The battle between Cecil Harvey and his compatriots against the grotesque form of Zeromus left the many platforms and structures within the artificially created moon in shambles. Multiple platforms made of a glass like substance were covered with dust and shards from the vicious conflict. The once marvelous state of the Inner Moon was reduced to ruins as Cecil as his friends fought for their lives.

Bringing his sword to bear, Cecil swung the crystal blade into a wound just below Zeromus' jaw, only to be swept away by a massive claw and into the ground. As that same claw rose to strike Cecil down, a massive fireball, several shuriken, and a shining arrow collided with the joint, sending the limb off the arm and away to another part of the cavern.

Taking the initiative, Cecil leapt to his feet and charged, sending the tip his blade into the pulsating crystal in the middle of Zeromus' chest. At that same time, Kain's spear point and his body weight sent several hundred pounds of pressure into the beast's already unstable structure. Zeromus roared, flung Kain off his body with his left appendage and unleashed a shock wave that sent every one of the heroes every which way.

In spite of the massive force from the wave, Cecil stayed on his feet. His eyes suddenly locked upon the gash his sword had made a few moments earlier. A large pulsating organ made comprised of muscle tissue and crystal was now in clear sight.

Cecil then noticed that the immense creature saw he was still standing and it opened its maw once more and a searing white heat began to gather. In desperation, the paladin charged forward and dove underneath the blast as it singed his cape and took a few plates from his torso with it. Taking advantage of the momentum he had gathered, he rolled to his feet. With another charge, he aimed towards what looked like Zeromus' heart and using what little strength he had left, sent the tip of the blade straight through its surface.

As Cecil tried to move his sword around to cause more damage, he heard Rydia's distorted voice and proclaim in the language of the Summoners, "Esh Nahalu Boh Eran Bahamut!"

He looked up to see Zeromus' other arm try to knock him away. The paladin leaped backwards and nearly lost his balance as he dodged the half-decomposed limb.

Cecil got his balance back and charged once more as he heard Rydia command, "Attack!"

With a scream, Cecil drove his blade further into Zeromus' heart, not at all noticing that another pair of dangerous and bony hands emerged from other parts of its body with deadly intent. Cecil noticed the new pair of limbs and tried to pull his weapon out of Zeromus' body, but found his weapon lodged within a crystal chunk amid the muscle.

Without warning, a large clawed hand grabbed Cecil by the waist and using Zeromus as a springboard, Bahamut kicked himself away from his foe. Cecil turned to see his rescuer, only to see an enormous stream of light burst forth from the dragon's mouth and into the wound he had created.

Zeromus roared once more and as his body began to falter and come apart at the seams, a thought hissed maliciously in Cecil's mind, "Scion of Kluya, though you may have killed me... your victory is a hollow one."

Immediately after its message, the monster's heart burst and sent muscle tissue and a dark red substance around its base. Because the monster was no longer able to support its own weight, the entire structure of the monster seemed to collapse in on itself. Gallons of iridescent fluids gushed out of veins and glands before evaporating into nothing.

As Bahamut set Cecil down upon the ground and returned whence it came, all that remained of Zeromus was the fire of his hatred, cursing them verbally before burning itself out.

...

"It will be a very long sleep, are you sure of this?" the aged FuSoYa inquired of Golbez.

Nodding solemnly, the elder son of KluYa turned to follow the Lunarian to their place of slumber. Taking one last glance at Cecil, Golbez muttered, "Be wary, brother. The future will hold something neither one of us can foresee."

Cecil nodded in turn, for it appeared that Golbez also heard the final iteration of Zeromus before his disintegration.

Though he tried not to let it show, Cecil was saddened at the prospect of being separated from his brother once more. As a child, Cecil never knew Golbez. If anything else, he was a foster child of the captain of the guard. Growing up alone without any real family was hard on him. He always felt that there was someone that he called his father and mother, but the revelation that he had a brother was exciting. Yet, the truth had revealed itself in a most untimely and cruel fashion.

Cecil said nothing as his brother walked up the pathway leading to the resting chambers. He wanted to say something, anything.

A plea to stay behind so the sons of Kluya could set things right?

