Chapter 21

Kain and Rand had circled Damcyan for hours, and had not caught sight of the rebel forces. There was only one thing they had discovered; a scout had confirmed footprints belonging to the rebels around the castle about an hour prior. Now, they had vanished.

Kain cursed himself for fighting with Edge. Not only had it him cost him Rydia's trust, but it had also prevented Rand and himself from catching the Baron and Eblan rebels. And worse, he was concerned for the summoner's safety.

What if this was a ruse? Merely to lure the Red Wings away so they could attack Baron? Kain shook his head. No, even without the air force, the castle is well protected by Cecil's sun knights, the dragoons, and the other soldiers, too. Rydia will be safe.

Despite Cecil's warning, Kain couldn't help but picture the livid summoner. Rydia... I am sorry... As if his thoughts could reach her. Chains of guilt wrapped around his heart. Was she still crying? Was she still traumatized? He had no idea.

"Commander!" one of the dragoons called out. Kain blinked and looked up, taken from his thoughts. He heard the dragoon's boots thump across airship's wooden deck.

Kain turned and faced the knight. "Yes? What seems to be the trouble?"

"My pardons, but what are we looking for?" the knight asked. "Master Knightstar's scout only found evidence that these rebels had been at Damcyan, but we seem to be flying in circles now. I'm concerned for His Majesty and Baron. Perhaps we should return?"

Kain paused. The soldier was correct; no progress was being made. He looked the dragoon in the eye. "Yes, I agree. Head over to Master Knightstar's ship and inform him of the situation. If he agrees, we'll return to Baron."

The knight saluted Kain. "At once, Master Highwind!" He ran over to the edge of the dragoon airship and jumped across over to the Red Wings. Kain smiled with pride, at the very least, the skills of the Baron dragoons had improved greatly under his care.

Minutes later, the same dragoon returned. He gave Kain an affirming nod. The dragoon commander turned to his troops. "Men! Change course, we are returning to Baron!" They saluted him, and obeyed.

He looked out to the sky to see the sun just barely beginning to set. It appeared Kain would return home earlier than he expected, or perhaps, hoped. I pray if I do encounter Rydia tonight her feelings will be favorable.

-S-

"And I warned you, didn't I, Edge? I told you not to provoke him!"

Cecil's harsh, yet understandably angry words cut into Edge's heart. He stood still upon the gangplank of the Falcon, not looking at his friend. He said nothing in response; he deserved this for breaking his beloved's heart. And perhaps more.

"Kain told me, at the very least, he tried to resist," Cecil continued, his voice heated. "But he still let his pride get the better of him. What of you, Edge? Did you try to stop yourself?"

Edge remained silent, thinking. He barely remembered what he had been doing before he had snuck up on Kain. Then, he recalled. "Yeah, I tried to reconsider it, but the thought of someone else courting Rydia... ah, damn, I hate myself."

Cecil sighed. "No, don't hate yourself," he said with a softer voice. "What's happened has happened."

Edge finally looked at him and half-smiled. "That's what Cid said."

"And he's right, we can't change the past, only the future." The paladin paused, and looked away. "I had to learn that for myself... after all I did as a dark knight." He turned his eyes, still burning, at the prince. "But, I've learned sorrowful words cannot bring back the dead, yet I cleansed myself of their innocent blood by changing myself, and through my future actions.

"You and Kain can do the same for Rydia," he continued. "And hating yourself, clinging to regret won't fix that." Cecil walked up to Edge. "Still, I'm furious at the both of you. Don't ever hurt Rydia again."

"I promise," the ninja responded soberly. "Kain and I already swore not to fight again—ever—over her. We're just going to compete for her attention and not with each other."

"Kain told me as much," Cecil said, nodding. "And I'm glad you both agreed to such an oath. That's a difficult thing to commit to while under such duress; I'm glad you didn't resort to blaming each other."

"That would have made things worse," Edge responded, facing Cecil. "I knew that the moment Rydia screamed at us." He paused. "I'm sorry."

