Innocence and All That Chapter 3
Waking up the next morning left Rydia feeling refreshed,
although not at ease. Her dreams had been mercifully few last night,
but intense all the same. The notion of her doing some the deeds that her predecessors were credited with...what her mind could not fathom, her subconscious had filled in with horrifying detail.
Withdrawing the protection spell she had cast last night, she brushed off some stray pine needles from her clothing. Sleeping on the ground had long ceased to be a problem for her, although occasionally the royalty she met had trouble grasping the concept.
Unmoved from the previous day, Mt. Ordeals still stood, patiently awaiting her. Stretching to loosen her stiff joints, she set her jaw in determination. She hadn't been with Cecil when he had scaled the mountain, but she knew of the mountain. Mysidia used it as a training ground for mages, and it had once harbored the Paladin's legendary sword. Lost spirits and the undead roamed it at all times, always seeking to add to their number. No one in their right mind would dream of trying to challenge it without a considerable level of magical skill.
She doubted she herself had much to fear from the mountain itself. If Mysidia's opinion of her was any indication, her magical resources were more than it's match. The issue in question was the person supposed residing here at this time, who she intended to talk with.
In all the time she had fought alongside him, she
had never seen Kain display the tiniest spark of magic. Personally, she didn't
really think he needed any to begin with. His fighting skills were beyond
description, she could attest to that fact. Cecil was a paragon of determination
and virtue, his crystalline blade and Paladin skills a bane against anything
evil. Edge moved quickly and silently, an invisible shadow with a hybrid
of blades and magic for teeth. Kain...
Kain made no pretense of virtue or secrecy. His fighting technique was an embodiment of unbridled speed and raw power, buried beneath armor that many men would have been unable to lift, let alone fight in. Though she had seen him handle a regular sword with expert ease, his favored weapon was a massive lance, sheathed in metal and complete with barbs that were prone to completely tearing a target apart when the weapon was pulled out afterwards. The Dragoon struck with a cold efficiency and deadly intent that had always managed to unnerve her. As of yet, she had never even seen him without his full armor on. Even in villages, not even the helmet would come off. It had been strange to see villagers edging out of the way of her, until she had realized that it was Kain who scared them more than anything. After that, shed had to force herself to not to mimic their actions.
His absence at Cecil and Rosa's wedding had been notable, but secretly welcome by her. Somehow, the idea of the fully-armored Dragoon presiding among the audience wouldn't have been right at a joyful event like a wedding. She knew that Cecil and Kain had long been best friends, but was personally mystified as to what Cecil saw to recommend Kain. All Cecil knew, or at least, was willing to say, was that Kain was training to become strong enough to protect the kingdom.
And Kain had chosen to do this training at Mt. Ordeals. Rydia didn't know what to make of that knowledge. Either Kain had long since been killed, the natural conclusion to his lack of magic. Or... he was somehow surviving anyway. As far as her mission was concerned, the first would mean a wasted trip. The second would mean a potentially very dangerous opponent.
Starting off, Rydia crossed the distance between
herself and the foot of the mountain at a leisurely pace. Privately, she
wasn't particularly eager for this meeting to take place. Every moment that
she could delay its happening was one more in which an alternate plan of
action might occur to her. Surely she could solve this problem on her own?
Didn't she already know everything that had happened?
The advice of Leviathan came to mind, unbidden. To come to a decision, she should start at the beginning. And truth be told, she didn't know what had happened in the beginning. She hadn't entered the picture until after her village had been destroyed. What had transpired to put Cecil and Kain in her village in the first place? It seemed that there was no way around it. She would simply have to question both of them, personal wishes be damned.
After that... she would decide.
Summoning a small amount of magic, she willed a thought across the confines of space, back to her home. "Leviathan?"
The reply was immediate. *Yes, Ambassador?*
The talking on her part was unnecessary, but it felt reassuring at the moment to hear her own voice. "I... I just wanted to let you know that I'm about to talk with Kain."
