Monsters. There have been nothing but monsters since his entry into the tower. Edge tears through them with ease, not once even stopping to rest.
The tower is nothing like he's encountered before. All smooth metal and harsh white lights. Edge misses the warm red glow of the lanterns they use in Eblan, but he doesn't dwell on it, the urgency of his self-appointed mission much too powerful.
He doesn't know what's waiting for him at the top, and the higher he goes, the more he's certain that this is a tower he isn't meant to understand. Still, he presses onward, because each time he tries to rest, each time he closes his eyes, all he sees are the faces of his parents as they were taken away. His father's firm resolve to withstand whatever comes his way. His mother's look of understanding, of knowing that they would not see each other again for a long, long time.
So Edge keeps moving, and he doesn't know how long he's been in here, or if he's even going to get anywhere. There's no way to keep track of time, and he gives up counting it by the number of monsters he's fought. Too many, too overwhelming. It's difficult.
He will succeed, no matter the cost.
He keeps going forward, even as the tower shudders, even as he feels the current of energy pass by in the walls. Even when he hears it, the sound of cannon fire, followed by the screams. Distant, horrible screams that reach him even when surrounded by the thickest of metal.
He cannot falter. He cannot stop.
The tower shakes with each boom, and when he next attempts to close his eyes, he imagines strange dark-skinned men and women, reaching out to him, clamoring for his aid.
He doesn't know them. He must move on.
The Autarch of Flame greets him at the top.
At this point, he's certain he's the only sane man left in Baron, and it's a hard job, but Cid isn't ready to give up just yet, because he belongs to Baron as much as she belongs to him.
He spends half his mornings scolding his mechanics and doing their jobs for them. The other half he spends scolding the Red Wings for not taking care of the airships he built. But men not knowing how to take care of things was nothing new, and maybe a part of Cid is glad that that much hadn't changed.
By noon the workload grows. The King wants new ships, more firepower, more cannons, more speed, more everything. Cid grumbles to himself and yells at the messenger, letting his temper flare and get the better of him, but several hours later he's busy tackling the challenge of building a new ship with everything the King wants.
He knows what they use his ships for, of course. Cid isn't oblivious to why the King wants what he wants and why the Red Wings are so feared, but it's so much easier to turn a blind eye to it. He doesn't like it. Those ships are his creations, and he cares for them as much as he does his family, but he's getting old, after all, and he doesn't know what he'd do without his daughter.
This doesn't mean he can't rebel in other ways. In the late afternoon, when the work for the day is done, Cid heads for the deepest parts of the castle. The best engineers of Baron - after him, of course - are waiting for him when he arrives. There they convene, there they discuss in hushed tones and whispered secrets the new ship, even better than any other they had ever built.
Cid is confident they'll get her off the ground one day, with just the right crew, just the right people, and when they do, Baron will have all of hell to pay.
He ends up braving the mountain paths with a caravan on it's way from Kaipo to Fabul. The trip is long and hard and Tellah sups alone on stale bread and cheese along the way. The master of the caravan recognizes him, and asks too many questions, questions that Tellah brushes off roughly.
They find nothing but ruins where Damcyan should have stood, and no words come to Tellah's tongue as he gazes up at the silent and empty windows of the once proud towers.
Anna is gone, and he was too late to even forgive her.
He sits alone again that night, and the desert night is cold. He says nothing when the caravan master comes to his side and offers him soup.
He considers returning to Kaipo, but there is nothing there for him now. Nothing that he loves.
The next day, when they depart for Fabul, Tellah does not look back at Damcyan's ruins.
They've both heard of Fabul's monks, of course, and the monk sitting before the Elder is every bit the hulk of muscle they'd expected.
Neither of them had expected the monk to be so kind and rather soft-spoken, though. He is not the brash hero of their stories. Sitting in their little hiding spot alongside Palom, Porom thinks that the monk who had come to speak to them seemed more like a scholar than a warrior.