"I accept your apology," Cecil said, his voice still harsh. Edge nodded. "It's best you head back to Eblan, I suppose I will see you tomorrow?"

"That you will," he confirmed.

-S-

The next day...

Kain was crossing over the battlements of Baron Castle in full armor. No attack had occurred during his mission; fortunate for the kingdom. As for himself, Kain considered himself lucky for not meeting Rydia the previous night. And yet, he was still racked with guilt for shattering her feelings.

"Kain, I forgive you for hurting Rydia," Cecil had said when Kain had returned. "I told Edge this: don't hate yourself. What's happened has happened."

And yet, his words brought the dragoon little comfort.

Why did he let his pride take him? Why had he allowed himself to forget? He had made this same mistake with Rosa years ago and lost her to Cecil. Would history repeat itself? He recalled Rand's words—honorable men do not give up.

Kain's thoughts continued to wander through darkness. And Cecil told me that I have not shamed the dragoons, nor my father's memory... yet, is that true? Are they right? Harming Rydia... I doubt she'll forgive me.

"Coming to apologize, Kain?" an angry female voice said in front of him.

He froze and looked up to see Rydia standing on the battlements near the southwest tower. How did arrive here? But that was not his concern; the summoner was glaring at him with an enraged flicker in her eyes. Kain had intended to talk to her later today after he had gathered his thoughts. Too late.

Rydia's face looked as if it were made of stone. Her arms were folded tight, and she continued to stare at him, waiting for an answer.

Kain swallowed, and mustered the strength to speak. "Rydia... I..."

"Actually, I'm not sure I want to hear it," she said harshly. She didn't look away, but the flicker in her eyes began to burn. "I learned you made this mistake with Rosa once before! So why did you fight Edge? Why haven't you learned from your folly?!" She bit her lip and turned away from him. Kain saw her fiery eyes staring down at the courtyard.

"I don't know," Kain admitted. "I... should have." He felt like she had shoved a dagger into his heart. With a groan, the dragoon licked his lips. "I don't know if I deserve your forgiveness, but I apologize for my actions... toward Edge, and toward you."

Silence; silence for several painful moments. She didn't even look at him.

"Do you know," Rydia said, breaking the silence. Her voice was soft, yet firm. "How much it hurts a woman to see two lovers physically fighting over her?" She faced him, still glaring. "You should."

"Wait, lover?" Kain asked, blinking.

"I'm being a bit generous," Rydia explained. The words expanded Kain's already wounded heart. He hung his head, and memories came flooding back to him.

"Rosa, weeks have passed... please forgive me."

"Kain... I would have, had you came and apologized. But not now. Maybe I will in a few days, but I don't want to be with you anymore."

"I... I see."

"No, you don't! You fought Cecil nearly to the death over me! You broke my heart, Kain. As did Cecil, but he has at least asked me for forgiveness! He had the courage to do so. Leave me, please..."

Kain's eyes grew wet as the memories began to fade. Rosa had been true to her words, as a few days later, she had forgiven him, and after, she was still a close friend. However, his mistake had cost him her love.

He raised his head and gazed at Rydia. "You're right, I should have learned from my mistake. Yet, I will admit that I cannot fully understand your feelings, save you experienced something horrible. Yet... I want to understand," he added.

"You want to?" Rydia asked. Her face remained stony, save her curious brow. "That would be hard for a man to understand. The pain. The sorrow. I cried all day yesterday because of you and Edge!"

A second dagger pierced his heart. "You wept... for the entire day?" Kain asked in disbelief. "I... I had no idea. Please, accept my deepest apologies, Rydia. What can I do for you to make up for the pain I caused?" Honorable men do not give up.

"You mean the agony you two inflicted upon me?" Rydia corrected. She faced the courtyard again, her face softening a little. Then, the summoner shook her head. "Nothing, there's nothing you can do but wait."

The chains of guilt tightened. "Truly?" Kain asked.

"Yes, especially after what Rosa told me yesterday," Rydia said with a sharp voice. "About how far you fell away from her."