*One of the two in suspicion.* It was a statement of fact. Rydia strongly suspected that the entire population was intimately
acquainted with the existence of Cecil and Kain. Funny how they had never brought the subject up for fifteen years.
"That's right. I don't know yet whether or not he's guilty yet. I'm going to talk with him. I hope that I don't have to fight him."
*If you must fight him, call on me.*
"You? But you're..."
*I am the king of the Summoned Monsters. Our true master, Bahamut, has departed beyond your ability to summon him. Next to him, I am the strongest monster. If a fight is to happen, no hold must be granted on your part.*
Rydia nodded slowly. "If... I fight, I'll call you."
A brief moment of silence ensured between them.
It was Leviathan who broke it. *You are troubled. I am aware of your conversation with Berri last night.*
"Berri told me a lot of stuff. Was she wrong?"
*No, Berri told you the truth, just as you asked.*
"I was afraid of that."
*What they did was necessary at the time. It is a responsibility of an ambassador to take responsibility in such situations.*
"So does that mean you're all afraid of me too?"
*No one fears you in the least.*
"I think I know why the royalty never stops to talk with anybody back home."
*You are under no obligations to distance yourself from those whom you represent.*
"Well, none of you are even giving me a damn choice!" Rydia snapped angrily. "Even YOU call me ambassador' now! How the hell am I supposed to be friends with anybody with a title like that at the beginning of my name!? I can't even say hello without it being taken like a command!"
*Berri was wrong in one sense,* Leviathan stated.
*Most summoned monsters have been alive for hundreds of years. Many, for thousands. With such age comes a degree of
arrogance. Arrogance that lets us believe ourselves to be a voice of experience. But experience and age are not necessarily the same. Our kind lives at a much slower pace than humans. Most of our experience is gained through the experiences of our human companions. Thus, our experience is often not what we would believe it to be. We are often lulled into a sense of complacency that does not permit change when necessary.*
"I... don't understand," Rydia admitted.
*For centuries, the ambassador has necessarily remained aloof of us. But this was when there was a large population of callers alive. When you became the lone survivor, you became our only link to the outside world. This has given you a special place in the hearts of all monsters. Now that you are an ambassador, they believe it necessary that you remain separate from them. They do not necessarily like it, but they believe it to be in the best interests, both your's and the village's.*
"I just wanted to help my village out as much as possible," Rydia whispered. "Who says I can't do my job and be friends with everyone at the same time?"
*That, you will have to work to overcome. The ambassadors of the past all faced this issue to some degree, but found comfort in their fellow callers. Unlike them, you have no village to provide this. After this is done, you will have to work to change the mindset of our population.*
"Can't you just order them?"
*They, as well as myself, would have no idea how to implement such orders. The means will have to be taught by yourself.*
Rydia sighed. "I wouldn't even know where to begin. I just want things to be the way they used to be."
*You are growing up. You are no longer the child that I rescued from the sea so many years ago. We can advise you on what has happened in the past beyond what any human can. But what you face now is an situation unlike anything in the past. You will have to learn to adapt. How, can only be determined by yourself. I would advise that you leave the problem for the future.*
She sighed again. "I suppose you're right."
*Focus on your present problem. And take heart in the knowledge that we are all with you. However we believe we must
relate to you in peace, know that in war, we will fight for you as we would the Rydia who lived and brought us joy for fifteen
A smile finally found its way onto Rydia's face. Faint and sad, it nevertheless bore hints of comfort. "Thanks," she whispered. "I promise that I'll do my best for all of you."
