Are we there yet?
Oh wait…WE ARE!
(except for the characters who, at this point, I can only imagine doing cartwheels—AT LAAAAST, NO MORE CRAZY LUNARIANS!)
Oooo boy. This chapter…the parting of the ways. Excuse me while the bitter salty tears start flowing. This chapter really does symbolically tie up a number of things…and an entire chapter of my life. I started this epic saga nine years ago. Now, at last, I can say goodbye.
This is also that terrible precipice of adolescence where Rydia suddenly realizes she's the mistress of her own destiny. Ohhhh, the coming of age story has finally come full circle :(
It's been a long time coming, and I want to again thank the individuals who have come alongside this project over the years and both infused it with new life and kept me on my feet. I've met some of the best people through this fandom and I wouldn't trade that for the world
P.S. Made the mistake of watching the finale of Gilmore Girls right before finishing this…
P.P.S. This chapter is unintentionally massive.
The Road Goes Ever On and On
FuSoYa led them beyond the tattered shields of the Core to a passageway lined with platforms. Each one was a different color designation but none of them were lit.
"What is this place?" Cecil asked, eyeing the platforms on either side.
"These portals make up the transportation grid we use to navigate the Subterrane," FuSoYa explained. "We were able to use several of them until Zemus disabled the remaining portals. Unfortunately, you could only get past the doorway before the entire grid was shut down."
Edge and Cecil exchanged dubious looks.
"That explains a lot," Kain muttered.
"With Zemus gone, we can re-open the portals and return you to the surface," FuSoYa explained.
"And that Crystal?" Rosa asked, looking at the prism clutched firmly in FuSoYa's hand.
"It will be quarantined," FuSoYa replied. "Its structure is different from the others—it's not in communication with the Core."
"How is that possible?" Rosa persisted.
"When you activated this crystal, you utilized the power that KluYa gave you, thereby establishing its parameters. Zemus is quite neutralized," FuSoYa assured her.
"What if he isn't?" Kain asked.
"I will see to it that you never have to fear his malice again," FuSoYa vowed. "He betrayed the Lunarians and shattered many lives. That will not be forgiven."
"And for that we have only your word," Kain pressed.
"My word is good," FuSoYa answered coolly.
Edge, meanwhile, was glancing at the closest portal. "When you say 'the surface'," he interrupted. "Does that mean we have to walk all the way back to the ship?"
FuSoYa offered the prince a tight grin. "I should be able to return you to the Lunar Whale," he said, sounding affronted.
"One more thing," Rydia mentioned, causing FuSoYa to frown. "Bahamut."
FuSoYa let out a deep, reticent breath. "Ah."
"It was his magic that saved us," Rydia argued. "We owe him our lives."
"He hates the Lunarians," FuSoYa equivocated. "I would be risking the lives of my people by releasing him. Many things I would grant you, but this-"
"You imprisoned Bahamut," Rydia accused, remaining intractable on the subject. "And whether asleep or not, your actions have ensured the enslavement of an entire race. The Lunarians will be in more danger if you keep him any longer."
The Lunarian studied her; narrowed his eyes.
"I could always summon him here right now if that would help persuade you," she suggested.
Now, FuSoYa was scowling. "Very well," he sighed, shrinking into himself. "Consider it done."
"Thank you," Rydia replied, giving the Lunarian a winsome grin of appreciation.
When she looked at the others, her complete turnabout was met with looks of utter astonishment and concern.
"Are you sure?" Cecil queried.
She arched a brow at the paladin. "His quarrel was with Zemus, not us."
"I'm not counting him out as a danger," Cecil said.
"This is a chance to make things right," she said, planting her hands on her hips.
Cecil stared at her; at her stubborn defiance. "Alright," he relented, shaking his head. "But it's you I'm coming to when I hear reports of dragon fire terrorizing the kingdoms."
Rydia looked back at him, unamused. "Fair enough."
"Rydia," Rosa began, turning toward her curiously. "Even after Bahamut was gone…that was extraordinary magic you cast…but how?"
Rydia smiled, sensing that the events of the battle were already slipping away from her conscious memory. "It was a gift," she answered quietly.
"Rydia's a person of many gifts," Edge added casually. "Nice work, dragon tamer. Always knew you had it in you."
"Stop taking credit for my talents," Rydia scolded. "It's rude."
He grinned and she scowled.
"What I can't figure out is what you threw that brought Zemus down," Kain interrupted, looking at Edge.
Edge shrugged. "Kitchen knife," he answered. "Saved it for last thinking it was useless."
"Meiling's knife?" Rosa asked incredulously.
"She is one dangerous lady," Edge replied.
"Am I to understand that the fate of our two worlds rested upon sheer luck?" FuSoYa asked, looking up at them from a panel that streamed with Lunarian symbols.
"I don't think it was luck at all," Cecil disagreed.
"At any rate, the portal is calibrated," FuSoYa said, sounding exasperated.
Cecil took his uncle's hand and shook it. "Thank you," he said.
FuSoYa raised an eyebrow, staring at their hands. "Peculiar earth custom, I assume."
"Before you go," Golbez suddenly said, walking up from farther down the passageway. "Might I speak to your Summoner for a moment?"
Rydia felt her nerves heighten.
Cecil glanced at her; an entire unspoken conversation passing between them, before she decided to oblige Golbez' request.
She approached the knight cautiously, and when they were well away from the others, he turned toward her and held out his hand. In it was a small but familiar crystal.
"What is this?" she asked.
"The rest of the story," he said simply. "Our father's legacy."
Rydia frowned at the peculiar object. "Why are you giving it to me?" she asked, peering up into lavender eyes.
"Because you seem like someone who would understand," he answered. "When the time comes, will you tell him?"
She nodded, uncomprehending. "What wouldn't he be able to understand?" she asked.
Golbez didn't answer for a moment, his lips thinning to an indecipherable line. "Things he may not be willing to hear," he elaborated.
"But why me?" she asked again.
"You have a special gift. And," he paused, searching for adequate words. "You may find it pertinent also."
She took the crystal from his palm and clenched it in her fingers.
"I'm sorry," he told her.
She nodded, unwilling to look up again. She knew what he was apologizing for.
"I'll keep it safe," she said instead; cutting the awkward exchange as short as possible.
She turned on her heel and left him there, wondering what exactly she had just agreed to keep in trust.
"—go with the gratitude of my people," FuSoYa was saying as she rejoined the others.
"Good bye," Cecil said, catching Rydia's eye with a curious look.
"Are all of you together?" the Lunarian asked, noticing Rydia's return. "Good, then," he said, gesturing the five of them onto the portal.
They were ushered onto the smooth tile of the transporter and watched as FuSoYa activated the panel beside them.
"So ends the War of the Crystals," FuSoYa said. "May there be peace on earth and peace between our two peoples," he declared. "Good luck, my nephew. May you lead your people with all the wisdom of your father before you."
The floor around them shone blue; walls of light rising up to hedge them in as Lunar magic sent them soaring out of the Subterrane.
The voices of the crystals touched Rydia's mind—a sibilant chorus charting the path to their destination. She imagined this was the last she would hear of them and the strange secrets they whispered.
When the five of them were finally re-incorporated, Rydia saw they had been deposited onto the bridge of the Lunar Whale.
"He sent us exactly where he said he would," Rosa noticed with surprise, once again taking Cecil's hand in her own.
"How about we put some distance between us and this place?" Edge suggested, nodding toward the ship's controls.
Cecil chuckled. "Eager to get home?"
"Is that a serious question?" Edge replied; arms crossed.
Cecil grinned, then looked at Rydia. "What did Golbez want to speak to you about?" he asked.
She shook her head, surreptitiously sliding the small crystal into the pouch at her side. "Nothing, really."
Cecil frowned, but was quickly distracted by Rosa tugging him toward the bridge.
"The others are waiting for us in Mysidia," Rosa said. "Imagine their faces when they hear the news!"
"There's just one problem," Kain interjected, following them more slowly.
Edge glanced at the dragoon, then at Cecil. "Ah," he said, realizing immediately.
"What do we do with him?" the prince asked.
Cecil paused, and Kain straightened as Cecil walked up to him; coming to stand practically nose to nose.
"We're square," Cecil decided. "Do you agree?"
