The Thorns of Memory
Had the great warrior Odin, first of Baron's many kings, looked down upon
the formidable stone castle that he had helped construct, he would scarcely
recognize it. Baron was enjoying an era of renaissance, indeed not just
Baron, but the entire world. Airships ornamented with royal crests (and some
flying the experimental flags of the fledgling Fabul Republic) raced across
the sky like airborne whales, and sweet were the songs of their intrepid
crews. It was the sight of these marvelous inventions that stirred old
emotions in Rosa as she sat on a blanket in a rocky field and visited with
her husband. Rosa could not remember when she stopped associating airships
with the atrocious fire bombs of the Red Wings, but she knew it was some
time after old Cid had helped sink the Big Whale beneath the waves and some
time before her beloved Cecil died while addressing his people one last
'People,' Cecil never referred to the citizens of Baron as his
'subjects.' He hated the very idea of being called 'king' at first, but
changed his mind after the platoon he had sent to clear the last scattered
imp warlords from the highways had not returned. After it became clear that
the squad was not coming back, Cecil took Rosa aside and said:
"We can't just be Rosa and Cecil anymore, my love, these people are
counting on support from something greater and stronger than themselves.
They need the Crown now almost as much as they needed it in the dark days of
Zemus, my beautiful Queen. This time, though, I will not allow the Crown to
fail to protect them."
They were 'King' and 'Queen' Baron since that day.
Rosa shifted her gaze from the royal sepulcher of Cecil to the smaller, yet
just as elegant tomb that contained the body of her second son. He had
fallen ill while exploring the lands north of Eblan. King Eblana (always
'Edge' to Rosa) had been so angry that her amiable boy had been taken by the
fever and not by the sword as he believed all great men should. She had
accepted this sentiment as a complement to her son's virility, but had
silently disagreed. Her husband and her beloved son, Mid (Cid refused to
allow anyone to be named after him while he was alive: "Too many damned
Cids, ya know! People'll get confused.") had both died in a time of peace
and discovery. Their kind souls would rest easier knowing that they departed
from a world free of evil.
Wearily, Rosa forced herself to her feet, much to the distaste of her
quarrelsome joints. As she folded her travel blanket and prepared to walk
back to her conveyance, parked at the cemetery gate, she felt a sharp pain
in her mind. It felt as though someone had fired a quiver directly into her
acute magical senses. She stumbled backwards, barely keeping her elderly
ankles from betraying her balance as she wheeled towards the gate. Rosa
gasped. She had seen the tombstone.
Carved from white marble of a standard grade it stood, well-maintained and
unassuming, between Rosa and the gate. She could feel nothing from the
marble itself, it only served to identify the grave's fearful inhabitant:
The words were stamped in a pragmatic font across the face of the stone.
"R.I.P. Baigan...Chief of Baron's Royal Guard..." and then the dates of his
life and death, which concluded the passionless epitaph. Why had she never
seen this stone before? Had Cecil constructed it out of shame because he
felt his brother had somehow wronged this twisted man? At the moment,
though, Rosa cared not for what reason the grave was built. She could feel
the evil seething beneath the packed earth, manifesting itself in the area
for perhaps the first time since it had passed from its physical casing. Had
it waited all these decades for her? She knew well the patient ways of the
dead and, more importantly, she knew that her holy flame could brush this
malevolent force from the world like a rogue ant from atop her shoulder. But
she would not, not until she remembered the thing that teased her from the
tip of her conscious thought.
The door to Cecil's captain tower closed almost inaudibly. Rosa hoped to
avoid the leers of the toothless watchman who stood vigil over the sleeping
Red Wings. She had been warned against coming here by Sara, the former White
Wizard of Baron, but now Sara was gone. Also gone were her unfair curfews
and her constant denunciation of Cecil. However, neither the freedom to do
as she wished, nor the Wizard status she had inherited when Sara
mysteriously left for Mysidia, comforted the troubled Rosa. Sara had been a
strict old cleric, and under her tutelage Rosa had become an invaluable
asset around the castle. Especially invaluable now, with Sara gone and Baron
apparently priming for world war. With all these changes happening at once,
Rosa couldn't shake the feeling that her powers would soon be tested to
Strangely, it wasn't the impending war that brought the uneasy shiver to
Rosa's spine, it was the feeling that everything she held dear was slipping
through her grasping hands. Her mother was estranged from her for leaving
her job at the fletcher's shop, her best friend and mentor was gone, (maybe
forever) and her love, her Cecil, was departing for Mist in the morning.
Cecil...Cecil worried her most of all. It wasn't that Rosa thought him
unable to handle the insignificant journey to the remote town of callers, he
was more than capable. More than capable...but, he was changing...
