The Thorns of Memory

Evan Jenkins

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 time.

'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 their extreme.

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 mother.

"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 competition."

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 Wizard.

"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 Captain.

"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 from?"

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 herself.


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 knight.

"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 transformation...


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.

" 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 conservative Sara.

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 cleric.

"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 bed.

"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 reached."

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 gift.


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, my child."

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," Rosa begged.

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 to leave."

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 was rotten...crawling with worms like a stinking, rotten apple...Cecil's shadow was being projected on the looked down at her and laughed...and she screamed.

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 eyes.

"I'm so sorry to interrupt. I was just heading back to my quarters," Rosa stammered.

"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 towards Rosa.

"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 Toria."

"Ah. I've never heard of that house, but then again, I'm not a scholar of politics."

"Nor am I. I am here to assess any damage to the crystal that was rescued from Mysidia."

"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 did not.

"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 ahead.

"Just stop there and drop your weapons," Baigan ordered as he emerged from the shadows.

"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 king.

"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."