Innocence and All That Chapter 5

By Intrasonic

    An average meeting perhaps, if it weren't being held in Baron Castle's conference room. There were three people present in the closed room, all contrasting sharply with each other.
    The first was a young man with light blond hair. Well-polished silver armour and a heavy broadsword as his side suggested that he was a warrior of some sort, albeit, a warrior with a crown upon his head. His clean-shaven face was slightly drawn from the weight of responsibility, but still had a surprisingly youthful appearance to it.
     The second was a middle-aged man, with red-brown hair, wearing oil-stained clothing that ruled out his being a warrior of any type. An over-abundance of facial hair and a lack of top hair gave him an almost comical look.
     The third was a somewhat aged man, dressed in simple traveller's robes. He had a somewhat worn appearance about him, but the joyous look upon his face did wonders to offset that.
     "You are in earnest, your Majesty?" he was asking.
     The first nodded. "Baron's airships should have no trouble getting the necessary supplies over to Eblan Castle. Isn't that right, Cid?"
     The second grinned easily. "Easy as pie, Cecil! Baron's airships were built to carry a lot of weapons. Once we take most of them off, you wouldn't believe how much material they'll move!"
     "And it lets me get the crews used to peacetime duties," Cecil agreed. "Baron's not planning on any more conquests. But the airships should still be quite useful for trade and transportation purposes."
     The third man bowed. "You have our most sincere gratitude, King Cecil. And you as well, Master Cid. Again, I regret that my lord is unable to attend..."
     "Don't worry about it," Cecil admonished. "I'm sure we'll meet up him before long."
     "Soon's he stops chasin' after the poor little girl, huh?" Cid chortled.
     The advisor flushed crimson. "He... is rather adamant in his pursuit of that girl, I confess."
     "He's young, that's all. He'll smarten up before long," Cid soothed. "Either that, or Rydia'll send him back home in a pine box!"
     The advisor sighed. "Between the three of us, sometimes I think that either would be welcomed."
     "Give him a little time," Cecil agreed, unable to keep from smiling.
     "That's right," Cid seconded. "Why, you should have seen Cecil and Rosa..."
     Cecil coughed loudly. "Ahem. Perhaps you should be readying the ships for departure, Cid..."
     With discretion befitting his countless years of dealing with the same people who approved project proposals, the mechanic beat a hasty retreat from the room. "Already on it, Cecil. Don't get your armour in a cinch."
     The door knocked. Or rather, someone on the other side knocked.
     "Enter," Cecil invited, the advisor from Eblan taking a step to the side in deference.
     Entering the room was someone immediately recognizable as being from the village of Mysidia. A scholar of the black half of magics, if the uniform was any indication. Someone extremely distraught. "Your Majesty!"
     Cecil blinked at the rather unrestrained tone being used. "Is something the matter?"
     The mage swallowed, bowing hastily. "Begging your pardon, Your Majesty. But a matter of utmost urgency has come up."
     "Then spit it out already," Cid encouraged.
     "There are a large contingent of people skilled at white magic within Baron," the mage informed Cecil, by way of elaboration. "On behalf of Mysidia, I ask that you release them to head at once to Mysidia."
     A raised eyebrow. "What's happened?"
     "Rydia... the Caller Rydia is gravely injured, beyond our means to heal her."
     That got Cecil's attention. "Rydia? Hurt?"
     "Extremely badly. She was-"
     "Explain on the way downstairs!" Cecil ordered, already heading out of the room.
     The advisor ran after the king, continuing his explanation. "She was carried into the village only hours ago, by Eblan's prince. She was grievously injured, and even the entirety of our strongest healers are unable to effect any restoration to her. We are quite fearful for her life, to be frank."
     The thought that the best healers in Mysidia - the very city that had been renowned for centuries for its dedication and expertise in the magical arts - were powerless was a nasty thought in itself. As for why Rydia was even injured so badly in the first place...
     "My wife will accompany us," Cecil decided, starting down another hallway. Chasing down a servant, he gave some brief orders. "Give word for the best healers in the castle to prepare to depart for Mysidia on a moment's notice."
     With only a moment's hesitation, the servant ran off to pass on the message.
     Cid started off in another direction, towards the castle exit. "I guess I'll go make sure the Serpent Path is clear. Wouldn't do to keep the girl waiting."
     The mage followed Cecil. "With all due respect, Your Majesty, we thought that it might be prudent if you yourself did not go to Mysidia..."
     "I'm halfway skilled at White magic myself, you know," Cecil replied. He smiled thinly. "And I had no idea that I was so strongly disliked by Mysidia."
     "Perish the thought! But under the circumstances, the elders speculated that your presence in particular might be taken poorly by Rydia."
     Cecil spent several seconds trying to make sense of that comment before giving up and focussing on locating his wife. "Considered and rejected. You can try to change my mind on the way over to Mysidia."

     To his credit, the mage did try to change Cecil's mind on the way over to Mysidia. While his attempt was doomed to failure from the start, it was a considerably more sombre-faced king that rushed into the room where Rydia was being cared for.
     "Oh my," Rosa breathed, entering the room only a moment later.
     "Cecil! Rosa!" Edge was instantly on his feet. His eyes looked rather drawn, as though he'd gone too long without proper sleep. It wasn't hard to guess that he was running on adrenaline and little else at the moment. "You gotta help her!"
     Rosa quickly scanned the battered and unconscious form on the bed that was Rydia. Aside from the obvious marks of blood that marked her exposed skin and had soaked through the sheets, Rosa could also make out the braces that were tied to her left arm and leg, as well as the thickly wrapped bandages around her ribs. The torn green-hued clothing draped over a spare chair was easily identified as belonging to her.
     Her practised eye quickly came to a conclusion. "Dear me, they weren't exaggerating in the least."
     That fact stated, she immediately knelt down next to the bed, placing her hands on Rydia's forehead. A faint stream of white energy surged around her body, quickly coalescing into a more visible pulse of healing magic. The magic immediately entered into Rydia's body, disappearing from sight without any noticeable effect.
     The healer pursed her lips, concentrating again. Just as before, magic left her and entered the prone form's body, once again without effect. Opening her eyes again, she glanced over at Edge.
     "She cast Meteo, didn't she?" Rosa inquired, obviously knowing the answer already.
     The ninja nodded grimly. "I wasn't there at the time, but Mt. Ordeals is a little shorter now, so I'll bet that she probably did. How did you know that?"
     "Her body is completely drained," Rosa replied, sounding worried. "Remember when she cast the spell against Zeromus? She was so badly drained afterwards that it was over a week before she could even cast even simple magic spells. Right now, any magic sent at her is simply being absorbed before it can effect any healing. Her magic levels need to be recharged before we can even try to heal her body..."
     "How do we... fill her up again?" Edge wanted to know.
     Rosa pulled up a chair and took a seat next to the bed. "Very carefully. Get some rest, Edge, you clearly need it. This is going to take a long time. Cecil-dear, get some rest yourself. You may yet have to continue where I leave off."