Cecil was already a Dark Knight when Rosa met him three years ago. Because
of Cecil's rank and position as leader of the Red Wings, Rosa would have
likely never even seen him had she not quit her profitable job running
Dohl's Flecther Shop to start her apprenticeship under Sister Sara of the
White Rose. Sara had come to town to recruit white mages to replace those
lost in a recent flood (a tragedy that claimed the life of many of the
King's personal favorites). It was there that she happened upon Rosa,
shooting in an archery competition.
The Wizard was impressed with Rosa's shooting acumen, but had no thoughts
about recruiting someone who could so masterfully handle a tool of death.
Then, in frustration, an eliminated rival turned his bow on a tame falcon
that belonged to a local sportsman. The falcon was hooded to keep it from
attacking the crowd, so it did not see the shaft even after it pierced its
breast. Sara had not yet moved to intervene, as she so shocked by the
barbaric display. She had just began to stride towards the falcon when Rosa,
in the middle of her final shot, released the arrow early to help the
wounded bird. The sportsman was more intent on bludgeoning the cruel archer
unconscious then in saving his downed pet, so Rosa was alone with the
animal. Sara's grey eyes watched in awe as the aura around Rosa grew
brighter and brighter until it was almost visible to the mundane peasantry
gathered around her. Then, the falcon tore the tense silence with a piercing
scream, and Rosa, exhausted, gasped for breath.
"Foolish, foolish child," Sara yelled into Rosa's pale face. "You just spat
away a year off of your life!" Then she said to herself, "that was far
beyond the second degree of Cure, maybe even beyond third!"
Rosa just gawked at the plain, slender woman who was reprimanding her so
suddenly and unexpectedly. She had healed things many times before, like
hurt pets or her own broken wrist, but she had never even dreamed of mending
so serious a wound. Except her grandpa...the plague had taught her the
limits of her power, limits she would shatter in the coming years. Sara let
the young lady stumble home to sleep for the next seven hours, but when Rosa
awoke, she found her new acquaintance already engaged in argument with her
"She cannot be allowed to exercise such power without the proper training.
If Rosa does not learn self-control, the magical drain will kill her. We
Mages of the White Rose can teach her that control, so that she might not
only ensure her safety, but also provide healing to the needy--"
"--We are the needy, Mistress. My Rosa is just now starting to make enough
money to support us both. Mr. Dohl would never allow her to leave for the
length of time you suggest," Rosa's mother snapped in reply.
"Ah, if it is gold you require, the crown will be more than happy to pay
you a generous stipend for allowing us to train your daughter." That part
Sara said with distaste, pronouncing 'gold' with a faint sneer.
"Bah, what does the crown know of generosity? My Richard died in the Chaos
Fist Wars, and I still haven't received a pence of pension money!"
"That's not true, mother, and you know it," Rosa interjected as she entered
the parlor. "My father wouldn't kill another human being, so they forced him
out." She stared intensely, but without hatred, at the agent of the Crown
that stood before her. "We think he died trying to return to us."
Sara did not turn away, and replied with genuine sympathy. "I am truly
sorry, the military can be cruel to someone with a peaceful heart. But that
is all the more reason to join us at the Order, Rosa. You may be forced into
service once word gets around that you were victorious in the archery
Sara reached within the folds of her robe and produced the arrow that Rosa
had let fly prematurely. Wrapped around the shaft was a scroll, presumably
the certificate proclaiming Rosa the victor.
"It was impaled in the center mark, child. That mark will be the chests of
a thousand men and women should your hands perform their cruel art at the
head of Baron's legions."
"Bah!" Rosa's mother exclaimed again. "What does the King's army want with
a tiresome young girl?"
"The King wants arrows to kill his enemies, he cares not whose hands they
fly from," Sara replied sorrowfully.
The room was quiet for a moment, but Rosa broke the spell by running into
her room and slamming the door behind her.
"She is mine, you siren, not your God's, not the King's, and certainly not
yours," Rosa heard her mother hiss from behind the door.
"She belongs to no one!" Sara chuckled chillingly. "No, I lie. I feel
Fate's jealous hand closing on her. She has dipped deep into God's might,
and I suspect she will have to pay terrible recompense for it."
When Rosa returned, she was burdened with all she could pack into a
backpack. She gave her mother a pouch of gold pieces to pay Mr. Dohl for the
fine composite bow she had slung over her shoulder, and she put the rest of
her money in a brass coffer and put it on the table for her mother to use on
until the first stipend arrived from the castle.
"You ungrateful simpleton! You're just going to leave me to die alone in
this cold house? I raised you even after your coward father deserted us!"