"If you still decided to hand me over to the Mysidians, I'd understand," Kain replied.
Cecil seemed to consider the idea. "Everyone deserves to start over after this—even you," he decided.
Kain's sigh was audible. "If you have to send me anywhere, send me to the mountain. Send me to Mount Ordeals," he suggested.
"Mount Ordeals?" Cecil asked in surprise.
"It's what I deserve," Kain answered.
Everyone stared at the two of them, waiting for Cecil's response.
"It's no easy place."
"I don't want an easy sentence," Kain replied.
Cecil debated within himself. "All things considered, it might be safest for you there," the paladin decided.
"It's settled, then," Edge cut in. "Time to go."
"Yes," Cecil agreed, walking toward the flight controls. "Let's go home."
Edge found Kain some time later, propped up against one of the domiciles. The prince sat down nearby and pulled something out of the mostly destroyed pack at his side.
The other man glanced at him.
"What's this?" Kain asked, staring at a silver flask.
"No idea," Edge shrugged, removing the stopper and taking a whiff of it. "But I figured it was finally time to drink it."
"Where have you been keeping that all this time?" Kain asked, baffled.
"On the ship," Edge answered with a grin. "For just such an occasion as this."
Kain reached out and grabbed the flask from the other man's hands and took a swig. He made a face as he swallowed. "Haven't had this make of whiskey since the day I made captain," he remarked.
"Speaking of which," Edge said, finding an opening. "Mount Ordeals?"
"The last place anyone would want to come looking," Kain answered dourly.
Edge looked at him. "Shame, really."
"Why?" Kain scoffed.
"All that training going to waste."
Kain shrugged. "No one in their right mind would put me in command of men again."
"Who said anything about commanding men?" Edge asked.
Kain glanced at the prince askance. "What did you have in mind?"
"There's something we need to discuss."
Kain took another draught of the whiskey and waited for the prince to continue.
"You know the others—the others in Golbez' employ," Edge began. "You know where they're likely to be."
"I might," Kain acknowledged.
Edge took the flask back and swallowed a draught himself. "I want you to help me find them—and end them."
"Work for you?" Kain said, steepling his fingers under his chin.
"A man of your particular skills would get bored living on a mountain with nothing to do."
Kain's lips twisted into a rueful smile. "True enough."
"And at least you'd have a friend in Eblan."
"Of all the people in this company…" Kain trailed off. "You would be the one to extend the hand of friendship."
Edge shrugged. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."
The dragoon studied the prince. "Why?" he asked simply.
"You're Richard Highwind's son, aren't you?" Edge asked. "Do your father proud and redeem yourself. That should be reason enough."
Kain reclaimed the flask, took a drink, and scowled.
"Done," he said.
"Good," Edge answered; a dark grin spread across his face.
The Lunar Whale flew toward Earth in rapid fashion and Rydia sat looking up at the large windows above her. The moon was behind them—the world ahead.
The silhouette of mighty wings captured her attention; casting a shadow on the ship for an instant before returning to darkness.
Bahamut was going home, too, just as FuSoYa had promised.
A victorious grin formed on her lips as she imagined celebrations in the Feymarch.
"Rydia?" Rosa asked, coming up beside her and sitting down. "Were you crying?"
Rydia dabbed at her eyes and shook her head. "I was just thinking that I should pay the Feymarch a visit once we get back," she answered.
Rosa watched her for a moment, picking apart Rydia's words. "What about Mist?" she asked.
"I don't know," Rydia answered quietly.
Rosa sighed. "I know there were words that were said," she began, looking at Rydia out of the corner of her eye.
"None of us were in our right minds," Rydia replied. "I'm not holding it against you."
Rosa pursed her lips, nodding. "You know what I think about Edge," she said.
"I do," Rydia agreed, wondering where this was going. Again.
"You don't have to run on account of him," Rosa said. "And I'd hope that what's been said won't leave a rift between us."
Rydia sighed. "Run?" she asked.
"You don't seem too keen on staying," Rosa clarified. "And I don't want it to be because of any of us."
"You really don't want me to go, do you?" Rydia asked.
"I admit it would be nice to see you age with the rest of us," Rosa said, grinning. "Not coming back every few months having aged another ten years."
Rydia glanced at her. "I'm not going to stay in the Feymarch forever," she explained. "And Edge hasn't given me any reason to think…." She paused. "That is to say—I wouldn't be leaving on account of him."
Rosa visibly relaxed. "That's good to hear."
The conversation lagged, and Rydia turned toward Rosa again.
"You and Cecil…" Rydia fished; a little embarrassed to hear the answer.
"We…" Rosa blushed. "We return to Baron to be married."
Both of Rydia's brows shot up. "Married?" she blurted out. "But when did you—why didn't you say anything?"
Rosa laughed. "Considering the circumstances, we thought it best to wait."
"Congratulations!" Rydia cried, clapping her hands. "The two of you—finally!"
"Shh," Rosa hissed, nervously casting her eyes about. "Kain."
"Right," Rydia said, trying to stifle her laughter.
Rosa smiled and bumped shoulders with her as if there had been no quarrel between them at all. "Can I count on you to be at my side?"
"I've been waiting most of my life for this," Rydia said by way of response.
Rosa laughed. "You've seen this coming for that long, haven't you?"
"Really, Rosa?" Rydia intoned, throwing her a look.
Rosa chuckled and laid her hand on Rydia's shoulder; standing. "I'm glad," she said.
Rydia watched her friend return to Cecil's side and felt an unexpected pang of jealousy. Everyone had their plans—but herself?
In search of a distraction from the enormity of the news Rosa had just delivered, she stood up and wandered into the dormitory of the ship; hoping to find the other two members of their company.
She found them in quiet conversation and sat down beside them; robes pooling all around her.
They paused in their discussion and stared at her.
"Sorry, am I interrupting something?" she asked innocently.
The men stared at each other, and without a word, Kain stood and left.
Rydia looked at Edge for an explanation. "Have I offended him somehow?" she asked.
Edge said nothing about Kain's departure and handed her a flask instead.
"What is this?" she asked, glancing at the flask before smelling it.
"Have you decided yet what comes next?" he asked after a moment.
Rydia took a drink and nearly spat it out again with a sour expression.
"This is awful!" she choked out.
Edge grinned and reclaimed the flask.
"An acquired taste," he admitted, chuckling at her expense.
"So will you return to Mist?" he asked more directly.
She attempted a smile, annoyed that he had gone directly to the heart of the matter—exactly what she had been trying to avoid.
Seeming to think better of his question, he held out the flask again. "Looks like you need this more than I do," he said.
She reluctantly took another swallow of the vile liquid before passing it back.
"I don't know that there's anything left for me there," she answered with a hiss.
"You're not even curious?" he asked. "That doesn't seem like you."
She sighed and spread her fingers over her lap.
"Probably just memories. Ghosts."
"It's your legacy."
"My mother's legacy," she corrected him. "Besides, I'm no leader."
He settled back onto his elbows.
She frowned. "What do you mean?"
"You're free to rebuild Mist as you see fit. You have the mutual respect of princes, kings, and dragons—who wouldn't follow you?"
"How…can I bear that responsibility?" she balked.
"With the same gluttony for punishment that you apply toward everything else," he replied with a shrug.
She gave him an exasperated look out of the corner of her eye. "And you? You don't have the luxury of a clean slate, do you?" she probed.
He took another draught, shaking his head with a hiss.
She held out her hand for the flask.
"So," she gasped after another sip. "We each get to see what we're made of."
"We do," he answered; his lip curled into a grin. "Though I still suspect you're part dragon."
"What?" she asked, perplexed.
He looked back at her flatly. "You don't wonder?"
"I honestly…" she paused. "What Bahamut told me was fascinating, but it was probably only a story. You get used to those when you grow up with Ancients."
He frowned. "I still think there's more to you than we've seen."
Rydia straightened, sighing at the implication. She set that thought aside and a different one took its place.
"…It meant nothing."
The sudden memory took her aback.
"Edge," she said, looking at him again. "On the moon…"
He raised a brow, staring back at her with equal intensity. "It had its time and place," he said dismissively.
He didn't answer immediately, and it gave her the same impression as before. There was something he was deliberately keeping to himself.
