SquareSoft: Generations Chapter 15

Decisions! Dissension! Destruction!

By Dawn Wilkins

Seems my life is gonna change...I close my eyes...begin to pray...and tears of joy stream down my face...I don’t know if I’m ready...to be the man I have to be....I'll take a breath...I'll take her by my side...we've created life... (Arms Wide Open; Creed; Human Clay)

“...it all comes together...”

Indeed, it was a moment in history, Cecil noted wistfully. His otherworldly eyes caressed the majestic weapon, as one might with their salvation. And maybe it was...Quietly, he stepped before the others, entranced. When the paladin reached Ben, he gestured for the blade.

With vast reluctance Ben relinquished the coveted sword. Its celestial azure light enveloped Cecil as he slid a gloved finger up and down its smooth edge. Flawless as the blade of a god–just like the first day, that fateful day, when he’d touched it for the first time. Something within him was filled. What exactly? Who could say?

Slowly, relishingly, Cecil lifted the weapon for all to see. Radiance engulfed the chamber and its inhabitants. “Now we truly stand a chance...A bounty and mercy. It is time good struck a blow against evil!”

A snort from Ben as the wizard retorted, “Justice isn’t the only right in the world. The Celestial saber, as it is known, shall shed blood of the innocents if used with ill will.”

Though the tone indicated otherwise, Cecil took that quite seriously. His gaze shifted to the deceased king, Edgar. Edgar lay upon the funeral altar with a dignified air. So much had been surrendered to give them that chance. What a cost! The cost of a life...

Your valiancy and ultimate sacrifice will not be in vain...This did Cecil pledge to the dead blond monarch. He, too, would offer up breath to save this world–or would he? When the question, the decision, is presented to him, would Cecil do the right thing? Ah, but time would tell...

After the knight of Baron glanced from companion to companion, he saw his beloved Rosa. Nothing else mattered at that moment. Only he and the white wizardess existed. Gazing into those loving brown eyes he could feel her love surround him, nourish him like the air the paladin breathed. The Celestial saber, in all its glory, clattered to the stone flooring, forgotten.

Taking Rosa into his arms, his expression softened to see her quiet tears. Though her lips formed words Cecil shut them with a kiss. And another. To hear her heartbeat once more, that was incomparable. I’m like a man who was so long denied water that I’d forgotten how thirsty I was.

“I missed you so very much,” she whispered.

He squeezed harder. “I missed you, too.”

“I–I love you.”

His laughter filled the solemn chamber. The scones flared to life as if in acknowledgment of his happiness. “How long I waited to hear you say that again. God, I love you.”

From out of the sidelines, Locke approached, and announced, “You must be Cecil. Congrats, you’re going to be a father.”

Cecil stiffened. His breath hitched as he broke the embrace and gazed at Rosa. His eyes widened. Him! A father! What a responsibility! Would it be a boy or a girl? Or both? Would it resemble him or Rosa?

“You’re expecting?” gasped he.

A nod.

“I’m going to be a father?”

Another nod.

The laughter erupted even louder. “Me! I’m going to be a father! What will we call him? Or her?”

Rosa looked confused briefly then she smiled at his enthusiasm. After wordlessly asking with his expression and seeing her consent, Cecil shyly placed a hand on her belly. Yes, there it was. He could feel it. He, a warrior bred to take life away had now given life to another. There was no greater joy.

Aurora, Ben and Locke offered their congratulations. Terra, however, failed to do so. She leaned against the stone wall, lips pursued. Her lack of applause like the others puzzled him. What? Is she angry at me? Why–Oh!

Then the paladin realized the predicament he’d thrust himself into. Damn him, but the paladin still longed for Terra. How’d this happened? Certainly the prospect of having a child delighted him but the complications it would likely entail frightened the knight of Baron. His soul was in turmoil.

Without a word, the half-esper left. Her emerald hair lingered in Cecil’s sight as a torch doused by a cruel wind. Aurora muttered something to Ben. Locke cocked a chestnut eyebrow. Even Rosa looked uncomfortable. No, especially Rosa. She looked the most distraught of all, and likely that was because the father of her unborn child was staring with bizarre fascination as Terra disappeared.


