From beside the bed Cecil rested on, Rydia took a second to look out the window and to the ocean from the western side of the castle.
Fabul was a beautiful place. The castle and town was surrounded by a massive forest. Countless acres of the trees provided a vast variety of fruits for the people. Also, what little land they did use for farmland was used very sparingly. It was like the people of Fabul lived in harmony with nature.
However, much of the surrounding forests had been razed and chopped down to make room for the inhuman foot soldiers that assulted the castle the week before. The town was in ruins and the populace was furiously trying to rebuild what they could.
Turning back to the bed, she reached out and held her guardian's hand gently, hoping he would return to conciousness soon. The bandages on his torso were red with a lot of blood, long since dried. Her meager healing magics were too weak to even attempt to close the wounds and most of the white mages in the castle were either killed or in serious condition themselves.
But she could tell that the scars on his body weren't the only thing that was hurting him.
The one called Kain had betrayed Cecil. She watched helplessly from the shadows as Cecil's friend ruthlessly assaulted him. She wanted to help Cecil, but the appearence of the one called Golbez stayed her hand. She felt even worse when he kidnapped Rosa and left with the crystal. Though she was able to bring them to their feet with her cure spell, it wasn't enough, for as soon as they left the chamber, Cecil stumbled and fell unconcious, for the wounds he sustained were worse than they all thought.
Now, here she was, watching over the man who once watched over her with his life barely pulled out of death's grasp.
"Child," the parental voice of Yang Fang Leiden came from behind her, "you need to rest too. I can understand your concern, but all that can be done is for him to rest. You don't need to watch over him."
Rydia looked down to the floor and twirled her foot slowly, "I know... but I don't wanna be alone and... I won't leave him."
Though it was true he was all she had left, she felt a feeling whenever he was around. It was a good feeling. He had done so much for her after all that happened and it made her feel better. Maybe, this was what it was like to have a father. She never saw her own father. She remembered he and Rosa talking about adopting her, maybe that would mean Cecil could be her father for real.
All she knew was that she didn't want to leave his side.
She looked up to see the warrior considering her words carefully. "So as the father lion protects the cubs, so shall the cubs protect the father." He smiled and patted her smaller head, "So be it."
She beamed happily. "Thank you, Yang." She then returned to her vigil of Cecil as Yang took a seat of his own.
"He will be asleep for another day or so. By then, we'll have the shipment of healing potions from Silvera to help in the recovery. We owe him much, the number of wounded and dead would have been a lot higher had he not told us," Yang said idly.
She looked to him. "Is Fabul going to be alright?"
Yang nodded solemnly, "Yes, but it will be years before we'll back back to our full strength. The main force we had no longer exists and most of our guards are initiates with little experience. We are now at the mercy of anyone that desires to invade."
Rydia wanted to say something to help, but nothing came. Instead, she inquired, "what are we going to do now?"
The warrior shrugged. "I'm not sure. If there's any sort of offensive to be launched against Baron, we need Cecil's help and he's in no condition to do anything right now."
"Darling," Yang's wife, Yue Xiang Leiden said entering the infirmary, "there you are. The king wishes to see you."
He nodded and gave Rydia a farewell glance before meeting his wife at the door.
Rydia smiled as Yue Xiang embraced her husband and he returned the gesture. Rydia was glad to have met the motherly and surprisingly strong wife of their friend. Aside from the stream of well kept velvet-colored hair, the dresses she wore made Rydia green with envy.
She and her mother never had much money and never had the chance to wear such beautiful clothes. She had complained to a few of her schoolmates that she wanted to at least see what the beautiful dresses of the North looked like instead of constantly looking at the plain and dull tunics of the Western Countries.
She wanted to say Yue Xiang walked over to her, but the floor length skirt and her controlled gait made her believe she had floated over to her side. "If you wish, Rydia dear, you could help me change his dressings?"
She nodded and remembered how ornate the Fabulian styles were. Though the Jiawen jacket Yue Xiang wore was one of the simpler pieces of clothing of their culture, Rydia hoped to be able to aquire her own someday. It was so pretty.