     The two heads of royalty left the room, although sleep was low priority for both of them as they quickly convened in the quarters set aside for them.
     "Alright, Edge," Cecil began. "What's going on?"
     The ninja took a seat on the bed, sucking in a deep breath. "You saw her for yourself, didn't you?"
     "I did. And I was told that my presence might not be taken very well by her. And she was apparently interrogating a lot of people earlier, all in regards to me. And she left the village after talking with you. And you chased after her. And you brought her back in that state. And what were you saying about her casting Meteo up at Mt. Ordeals? I'd like some details. Now."
     Edge eyed Cecil, trying to decide how to give the explanation. Edge would be lying if he claimed to understand anything about how the man thought, but he'd be an even bigger liar to claim that he didn't admire him all the same. "Uh... what do you think happened?"
     "I'm sincerely hoping that she simply got tangled up with someone evil and extremely dangerous, but managed to survive. I'm hoping that this means that, if her opponent is still alive, we'll simply have to join forces and vanquish the threat once and for all."
     "Um, actually..."
     "-but I'm not that naive," Cecil continued. "Because people go to Mt. Ordeals to train. And I happen to know that my best friend, Kain, has been training there for quite some time now."
     Edge grimaced. "I think you have an idea of what's going on, then."
     "So when I hear that Rydia's been asking some heavy questions about me, then fighting with Kain, I have to assume that it's over something that Kain and I have in common, regarding her. Are you going to provide me with some details, or am I going to have to keep guessing?"
     "I think you have a really good idea of what's going on."
     "This about Mist Village, isn't it? About it being destroyed?"
     The ninja shrugged. "Probably. That's what I figured, and she didn't deny it. She came by and asked everybody who'd talked with you - back when you were still a Dark Knight, I guess. Then she left for Mt. Ordeals to talk with Kain."
     "Hold it. How did she know where Kain was? Kain told me and Rosa before he left, but that was it. And I know he wasn't planning on being disturbed."
     "I hear things."
     "You told her where Kain was."
     "I saved her some time. She was going to look for him anyway."
     "And why, pray tell, didn't she simply take the Serpent Road to Baron and talk with me first? Instead of trekking all the way to Mt. Ordeals?"
     "She was pretty sure that the whole thing wasn't your fault."
     "And she was certain that it was Kain's fault?"
     "She went to find out for sure. I guess she found out."
     Cecil glared at Edge. "And next you're going to tell me that she didn't have any encouragement?"
     "Hey, don't blame me! I told her that I didn't think you were guilty and that she'd probably learn more from talking with Kain. Besides, even you can't deny that he had a nasty habit of getting brainwashed by the enemy."
     "Kain might very well be dead now!" Cecil snapped, his temper beginning to slip. "All because you're too stubborn to accept that it wasn't his fault!"
     For once in his life, Edge was the restrained half of the argument. "Hey, I'm the best ninja in Eblan. I know more about tricks than you'll ever know. And I'm telling you that there's a heck of a lot that doesn't make sense with him and that whole 'brainwashing' thing. If we ever go up against the ultimate evil again, I'd be happy to have him on my side. But that's it. If we find out that your best friend is dead now, then sorry. But right now, I'm a heck of a lot more sympathetic towards Rydia, you know?"
     "If Kain is dead..."
     "If Kain bit the dust, then I'll bet that he gave Rydia a reason. She's nothing like that, and you know it."
     Cecil frowned, but didn't press the matter. "We'll see."

     Waking up and regaining consciousness could be entirely different accomplishments. Thought comes easier than action, and a body under hardship can potentially elect to permit the former, while preventing the latter.
     The mind, however, is not necessarily under any obligation to do anything productive under such circumstances.
     *Go away.*
     *You are alive.*
     *I don't feel alive.*
     *It has been some time since we lost contact with you. We had feared for the worst.*
     *I failed.*
     *You are being premature in your judgement.*
     *I wasn't strong enough, Leviathan.*
     *You are stronger than you give yourself credit for. This is merely a set-back.*
     *Just let me sleep.*
     *Your body is still weak right now. Rest, then we will discuss matters further.*
     *I'm not strong enough, Leviathan. Just let me sleep...*

     The bedroom door gave a quiet squeak as Rosa pushed on it, the well-worn hinges offering up a token resistance before swinging open before her. In the room, both Cecil and Edge were asleep at the table, both seated on chairs. In spite herself, she managed a sympathetic smile. She'd been working over Rydia longer than she'd realized, if the night-sky outside the window was any indication.
     Edge had immediately woken up upon hearing the door, but that was something she had long come to expect from the ninja. "Rosa...?" his voice had a nervous edge to it.
     Cecil opened his eyes upon hearing Rosa pull a chair out for herself.
     "She's past the initial danger point," she pronounced, sagging down in the chair. "I can't believe how much more powerful she's gotten over the last year."
     Edge frowned. "More powerful?"
     A nod. "She clearly hasn't stopped her training. And most of her teachers are thousands of years old. It's no wonder that all of Mysidia is so enamoured with her."
     "Great to know that they're so worried about her."
     "Don't be that way, Edge," Rosa chided gently. "They're no more heartless than Cecil or I. They haven't had the benefit of knowing her the way we have, but they care for her too. The children especially. But I don't think you appreciate what a magical prodigy Rydia is."
     The ninja shrugged indifferently. "I know she's got some kick-ass magic. Heck, she just blew off the top of Mt. Ordeals, didn't she? I know power when I see it. I just don't think she'd be anything less if she wasn't so powerful. Around here, they do. You're sure she's going to be okay?"
     "Healing spells will work on her now. Some of the white mages are presently doing just that. I was worried that she would starve to death before I could stabilize her. My biggest concern right now is for when she wakes up again."
     "How come?"
     "What are your thoughts, Cecil?"
     The king frowned, not quite trusting himself to speak. "I... don't know, Rosa. I really don't. If she actually killed Kain... I don't know what to think about that."
     Edge bit his tongue to keep from saying anything. It wasn't as though he had any plans to extensively mourn the probably-now-vaporized Dragoon. Cecil and Rosa seemed capable of ignoring the fact that he'd turned traitor twice, but he wasn't nearly as forgiving. When you trained in a fighting art that specialized in deception and surprise, you quickly learned not to fall victim to the same. "We'll get the whole story from Rydia when she wakes up," he finally suggested. "Don't worry about it until then."
     "Don't worry?!?" Cecil snapped. "Is that all you can say? 'Don't worry?'."
     "Well, what did you want to worry about then? I don't know what happened on Mt. Ordeals. Looks like Rydia trashed the whole area before I got there at the end. As soon as she's alright, she can tell us the story herself. She was going to talk with you anyway, right? What's the point in making all sorts of crazy guesses right now?"
     "Edge... is right," Rosa agreed, once again playing the role of the peacemaker. Nevertheless, the expression on her face clearly indicated that her feelings were more in line with her husband's. "We don't know what happened, so we'll simply have to be patient for the time being."