Rosa's mother shrieked as her daughter opened the door for the demure
"I will return every time I am allowed, mother, I promise." There were
tears in Rosa's kind brown eyes, but they were the only ones in the room.
"I don't care if you ever do. Just leave me in peace."
Rosa's first days in the castle were trying. Mistress Sara ran the Order
like a convent. She valued holy purity above all things and even the
smallest indulgence in mischief or merriment was punished with hours of
meditation to 'purge the soul.' Rosa tolerated the strict code without much
complaint, though, she found a disciplined environment helped her focus on
refining her powers. Sara had explained to her the concept of magical drain,
and how it could kill her if she didn't ration out her magic carefully. At
first, Rosa was forced to figure out exactly how many of each spell she
could cast before tiring, but after much trial and painful error, she was
able to judge her threshold perfectly. She gained the respect and admiration
of the other students, and that of the Wizard herself.
Despite the accolades of the neophyte mages, Rosa was still essentially
unhappy. She thought about her mother and the enigmatic words of Sara: "a
terrible recompense." It had been two months since she had left home, and
she was regularly healing the soldiers returning from the wars against the
imp warlords. Then new reports had arrived that claimed that the Red Wings
had been ambushed while retaking a distant outpost, and that their leader
Cecil had been injured. Rosa was the only one near the barracks so she
responded, even though it was against regulations for her to treat officers.
She had no idea that, as she set out to bend the rules and help some
soldiers in need, she would be changing her life forever.
"Damn it! Damn it, Kain. I think that pile of bones has slain me."
Rosa heard a hearty laugh in response to this declaration, and that made
her breathed a sigh of relief as she entered the barracks.
"Quit your whining, Cecil, he just found a kink. That'll happen a lot until
you make more personal adjustments to your new armor," the man called Kain
said to his friend.
"Argghh," Cecil winced in pain. "I tell you this Darkness Armor is
perfectly adjusted to my body, I spent all last month tinkering with it."
At this point Rosa could see the two men clearly. They were roughly the
same age, although Kain looked younger because he had removed his helmet and
his wild blond hair was sticking up ridiculously. Rosa didn't have much time
to inspect the soldiers, though, before noticing the blood pooling under the
"Hello, I am Rosa of the White Rose. I hear we have injured here," she
asked nervously, unsure of how the officers would treat a lowly mage.
"I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that this one's wounded," joked Kain,
indicating Cecil with his spear.
"Yeah, Rosa, is it? A Red Bone put his sword right through my armor. I
think he might have cut my arm clean off."
Again, Cecil's pathetic tone sent Kain bellowing. "The skeleton got lucky
and nicked him through a kink, that's all. Can you fix him up, Rose?"
"Yes, certainly." Rosa had healed through armor many times before and was
prepared for an easy mend. Placing both hands on Cecil's shoulder, she
allowed herself to cast a moderate level cure spell. Nothing.
Cecil grimaced. "Alright, you can hit me with that Cure spell any time now.
I think I'm gonna pass out."
"Um. I think your armor is interfering with my spell. Can you take the arm
and shoulder pieces off?"
"Well, the King doesn't like me to take the suit off while I'm on active
duty, but I think he'd make an exception this time," Cecil replied hoarsely.
"Um, Kain, would you..."
Kain nodded. "Sure," Kain winked at Rosa. "When I take the armor off, be
sure to keep his arm from falling off."
Rosa smiled flimsily and set herself to repeat the spell. However, when the
sleeve was removed, the blood cascaded down Cecil's arm and dripped rapidly
off his hand. Aghast, Rosa lost her concentration.
"Oh my God!" Kain yelled. "Oh, man. Cecil, hold on bud! Let me get this off
of you." Kain removed the rest of the breastplate and saw what should have
been impossible. Cecil's torso was deeply cut, from his left shoulder near
his neck, to just above his kidney. "What the hell! Where did this come
When Rosa saw the blood she knew the cut was worse than the armor belied.
She began to chant magical focus words, words that meant nothing to anyone
but a mage, but chilled Kain's blood nonetheless. Rosa did not have to touch
Cecil's wound because her spell projected an arch of brilliant white energy
that enveloped the unconscious Captain completely. The wound closed promptly
and Rosa could feel her overtaxed powers hungrily demanding her life
essence. Using a technique Sara had taught her, Rosa put her hand on Cecil's
mended shoulder and absorbed the magical residue that still lingered there.
The wound no longer existed, so the loss of the magic did no harm. With the
edge taken off her magical drain, Rosa's balance was restored.