As she assisted in redressing the bandages, her sorrow returned at seeing her guardian's pain. However, she knew that he'd be alright. Being a warrior like her husband, Yue Xiang was also an expert healer and knew how to treat people without magic.
When they had completed the first set of bandages, she stopped upon hearing something like a whisper from the window. She turned to see only the sea in the distance. However, her sense of magic could tell there was a stirring, but her ability was so marginal at this point she couldn't tell.
She did, however, remember her mother warning her of the oceans. Though the king of the summoned monsters lived within the depths, he did not take to visitors kindly. In fact, there was no recorded summoner from Mist that ever was able to tame Leviathan. Everyone of them that tried to meet with the King of the Oceans had met their ends.
So... why was she hearing the ocean call to her?
Walking through the crowd in Baron's port, she was starting to feel that all these memories returning were not coinicidental.
However, the more important matter that needed attending to was to see Anthony Baigan regarding the deaths of the Royal Family. She had heard of the twins' suspicions of his involvement, but no proof was found.
She held no love for alleigience towards Baron, despite all that was offered to her by the state. However, she wouldn't allow the 'death' of her king to go unpunished by the guilty parties and with the Mysidian Seperatists taking the blame at the moment, she would take advantage of the goings on to find the truth... if she could find it.
No one stopped her entry into the castle, and found much of the remaining staff, along with new staff to replace those lost in the fire, cleaning up the remainder of the mess. She carefully walked past all the cleaning crews and up towards the king's bedroom.
Surely enough, there was Baigan, acting like it was meant to be his, speaking with a few members of the cleaning crew.
Noticing her presence, Anthony dismissed the other workers and approached her.
"Greetings, Lady Drake."
"Your highness," Rydia replied cordially, keeping a few more sordid phrases in the back of her mind.
"I apologize for the lack of pleasantries going on, but one can't expect to remain civil when one's own home is attacked."
"That's quite alright," she replied calmly. Wondering if he truly did have any hand in the fire.
"If I may, I wish to speak with you in private. On one of the higher turrets, preferrably."
"Very well." Rydia had a bad feeling about all of this and silently summoned Ifrit and with a mental command, had him hide in the shadows.
The walk was short and uneventful as they entered the empty walkway. The wind blew across the faltering banner of the Baronian nation as its new king and Rydia watched the town below.
"It all had happened so quickly. I wasn't sure whether the Cecil was nearby when the fire struck."
To Rydia's relief, he still wasn't aware that the Cecil was still alive. However, she had a feeling that Anthony wasn't exactly reluctant when the throne was 'offered' to him.
The only things she had heard about Anthony was his father and his role in Baron before and during Golbez's rule. Though loyal to the state, he was certainly not hesitant to point the finger at Cecil whenever there were charges of suspcion. If the twins had told her right, then the son of Baigan was not very different from his father. She was somehow not surprised when she learned that Baigan had conspired against the King of Baron with the promise of taking control once Cecil was dead.
She wisely kept this to herself as she asked, "And are you sure that the bomb was made in Mysidia?"
He turned to her, somewhat surprised that she did not adhere to the common knowledge of Mysidia's supposed guilt.
"As far as I know of, yes. Why do you ask?"
"Because... your highness," Rydia noted how odd and slightly disgusted it sounded calling him by said name, "I've been investigating the cause of this and I have reason to believe that there are forces in Baron itself that did this."
Anthony then frowned, and added with a warning tone, "Be careful, Lady Drake. Not too many people would be happy to hear a friend of Baron to speak ill of..."
Rydia interrupted with a frown of her own. "I have held no alleigiances to Baron in the past. If you recall, it was the state of Baron that ordered the summoners of Mist to be killed. I have never been, was, or will be what you call 'a friend of Baron'. I made an oath of loyalty to Cecil only. I suggest you keep that in mind, your highness."
The look that Anthony gave her was an odd one. "To Cecil you say? You make it sound much more than just a mere loyalty to his causes."
Rydia had a bad feeling where this was heading as her anger started to flare. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Anthony had a look upon his face that suggested innocence. "I said nothing to imply any such thing. It was an observation I've made upon your declaration of loyalty to our last king. In fact, one could even suggest that you were quite enamored with him..."