Kain opened his mouth to speak, but he could not utter a word. She was correct: he had broken Rosa's heart once and now he had shattered Rydia's. What hope do I have?

"I still cannot believe you started a fight over me," Rydia continued, her voice gradually rising. She lowered her arms, and Kain could see her hands shaking. "You and Edge..."

"You are right," Kain interjected. Rydia paused, and looked at him, surprised. "Edge and I should not have fought over you, a painful and foolish mistake. Yet we swore never to do it again."

"Really?" Rydia asked, her eyes widening a little. "I'm surprised you made up so quickly."

"It's true, we did," he said, nodding. He bit his lip and reached for her. "... Rydia..."

"Kain, I'm going to be blunt." Her lip trembled, and her eyes were of fire, and yet wet at the same time. The mere sight increased Kain's agony. "You failed Rosa, and now I'm wondering if you see me as 'Rosa number two.' And I think you do."

"No... No!" Kain exclaimed. He felt desperate. "I swear I do not see you as such!"

"I'm sorry, Kain, but I don't believe you," Rydia said with finality in her voice. Before the dragoon could even speak, he saw her spin around and run away. He caught a faint image of her wiping her eyes.

Kain's heart shattered. I... will never... I... He cursed himself, turned around and with sluggish steps, walked down the battlements.

-S-

Rydia had escaped into Rosa's gardens for shelter. Just seeing the dragoons and the sun knights train just reminded her of the terrible experience.

She kept wondering if she had been too generous with Kain. After all, he had caused Rosa the same pain before, why would he do it again? Did he really love her? No. She was just a secondary.

Rydia's heart still felt punctured by a thousand blades. Did they really have any idea of how much they had wounded her by fighting themselves? It was beyond the wounds they had inflicted upon each other.

Then she saw a puff of smoke in front of her. "Hey, Rydia..."

Rydia scowled. "I guess it's your turn?" she hissed at the Prince of Eblan.

"So, Kain already apologized?" Edge asked. "Good for him," he added—Rydia was surprised that there was no hatred or sarcasm in his voice. He glanced to the side. "But nevermind that, you're right, I devastated you. Tell me, what can I do to help your heart heal?"

Rydia looked away, and rage built in her chest. "Nothing I can think of! Why do you want to fix it?! I cried all day yesterday because of what happened!" she exclaimed, snapping her head toward him. "I feel like slapping you right now!" she added. "You should know better, Edge! We've been in a relationship for over two years! Kain has... what... at most a few weeks? And I doubt I even love him!"

Edge gazed at her, a mixture of guilt and sympathy on his masked face. "Yes, I know I should have known better," he agreed with a gentle voice. "I get too jealous. Too protective." He let out a deep sigh of regret. "I'm sorry you cried for the entire day; that was my fault."

Rydia flung him a flat stare. "I don't care who started the fight, seeing it was heart-breaking enough!" she said with venom in her voice.

"Yeah, you've got a good point." He walked up to Rydia, taking the risk of being struck. "Please, forgive me. I love you," Edge whispered. "And I guess that's why I fought over you, but I know that it doesn't make it right." He knelt down before her. "Forgive me... I know you can forgive me."

Rydia felt her anger abate a little. "You don't need to bow to me like I'm a queen, Edge. Just... stand up." He obeyed. "Fine, I'll... forgive you. But you must give me..."

"Some time alone?" Edge finished for her. Rydia nodded, allowing herself a half-smile. "Sure, I will. Cecil's already chewed me out for hurting his little sister."

"Good. That's your reward," she said bluntly. Rydia turned away from him. "Please leave... I need to see Rosa."

"That's understandable," he said, his voice was still level. "Take it easy, Rydia." He vanished in a puff of smoke, and left her alone.

She sighed, and folded her arms. Rydia squinted as the images of Kain and Edge appeared in her mind. While Edge appeared guilty, he still carried confidence, but Kain was in despair. She shook her head. No more, she thought as she left the courtyard.