To say Mt. Ordeals was a frightening place was perhaps
an understatement. Fairly concrete understanding of what it was
helped allay Rydia's nervousness somewhat. Growing up in the Land of the Summoned Monsters had given her an understanding of magic beyond anything Mysidia could hope to offer. Talking with all her monster friends had given her a wealth of stories beyond what any library could offer. Mt. Ordeals was something she had heard a great deal about. In simplest terms, it was an ancient prison for demons and spirits that were incapable of actually dying. The reason for the chosen location was that a large portion of the mountain was made of iron, which was an extremely non-magical metal. As a result, her magic would be blunted to a degree, to say nothing of any monsters that she summoned. It was this same resistance to magic that kept demons and spirits bound to it indefinitely. While they were too weak to bring magic to bear, they were still capable of threatening people with more mundane possession and vampiric attack. Still, she was not unfamiliar with such threats. If Cecil had scaled the mountain with a pair of children, she would have little to fear by herself.
Nevertheless, the mountain still had an eerie atmosphere to it. Possibly some form of terror magic, she surmised. Although she couldn't detect any obvious source. The path up the mountain alternated between steep and rocky, with the occasional
combination of both. It would be all too easy for some creature to catch her unawares if it had the intelligence to hide behind some obstruction.
Calling up a small amount of magic, Rydia formed a thread of magic between herself and her home. "Dendre?"
Mentally wincing at the title, Rydia forced herself to ignore it. "Would you mind coming over?"
Even as she expanded the thread of magic into a tunnel, the diminutive form of Dendre came into view before her.
If Berri was difficult to describe, Dendre was even more so. Rydia had given up even trying to equate the flying monster in
terms of common animals, but had so far been able to identify four rather hummingbird-like wings, and spider-like eyes and
fangs on one of it's heads. The second head was composed of a single eye, which didn't seem to correspond to any animal she'd seen, however. Although she'd never actually seen a female, Dendre claimed to be male in gender, which Rydia had accepted at face value. As far as fighting power was concerned, Dendre was perhaps one of the lesser monsters.
*What is your command, Ambassador?* the monster inquired, now hovering before her.
On the other hand, what Dendre lacked in power, he more than made up for in observational skills. "I'm going up Mt. Ordeals right now. I don't think I should have any trouble, but I don't want to be caught unawares."
*Understood. I will alert you to any approaching dangers.*
"Keep an eye out for Kain while you're at it."
*Do you expect an attack?*
"No. This is strictly peaceful right now. I just want to find him as quickly as possible." As an afterthought, "Kain doesn't know any magic, so he might not even be alive. Look for..." Rydia wasn't quite sure what would be left of the Dragoon if he had been killed.
*As you wish. There are several spirits approaching us even now.*
Rydia followed where Dendre's one big eye was pointed. In the distance, several shimmering forms were visible, slowly floating towards them. "The one looks a lot like Xyclaemin," she observed.
*That is most certainly not Xyclaemin. In my two millennia of living, I have heard no instance of a summoned monster being
present on this location aside from being summoned. That is simply a spirit, devoid of mind and soul.*
That was a world of comfort, Rydia reflected. Dendre was one of the older monsters, and his knowledge was considerable. She would have hated to think that she was killing fellow monsters. As far as the countless spirits and undead monsters went, she had an edge over most people in that she knew a few personally back home and didn't find anything strange about them any more. But if these were simply mindless versions...
Stretching out a hand, she directed a pulse of fire magic onto the ground beneath the spirits. Almost immediately, a blast of white-hot fire shot skywards, completely enveloping the spirits. When the flames had faded, nothing remained. Even spirits would burn when the fire was made hot enough.
"This mountain is deadening my magic," she observed, with a small amount of surprise. She had expected as much. Just not to this degree. Would it be even worse near the top?
*I can feel it as well. Conserve your strength, Ambassador. There is smoke near the top of the mountain.*
"Smoke?!?" Rydia strained her eyes to see to the peak of the mountain, unsuccessfully. Human eyes were nowhere near as
capable as Derdre's. "I'll take your word for it."
Unless it was someone else entirely, it seemed that Kain was alive and well.