He grinned, taking the flask back.
"We're friends, Rydia. What's a good joke between friends?"
She pursed her lips and nodded. "I see," she answered, feeling a knot of disappointment twist her gut. "Well, good," she said after a moment; brightening. "That means I don't have to avoid you."
He paused with the flask mid-journey to his mouth.
"Thanks," he said, perplexed.
They settled into companionable silence afterwards, listening to the thrum of the engines.
"It's quiet," Rydia observed when she deemed the silence had lingered too long.
"My headache's finally gone," Edge agreed.
"I mean, the Lunar Crystals," she clarified. "The farther we get, the quieter they become."
"I know," he assured her with a glance.
"What happens to magic now that our Crystals are asleep?" she asked, rolling her eyes at him.
"I don't know," he said. "Maybe we'll have to get used to a world without it."
She settled back onto her hands. "Except yours, of course."
Edge got a distant, satisfied look on his face. "The world, run by ninjas," he mused.
"It is amazing that Zemus didn't use you for his plans instead," she said flatly.
"I have this problem with authority…." he explained vaguely. "It would not have gone well between us."
She gave him a shrewd look. "Did we trade him for you?" she asked tartly.
"I'd be more concerned about your bid for power," he shot back.
She scoffed. "I'm just a girl from Mist."
She looked back at him, harassed. "Don't say that."
He shrugged. "You just saved the world with meteors and cosmic dragons. There's no going back after that."
She let out a deep breath.
"Only one dragon," she corrected him. "And I don't want that kind of recognition."
"That recognition may be what gets Mist rebuilt," he pointed out.
She pursed her lips again.
"You are going to rebuild it, or am I misreading your expression?" he asked.
"I…have a debt to repay the Feymarch first."
He frowned. "You were forbidden from returning. I thought you had no home there."
"'Never' is a long time," she said stubbornly. "I at least have to tell them what's happened."
"If they're as omniscient as they seem, wouldn't they know already?" he asked.
"That's not how it works."
"Summon one of them and get it over with," he suggested.
She narrowed her eyes. "They're family."
"They're magical beings," he contested. "You're probably more dependent on them than they are of you."
Rydia stood up, immediately defensive.
"All I'm saying is that Mist needs you more," he said, trying to calm her down. "The Feymarch existed long before you and it will still be there long after you're gone."
"You're making judgments with only half the information," she snapped.
"Then explain it," he said, becoming annoyed. "Because what I'm not understanding is how you'd prefer a land of magical beasts to your own people."
"Probably because you're incapable of imagining any sort of world where you're not the center of it!" she scolded; leaving him to drink alone as she marched toward the bridge.
Edge watched her go, lifting the flask of whiskey back to his lips. He took a swig and swallowed.
"This is the start of a wonderful relationship," he muttered to no one.
Rydia stewed for nearly an hour. Everyone seemed to have an idea of what she should do—except herself.
"We're nearly there," Cecil said to Kain from the bridge; causing her to look up.
Kain's face was stoic; resolved. She didn't envy his circumstances but at least he seemed to have a plan, and that was more than she could say.
The Lunar Whale began to shake; suddenly surrounded by a cloak of flame as the ship broke through the atmosphere.
The ship slowed, descended, shook some more, and then leveled out again.
"Where are we?" Rosa asked, peering out the windows as Cecil consulted the ship's computer.
"We're above Eblan," Cecil informed them. "And if Edge hadn't vanished, I'd ask the fastest way to Mount—"
"Head west," Edge said, striding up from behind.
"Are you alright?" Cecil asked, scrutinizing the prince from across the bridge.
"Fiiine," Edge drew out, walking with more swagger than usual. "But you could always drop me off now rather than drag me all the way across the world again."
"There was more than one flask, wasn't there," Kain asked.
Edge held up three unsteady, but nonetheless emphatic, fingers and the dragoon rolled his eyes.
"Exactly how much thieving did you do in Mysidia?" Kain wondered. "We were only there for a day."
"You'd be amazed how much I can accomplish in a single day," Edge replied as vague justification.
Cecil strove to keep his expression neutral. "I don't think that delivering you to your people in this state would help to establish your kingly image."
"Pssh," Edge hissed, climbing the stairs to the bridge. "This'll wear off in half an hour."
Rydia noticed that everyone else in the room was staring at the prince in bemused disbelief.
"I had no idea your tolerance was so high," Kain muttered.
"Why are we over the ocean?" Edge demanded, looking at the ship's map. "I thought you said we were over Eblan. I was serious when I said I didn't want to be dragged across the world again."
"The council is in Mysidia," Cecil contested. "This entire exodus isn't finished yet."
"It's finished for Eblan," Edge complained. "Let the rest of you hash out the treaties."
Cecil shook his head. "This is exactly why you're going to Mysidia," he said. "By then you'll be sober."
"That's what I was hoping to avoid…" Edge sighed.
Cecil stared at the prince for a moment to make sure he wouldn't adjust the ship's controls and then looked at Kain.
"You never did say why you chose the mountain. Why there?"
Kain crossed his arms. "I figure if you found redemption there, then I may find it also."
"The light on the top of the mountain is gone," Cecil explained.
"It's a good place to start," Kain replied. "I'll find my own light."
Cecil nodded, unwilling to dissuade him.
"I see land," Rosa noticed, pointing at the map's projection.
"This ship is fast," Edge said approvingly. "Should make dropping all of us off an efficient process," he added at Cecil with a wicked side-eye.
"Except we won't be able to," Cecil replied, ignoring Edge's implication.
"What?" Edge demanded.
"The ship is programmed to return to the ocean once we've disembarked."
The room went silent.
"What?" Edge repeated. "You mean to tell me that not only do the Lunarians get to destroy our planet, but they get to hide their technology from us again? Technology that we could use?"
"No unfair advantage," Cecil explained.
"Because that wasn't already a problem," Edge seethed.
"Cid will be heartbroken, I'm sure," Kain said.
"Cid?" Edge balked. "Turn this ship around. We're going back to the moon. I'm taking your uncle by the beard until he gives us all the technology we need to put things back in order."
"You get even more irrational when you're drunk," Kain pointed out.
"Haven't you left yet?" Edge asked irately.
Cecil and Rosa both sighed, and Rydia stared at Edge in disbelief.
His mood had changed considerably since she'd left him.
The ship suddenly slowed, and everyone became quiet; trying to avoid eye contact with the dragoon.
"We're here," Cecil said quietly.
A sense of dread settled on the party.
"This is it, isn't it?" Rydia asked.
"It's only Kain, not the end of the world," Edge complained.
Rydia exasperatedly put her hands on her hips. "You know what I mean."
"You're the only one making a bigger deal out of this than you should," Edge shot back.
She looked back at him, stung. "Excuse me?"
"You're the only one volunteering yourself into exile."
"Edge," Rosa warned, catching wind of an earlier argument. "Drop it."
"I'll set you off at the base of the mountain," Cecil smoothly cut in, redirecting the conversation at Kain as a surly Edge paced the bridge.
Rydia, meanwhile, clenched and unclenched her fists, feeling the desire to reacquaint the prince with the Hallowed Father….
"Is there a water source nearby?" Kain asked, oblivious to the conflict around him.
"A few springs. The twins showed me where," Cecil answered, pointing to the map.
"Zombies," Cecil replied.
Kain made a face, not overwhelmed by his options. "Mmm."
"What do we have left in our packs?" Rosa asked, looking meaningfully at Cecil.
"Not any ethers," Edge muttered under his breath.
"Edge," Rosa warned again, plying a note of steel to her tone. "That was one time."
"We have a few supplies, but I think we've exhausted the food we had left," Cecil said.
"What about you?" Rosa asked, looking inquiringly at Edge and Rydia. Neither of them were quick to move.
"Well?" Rosa insisted, staring Edge down.
"I might need these later," he protested.
Rosa rolled her eyes. "Where and for what reason?"
He pursed his lips and began rummaging through his pack. He threw a few items at Kain.
"Potions?" Kain asked.
"You're no mage," Edge shrugged.
"I have holy waters," Rydia offered feebly.
Kain accepted the items and stuffed them into his pack.
"Not a very good send-off," Rosa apologized.
"It's fine," Kain replied, trying to assuage her guilt. "Considering the alternative was my execution."
