Author's Note: Well, clearly this story was inspired by me thinking a bit too much about the fact that Chris keeps the ability to rob corpses even after she returns to the knights.
About the timeline: I know that Konami would probably like us to believe that it all takes place in one year. I can sorta accept that, it you always go straight from Plotpoint A to Plotpoint B without any stops in between. However, I have a strange obsession with trying to figure out how long games would take if they took place in real time rather then super-speeded up game time, and with all the wild meandering I do (especially the frequent trips to Caleria: judging by the fuss people their raise about Chris coming all the way from Zexen I figure that's a trip that takes a couple of months on foot) my Chris must spend a few years away from home.
When Chris stopped suddenly and knelt next to the corpse that lay in the middle of the path they were taking to Brass Castle, Salome assumed that she meant to pray for him. That was acceptable, if unexpected; in the past he'd never known her to spare more then a pitying look for the dead they came across. Of course, he knew full well that time changed people. If the worst habit she'd acquired during the years she'd spent travelling in the grasslands was a new appreciation for the sanctity of human life, he thought they should count themselves lucky. As long as it didn't interfere with her ability to do her job, at least.
Even as he was thinking this she began pick through the body, turning out pockets and digging into pouches. Salome stared at her, horrified. He knew that he should say something, but what did one say when watching one's captain rob a corpse? He glanced around, taking in the fact that the other knights seemed similarly shocked. The only ones that didn't seem to think anything unusual was happening were Chris herself and Nash. The later only seemed uncomfortable with the fact that Borus was glaring at him as though he were personally responsible for this change in their lady. Salome had to admit that Borus was probably right, although it wasn't enough to make him regret entrusting her safety into Nash's hands when she left on her journey. From what he'd seen since reuniting with her, Chris was both healthier and more at peace then she'd been since Galahad's death. That alone was enough to show that he'd done his job well.
Chris broke the awkward silence with a small noise of pleasure, and held a hand out to Nash. "Knife," she ordered, her eyes not leaving the corpse's partially decomposed face.
"Your wish is my command, my dear Chris," he said, handing a small dagger to her with a smile that was just edging into a leer. Chris seemed unfazed by him, responding with just a small snort and an amused glance, but Salome had to quickly grab Borus' arm to make sure he wouldn't attack the other man. He didn't think Borus would try to do anything worse then embarrass Nash a little, but he didn't want to risk that escalating into a real conflict.
Once he was sure a fight wasn't about to start, his eyes were drawn inevitably back to Chris. She was scraping the flesh off the body's forehead with careful swipes of the blade, revealing a glimmering rune crystal imbedded into its skull. She cleared away enough skin to slide the point of the dagger into the slight crack between the bone and crystal and begin to try and pry the rune out. By then Percival had dragged Louis away around the nearest curve of the path, something Salome was grateful for. The boy had idolised Chris for most of his life, he did not need to see anymore of this.
The crystal did not seem to want to move easily. Chris pried, wriggled, jimmied, and wrenched at it, the muscles in her arms standing out from the tension in them, but it barely shifted in it's place. Finally, when she'd at least made enough space to get the blade firmly in place, Chris just leaned her full weight against it. Something had to give, and for a moment Salome thought that it would be knife as thin fractures began to form along it's foible. Then, with a sickening crack, the skull collapsed from the point where the rune crystal was imbedded to the nasal bone. The suddenly freed crystal flew across the path as the now off-balance Chris almost plunged wrist-deep into the swarming mass of maggots that had been revealed where the man's brain had once been. She was saved by Salome's quick lunge to her side, his arm catching her around her shoulders. At the same time Nash grabbed her hand and tugged it a few inches to the side, so if she had fallen she would have caught herself on the ground instead of falling straight into the gap.
There was a pause then Chris dryly said, "Thank you for your concern, but I can assure you both that a few grubs would not have been a horrible ordeal for me." But as she straightened up Salome could see the small smile on her lips, making it clear that she didn't really mind their concern.
"Of course we know it wouldn't have bothered you Chris," Nash said, grinning back at her, "but spare a moments thought for our feelings. It would be a crime to see your lovely hands defiled by that decay."
"I'm sure," she said, rolling her eyes skywards then shoving herself to her feet. "Here." She handed back Nash's cracked dagger. "I'm sorry about the damage. I'll pay for the blacksmith to repair it when we get to Brass." She walked off to collect the rune crystal, and now that his worry no longer distracted him Salome was suddenly hit by the corpse's terrible stench. Once again the fact that Chris had been grave-robbing, was even then wiping the gore from the crystal she'd stolen, came to the forefront of his mind.
She looked over the rune approvingly, then tossed it to Nash. "Here, it's a Cyclone," she said. "Have the Rune Sage in town exchange it with the Wind you're using when we get there." She glanced around at the others. For a moment her expression flickered to discomfited as she seemed to realise that something had upset them, then just as quickly it smoothed of any emotion. "Shall we get going? Hopefully we'll be able to reach the castle by nightfall."
The other knights, with mumbled words of agreement, spurred their horses on and took off to catch up with Percival and Louis. Nash followed, leading Percival's horse to return to him. Borus glanced over his shoulder as he went, catching Salome's eye. He knew that that was the younger man's way of asking him to speak with Chris. Then Chris was approaching him. She pressed her hand against his arm, something else she would never have done in the past. She smiled at him, an expression that seemed to come easier to her then it had the last time he'd seen her. "It will be wonderful to return home at last," she said hesitantly, seemingly choosing her words carefully to try to keep the mood from deteriorating further. "I'll be glad to get into my armor again; I must admit that I haven't quite felt quite safe ever since I left it behind."
And there was something fragile deep in her eyes that had definitely not been there the last time he'd seen her, and it was that made him push any lecture out of his mind. He smiled back and lightly touch the back of her hand, where the True Fire Rune burned brightly through her skin. "My lady," he said, "I'm happy to hear that this new power of yours haven't made you think yourself invincible. You'll find your room and all your possessions remain just as you left them. We've been waiting patiently for you to return."
She again made a small pleased noise in the back of her throat, then began to walk away, calling back to him, "Thank you, Salome. I am glad to hear that."
After all, Salome thought as he followed her down the path, it wasn't as though there was an actual law against a knight stealing from a dead enemy, however distasteful it might be. And what had been left of the clothing on the corpse made it clear that he had been a Grasslander when alive. So long as she hadn't developed any worse habits, this one could be overlooked. He'd known that she would have changed after spending over two years travelling through the wilderness of the Grasslands. How could he scold her like a delinquent child over becoming a bit less civilized when he'd been the one to push her into it to begin with?