"We cannot attack Baron directly," the monk is saying, "They are strong, and they grow each day. Damcyan and Troia have both fallen to them, and there has been no news from Eblan for far too long."
"Then how do you intend to fight them?" asks the Elder.
"Subterfuge," replies the monk, though Porom's certain there's a hint of distaste in his tone, "The primary priority is reclaiming the Crystals. To that end, the team must consist of...those of a smaller stature."
"You'll find none of the kind of people you require here," says the Elder, and Porom is surprised by he fierceness of his tone. Protective fierceness. "My mages are not saboteurs, Ser Yang, and you'll find that they carry a certain sort of hatred for Baron, the kind that will ensure they cannot maintain the composure you will need of them. Mysidia can aid in other ways."
Porom recognizes that tone. It's one of finality, that the Elder would not be open to any arguments. This doesn't stop Palom, of course, and he's rushing out from behind her. Porom doesn't stop him, only hurrying after him as he cuts the monk off with a loud: "We'll go!"
Porom dutifully arrives behind him at that point to give him a nice whack over the head with her staff.
Palom rubs his head and makes the usual noises, but he doesn't react beyond that, looking up to the outraged Elder and the surprised monk. "Please, Elder, let us go! We can do it--"
"No." The Elder's tone is final, absolute. Angry. Porom inhales sharply.
"Elder, Ser Yang," she says, turning and offering a small bow to each as is appropriate, "Please forgive my brother's insolence."
Palom turns to give her a sharp glare, and she gives him a Look. He shuts up after that, looking down at the floor.
"Your brother is very enthusiastic," says the monk, even as he stands, movements slow and deliberate. "I am certain he will grow to be an eager and lively mage."
Everything turns into a blur after that, as the Elder shoos them off, and escorts the monk out. Later they're both scolded, and Porom takes responsibility, as usual. Palom seethes and sulks.
And even later, when they're in their room, after Palom's done with his little tantrum, Porom sits on her bed and, despite her better judgement, tells him that Fabul's ships have not departed. He jumps up at that, suddenly full of energy again, and then he's begging her to go with him, and Porom, despite herself, says yes.
They sneak on board the fleet's flag ship, and when they're caught, Porom wonders if she shouldn't have said anything, but she knows that doing so would have been condemning herself to a life she did not want. It's a selfish thought, and Porom knows it's unacceptable, but what the Elder wants of them both is not what she desires.
She's sitting with her twin on the deck of the ship when the barrier goes up, encasing Mysidia, thus cutting the city off from the rest of the world.
Porom feels Palom shift closer to her, and she wraps an arm around him and tries to reassure him, because she's just as scared as he is of whatever is coming next.
"The outposts have reported that Baron's airships are approaching," says the King. "If you intend to leave, you must do so now, and there is no guarantee that you will not be caught."
Yang nods and then he's rounding up a handful of monks plus the old man who had insisted on coming along, and then he's kissing Sheila goodbye. She smiles, and, as usual, is ever vocal in her encouragement, and he whispers to her the words of an old Fabulian chant, a reminder that she, like him, is a descendant of the gods, and not even Baron can take that away.
He repeats the words when they're on deck, as his men stand at attention and wait for their orders. He reminds them they are forever Fabul's, through strife and desperation. They cheer and in that moment Yang is filled with hope. The old man does not join in.
They slip under the airships, posing as trade ships beneath Baron's notice, and soon they're off towards Mythril, then Mysidia, and after that, well, if the gods knew, they were certainly keeping silent on the matter.
"The evacuation's complete," says the general, "It's just us in the castle now."
Luca watches as her father turns away from the other dwarf, towards the lavafall occupying two of the room's walls. It casts everything in sharp, red light, and somehow, that feels appropriate to the situation. Where this red had once been a comforting, warming color to her, it now makes everything feel urgent.
