at all, not even for a second.

 

 

The End!

 

 

Closing comments: Iíve always wondered... out of all the people who actually take time to recruit the loveable Janice (who is one of my favorite Chrono Cross characters, thank you), how soon do you get her? Iíd say that a normal player would bother getting her roughly around the time when you fight the Six Dragons, or a beginner sometime after Chronopolis. My own record for getting her is right before you fight the Sage of Marbule (or having her in the battle), which is probably as soon as possible (the opening sequence doesnít count). Brag about your own victories in any reviews or emails!