A slander for abandoning him three times?

An imploration to simply have a brother nearby?

Hope as Cecil would, the words never came as the last he saw of his brother was his black cape and off-white colored hair. Golbez never turned back for a last look...

...

The heroes returned to their home, the Big Whale was returned to its slumber, and life had begun to repair the damage done in the past year.

Damcyan, Fabul, Mysidia, and Eblan were reconstructed and repopulated with former and new residents.

As quickly as it came, one year passed. Then, another had followed suit; and another, and another, until it had been thirty years since the end of Zeromus.

Baron had grown exponentially, delving into new sciences and technologies. At one time, all that Baron comprised was a small castle and a town around its gates. Now, it had grown into a massive city, populated by tens of thousands. Its airforce, also grown, had taken it upon itself to protect the skies from pirates; for they too had mastered the art of the airships.

Towns had grown into cities and the population had exploded with the long lasting peace.

Yet, staying true to the eternal cycle of creation and destruction of civilizations, the peace was not to last.

...

Cecil thumbed through the last few pages of a journal he had written many years ago and marveled at how much had changed.

"Spoony bard... how did Tellah ever come up with that?" Cecil wondered aloud, reading over an entry recalling memories of the ruins of Damcyan.

His gaze then turned to the window that gave him an excellent view of his kingdom, covered with would most likely be the last snow of the season. Spring was coming and local soothsayers were predicting that the year for barley would be even better than last year.

He closed the book and placed it upon the shelf with the rest of the numerous journals he had kept over the years. Walking to the exit of his study, Cecil stopped and looked in the mirror Rosa had given him as a birthday present, fifteen years ago.

She had it specially prepared for him with a beautiful if unusual pattern that the borders were composed of. The pattern was arranged so systematically, the artist responsible thought he was carving another picture.

Returning to his reflection, Cecil noted that while he was never one to make a big deal about his vanity, he did like the way his hair held a lion-like appearance. Even in his old age, his hair and eyes never seemed to lose that immutable luster that contained the savvy and sincerity that had won him many friends and allies.

It was odd. He was near his fifty-fifth year and he didn't feel like a day over thirty. He was not the only one to notice this, for several physicians, healers, chemists, and scientists had traced this age-suppressing attribute to his father's alien heritage.

The news also presented some problems as well. A small political group in the higher classes of Baron distrusted him with a passion, simply due to his heritage. As hard as he tried to earn their trust and set aside their prejudices, they were adamant.

Cecil then frowned. Not even the Adamant armor that he nearly killed himself in acquiring was as hard as the hearts of the Baronian nobles.

Many years ago, Rosa had assured him that there was always going to be someone that didn't like you, regardless of what you did.

A knock from his door brought him out of his thoughts. A guard entered and said, "Sire, you have a guest."

Cecil blinked. Guests usually came into Baron with some big ceremony... unless it was a certain someone that despised ceremony and protocol. He smiled, "Send her in."

The guard nodded and a minute later returned with his guest.

Rydia Drake smiled as she opened the door. To everyone else's perception of time, she should have been in her early to mid forties, but due to her unique nature, she looked no different than a woman of twenty-eight. She still wore her usual emerald green dress and bladed lash at her side. The only thing that appeared to have changed was her hair, for it cascaded down to her waist instead of brushing over her shoulders.

Smiling back, Cecil held his fist to his chest and bowed, "Speaking for the royal family, Lady Drake, we are honored by your presence."

The High Summoner snorted, "Forget the formalities, Cecil. Or would you I rather start calling you 'highness'?"

Cecil's eyes rolled back, "Please, anything but that. I get called that so many times, I'm starting to forget what my name is."

Rydia started laughing as she stepped forward and embraced her friend. "How long as it been? Five years? Six?"

Walking past her to the hallway with his friend alongside, the king of Baron replied casually; "Five years, six years, what does it matter? Either way, it is good to see you again Rydia." The king's eyes widened suddenly in remembrance, "I was actually hoping you'd show up around now. My first grand child was born just last week and I just about ruined my friendships with everyone else by bragging about it."

Rydia snickered and remembered fondly the day that Rosa had given birth to her and Cecil's first child.