     The next time Rydia awoke, she was more in touch with the rest of her body. More specifically, she could tell that she was on a bed of some sort. With very little clothing and several layers of sheets draped over her. Her sense of smell was managing to alert her to the smell of alcohol and magic in the air, both of the healing variety.
     "She's waking up!"
     "Close the curtains a little so she's not blinded."
     "Bring some clothing."
     Her body was also telling her that it was in an incredible amount of pain at the moment. The only thing keeping her from actually making any noise was the fact that her mouth and throat were both too dry to make any sounds. While a healing spell was excellent for repairing injuries, the human variety was poor at reducing the pain.
     But she had some magic to work with now. Not much, but enough.
     The reply was almost immediate. *Ambassador? You are awake again?*
     *I'm awake and in pain. A lot of pain.*
     *Are you strong enough?*
     *Come over.*
     A few exclamations and invocations of protective deities registered to her ears as the Queen of the Summoned Monsters made an impromptu appearance in the middle of the room, in all her undisguised, six-armed, three-faced glory.
     *And tell me where I am right now,* Rydia added as an afterthought.
     "This is Mysidia," one the heads replied, even as another was beginning a healing spell.
     "Bring her food and water," the third face ordered, facing several of the white mages still in the room. "She needs to regain her strength."
     Rydia breathed a sigh of relief as the healing magic washed over her body, taking away the majority of the pain with it. Human white magic was all very well, but it still paled in comparison to healing magic backed by Asura's countless millennia of experience.
     "You are still weak, Ambassador," Asura stated. "I will take my leave for now."
     Rydia was in no state to deny the truth of the statement, merely managing a nod before releasing the summon spell.

     When a group of healers are suddenly seen running down the hallway, heading away from a room where a injured person is known to be residing, it's only natural for people to take notice. When the injured person is an acquaintance, it's only natural to take it as a cause for concern.
     It went without saying therefore, that the combined group of Cecil, Rosa, and Edge were rushing into Rydia's room only moments later.
     The remaining healer took their entry with a considerable amount of grace. "She's... awakened."
     They glanced over at the sleeping form of Rydia.
     "She appears to have summoned... something to finish healing her," the healer elaborated, a slightly spooked look on his face. "With a considerable excess of... arms and faces..."
     "Asura," Rosa agreed, recognizing the description well enough. It was interesting what you could learn to overlook after travelling with a summoner long enough. "How is Rydia?"
     "She seems quite fine now. Her injuries seem fully healed, and we are bringing food and drink for her to regain her strength. She is simply exhausted now, but the drink should revive her easily enough."
     "Doesn't she need more rest?" Edge inquired.
     "Her body will be drained," Rosa answered, "but I imagine Mysidia's elixirs will let her put off sleeping for a time." If there was a hint of steel in her voice, both Edge and Cecil picked up on it immediately, as well as the unspoken implications. Details regarding the business between Rydia and Kain were going to be forthcoming, and they weren't going to wait another day.
     Two other healers entered the room, one carrying a tray of soft foods, the other carrying a pitcher of drink.
     Filling a glass with the liquid, one of the healers carefully eased small amounts of it into Rydia's mouth, letting her swallow by reflex. After several repetitions, it appeared to take some effect, as her eyes slowly opened, wincing slightly in the sudden light.
     "Drink what you can," the healer invited. "You'll feel better before long."
     True to predictions, it was only a matter of minutes before Rydia was able to push aside the bottle, using her arms to try and sit herself up. Easing in, Rosa assisted her, mindfully wrapping the blanket around her in the process. Turning to look at the Mysidian healers, "Thank-you for your help. If you don't mind, I can assist her from here on."
     To their credit, the healers were experienced enough to be aware that Baron's queen was talented in areas that weren't normally ascribed to royalty. Nodding curtly, "Please let us know if there are any complications."
     By the time the door had closed behind the two healers, Rydia's senses had come into enough focus to identify the three remaining individuals in the room, particularly the one next to her. "Rosa?"
     "Mysidia contacted us after you were brought back here," Rosa agreed.
     "Cecil? Edge?"
     Both men nodded, standing back a respectful distance.
     "We were worried that wouldn't make it," Cecil ventured.
     "You were looking pretty bad when I found you," Edge seconded.
     Aside from a slowly fading headache, a few moments consideration was enough for Rydia to make her own conclusions about her situation. "I'll be alright. Where are my clothes?"
     "They are in no state to be worn," Rosa replied, "and I don't believe the most talented seamstress could hope to change that. We can see to procuring some clothing for you at a later time, but you need to rest for the moment."
     The statement served to produce a suitably displeased scowl. "I'm fine now, Rosa."
     "I beg to differ, Rydia. You were only a few steps away from death, and even Mysidia was unable to heal you. You're fortunate that I've had the chance to learn what casting the Meteo spell does to a person. And even more fortunate that I was able to compensate for that and get you healed properly."
     Regardless of her state, Rydia knew enough not to try and debate the science of healing with Rosa. Especially considering that she'd all but abandoned her own studies by the time she'd turned ten years old. "Thank-you, Rosa. But I can't afford to sit around right now. I have-"
     "-people to talk to?" Rosa finished. "We've heard as much. And since you seem to have talked with Kain already, we thought that you might like to talk with my husband as well."
     For any other person, the level of warning in the queen's tone of voice would have been enough to trigger a self-preservation alarm of some sort. Rydia ignored it. "I'll talk with Cecil after I've finished with Kain."
     Cecil took several rapid steps forward. "Kain's still alive?!?"
     "Sheesh, lucky guy," Edge agreed, more than a little surprised himself. He'd seen Mt. Ordeals afterwards, and could truthfully say that Rydia was lucky to have survived, never mind the original target of the spell.
     "Not for long," she muttered.
     "Rydia-" Rosa began sharply.
     The queen almost recoiled when Rydia finally lifted her head to face her. She could have expected a wide variety of responses from someone who is starving, thirsty, low on blood, low on magical reserves, and still recovering from extremely near-fatal injuries. Anger wasn't one of them. Not the type that could literally manifest as a visible aura around the person. "What?"
     "We were worried about you," Cecil interrupted. "And Rosa is right. If Edge hadn't been there, you probably wouldn't be alive right now. As I understand this business, you're going to have to talk with me sooner or later. Is it really too much to ask that you stay a day?"
     Rydia opened her mouth to inform him otherwise, but Leviathan's voice silently interrupted her. *Ambassador. Do not be hasty. It would be advantageous for you to rest a short time before concluding matters with the Dragoon. And this is an opportunity for you to learn what he was not willing to tell you before.*
     She exhaled noisily. "Fine. One day."
     Cecil briefly glanced toward Rosa, indicating to her that he wasn't inclined to press matters. Not yet. "We can head back to Baron," he agreed. "You can use a guest room and get some rest. Once you're better rested, we can talk."