Awestruck, Kain turned to Rosa and asked, "how could he have been cut so
deep, while his armor remained untouched?"
Rosa did not know, but she did know that the armor had tried to prevent her
from helping its dying owner. At the time, she had reprimanded herself for
such a crazy thought. How could armor have any will of its own? "It was
probably just magically resistant like a lot of good armors are," she told
In the months that followed that incident Rosa, Cecil, and Kain became good
friends. Cecil and Kain had known each other since they were children and it
was not too long ago that they had both been mischievous squires. Now, Cecil
was a Dark Knight. Later, he would become a Shadow Knight and then a Hell
Knight, the ultimate honor for a Knight of the Black Rose. Kain was
technically still a Lancer, he would become a Dragoon and then a Dragon
Knight when he had slain his seventh dragon. However, since Kain was the
last of his family line, everyone just called him a Dragoon. Dragons were
rare, after all, and no one wanted Kain to pointlessly lose his life hunting
the great beasts. It was this convoluted ranking system that kept Rosa
separated from her new friends. While the higher ranking 'Wizards' attended
to the officers, the lower 'Mages' practiced and helped the foot soldiers.
Rosa was gaining power as a master of the healing arts, though, and soon she
would be able to see Cecil on a regular basis. She had not even noticed that
her mind was shifting emphasis from 'going to see Cecil and Kain' to 'going
to see Cecil.' It was not that she did not enjoy her time with the droll
Dragoon, but Cecil and her were so similar in spirit that it was difficult
to deny the attraction.
Rosa liked to think of them as misfits, even though they were both very
respected and popular members of court. Still, they were both adjusting to
something that was strange to them: Cecil with his dark armament and Rosa
with her powers. Cecil was far too gentle to be the dark, brooding
juggernaut the King wanted him to be, and Rosa was starting to grow weary of
the puritanical life that Sara continued to force on her. In fact, it was
Sara who first began to protest the growing emotions between Rosa and her
"He is a man of darkness, my pupil, soon your powers will become
incompatible with his, and soon after that your very soul will find him
repulsive. Besides, your holy gift demands certain sacrifices and among
those is chastity. Sympathetic magic (Sara's fancy term for white magery) is
a pure energy form, never forget that."
For Rosa the schism between love and position became a serious dilemma. If
she were to accept a normal life with Cecil, she might lose her powers and
then she would no longer be any use to anyone. She dreaded the idea of being
just another 'court wife,' waiting for her husband to come back from the
front. There was also Sara's very real warning of Cecil's impending
They had been walking together outside the castle, enjoying the fresh air
and each other's company, when a large panther, not native to the Baron
region, sprung on them. She was not armed and could only throw up a
defensive barrier around Cecil before he charged the crazed cat. Cecil cut
in low, wounding the fierce cat in the flank, but the panther's paw
connected with his head. Dizzy from the blow, Cecil missed his next cut and
the panther took the opportunity to tear through the dark chain mesh. Rosa
was alarmed for Cecil, but recognized the fear that motivated the cat's
attack. She fumbled in the back of her mind for a fragment of Black Magic
that could debilitate the enraged animal. The symbols of Dark Arcana that
came to her were like pieces of ash stirred by the wind, a stark contrary to
the white flames that pulsed through her when she called upon her 'gift.'
"Please! Sleep, Angry One."
Cast by a better black mage, the spell would have knocked the panther off
its feet and into the dream world, but Rosa's pitiful attempt merely stunned
it. She turned to Cecil and nodded towards the panther to indicate that they
should leave quickly. She was busy pondering how their little 'date' had
turned into a melee when she saw what Cecil was about to do. Rosa caught a
shriek in her throat as he plunged his blade into the panther's unprotected
chest. The incapacitated beast gurgled incoherently and then fell on its
side. Rosa tried to run to its aid, but Cecil pulled her back. Again, Rosa
felt her powers wane as the dark gauntlet gripped her shoulder.
"You...it was no threat! How could you DO that!" Rosa growled as if she had
completed the panther's last impotent protest.
"It was a threat to Baron, that kind of beast would have no trouble killing
an unarmed peasant."
"Since when do you say 'peasant' Cecil? You've changed."
"I've grown, Rosa. You would too if you left that ivory tower of yours more
often." Despite the harshness of his words, Cecil's tone of voice lacked
conviction, as if he were reciting a script that had been forced on him.
"You're the only one I know who lives in a tower, Captain, and it looks
like being up there among the clouds has you thinking yourself superior to
the rest of us 'peasants!'"