It was several hours later that the two finally
reached an area of the mountain that could be considered flat ground. This
was more beneficial to Rydia than to her companion, as she noted.
"Must be nice to be able to fly," she observed.
*You would doubtlessly be capable of such as well.*
"It's a huge waste of energy for me. And I'm in no hurry."
*Are you alright?*
Rydia smiled as she wiped perspiration from her forehead. "I'm fine. I just need to catch my breath. The air is a little thinner up here. I'm just fine, though. At least the zombies and monsters aren't a problem."
*Your magic certainly seems up to the task.*
She laughed at that. "I helped fight against a being that was the embodiment of pure evil and hatred, Dendre. I would hope that I'm a match for this little mountain."
*As you say. I cannot recall any instance where a Caller of Mist has walked upon either of the moons. In that respect you have certainly made a mark in history.*
"I'm sure. I'm only twenty-one. Rosa was being courted by Cecil when she was twenty-one, you know. And now she's the happily married queen of Baron. And me, I was fighting demons on the moon. And all I've got is an idiot ninja who won't leave me alone. Not much of a mark in history."
*Your upbringing was less than ideal.*
"Don't give me that. Maybe it wasn't completely normal, but it wasn't as strange as some of you seem to think. The biggest
difference was that all my playmates were hundreds or thousands of years old. But other than that... I played. I learned. I grew up. And I wouldn't trade that for anything, believe me."
*Then why do you seem depressed?*
"I just am. I feel like I'm losing everything I had, that's all. I agree to become ambassador... and suddenly it's as if the past
fifteen years never happened. Is that how it is?"
*You will have to answer that for yourself. Can you be the ambassador and live your life as you have previously? It is up to
you to determine the necessary balance. Despite our considerable experience, we are looking to you to lead us in this.*
"But I don't know either. I don't know anything about this sort of thing. But you're my family. Aside from you, all I ever had was a few friends on the surface. And I might wind up losing them when they find out about my position. After that, all I've got is an utterly annoying ninja prince who thinks that threatening to strike him dead is my way of playing hard to get!"
Rydia sighed as she calmed herself. "Is wanting to stay friends with everybody that I grew up with too much to ask?"
*That remains to be seen. In the past, the ambassador has typically distanced himself from us, but kept close ties with Mist
Village. In the absence of Mist village...*
It always came back to that, somehow. If her village had not been destroyed...
"Let's keep climbing," she decided, pushing the thoughts from her mind. "I don't want to spend the night here if I can help it."
"So what do you think about this whole business?"
Rydia inquired, lightly hopping up to another flat section of the rock.
Shortly after continuing onwards, she had been struck with inspiration. While not quite the equivalent of flying, using the
floating spell made it easily to scale the mountain, with minimal use of magical power.
Dendre, being able to fly, was still keeping pace with her easily, all the while keeping an eye out for any threats. *In what way?*
"About the whole business surrounding the destruction of my village."
*I hardly think my opinion in relevant in this case-*
"It's relevant to me, alright?"
*I am in favor of ensuring that this incident is incapable of ever being repeated.*
"So what would it take for that to happen? Did you want me to kill both Cecil and Kain? Destroy Baron as well?"
*With us backing you, I believe you to be capable of it.*
The scary thing, Rydia reflected, was that Dendre was probably right. "But that wasn't my question. Should I do that?"
*Is that not the point of your scaling this mountain? To answer that question?*
She narrowed her eyes. "Considering how much experience some of you monsters have, getting an opinion out you sometimes is like pulling teeth, you know that?"
*I do not have teeth.*
"Point in case."
*I do not believe that my opinion is needed. If you believe otherwise, you need only give the order.*
"I am NOT going to order something like that. If that's what you think, fine."
It was approximately half an hour later that Rydia
received a significant update from her airborne friend. Coming to a gentle
landing on a small plateau of rock, she looked upwards at Derdre. "What did you say?"
