Innocence and All That Chapter 4

By Intrasonic

     "Rydia. If you were sent by Cecil or Rosa, you can leave. Now."
     Rydia momentarily drew back at the 'greeting' from the Dragoon. Then she steeled herself to deal with the matter. Kain had never been one for diplomacy or evasive conversation, why should he start now? "I wasn't sent by Cecil or Rosa."
     Kain seemed to briefly consider this before replying. "Then what is your business here?"
     "I came to find you. What are you doing _here_?"
     "I'm training. Answer my question."
     Rydia sucked in a breath, not quite certain how to breach the subject. Perhaps a little background information would make it easier. "I've recently been appointed as the... ambassador of the Summoned Monsters." If the title was spoken with distaste, Rydia hoped that most of it went unheard.
     The Dragoon seemed to almost twitch at the pronouncement, but no other visible reaction was evident. "I see," was all he finally said. "And what... does the ambassador of the Summoned Monsters want with me?"
     Rydia wasn't sure whether she liked the distinct lack of fear and awe in Kain's voice. She'd had far too much of it to date, but experiencing the exact opposite didn't seem particularly pleasant either. "I... was sent on behalf of-"
     Kain abruptly stood up, facing her squarely. As she tilted her head back slightly to face him, she was made acutely aware of his mask's harsh angles. The fact that the Dragoon was considerably bigger than her was irrelevant in light of who the majority of her friends were. Also irrelevant was the fact that she couldn't see most of his face, and only a little of his eyes. A considerable number of her friends didn't have such things in the first place. On the other hand, most monsters didn't make her want to cringe and back away from them.
     "I'm well aware of what an ambassador does," Kain agreed. "If you have a message to give from the Summoned Monsters, give it."
     Rydia didn't remember the Dragoon being _this_ anti-social. Perhaps he'd been away from civilization too long. Well, if he didn't want to exchange pleasantries... "I'm here to deal with you and Cecil, about the destruction of Mist Village."
     He gave an indifferent shrug. "And what of myself and Cecil?"
     Her brows furrowed in frustration. Was he _trying_ to make this difficult? How many possible reasons could there be? "I'm... charged with determining the cause of the destruction."
     "A box full of fire bombs, obviously."
     "Beyond that!"
     "So you've come to kill myself and Cecil in revenge for the incident?"
     "I didn't say that!"
     "Then you've just come to give us a friendly reminder of what happened?"
     "I didn't say that either!"
     "So what reason could you possibly have to come all the way out here?"
     "I'm getting to that!" Rydia growled disgustedly. "Stop jumping to conclusions!"
     "Give me something to work with, then."
     "I'm here to make sure the incident will never happen again."
     "You needn't worry then. I can assure you that no one, much less Cecil or myself, will ever take part in anything that destroys Mist Village."
     "What the hell is _your_ problem?!?" she snapped.
     "I don't have any problem. You're the one who's getting angry. And an ambassador, no less. For shame... so how was your talk with Cecil?"
     Rydia made her best effort to calm herself down. "I... haven't talked with him yet."
     "You're talking to me first, then. Why?"
     "Well..." Rydia wasn't quite sure how to reply to that question.
     "Was it really easier to climb Mt. Ordeals than to go to Baron?"
     "That... that's not important!"
     "Why don't you just admit it, _Ambassador_? You think I'm the person who caused it to happen."
     "Stop putting words in my mouth! I didn't say that, and I don't know! That's what I'm trying to find out!"
     Until now, Kain's face had remained expressionless. A thin smile finally graced it as he spoke. "Very good. That wasn't so hard, was it? You want to know who's guilty?"
     Rydia nodded stiffly. "That's what I'm trying to find out, yes."
     After realizing that he wasn't going to offer anymore information, Rydia elaborated on the statement. "So... are you guilty?"
     Rydia felt, rather than heard, the laughter behind the statement. Her face flushed somewhat red as she realized this, her temper rising again. "You aren't helping!"
     "You walk in and interrupt my training. Then you demand to know whether I'm guilty of a crime. I answer you. Then you proceed to get angry at me. Exactly why am I obligated to help you further?"