Again, Anthony was interrupted when Rydia's hand struck his cheek with little subltly. Her green eyes spoke volumes of how she wanted to see him fall off the side of the turret.
"How dare you! Such business is none of yours!"
Though angered that she struck him so blatantly, he soon calmed down. After a tense second, he bowed his head. "You are right, Lady Drake. It was none of my business to speculate. We all were quite fond of him and to see this happen was a tragedy."
She folded her arms and replied somberly, "Yes, it was. I intend to continue my search for the truth independantly. Again, I have reason to believe that it wasn't just Mysidia alone that's responsible for this. No matter how unpleasant the truth may be."
Anthony nodded once more and replied, "I wish you the best, Lady Drake."
Rydia nodded once more to him, turned and walked down the stairs leaving the new king of Baron to whatever designs he had in the back of his mind. However, she felt frustrated that she had been goaded so easily.
Walking down the hallway to the courtyard, she leaned against the wall, wondering exactly why her self-control was beginning to slip. It was only recently her tendancy to anger quickly had returned. What added to her frustration was how it was supposed to be Edge that was the tempermental one, not her.
Porom clutched her hand to her chest as she tried to settle her heart. The Black Chocobo was not a creature she got along with, even the tame ones. Considering the one she took enjoyed flying high was of no help to her acrophobia as well. However, now that she had reached the town of Branford, she could continue searching for the cause of whatever it was that was scaring the locals.
As the Head of the Mage Council, she had responsiblities, however, protocol crafted by the mages of Creasant was quite clear that they were to be active as possible in the community. Otherwise, they would become detached from the people they were supposed to serve and the destruction of their society would surely follow. She shook her head upon recollection of the Noble Houses. In fact, she wondered if Dakat and his ilk had even walked out of Mysidia before.
The hamlet she approached had only a few dozen houses connected to several large acres of farmland, once an unlivable swamp. The people here had taken great care to ensure that the land would last as long as possible so as to provide for themselves and families, while at the same time, giving the Mysidian Magocracy a usable export with other countries.
An older farmer, in well worn rags noticed her approach with the chocobo and called, "greeting, stranger. What brings you here?"
She nodded politely to him. "I heard there had been sightings of a Black Knight around these areas."
The older man's face lit up with apprehension. "Ah, yes. That one."
Following his lead to the small town square, she asked, "Could you tell me exactly what happened?"
The man looked to her for a moment, wondering if he should disclose what he knew or not. He closed his eyes and said in resignation, "lately, we have been getting some threatening messages from some of the men in the Noble Houses... I can't say which one. They are demanding that we give them a portion of the money we make simply by virtue of their... nobility."
She already had an idea as to whom exaclty it was that could be responbile. Ronan Heartily, though seemingly harmless, was actually quite the bully. He often resorted to brute force whenever he never got his way.
"Naturally, we refused. So, they started sending men to intimidate us. We still resisted. And then one day, when it seemed like they were ready to kill us all, he appeared..." Porom had to stop when the farmer had also stopped in his tracks. She looked around to see a fear in his eyes that few knew.
It was a fear she understood better than most thought. Cainazzo was a hideous sight and when he had nearly drowned her and her brother in Baron, she had a subconcious fear that followed her ever since.
"...the very air around him was cold," the man said as he began to shiver. "Not even that monster, Golbez held that much darkness around him."
Porom concentrated on the man's tale as he continued, despite his shivering. "The men from the Noble Houses tried to kill him. However, they saw his eyes, as did my wife and I... we couldn't move... and all we heard was his words as though he were passing judgment." He looked down to his quivering hand. "He drew his sword... it was like... like... it was made out of the thickest darkness you'd ever seen."
The Head of the Mage Council found herself at a loss for suspects. The Dark Knights of Baron were killed when they resisted Golbez. She remembered their dashed and bloodied corpses in the castle courtyard. Poor Cecil had known several of them and did everything he could to hold back his anguish for his friends.