*There is an individual a short distance ahead.*
Rydia fought down surge of nervousness. "And... who does he look like?"
*A warrior, I believe. He has a spear next to him.*
Kain. It had to be. The odds of anyone else being up here - much less someone fitting that description - were virtually
With a final jump, Rydia landed at the edge of the semi-cliff, her eyes quickly scanning the large plateau before her. At the far end, a figure was seated on the ground before a small fire. The figure was sheathed in bulky blue armor, and was presently staring at the fire. A large spear lay on the ground, presently being ignored.
"It's definitely Kain," she muttered to Derdre.
*He is already aware of our arrival* the monster replied.
"Are there any monsters around? Bad ones?"
*None that I can see. This area seems to be wreathed in a magical protection field.*
"I can feel it," Rydia confirmed. To be more exact, it seemed like an anti-magic field. Such a field would ruin the small degree of magic that permitted zombies and ghosts to exist in this world. Even her own magic would be heavily compromised in this area.
She sucked in a breath. "Well... here goes nothing."
Several moments of silence ensued.
*I would advise you begin by talking with him.*
Rydia swallowed. "I know that. How should I talk with him?"
*That is entirely up to you.*
"I was hoping for a little bit of advice, you know."
*How you speak to him is entirely up to you. I wish you success in whatever approach you choose, as does the rest of the village of Summoned Monsters.*
She scowled. "You guys have been just about useless recently, do you realize that?"
*You need only give the order-*
Rydia finally lost it. "I'm not ordering you to do ANYTHING!!! Can't you get it through your thick heads that I don't want to give orders!?! Is that such a hard thing to understand? I never gave you a single order in fifteen years! Why the hell is that supposed to change now?!?"
Had Derdre been capable of showing confusion, he would have been. As it was, his tone of voice was enough. *But you are our ambassador now.*
Rydia sucked in a deep breath, forcing herself to remain calm. "Derdre... maybe you should go back home now. Thank-you... for helping me up this mountain. But you are not helping right now."
*If that is your command-*
Derdre's reply was cut off as he faded out of sight, the caller having abruptly loosed the magical thread connecting between her own village and the present location.
Rydia exhaled as she slowly turned her attention towards the person she had pursued up this mountain in the first place. She had half a mind to renounce her new position as soon as she had concluded her present business. It simply wasn't worth the
cost. Nobody had ever warned her that ambassadors weren't permitted to have friends.
Inhaling again, she began to walk over to where Kain had remained sitting through her entire discussion with Derdre. Whether he had been able to overhear anything or not, he hadn't moved a muscle the entire time.
The Dragoon's spear was gradually becoming more detailed to her vision. The ordinary looking shaft was just that - ordinary. Just a solid metal pole as thick as her ankle that would have reached up to her chest when stood on end. The massive head was a luminescent white, as though it made of pearl. It would have appeared only mildly unthreatening, save for the design of the head. The initial point flattened out into a broad, razor-edged blade, complete with wicked-looking barbs that would put many a knife to shame. Overall, it was probably heavier than many soldiers' armor and weaponry combined.
Kain had obtained it during their trek through the labyrinth of caverns beneath the surface of the moon, and had expressed no complaints about it. Rydia had seen it driven through monsters' skulls and rocks without suffering so much as a chip or scratch. She had seen undead monsters cringe at the very presence of the blade, shriveling into nothingness at its touch. Considering that it was supposed to be a type of holy weapon, Rydia had a hard time thinking of it that way. Without a doubt, it was as deadly as the rest of the Dragoon.
Rydia had reached him now, unconsciously straightening herself as she stared at him. Unconsciously, she imagined a somewhat disinterested stare behind the sharply angled mask he was wearing, looking only at the fire before him.
"Kain," she greeted.
The Dragoon finally acknowledged her presence, lifting his head to meet her eyes. "Rydia. If you were sent by Cecil or Rosa, you can leave. Now."