What have I done? Led her on? What kind of sick games am I playing? Why am I playing these sick games? It was so unlike Cecil to do this. Since learning of the folly of the human heart he’d disdained the intricacies of them. He was above such nonsense. What Cecil said, he meant to say. What he did, he meant to do.

Even in his youth Cecil was besieged by a stunning woman who’d wanted to ‘get to know him better’. But every beat of his heart had belonged to Rosa for as long as he could remember. Cecil nobly explained that, while the woman was quite charming and beautiful, he loved another. Despite the tactful sincerity the paladin had received a slap. Still, he could derive some satisfaction from his own integrity.

And now that integrity was in ruins. If Rosa ever found out...

A glance at Rosa’s worried expression confirmed his deepest fears.

At that moment, Cecil didn’t much like himself.


The airship soared through the heavenly blue, nary a cloud to be seen. Wind surged aboard deck, disturbing rigging, supplies, and whatever it could seize. It prompted a soft whisper that sounded as cloth rustling. This weather was fine for the airship and those upon it–not stifling hot nor persecuting cold.

Ben, at the helm, nudged the navigational wheel slightly, seeming to enjoy the ride. Rosa and Aurora had vanished below deck when the companions had embarked. Neither emerged since. Whatever they were discussing Cecil had no idea. No logical idea, that is. His imagination provided plenty of torturous guesses.

Him. And not any compliments to be sure.

Leaning over the railing of the air vessel named the Sojourn, Cecil occasionally glanced in the direction of aft. Terra stood upon the banister, hands clutching the support ropes. Her green locks fluttered like weaved leaves in the breeze and concealed her face. She’d ignored him every time the paladin attempted to initiate conversation. She’d have none of him.

With good reason. Well, you screwed up pretty badly, didn’t you Cecil? You played with them both. You’ll be lucky if either them speaks to you again. It sure looked like that possibility wasn’t in for the short term at least.

Tugging his off-white cape about his person, the paladin stared melancholy at the skies. They were headed for the fortress of Palamades, southwest of Avida. Word had leaked that Tarus and Nildemar intended to assault the castle a second time and Ben was insistent that they help their beleaguered allies. The purposes for the violence perpetrated Tarus and Nildemar and their legions? Who could say? Cecil knew that evil rarely needed reasons to commit atrocities. Oh, they’d claim to have viable reasons but more often than not the paladin noted how the cause didn’t add up to the measure of the crime.

Nor did Cecil’s trials justify his own villainies.

I, Cecil, am going to be a father. I, Cecil, am a blight upon humanity.

Unaccustomed to such guilt, the knight of Baron buried his face in his hands. Come to think of it, the shame wasn’t all that alien. He’d burned towns, imprisoned innocents, robbed crystals. Cecil learned something shocking about himself...maybe his golden, impeccable image wasn’t so golden and impeccable after all.

A hand on his shoulder.

Cecil flinched and looked up. Suspending an elbow on the railing, Locke Cole appraised the paladin. The sum of his assessment he kept to himself. “So you’re the famous Cecil. Rosa speaks highly of you.”

I seriously doubt that now. On guard, Cecil replied, setting his tone to a mild conversational level. “Yes. And you’re Locke Cole, world-renown treasure hunter. Pleased to meet you.”

Silence spread between them. Wind echoed their words, twisting and tossing them into incoherent babble. What was the civil amenities for? This did Cecil wonder. Preparing for the punch? Examing the travel-worn but still ardent man, he knew at once it was not. Just a prelude to an investigation. Locke was observant, seeking information not retribution. There was no cold, calculating stare, no unfriendly eyes.


Locke frowned. “Ask what?”

“Your question. I’ll answer truthfully.”

A sigh from the young man. Finally he spoke, “I don’t like the games you’re playing with Terra. I mean, if you were unattached then it would be none of my business. But Rosa is carrying your child. No good can come of this.”

If Locke’s expression hadn’t appeared so sincere, so unhostile, Cecil might have taken offense. But he did not. Cecil was a fine judge of character, at least after assuming paladinhood, and it took little effort to detail the diplomacy and honesty of Locke. And it was the truth, after all. The games had to stop.

In life people see things as black and white. Yet, this is not so. The slippery sloops of the significant issues often greyed around the edges. So many complications...and yet the knight of Baron knew, in this instance, that grey did not factor into this decision. The crime was inexcusably wrong. One of those rare times when black and white do hold sway.