"Oh, how is Rosa? I would think that you two would still be together, even here," she gestured to the study.

Cecil's demeanor fell slightly. "Her mother passed away the other day and she took it rather hard. She's in her room right now, if you'd like to talk with her."

Rydia nodded, "I'll get a chance while I'm here." She turned to Cecil's study to see a portrait of all the people she and Cecil had met during the Crystal War.

The twins from Mysidia, Yang, Kain, Cid, herself, Cecil, Rosa, Edward, and even Gilbert were all present. They had declined having Tellah's portrait done, mostly out of respect for his memory. Yet, the most inadvertently humorous part of the picture was seeing the prince of Damcyan trying to look dignified, but just couldn't seem to match the bravado that Edge had.

Edge... Edward.

It saddened her every time that she saw him after she had returned from the land of summon monsters. For ten years, he had not only sought her heart, but her hand in marriage. She had to admire his persistence; but, she had no real desire to join society as it was. Every time that she returned to the land of her birth, it had changed and grown into something she couldn't recognize.

"You seem pensive, fairy," Cecil said casually. Her time among the summoned monsters and induction into their society had left her changed to the point where she seemed more fairy than human. Though she didn't enjoy being called that, she did make allowances for Cecil and his family.

Rydia blinked and sighed. "Sorry. It's just I find it harder to come up seeing everyone that I've grown to care about grow older while I constantly change."

Cecil nodded solemnly, "The rest of us feel the same way. We miss you, but we can't keep you here either." She appreciated the sentiment, but the words that she needed to hear were a bit too far for her at the moment.

"Have you ever found out exactly how time flows there? By all rights, if you aged around twelve years over a period of a few months, you should be either very old or long dead," Cecil asked.

Rydia could only shrug her shoulders. "If I judge time right, then I must have spent a decade trying to figure out how it all works. It flows backward, forward, and in some cases it stops. It's like time has a mind of its own there and considers me one of the residents."

Cecil began to smirk, "Edge would not be too happy if it happened to favor you."

The thought of the impulsive King of Eblan reacting like an overzealous teenager again made Rydia laugh out loud. She even remembered how he and Cid used to fight as if they were son and father, while they worked on the airship they commandeered from Golbez's forces.

With a smile, Cecil gestured to the door, "My study is getting far too stuffy. Would you join me for a short walk?"

Impersonating a lady of high class and wealth, she extended her hand and spoke in a snobbish voice. "Why, that would be most delightful."

...

Walking up to the turret's roof, both the king and his friend observed the snow falling gently as the last rays of sun vanished in the west.

By then, the mood had slowly matched the light as darkness began to creep across the land.

When Cecil was about to ask Rydia a question that had been in his mind for a while, Rydia interrupted with a statement of her own.

"Would you believe that I still wish we met under different circumstances?"

Now it was Cecil's turn to act surprised, but when he considered what they had been through, it wasn't at all surprising to hear her say that. "I believe it. And from time to time I think the same thing."

Rydia turned to her friend slowly. As strong as allies and friends as they were, that same sordid memory continued to burn in the darker recesses of their minds. Eternally dooming them both to knowing that they were both nothing more than a puppet and victim of Zemus' scheme.

"Forgive me for asking... but when happened when..."

Anticipating his question, Rydia turned to the dusk, "It seemed so sudden... so quiet. My mother tried to concentrate on cutting her link with the mist dragon so both of them could survive, but it was too late. All I heard was a gasp, then I turned and saw her fall to the ground."

Turning away, as if ashamed to face her, he said, "It happened very fast for Kain and me as well. We were trying to defend ourselves and we fought to save our lives. Yet, when I saw the dragon dissipate, I had a feeling that there was something else happening, but I was unsure at the time."

"Why are you bringing this up?" Rydia asked a bit too hastily.

The last time he brought the subject of her mother up, it ended in silence. He wanted to propose a memorial, but she considered it a painful reminder of what she had lost and had left silently. It was years before they were able to reconcile the initial conversation. With more time to give it thought, she realized that his proposal was more reasonable than she gave it credit.