There were no words to that, as Kain walked off the bridge toward the ship's transporter. They followed him there and then paused in awkward silence.
Kain turned toward Cecil.
"I trust you'll restore Baron to better than we left her," he said.
"Of course," Cecil replied, stepping forward to shake Kain's hand.
Rydia offered the dragoon a weak smile, and Edge gave Kain a nod.
Rosa was the last, wrapping her arms around herself in the absence of words.
"Good luck," she settled for saying.
"Good-bye," Kain said, stepping onto the transporter.
"Good-bye," Cecil answered, pressing the panel that activated the device.
Kain was gone in a flash of light and they all stared at the empty space left by his absence for several long minutes.
"What do we tell the council?" Rosa asked quietly.
Cecil paused. "We tell them that Kain's fate was decided," he replied, returning to the bridge.
The citadel of Mysidia soon appeared in the distance, and as Cecil allowed the ship to pilot itself, Rydia stared out the windows at the white buildings with the glistening ocean behind them. The city seemed like a blazing beacon, and this time they were returning to it with good news.
"I know we've had a long journey," Cecil said after a while, gathering them all together. "We've been traveling for months and there's a lot of grief and heartache waiting for us, but right now our allies need this victory.
"So save the trade and land negotiations for next week?" Edge joked, seeming more himself.
"Don't start sharpening your carving knives just yet," Cecil shot back automatically.
"Not even king yet…" Edge complained, clicking his tongue.
"Anyway," Cecil said, clearing his throat. "It's important that we focus instead on the present and not on all that's happened."
"The ship is landing," Rosa mentioned, already gathering her things.
The ship slowed and descended, and as it set down on the ground, the group took their last looks as they walked to the ship's transporter. They were deposited onto a grassy field some distance from the city; and as they stepped out of the ship's shadow into the midday light, their senses were teased with an overwhelming flood of sights and sounds. The moon, Rydia mused, was a muted wasteland by comparison.
'It's over," Rydia murmured, feeling the sunlight on her face. "It's finally over."
"It's a different world," Cecil agreed, taking Rosa by the hand as the Lunar Whale disembarked on its own, showering them with dust as it flew toward the sea.
They all paused to watch as the ship shone radiantly; the water beneath it churning and spinning into the whirlpool that would swallow the ship whole. The Lunar Whale plunged into the water, shooting out rays of spectral light before the waves sealed atop her.
When the sea had gone calm again, Rydia looked at Cecil and the others.
"I keep expecting you to say where we're off to next," she admitted.
"Not this time," Cecil replied. "Everyone has their own road to travel from here."
Her expression of disappointment must have been obvious because Cecil turned toward her a moment later with a reassuring smile. "You'll always have friends in Baron, Rydia," he told her.
She smiled back, relieved.
They walked the distance to the city in companionable silence, reaching the gates to see two familiar faces waiting for them.
One of them took off running, and Rydia realized it was Porom—flying at them disguised as a white-robed tornado.
She watched as Porom pounced on Cecil; dangling from his neck with boundless joy. Suddenly, she found herself wondering if it was actually Palom who was supposed to be the more reserved of the two….
Cecil spun Porom gleefully a few times before setting her down.
"You're home!" Porom shrieked as she hopped circles around them. "We were wondering when you'd finally be coming back!"
Rydia laughed at the girl's antics as her brother finally drew nearer, nearly breathless.
"We were worried—the Elder summoned us all together at one point, convinced you were in mortal danger," Porom went on.
"Only once?" Edge remarked.
"We stood atop the tower and prayed until we felt a surge of energy rise up from the earth," she went on, unbothered. "I've never experienced magic like that before."
"I was convinced you were dead," Palom chimed in. "I think we saved you. You're welcome."
"Anyway, we were up there for hours, and at one point the moon even changed colors," Porom twittered. "Are you alright?" she asked, pointedly inspecting them.
"We're fine," Cecil supplied as needed.
"And Professor Cory—you know, the one from Agart? He reported a dragon leaving the moon not too long ago. A dragon!" Palom exclaimed.
"Bahamut's come home," Rydia explained.
"Ba-hel-mut?" Palom mimicked poorly.
"Ba—you know what? Nevermind," Edge cut in with annoyance.
"Where's Kain?" Porom finally asked, looking around.
Edge shrugged casually. "Your prayers weren't enough to save him," he said glibly.
Rosa rolled her eyes.
"Oh, I'm going to miss you," Cecil intoned.
"Anyway, we saw the Lunar Whale landing and came to get you," Palom said. "Everyone's waiting for you—we'll explain on the way."
The twins guided them up through the citadel, relating stories from the other side of the war. The details behind the battle against the Giant; how so many people had gotten on ships and made their way to Mysidia, were all explained along the winding streets.
Rydia's head was swimming with stories and the sibilant sound of the twins' voices right up to the gates of the Tower of Prayer.
The Elder finally came to greet them in the courtyard.
"I imagine they told you everything you missed," he said, looking at the twins much aggrieved.
Porom put on an innocent face, but Palom was dubious.
"They did," Cecil said graciously.
"Welcome home," the Elder said warmly, gesturing them toward the Tower. "We have been waiting for you."
"Where is everyone?" Cecil asked.
"Still atop the Tower," the Elder explained. "Until we sighted the Lunar Whale, we didn't want to cease our vigil. They're there still."
They were led across the polished foyer floor and Crystal chamber, but the Elder kept going; climbing the winding staircase to the top of the Tower of Prayer.
As they climbed, Rydia felt her spirits begin to rise. They were home.
The light at the top of the stairs brightened, and as they emerged onto the tower's precipice, a host of faces greeted them.
Rydia wasn't sure what had startled her more—the fierce brightness of the sun or the thunderous roar of applause.
The next moment she was lifted off her feet and passed from one friend to the next—Cid, Yang, Edward, Meiling, Giott—they were all there smiling ear to ear.
"All hail the heroes!" a chorus of voices cheered, and Rydia noticed a small army of mages among the sea of faces.
"Welcome home!" their friends and companions cried, shaking hands and offering hugs.
Cecil and Rosa were ecstatic, receiving well wishes and congratulations—Edge, by contrast, was reserved.
Rydia could barely keep track of everyone and was swept up into another hug from Yang.
"Have you gotten taller?" the monk asked, eyeing her head to toe once he set her down.
She tilted her head at him. "Have I?" she asked.
"Something's a bit different about you," he observed, still staring. "Something about your eyes, perhaps."
"Husband," Meiling scolded, coming up from the side. "Leave the poor girl alone. Can't you see she's exhausted?"
Rydia laughed. "Meiling, it's alright."
"You look like you came straight out of battle," the woman remarked, also giving her a once-over.
"In a way, we have," Rydia admitted. "We didn't linger very long after Zemus was defeated. Which reminds me—that knife you gave Edge—"
"Oh, that old thing?" Meiling said, dismissively shaking her hand. "Don't worry if you lost it."
"It wasn't lost," Rydia tried explaining. "Well…that is to say, you still won't be getting it back."
"Zemus was on the receiving end of its blade. It was the final blow that brought him down."
Meiling's expression froze between shock and surprise.
"My wife! The unexpected hero!" Yang cried, twirling his wife around in the midst of her stupor.
When she was back on the ground, Meiling's face erupted into an enormous smile. "Never underestimate a chef!" she crowed.
"Meiling, Yang!" Cecil shouted, drawn over by their celebration.
Rydia ducked out with a smile just as the barrage of questions was begun all over again. She had only taken a few steps before she was pulled into another hug from Edward. The bard was the happiest that Rydia had ever seen. The gauntness from his injuries was mostly gone, as were the dark circles under his eyes.
"Welcome home," he said. "I had faith that I would see you all again."
"Palom and Porom said that you prayed for us," Rydia said. "That you stood here for an entire day without ceasing."
Edward ran a hand through his long amber hair. "We felt compelled," he explained. "We sensed that you were in imminent danger, and could only hope our prayers would be heard."
Rydia smiled. "I saw you."
Edward blinked with surprise. "Saw me—how?"
"You and Tellah," she went on. "You appeared during the battle. We would have died if not for you."
Tears began to spill from Edward's eyes. "I don't know what to say," he began, overwhelmed with emotion.