Terra should not be flirted with.

Rosa should be taken care of.

Cecil should mind his manners.

“I know,” the paladin conceded in a whisper. His eyes flickered over to Terra’s statuesque form. Locke followed his gaze and the frown deepened. Before he could comment, however, Cecil added, “I’m loyal to Rosa–and my child.”

Locke passed a hand over his face and muttered, “Good. ‘Cause a love triangle is nothing but big trouble.”

“You speak from experience.”

Grinning sheepishly, the treasure hunter acquiesced, “Aye. I do. And it just gets weirder and weirder.”

The wind billowing his cape and his platinum hair, Cecil brushed both aside and laughed softly. The view of the upper spires of Palamades Fortress loomed into view. Just a glance though, and he knew the airship still had a while to go before they landed. But even that brief view alerted Cecil to danger. His scalp tingled. His nerves shivered. Something was very wrong.

Face dark with concern, the paladin leaned forward and sucked in his breath. “Get Ben,” he commanded with that leadership tone he knew so well.

“Um, why?”

“We’re too late. The battle’s begun.”

Disastrous. That alone could describe the carnage below. For miles around armored personal carriers surrounded the castle and pelted the walls. Liquid fire melted the sturdy stone as wax. Huge leviathans circled in the bright skies, numbering in the thousands. Flame spheres rained onto the fortress from above while immense blasts quaked even Sojourn herself and she was yet far away. In the midst of the chaos another airship directed the attacks, the flagship of the invasion operation. Two men rode on that ship.

Tarus and Nildemar.

Locke brought both Terra and Ben over to the paladin though the former still avoided him. Ben seemed reasonably distressed. The railing squeezed beneath his white knuckles. Terra covered her mouth with a hand. No matter how fast they flew Sojourn she would be insufficient to help them stave off Tarus’ nightmarish legions before it broached the walls and caused some major damage.

Cecil, a healer in his own right, was appalled. War is fed with death. My duty is their protection. Surely there remains a way to rectify the devastation and turn the tide against our enemies...

Seeing their dragon companions hovering in the air, an idea came to Cecil. “The dragons can fly faster than Sojourn. I suggest we mount as many as soldiers as possible on each. Someone will have to stay behind with Rosa, of course–”

“That’ll be quite unnecessary, Cecil.”

The white wizardess and the ranger-healer arrived above deck to join their comrades. Pale, still Rosa stood on her own. The pregnancy showed evident to all, including Terra who gazed with an awed expression. Aurora stood by the expectant woman’s side acting as nursemaid and doing a fine job of it.


“You’ll do no such thing. I’m hardly an invalid.”

Seeing the obvious tension between the soon-to-be parents, Locke intervened, “Rosa, Cecil’s right. You are worrying about another life now. Its welfare exceeds your personal wishes.” He flicked a wayward brown strand aside with ease. “And you, Cecil, gotta remember your wife isn’t an invalid.”

Rosa and Cecil exchanged the looks that married people sometimes do. But that they were not. And a certain amount of shame came over the paladin as he realized that this child had been conceived outside a marriage. Things had become so complicated now. The humiliation flashed in his cheeks as the ill ease rested on his shoulders like a metal cloak.

“Locke, we–”

“You’re married?” asked Terra. Immediately all heads turned to her.

Cecil shot his ‘wife’ a side-long glance. Her expression could mean anything–annoyance, anger, distress or embarrassment. He pressed forward anyway. “Yes, we are.”

Again, silence pervaded in the atmosphere. That, too, could be indicative of any number of feelings. Disbelief. Approval. Happiness. I just lied to them all. Wasn’t it for the best? There could never be anything between Terra and himself. That there had ever been anything at all disturbed the paladin. From a simple lengthy glance to an emotional intimacy the situation had become dire and dirty so easily, so unnoticed. For all the holiness Cecil projected, his soul darkened more every day.

To distract them and, more importantly, himself, Cecil continued, “Rosa will be okay with a skeletal crew on the ship. The others of us will ride ahead with the troops...”

Ben excitedly joined in, “We’ll drop them the instant we find safe haven. They can remain on the fortress wall to coordinate a counter assault.” His blue eyes flamed.

