AN: There's no canon first name for the Elder, as far as I know, so I took liberties. If someone knows his 'real' name, don't hesitate to let me know.

Dear Cid,

First, please forgive the tardiness of this letter. I've been told that Baron is carefully monitoring all imports and exports; especially letters that come in and out of the country. I imagine that despite my prompt reply, it's not likely that you'll get this in any sort of timely fashion. As for what they hope to accomplish by scrutinizing every scrap of paper that passes through their hands, I'll never know.

Though I haven't met the young man in question, I do believe you're being far too harsh on your daughter's suitor. I'm sure he didn't mean to say that, especially at the dinner table. It sounds like you're exaggerating and perhaps overreacting a bit. The poor fellow was probably just nervous. You can cut quite the imposing figure, Cid, when you try. Give him another chance -- I'm sure she'll thank you for it.

My niece, Penelope, is planning on staying through the colder months, and perhaps longer. She seems settled enough, though probably misses home. She wanted me to tell you that, as far as the chocobo you asked about, it apparently isn't going to lay any eggs. Infertile, it seems, sadly. And, concerning your suggestion that it sit another egg, it doesn't look like the bird will take to anything. Penelope suggests that you speak to a more experienced chocobo breeder if you're still interested in purchasing a bird with an impressive pedigree, as she's given up the business since moving to Mysidia.

Thank you for asking about my mages. They're doing well. There's been some talk about expanding the schools, though we're still struggling to raise funds, first. There are still repairs to be done, as well. Palom and Porom are spending the winter in warmer climates, in Damcyan at King Gilbert's invitation. Despite their age, they're formidable mages, and I think it'd do well for Damcyan's trainees to learn from them, and vice versa.
Send my best to you and yours.

Sincerely,
Lawrence

Prior to the theft of the Water Crystal, Mysidia's Crystal Room and Tower of Wishes drew mages from all over the continent for worship. After the war, however, with all eight Crystals on a distant moon, traveling farther and farther away, there was no longer a symbol of faith for the believers.

They still come to pray, sometimes, though few and far between. They walk through the Crystal Room, heads covered and eyes downcast, not daring to look at the empty fixture that once held a near-deity. Instead, they pass by, through the door to the tower. Choosing instead to offer prayers to the endlessly blue sky and rolling seas, through the open ceiling of their tower. A still standing tower -- something that couldn't be stolen away.

It made me angry, at first, to see the neglect in the Crystal Room. The tiled glass walls and ceilings, once cleaned daily to forever mirror the Crystal's beauty, now coated thick in dust and grime. I said as much, to the Elder, wondering aloud at how the Mysidians could so easily abandon their faith at the first sign of hardship. He said it wasn't a waver in belief, but rather, too painful to consider. Who really wants the task of caring for an empty shrine? The Crystals had let what happened, happen, and their leaving was in a sense a desertion. Soon, the people would understand. But for now, they needed to look to the skies, the stars, the distant planets for answers, not a bare chamber.

Little wonder, then, that I found myself alone, in the early hours where night blends into morning. Foolishly sentimental, I know, but it felt appropriate to come here to pray for the flickering life in my room. Having slipped into unconsciousness on the ride back to Mysidia, the boy hadn't woken yet. I don't know how long he was out there, in the frigid cold, but it must have been terribly long to have developed such a stubborn fever. There were few illnesses that healing magic couldn't touch, even if it was only to encourage the body's own defenses to fight. And this... I couldn't even figure out the source of his fever, much less how to cure it. If he lived throughout the night and following day, I'd be surprised. Relieved, certainly -- but surprised nevertheless.

I was similarly surprised, then, to hear footsteps at the entrance of the Crystal Room. Head still bent in prayer, I didn't bother looking up. Likely an early worshipper, on their way to the tower, and I simply didn't have the heart to make idle conversation.

"Rosa."

That is, until I heard them speak. I reacted without thinking -- stupid, I know -- and glanced over my shoulder. A familiar voice, certainly, as it was the Elder standing there, scowling in disapproval. He didn't need to, I already realized my mistake, and winced.

"You shouldn't call me that." I said as I stood, brushing off the dust gathered up on the front of my robes.

"And you," he replied, as he started across the room toward me and the dais, " ... shouldn't respond to it. What if a Baronian soldier had seen that? You're going to get yourself killed."

I had no response, and merely looked away, feeling very much like a sulking child.

He touched my elbow, guiding me away from the altar, "Never mind that. I need to speak to you." He glanced back toward the entrance, and frowned, "But not here," nodding toward the back, "in the tower. It's early yet, no one will be there."