     "Prove that you're innocent!"
     "Prove that I'm guilty."
     "You and Cecil brought those fire bombs to Mist Village in the first place. You're the ones who killed my mother. You would have killed me too, but Cecil changed his mind. After I attacked you both, you disappeared. Cecil rescued me, protected me, and took care of me. If he was guilty, he wouldn't have done that. The next time you showed up, you almost killed Cecil and kidnapped Rosa! That all says that you're guilty!"
     Kain nodded. "All true. In my defence, I remind you that I was under Golbez's mind control. I had no control over my actions, be they good or evil."
     "So you say."
     "Seen that ninja prince around lately?"
     "What's Edge got to do with anything?"
     "You're sounding just him right now. For someone who practices an art that specializes in arcane magics, I don't understand why he simply refuses to believe that I could have been under the influence of the like."
     "Edge has nothing to do with this!" Rydia retorted angrily. "Was Golbez controlling you when you left for Mist Village?"
     "No. After the village was destroyed, I was the one who reminded Cecil that you had to be killed as well. I did that of my own free will."
     Rydia drew back in shock. "You-"
     Kain shrugged as he continued. "At that point, it was clear what the king's intentions were. I merely advised Cecil on the proper way to complete the mission. I gave up only when he swore that he wouldn't and that he wouldn't let me either."
     "Are you telling me the truth?" she demanded.
     Rydia sucked in a breath. Whether Kain was mocking her now or not...
     *I am here, Ambassador.*
     "But what do I care?" Kain continued. "Perhaps I don't care what you judge me as. Perhaps I think that the Summoned Monsters, as well as anyone associated with them, are a threat to humanity. Perhaps I think that they should be stopped. Perhaps I think that killing you is something I should have done a long time ago."
     Her face reddened. "Why you-"
     Briefly stooping, Kain hefted his spear in his left hand. "So what do you say to that?"
     Rydia's reply was a calm before the storm. "Guilty."
     Then Leviathan's tail smashed into Kain.
     The dragoon was literally hammered across the rock clearing, bouncing, skidding and tumbling for a good hundred yards before the mountain side brought him to an abrupt halt. Shards of rock clattered to the ground, dislodged by the severity of the impact, bouncing off the Dragoon's armour.
     Across from Rydia, having silently appeared behind Kain only moments ago, Leviathan's massive form was coiled up in wait. Faint wisps of icy breath blasted out from his nostrils as his eyes glanced over his victim's motionless form. If one ever
wondered why bringing him into the world of humans was so difficult, seeing his immense size up close more than answered the question.
     *You are unhurt, Ambassador?*
     Rydia nodded, also eyeing Kain. She became acutely aware of her somewhat ragged breath and clenched fists. That bastard... the fact that he'd probably had every bone in his body broken was a pleasant thought at the moment. "I'm fine. Do you think you were a little rough on him?"
     *Do you?*
     Rydia played Kain's words over in her head again. "No. I only wish I'd done it fifteen years ago instead."
     *Then if you do not need me, I shall leave.*
     Rydia was about to agree, when a voice interrupted her.
     "So the little girl shows her teeth after all..."
     Both turn to face the voice.
     Kain was standing again, brushing rock from his armour and looking only a little worse for the wear. He had kept his spear through the entire incident. A thin smile was visible on his face. "Hit hard and hit first. You would have made a good Dragoon,
     "I'll settle for ridding this world of one, you murderer!!!" she yelled, already summoning more magic. The fact that Kain had somehow stood up from the previous hit was regulated to the background. Leviathan was capable of plenty more, as was she
herself. Kain was only going to prolong his suffering by standing up again.
     Kain shifted into a battle-ready stance. "You're welcome to try. I'd just as soon see this world lose its last Caller. Send your dogs after me if you will!"
     *May I take that as an invitation, ambassador?*
     Rydia smiled grimly. "Go right ahead. I want him _dead_ for what he did."
     With a rattling of scales, Leviathan affirmed her reply by lunging towards Kain.
     Even as the serpent's tail lashed out at the Dragoon again, Kain dove underneath the attack, his somersault morphing into a sky-high leap over the monster's closing jaws.