“And the remnant of us will fight dragonback, holding the invasion at bay until the airships and reinforcements arrive,” Aurora finished, flailing hands in imitation of the mentioned attack plan.

“Exactly!” Cecil cried, snapping his fingers.

The next ten minutes blurred in a hurricane of activity. Aurora replaced her healer’s robe in favor of leather armor and donned a quiver of magical arrows and an ancient bow generously offered by Rosa. Locke, already equipped with a powerful blade called Ragnarok, also stored several daggers for the missile melee. Terra found a sword and sling to her liking and armed herself. As for Ben, by the time he completed his arsenal, the wizard bombarded himself with blades, axes, boomerangs, and every other item pertaining to warfare. So bombarded, in fact, that all the group had to dig him out of the self-induced mess.

Each of his companions proceeded to mount the dragons of Avida. Cecil lingered by Rosa’s side, his mind like the battle that waged at Palamades. Giving her one last going-to-war kiss, the paladin heaved onto his serpentine steed and mouthed “I love you”, which she reciprocated, and flew away.

I love Rosa. She has been my meaning to life. And now we have created, out of our love, a child. This should be the happiest moment of my life! Then why do I feel so helpless like a cold hand over my heart? Why do I long for her esper green eyes?

There was only one possible answer and that chilled Cecil to the marrow of his soul.

I love...them both.

Banishing the scareligious thought, the knight of Baron thrust his mind into battle mode. He knew a certain wild berserker joy came over him at such times, but a calmness settled in his brain that was a deadly necessity for his commandship. Because they were a limited number of dragons, Cecil’s own steed carried four other soldiers including Ben. The other leviathans also bore as many combatants as safely possible. Glancing at Locke, Aurora, Terra, and the other thousands of dragon-mounted light warriors, Cecil felt a thrill of cold pass through him. There was so much at stake, so much to lose...

That’s what he fought for–those brave souls in his universe, the many others that inhabited other dimensions, and those who’d yet to join it.

Ben, seated directly behind him, shouted out orders. About half of them heeded the commands but more often than not they were unobeyed. This did not bother the white-haired eccentric in the least. Suddenly Cecil felt a pull on his arm and Ben guided his gaze to one of Palamades flying defenders. Pure blond hair beneath a helmet of blue dragon scales, wielding a lance of holy...


“Cecil! Am I ever glad to see your face! How’s Rosa?”

The two dragons swooped aside from the battle near the fortress’ stone walls. The others followed his example, though Cecil could easily detail the situation’s graveness. Landing the army on the city wall would only end in needless deaths. They were heavily besieged. They’d be caught between enemy and ally fire. As Cecil spoke, he scanned the keep’s perimeter.

“She’s fine,” Cecil yelled back. “Where do we land the troops?”

Frowning, the Dragoon replied, “Probably the east side. The fighting’s thin there. Oh, by the way, congratulations.”

Failing to answer, Cecil steered his dragon down to the eastern wall. With a glance back he was satisfied to see the others adhere without any instructions. The paladin grinned sheepishly. They probably didn’t need his leadership but commandship was so ingrained and so natural that Cecil often had a hard time suppressing it.

All the leviathans landed outside the huge steel gates of the eastern perimeter. Sand stirred in the vibration caused by flapping wings. All excess soldiers dismounted and headed inside to aid with the internal forces spilling from the front gates. Everyone else remained onboard and took to the air again. The sounds of war permeated their ears. Fire blasts. Ammunition exploding. The rending of bones. The collapse of tanks. It was time to engage the enemy.

After Ben stepped off Cecil’s mount to direct the assault from the fortress’ parapets (a very dangerous and characteristic venture) the paladin soared into the midst of the melee. His dragon, a platinum called Warrior, banked sharply. This drove the air from Cecil’s lungs. Battle lust burned in his blood. He flashed the Celestial saber with a savage delight, plunging it into one of his foe’s steed.

The green dragon howled and in dying vindictiveness swatted at Cecil’s dragon. A wing was grazed but they evaded an otherwise lethal blow. With a tug of the reins, Cecil guided Warrior to the flagship of the invasion force. It was a big brute of a vessel, the size of a small keep. But if Cecil was not mistaken on the deck appeared Nildemar again.

Locke banked up with this blue dragon, Bolt, and shouted, “You, again! Where’s Celes?”

