by Catherine Rain
"Omoide no hako ni
Kagi o kaketa toki
Nanika ga kudakete chitta
When I locked
The box of memories,
Something broke and scattered..."
The Big Whale's interior was gleaming metal. Every display, every sideboard had a crisp silver sheen. It was not shiny, but textured, streamlined, space-age design. Rosa thought it was beautiful. Edge thought it was cool.
Cecil thought it was deadly.
Since the moment he first entered the ship, he had a feeling of foreboding. Not necessarily of imminent failure or even danger, but simply the sense that something important was going to happen. This ship would change his life somehow.
Knowing his mission, he was not sure he liked believing that.
Rydia ran an awed hand over the controls, wanting to try them out but not knowing what to do. Her hand hovered inches over the smooth switchboard as though soaking up the sleek technology by osmosis. "This is really awesome."
"This isn't like Cid's design." Cecil studied the control pad, frowning. The four of them had come in to practice using the ship tonight, so their departure on the morrow would go smoothly. "All the controls are located in different places. And some of them, I can't even find." The difference, he assumed, was the Mysidian make-- it was an ancient bit of technology from a foreign culture; naturally it differed from Baron's modern ships. The same controls should still be present, though. Otherwise it could not be flown.
"Cecil, what's this for?" Rosa was staring at a glowing blue crystal enshrined in the center of the ship. "Is this for a power source, or does it do something?"
He strode over to inspect the crystal. "Probably...." As he passed a hand near it, the fragment emitted a low buzzing hum and the glow increased in intensity.
A map appeared in his mind's eye, suddenly, showing an overview of the town of Mysidia. Cecil caught his breath in momentary surprise. It was like telepathy. But with what? The crystal?
Focusing outward, expanding his thoughts, he caused the map of Mysidia to shrink, then moved it carefully to one side. The mouth of the dragon-shaped continent rushed past as he shifted the map to one side. He circled around, tracing his path back to Mysidia and beyond, zooming in near the foothills of Mount Ordeals. As the ground expanded, he opened his eyes, dizzy from the swift yet realistic scenery change so vivid in his mind.
"What the hell?" Edge was peering out the clear pane of glass in the front of the ship. "Cecil, man, you just moved the frigging ship! What did you do?"
Cecil rubbed his eyes as the blurriness faded swiftly from his vision. "Telepathy, or something..."
"You moved the ship by telepathy?"
"No... the crystal moved it. I just told it where to go." Cecil paused for a moment, considering. "I think."
"You... eheh. Right." Edge leaned back against the softly gleaming textured-silver counter.
Rydia folded her arms, her golden chain belt clinking musically. "How does the crystal drive the ship?"
"I don't know how it works," Cecil admitted. "It's magic... it's technology, but it's magic. Something beyond Baron's capabilities, at any rate."
"Well, then who built it?" Rydia wanted to know, tossing aside a stripe of green hair that had fallen down across her face into her eyes. She was just being reasonable. "You think the Mysidians have that kind of technology?"
"No... I think it's left over from something. Maybe the ancients could do things we didn't. We assumed we'd reached their level because we could fly in airships. What if we reached it in a different way?"
"Hey," reasoned Edge, "but who cares? It flies, right?" He punched the air enthusiastically. "We're going to the moon, man! The frigging moon!" He cast a triumphant glance at the maze of controls. "I'm gonna get Golbez!"
"Yeah!" Rydia agreed.
"And that frigging Kain!" Edge snarled. "Golbez and Kain... I'll stack both their heads on that fancy pike of his!"
Cecil stiffened in dismay. When had this become a blood crusade against his friend? He knew that the others had lost much of their respect for their former comrade, but to sink to such blind anger... He cast a desperate glance at Rosa, hoping she at least would step forward in Kain's defense, but she watched silently, a faint glitter in her eyes that made Cecil uncomfortable. Since when had she been like this? Since when had any of them?