"Don't twist my words! You know what I mean. Do you think that little
convent you retreat to every night is reality? I bet you love receiving
praise for your pious behavior with 'that brutish knight.'" Cecil cleaned
his sword and did a mock curtsey to further imitate the mannerisms of the
Rosa, although outraged, was shocked to discover how Cecil really felt
about The Order. She had entertained similar feelings, but had convinced
herself that Sara was her problem and had no effect on their relationship.
She had no retort for Cecil. The Black Magic and the murder of the cat had
made her feel dirty, and she would indeed have to answer to the pious
"I don't ever want to see you again, do you understand me? I'm going to ask
for a transfer to the Circle at Mysidia." Rosa tried to hold back tears, but
her restraint gave way when she saw the baffled look on Cecil's scratched
face. Had he looked so twisted before, or was it Sara's influence reaching
even beyond the castle walls?
"I'm sorry Cecil. We are not the same, I think we always knew that."
"Yeah...I guess so. I think it might be better if I was the one to go away
for awhile, Rosa. I think I'm getting less human." Cecil waved away Rosa's
attempt to reply and started back towards the portcullis.
Rosa was relieved not to find Sara at the school when she returned. She
promptly cleaned off and changed her white robes before any of her
classmates could see the bloodstains transferred from Cecil's gauntlets. She
knew the gates would be closing soon by the regular tolling of the bells,
warning parents to call in their children.
Two sleepless hours later, Rosa opened her door to find Kain waiting with
Sara (curious about his intentions, no doubt) in toe.
"What is it Kain?"
"Rosa, weren't you with Cecil tonight?"
Sara's face was blank, unreadable.
"Uh, yes. The Captain and I were discussing the attack on Thorsday."
"Humph." Kain dismissed Rosa's excuse and continued his questioning. "Where
is he? He's not in his tower and no one else has seen him since midday. I am
curious as to where he might be."
Rosa's mind reeled with all the possible scenarios. Was he deserting? Was
he drowning himself in Imphorn Lake? Why didn't she talk to him...
"Rosa. Please answer the Commander's question."
"No. It's all right, Mistress. I need to talk to her alone if you don't
mind." Kain smiled his 'official' smile and, satisfied, Sara returned to her
"Where IS he, Rose?"
"I...I don't know," Rosa stammered in reply.
"Well, I'll get the Red Wings airborne to look for him, but maybe we're
worrying for nothing. Maybe he just found a paramour in town," Kain grinned
at first, but Rosa did not seem pleased, so he aborted his attempt at
levity. "He'll be back by morning, Rose, I promise you."
Rosa embraced Kain and thanked him. As was usual whenever Rosa showed him
affection, Kain blushed a deep red, smiled, and made a quick exit. She had
no doubt Kain would keep his word to her and have Cecil back by morning.
However, Rosa was not going to wait until morning.
It wasn't quite the search Rosa had expected. She had returned to the site
of their argument to see if he had passed back that way, but her heart leapt
when she found him there, burying the panther.
He was just finished packing in the soil when he noticed her. Her white
robes shone in the night and made him even more aware that his armor must be
all but invisible to her. Rosa was not looking at the armor, though, she was
staring at the face of the man she undeniably loved and he was staring back
at her, adoring her even as he dug his grave.
It wasn't the first time Rosa had been in Cecil's tower, but it was the
first time she had seen it in the moonlight. His decorations were somewhat
sparse, but they told his story to her caring eyes. She saw a shield that
would only fit the hand of a small boy. Two dueling swords: one for him, one
for Kain hung on the wall, above them sat a vase of flowers she had brought
him. The flowers were blooming beautifully even in this cool, dusky abode.
Eventually, her gaze found Cecil's armor in the corner. He would be wearing
that armor to bed a year later, when she came to see him here one last time.
The armor did not frighten her, as her powers allowed her protection from
its malignant nature, but she clung tightly to the sleeping Cecil, and lay
between him and the monster in the corner.
As Rosa strode from the tower to meet the morning sun and, unfortunately,
the snickers of a oafish sentry, she had no fear that her powers had
deserted her. Sara had always preached that love for God plus love for all
living creatures equaled the force that empowered a white mage, but she had
also claimed that chastity was key in this devout equation. Rosa had never
been devout; she had never worn a cross to focus her power like Sara did.
However, she did love God because He gave her the power to protect life, and
she treasured life above all things. Most of all, though, she loved Cecil,
and her love for him augmented her power tremendously. This much was obvious
to Sara when she oversaw Rosa's morning incantations
"You are doing quite well today, Rosa," Sara commented proudly.
"I understand my powers, Mistress, and I understand their limits."
"And what are their limits, child?"