"Thank you," Rydia told him, hugging him again. "You saved our lives."
"I'm glad," he said. "So glad to see you."
"Me too," she said, feeling her spirits lighten. As if here, in the company of friends, the last of Zemus' evil was finally retreating.
"There should be a feast!" someone in the crowd suddenly shouted out.
"There should be celebrations in the streets!" someone else cried.
Before she knew it, Rydia was being shuffled back down the stairs and out of the Tower of Prayer.
When they returned to the courtyard, citizens from Mysidia and elsewhere had gathered. They were faces that had suffered loss, injury, and indignity, but now they were turned up in joy. People from Fabul, Damcyan, Baron, and Mysidia were all in attendance, and the twins had said that it was like watching a tide roll in, the way they had all been drawn here.
Another chorus of cheers rose up, reverberating against the tower in wave after wave.
Rydia couldn't hold back her tears as she watched the crowd rejoicing. It was time for healing to begin at last.
"All hail the lord and lady of Baron!" a quarter of the crowd shouted, and the cheer grew louder as others joined in.
"Their royal majesties!" a new cheer cried, holding an earnest ring to it.
This went on for a while before the Elder finally raised his hands and quieted the crowd, turning toward Cecil and Rosa with a scepter in his hand.
"It is the desire of the council that a just and noble king be returned to the throne of Baron," the Elder said. "So that relations between all nations may remain amicable, and that out of Baron comes peace, not war. Will you accept this burden on the behalf of your people?"
Cecil nodded. "I will accept it."
"Under most circumstances a king would recognize another king, but in light of recent events, I will recognize you in front of this gathered assembly.
Giott suddenly strode forward from the back of the group.
"Oy!" he shouted. "The Overworld may be short on kings, but will a short king do?" the dwarf king demanded, holding out his hand for the scepter in the Elder's hand.
"By all means," the Elder said, passing the scepter to Giott with an apologetic bow.
"I believe it is customary to kneel," Giott instructed, and Cecil did so, still able to meet the dwarf king in the eyes.
"I, Giott, the king of the Underworld and all of her territories do recognize Cecil as lord and king of Baron; considering him ally in all endeavors to restore peace and prosperity to the world. Do you accept this noble charge and responsibility on behalf of your nation and before the eyes of the world gathered here today?"
"I do," Cecil swore.
"Rise," the Elder instructed.
"The world and its leaders recognize you as king," he decreed. "Soon you will be recognized before your own people and rightly crowned, but until then we hold this title in trust."
"All hail Cecil, king of Baron!" the elder announced more loudly to the crowd for everyone to hear.
"All hail Cecil, king of Baron!" the crowd repeated.
And then Rydia saw something she had never seen before; a ripple of heads bowing one after another in honor of the newly appointed king. The sea of bows kept going well beyond the courtyard gates and into the city streets. The entire world could have been in attendance for all she knew, and she stood in awe before belatedly remembering to bow, herself.
"May your reign be blessed," the Elder proclaimed to thunderous applause.
The celebrations continued long into the afternoon as people Rydia had never met came up to her one after another, congratulating her and wishing her blessings of peace. She must have looked completely overwhelmed because Edge suddenly appeared beside her, steering her away from the courtyard.
She turned to him, perplexed, as he shooed her into a corridor and mouthed the word "run" before melting back into the crowd.
Not one to waste an opportunity, she stole away from the crowds to find a quiet place to breathe. Terraces fell away to gardens, and she kept going until the sounds of voices were replaced by the sounds of the sea.
She stared at the crashing waves for several long minutes before finally sitting down on a patch of grass, looking up at the clouds.
The twin moons hung in the sky, fraternal twins, and she found herself wondering what would become of Golbez and the Lunarians. Suddenly remembering the crystal in her pocket, she drew it out and held it up to the light. It glistened in a multitude of colors, though it seemed to be generating its own light.
What was she supposed to learn from this crystal? What was it that Golbez wanted her to know?
She slipped the crystal back into her pocket and closed her eyes, listening for the song of the earth crystals instead. She wasn't listening for any actual sound, but for the second layer of the world's veil. She waited a long time, allowing her mind to quiet in order to hear the voices of the sleeping crystals.
They were almost imperceptible, but they were there. Slumbering dreamers. She coaxed them, cajoled them.
Wake up. She pled.
One crystal answered her, a crystal with a cold energy like the heart of the ocean. She had forgotten the sound of these crystals, the difference of their language. It was like returning to childhood—more familiar, more worn.
She began the slow laborious process of drawing threads of magic together. The threads were small, so it took longer than usual, but eventually she had a tether strong enough to draw an Eidolon into the world.
She called out for Mist and the fair-haired woman stepped through the veil to sit beside her as if there had been no lapse between meetings.
The look on Mist's face was calm, relieved; like a quiet morning.
"You've done it," she said, placing her hand gently on Rydia's head.
"It's over," Rydia told her, tears rising in her eyes. "We're free."
Mist smiled sadly, considering the summoner. "A beautiful thought, that."
Rydia looked over at her, understanding the Eidolons response. "Bahamut should be able to help," she said. "With the Feymarch, with your freedom…"
"Bahamut?" Mist asked, surprised.
"Haven't you seen him?"
"Should I have?"
They stared at each other for a confused moment.
"He's back," Rydia revealed.
"The Hallowed Father?" Mist asked.
"I thought he would have been in the Feymarch by now."
Mist sat back on her heels. "If he's come that must mean…." A faint smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "The age of the dragons is returning."
"Age of—what?" Rydia asked.
"We preceded the Eidolons," Mist explained, repeating the story Rydia had already heard. "Now that Bahamut has returned, we may finally be able to finish what we started so long ago. "
"You're going to destroy the crystals?" Rydia guessed.
Mist shook her head. "The Eidolons can't live without them. The dragons could, but the others? No. "
"It's time to find a new way to live—for all of us."
"The Feymarch…" Rydia trailed off.
"It survives," Mist assured her. "For now."
"But the crystals, the state of magic in the world," Rydia began.
"If Bahamut truly has returned, then things are about to change," Mist said.
"I want to go with you," Rydia told her.
Mist looked away, shaking her head. "Rydia…"
Mist gazed back at her compassionately. "Wherever you go, we go, but can you tell me honestly that returning to the Feymarch wouldn't be due to cowardice?"
Rydia sighed. "I'd like to be with family for a while."
Mist tucked a strand of emerald hair behind Rydia's ear. "We will always be with you, but a time will come when you will have to create a home for yourself—here, with your own people."
At Rydia's hurt look she added, "I say this as a friend."
"Will you at least sit with me for a while longer?" Rydia asked.
"Of course," Mist said, pulling Rydia's head to rest on her shoulder.
"Age of dragons?" Rydia ventured again.
"Age of dragons," Mist agreed.
Edge followed Rydia shortly after orchestrating her escape; hoping to avoid more obsequious and congratulatory remarks from strangers himself.
He massaged his temples, knowing that the niceties would soon turn to bickering over treaties, and summarily, to enormous amounts of paperwork that no amount of alcohol could cure.
Edge didn't walk far; leaning against the banister of the highest terrace as he looked out over the gardens of Mysidia's western slope. He could see Rydia from his perch. She was speaking to one of her Eidolons, and he found himself envying the silver-haired being beside her.
Rydia would always have her Eidolons—she would always be part of some other world—but not his.
Soft footsteps from behind suddenly drew his attention. They were too heavy to be Rosa's, too light to be Cecil's, and Edge glanced over his shoulder to see the bard prince approaching.
"Edward," Edge said coolly.
"Edward," the other prince said back.
The bard came to rest against the banister, ignoring Edge's disdain, and pretended to stare out at the sea. Edge was too good at reading faces not to see the studied flick of the other man's gaze toward the object of his own interest.
"Word is you have a particular interest in our summoner," the bard commented, not too bad at reading faces, himself.
"Really," Edge mused. "From whom?"
"A mutual friend."
Edge nodded knowingly. "Astrid."
"Is there any truth to the rumor?" Edward asked.
Edge's glance was sharp.
Edward nodded disbelievingly. "I don't know much of Eblan's customs, but I would imagine there would be some opposition to such a match," he observed.
Edge went quiet.