     It was several hours later that found Rosa in her own bed, staring upwards at the canopy between herself and the ceiling. Being queen left very little time for keeping her own magic skills practised, which meant that saving Rydia had drained her far more than she would have liked. Which was just as well, she guessed. Had she possessed all her strength and mental clarity, she wasn't sure that she could have forced herself to handle recent developments with anything that remotely resembled good judgement.
     The quiet turning of the door latch managed to get her attention. "Cecil?"
     "How are you feeling?" he inquired quietly, closing the door behind him.
     "I'm fine," she lied. "I'm just... tired."
     Her husband sat down at the edge of the bed. "I finished the remainder of the business for today. Get some rest, and we'll handle this tomorrow."
     "She's asleep in the guest room. She'll sleep for awhile, I think. She's probably been running on adrenaline up to now."
     Rosa shifted atop the blankets, forcing herself to sit up. "Oh gods, Cecil... did you see her?"
     A nod. "She's angry."
     "No, she's angry at Edge. On a regular basis, I might add. Right now, she's absolutely furious. Didn't you see her before? She only just agreed to wait, and I don't think it was her idea."
     Cecil nodded. It had been rather strange to learn that when Rydia heard voices in her head, they were real ones. Especially since she would occasionally reply out loud. And those 'voices' belonged to some extremely powerful monsters who she could invite across when occasion warranted. "Whatever this business is about, it's probably received the blessing of her... people. I don't know what to think about that."
     "I think she was ready to walk all the way back to Mt. Ordeals, clothing or not. And cast Meteo again, I imagine. Cecil, she wants to kill Kain. Kill him."
     Cecil closed his eyes. "I know. And knowing Kain, he'll return the favour."
     Rosa unconsciously mirrored the gesture. "That's a little harsh, isn't it?"
     "I think Kain would agree with me. It doesn't make him heartless... just better able to do his duty. I remember him once telling me that sometimes neither side is right, so all you can do is grit your teeth and get the job done."
     "I suppose I can picture him saying something like that."
     "He's not guilty, Rosa."
     "Neither are you, Cecil."
     The king slumped. "If I thought there was any way to undo that... if I could somehow trade places with all those people... I'd do it in a heartbeat. If I'd only faced myself sooner and realized what I was doing... it never would have happened. None of it."
     "You know better than to go down that path."
     "I know. But I have to. That's what this business is about, and it needs to be resolved. Before anyone else dies from this."
     "We'll talk with her tomorrow. She'll listen to us, Cecil."
     "I hope so."

     The aftereffects of healing magic was something that tended to play tricks with people's mind, especially if they were new to the experience. Whether the injury was a simple scratch, or the greater fraction of a disembowelment, the body tended to remember the injury longer than the person did.
     In Rydia's case, despite considerable experience with the aforementioned magic, she woke up to her body's insistence that it was dehydrated, suffering from extreme blood loss, and operating with a dozen broken bones. After several unpleasant moments of attempted retching, her mind managed to reassert itself, reminding her that the injuries had been healed the previous day.
     Propping herself up on her elbows, and forcing her eyes open, she glanced at the tangle of limbs and bedsheets that she was in. Just like every single other time she slept on a surface softer than the ground. In a way, it was somehow reassuring.
     The events of the past day immediately slammed into focus. "Leviathan," Rydia responded. "Are you... alright?"
     *I have fully recovered. What is your condition?*
     "I'll... be fine after a bath," Rydia decided, heading into the appropriate room. One thing was for certain, a guest at Baron was left wanting for nothing, including a personal bathing tub. It the type of environment that normally put her at unease, but the aches in her body were presently insisting that she make an exception for the moment. So she did.
     *As I stated earlier* Leviathan's voice continued, *this would be an ideal chance to learn things that the Dragoon was unwilling to answer.*
     "I don't know what you're talking about," Rydia muttered, "he's a bastard who's going to die when I see him next. If he thinks this world would be better off without the Summoned Monsters, then he's going to deal with me."
     *Do not be hasty in your judgement, Ambassador.*
     "And would you quit it with the stupid 'ambassador' bit? I told all you where you can stick that title. I'm the same Rydia that I was a few days ago! The same Rydia that I've been for my entire life!"
     There was a brief silence. Then, *Yes, you are.*
     "And what is that supposed to mean?"
     More silence.
     Still more silence.
     Exhaling noisily, Rydia gave up and directed the bulk of her attention towards the task of bathing. Her rapidly plummeting mood refused to let her enjoy the luxury, regulating the experience to a rapidly-executed chore.
     A short distance off, some clothing hung from hooks on the wall, clearly put there by someone who knew she would be looking for something presentable to wear. White silk with feathery gold trim. Soft-soled velvet shoes. An emerald-green sash. Somehow, they managed to have 'Ambassador' practically engraved all over them.
     Rydia scowled, proceeding to deliberately ignore them. 'Ambassador Rydia' could go to hell, she decided. 'Summoner Rydia' had a job to do.
     "Arachne," she snapped, climbing from the tub and beginning to towel herself off. "Come on over."
     A brief movement of air, a thread of magic, and an eight-foot tall woman with the lower torso of a spider occupied a large portion of the room. "Ambass-"
     "I need clothing," Rydia interrupted. Seeing the curious glance towards the provided clothing, she elaborated. "Real clothing."