     Rydia watched it all, carefully managing her magical reserves in order to keep Leviathan present, as well as gathering more power for her own use. Kain was fast. Faster than she'd ever seen him before. Clearly he'd been doing some serious training
while on the mountain. Perhaps she would have to intervene herself...
     She almost hoped so.
     Kain had landed on the ground again, ducking low as Leviathan's tail blazed over his head. A spray of blue-green liquid coated the ground around the Dragoon as the head of his spear obstructed the tail's path.
     Leviathan roared, pulling back his tail and drawing back for a moment.
     "First blood!!!" he yelled in triumph, already charging forwards.
     In reply, a huge torrent of water burst forth from Leviathan's gaping maw, cracking apart and gouging out the rock where it impacted. Kain barely sidestepped it, but he was already driving in for another attack. From nowhere, a wall of water swelled up in front of Leviathan, knocking the Dragoon sideways from a glancing blow. Hitting the ground, Kain rolled just in time to avoid being crushed beneath the monster's tail.
     "I wonder what Cecil would say?" Kain laughed, jumping back a long step in response to Leviathan's tail lashing out. "Two comrades in battle, trying to kill each other. The Ambassador of the Summoned Monsters in a death match against the Chief
of Baron's Dragoons. Such a pity."
     "Worry more about yourself!!" Rydia snapped, fanning her arm out in his direction.
     Kain leapt again, even as the ground exploded beneath him, tossing chunks of rock in every direction. Leviathan followed up on Rydia's attack, hot jets of steam scorching the ground and cracking the rocks where Kain had stood only moments ago.
     *He is quite agile*
     Rydia scowled, not caring in the least. If this kept up, she was going to have to put her stored-up magic to use... "Of course he is; he's a Dragoon. And he's been training for awhile now. But he can't run forever."
     "My turn!" Kain yelled, suddenly charging forwards.
     *Ambassador, beware...*
     Rydia's scowl only deepened as she realized that Kain was charging straight at her. Obviously, he planned on getting rid of Leviathan at the source. Kill the Caller, and the monster would fade after. She was far from defenceless, however.
     "_Burn_, you traitor!!!" she yelled, throwing both hands in front of her.
     The entire area was instantly wreathed in flames, a few scrub bushes instantly reduced to ash from the heat. Kain halted, altering his motion to skirt around the edge of the fire.
     By the time the fire had faded away, Leviathan was attacking again, Kain dodged the descending tail and resumed his charge towards Rydia. His legs abruptly began to buckle as Rydia finished a magnetism spell, the weight of his iron armour suddenly hauling him towards the ground. Leviathan lunged forwards to take advantage of his disability, his mouth opening wide.
     "Fool!" Kain growled, mustering the strength to stand again. Drawing his spear back, he hurled the massive weapon directly into the serpent's mouth. Leviathan let out a roar of pain, thrashing about in pain as he tried to dislodge the barbed weapon from his jaws.
     "Leviathan!!!" Rydia yelled.
     *He is disarmed. Finish him quickly* the monster's voice urged inside her head, sounding pained despite the effort.
     "And now for _you_!!!" Kain snarled, pushing towards her despite the magnetism spell. His hands began to work with his armour, even as he strained to keep from going over completely.
     Rydia increased the power of the spell, causing the Dragoon to sink to his knees again.
     "Now you die!" she snapped, bringing more magic to bear.
     With a snap, the clasps on Kain's body and leg armour finally came free, the articles falling off and hitting the ground with exaggerated crashes. Suddenly free of most of the force, Kain pushed himself to his feet again. "I didn't... survive this long... to meet my end... against a brat... like you!"
     Kain lunged at her.
     A blast of fire erupted from Rydia's palms, impacting directly on the Dragoon's form.
     Kain threw up the bracers on his arms, forcing his way through the inferno.
     Rydia redoubled the assault, her own hands beginning to protest the heat they were emitting. She ignored the feeling, concentrating only on the target before her. It was all Kain's fault. If it wasn't for him, everything would have been perfect. Her mother would be alive. Her village would still be standing. She'd be a happy little girl with friends and not some battle-hardened sorceress. Everything that had happened was because of him. And she was going to pay him back in spades for it all. There wouldn't even be ashes left when she was finished.