Without a word, he lowered the door on the Big Whale and stepped outside.
* * * * *
Cecil peered through an opening in the piled rocks. He saw Rosa wandering up the mountain path, one hand clutching a ready arrow, though the ghosts of this mountain were weak and hardly bothered her. Any second now, she'd see him. Any second... She stopped as her gaze caught something, probably the yellow fold of his cape that stretched out beyond the rocks, and she headed in his direction.
"Hey..." she called quietly. "Cecil..."
The curve of fallen rubble had created a wall, closing off a little space between the fallen rocks and the sheer face of the cliff. Cecil sat there, his back against a smooth patch of rock, and watched Rosa approach. "I knew you'd find me."
She shrugged, smiling slightly, brushing aside the compliment to her tracking skills. "Edge upset you."
"...Yeah." He cast his glance to the ground. "Not just Edge."
"Is it Kain's betrayal itself?"
The archer had missed her target again. "Not really. No."
"Then..." She tucked her cape neatly under her as she sat down beside him, watching him expectantly.
He looked over at Rosa, her ankles folded just so, her blonde curls arranged with more than evident care. How could she have missed the obvious? "Everyone... 'hates' Kain." He pronounced the word carefully, giving it the weight of an uncertain label. "All we used to talk about was killing Golbez, taking Golbez down... Now it's Golbez and Kain. Let's kill the 'bad guys.' Bloodthirsty. Kain's head on his pike."
Rosa nodded, not wanting to interrupt, knowing the whole story had not yet come out.
"But it's Kain." Cecil sighed. "It's not some power-hungry guy out there. It's not some maniac we have to stop. Now it's Kain."
The memory of their old friend flooded them both, strong and laced with melancholy and friendship and love. Kain joking, Kain laughing. Kain sharing secrets. Their oath never to tell Cid who stole his rock candy jar. Kain crying. Burying his cat in the schoolyard, with only a broken bit of wood as a grave marker. The day he earned his dragoon helmet. Counting the stars at night. Promising that they were best friends, no matter where life might take them. A bit of twine. A pen he gave Rosa as a present. The code word that meant he had a secret to tell them. Kain as a child, Kain as a teenager, Kain as a young man. Drinking with Cecil, making fun of the captain of the guards. Kain as a friend.
Rosa sighed softly. "You have to remember Edge and Rydia don't know him the way we do. And Edge is... well, he's just like that. And Rydia... she doesn't understand; she's never had anyone like that. She loves Ashura and Leviathan... but... she doesn't have a friend like that..."
"I understand it with Edge and Rydia," he said quietly. "What I don't understand is you."
"Me?" Rosa blinked, momentarily taken aback. "I... oh, Cecil. I don't want to kill Kain..."
"I heard you telling Rydia that you hated him." He knew that Rosa was not one to lie, or even exaggerate, to win the approval of comrades. If she said it, she meant it.
"Oh... Cecil, no..." She paused to collect her thoughts. Finally she placed her hand atop his, giving him an intent look. "Listen."
"I do not hate Kain. I... I thought I did, when I said that, but I was wrong. I was just upset. Rydia's really creeped out by him, and I shared her sentiment... and I wanted to show her that I thought so too, so as we talked... our statements just got bolder and bolder... I thought about all the bad things, and none of the good ones, and I thought right then that I hated him. But I don't, all things considered. Not really."
"You hated him when you said that, though."
She sighed. "Not now... I... I know you can't ever hate Kain. I know, and I... I understand why he is that way, but I can't help it."
He turned to her, awed and suddenly confused by the realization that Kain had made her personally angry, not with the righteous anger at his betrayal that the others shared, but by direct offense to her. "Rosa... Why does he 'creep you out'? What did he do?"