     Fifteen minutes later, Rydia emerged from her quarters, clad in an outfit identical to the one she normally wore, and feeling immensely happy about it. It perhaps erred on the revealing side, but several thousand years of summoners couldn't possible be all wrong.
     The legs had a shine to shame silk, and a durability to shrug off a walk through a forest of briars. The top looked to possess both an elastic nature and the thickness of a tissue, although a dagger would be lucky to pierce a tenth of the way through. The cloak was descended from the times when a summoner couldn't always manage to evade a blast of fire or lightning. When you stepped on nails with these boots, the nails bent.
     Best of all, despite its robust qualifications, the outfit was also extremely comfortable. When you were a summoner, there was no need to bother with the shortcomings and compromises of human-made clothing.
     Regardless, now it was time to get down to business. And the first order of business was to leave and go find Kain again... a particular scent on the air was enough to give her pause. It was coming from a nearby doorway, and she hadn't smelt it in quite a while... perhaps she could afford a short delay.
     An approaching guard was quickly flagged down. His armour marked him as a Dragoon, if the chest crest and the spear were any indication. He gave her a brief inspection, but his gaze indicated that her gender was the least of his concerns.
     "Yes, I'm a summoner," Rydia confirmed, noting the lack of surprise on his face. "What's in that room?"
     "That is the Dragoon quarters," he replied shortly, turning to enter it himself.
     Rydia followed him, giving the doorway a cursory glance. "Good, I have some questions for you."
     "Sorry, we're busy. And this room is warded."
     Rydia continued to follow him in. "Yes, I noticed. Didn't anyone ever tell you that Desree's Sigil doesn't do anything to summoners? It was proven to be a hoax several centuries ago."
     The Dragoon, as well as a considerable number inside the room, finally realized that she'd walked through the engraved doorway without coming to any harm.
     "It's a glorified air freshener," Rydia elaborated, noting that she'd already gotten the undivided attention of the other dozen occupants in the room. She gave them a thoroughly insincere smile. "Isn't that interesting to know?"
     "Rydia, isn't it?" one of the older Dragoon's inquired. "We don't take much stock in 'Ambassadors' around here."
     "Neither do I," she snapped, noting irritably that news travelled far too fast for her liking. "I've got some questions to ask you. And the faster you answer them, the faster I get back to dealing with what's left of your leader. For starters, you don't like summoners much if you'll try to ward off your quarters against them. I'd love to know why."
     The same Dragoon that had recognized her by name answered again. "Because our leader doesn't like them. And because he taught us how to kill them. You're lucky the king's given orders to fully cooperate with your questioning."
     "Has he? Then why don't you tell me where Kain gets off planning to kill summoners?"
     The man smiled. "Because he doesn't like summoners, girl. And if he doesn't like them, that's good enough for us. It's nothing personal, of course. But that's your answer."
     "And you never even thought to ask him why?"
     "If leaders went around explaining every single decision, girl, no one would ever get anything done. And Kain's earned the right to give an order without getting questioned over it."
     "Sitting up on a mountain like some crazy old hermit? If that's what earns your respect-"
     "-Let me tell you something, girl," he growled, now standing up. "You remember a fun little war a year ago, because some bastard took over Baron's throne?  There was even a bit of a campfire over in Mist Village, I hear."
     Rydia resisted a brief urge to turn the man into a smaller campfire. "I was there, if you were looking for someone to confirm that rumour."
     "Because we wouldn't know about any of this," the man continued, giving her a level look. "Because we weren't around to see any of it. Because one day, Kain just told us all to go on a training journey for a few months. He doesn't tell us where to go, but he says that he's going to try and find us when he gets back from a little trip to Mist Village. And if he finds us, we fail the
     Rydia scowled. "Imagine that."
     "We came back a few months later, and we found out that there'd been a war while we were gone. And that the Red Wings had been ordered to do some pretty shitty stuff. Funny how all the dragoons managed to go missing before they could be given any orders, isn't it?"
     "And I suppose you think he did that on purpose?"
     The man laughed. "It doesn't sound like anyone else was going to do anything. Your village sent a diplomat over a few times, I know. Beats me how that guy could've thought we weren't a threat to the rest of the world. We were expecting an attack by you and your monsters any day, but it never came."
     "Lucky you."
     "None of the other kingdoms tried to stop us, either. Everyone just sat around until it was too late. Who hid the experimental new airship from the false king? Who made sure the dragoons weren't around to get any orders from the false king? Who was it that took down the false king? It was our own who did all that."
     He leaned back in his seat, giving her a patronizing look. "So you'll forgive us if we don't think you've got any business telling us what to do."
     Rydia turned towards the door. "Your ‘leader' told me that he didn't want the Summoned Monsters around. And he's going to answer to that. I guess we'll have to see how willingly you follow your ‘leader' after he's dead."

     Following her ‘discussion' with some of the Dragoons, Rydia made a beeline for Baron's throne room. Despite the fact that she would have just as soon left for Mount Ordeals, she made a concession to the part of her insisting that she deal with Cecil and Rosa first. It wasn't as though anything was going to change, but she would tell them exactly what was happening, and then leave as she had originally planned.
     She was spared half her trouble upon spotting Rosa up ahead. Looking out over one of the castle's turrets, Rydia idly noted that the location had probably been picked because it would have been impossible for her to leave her quarters without passing by this location. In other words, Rosa had decided to make sure they talked before Rydia left Baron.
     Rydia sucked in a breath at that fact, but continued forwards resolutely. It wasn't that she was angry with Rosa, despite their present disagreement. Baron's queen was a hard person to stay angry with, and Rydia had never learned how. After all, despite the extremely thorough education she had received while being raised by the Summoned Monsters, there were still a lot of areas they had missed. And it had been Rosa who had taken it upon herself to teach Rydia those areas.
     So perhaps it wasn't too surprising that Rydia had unconsciously put Rosa up on a pedestal to mimic. Or at least, for Rydia to try to mimic. Even after a year, Rydia was forced to admit that she still had a long way to go.
     When Rosa was introduced to an event, it was as 'The lovely queen of Baron', and every person present privately wondered how the person could say such an understatement with a straight face. Rosa wasn't 'lovely'. She was beautiful, gorgeous, divine, enchanting, elegant and about a hundred other similar words. She had a grace of figure that most women would have sold their souls for, yet she wore it without the slightest hint of extravagance or arrogance. She had a smile that could both brighten and soothe an entire room. She would talk with the noblest ruler or the meanest beggar and happily give both her undivided attention, heartfelt sympathy, and sincerest advice. Were she to walk into the middle of a battlefield, both sides would probably stop and inquire if they could be of any service to her.
     And then there was herself. Rydia. Whom she privately suspected was composed of everything left over after Rosa's creation. People didn't use words like 'elegant' and 'gorgeous' to describe her. Behind her back, they probably used words like 'lean', 'slender' and 'mind her grip when you shake her hand'. They gave admiring smiles upon learning that she could out-shoot a large portion of Baron's archers. They raised eyebrows upon hearing that she was a decently talented at quarterstaff combat. And they began to edge away when they found out that she knew how to use a battle whip and could cleanly chop off inch-thick branches with it. As Edge had once put it (through personal experience), when she slapped, she followed through.
     And Rosa wondered why she didn't attend many parties.

