The ground cracked sharply, dropping away under his feet.
An expanse of darkness yawned beneath him, spiraling downward into a fiery pit. The stone heaved up, tall above his head, buckling and distorted. He could feel the hissing heat rising around him. It came from below, where streams of molten rock squeezed up from the fissures within the ground.
The earth rebuked the city which sat trembling upon its shoulders.
Buildings crumpled, shattering across the ground. Some were ripped apart as if stone was merely child’s clay. The shadow of the castle began to lean as the towers swayed dangerously overhead. The sound of screaming was distant to his ears. The vision of people scattering through the broken streets reflected in an underwater slow-motion.
Pale recognition froze the blood in his veins. He knew this place… it was one of Baron’s sister cities… a place of great peace and tranquility. A city that now lay in shattered pieces before his very eyes.
No… not Troia, too..!
Through the cries of the people, he heard someone call his name.
The world around him rippled, fluttering across his vision as the voice echoed in his ears.
That sounds like…
Rosa? But what is she doing here…?
“Cecil… wake up!”
Realization dawned upon him as the images of destruction peeled away from his senses. A hazy vision rose to take its place… his eyes opened slowly to the concerned expression of his wife standing over him.
It was… a dream?
“Cecil, are you okay?” He felt the cool of her hand on his heated forehead.
“Rosa… I’m…” His green eyes blinked, focusing slowly.
What do I tell her? That I dreamt of the destruction of the city of Troia?
Not waiting for his answer, she leaned over and placed a cool kiss on his cheek. “You’re always my sleepy-head, aren’t you? I’m sorry to wake you, dear. But there’s someone important here to see you.”
“Oh..?” Cecil sat up slowly, pulling the tangle of blankets from around him. “How important?”
“Pretty important. From the Land of Summoned Monsters,” Rosa’s voice was soft and strained.
“Ah! Rydia’s finally arrived?” Crossing the room, the Paladin began to rummage for a proper set of unwrinkled clothes.
Cecil peered over one shoulder, “Actually?”
He squinted, hand paused in the motion of selecting a clean shirt. “What do you mean…?”
Rosa slowly shook her head, “I don’t know, Cecil. Something might have happened… but I didn’t stop to hear the full story before coming to get you. I think you need to hear the details for yourself.”
Concern flooded his face instantly. The young King gave a short nod, “Go ahead and tell them I’m coming right down… just let me get a quick change here.”
One hand reached over to touch the top of his wrist with a comforting motion as she nodded. Without further words, Rosa made her way out of the royal bedchambers.
Shiva… what else can go wrong?
Cecil strode into the adjoining bathing room, taking a moment to splash water over his face. A glance in the mirror found a worn, flushed image reflecting back at him.
The ship I sent to Troia still hasn’t returned… And now I have a dream of the city being destroyed in an earthquake of unimaginable size…
No longer being picky, the Paladin drew out the first set of clothes that he could find. He deposited his current rumpled outfit in the corner and began a fast change.
Our meetings are practically going nowhere. No one can seem to agree on a direct course of action for our kingdoms as a whole. And Edge… he’s simply impossible. He refuses to do anything as long as Golbez is present.
The fingers of one hand raked quickly through his tousled hair as he took one last glance at himself in the dressing mirror.
And it’s like walking on glass to keep Golbez from making a bowl of Ninja Crispies a part of his balanced breakfast. I swear sometimes it’s so tempting to let the two of them just have it out… if only to get it out of their system. But I doubt that’s going to help anything.
Shrugging a cloak over his shoulders, Cecil strode quickly through the doorway and down the hall. Eyes straight ahead, he hardly noticed the people he passed on his way to the throne room.
And now Rydia hasn’t come…
He fought back the sense of frustration and hopelessness.
If anyone could have gotten through to Edge, it would have been Rydia. I really needed her to be here to back me up on this. Without her… I don’t know what I’m going to do…
His arms tensed as he pressed his palms against the tall wooden doors, pushing them open.