"Just... When I saw him in Zot, he... the way he looked at me." She shivered. "It was really nasty. Like he just wanted to own me. He never laid a hand on me," she reassured hastily, "he never touched me. But he wanted to. And it came out in his face, and he didn't conceal it. Like... like he would, if he didn't respect me so much... like he had no morality anymore." She paused, trying to collect herself, her face pinched in the pain of remembering. "And he had no right to do that, and it hurt. It was worse because it was Kain. I was trying so hard to be kind, because it was Kain, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings... so I let him look at me that way... and now, I never... can trust him..."
"Rosa..." Cecil put a comforting arm over her shoulders. "He wasn't himself. He'll come back to himself, if..." He left that thought unfinished, not wanting to imply the alternative. "And then he'll be himself, and you can trust him."
"That's just it..." She blinked watery eyes. "He was himself, just recently, and we trusted him. And now he's not. What if he comes back and acts like himself, and then suddenly he goes back to being... that? What if he changes so suddenly? I can't... can't trust him, because if he does change..." Tears escaped and rolled down her cheeks.
Cecil gathered her into his arms, rocked her like a child. "It's all right. He won't come near you."
She hiccuped. "But to trust him..."
"He won't bother you. I promise." What was he saying? He closed his eyes. Kain... it was only their old friend Kain.
After a moment she repeated softly, "I don't hate him."
"I understand." Was she trying to convince herself or Cecil? He wondered.
"I care about him somehow," she insisted. "I'm angry, I don't trust him, I don't ever want to see him again. I can't stand him. Can't stand being near him... but, I do care. Or I wouldn't be this upset over it. He'd just be some jerk."
"I know." It was a personal offense, because Kain was no stranger. He knew her, and so the crudity had been directed, not at "that lady prisoner," but at Rosa Farrell. Cecil clutched her to him protectively. How could Kain have ever hurt his sweet friend? How could he do such a thing?
Yet he had not touched her...
Cecil glanced down at the girl who clung to him so desperately. "He never did harm you, physically. And he could have."
"Yes, but..." She sniffed. "That... doesn't mean it doesn't hurt."
"I wasn't denying that..."
"Just because it pales in comparison to what everyone guesses might have happened... just because it turns out to be 'only that,' doesn't mean it was okay. It doesn't mean I don't still fear Kain. Every time he glances in my direction." She blinked up at the paladin with red-rimmed eyes. "And I can't even tell anyone because it sounds like nothing happened. No one takes you seriously, if nothing physically happened..."
He gently untangled one of her curls from his crystal pendant. "I never said you were not a victim."
"That's not what I want."
"What is it, then?"
She shook her head mutely.
Sighing, he leaned his head back against the rock, thinking for a moment. "Rosa... This is Mount Ordeals."
"Where you became a paladin."
"Yes." He sighed. "I don't... want to shed blood. Not ever again, not if I can help it."
"But you can't help it."
"No. But what good am I doing?" he wondered helplessly. "We've chased Golbez back, forth, up, down, under and above ground, and still he has all the Crystals. Even if we follow him to the moon-- literally-- what's to say we'll succeed?"
"You have to try." Rosa strained to tilt her head upwards, staring at Cecil's face from below. "You have to try."
"I'm killing, and accomplishing nothing. I'm killing the followers. I'm killing Golbez. Tellah and the twins are gone. And Kain. I'm going to have to face Kain." He closed his eyes. "When I became a paladin, the Light... that Light told me justice alone was not enough. Another principle must guide my life. But... Rosa, mercy... how can I be both merciful and just?" What if I have to hurt Kain?
"You'll find a way. When you get there. It'll happen."
"What if it doesn't?"
"It will." Her expression completed the unspoken thought: It has to.
"I can't fight him, Rosa. I just can't."
A shiny green beetle crawled on the packed dirt ground towards the couple. Cecil let it crawl onto his sword and wiped it carefully off on a nearby rock; the bug crawled off, unharmed, in the opposite direction. He sighed.
Rosa, cheek pressed against his linen shirt, murmured, "I just want the old Kain back."
"So do I..." Cecil sighed deeply, wondering if it would ever be possible. "So do I."