     "Rydia," the queen greeted, a soft smile on her face.
     Having grown up in a place where non-verbal communication could be expressed with eyes, ears, feet, wings, feathers, claws, scales, skin colour and tail(s), Rydia generally found human mannerisms easy to spot. And right now, despite her facial expression, Rosa was definitely not happy.
     "You needn't act cheerful on my account."
     Rosa shook her head, but her smile didn't entirely disappear. "Meteo, Rydia. Meteo."
     "What about it?"
     "I can remember when you first learned that spell from FuSoYa. I don't think he actually believed you would ever manage to pull it off, and you wouldn't even risk trying it until we faced down Zeromus. And it came dangerously close to killing you in the process."
     "What about it?" Rydia repeated.
     "So you're telling me that Kain rates on the same level as Zeromus? It's a spell of last resort, Rydia. You know that."
     "It's the most powerful spell ever invented that doesn't automatically kill the caster. I used it because he was dodging everything else, and he hurt Leviathan."
     Rosa exhaled. "You summoned Leviathan too?"
     "Kain got a lucky shot in," Rydia replied stonily. "And I underestimated the bastard."
     "Listen to yourself, Rydia. You're talking about the same man who you fought alongside only a year ago. And now you're trying to kill him. Are you quite sure you're seeing this situation correctly?"
     "Why don't you tell me why he told me that he thinks he should have killed me back when he had the chance?"
     That statement gave Rosa pause, but only for a moment. "You're still alive now, Rydia. When Kain wants to kill something, he kills it. I think you would have learned that about him."
     "He took a flare spell point-blank without any armour on. I think he had more important things to worry about. Right now, I'm ensuring the future safety of the Summoned Monsters, and Kain told me to my face that he was a danger. So I'm going to deal with that danger."
     "I think you're reading this situation the wrong way."
     "Well, I think you haven't a clue what you're talking about. I'm not some little kid who believes everything she's told, you know. Not anymore."
     "No," Rosa agreed, "you're not. You've grown up, just like the rest of us."
     That was enough to give a brief moment of pause. "What's that supposed to mean?"
     "Hmm... let me ask you a question. How old do you think Cecil is?"
     "Well..." In all honesty, Rydia wasn't quite sure. She wanted to believe that being married to Rosa would limit the upward possibilities. Cecil didn't seem like the type to rob the cradle, so to speak. But on the other hand, she'd have a hard time finding another person she admired more than him. His maturity and confidence were beyond what many people would ever achieve over their entire lives. "Twenty-eight?" she ventured cautiously.
     Rosa laughed quietly. "Not quite. Would you believe me if I told you that he's barely twenty-five?"
     Rydia gave her a sceptical look.
     "I'm quite honest. He seems older than he is, doesn't he?"
     A cautious nod.
     "I've known him since he was only ten years old, you know. He wasn't always so serious. Something of a joker, some of the time. But he had to grow up fast. Especially once war broke out. There are days when I can't believe that I'm married to the same man I was once engaged to. He's twenty-five years old, going on one hundred."
     "He had a lot to worry about."
     "Kain was like that too, you know."
     Rydia's face hardened. "Oh?"
     "He and Cecil were practically cradle-mates. Kain is only a few months younger than Cecil. Twenty-four years old, right now."
     "That," Rydia stated, "I find hard to believe."
     "I do too, sometimes. I still hope one day to get a confession from him over who replaced my mascara with paint when I was fifteen."
     "You mean... Kain...?"
     "He was like that, believe or not. Before he grew up."
     "I stand corrected," Rydia muttered. "That, I find hard to believe."
     "Really? I remember this little girl I knew. Quite an industrious little child. Only six years old, and she was already better at magic than some of my teachers. And she forever enjoyed making chocobo's appear out of thin air. And she ate like a horse. And she had the worst table manners I ever saw."
     "I'll bet."
     "And I can still remember this little girl running to keep up with Cecil. I can still see her smiling and telling him to cheer up, that everything was going to be okay. I can picture her curled up on his lap, fast asleep..."
     Rydia's face was burning red by this time. "T-that was fifteen years ago!" she protested.
     "You seem to remember that quite well," Rosa observed, unable to hide her smile. "So where did that little girl go?"
     "She grew up."
     "And that can't happen to anyone else?"
     "That's all beside the point."
     Rosa shrugged in a non-committal manner. "We all change as we grow up. Do you remember those sessions you and I had when you first rejoined us? The etiquette lessons? The no-cursing rules? The first time Edge flirted with you and only expected a slap in return? You were quite the spitfire when you returned."
     "Well, excuse me if becoming a diplomat wasn't exactly a high priority of mine. I couldn't help it if Ifrit taught a lot of my language studies. And if I had to do it all over again, the only thing I'd change would be to punch Edge harder."
     Rydia gave Rosa fixed look. "And I don't see why that's important now."
     She sighed, but met the gaze nonetheless. "You and Kain are a lot alike, you know."
     "Excuse me!?!"
     "You're both emotional."
     Rydia opened her mouth to debate the point, but finally settled for a "Kain? Emotional? You have got to be kidding me."
     "Not in the least. Kain's trained himself to ignore his emotions, and he's trained himself well. But when you've known him as long as I have, you learn what to look for."
     Rosa came to a stop, leaning back against one of the courtyard walls. "I'm sure that you're aware that there are spells which are capable of controlling people's minds."
     Rydia nodded briefly, selecting one of the opposite walls to rest against. "I've heard of such spells. Zeromus used one on Golbez. I was there, you remember."
     "And Golbez used one on Kain."
     "So he claims."
     "I do believe even Golbez admitted as much. Why do you find that so hard to believe?"
     "Why do you find it so easy to believe?"
     "I'm sure that you're also aware that such spells work best on individuals who are mentally unfocused. Individuals who are emotionally unstable or confused, you might say."
     "And now you're going to tell me that Kain fits that description?"
     "I'm not going to give you any details, Rydia. It's between Cecil, Kain and myself. But the reason Kain left Baron was to deal with it. He didn't believe that he was trustworthy enough to protect Baron."
     "Well, I don't think he is either."
     "Did you ever think that you might just as easily have been the one who was controlled by Golbez?" Rosa inquired.
     "That never would have worked on me. I know spells of resistance to that sort of thing."
     "But what if you didn't? You're a passionate person, Rydia. You were that way when you were a child, and you still are now. Whether you're happy or sad, it's obvious to anyone around. When you're joyful, you practically light up the room you're in. And when you're angry... you're a dangerous person to be around. A person like you is an ideal target for such spells."
     "The controlling is beside the point. Why don't you try and think up an excuse for him saying that he thinks he should have killed me a long time ago? He admitted himself that he wasn't under any sort of mind control when my village was burned."
     "But did he know about the fire bombs?"
     "He thinks that he should have killed me back in Mist.  The Dragoons that I talked to said that he'd been training them how to fight Callers! They didn't even seem to think it was a bad thing! Explain all that!!!"
     Rosa shook her head. "I don't know, Rydia. I was just a White Mage at the time. I certainly never heard anything about a campaign against the Village of Mist. I heard rumours that Mist Village might be attacking us, and I know that the current ambassador at the time had several meetings with the king. But nothing ever came of those rumours."
     "I haven't heard anything to clear him, Rosa."
     "Did you ever consider that Kain may have been trying to divert the blame from Cecil?"
     "How do you figure that?"
     "If he was able to convince you that it was solely his fault, that would leave Cecil innocent and in the clear. If you don't believe so yourself, let me assure you that Kain and Cecil would do such a thing for the other in a heartbeat."
     "I don't have any proof of that."
     "You haven't even tried asking yet."
     "Kain wouldn't answer anything else."
     "He was trying to make you angry. You don't fight as well when you're angry. You can't think straight, and he knows how to take advantage of that. Why do you think I was kidnapped? It threw Cecil off balance, and let Golbez manipulate him into doing things. If you think Kain became the leader of the Dragoons through chance-"
     "I know how strong he is," Rydia interrupted, turning away. "You're just looking for something to clear him. Maybe you just can't accept that he's guilty and deserves what's coming to him! If he was trying to make me angry, then he was obviously planning to fight in the first place."
     Rosa sighed, watching the summoner stalk off towards the throne room. There were times she could almost wish for older days. Almost. They were days where the entire world was in mortal danger, but some people seemed to need that type of world to function. People of few words and more action, who had precious little to keep them focussed in a peaceful world.
     As Cecil had once noted, one of the tricky things about a war was getting the fighters to stop fighting afterwards. But since taking up the king's mantle, her husband had devoted a considerable amount of effort towards just that task. And all in all, he succeeding admirably.
     Regrettably, it seemed as though they had failed in respect to two people.

     The throne room wasn't busy.