Even Cecil's attempts to revive the Dark Knights were met in vain as no one wished to follow their fate. And she began to understand why.
"The Black Knight didn't just kill them. No." the man whispered, "the ground on which they stood and the soil for meters around was completely covered in their blood. They screamed, but you couldn't hear them scream. It was like their very souls were being smashed apart along with their bodies..."
Porom's eyes widened at the description of the sword's abilities. There was only one weapon she knew of that could do such a thing, and she saw it melt into nothing over thirty years ago!
Mortis, the Black Heart.
Details as to its creation were scarce, but rumor held that it was crafted from the hardest minerals from the bones of the Four Fiends; Lich, Kary, Kraken, and Tiamat. Fused with metals that could damage the soul, it became a feared weapon by any that used it. However, it always consumed its user in one way or another. Somehow, Cecil's innocence had protected him from the destructive nature of the weapon he unknowingly wielded. And when he ascended to the status of a Paladin, Mortis had met its end.
Impossible. Not even the master blacksmith that lived near Giott's kingdom could forge the materials needed to create that thing.
She grabbed the man's shoulders and asked him in urgency, "this can't be the truth, tell me you're just exaggerating!"
The fear in the old man's eyes killed any further argument. With nothing more to be gained on that subject, she asked, "did you see where he went when it was over?"
Knowing the subject was nearly completed, he pointed to the east and whispered, "do not try to follow him. He is beyond the law. You will only find your death if you wish to persue."
Letting go, she walkeed back to the entrance of the town with her chocobo in tow. "I must. It's my duty as a Wizardess of Mysidia." Her words, though tainted with fear, held the resolution she had to carry as the head of the Council.
She pulled herself upon her ride and ushered it east. Making sure it's altitude was kept low, she looked to the east, past the other few towns that had appeared over the years and to the expansive forest that would cover the foot of Mount Ordeals.
Porom kept her focus as the time flew by quicker than she would have liked. To face down an enemy with such a weapon was suicide and she was by herself no less. As the chocobo landed itself at the edge of the forest, she tied its reigns to a tree, yet kept it loose enough to make her escape quick enough it the need arose.
The midday sun was growing hotter by the minute and she was greateful for the shade as she began to traverse through the wood. Spreading out her sensitivity of magic, she could detect no sign of darkness that she could recognize. Though she was at a disadvantage when it came to combat, her white magic was nothing to ignore. All known white magic was at her command and she would not be caught unaware.
Disliking the lack of a path, she held onto a few stray branches as she marched further into the forest. Looking up, she noticed that the sun, still above her, was starting to grow dim. She had seen this happen during a solar eclipse some years ago, but the moon was nowhere to be seen.
It was then she realized her folly too late as she tried to turn and run. However, darkness had consumed the light around her and she could see nothing. She felt the heat from the summer vanish and replaced with a piercing cold.
"What business have you here?" a voice with a chill as painful as the darkness asked. It was deep and full, showing little compassion or humanity.
"I... I..." Porom studdered, trying to find a spell strong enough to disperse the darkness around her. As she remembered the correct one, she threw her arms up to the air and was about to send as much power as she could to dispel the magic around her. She was interrupted when the sharp side of a blade rested itself at her neck. She froze in place and the words with which to use the incantation died in her throat.
"I will not ask again... what is your business here?"
Gathering what little courage she had left, Porom whispered, "I... I search for... the truth..."
Almost considering her words, the owner of the voice responded calmly. "The truth is light and therefore, not here. You, the innocent, have no need for lies. Leave and never return."
She was about to ask why when the darkness suddenly crept away faster than she could see it vanish. Covered in cold sweat, she staggered as quickly as she could back to her chocobo. Mid every step, she used all her will power to keep from sobbing when she wanted to. She had never known this sort of fear, not just from the darkness or the voice, but the face her suspicions were true.
The Black Heart still existed. But who had it?
She looked back to the darker portions of the forest as she half-climbed upon the bird and, in spite of her shaking hands, cajoled it back to Mysidia. She needed to speak with her brother and the Council as soon as she could... once she recovered from this incident.
