Author's Notes: A shorter chapter, yes, but another necessary bridge to be followed by something more substantial.

Eden's Chosen – Part Six

There was a part of him that couldn't help but wonder just why he kept coming back here. The rational part of his mind would offer up the way the faint perfume of flowers would soothe him whenever he took a deep breath. It would point out the way that being surrounded by nature calmed him in a way he had never been able to put into words. The sentimental part of his mind favored sharing memories of a wonderful time living here before everything had started to go wrong with his life. His days with Daphne, playing catch the chocobo with Ariel every afternoon, and how nice it was when he had picnics with his mother on one of the beaches far out from the town. Yet it was the irrational part that had the problem with standing here on one of the hills overlooking the scenic little village. The irrational part of his mind that replayed his killing of a Zebalgan leader named Joshua who had tried to kill him, the turning away of Elijah for his betrayal, the secrets that were swept along daily in the secretive undercurrent of the polite and quiet face of the villagers.

"It never really changes, does it?" Kiros asked from where he had stopped at Nida's side to look at the village.

Yes, it changed. Changed in ways that outsiders like Kiros would never understand, could never understand, because no one would share with them. How was Kiros supposed to know the sense of betrayal that the people of Winhill felt when Andria's name came up in polite conversation? Could he begin to understand the way people he had known since he was a child had come to look at him in that short time he had visited after working at Galbadia Garden?

"No," Nida agreed instead, a far easier thing to do than he had expected. "It doesn't. Practically the same now as when I was first brought here as a child."

Except there were more markers in the small cemetery just outside of the village now... Too many of them recent additions.

There was something akin to disbelief in Kiros's eyes when the older man looked at him, but Nida just ignored it, adjusting the straps of the duffel on his back as he started down the hill. He managed to make it a few steps before another question from Kiros stopped him in his tracks.

"You're not happy to be here, are you?"

"Why should I be?" he shot back.

Many of your happiest memories occur here, Siren offered for Kiros, her voice soothing. It was one of the first times she had bothered to speak to him since he had gone to see Veringas. Her timing, as always, was almost frustrating.

"Where we are from is important to where we end up," Kiros answered for himself.

"Is that why you've never returned to Deling?" he countered, turning to meet Kiros's level gaze. "Because of how important it was to you."

That silenced the man for all of a few seconds, before he sighed and shook his head. "My experiences there shaped me, but..."

"But they broke you as well," Nida finished for him, unable to avoid the bitterness in his voice. "In a way that was hard to recover from, and even when you did you didn't want to return for fear that it would make it worse in your memories."

"And you're too young for that kind of experience."

"Age has nothing to do with it. Surely war taught you that much."

"And what is it that ruins your home for you?"

It was easier to chuckle, then turn and keep walking, than to answer. After all, Kiros would have a chance to see for himself soon enough. Laguna hadn't let them leave in the unmarked flier they'd left a few miles out of town without insisting that Kiros buy a bouquet and leave it on Raine's grave for him and Squall, which meant that Nida wasn't likely to get the privacy he would have wanted for visiting Daphne. Not to mention... No, not to mention him at all.

"Squall said something about arrangements for our stay already being handled..." Kiros said a bit later when they finally reached the proper edge of town. Granted, that edge of town was still quite a distance from the area Kiros would have been more familiar with, what with the cottages and flower fields surrounding the village to no small degree. Even here it could take almost half an hour at a leisurely pace to reach the center of the village proper. That being said, they had hit the fields rather close to his cottage, which wasn't really surprising because Nida had been aiming for just that. Things hadn't been... comfortable for him with the villagers since the end of the war. Maybe it was his own fault, but he had a feeling it had to do with Andria's death. After all, it had been his fault in most respects.

"We won't be staying at the inn if that's what you mean," Nida answered as he altered their course enough to point them toward the cottage. "Unless you're looking forward to it, that is."

"What else would we be..."

With a sigh Nida gestured toward the cottage he was making for. "My mother left it to me when she died. I try to keep it in good shape, and a friend of mine helps look after it while I'm out of town. The couch is pretty comfortable, or so I remember. Can't be sure anymore, I haven't camped out on it in years. Still, it's yours if you're looking to save some gil. I'd offer a bed, but I had my childhood bedroom cleaned out during my first trip home after coming to Garden and turned it into a training room. Never really thought I was going to have so many visitors."

"A couch is fine," Kiros chuckled quietly. "A lot better than some of the random places I had to deal with while traveling with Laguna. Though I admit that at my age something soft is always appreciated."

OoOoOoOoO

"So what exactly are we here for?" Kiros asked as Nida dumped a load of pillows and blankets on the couch. "Laguna didn't really explain..."

"And Squall couldn't be bothered," Nida finished for him with a sigh, shaking his head as he moved toward the kitchen area and twisted a dial on the stove. As expected there was the sound of clicking as he smelled gas, but nothing more. Good, no one had offered his cottage up as a traveler's resting place this time. Siren jumped eagerly at his call, offering up the fire spell so he could light the stove. They didn't have much in the way of supplies, so soup was going to have to do for the night, and breakfast. Truth was Nida hoped the journal would be easy to find, saving him the need to head into the village square to buy supplies.

"He said it was personal business," Kiros agreed. "To be honest, I'm surprised I was asked to come along considering that."

"Well, there is some concern that things will get complicated," Nida admitted, turning the flames to their lowest possible setting before going for his duffel and fishing out a few cans of soup he'd brought with him from his now emptied apartment. "You were briefed on the situation with the latest dreams?"

"Boyce Megill is supposed to return?" Kiros asked, moving to perch on one of the stools in the kitchen. "Yes, I was there when Laguna was briefed. The concern is that he's going to return to his search for this lost power of Hyne."