     Even as she entered it, Rydia didn't believe for a moment that it was merely convenient. Baron was the biggest kingdom in the world, and the idea of its king not being busy was almost ludicrous. If the throne room wasn't busy, it was because its king was either out, or because he had given orders to bring about that state of events.
     The king wasn't out.
     "Ambassador," Cecil greeted, standing politely.
     She hadn't thought it was possible, but Rydia now found herself hating the title even more. "I haven't changed my name, you know."
     He nodded in agreement. "Rydia, then. Regardless, I appreciate your taking the time to come here and talk."
     Translation: Cecil hadn't expected her to bother stopping by. Somehow, that irritated Rydia. "I won't keep you any longer than necessary, don't worry."
     "It's not a bother at all. But I do appreciate your willingness to let me know exactly what has been going on. As Baron's ruler, I don't like relying on second-hand information."
     Cecil's voice was light, much like Rosa's had been. And as before, it wasn't difficult for Rydia to pick out the tension behind the comment. He was agitated, and part of him clearly didn't feel like being diplomatic and reasonable.
     "I was made Ambassador of the Summoned Monsters," Rydia informed him levelly. "And my first assignment was to completely conclude the events surrounding the destruction of Mist Village. That includes seeing justice done to the ones responsible, and the moving forwards afterwards."
     Cecil nodded slowly. "That sounds rather open-ended, I must admit."
     "Part of my assignment was to determine exactly how those things are to be done."
 He exhaled slowly, working the information around in his thoughts. "If I might be so bold... I imagine that you are presently dealing with the first part of that assignment?"
     "Mainly, yes."
     "I can't get to work on moving forwards if I think that someone is going to try and stop me."
     "And Kain fits that description?"
     "I suppose you're going to tell me that he meant something else when he said that he thought the world would be better off without the Summoned Monsters?"
     Cecil paused again, submitted the information to analysis, then choosing his words carefully. "What if... I told you that I thought that Eblan would be better off abandoning the rebuilding of their castle, instead relocating to existing towns? Because that could be construed as quite offensive to a lot of them. I suppose that would give them an excuse to declare war on Baron?"
     "This isn't the same thing!"
     Cecil finally permitted himself a small degree of emotion. "It's exactly the same thing! The scale might be a little different, but not by much. Can you imagine what would happen if I lost my head every time another nation didn't agree with me? I have the power to kill countless people with a single, rash command. Which is why I'm always, always careful to approach a situation with a level head. It's not about me, it's about Baron as a whole."
     "And this isn't about me, it's about the Summoned Monsters as a whole!"
     "And is this what they would have you do?"
     "They chose me to settle the issue. So I'm going to settle it!"
     "Then settle it right now," Cecil invited, spreading his arms open. "Kill me."
     Rydia recoiled slightly. "What sort of rubbish is that?"
     His arms remained outstretched. "If you believe that Kain is guilty, than I'm guilty as well. So if you plan on killing him, you'll have to kill me as well. But if it will satisfy the need for justice, than I won't argue with you."
     She took half a step backwards. "That's just plain twisted! This is only between Kain and I, so why don't you just go back to ruling Baron?"
     "Kain is the chief of Baron's Dragoons," Cecil corrected her. "You're trying to kill one of my most valued warriors. I don't believe you're justified in doing so. Therefore we have an argument than needs to be resolved at once."
     Rydia bit her tongue to keep from snapping back at Cecil. *What is it, Leviathan?*
     *You and the king of Baron seem to be at an impasse. Might I join you two?*
     "Come on over," Rydia agreed, privately thankful for the interruption.
     If Cecil was about to ask for an explanation for her brief silence, Leviathan's appearance next to Rydia provided an answer. Despite the King of the Summoned Monsters' comparatively small human form, Cecil's attention was immediately rivetted on the new arrival.
     "Leviathan?" he acknowledged politely.
     "Cecil, King of Baron, Paladin, and Warrior of Light."
     "Just Cecil is quite fine. Have you followed our conversation until now?"
     Leviathan nodded. "The two of you seem to be at an impasse."
     "If you have any insights into this matter, I would be happy to listen," Cecil invited.
     "Indeed. The Daughter of Mist next to myself was chosen to be our Ambassador. She has proven her loyalty to what we as a whole believe, and she has done so under the most trying of conditions. But she is still young, and her outlook reflects this fact."
     Rydia's eyes narrowed, but she didn't reply right away.
     "But you are young as well," Leviathan continued, "and your outlook reflects this fact as well."
     "You find a portion of both our logics in error?" Cecil interpreted.
     "As you say. My Ambassador is perhaps too willing to let her anger cloud her judgement. But by the same token, you are far too willing to let your friendships cloud your own."
     "Kain is a friend of mine," Cecil stated firmly. "A very good friend. But that fact is irrelevant to this situation. I have already stated that I believe that he is deserving of no more punishment than I am myself. And I have every intention of seeing such a statement through."
     "And such a statement would only be fulfilled through suicide on your part," Leviathan stated. "To submit yourself to judgement is to absolve yourself of the power to judge. And my Ambassador does not believe you to be guilty. Therefore, in the eyes of the Summoned Monsters, you are not guilty."
     "She can't make that decision by herself! I was there for everything! And I will tell you that Kain is not guilty."
     When in human form, Leviathan didn't trifle himself with facial expressions, but his voice clearly held a note of skepticism. "Tell me, would you absolve two defendants merely on account of their testimonies supporting each other? I think not."
     Cecil swallowed, but held his ground. "Then... my wife will testify."
     "She was never present for the incident. Her account is meaningless. The fact remains that the Dragoon made several statements that clearly indicated a distaste for both my Ambassador and my kindred as a whole. And he must be held accountable for them. And were you able to refute those statements, I suspect that you would have done so by now."
     "So my testimony is to be dismissed on the account of my being a concerned party?" Cecil demanded. "And yours is still considered valid? Despite being the accuser?"
     "No, King of Baron, my testimony is as invalid as yours. As is the opinion of every other Summoned Monster, since none of us were even present for the event of concern. There were only three people alive today who were present then, and you and the Dragoon are the defendants."
     Cecil scowled. "And Rydia would be the third?"
     "You do not trust her judgement on the matter? After she fought alongside you against Zeromus? Do not be so arrogant as to presume that you would have succeeded without her assistance. And do not be so heartless as to believe that she was not as willing as you to sacrifice her own life for the cause."
     "I don't question that at all."
     "Yet you doubt her still? What then, King of Baron, is required to gain your trust? Will you still claim that your judgement is not influenced?"
     "Maybe I am biassed," Cecil granted reluctantly. "I suppose that you, with your thousands of years of experience, can claim otherwise?"
     "On the contrary, King of Baron. Do you still not understand my reason for appointing Rydia in my stead? I but gave her a simple command: Conclude the events surrounding the destruction of Mist Village. She was to ensure the future safety of our kind, then facilitate a recovery."
     Leviathan fixed Cecil with a level gaze. "Do you oppose such a goal?"
     "Of course not."
     "Then my ambassador has judged you correctly. Why then, do you believe your friend to be in danger from her judgement?"
     Cecil's face hardened. "I believe that Kain is as innocent as myself. And I will state again that neither of us were aware of the nature of the Bomb Ring we transported to Mist Village, until it was too late. We indirectly killed Rydia's mother, but she attempted to forcibly stop us from completing what was a royal mission, and did not offer us any legitimate explanation beforehand. And I will state again that the destruction of Mist Village was the intention of the false king of Baron, and had Kain and I known, we never would have participated in such an act. To be exact, we would have actively opposed it from the very beginning."
     "Your statement has already been accepted as truth for yourself," Leviathan agreed. "But the fact remains that you cannot speak for your friend. As the Ambassador has already said, it is now between the Dragoon and herself. Whether she judges rightly or wrongly, it is no longer in our power to make orders of her. You and I can but observe and offer advice when asked."
     Rydia narrowed her eyes angrily. "Thanks for the encouragement, Leviathan, Cecil. It's nice to know that you both have so much faith in my abilities."
     "I never stated that I believed you to be the perfect choice," Leviathan replied evenly. "Only that I believed you to the best choice."
     "Well, just stuff it. I never asked for any of this advice - from either of you. You can argue over your laws all you want. I'll be busy doing my damned job like I was ordered to. And don't bothered waiting for me to summon you this time." Wheeling about, she stalked towards the door. "I'll finish this business myself!"
     The door made a quiet clicking noise behind her.
     Cecil glanced over at Leviathan, who's form was slowly beginning to fade away now, courtesy of Rydia's departure. "You considered her the best choice for this?"
     "You doubt her."
     "I think that she was probably perfectly happy until you dredged up this business and forced her to deal with it. And I think she that's blowing this entire matter right out of proportion, and that even if you don't officially order her around, you're influencing her more than either of you will admit. What do you say to that?"
     "That may well be the case, but I would inquire as to whether you, as a king, have ever been forced to convict a friend. Because until you have, you are as naive on this matter as she is. Authority exists to make decisions that lesser individuals either fear or are loathe to make. And I much prefer humans to err on the side of cynicism, rather than idealism."
     "You have something against idealism?"
     Leviathan had almost completely faded away by this time. "It promotes blind faith. I am certain that you recall an incident where a man, blindly trusting his king, wound up slaughtering an entire village."
     "If I had known-"
     "Had you not been so slow to question, you would have known. Yet once again, you are slow to question the situation, putting blind trust in those around you and ignoring the facts."
     Despite straining to make out his opponent, Cecil remained impassive. "That is your opinion."
     "The world is not the benevolent place you wish it to be, King of Baron. I am surprised that the trials in your battle against darkness did not teach you this. Too many battles are won by evil, because evil is rarely caught unawares. And if you, the Paladin, will not be on alert... who will?"