Disdaining them both, the cloaked mystery sent an ebony lightning at Aurora who was below with the main rebellion attack. Cecil would have yelled a warning but deemed it unnecessary as the healer-ranger already dodged. Tarus also showed on the dark wood, dressed as extravagantly as ever, a scowl upon his face.

“Do you good guys always have to spoil my fun?!” he demanded glaring at both knight and thief.

“Old habits die hard,” Locke replied with a wry grin. Then he turned serious. “Now tell me where you took Celes!”

Tarus scoffed to answer, only instructing the pilots to back off the airship from the reach of aerial weapons. Eventually Locke gave up, his eyes slit, and resumed his attacks. He engaged another mounted monstrosity, dismembering the enemy with five daggers to the gut, shot in quick succession. Another death scream to join the cacophony of war.

Cecil, meanwhile, observed the flagship. Like doing mathematical equations, the paladin cataloged the opposing armies strengths and weaknesses. They had very few of the later but he was determined to discover the reason Tarus no longer involved his ship as the others in the war. Surely its involvement would help Tarus’ forces.

Then it struck him, as had that slap so many years ago. Normally kept for tactical purposes only Cecil noted the alternate use of it as an aircraft carrier. Dragons landed on the ship to refuel breath weapons, replace dead soldiers with live ones, and attaining any medical attention. It was a base of operations in mid-air.

This was an serious threat. It needed to be removed immediately because if it wasn’t the enemy armies would have an inexhaustible supply of reinforcements. Cecil guided Warrior to intercept the flagship again but was cut off by a pair of black dragons mounted by some very unsavory savages. The first died by Warrior’s breath weapon of flame, however, Cecil missed an arrow at the second. It was too far to slash at.

Before his adversary could retaliate with a piercing bolt, a spear jutted its flank sending it and its owner spiraling to death. Cecil allowed himself to breathe, wiping his sweaty forehead with a gloved hand. Cranking his head, the paladin caught sight of his savior, his so-called best friend Kain.

“You cannot imagine how genuinely I appreciate that,” Cecil shouted.

The Dragoon laughed. Blood streaked his helm though he, himself, was unharmed. “Can’t let the new father-to-be die, eh?” To that, Kain spurred his mount away to pursue a winged foe.

As ever Cecil could never determine whether the words were sincere or sarcastic. In some ways I wish I had never fallen in love with Rosa. The day I did that I lost both of my friends. As he urged Warrior to swoop over the battlefield, memories came to the surface. He, Rosa, and Kain had been childhood friends. Kain and Rosa had become involved at first much to Cecil’s secret dismay. Then Kain, seeking to succeed his father’s memory and follow his footsteps, had gone to train at Baron. Inexorably Cecil and Rosa had found solace in each other. But Cecil became inflicted with same lust to join Baron’s ‘glorious’ army and he left to become a Black Knight.

Things got messy then. Rosa chased after the two. She’d been offered a job as a white wizardess school teacher at the same city. Both Cecil and Kain courted her and relations between the former best friends deteriorated. Eventually Rosa made known her love of Cecil and the matter was settled. Kain went on to date occasionally but his main focus remained on his career.

The paladin had thought his childhood comrade had forgotten Rosa but Kain’s confession at the Tower of Zot upset the delicate balance of things. Before, as kids, Cecil had the two best friends in the world. Now, surrounded by powerful legions, the mantle of leadership and loneliness bore into his weary heart.

As muddled as his thoughts were, Cecil still managed to strike a killing slash at the flagship’s guarding leviathan. Tarus and Nildemar keep their vessel on the sidelines, avoiding attention. Cecil knew the fall of that ship would mean a great success for their side. However, still another dragonrider anticipated such interference and shielded any path to the airship.

Kain and the half-esper both were immediately occupied, the former lancing some grounded black slimes with a weapon he’d captured and the later burning a deadly path of flame over the approaching mechanical abominations. Ben was yet too far away to offer assistance. Wherever Locke had vanished to Cecil couldn’t guess. That left...

“Aurora! I need some help over here!” The sand and wind stung Cecil’s face and image of the flame-haired woman wavered indistinctively at best.

“I–I–I don’t think–I can–help!” came her disjointed reply. Cecil could see what she meant. Though unoccupied her mount could never reach him in a timely fashion. He looked around, hoping to acquire the notice of one of Ben’s soldiers.