"As long as I live, I will protect others with all my heart, and when I
die, my powers will no longer be of service, their limit will have been
Sara said nothing, she only smiled proudly. However, her pride was tainted
with sorrow, for Rosa had gone to the dark knight and thus Fate had gripped
her by the throat. It was almost time for Rosa to make recompense for her
Almost a year had passed since Cecil buried the panther in the cold autumn
ground, and the tides of war were swelling. The King had grown more and more
paranoid and would not let even his top advisors into his chamber. He only
allowed the Chief of the Guards, Baigan, to conference with him. Baigan had
little time for the business of protecting the castle and had given most of
his responsibilities to Kain. Rosa was in part relieved that the war had
diverted attention from her and Cecil. There was hardly need for concern,
though, most of the castle staff had heard of the budding romance between
Cecil and Rosa, but only Cid (a gruff old engineer that looked on Rosa as a
second daughter) took it seriously. To be more precise, Cid was the only
'outsider' who took it seriously. Cecil and Rosa were very much in love, and
Kain kept up a steady flow of sarcastic comments about the couples
clandestine behavior. Many court ladies had asked Rosa when the marriage
ceremony was going to occur, but she had no answer for them. This question
bothered Rosa more than the all the rumors and whispers combined. She knew a
big offensive was coming soon and Cecil would be spearheading it.
The offensive was aimed at Mysidia. The official reason for attacking the
long-time allies of Baron was a dispute over trade tariffs, but the real
reason (or so Cecil told Rosa) was to seize the Crystal of Water. The
Crystals were powerful but specialized artifacts and Rosa was puzzled about
why the King would want one.
The night Cecil left for Mysidia Rosa could not force herself to sleep. She
paced relentlessly back and forth in her tiny cleric's cell and wondered
what would become of her beloved. She was about to pray for his safe return
when she heard a sharp knock at her door. Fully expecting Kain with his
blushes and assurances of Cecil's safety, she was a little taken back when
she found Sara instead.
"Rosa. I'm leaving now," Sara said concisely. She looked pale and drawn,
and her valued Wizard's Tiara was absent from her brow. Without it holding
back her lengthy silver hair it look wild in the flickering candlelight.
"Leaving to where?" Rosa was a bit alarmed. "Has something happened in
Mysidia? Has something happened to--"
"No. No. Cecil is fine, but I am being sent over there to cure the wounded
Mysidian troops. I will take the Serpent Road and be there by dawn. Goodbye,
Rosa didn't like the sound of finality in Sara's rushed words.
"Wait! I can be ready to leave in a few minutes, please take me with you,"
Sara laughed humorlessly and shook her finger at Rosa. "Don't worry, Rosa.
I'll be back before you know it. I really need you to take care of the King
while I'm gone, anyway." As she mentioned the King, Sara grew pale. "Rosa,
it is best that you stay alert." She paused to look up and down the hallway
of the school. "There is a dark man in the court."
"You mean Cecil...but I--"
"No, not Cecil," she shivered. "This man could be Cecil's shadow...I have
Sara left Rosa, cold and feeling alone for the first time in years,
standing in the doorway. She suddenly felt tired now that the responsibility
of being a Wizard was being hoisted on her. Rosa decided to retire to bed.
She dreamt of her beloved Cecil, his armor discarded, riding a brilliant
comet throughout the night sky. He zoomed past her window and over the
crimson moon. The moon was a fierce red and it was drawing closer...it was
rotten...crawling with worms like a stinking, rotten apple...Cecil's shadow
was being projected on the surface...it looked down at her and laughed...and
She woke to a scream in the night. It was her own, she assured herself, and
passed back into a dreamless sleep.
"Yes," Rosa thought as she left Cecil alone to contemplate his deeds in
Mysidia. "He is slipping away again, but this time I will follow him to hell
if need be."
She pulled her robe tighter around her as the cold air threaten to bite
deeper. It was thankfully a short walk back to her cleric's cell. Were the
Mysidians Cecil had killed anything like her, just trying to live their
lives and follow their hearts? She thought of Sara and realized that she had
forgotten to ask Cecil about her. She was going to, but when she saw him in
that armor she could barely reprimand him for his self-effacing attitude.
She had to leave him tonight, but when he returned from Mist she would not
let him leave her again.
"Yes sir, he will be informed, and, no sir, there will be no more problems
with Cecil," a familiar voice interrupted Rosa's contemplations.
"That is well. But I think Cecil will come around. He is one of us, after
all," replied a voice unfamiliar to Rosa, yet strangely comforting.
"Well, to be hon-"
"Oh, pardon my interruption, Chief Baigan, but I see our resident White
Wizard is out enjoying the night air as well!"