     As much as Rydia would have preferred to simply employ a teleportation spell to leave the entire castle, she was still weaker than she would have liked. But walking would suffice. The Serpent Road could take her across to Mysidia, then she would travel by foot the rest of the way. It would take longer, but it would let her recover much quicker.
     Even if that meant a considerable walk. Her body still ached somewhat, but she'd endured far worse while on the Moon. In lieu of the state she'd been in only days ago, she wasn't about to complain. Just the same, she would just as soon she not run into anyone significant on her way out...
     Abruptly, she halted in mid-step, refraining from putting her foot down.
     Someone else's footstep. Looking around quickly, Rydia scanned the empty hallway with suspicion. "Edge... I'm going burn out this entire hallway out in five seconds, if you don't show yourself!!!"
     "You're getting good," the ninja admitted with a sigh, showing up behind her.
     "This is none of your business, Edge! Get out of here! And while you're at it, get the hell out of my life!" Rydia snapped. "I don't need a damned stalker getting in my way!"
     "Listen to yourself," Edge protested. "And some people say that I don't control myself! You're swearing like a pirate, still barely healed, and you're already planning fighting Kain again?"
     On second thought, Rydia decided, she no longer cared whether she was strong enough to manage a teleportation spell. A short-range one would be just fine... "Then I don't need to explain anything. Goodbye."
     This time, Edge was fast enough. Lunging forwards, he tackled Rydia to the floor before she could complete the spell. "Oh-no-you-don't!"
     Rydia shook her head to clear the daze. "Edge..." she growled through clenched teeth. "If you don't move your hand, I'm going to teleport out of here and only half of you is going to come with me!"
     "Wha-? Oops..." Edge hastily relocated his one hand to a less compromising location. He did not, however, release his grip on her. "I'm not going to let go until you swear you'll let me go with you this time!"
     "The hell I will! You're going to let go before I make you let go!"
     "If you think I'm going to just stand by and let you get yourself killed, you've got another thing coming! You're not even thinking clearly!"
     "Did I ask for your opinion?" Twisting, Rydia managed to aim an elbow into Edge's gut, pushing him back for a moment. Gesturing quickly, she threw several small lightning bolts that loosed chips of stone from the floor. "Don't make me aim at you!"
     Edge skipped back quickly enough. "See, Rydia-baby? You've completely lost your head over this whole business! All I'm asking is for you to calm down and think things over. I'm not going to stop you, I just wanna help you out. Is that too much to ask?"
     "You disgust me, Edge!" she snapped, fists clenched. "Read. my. lips. DISGUST!"
     "Isn't that a little harsh?"
     "It's too weak a word! Do you have any idea how pathetic you are!?" Rydia followed him, actually forcing him against the wall. "I would KILL to be in your position! Your people are alive! Do you understand? Mine aren't!"
     Edge swallowed. "Now wait a minute-"
     "Look at your people back in Eblan!" she yelled. "They're living in caves, they barely have enough food to survive, and you're out tramping around the world like an idiot! If I had people like you do, I'd be doing everything in my power to help them! Everything and anything!!!"
     "But you're a lazy, miserable, useless, stuck-up, pathetic excuse for a prince!" Rydia interrupted. "I don't know why your people even put up with you, because I sure as hell wouldn't! You should be running back home and begging them to forgive you for being such a complete jackass! And then begging them to let you do anything to help them!"
     "My real people are dead now," Rydia repeated, calming slightly. "The Summoned Monsters are my people now. They've been my people for the last fifteen years. And I'm going to do whatever I have to do to protect them. No matter what."
     A hand imposed itself between the two of them, the attached arm leading back to a solemn-looking Rosa. "Ambassador. Rydia. Unless you have any further business in Baron, perhaps you should be on your way?"
     Edge's eyes darted over to stare at her. "Rosa-you can't be-"
     "To be perfectly blunt, Edgar," the queen interrupted, "while your assistance in rescuing Rydia was most appreciated, I don't recall this business concerning Eblan in any fashion."
     "What she said," Rydia agreed, turning to leave.
     "You're going to get yourself killed over this!" he finally snapped at her.
     She gave Edge one last glare, before stalking off towards the castle's exit. "Better to die for this than live the way you do."
     Rosa sighed, turning to leave. "Edge... I'm not happy about what she's doing. I'm not happy at all. But you may want to consider what she just said. Because, if I hadn't heard her myself, I'd be doing everything in my power to stop her."

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