Cecil's voice lowered to a whisper, "Because, tomorrow is thirty years to the day that it all happened. I wanted to do something that would give your mother the respectable memorial she deserved."

With a sad countenance, Rydia walked to Cecil and took his aged hand into both of her own. "I need to apologize too, for trying to hurt you. I never understood that an eye for an eye only leads to blindness."

She looked up to him and smiled a bit, "My mother was a very simple woman. She always loved beauty in simplicity. I think she would have preferred something like that."

The sadness in Cecil's eyes soon waned and he smiled back.

"Your highness!" a guard screamed as he entered the roof.

"What's wrong?"

"It's the queen! Something's wrong with her."

The guard escorted Cecil and Rydia to the central tower where Cecil and Rosa lived. Along the way, Rydia asked, "Cecil, is Rosa ill?"

The king shook his head, "I don't know," he turned to the guard, "What exactly is wrong with her?"

The guard shook his head, "I only know as much as you do, sire. All I was told is that the Queen was ill and I was sent to get you."

As they entered the room, it looked nothing like the orderly and well kept room they always had. Books were torn apart, glass littered the floor, and strange markings lined the walls in pure gibberish and scribbles.

Though Rosa had aged well during the intervening years, her face was enveloped in a snarl that belied the Rosa that Cecil and Rydia knew for many years. Her years as a white wizard and archer had left her physically and mentally healthy, but her present behavior spoke differently.

In the middle of the room, a maid and two guards struggled to keep the screaming queen calm, yet found no alternative except to restrain her. By the looks of it, Rosa had put up a fight, for the maid had a vicious bruise on her cheek and the guards looked like they too had taken a few blows as well.

"Unhand me! Let me go this instant or I'll have you all hanging from the gallows!" The guards tightened their grip on Rosa's arms, preventing her from moving, but it did not stop her from screaming and kicking. Rydia's gaze went back and forth to the struggling Rosa after seeing the mess.

"What's the meaning of this?" Cecil demanded, looking to the maid and the guards.

Scared to the point of hysteria, the maid replied, "Your highness... I just came in to turn down the bed when I saw the queen dancing as if to music, but there was none and making a mess. I tried to calm her down but she struck me. I had no choice, I had to call the guards."

Turning back to Rosa, Cecil saw his wife slowly calm down and her breathing slow. She looked up in confusion, first at the mess, then at everybody looking uneasily at her. "Cecil! What happened? I remember coming in to get a book, but then everything seemed to make no sense at all."

Cecil turned to the guards, "Take her to the infirmary, quickly. We have to find out what happened."

After Cecil gave her a reassuring hug and a kiss on her cheek, the guards took Rosa out of the room. Cecil noticed the maid ready to burst out crying from all the stress the last half an hour had put on her. Not needing another case like this again, he told the maid, "You go to a healer and get that cheek looked at."

The maid bowed and said, "I'm sorry, your highness, I just never seen anything like this before."

Cecil nodded, accepting her apology, "Don't worry, I don't know what's going on either. I'm not going to blame you for doing the right thing. Now go get yourself taken care of."

Gratefully, the maid bowed again and left the room.

Folding his arms, Cecil looked at the wreckage and racked his brain for a possible answer to what was going on. Rydia's voice diverted his attention, "Cecil! Come look at this!"

Rydia looked rather perturbed as she turned from the designs on the wall.

"What is it?"

"This isn't scribbling. From what I can tell, this is what happens when people are subjected to mental curses and hexes."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning, that the victim's subconscious is trying to call for help by identifying the curse. What we're seeing here is a message of some sort."

"What does it..." Cecil started before finding himself silenced by an echo in the darker recesses of his memory.

Zeromus. His angered final words were becoming apparent with Rosa's outburst. Then, there was the mirror in his study. It was all so clear! Why didn't he see it!? The scribbling was in the same pattern as the borders the mirror had.

As Cecil's heart beat loudly in his chest, he turned to Rydia slowly and asked quietly, "What does it say?"

Rydia noticed Cecil's apprehension and though she was slightly reluctant at reading the symbols, she continued,

'With time, I confide.

In the chink of armor I hide.

Behind your shield I abide.