Rosa was a little embarrassed at being discovered, but she soon forgot that
when she finally saw the man with the smooth voice. He was, at first glance,
enormous, but when she looked closer she could see that most of his stature
was supplied by his gigantic suit of armor. The armor was as black as the
space between the stars and his helmet obscured all but his bright blue
"I'm so sorry to interrupt. I was just heading back to my quarters," Rosa
"Nonsense, no need to apologize. Baigan and I were done talking anyway.
Baigan, I'm going to walk this young lady back to her quarters. I hope we
can talk later about the new developments," the dark man said as he strolled
"Yes sir. Good evening, Lord Golbez." Baigan bowed deeply and without
waiting for a reply from Golbez, he exited the corridor.
"'Lord,' so you are royalty then?" asked Rosa when they were alone.
Golbez chuckled and hooked Rosa's arm. At first Rosa was wary of the dark
armor, but found herself trusting this noble man implicitly.
"Yes, you could say that. I'm a lesser noble of the house of Lunarii, in
"Ah. I've never heard of that house, but then again, I'm not a scholar of
"Nor am I. I am here to assess any damage to the crystal that was rescued
"Rescued? My...uh, Captain Cecil claims it was stolen from them." Rosa
regretted those words the second she spoke them, but the dark man had some
sort of unseen sway over her.
"Well, we DID have to extract the crystal rather roughly, my dear. You see,
the Mysidians were foolishly trying to use the crystal to raise an ancient
artifact from the ocean. I'm afraid the crystal was not meant to be used for
such a task and was on the verge of shattering when Cecil 'stole' it. So,
you see, he actually helped us 'rescue' the crystal, and, in time, we will
gladly return it."
"Oh." Rosa was beginning to get uneasy. A man of the court never revealed
this much about the affairs of State. Maybe he just thought her harmless...
"Here you are, my dear, your quarters."
"Thank you," Rosa said as kindly as she could and began to shut the door.
When Golbez reached out unassumingly to block the door from closing, she
thought sure he would surely turn into a monster and burst in on her, but he
"You are very beautiful, Rosa, and a wise young Wizard too. I can see what
Cecil sees in you."
Then he let her close the door and drift off into a troubled sleep.
Cecil and Kain were gone. The castle, usually bustling and crowded, was
dead quiet. As Rosa roamed the halls looking for Cid, she observed that
there were more guards around then usual. What was even stranger was that
she thought she knew most of the guards, but most of the familiar faces were
absent from their posts. Day melted slowly into night, but Cid was no where
to be found. Rosa was angry that she had nothing important to do, even with
her higher rank, and felt that she was wasting her newfound freedom.
However, in the back of her mind, she feared what would happen if she let
herself stand out...
Finally, Rosa abandoned her search for a worthwhile task and ate dinner
with the rest of the mages. They too were oddly quiet, so she decided to
take her leave from them. Determined to not waste her freedom, she headed
off to the archery range to practice for the first time since she had come
to the castle. When she arrived at the infantry range, her first thought was
that she should have gone earlier, as the sunlight was quickly disappearing.
It took her several minutes of shooting in the dim light of dusk to realize
that it mattered very little to her whether she could see well or not. Every
shot was a bull's eye.
"Every mark a man or woman's chest, every mark a life snuffed out," Rosa
said to herself. She swore to herself that she would not share this dark
gift with others as she so readily shared her magic. This was only for her.
The bow twanged like a harp string and Rosa sang her freedom with the
whistle of arrows.
The night had taken a firm hold when Rosa stopped shooting and started the
walk back towards her cell. This time it did not startle her when she
encountered Baigan and Golbez talking at the gate.
"Are you sure he doesn't know, Baigan?"
"There is no way he could."
"It better kill them all, we don't want any messy clean-up."
"No, sir, of course not, sir."
"When Cecil gets to Mist, everybody dies, and Cecil is finally shown our
true glory as the champions of Zem-wait, someone is here."
Rosa could do nothing but hold her breath as Golbez searched the darkness
with his eyes. He did not appear to detect her, but he did cease his
conversation with Baigan. Something was going to happen in Mist and Cecil
would probably be the cause of it. She had to find him!
It took a couple minutes for Golbez and Baigan to exchange whispered
good-byes and leave for their respective quarters, but Rosa held her breath
the whole time. When she was positive they were gone she ran to her room and
ransacked it for supplies. She had no food, but she could stop and see her
mother on the way out of town. As Rosa sprinted to the gate, her backpack
full and her bow slung over her shoulder, she could imagine her mother's
mocking smile. After all, she was deserting her second home exactly as she
had deserted her first home all those years ago. Only this time when she
left she would be leaving with full understanding of the hardships that lay
"Just stop there and drop your weapons," Baigan ordered as he emerged from
"Did Golbez send you to kill me, you traitor?" Rosa spat at him.