     And then Kain was through the flames, his fist aimed directly at her. Rydia's fire vanished, even as she threw herself sideways to dodge the blow. Kain's fist whistled over her, missing by a fraction of an inch, far faster than any human's should have been able to. But even as his failed attempt registered, he was twisting around, his boot now lashing out towards her.
     "FLARE!!!" Rydia yelled, even as his iron-clad foot connected with her left shoulder.
     The blast threw Kain back across the clearing, smashing him into the rock even harder than Leviathan originally had. With an audible *snap*, Rydia was sent head over heels to land in a heap, her left arm twisted at an unnatural angle.
     Both fighters staggered to their feet as best they could, obviously feeling the results of the last exchange.
     *Ambassador...* Leviathan groaned, the massive serpent no longer thrashing about.
     *How... are you?* Rydia demanded, body coursing with pain. Her arm was broken, that much was obvious. She thought a few ribs might be too. Her White magic wasn't capable of mending broken bones, so she was stuck with the problem for the time being. Anger regulated the issue to the background, adrenaline demanding action immediately.
     *I am weakening... if I am killed, you will join me-*
     *Then get back home. I'll finish this off myself. This time he dies for certain.*
     She could feel the denial and objections immediately, but she cut Leviathan off, both in thought and through magic. With a flash, the massive serpent faded from sight, the previously imbedded spear staying behind and clattering to the ground. Rydia smiled thinly as the excess magic returned to her, adding even more power to the reserve she had been building up since the beginning of the fight. Time to do what she should have done fifteen years ago...
     *You are injured,* Leviathan's voice persisted. "Withdraw while he is weakened..."
     *None of your business! I'm a damn sight better than you are!* she shot back, advancing towards the Dragoon's slowly rising form. *It's this bastard's fault that I don't have a village right now. You all want your justice? I'll give you your damn justice _right now_! In SPADES!!!*
     *You are angry and badly injured. You are becoming irrational-*
     "Shut up!" she shot back angrily, not even bothering to keep her thoughts silent any longer. A red aura of power was beginning to visibly glow around her, steadily growing stronger. "You're the ones who want me to give orders! Well, I'm giving you an order now - SHUT UP!!!"
     There was no further response.
     "Temper, temper..." Kain grunted, getting to his feet and beginning to advance towards her. His now-unarmoured body was literally awash with burns and bleeding cuts from the last blast, his clothing underneath all but shredded. "So undiplomatic,
     "This is fifteen years overdue, you bastard!!!" Rydia snapped, throwing her good hand up in the air. "_METEO!!!_"
     Kain lunged at her, even as the world began to glow red. "Think again!!!"
     Rydia released the spell, trying to pull away from the Dragoon at the same time.
     Too slow. With a final burst of strength, Kain reached her and wrapped his arms around her in a crushing bear-hug that threatened to snap the rest of her ribs like toothpicks. "I won't die alone!" he hissed. "Revoke the spell!
     Rydia's body screamed in protest as the broken bones were shifted, bent, and cracked but her anger overpowered the pain nonetheless. "I'll take you with me, you son of a bitch!!!"
     The spell hit with the all the force and intensity of a small supernova. At the furthest reaches, the rock was torn away like a giant scythe had cleaved it away in one fell swoop. Closer by, it was melted into molten lava, flowing like water almost instantly.
Closest to the source, it was simply vaporized into non-existence, the searing energy all but inhaling it.
     And then the fire began to fall.

     It was a good bird. The best from the stable at Mysidia, in fact. Worth every piece of the 500 gold that had been paid for it. Despite that, it was still beginning to hyperventilate from being pushed non-stop for well over a day.
     Edge finally released the reins on his bird, allowing it to come to a stop. Somehow, even the best chocobo couldn't compare to magical teleportation. Like it or not, Rydia was far ahead of him at the moment. And if he didn't let his bird rest, it would probably have a heart-attack or something. Tame chocobo's were stupid enough to do just that if you didn't take care of them. And he could use a little rest himself.