She curls up further in on herself under the desk, grateful for the shadows that hid her. Calca and Brina are thankfully still beside her, though they're restless, impatient.
She almost jumps at the sound of her own name. Her father isn't looking at the scout, just straight at the wall, yet she can easily imagine the concern on his face.
"She should be safe with the civilians," comes the reply. Luca can't help but smile to herself. There was no way she was going to just sit idly by and wait with the other dwarves. No, she was the princess of the dwarves. She would stand by her father.
A silence, then her father breaks it. "I fear for her," he says, "But I know she will be successful. She is - headstrong, and rebellious, certainly, but I know she will be a wise leader. Our people need a Queen like that in this time of suffering."
"She is only five," says the general, the disbelief clear on his face.
"It pains me, but she cannot be a child any longer."
Silence, again. Luca doesn't know what to think of what she's just heard. What does it mean for her now? She's known for years that she'll be Queen someday, but what does it even mean to be Queen?
She knows the answer to that. To be Queen is to lose her freedom.
Luca doesn't want to be Queen.
"Go." Her father's tone is resolute, and he turns. Luca can just barely see the gleaming of his eyes in the light of the lavafall. "Go with them. You've been a good friend to me and Luca all these years. I trust no one else in our kingdom to watch over her in my stead."
The general shakes his head. "I cannot leave your side. You are our King."
"Not anymore," says her father, and she hears sadness. A deep kind of sadness, just like whenever he told her to go play when she tried asking about her mother.
"I understand." The general's voice wavers, and Luca knows then and there that grown dwarves do cry.
She hugs Calca to herself. He stays silent, thankfully, but nudges the gem on her necklace. Brina sits at her side, nodding her head.
Luca hears a door open, then footsteps, then the general is gone, leaving only her father behind. She squeezes her eyes shut, so she doesn't have to see him looking so sad. They said their goodbyes earlier, before she stole away.
She shifts, and retreats with Calca and Brina into the path encased in stone under the desk. She would stand with her people, just as her father did, in her own way, as Queen.
The sound of cannon fire that later shakes the world will haunt her for the rest of her life.
They were fortunate to escape, hand in hand and down, down, deep into the dungeons of Castle Damcyan. There are other survivors, and they cry to them, the new King and Queen, after the former had been slain by the Dark Knight of Baron. The survivors cry to them, to save them, save them. Together, they flee to Kaipo.
She learns to rule where he cannot. The Dancer Queen of Damcyan guides the people she had been brought to with an iron will.
He handles that which she does not know. The Bard King of Damcyan learns to listen, and grows as his people do, finally putting his sharp intelligence to use.
Yet Anna knows he would rather flee from all this, leave it all behind so he can travel, and he knows it is because of her that Edward does not. Because he loves her, and before her, he loves his people. So Anna stays silent when he slips away from Kaipo, and she is silent whenever the wailing notes of a lute waft over the little oasis town.
And when Baron sends diplomats to claim Kaipo and offer what remained of Damcyan refuge and aid, Anna stays silent as Edward signs the treaty.
They drag her out of the rubble by her arm, and Rydia can't help but cry out as the men in red armor and gray helms bring her to a man clad entirely in armor of darkest night.
"The only survivor so far, Lord Captain," says the one holding on to her arm.
Rydia struggles when the Lord Captain reaches out to her, and she tries to remember her spells, her training, but she's tired and drained from crying so much. Rydia just wants to lie down and sleep, and maybe dream about her mother.
The Lord Captain's touch is surprisingly gentle, though his gloves are hard against her cheek. He brushes aside her hair, and seems to be appraising her.
Then he reaches up and raises his visor, and Rydia's staring up into blue eyes like ice.
"She cannot be allowed to live," says the Lord Captain.
Rydia reacts without thinking, snow and ice forming around her as she attacks, but it's weak. Useless. She cannot fight him, any of them. She is weak.