"Ha, you are the traitor! Or maybe you not know who pulls Baron's strings?
Now, drop the damned bow, cleric, you dare not use it anyway."
In her mind, Rosa acknowledged him. She would not shoot a living creature.
Slowly, Rosa inched the bow and quarrel from her back and dropped them at
her feet. At least she would have a chance to explain her actions to the
"Good girl. Now, I promise to kill you quick."
The words had not yet hit her senses when Baigan clamped down on her arm.
He had pulled a short sword from his belt and now had it pointed at her
heart. She understood that she was undoubtably going to die, but she was at
least able to stay true to her beliefs. Sara would not have killed this
beast of a man, even if her life was threatened. Rosa knew she would be
proud of her. She shut her eyes.
"Clerics," Baigan snorted. "You tell them to stand still so you can
stick a blade in them and they're more than happy to comply. Just no fun if
you ask me. Still, two cleric corpses in the moat means I'll get that
promotion to Captain once Cecil botches that Mist job."
Rosa had opened her eyes when the murdering fiend had mentioned another
cleric, and now she clearly saw a gold chain in Baigan's belt loop...a chain
like the one that held Sara's cross. Baigan tracked her gaze and smiled when
he saw she had discovered the cleric's crucifix.
"Nice little bauble, isn't it? I kind of hoped you would have one too. It's
the sort of thing I might like to collect."
When he spoke of the cross, Rosa felt a dark power surfacing in him, a
small taste of his truly evil nature. This was not a human being.
Baigan lunged, but before the tip of the blade could bury itself, Rosa
focused her holy power on Baigan's arm, engulfing it in white tongues of
flame. He screamed and dropped her. His blade went clattering to the stone
floor. Rosa wasted no time in recovering her bow and arrows from the ground,
and she was well beyond his reach when he reached out to swat her.
"You fought back! Bad Wizard. But I have a question for you. Who do you
think can run faster, harlot? You, the scrawny little whore of Captain
Cecil, or me, the hand of Golbez and future lord of Baron?"
"The answer is simple, demon. I can not win if I run," Rosa admitted.
"Correct. I'm glad I don't have to punish you for ignorance, now drop that
toy and let's get back to killing you, OK?"
Rosa fought against the rising anger inside her. She thought about shooting
Baigan and regaining Sara's cross from his bloody body like a trophy. She
thought about spitting on his grave as she danced on it. Deep in her soul,
though, Rosa knew that if she killed for these reasons she would never be
able to help Cecil again. She now realized that her powers of healing and
love were not her own. They were for him...her gift was what brought them
together and it was what would sustain their love forever. Rosa faced the
abomination and grinned wickedly. Fate had left her one loophole, though,
one trump card. She had something that was entirely separate from Sara, from
Cecil. The bow was all for her, and its deadly arrows were all for her...
All except for this one. This one she gave to Baigan.
So, it was him, the man she had left screaming in the night. Even though
Cecil later told her that he was changed into a monster by Golbez and
killed, the news had not taken the stain of his murder from her soul. She
had always assumed that Cecil had burnt his corpse with the rest of the
monsters that fell in Baron, but here stood a marker in his name. She felt
the tendrils of evil intent reaching for her from the grave. She set her
feet firmly in the ground and reached out her hands. An emotion between
anger and hate rose in her. Why had Cecil given this fiend a grave so close
to the tomb of her sweet child. The murder was her darkest moment, and he
mocked her by making her relive it?
"Begone. You will not trouble this place again."
That was all. The presence was gone as if it had never existed.
It was difficult for Rosa to move for several moments after her casting,
but she managed to motivate her aggravated joints. Looking down on the
simple stone, she wondered: was Baigan's soul still out there somewhere,
finally free of that overriding evil. She had only to wait a second before
hearing the unspoken reply from the earth around the tombstone:
"Thank you...I'm sorry...I was so afraid..."
Rosa lips pressed thinly together, her eyes were flooding with tears. She
let them come, as she often did in this place of memories. Ignoring the
protest from her body, she knelt at the foot of the grave and reached,
trembling, within her robes. Rosa could feel the cold golden chain of Sara's
cross in her clenched fist, her only trophy of war. Undoing the clasp, she
placed it on the earth by the stone. As Rosa wept with her head in her
hands, she remembered again the mad panther, dying a mute death at the cruel
tip of Cecil's sword. She looked from Sara's cross to the far-away spot near
the castle walls were Cecil had buried the beast.
"I understand. I understand now Cecil."