An eruption of energy waved next to Cecil and forced him to pull Warrior abruptly to the right to avoid a spill. When he glanced back, to his shock, a waterfall of light poured in the air. It burned the eyes, yet he could no more look away than to halt his birth. It vanquished several dragonriders utterly in thirty feet radius. He gasped. Aurora’s doing?

Sure enough, the energy returned to a light sphere. Then it landed on the back of her dragon, unharmed. Aurora rematerialized. Cecil was astounded. But he had no time to question his good fortune. Besides, no one should argue good luck–just bad.

Time for a warrior to live up to his name.

Capitlazing on the flagship’s vulnerability, the paladin drove his steed at the crimson- and-black sailed ship. He positioned astride the air vehicle and scanned it for the power/fuel source. If he could disable that, it would be subject to fall. However, Cecil knew a dagger throw would not be strong to dismantle it. That would require him to board and destroy it.

Of course, such an attempt was highly suicidal. That was the price of a self-professed leader.

As soon as Warrior reached as close as possible, Cecil aimed and then launched himself. He collided with Tarus, who, heading toward to the fuel supply himself, could not evade. They tumbled over the wood-and-steel boards, wrestling desperately. Tarus screamed like he was being eviscerated alive. The paladin punched him in the face and leapt to his feet. At the most, he would have a few minutes to disable the ship before the guards would overwhelm him.

“You bastard!” screamed Tarus. “You ruined my beautiful nose!”

To that, Cecil ignored, instead hacking and slashing anything that opposed him. Nightstalkers fell left and right; one taking a gash to its almost nonexistent head, the other run through. The Celestial saber dispatched any and all but he feared Tarus would organize an attack to flush him out. Reach the core! Reach the core! A mantra he repeated in the paradoxical silence of the mind.

Nildemar, seeing the intrusion, shot a razor-sharp ice chunk at him but Cecil ducked, albeit barely. Its nearness froze his edges. At last, the paladin approached the fuel supply–a vast crystal glimmering an evil red. No hesitation took place. It shattered into a thousand pieces with one swipe.

In that same instant, the ship nosedived sharply. Screams burst in the air, rending Cecil’s skull. Escape...Now! Using the sword as a shield and weapon both, the paladin navigated the swiftly descending vessel. Tarus cursed him and the integrity of his mother and father vehemently. Indeed, Nildemar, in his customary coolness, had to restrain his master before the man became completely wild.

Cecil desperately looked around for Warrior but, to his despair, saw the dragon deceased on the bloodied ground below. No one was close enough to break his fall. When the flagship crashed some of its inhabitants might survive but even if the paladin did he would not want to. To end up as Tarus’ and Nildemar’s prisoner...

I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees. Paladinhood had subscribed him to an oath of death over surrender. Briefly overcome with sorrow at not having the opportunity to see his child born, Cecil sheathed the weapon and dove overboard. When his comrades unearthed his shattered body on the sand dunes they could say he’d made a good account of himself. His child, daughter or son, would grow up proud. His life, and death, would be celebrated.

With a sickening jolt, Cecil collided into a leather flank of a dragon. Self-preservation sinking into his brain, death no longer a certainty, he grabbed the tail with all his might. Sweat streamed down his face to sting his eyes. He clutched, digging in fingers, and offered up a prayer to whatever deity had spared him.

“Take my hand.”

Cecil gazed warily at the proffered hand. For all the paladin knew, he could have been delivered into the enemy’s arms—quite literally. If he had, Cecil would take up the Celestial saber and slit his own throat before allowing Tarus to use him against his allies. For all he wanted to live, the knight of Baron would sacrifice for what was right.

Was that his ultimate test?

“I said, take my hand!”

Green hair. Terra! The platinum-haired knight nearly cried with joy. Using the tender fingers as a ladder, Cecil lifted himself to a more stable position. Her dragon, a gold named Radiant, banked down to the fortification. It appeared, from a quick glance, that the war was a standstill.

“I’ll bring you to the south wall,” she explained, words tight. Not once did she turn around to look at him. “There you can remount. I know there’s a few–”


“This doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven you.”