When the spell is done, she blinks, and she spots a sliver of red on the Lord Captain's cheek, where the ice must have cut him. He wipes his cheek, leaving a red smear, then looks down at his hands before looking back to her.
"Silence her," he says.
The armored men behind her move before she can, grabbing her. They bind her arms and gag her, and she bites into the dirty cloth, tears coming to her eyes when they pull it just a bit too tight.
"What do we do with her now?" asks the man holding her, his gloved fingers digging into her skin.
The Lord Captain is silent for a moment, then he's looking to the distance, to something behind her.
"We take her to Golbez," he says. "He'll know what to do with her."
Later, when she falls asleep in her cell, Rydia dreams of a world wherein those blue eyes are filled with kindness.
The ink on the parchment is dark, but it's not quite black. Rosa purses her lips, rereading the note once more. Golbez says nothing, though she can sense his impatience.
"I see I am needed outside Baron," she says, slowly. "Though I do not quite understand why a White Mage would be chosen for this purpose."
"'Tis the King's orders."
Rosa bites back a question she knows Golbez would not tolerate. She knows that he has all the power in Baron to make her suffer.
"I...understand." Rosa doesn't, of course. It doesn't make sense to send a White Mage as a diplomat, when there are those trained as such. It doesn't make sense to send a woman barely of age to do a man's job, to send her to conquer and seize a desert kingdom that Baron had previously had no interest in.
Nothing makes sense. The Red Wings being sent to bomb the crystal-less Eblan had not made sense. The Dragoons accompanying Golbez to Fabul had made even less sense.
"You are to leave at daybreak." Golbez's voice is low, smooth. The kind that could break the will of men and women alike in moments. Rosa keeps still, fighting the urge to break the way half of Baron has. The other half are those who have been charged with treason, or have already been executed publicly.
"As our King wishes," she affirms, nodding and bowing her head.
At his word, Rosa turns and makes for the door of Golbez's office, still pondering quietly why she is being sent away. A thought occurs to her, and she understands then that she's being put aside like a child would the toys he does not like.
It wouldn't do, after all, for either the Lord Captain of the Red Wings or the Commander of the Dragoon Corps to be distracted by a woman.
He does not remember his father.
No, that's a lie. Kain remembers strong, broad shoulders and armor that could never be polished to a shine. He remembers a deep, fond voice, and tired blue eyes.
He remembers little of his father beyond that, but he cannot forget the stories, tales of the greatest Dragoon that every true child of Baron knew by heart. The Dragoon who single-handedly turned the tides of war, who brought Eblan to its knees. Stories are stories, they don't talk about the hard parts, about how Captain Highwind left behind a wife and a son.
Every true child of Baron knew the stories of Captain Highwind by heart.
And here is son, reduced to little more than glorified guard duty. The King wants nothing less than perfection and success, and Kain has failed him. The new commander has even gone out of his way to ensure Kain knows this, and he's reminded of it every time he looks at the wretched little girl he's forced to watch over.
"Get up," he snarls at her one morning, grabbing her by the scruff of her drab gray clothes and yanking her to her feet. "Lord Golbez has called for you."
She's on her feet quickly enough, green eyes glaring back up at him. The Little Green Witch, they call her, and considering Kain has seen her turn men to ice and call lightning from the sky, he supposes it's a fitting name.
One might find it funny. A green-haired orphan mage has more to her name than the son of Richard Highwind. Well, it isn't the first time he's lost to an orphan.
Golbez is waiting for them, and he spares Kain no more words than necessary, whisking the girl away, leaving Kain with orders to prepare for the Red Wings' return from Troia. Kain assures his compliance, then leaves the room as swiftly as he can.
His orders bring him to the castle walls, and as he passes through the battlements, he hears the faint taunt in the wind. It carries to him the whispers of those around him, of the nobles and the servants, of Baron's women and children, all who whisper of his failure, of how Kain Highwind did not obey his commander at Fabul.