I destroy thy self from inside.

Thy pain, I deride.

When thou knowest what I am... thou hast died.'

She turned to him and whispered, "This is a degradation curse."

It was never him Zemus cursed... it was Rosa.

...............

Cecil hurt all over.

His head most of all. How many rocks hit his head before the slide finally stopped? He didn't care to wonder, mostly because ignorance, in this case, was bliss.

Cecil lifted the face shield of his helmet and brushed off the smaller rocks and dirt out of his hair and face. However, lifting the faceplate was apparently not enough, so he lifted the helmet over his head to get the remaining rocks out.

A few swishes of his hair had gotten out the dirt, and with his general sight restored, he began to take in his new surroundings.

Surely enough, the remains of the town of Mist was nowhere to be seen. It was most likely, behind the newly formed mountains behind him.

In addition, Kain was nowhere to be found. He was sure that they were in close proximity to each other when the quake occurred. Even then, Kain would have been able to utilize his ability to jump high to evade most of the catastrophe until it subsided. And even then, Kain would not have abandoned him so easily... but the argument between them amid the flames of Mist suggested otherwise.

Sighing, he turned back to take in the view of the expansive desert ahead of him.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the inert form of the child that had attacked him and Kain. Pulling himself out of the rocks, he walked over to her location, knelt by her head and felt her neck for a pulse. Sure enough, she was alive, but unconscious.

Turning back to the newly formed mountains, he realized that trying to take her back to Mist would be pointless. The survivors would be most displeased with him for following the king's orders.

He then looked at the remains of the Bomb Ring with disgust, took it off, dropped it on a rock, and used the hilt of his dark sword to smash the remains so it would never be used again.

Turning back to the unconscious child, Cecil put his helmet back on, and gently gathered the girl in his arms.

Miles and miles of merciless sand and heat lay ahead for him and anyone foolish enough to try and traverse it unprepared. However, his was a lot that had no choice. Gathering the child in his arms a bit more comfortably, he started from what few trees at the foot of the mountain to Kaipo, the only oasis for in the northern deserts.

...

It had been at least a day and a half of trudging through the desert before a caravan from the town on its way to Mist had met them mid way.

"Good day, sir knight!" the caravan leader proclaimed heartily as soon as Cecil and the child he carried was in earshot. "What brings you to the middle of our dry and desolate home?"

Choosing his words carefully Cecil replied, "There was a landslide at Mist and now it's cut off from the rest of the world. Is there any way you can give us a ride to Kaipo?"

The heavyset driver looked at Cecil warily. "What is the meaning of the child you carry?"

"She was a survivor I found. I doubt I'll be able to make it in time for her if I don't get there sooner." Cecil prayed that the rider's glance at the child and then to him wasn't one of scrutiny. The last thing he needed on his conscience was having the child die before he had a chance to help her.

"How much Gil do you have on you?" he asked casually.

Thinking back to the purse that he still carried in his pack, he replied, "Around four hundred, I'd say."

There was a long pause as the driver drew a long breath and stroked his unkempt beard and moustache slowly. Time seemed to stop as Cecil's and the child's life now seemed to be in his hands.

"You'll go straight to Kaipo and no where else?"

Cecil nodded in reply.

"Very well, give me 90 Gil and you can rent a spare Chocobo. Take it straight to Kaipo and leave it in the stalls. If you want to continue you're going to have to pay an extra 60."

Cecil gave an audible sigh of relief as he gently placed the child beneath the shadows of a caravan cart, reached into his pack and eagerly placed the money in the leader's hands. After a quick handshake to seal the deal, he yelled to some of the fellow riders to unleash one of the spares and bring it to Cecil.

The Dark Knight gratefully accepted the Chocobo, gathered the child in his arms again, hopped onto the giant bird's back, and made his way towards Kaipo.

...

After dropping the chocobo off at the caravan's stall, Cecil ran as quickly as he could towards the inn. The child had not eaten for who knew how long and she looked as dehydrated as he was. Thankfully, the innkeeper was understanding of Cecil's plight and had allowed him a room on the bottom floor.