Cecil hung his head in shame. He’d deserved that. Expected it, in fact. Still it hurt. “I’m sorry,” came his low murmur. “I don’t know what’s come over me. I’m beginning to learn things about myself I’d rather not know. I’m starting to–to hate myself.”

Paladin of holy. Paladin of lies.

She stiffened. The gold dragon continued to speed toward Palamades’ southern perimeter. Then Terra turned her beautiful emerald eyes on him. They were especially soft with sorrow. “Don’t ever hate yourself, Cecil! I don’t hate you. I–I just want to learn about love. But all I’m learning about is pain.”

He swallowed. Terra added, “But that’s my problem.”

Had the circumstances not been so distracting, Cecil would have pressed forward. However, when his gaze returned to the ground to avoid her eyes, Cecil found that the opposing side was in retreat. The destruction of the lead ship did indeed strike a fatal blow. The light warriors had repelled Tarus’ forces. Palamades had been spared. It thrilled him to see victory shine as the sun upon rain-soaked wanderers. They fought so hard...lost so much...

Will the fighting never end?

Much to the white-caped paladin’s disheartenment, Tarus and Nildemar had escaped the brutal crash. The former was shaking his fist, cursing and shouting. Nildemar merely stood by his side, his expression, as ever, hidden. Though the retaliation had certainly thrown the nightmarish legions off their element they would recover...

Cecil smiled. When they did the light warriors would be ready for them.

Radiant landed them a few feet from Ben’s location. He was accompanied by an unidentified young woman with flowing brown hair. Cecil dismissed her name for the moment. Though the paladin offered a hand, Terra disdained and dismounted herself. He sighed and leapt after her.

Pleased, Ben shook his hand vigorously, so vigorously, in fact, that Cecil had to clip a squeal of painful surprise. “Absolutely incredible. The most courageous–and foolish–thing I’ve ever seen a man do. You are an unending storage of astonishment.”

Cecil didn’t have the opportunity to reply because he noted the appearance of Aurora, Locke and Kain. Each exhibited signs of fatigue and minor injuries but nothing that a good night’s rest wouldn’t cure. Like the changes in the tide, what had first been disaster turned to success.

Now, if only my personal matters would be remedied so easily...

He doubted it would be that simple.

In the distance, becoming larger due to dimension, Sojourn revealed itself from the haze. It had arrived too late to be of any aid but the image of a beautiful young woman gave Cecil great happiness...

Rosa. Alive and well.

She waved at him and he at her. Now the other soldiers had started to leave the field, except for the healers who tended to the wounded. Though many had died, many more had been saved as a result. Battle faded into the blackness as night itself fell upon the land. Cecil was shocked to note this, since the war had commenced at noon. A day of struggle.

The enemy, too, started disappearing. In the center of the fleeing armies was Tarus and Nildemar. Neither looked happy, though it was hard to tell from the later’s face. A sudden feeling, a premonition came over the knight of Baron. He’d had several such feelings before. Danger. It always meant that. There was mischief afoot.

Cecil’s gaze slowly traveled from Tarus to Nildemar. He stood upon deck and his eyes, what little the paladin could see of them, flared with chilling evil. The black-robed individual lifted a finger, that, if one could attach an invisible chain, would lead directly to Cecil’s heart.

Fear paralyzed him. He knew of such spells–the power word die.

It was unavoidable.

He would die.

Cecil shut his charming eyes. Sounds of his companions, screaming for him to run, swirled in the nocturnal madness. You cannot outrun a death spell, he knew. You either live it or you don’t. And something told the paladin that magic would win the day.

A rippling of energy split into the emptiness, ripping into light. When Cecil opened his eyes he was shocked to see not the gates of heaven but the collapsing form of a blue-haired man in front of him. Instinctively, Cecil caught the falling individual.

In the distance Nildemar and Tarus had completely disappeared, their legions of Nightstalkers and the like following suit. Cecil’s companions crowded near, each with a wondrous expression. None had expected the knight of Baron to survive but he had. And he had this mysterious newcomer to thank for that.

Turning him over to look into the face of his deliverer–not his first and probably not his last–Cecil gasped as he recognized the man.

Fluid azure hair. Sharp, sword-tip ears. Flame-violet eyes. He donned a cape of hellfire, although it was not of good repair. His lips could be that of death. In his hand, the newcomer held a beautiful bejeweled pendant.

It could be no other...



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