"And we don't know how to find him," Nida confirmed as he searched out a can-opener. He made it through three drawers unsuccessfully before pulling out the combat knife he wore on his belt and starting into the can like that. "Neither Irvine nor I have had any clues there, and the dreams haven't been too useful in finding out specifics like that in the past. To much vagueness. So Squall had the brilliant idea that, since Irvine is supposed to be fated to find the lost power of Hyne, looking for it should lead us to Megill."

"So you think something here will help you find..."

"A stone altar," Nida agreed as he finally worked a lid off and poured the unappetizing glop into the first appropriately sized pot he found. "That's what Irvine says at least. But yes, that's what we're hoping for. Specifically we're here to find something Irvine and I think would be hidden here. A journal from my birth mother, containing the prophecies she made during her lifetime, and maybe those of her ancestors. Apparently his own mother kept one, and while the prophecies are typically more vague and difficult to understand than our own, they might teach us something."

"So we're looking for a book of prophecies that you may not even be able to understand, in hopes that it will have some clue as to where you might find either Megill or a lost, ancient power of a supreme level that could alter the very face of the world."

"Pretty much," Nida sighed as he poured a second can into the pot, turned the heat up a bit, and moved to sit on another stool. "Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?"

"Not the worst reason I've heard to do something," Kiros admitted, shaking his head. "You've never had to travel with Laguna before. Anyway, do you have any idea of where this journal might be?"

"Not even the faintest," he admitted, shaking his head. "You'd think I'd have run into it sometime while I lived here. But, for the life of me, I don't remember anything."

"Parents have lots of little ways of hiding things from their children," Kiros pointed out. "I'll try and help as best I can. I know some places Ward and I used to hide things from Laguna. Usually whatever book he was reading rather than doing his paperwork."

Nida resisted the urge to chuckle at the idea of Laguna tearing apart one of the Esthari Presidential Palace rooms searching for some dime-rack novel and failing. "Thanks."

"But, if you'll forgive me for pointing it out, I still don't understand just why Squall wanted me to accompany you for something as simple as searching for a journal."

With a sigh Nida stood and returned his attention to the pot of soup, stirring to avoid talking as long as he could. Not that it gave him much time at all. At last there was nothing to do but turn back to Kiros, cross his arms over his chest, and sigh.

"For one thing, Megill does have a bit of a reason to want me dead. He's already tried once. Well, twice if you could both mind control attempts. And... I've been dreaming of someone trying to kill me. The others might be a little concerned about that."

"I would be in their place," Kiros agreed, frowning. "I can understand Squall not wanting to make a big deal of your coming out here, and there are hardly many SeeDs he could justify sending with you without it being suspicious. At least Laguna can feign a reason for my traveling here with you, so I guess we'll do what we can. I'll do my best to protect you while I'm here."

"And I'll try to keep you fed," Nida answered as he turned the heat off under the soup and found some bowls to spoon it into.

"Already looks like you're a better chef than Laguna, so things should work out well here."

OoOoOoOoO

His mother Daphne had always loved sunrise. When he was a child she would always tell him that there was nothing quite so beautiful as those first rays of light washing over the land. False dawn was when birds started to wake up and sing, when the morning glories started to uncurl to greet the sun, and when the valley was painted in the most amazing shades. Nida, for what it was worth, had always been more of a night person, reveling in the twinkling of stars, which often kept him up so long that he rarely managed to see dawn. His time in Garden had changed him of course, because he hadn't had any choice but to be a morning person there. But whenever he came back here he tried to stay up late to see the stars.

And yet, here he was, staring out through the kitchen window sipping at a mug of miserably poor coffee, watching the pale light of false dawn washing across the flower fields. There was nothing he more desperately wanted right now than to be asleep, but Hyne knew that wasn't likely. It wasn't that he didn't feel sleepy, just that he hadn't had a chance to sleep. Not long after finishing their meal they had started searching the house for any sign of the journal that part of Nida was certain had to be here somewhere, to no avail. They'd managed to all but tear the kitchen apart, not to mention the training room that had been Nida's childhood bedroom, not really expecting much in the way of results. Their initial search of the master bedroom had yielded nothing either, but there was still a lot of space to look into, and it was going to take more time than Nida had really expected it to.

Which left him here, just after false dawn, drinking terrible coffee and trying not to think about how badly he needed to sleep or how much he wanted to avoid heading into the village to buy supplies for a few days. Still, there was something he could get out of the way while Kiros was passed out on the couch and he had every intention of dealing with it while he could. Sighing he put his mug aside and snuck through the living room, grabbing his light coat and knife before slipping out into the early morning chill. It took almost no time at all to cut a handful of the lilies that grew around the edge of the house, enough for a meager momento. Really he should have brought something from Esthar, but it hadn't even occurred to him until they were already in the flier, leaving Nida no choice but to gather the flowers Daphne herself had planted.

Somehow he managed to make it all the way to the cemetery without thinking. Maybe it was because he was deliberately trying not to think at all. He already knew what he was going to find there, the same marker he'd always found there, this time joined by the marker he'd left behind when he'd last been in town. A crimson sword thrust into the ground behind Daphne's marker, the only marker that Elijah would ever have. Yet for all the times he'd walked there before, this was the first where Nida almost tripped over a marker. The first time that he'd come upon them unexpected. Of course he hadn't really been paying attention to where he had been going. He'd expected to stop naturally when he saw the red blade in the ground. Instead he found himself staring down at the stone with the name of the woman who had been his mother, his hand clenching the flowers so hard he could feel the stems crushing in his grip, and his mind trying to process the lack he felt.

Where had Elijah's blade gone?