On the edge of Lunarian Moon, Golbez skimmed through the seventh book he had taken down from a shelf. It was only the first row of a massive library on magic the Lunarians had cataloged in a cavern, aptly named 'The Data Bank'. Upon the higher levels of the palace that stood as the only structure on the Lunarian Moon, the Data Bank and the entrance to the lower levels of the moon were the only signs of life on this artificial sphere. Aside from the stars from the many windows in the room he resided in, the only other source of light was a single sphere made of a substance alien to him, but commonplace to the Lunarians.
To his surprise, he had learned quite a bit about their history and where exactly they came from. Evidently, they were trying to not repeat the mistakes of their old homeworld. They eventually came to Earth, but knew to leave well enough alone until they were ready to reach into space like they did.
In addition, he was very impressed about the amount of detail they went into. Every particle of elemental energy, down to the number of the differing elements were cataloged and considered how inefficient his previous habits in magic were in comparison. However, as enthralling as it all was, he needed a certain set of spells to discover the discrepancies he had been feeling back on Earth. Though far in space, he would be able to make use of an amplifier the Lunarians had constructed and, if necessary, teleport himself through space and back to the Blue Planet.
"I don't understand, nephew. What is it you wish to find with these spells?" Golbez's uncle, FuSoYa muttered at the entrance to the Data Bank.
Not looking up to his father's brother, Golbez replied calmly, "I am not sure. That's what I am going to find out. I have a suspicion, but I have no proof."
FuSoYa began to stroke his beard. "Zemus."
Golbez closed another book, not finding what he needed as he put it back. "Correct. Ever since we went to sleep, that curse he spoke of has weighed on my mind more than I would have liked. And the fact that it may be affecting my brother does not bode well."
The elder cocked an eyebrow. "This is new. I never would have thought you would ever go so far for him."
Golbez turned an unpleasant eye towards his uncle. "Don't misunderstand me. Though there is much separating my brother and I, he is still my brother. That will never change."
The older man only smiled knowingly and nodded. "I shan't."
When he had left, Golbez sighed gratefully. He preferred to let his emotion be kept to himself. Most specifically, his feelings for his family. They were his business and his alone. Even the gentle chiding from FuSoYa could not allow them to come to light as he frowned at the bizarre sense of humor the old Lunarian had.
During some of their conversations, he had learned that he and Cecil derived quite a lot of their personalities from their father. Evidently, KluYa was also quite the humorless dotard. Turned out that the brothers were often quite at odds with each other in their younger years. It made him realize that he and Cecil were similar, in a way.
A sour frown grew on his face when the thought of said admission reaching FuSoYa's ears. He squashed the thought as soon as it appeared and returned to his studies. Now was hardly the time for musings on interpersonal idiosyncrasies.
He stood up and walked to one of the windows showing the infinite space outside. Through the darkness, he saw the light of the sun at the center of the system. The Lunarian Moon had moved far enough to stay in system, but not so close to make the people of the Blue Planet realize they had never left. He placed his palm on the glass and locked his gaze upon the world his brother still lived. It seemed so backward compared to where he lived now, but at the same time it seemed so peaceful, despite the chance that there would most likely be civil wars without a common foe for everyone to unite against.
For their sake, Golbez thought dispassionately, the people had best not forget what Cecil did.
"They have forgotten you," the echo hissed in his ear. That had been the straw that broke the chocobo's back for him as he decided to head to Baron for a day to prove the specter wrong.
Cecil, in disguise, had escaped from Mist after consistent taunting that his family was dead. He could not, nor would he believe it.
Under the cover of darkness, he traversed the cave to the city. Dressed as a traveler, he kept a cowl to hide his face as he moved through the crowds around the edges of the town. Though it appeared business was going as it usually did; there was a tense air all around in the afternoon. Night would come soon, but activity would still go.
Moving through the market district, he noticed several flyers speaking a single message.
Burn the Mysidians the way they burned us!
"Burned us?" Cecil mouthed as he moved through out of the market towards the castle. He knew he would never be able to gain entry to the castle, but he had learned that there were several hiding spots he often used to overhear the conversations of his people. Though it could be considered malignant, he had learned much about the temperament of his people and learned how to serve them accordingly.