Under other circumstances, I might've been concerned about the impropriety of such a private meeting -- after all, what would be said about the Elder speaking alone with a young white mage? The Elder accounted for that with the brilliance of his disguise for me. Here, in Mysidia, I was simply Penelope, his sister's daughter, who had come from Fabul to help her uncle with the reconstruction of Mysidia's schools. Never mind the fact that the Elder's sister had five boys, and no daughters. Being Penelope Floberge was considerably safe than Rosa Harvey, these days.

The tower was, as he said, empty at this dark morning hour, before even the early risers came to offer their prayers to absent Crystals.

"You were supposed to scout for zombies, not bring back stray children," despite his words, there was little in way of accusation in his voice.

"I was looking, but found him instead," still, I was a bit defensive, "Did you expect me to leave him there? In the middle of winter?" I knew the answer before it was even asked, but posed the rhetorical question, regardless. The Elder was far from heartless. The war had hardened him, forced him to be pragmatic, granted, but the man who had offered redemption to a Dark Knight wouldn't turn away a freezing child, either.

Logical or not, he simply nodded to the point. "There's no one that can spare the time to care for another child, Penelope, you have to know that."

"There doesn't have to be." I said, pulling myself to a taller stance with an indrawn breath, "If he manages to survive, I'll look after him." I couldn't be too optimistic about his chance of surviving.

His face suddenly shadowed with concern, looking far too serious, even for him, "I read Cid's letter, you couldn't possibly be considering. . ."

"To have him pose as Cecil's son and claim the Baronian throne for myself?" I finished for him. I should have been angry and appalled at the near-accusation, but I didn't have the energy to fuel such draining emotions. "No, Elder. The boy I found is far too old for that, even if I wanted to disgrace Cecil's line by lying about a son."

"What will you do with him, then?" he prompted, apparently more than eager to let the former subject drop. As was I.

"Do?" I echoed, then sighing. "Pray for his health, first. And if he lives? I don't know. Find out where he's from. Find his family and return him. They're likely worried sick."

"And the zombies?"

I hesitated with the question, unsure of how to reply.

"Rosa?" For some reason, the name stung when he said it.

"The rumors are true." I hated to be the bearer of bad news, but there it was. "I found one, when I came across the boy."

"And?" By his expression -- the furrow of his brow, he looked fairly annoyed with me. I hardly blamed him, though, doling out important information piece by piece, instead of all at once, all for the sake of being squeamish.

"A chocobo." My eyes closed against the memory of it. "She was ... well, he was huddled against her, the chocobo, I mean, for warmth I imagine. She attacked me, when I came close. By the looks of it, she was protecting him."

"Protecting him?" The Elder had never looked so surprised, "Did you ever stop to consider that he might've been the very one to raise the zombies?"

"That's absurd." I had thought of it, though, and dismissed the idea even as I said as much to him, "He's a child, not a necromancer."

"How old is he, Rosa?" He didn't give me time to reply, "A child, you say? Most undiscovered children come into power at the onset of puberty."

"But necromancy--" I started to protest.

"Is a rare, dangerous power, but acts as any other magic." There was a moment of tense silence, with me staring at my feet, and the Elder, I'm sure, boring holes into my forehead with a disapproving stare.

Finally, I managed a rather subdued retort, "It's not him. He looked as terrified as I was, if not more."

"Just..." he sighed, and rubbed at his forehead with the palm of his hand. "Just promise me that you'll let me know if you find out otherwise, hmm"
It was an uneasy truce, but I smiled brightly for it. "I will."

--

There wasn't much to mark the passing of the next few days. The Elder tried to lure me out of my room with idle work, but finally gave up when he realized how distracted I truly was -- and utterly useless for even the simplest of tasks. Instead, he'd leave a bit of mending by my door in the morning, and return at night for what I managed to finish. This left me free to work quietly by the fire, to be close by if the boy ever did wake.

I watched him, often, through the restless fits that seemed to nearly break through the barriers of sleep. He'd thrash against the blankets that covered him, face drawn tight in a strained expression that was far too old for such a young lad. After he subsided, dragged away from the waking world, I'd pull the blankets back up over him and wonder exactly when I grew so old to think someone his age so tragically young. He had the beginning promise of a man's height, but not the frame to match; at the lanky, awkward stage of growth that most boys encounter. Thirteen, fourteen? I couldn't guess, and didn't try, but I felt ancient all the same.

The only real event of note that occurred over those quiet days didn't really happen at all. Just a singularly vivid dream that captured me so entirely there was no possible way to forget it upon waking. I was falling from some unimaginable height, and Cecil caught my hands in his strong grip. I pleaded with him not to let me go, but my fingers slipped through his, and I spiraled down into oblivion. Oddly enough, my wrists ached upon waking, but I could only imagine the Elder's reaction if I had troubled him with foolishness from dreams. It faded quickly enough, and I dismissed it as coincidence.

Finally, one not so impressive morning of the fourth day, he woke up.