"It could never work," Edge said finally.
"Because you can never tell her? Does she know?"
"This is beyond her field of concerns," Edge answered automatically.
Edward shook his head, sighing. "I'm sorry."
"You know how it is," Edge said. "I've heard your story."
"Only in my case the woman I loved, loved me in return."
Edge frowned at Edward's choice of words. "You think I love her," he said.
Edward smiled. "Don't you?"
Edge looked away, reluctant to answer.
"Don't do anything you'll regret," Edward advised.
"Run off and elope, you mean?" Edge asked in jest.
"Break her heart," Edward said instead.
Edge looked back over the banister; at the young woman leaning on the shoulder of the Eidolon beside her.
"I think she has more than enough people looking after her heart," he noticed.
"She is loved by many," Edward said vaguely, pushing himself away from the banister. "If you do love her, all I ask is that you behave admirably."
"In other words, stay away," Edge answered, reading between the lines.
"Again, I'm sorry," Edward apologized. "And good luck."
Edge nodded as Edward left him alone on the terrace, staring at the woman he sensed was slipping away; and he, unable to do a thing about it.
By the time Rydia had released Mist to the Feymarch, the afternoon had deepened into evening. Torches had been lit in the city, and the crowds had dispersed from the Tower of Prayer.
She glanced at the tower, reluctant to return, and chose to walk the gardens of the western slope instead. She paused to smell a rose at the side of the path, marveling that it hadn't tried to devour or poison her, and heard someone clear their throat behind her. She turned and saw Palom.
"Yes?" she queried, towering over him.
"So, I know we didn't get to talk much before…but I'm Palom," he said, proudly jabbing his chest with his thumb.
"I'm Rydia," she said measuredly, perplexed at having to introduce herself all over again.
"I've heard you're pretty legendary," he said, his features curling into an impish, self-important smile. "Which is a coincidence because I'm pretty legendary myself."
Rydia choked down a snort, not wanting to offend him.
"What can I do for you, Palom?"
He shrugged nonchalantly. "Well, seeing as how you're the last summoner and no doubt plan on rebuilding your people, I just wanted you to know-" he paused, placing his hand on her arm. "-that I am highly interested in magical co-mingling."
Rydia looked at him sideways just as an arm swept out of nowhere; bowling the pre-teen over.
"Calm down, squirt," Edge growled, smoothly inserting himself between the two of them.
"Hey!" Palom whined.
"Edge," Rydia said coolly, observing the ninja's own smug expression . "Did you need something?"
"To rescue you, obviously," he replied, wrapping his arm around her shoulders as he steered her back the way she'd come.
She sighed, trying to duck from his reach.
"I wasn't going this way," she pointed out.
"There's a meeting for the heroes with the elder," he explained.
She crooked a brow at him. "If that's true, then shouldn't Palom be with us?"
"He was a statue for half the war, " Edge said, looking over his shoulder at the scowling mage. "Doesn't count."
"Hey!" Palom cried, trying to keep up with them. "What meeting?"
Rydia turned toward Edge again.
"Is there even a meeting?" she asked.
"Would I do that?" he volleyed.
"I never know with you," she muttered back, throwing his arm from her shoulders, but agreeing to follow.
Edge led her back to the courtyard and across it; climbing the steps to the foyer with Palom in hot pursuit. The moment they stepped through the large entrance doors, a flurry of frantic activity bombarded them—mages in black and white running in every which direction as servants laden with linens tried to figure out how they were going to accommodate all of their newly arrived guests.
"You lied," Rydia stated, staring at the confusion with a raised brow.
"You were being propositioned by a twelve year old," he replied matter-of-factly.
"Oh!" a voice called out to the three of them, and they looked to see the Elder pushing people aside to reach them. "I was hoping I would find you both," he said breathlessly, completely ignoring Palom, and ushering them across the hall into his meeting chambers.
They squeezed through the press of bodies and into the chamber just as the door closed mere inches from Palom's nose. Rydia felt a moment of sympathy for the boy, but glanced up and saw that Cecil and Rosa were already in the chamber, looking like they'd been in the midst of a discussion.
"There comes the business of returning you to your kingdoms," the Elder explained, taking a moment to collect himself.
"See?" Edge said, glancing at her. "A meeting."
Rydia rolled her eyes.
"I, of course, can open the serpent's road for those traveling to Baron. But as far as airships are concerned, the fleet belongs to you as Baron's king. I assumed you would care to oversee."
"What if we sent a ship in each direction?" Cecil suggested.
"But who would pilot them?" Rosa asked.
"And who would return the ships to Baron…" Cecil mused.
"Why?" Edge asked, entering the discussion as he approached the large table in the center of the room. "Why return them, when it was your kingdom that got us into this mess."
"That was Golbez' doing," Cecil pointed out.
"Golbez or no, I see no reason for one nation to hold air supremacy and come out of a world war none the worse for wear."
"Are you demanding reparations?" the Elder asked.
"I am," Edge replied, looking smugly at Cecil.
"Are you serious?" Cecil asked.
"Yes," Edge answered matter-of-factly. "Starting with the Falcon."
"You want a flagship?" Cecil asked in bafflement. "You'll have to fight Cid for it."
"I'm taking the ship."
"Speaking of Eblan," the Elder said, turning toward the prince. "There was…extensive damage."
"I'd be a fool to think otherwise," Edge replied. "Which is why I need to return there immediately."
"Are you sure haste is wise? After all, we were unable to locate your people."
"I know where they are," Edge answered out-of-hand.
"For as soon as you'd like to depart, the subject of reparations may go easier with all of us present. If we part ways it could be months before accords are reached," the Elder reasoned with him.
"You want us to draft a treaty?" Cecil asked.
"Now?" Edge asked dourly. "We don't even fully know the extent of the losses."
The annoyance in Edge's tone was palpable, and Rydia took a step away to escape being scalded.
"I'm saying that we agree to treat with all members present," the Elder went on. "There will be other times to negotiate specific grievances."
"The entire council," Cecil clarified.
"Lady Rydia, am I to understand you represent Mist?" the Elder asked, focusing her in his gaze.
She looked up in surprise, thinking they'd forgotten she was there. "Yes?" she asked.
"The Feymarch, then, you serve as ambassador?"
"What is Mist's affiliation? Are you a territory of Baron or Troia?" the Elder asked, suddenly scrambling for paper and ink to write everything down.
"None," she replied.
"Mist is not a protectorate, it's a sovereign state," Cecil answered.
"Is Mist that large?" the Elder asked in surprise, looking up.
"It's a village, really," Rydia corrected.
"You have your own currency? System of governance?"
"We—" she sputtered. "We've never needed currency. We trade in knowledge."
"Only a High Summoner, and that person is yourself," the Elder ascertained.
"Yes," she answered.
"May I offer a suggestion?" he asked.
She waited, assuming he wasn't actually asking for permission.
"I would choose your allies carefully."
Rydia's head swam. The business of choosing allies and making treaties was suddenly a responsibility she felt entirely unprepared for.
"I will go gather the others," the Elder suddenly said, walking toward the door. "Better to get this done sooner rather than later."
They watched him leave, and then Cecil leaned palms-flat on the table in front of him.
"The Falcon?" he asked again, looking at Edge.
"Did you really think I wouldn't?" Edge asked with a shrug.
"Is there anything else I should know?" Cecil asked.
Edge's smile turned wry. "Our traveling companion days are over. We are the sovereigns of our respective nations, and as such, I'm no longer obligated to agree with you."
"I see," Cecil remarked.
"Is this where we're meeting?" Yang asked a moment later, causing them all to look at the door as he poked his head into the room. "I was just passing by and the Elder practically threw me into this room."
Rosa smiled at the monk. "You're in the right place."
He stepped past the doorway and Meiling rushed in behind him. "I turn my back for one second," she complained, glancing at each of them in turn. "Oh," she said. "Starting the meetings already? Better sooner than later, I suppose."
"This meeting is for ambassadors and leaders," Yang told his wife calmly.
"And I'm your wife," she said matter-of-factly. "Without me you'd be dead."
Yang sighed, chagrined.
Several minutes later the Epopts arrived followed by Edward—lute in hand. Rydia shot the other prince a speculative look and he flicked her a grin before filing in around the large meeting table.