Placing the child on one of the beds, he went to a pitcher left by the innkeeper, poured some of the cold water onto a cloth, and placed it on the child's forehead. Hoping that she had not caught the dreaded Desert Fever, Cecil made sure to stay by her side for the next several hours to ensure that her temperature would lower now that they were in the shade and had water to drink.

Hours passed and the sun was beginning to set in the west as the child began to stir. Cecil had long since removed his helmet and half of his dark platted armor and put them aside. The heat by itself was bad enough; he didn't need to pass out from dehydration because of his dark armor.

"You're awake," Cecil whispered as he sat on the bed beside hers.

She looked around cautiously, trying to find something she could recognize.

Cecil answered the question that he was sure she would ask, "You're in Kaipo. A town by an oasis in the middle of the desert."

It didn't take the child long to realize that the one that sat across from her was the same man who had killed her mother. Her nine-year-old face turned sour and she turned away from him.

Cecil turned away, disparate that things had come to this, "I'm sorry, I had no idea that would happen."

The child didn't answer, nor would she.

He looked at her sadly and continued, "I was a soldier carrying out orders. I want to say that there's no dishonor in that, but..."

(What is dishonor then? Killing for a cause you know nothing about?!) A voice in the back of his mind hissed.

It wasn't the first time this... voice of sorts, hounded him. The instant that he was given his instructions to go to Mist, this voice was telling him that what he was doing was wrong. The moment he received his orders to retrieve the Crystal of Water from the Mysidians, the voice was telling him it was wrong. That same voice continued to tell him to turn back and abandon the bomb ring. Just tell the king that it broke and he couldn't accomplish his mission.

But no... Cecil had to be an obedient soldier and obey the words of his king, regardless of whether the assignment was right or wrong. So, whenever he was ordered to do something that went against his personal sense of morals, he always came up with a reason for it.

Never again! He recalled the heated argument he had with Kain back in Mist. At sword point, he made it clear to Kain that he would never again compromise that which he knew to be right because of loyalty.

He silently placed a glass of water by the headboard of her bed and started to walk out as the sun's rays slowly drifted into the evening. He paused for a minute to see her look back at him for a moment, and then turned back, all the while saying at the point of tears, "You killed my mommy... I hate you..."

...

Cecil then woke up, noticing that he had dozed off in the middle of another meeting. He looked up to see one of the ambassadors from another province of Baron located in the mountains to the north. Cecil considered himself fortunate that he had the foresight to read the precursory grievances that each member of the court listed in order to take care of problems in the kingdom.

Recently, a highly contagious disease had been running rampant in the towns far to the north and the ambassador had been demanding them to be quarantined. However, Cecil remained skeptical since this particular member of the court had no real love for the people he was to represent.

During the ambassador's filibuster, Cecil overruled him and said, "I understand your take on the situation, ambassador, but I will not allow the people to be caged like a bunch of animals. Until you can show me proof that this epidemic is worth fighting, I will not hear any more of this." Several other members nodded their assent as he continued, "I believe I also speak for the rest of the court when I say we should conclude for the day."

The rest of the diplomats voiced their agreements and parted ways within minutes. They would continue the procedures tomorrow, hopefully with better results.

Cecil pushed himself wearily off his throne and walked towards the entrance in the side of the throne room. "Nine whole hours of endless political rhetoric and we've accomplished nothing!" Cecil grumbled beneath his breath as he began to ascend the stairs to one of the battlements.

It had been three long days since Rosa's psychosis had been made known and, of course, the town had gotten word of it and there was a general unrest concerning the future of their well-loved queen.

"You should be given an award for surviving all that," said Rydia, appearing from the other hallway. She had several books in her hands and a look that gave her the appearance of being just as weary as he was.

Cecil smiled tiredly, "Thanks. But as far as I know, the worst is yet to come." He then noticed the books in her hand and remembered that she had spent the day in Mysidia with Palom and Porom in study of various curses. "Have you found anything so far?"

Rydia sighed, "Well, not much, but it may be something." Cecil nodded and then gestured for her to follow him up the stairs to his study.

"Besides the obvious fact of what it is, the twins and I were able to find out how it appeared. Have you ever heard of a Trapper Hex?"