Kain looks to the sky, his once-mistress, now warden. Her laughter fills his ears.
It would be simple to flee, to jump into the sky and never return to Baron. There is nothing to his name, just as there is nothing but disgrace and dishonor in Baron. She is no longer the kingdom his father fought to defend, the kingdom his father so loved and gave his life for. Baron has been tainted, and this thought makes Kain's chest ache, as if he were mourning for someone dear to him.
He entertains the thought of rebellion as he walks toward the airship docks, but dismisses it. He can think of only Rosa who would dare to openly support him, and even then...if Cecil even said a single word against him, Rosa would turn on him as easily as all the other nobles already have.
It hurts to think of her like that.
But it hurts to think of leaving her behind.
The wind rustles past, laughing at him as if she knew what he was thinking, and Kain, for his part, just keeps walking.
The voices start in Mysidia, a soft whisper of a greeting, affable. Almost kind. Cecil leaves them be, then. This is the land of Mages. He has no doubts that there are Mages who know how to reach into his mind.
They grow louder when he wraps his fingers around the Crystal of Water, a cacophony of voices, crying out to him, screaming, begging. He tightens his grip around the smooth crystal, and then he pulls and the Crystal comes loose from its place and the voices simply die.
As Baigan takes the Crystal from him, a single voice whispers approval to him, and as he walks away, toward those familiar double doors, Cecil realizes its simply easiest to bite the questions back, and let the doors shut behind him with a creaking not unlike that of a coffin closing.
Kain's eyes meet his. They exchange pleasantries. Cecil does not tell him of the mages murdered, nor of the voices and their whispers.
The first to know of them is Rosa. He lets it slip to her by accident, and she does not stop questioning him until he tells her of the things he fears, of the things he hears from the voices. He tells her everything, and he feels infinitely better for it.
Rosa is kind to him. Too kind. He does not deserve her. Who has ever heard of a White Mage marrying a Dark Knight?
The days feel long and endless, though Baron has only entered summer. Cecil falls into the routine that Commander Golbez places upon him, and he feels like he's swimming in the very darkness that he wields. Thick and all-consuming, where each step forward feels more like several steps backwards, and Rosa is -
Cecil wipes the dark blade on a nearby banner, smearing royal blood over Damcyan's seal.
Royal blood. Cecil wants to laugh at the thought. There's nothing royal about the blood of a king and his queen. It's just as red and flows just as easily as any common man's. What was a king and his queen but a man and his woman, joined together in rule over those they claimed were lesser?
I could do better, is the soft whisper at the back of his mind. He doesn't know if it's his own thought, or if it's the voices yet again. I could do better than any of these kings who once were, who would have been.
And Rosa could too.
He can't tell what Golbez is thinking, not with his face hidden behind armor of the darkest night, darker even than Cecil's own. The praise he receives upon returning to Baron is undermined by Golbez's silence, shrouded in his cape of shadows and standing there beside their King.
The King beckons him, and he follows, falling into step beside Golbez. He is to the King's left, as Golbez has long since claimed the King's right.
"Ambition is highly unbecoming of you, Lord Captain," murmurs Golbez.
It's not ambition to think one can do better as King, is it? Cecil keeps his reply short, though he's unable to prevent the slight venom that slips in, that anger that fuels the Darkness he wields. "And you would know what is befitting a Baronian the most, I'm sure."
Silence. The Commander says nothing. As far as Baron is concerned, Golbez hadn't existed until but a few weeks ago. There are those who do not trust him, of course, but what can anyone do? He has Baron cowed to his will. Only the King seems to have any hold over him, and even then...
It's not ambition, he wants to protest, not even daring to wonder how Golbez knows. It's not ambition. He doesn't want the throne, not really...
Ambition. Hubris. He pauses in his walk. Neither the King nor Golbez stop for him, and he watches their backs as they leave him behind, watches that cape trail along, watches the shadows shift around the King's favored.