Giott and Luca were next, followed by Cid who threw the double doors open so vigorously, he nearly took them off the hinges.
"What are you doing here?" Cecil asked. "I thought you would have steered clear of anything remotely resembling a meeting."
"Is that any way to treat your new chief advisor?" the engineer demanded, squeezing between two epopts and resting his arms on the backs of their chairs. The women glared at him with derision and moved away, muttering in Troian and rolling their eyes.
"Cid," Rosa said evenly. "If you cannot behave yourself, please leave."
Cid thrust up his chin, making his whiskers puff out like a walrus'. "Yes, m'lady."
Rydia looked around the room, wondering who was still missing when a pyrotechnic explosion went off in the center of the room sending smoke in all directions. Palom appeared in the midst of it, hands on his hips.
"Try and keep me out of important meetings," he crowed.
"Sit down," Porom scolded, walking in through the chamber doors. "Like a normal person."
Palom caught Rydia's eye with a wicked grin before finding a stool and dragging it to the meeting table.
Leave it to Palom to conjure mischief in a world where magic slept.
The Elder was the last to return, closing the doors behind him and walking to the head of the table.
Rydia had never been to a meeting where she was considered one of the leaders herself, but she soon learned the reason behind Edge's disdain for the entire process.
The time it took to air grievances lasted hours, and by the time it came to draft a peace accord, no one could seem to agree who should be recompensed for more. Edge was surly throughout the entire meeting, and after hours of arguing and posturing, a draft of a treaty had been penned and signed.
Rydia leaned into the straight back of her chair with a sigh of relief when it was over. Was every meeting going to be like this?
Meiling suddenly stood and slammed her hands on the wooden table, causing everyone to jump.
"Food," she declared, striding out of the meeting chamber with purpose.
Yang looked at the Elder, mystified.
"Your wife found our kitchens," the Elder answered vaguely.
"But it must be the middle of the night by now," Rosa protested.
"I wasn't planning on sleeping any time soon, were you?" Cid asked.
"Nothing calms the nerves quite like a good feast," Giott added cheerfully, following Meiling from the room.
"A feast?" Rydia seconded, turning toward the closest Epopt. "Now?"
The woman smiled back with a shrug.
They all streamed from the meeting chamber with yawns and groans, and walked the empty corridors to the dining hall.
There, mages on night-duty were already dashing about with platters of whatever they could find from the kitchens, while Meiling directed the entire affair like a general.
"Light the torches, stoke up the fires!" Meiling shouted to the harried Mysidians.
Edge leaned over just then. "I told you she was dangerous," he whispered.
"We need music!" someone else shouted.
Edward was thrust forward with his lute, as chairs and tables were cleared to the sides of the room to make space for dancing.
Rydia started laughing. "What is this?" she asked, completely mystified.
"It's a celebration!" Cid answered boisterously. "In the old days after meetings, we'd be drunk for days!"
"Oh dear," an epopt beside Rydia intoned with a sigh. "But at least Edward is handsome with his lute…" the woman added wistfully.
Rydia looked at the epopt sideways. What had been her name, again? Violet? Hyacinth?
"Amaryllis, come help with this!" another epopt called out, and the woman at Rydia's side sped off.
Amarayllis, Rydia mentally repeated. She was never going to get all of their names straight….
Within minutes, the dining hall had been transformed. Meiling had somehow orchestrated an elaborate feast with breads, fruits, wines and cheeses. Even meat had been found and plated, and Edward's lute was already filling the room with beautiful sound.
"Amazing," Cecil declared, looking at the entire affair in astonishment.
"The Mysidians have been very generous," Rosa seconded, looking at the Elder.
"Occasions such as this are rare, after all," the Elder said graciously.
"All hail the heroes!" Cid bellowed, raising a goblet of wine. "The heroes who saved the world!"
"Here, here!" Yang agreed, raising a goblet of his own.
The hall filled with mages disturbed from their sleep by all the commotion, and soon enough everyone was eating, drinking, and laughing.
The tension from the meeting left their faces as scowls turned to grins and arguments returned to laughter. There was some sort of magic in food.
Rydia moved from table to table, making sure to speak to as many of her companions as possible, until finally wandering the room in contented silence—like a fly on the wall listening to the conversations of others.
"And I says to him—I says, 'you traitorous bastard'!" Cid guffawed, splashing a tankard of ale; already quite drunk. "I always knew there was a streak of bad in that one!"
Rydia walked on, letting the frivolity of the others soak through her.
"I've heard of your skill with a knife…but how is your skill with a spoon?" Astrid was asking Edge as she walked past, holding up the cutlery in question.
Rydia left that table just as the conspiratorial grins curled across their lips and fled to the other side of the room.
She noticed that Edward had been relieved as lead musician, and a bright fiddle was now playing a reel when he unexpectedly caught up with her.
"Care to dance?" he asked.
"You can ask, but I don't know how," she told him with a nervous laugh.
He smiled anyway and took her hand, leading her to the dance floor. Others soon joined in, and before long, the dining hall was full of people dancing merrily to the rhythm of the fiddle.
"I just want you to know," he said between twirls. "That you will always have an ally in Damcyan."
"I know that already," she pointed out with a curious grin. "We discussed this in the meeting."
"A word of advice from royalty—alliances might be signed in meetings, but they can always be changed on the dance floor."
Rydia smiled, finding that everyone had been offering 'advice' lately. "So you're telling me not to trust anyone who won't dance with me?"
"I'm saying you can trust Damcyan," he returned with a grin.
Rydia laughed. "I see!" she said. "Or is it because you don't want to be on the wrong side of Leviathan's summoner?"
Edward's expression became serious. "Definitely Leviathan."
The tune of the fiddle changed and Edward took notice. He changed his steps and led Rydia into a simple, relaxed waltz.
"I know you talk as though you're returning to Mist, but you seem undecided," Edward mentioned, turning her slowly.
Rydia's eyes roved the hall, then rested on Edward's.
"You're not going back, are you?" he asked.
"Maybe not right away," she answered finally. "How can you go back to an old life as if nothing's happened?"
He took a moment to sweep her off her feet and set her back down. "You grieve for what's been lost, you lay it to rest, and then you carry on," he answered at last.
"Have you laid her to rest?" she asked. "Anna?"
He nodded slowly, almost in time with the music.
"A part of her will always stay with me, but there comes a time to move on."
"With an epopt?" Rydia asked pointedly.
Edward looked put-upon.
"It was a long convalescence," he said in his own defense.
"I feel that I've already grieved," Rydia added, sighing. "Returning feels like wrapping myself in a burial shroud and laying myself in the ground."
"Why not think of it as new growth out of scorched earth?" he suggested. "Tender new life growing from the ashes?"
A faint smile started to form on her lips.
"I like your version better," she admitted.
"But you still don't seem convinced," he noticed.
"I wouldn't know what Mist's path would be-I wouldn't know how to guide her future. For now I have a promise to the Eidolons to uphold, and that's where I'll start."
"We won't be seeing you for a while, then," Edward noted, his eyes taking on a melancholy cast.
"I'm not leaving forever!" she said. "Why does everyone seem to think so?"
"We have an announcement to make!" Cecil suddenly said, interrupting Edward's thought.
The music stopped and so did the dancers as they all turned to look.
Cecil strode to the center of the room with Rosa at his side; the white mage blushing scarlet.
"Rosa and I are to be married!" Cecil announced to everyone in the room.
"'Bout time!" Cid shouted.
"Finally!" Astrid and others joined in.
Edward just chuckled and looked at Rydia. "Did you know about this?"
Her grin was quick. "See? I have to come back for the wedding, at least."
"We will be wed on the summer solstice," Cecil continued. "And we would be honored if you would all join us."
"That's only three months away!" Cid suddenly protested. "How on earth are we supposed to prepare for a wedding so quickly?"
"Hire Meiling!" someone joked.
Rydia laughed as the room erupted in another flood of well-wishes and laughter.
She wasn't sure how it started, but Porom suddenly grabbed her hand, and then Edward took the other, and all across the room everyone joined hands until there wasn't a person left out.
Rydia's eyes briefly touched on Edge's, and the prince looked exasperated beyond measure. She chuckled.
"Remember this day," The Elder declared. "The day the world joined hands and celebrated good news together."