The King shook his head.

"It's part of higher level curses that makes it hard to find. The reason why most can't find it is because it's always in a dormant stage unless it comes into contact with a trigger of some sort. Then the trap is sprung and what ever curse the hex is linked to, activates as though there were no defense against it."

"What kind of triggers have you found so far?"

"Well, usually, the trigger can be something the victim ate, breathed, any number of things. But since this is a mental curse we are dealing with, the answers have thinned out a bit."

"You mean to say that this curse could have waited until she grew this old and then struck?"

The High Summoner shook her head, "No, time hexes are far too simple and easy to find. A curse of this sort needs a powerful trigger for it to activate. And since mental energies are not as great as physical, the twins and I have come to the conclusion that some sort of emotional distress must have been the trigger."

"Emotional distre... oh no... Rosa's mother," Cecil held his hand to his face. Janice Farrel's passing had been the catalyst that lead to her daughter's current predicament.

Before Cecil could complain, Rydia continued, "It gets worse. The curse Rosa has possesses a tendency to place the victim in a peculiar bipolar psychosis. A long time ago, it was used by combat mages to bring confusion to their foes. However, shortly after it was developed, it was destroyed after a disastrous failure in a decisive battle between Crescant and the Ancient Fiend of Fire, Kary. Evidently, the fiend reverse-engineered the spell and used it on the army sent to defeat her."

The aging King held his hand against the wall and asked quietly, "Any cures?"

She shook her head again, "None yet. There were only three of us in that massive library and the Mysidians have probably chronicled hundreds of books about curses."

Shocked, Cecil turned back to Rydia, "Only three of you? What about the rest of the scholars? Why didn't they help you?"

Rydia's demeanor turned resentful, "Most of the Mysidians don't consider me one of their own. It's the reason why the Summoners and the Mage Guilds never really worked in tandem with each other. There was always some sort of disagreement that went on until the Summoners went into hiding at Mist. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that Summoners and Mages, save for the twins and a few others, don't get along very well."

Now it was Cecil's turn to sigh, "Not again...." There had been a rather strong anti-Baronian sentiment going around during the Crystal War and it took some time for it to die out. Yet, there seemed to be a resurgence of the old hatreds because of some malcontents that never learned to forgive Cecil for his actions many years back.

Just another thing to worry about.

Rydia seemed hesitant with what she wanted to ask, but continued nonetheless, "How's Rosa doing?"

"Come see," he said darkly, knowing all too well what was to greet Rydia.

Within minutes, they went to the far tower, with two of Cecil's most trusted guards standing outside the door.

They both bowed to their king and the superior of the two said with a dejected countenance, "There's been no change, sire. She continues to scream and rave."

Cecil nodded, "Open the door, I want to see her."

Rydia stood aghast. She could understand the need to keep one under a curse as serious as this under close watch, but to confine someone to a room like a prisoner was counter-productive.

Cecil seemed cold and apathetic as he and Rydia walked into the room beside the next door to Rosa's room, "I know what you're going to say, Rydia. But I have no choice."

To Rydia's surprise, Cecil lifted up his tunic and shirt to reveal several bandages, caked with blood long since dried.

"Yesterday morning, she continually screamed to use Meteo upon me. Since she could not muster the power to kill me with magic, she stole a dagger and nearly killed me..." his frown grew as he tucked his shirt and tunic back, "...all in Zemus' name."

Rydia nearly dropped the books she held in her hands. The situation had been worse than what she previously thought.

Cecil then pointed to a look space in the next door. "Look in there."

She wondered what was worse, seeing Cecil become as cold as the stone in this castle or seeing what Rosa was going through.

Placing the books on a chair, she walked slowly to the peek space and peered in slowly, expecting something to leap at her, but found nothing.

All she saw were the same patterns written on the white walls over and over again. In every possible color, size, and picture, everything was covered with those same cursed symbols.

In one of the corners, she saw Rosa... or what remained of her. She had long since been restrained in a straight jacket, her hair was matted and dirty, and the way she was chuckling gave Rydia the chills.

"Lord Zemus shall be elated... they'll all die..." Rosa repeated over and over in a voice that was nothing short of psychotic.