     The things he went through for the sake of one girl, he admonished himself. Not to say that the admonishment was enough to invoke any guilt. Sooner or later, Rydia would have to see that he only had her best interests at heart.
     A rumble reverberated the air. An explosion.
     Swords already in his hands, Edge scanned the surroundings for the source. Nothing.
     His chocobo squawked noisily, trying to turn around and run away.
     "Aw, quit it, you stupid bird!" he growled, frantically grabbing the reins again.
     By the time he'd gotten his ride under control, he'd been able to ascertain that the chocobo had been trying to run away from the source of the explosion. And in that direction...
     He gaped, despite himself, upon seeing the evidence. It had been awhile since he'd been in this area, but... Mt. Ordeals was a little shorter than he remembered it. And he'd have sworn that last time he'd seen it, it had sported a pointed top, devoid of a plume of black smoke.
     He cursed under his breath. He'd only seen a few things capable of causing an explosion like _that_. And Rydia happened to be one of them. Obviously she and Kain had gotten into a disagreement. While he didn't particularly regret the demise of the
     "Come on," he wearily ordered the bird, tugging the reins. "Break time is over. Let's go offer Rydia a ride home."

     Rydia groaned, unsure which hurt more; the light burning into her eyes or the pain burning through every nerve in her body. Neither her eyes nor her body seemed to be adjusting with any speed.
     She tried inhaling, instantly feeling the pain redouble in her body. Exhaling only intensified the hurt further. Commanding her arm to move relocated the pain to a new region, the blinding brightness in her eyes growing distorted from the effort. Something
heavy was on her leg. At least she thought so. It refused to budge, although it was most certainly contributing to her present state of torture at the moment. Voices were echoing quietly but urgently through her head, muffled and distant beyond her recognition.
     She was scraping the bottom of a dry well, her mind understood. Meteo was a destroyer, sometimes of its user. In the state she'd cast it in, she was lucky to be conscious right now, much alive. If this could even be considered living.
     Her vision was finally beginning to adjust to the brightness, a shape slowly coming into focus before her. Devoid of most of his armour, but still as harsh-looking as death itself.
     "You missed."
     The Dragoon's words sounded far-off and strained, but his visage was enough to enable to her push aside her pain and disorientation long enough to hear him speak.
     "Some people do whatever they're told," he whispered. "Some stake their lives on what they believe to be true. And some _children_ just throw tantrums whenever they get mad."
     Rydia forced her mouth to move. "Bast... ard..."
     Kain seemed to grow weaker for a moment, but righted himself, leaning down until his still-armoured face was in front of her own. His eyes met her own, neither giving ground despite their position. "Have you ever thought about dying for _nothing_?"
     Dying. As though she wasn't at that point already.
     Kain slowly stood again. "I've _never_ killed a child in my life. That won't change today."
     Rydia lay there without moving, slowly listening to the Dragoon's footsteps fade into nothingness, leaving her alone once again.
     More footsteps came into her hearing, sounding lighter and more rapid. Not Kain.
     She almost laughed, but the attempt hurt too much. As though it wasn't bad enough that she'd been beaten and left to die on her own...
     Edge's face peered down at her, a horrified expression pain to be seen. "Rydia! Are you... alive!?! What'd he do to you?"
     Rydia tried to reply, but her body would not permit the effort to be expended. With a mixture of relief and pain, her body finally succumbed to unconsciousness.
     With a grunt, Edge pushed aside the slab of rock that was pinning her leg down. There was blood on the underside of the rock, to say nothing of the leg itself. Actually, there was a lot of a blood all over her entire body, much of it only now beginning to leak out from under her clothing.
     "Man, you're a _mess_," he muttered, taking off his cloak and using one of his swords to slice several strips of cloth from the bottom. Working quickly, he wound them over the more serious wounds on her leg and arms to staunch the bleeding. The rest of his cloak, he slipped underneath her as gently as possible before carefully lifting her off the ground.
     "That's what you get for leaving me behind, Rydia-baby," he admonished with a nervous smile. "Let's get you back to Mysidia."

Chapter 5

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