Rydia then heard a thread of song weave its way through the crowd. It was the Mysidians who began it, and Edward's strong voice soon joined theirs.
It sounded like old magic, but Rydia realized that this was music at its purest. A shared melody. One that transcended time and place.
The words were simple and repetitive, and one by one, others joined the song until harmonies arose and eventually counter melodies.
They were a full chorus, still linking hands—an unbroken chain. They were the survivors at the dawn of a whole new world.
Rydia couldn't have imagined a better way to end the evening and congratulate the couple, and eventually the song grew quieter until only one voice remained—Edward's. His voice echoed back against the vaulted ceiling and finally dissipated. A lingering note of hope.
Little one, Rydia suddenly heard above her other thoughts. She glanced around the room, wondering if she'd imagined it.
Little one, the voice repeated more insistently, rumbling across the landscape of her mind.
Her companions were breaking the circle and offering advice to Cecil and adoration to Rosa, but no one was looking at her.
Bahamut? she queried, reaching out with her mind to the Hallowed Father.
There is work to be done, she heard him say—sharper and more clearly than before. There are crystals to be claimed.
Now? she asked, wistfully thinking of sleep.
Is there any other time but now? he asked.
Rydia blinked, staring at her human companions.
They would be separating soon—everyone returning to their respective nations and saying their farewells—but herself? Perhaps this was the path she'd been seeking, after all. A chance to chart her own destiny.
Where? she asked finally.
I await you by the sea. The eastern slope.
Rydia snorted at the Hallowed Father's supposition that her answer was always going to have been yes, and took her last looks at everyone; fixing them in her memory. Who knew how long until she would see them again….
Porom and Edward both released her hands; caught up in the line of well-wishers, and while no one was looking, Rydia slipped away.
She felt something of a coward for not saying anything, but then they'd beg her to stay….
The door to the dining hall hardly made a sound and no mages questioned her solitary journey as she wound her way east through the corridors.
The glow of early dawn was starting to creep through the windows, and she recalled a similar night—sneaking down to the water—many months before.
The thought struck her as impulsive, as irresponsible—as impossibly brave—but she tried not to think about it and lose her nerve.
She left the dormitories and crossed the eastern terrace; and was about to trace the narrow track to the inlet below, when a voice called out to her from behind.
Rydia sighed and looked away; almost too tired to be angry.
"Where are you going?" he called after her again.
"I'm choosing my path," she replied without turning, taking off down the steep trail before he could catch up with her.
He followed, and she felt the knot in her stomach tighten as his footsteps drew closer.
"You're choosing Bahamut," he said accusingly when he did catch up with her, having seen the silhouette of the dragon below.
For as mythical as the Hallowed Father was, subtle, he was not.
"He's asked me to go and I'm not about to say no," she replied, continuing her downward descent.
"Without a word to the others?" he asked.
"What—like you? Weren't you about to steal away, yourself? Take the Falcon and go?" she called back over her shoulder.
"I'm not going anywhere unreachable to humans," he volleyed.
She pursed her lips, indignant that he'd try to stop her.
"Why does my leaving bother you so much?" she asked.
"Because this feels like running."
"I told you, I'm choosing my path not running from it."
"I think you should stay."
She finally turned to face him fully. "I'm going for the good of my people—for the good of all people, whatever you may think," she argued.
"You're going to try and solve all the world's problems alone," he surmised.
"Are you mad because I'm leaving or that I didn't ask you to come with me?" she asked.
"Both," he answered indignantly.
His answer surprised her.
"The Feymarch has had you for long enough," he went on.
"I need a better reason than that," she said, putting him off.
He walked forward until he was directly in front of her, wavered, and then committed to leaning the rest of the way; taking her face in his hands and kissing her soundly.
He smelled like alcohol but she thought little of it.
"What's a joke between friends, right?" she murmured, fighting for control of her confused emotions. "Am I to believe this is any different?"
Edge kept her face cupped in his hands, resting his forehead against hers. "Stay."
"Why, to amuse you?"
He sighed. "Because we need you here."
She backed away. "We," she repeated. "Why, really?"
He couldn't answer, looking at her with a hurt expression that threw her estimation of him into another tailspin.
"How can I trust you?" she asked. "Friend one minute, and something else the next?"
"Dammit, Rydia," he said, taking several steps back. "What is it that you're looking for?"
She clenched and unclenched her fists and then her expression softened. "This is because of her, isn't it?" she asked. "The girl you couldn't protect. I'm not her, Edge."
His expression darkened. "This isn't—" he seemed to catch himself. "You're going with Bahamut, possibly into danger, and you're going alone," he said angrily.
"I am not your ward," she countered. "I don't require your protection, and trying to forge an emotional connection between us isn't going to alter the path I choose."
"You're going after the crystals, aren't you?"
She didn't reply.
"When will we see you again? Or will we?" he asked.
"I don't know," she answered.
"And this is how we part ways," he said bitterly; with more resentment than she could reason out.
"This is my life," she said simply. "I'm sorry that I've caused you alarm, but there was never going to be a simple answer for me."
"You have allies, Rydia. You have friends."
She smiled sadly. "Soon enough you'll be returning to the life you already had," she said. "You'll forget all about me, and our journey together will be a fascinating story you pass on. As for me, I have to find out where I belong in the world again. I have to do that alone."
"Who are you?" he asked, staring at her intently. "You're like no other person I've ever met."
Looking at his expression, she felt her resolve begin to break. She swiped away tears and strode up to him, giving him a reassuring embrace.
He hugged her back, too stunned to say anything else.
"Thank you," she said. "For your friendship."
"You're welcome," he muttered.
"Good luck in Eblan."
"'Good luck," he replied, releasing her and taking several steps back.
She nodded awkwardly.
"Good-bye," she said, turning away before he could see her tears.
She kept walking down the steep path, and with each stride, she felt her pace quicken. What had she just walked away from, she wondered. Another life? Another floodgate of possibilities?
Summoner? she heard Bahamut inquire, no doubt curious about her delay.
I'm coming, she replied.
Unfinished business? The Eidolon asked, sounding somewhat bemused.
Rydia ignored Bahamut's implication and followed the course of the inlet through trees until even those gave way to rock and sand. There, Bahamut was perched, looking magnificent against the pink glow of the sky.
"Shall we go?" he asked again with his own voice, deep and rumbling like the foundations of the earth.
Rydia took one last look at the citadel and the tower of prayer…at the path where she imagined Edge was still standing—watching her go.
"Yes," she answered, gazing up at the Hallowed Father. "It's time."
That's all I can really say…is whoa. This chapter…so many things.
I tried to include as many characters as possible, and then that ended up spinning the chapter into one massive ball of words. I had not, when I set out, planned on this chapter being over 10k. But since it's the last chapter, and because you've all been waiting so long, I figured…whyyyyy not.
As I said in the previous author's note, this chapter wraps up the massive trilogy of Rydia-centric novelizations and the past nine years of my life. At least the ones that cover in-game events….
That said, I have bittersweet news…after this I'm retiring. Or least of all going on massive hiatus.
As I said…NINE YEARS.
I'm burnt out. I need some time away to recollect myself and pursue other projects. I've been dodging an original manuscript for years, now, in favor of this story; and now that the main arc is finished, it's time to dive back into something that could actually see me published eventually.
Plus, I have developed some profoundly negative associations with this saga that I have to work out…memory is funny that way.
If I do sporadically pop back in, it will be with shorts and unfinished business.
Will the E/Ry arc ever be finished? Probably. Hopefully. Goodness, I have enough on them to do so…but when? Who knows. I've kind of stopped believing in love and relationships for a while, possibly indefinitely, so hahahaha…there's that.
ON A POSITIVE NOTE.
Thank you for the PMs, the reviews, and the stories! It's so hard to keep track of you all, now! So amazing… I know it should go without saying, but authors truly do love hearing from their readers—especially about favorite lines and moments! Reviewers, YOU'VE BEEN AMAAAZINGGGGGG. Oh my goodness, thank you so much!
This may be the end of an era…but who knows…I've left this story rather open-ended…anything could happen….
(I have a strange suspicion I'm not going to be allowed to leave without writing the wedding, aren't I…)
Stay fabulous, everyone :)