She turned back to Cecil to see his depressed countenance, "She's been like this ever since?"

He nodded, "The intervals of her being sane are getting shorter and shorter. It was in the middle of last night that she was sane last and I couldn't be there for her."

Rydia didn't need to guess how Cecil was feeling. Though still a paladin, he was beginning to look like a sad old man who lived by himself. He missed her company dearly and the stress of the past few days were taking their toll on him.

Rydia set her books down on a chair, walked up to her friend, and held his larger frame as gently as she could.

"Cecil! Cecil, are you there?" Rosa cried within the room.

In an almost panicked state, Cecil opened the door and walked in as calmly as he could keep himself. Rydia walked in after him, noting that Cecil either didn't know or care about the writings on the wall.

She looked to the king and queen and found them locked in an embrace. Padding next to Rosa, Rydia knelt down beside the queen and tried her best to smile for her friend. At the moment, Rosa, now freed from her jacket, locked her arms around her husband's shoulders.

"I'm scared, Cecil. I see all the horrid things I'm doing and saying, but it's not me. All I can do is watch it as it happens," Rosa sobbed on Cecil's shoulder.

"I'm scared too, Rosa, but we're not giving up and neither should you," Cecil said, trying to maintain his confidence and composure for her.

Rydia then added, "The twins and I are working as fast as we can. You can count on us finding a cure."

Rosa then turned to the High Summoner and smiled sadly, "I'm sorry your visit had to fall on such unfortunate circumstances."

Rydia returned the smile and said, "So do I. I haven't done this much studying since I first went to the Land of Summoned Monsters." She reached forward and gently held her friend's shoulder and continued, "But for you and Cecil, I'd be willing to go through it again."'

Rosa's face brightened, "Thank you. I appreciate everything that you've done for us."

"Don't worry, Rosa. Now, if you'll excuse me, I got to get to my room so I can keep studying," Rydia said before letting out a chuckle. She then stood up and proceeded to leave the king and queen and inform the guards of what was going on.

"Lady Drake," the younger guard said pensively, "Please, do you really think there's hope for the queen?"

Rydia turned to the nervous guard, paused for a minute, and reply quietly, "I don't know... all I can tell you to do is pray. I want her to live as much as you and the rest of Baron does, but there's really no way of knowing."

The guard bowed to her and then walked with his superior to watch over the heads of the royal family, leaving the summoner alone with her thoughts.

...

Elsewhere, in the darker recesses of the castle, a pair of shadowy figures was conversing. One seemed clearly elated.

The taller of the two chuckled darkly, "This is just too perfect. With the royal family out of the way, what's to stop us from taking over?"

His compatriot whispered, clearly nervous, "Baigan, you can't do this!"

Not caring about his friend's scruples, Anthony Baigan flicked his friend's nose and chuckled darkly, "No taste for blood, eh? It looks like Cecil's influence has taken the animal out of you."

Angered that he was regarded as such, Anthony's friend continued, "But what if we're discovered?"

The captain of the guard snorted at the thought. After all, his father was able to become the captain of the guards with every dirty trick to keep his foes out of the way and keep himself blameless. Subterfuge was practically part of his family. "Listen, tensions between Baron and the Mages Guild and Mydsidia in general are at an all time high." With a sinister smirk, he placed his hand on his friend's shoulder, "What if, say, for example, something was to happen to the royal family? With a Mysidian-made firebomb?"

Comprehension dawned on the companion's face, "A terrorist act?"

"Of course! Get the family in one place after the upcoming talks, place a time bomb, and watch their bones burn to cinders! All the malcontents in Mysidia will take the blame," Anthony hissed as though he was recollecting a most pleasurable experience.

"That's risky."

"Maybe... but once they're out of the way, the Alliance will die. With the support of the nobles behind me, the kingdom is as good as ours."

Turning every which way to make sure no one was within earshot, he asked quietly, "What about the summoner?"

Baigan smiled, draped his cloak over his head and started to walk out. His voice was low, raspy, and held the countenance of a wolf on the hunt as he reassured his compatriot.

"Leave her to me..."

End of chapter 1