-S-

"I saw you speaking with Rydia on the battlements, Kain," Cecil said, looking at Kain leaning against the wall. His friend's saddened expression told him why he had sought refuge in the throne room. "Did she forgive you?" He already knew the answer, but he wanted to comfort his friend.

Kain shook his head slowly. "I am a disgrace," he said. "This was even worse than when I broke Rosa's heart. Rydia's face... her words... so cold, and yet so painful. I never thought it possible." The dragoon sighed, and removed his helmet. "Demote me, Cecil. It's only for the best."

He's being a fool... Cecil thought, rolling his eyes. He walked over to him and placed his hand on the dragoon's shoulder. "Kain, no. I will not demote you over a personal offense. Try to relax. My anger has abated, and I'm surprised Rydia's has not."

"It's because she thinks I see her as... a second Rosa," Kain explained. He wiped his eyes. "As if... as if... I didn't truly care for her." His eyes met the paladin's. "Rand told me to 'do it right.'"

"Do what right?"

"Remember?" Kain asked. "The last time this happened, I waited too long to ask Rosa for forgiveness." He returned his gaze to the stone floor. "I intended to gather my wits and speak to Rydia... I ran into her a little early I think."

"I see," Cecil said. He removed his hand and took a step back, but kept his gaze on Kain. "And concerning what Rydia said, do you feel that way about her?"

"No," Kain responded with a shake of his head. He walked over to a pillar and slammed his fist into it. "No! Why would I? But what chance do I have?"

"One more, my friend," Cecil said. Kain spun around, surprised. The paladin smiled at him. "Wait a little, and then try speaking to her again; casually. Little by little, she'll soften toward you."

"Only as a friend," Kain countered weakly.

"Are you serious?" Cecil asked. The dragoon blinked. "That's not like you."

"What do you mean?"

"You're not acting like the Kain I know," Cecil said, folding his arms. "The Kain I know wouldn't give up, nor not cry over himself. The Kain I know would have confidence that he could win the heart back of the woman he loved. You attempted at her heart again over two years ago, remember? You never gave up, and it didn't bother her one bit."

Kain paused, staring at Cecil. "I don't even know if I... love Rydia. I..." He stopped when Cecil gave him a look of disbelief. "... or perhaps I do. You have spoken similar words Rand did to me yesterday. You're right, Cecil. I..." He smiled. "I will try again."

-S-

Rydia had retired to her room; still feeling depressed about the entire situation. She hadn't seen Rosa yet because she wasn't sure what to think about the current situation. Why...? She knew why Kain and Edge fought each other; they both wanted her. Thank goodness they didn't use their weapons... if they had... She shuddered, not wanting to even think about it.

There was a knock on the door. Rydia paused and scowled. If it's one of them, she thought with clenched fists. The knock came again, louder this time. She sighed, and called out, "who is it?"

"It's yer uncle Cid!" a gruff voice said from behind the door. "Don't tell me yer angry at me, too, Rydia!" She heard his chuckle, and a smile spread over her face.

Rydia stood up, walked up to the door and opened it. She smiled meekly at the fleetmaster. "Hello, I thought you were Edge or Kain, sorry," she said.

"Eh, it's okay," Cid said, grinning. "I thought I'd help you out. Come walk with me!"

"Thank you," Rydia said, nodding. "O-oh... all right, I'll come with."

"Sure thing," Cid said.

"One second," she said. She went back into her room, and grabbed her lesson plans. She hadn't even touched them since the day before; small wonder. "All right, I'm ready. What did you want to see me about?" she asked, closing the door behind her and entering the corridor.

"Jus' wanted to cheer ya up," he said. He patted Rydia's back. "Everyone's concerned about ya, Rydia. It ain't jus' Edge and Kain. Cecil, Rosa, even some of the soldiers are bothered."

She raised a brow. "Really? Even the soldiers? Why would they care?"

"Well, it's Kain's men who are worried," Cid corrected himself. "What's happened has dampened our dragoon's spirits. No, I'm not blamin' ya; they deserve what they got. I'm jus' letting you know yer not alone here."