And a voice whispers to him the solution he seeks, and Cecil cannot tell if it his own or otherwise.
I must kill Golbez.
The light of the crystals is soft, familiar. Comforting. Golbez watches them turn in their places, and he listens when they sing to him. They beckon to him like old friends, and Golbez can only barely resist their pull.
The Crystals. Their capture had been his lifelong goal, his very purpose, and then after that, he was to control them, to use them in ways the nations of the world dared not use.
Standing in the light of the Crystals, Golbez feels nothing, not even the triumph he had so expected, had so desired.
"What more do you want from me?" he hisses in the silence of the crystal room. Not even their song is strong enough to drown out the ever present nagging in the back of his mind. Not even the crystals can tear him from the grasp of his master.
There are days where Golbez throws himself into his work silently. Where he plays the most dangerous of games in a kingdom where he is unwelcome, where he gives in to the inhuman cruelty he was raised to wield, where the world grows ever darker each time he even breaths, and his master is, of course, not far behind.
This is not one of those days. Golbez pulls himself forward, towards the crystals, reaching out to them. Noise. There is nothing but noise in his mind, the screaming of a thousand voices clamoring for freedom, and his own damned voice is there, amongst them.
His master is here, looking down at him. Golbez reaches for him, as he once did in his youth. "What more do you want from me?"
There is no answer. There is never an answer for him. His master does not speak, only commands, and Golbez can only obey.
What more do you want from me?
He repeats the question one last time, reaching into his own mind, searching, searching. Where is his master now, when he is needed the most, when an answer is wanted, when nothing matters, when everything does, when -
Searing pain, ripping through his mind. Punishment. Punishment for asking. Punishment for the questions. Punishment for speaking. He staggers, entire being trembling from the effort that is living.
A vision of the Lord Captain of the Red Wings comes to his mind, dark armor shifting as he raises his hands to the clasps of his helm, and Golbez hears his own voice asking, "What more do you want from me?"
The helm clatters to the ground, and hair like moonlight spills around a fair face, and eyes like ice gaze into his mind.
His mother's face, from an age so long ago. No, not his mother. His brother. The child. The child from a time before he was, from a time before Golbez can remember.
Cecil Harvey is his brother, and his master would have him forget this.
Golbez rises to his feet, and later, as the doors to the crystal room close behind him, he finds Cecil outside, face ever shielded in darkness.
"Commander," says Cecil, and his voice is the sharpest of blades.
"Lord Captain," replies Golbez, nodding at him in acknowledgement.
When the Lord Captain says nothing further, Golbez sweeps past his brother, towards his quarters, and feels only that icy gaze trained on his back.
Zemus's reach is far, and Fusoya knows it is only a matter of time before he breaks the seal and claims vengeance on the Lunarians.
There is only one solution, Fusoya knows this. The sleeping Giant in the world below is waiting, just as he is. In a battle of patience, there is no one who can defeat him, so Fusoya waits, and waits some more, and when the right time comes, he prepares himself to destroy Zemus's efforts once and for all.
It's a pity, he thinks, that neither of Kluya's sons came to grasp the light. Such a pity, really, that for all the good Kluya claimed the people of the Blue Planet were capable of, nothing good ever came of them.
He isn't proud of what he has done, but there is no room for such things in a matter like this. Zemus corrupted Kluya's efforts, and in turn wasted all this time the Lunarians had spent waiting. So here Fusoya had come to fix it. A single spell, a single command, and it's all over. The Giant wakes, and the noise of war ends.
No matter, Fusoya had told himself, the Lunarians can wait longer. Their home is gone, after all. The Lunarians have all the time in the universe to claim other worlds, and maybe this time, with radicals like Kluya and Zemus gone, they'll be successful.
Fusoya knows he won't miss the Blue Planet when he and the other Lunarians leave it behind.
After all, there is nothing to miss in a world of silence.