Leaning against the wall of an alcove, he drew his knee up to his chest to give himself the allusion of taking a short nap as he listened the passing conversations of the people carefully.
One by one, his ears caught the gossip of groups of people moving slow enough for him to hear. The trick was waiting for the right conversations to pass and work accordingly. Then he would go to the town square and start asking questions.
"Are you sure? The cloth in the armor should have insulated out the heat."
"Yes. But you have to make sure the metal has the additional enchantments to give the user the extra defense."
Metalsmiths. The only thing that came to mind was some of the armor he had donated to their guild when the Crystal War ended. Letting that one go, he listened to a pair of middle class women that were on their way to run errands.
"As a matter of fact, you've met him," the first one noted haughtily.
Cecil knew he didn't need to hear anymore as he turned his attention to a solider speaking with a Baronian Black mage. Their pace was much slower than the others.
"It was awful. The fires completely burnt most of the people there to nothing."
"The worst part was his highness of all people getting caught in it."
"I know... I doubt there'll be anyone like Cecil Harvey around these parts for a while. It sure doesn't do Baron any favors having a militant in charge now."
"You mean Baigan? Give me a break. He can try all he wants, he'll never be the previous king."
Cecil's jaw dropped and hung slack at what he just heard. But he was alive... and what about his children? What happened?
Then he recalled the poster and the first taunt of the echo. No. It couldn't be true! He got up and walked at a faster pace than he would have liked as he traversed through the town to the gravesite where the graves of the royal families lay. He pushed people out of his way, not knowing or caring of the indignant glares of those around him. His breath grew faster and deeper as time flew during his travels and it was all a blur when he finally made it to the large tree on the eastern edge of Baronian territory.
In front of him, there was a grave right next to Rosa's.
His name was written on it. The names of his three children and first grandchild were also written on additional stones nearby. His hands started to shake in complete horror of what he was witnessing. All of his children were gone...
Feeling weak, his knees buckled and he collapsed to the grass. Tears gathered in his eyes as he clenched the dirt and sniffed as the full brunt of reality had hit him.
"So you see... they have forsaken you," the echo whispered on the verge of visibility. "They take a new king in your place without question. The greed and corruption has overtaken your legacy. They have forgotten..."
When Cecil heard those words, something within him already had the answer, however the answer was something he would not have considered in the past. With the current events as they were, though, it was more applicable.
Standing up, Cecil looked to his hand and said back, "They will remember..."
"Yes," the echo concurred with a malicious undertone, "those who fail to heed the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat it. And only you would know how."
The look in Cecil's eyes darkened and he whispered, "Yes."
Turning away from the gravesite, he walked south as the mists of evening crept through the countryside. It wasn't long before Cecil's form was lost in the darkness.
The last remaining evidence of the echo's existence was its laughter and declaration of triumph. All was going according to plan.
End of chapter 6
Just a beginning note: No, Stealth Noodle, I haven't given up on this story. I was hit by a streak of block and boredom. However, things pass and so does the block! Woo! So, there's going to be a shorter interval for the next chapter.
Ok, first off. All I had to go by to judge for the Fabulian country was from the map and the names. So, I figured there had to be some kind of Chinese/German mixture. And, the most gasping and shocking of all, I gave Yang's wife a name! Cool, eh? Guess playing Dynasty Warriors has finally paid off.
Though I feel there's a little something extra needed for the Rydia and Baigan scene, I'm happy with it, unless one of you gentle reviewers tell me something that works good in my eyes.
Porom meets the Black Knight. Dude. Foreshadowing, man.
We're getting more Golbez action and a little backstory as to whom KluYa and FuSoYa are. Wow, that's an idea for a fic all by itself! Any takers?
Finally; the most controversial scene in this chapter, for the story for that matter. Which brings me into the next subject, what do you folks think? Let me know, please. I can take whatever you throw at me... really!
Finally; all things Final Fantasy belongs to Squareenix. You know the drill. The money goes to them, not me.