Her eyes felt wet and she smiled at Cid. "Thank you," Rydia repeated. "You're a good man, Cid. Your wife was fortunate to have you."

"Aw, you're making me blush!" Cid teased. "Ya know how everyone says that anyone I meet becomes my friend? I think yer the same way, Rydia, though in a different way. That's what Kain and Edge see in ya."

"Yet, I feel like Kain sees me as a 'second Rosa,'" Rydia said, her smile curling into a frown. "He failed with Rosa, so he has to go with woman number two. And... that hurts to say the least."

"When did'ya think of that?" Cid asked.

"After I found out that he had made the same mistake with Rosa years ago," she explained. With clenched fists, she added, "he's just looking for an easy way out."

"I don't believe it," Cid said. Rydia looked at him, curious. "Kain's always been sincere, even after his 'betrayals.' Remember? You were on the Lunar Whale when it happened: he gave Edge permission to kill 'im if he lost his mind again." He smiled at her. "A man like that is not fake. He's the real thing; give him another chance, Rydia."

Rydia stopped, and she felt unable to move. The memory, clear as day, came back to her when Edge was verbally attacking Kain for being taken by Zemus.

"And when he takes your mind again?" Edge had asked.

"If that should happen, kill me without a second thought." Kain had answered soberly.

Kain... she thought. Rydia, still stunned, glanced over at the fleetmaster. "You... really think so?"

"Of course! I've known Kain fer years!" Cid said. "I wouldn't lie to you about him."

Then, Rydia recalled back to when Kain told her students about the fight with Zeromus. Telling the story in his own words had given the power to Milina to summon. She smiled at the fleetmaster. "You're right. I ought to give Kain another chance," she agreed.

"You look like ya feel better now, Rydia," Cid noted.

Rydia faced him and gave him a hug. "Yes, I am. Thank you," she whispered before letting go.

"It's no problem, I'm always willing to help out my 'niece,'" he said with a broad smile.

Rydia beamed at him, and then dashed away. I have to find Kain!

-S-

Kain was overlooking the courtyard; it had been a few hours since he spoke to Cecil, and now it was late afternoon. His heart still depressed, yet he was determined. He would regain the confidence he had lost. But how? he wondered. That is what I need to figure out.

"Kain?"

He spun around to see Rydia standing a few feet from him. At first, he felt those same chains of guilt, but then he saw her face. It was soft, gentle, the face that he always associated with her. Kain straightened his back and looked her in the eye. "Rydia? What is it?" he asked.

"I'm glad I finally found you," Rydia said. She smiled a little, and then wiped tears from her eyes. "Kain... I want to let you know that... I..." She blushed and stepped close to him. "I forgive you, and I'm sorry for being so cruel." To his surprise, she gave him a tight embrace. "I'm very sorry."

"You don't need to apologize. I—" Kain started.

"Yes, I do!" Rydia protested. "I was cruel to you... even though your heart was genuine. I forgive you for everything." She locked her eyes with his. "I know you made a promise with Edge... so... promise me you won't fight him again."

"I promise, and I... accept your apology," he said. The chains broke, and his heart was set free.

Kain realized how close he was to Rydia. And his now free heart pounded strongly. Kiss her... a thought came into his mind. What? No! I should give her some time— Then the thought came again. Kiss her.

For some odd reason, Rydia hadn't moved or released the embrace yet, was she receiving the same thought?

"Rydia...?" Kain spoke up. She looked at him. "Forgive me one last time." He moved his lips close to hers and kissed softly. He felt a slight jump from the summoner, and she immediately pulled away. Her face was bright red and carried a surprised smile.

"W-why did you kiss me, Kain?" she asked, blinking.

"I... felt like it was appropriate," he answered. "Are you...?"

She shook her head. "No, it's all right!" Rydia assured him. She was still blushing, but her smile widened. "It's okay, Kain. I have to go home to Mist tomorrow, so... I... um... I hope you'll come and visit, all right?"

Kain nodded at her with full confidence. "I will."