There’s so little time… so little time…
The air in the throne room was so thick with tension it almost choked him to breathe. Keeping his eyes focused on the throne ahead, Cecil strode down the carpeted path and up the stairs. Only when he turned to address the room did he take note of who stood present.
Rosa was to one side of the dais, a deeply troubled look on her face. Though her shoulders were held high, the way she fidgeted with her hands told the story of her worry.
Surprisingly enough, Golbez had positioned himself not far behind her. His face was serious and strangely protective. It was a look that Cecil had never seen on his brother’s face before. And something about it left the Paladin with more questions than answers.
Edge stood just a few steps down to the left, looking to be on the brink of absolute nervous breakdown. Kain had one large hand fixed on the ninja’s shoulder. Cecil couldn’t tell if it was to steady the king… or to keep him held in place.
A stranger stood upon the carpet before the throne. As Cecil’s eyes brushed over him, he bowed his head with a polite greeting.
“Your Majesty,” Kain began slowly.
It’s always so strange to hear Kain call me that… but in the face of royal visitors, I suppose nothing can be done for it.
Cecil’s eyes flickered to the Dragoon questioningly.
“This is Prince Edhan from the Land of Summon Monsters,” the Captain noted without flourish. “And a personal friend of Lady Rydia’s.”
Edge’s eyes narrowed, one fist balling tightly at his side.
“I see,” Cecil bowed his head slowly. “Welcome, Your Highness to the Kingdom of Baron. We are honored to make your acquaintance.”
“I am likewise honored, King Cecil,” the man straightened slowly. His strange, violet eyes fell heavily upon the Paladin. “I have heard so much about you… and all of Rydia’s companions from the Overworld. It’s with much sorrow that I come to you under such circumstances.”
“How is Rydia?” Cecil asked, trying to edge the worry out of his voice.
Edhan’s face grew unreadable.
“Forgive me for asking… as happy as we are to have you here with us, I was hoping that Rydia would respond to my sendings as well.”
The prince peered down uncomfortably. There was a long moment of silence before he finally spoke again, “I’m sorry. Rydia was unable to answer your call. I’ve come in her stead… bearing ill news.”
“What?” Edge’s eyes were so round they seemed ready to pop. “What the hell you mean by that? She is ‘unable to answer’ the call? Why?”
“Now Edge…” Kain murmured, tightening his grip on the ninja’s arm.
“Please… Prince Edhan… continue?” Cecil leaned back on his heels, bracing himself. The pit of his stomach churned in unease. The grave light in his eyes fought to cover his apprehension.
“Your Majesty… I came with the news as soon as I heard you had summoned for her…” Edhan’s face shifted in pain. “Rydia has been taken.”
“T-taken?” Edge choked.
“What…. do you mean taken?” Rosa’s eyes widened, one hand reaching up to touch her chin in a motion of shock.
The fiery-haired prince took a slow breath. “I do not know who the enemy was. But there were two of them. Both were women… we met them at the entrance of the Sealed Cave.”
A lump rose in Cecil’s throat. “What… happened?”
“They had somehow broken the seal… I never learned how…” Edhan shook his head, looking as if he was picking his words very carefully. “By the time that we arrived, they had already acquired the Dark Crystal that is kept within the cave.”
“Two of them? Women? Are you certain of this?” Golbez’s voice suddenly jolted through the chamber.
Cecil turned with a hint of surprise. His brother tended to be silent more often than not. But the pressed expression on his face spoke volumes of what might have been churning through the Master Wizard’s mind.
“Yes…” the Prince nodded.
“What else did you see..? Did they have another Crystal?”
Edhan froze for a moment. His strange eyes blinked before he responded, “As a matter of fact… yes. How did you know?”
“Incrytan…” Golbez breathed slowly.
The word sent prickles up Cecil’s arms.
“I’m… sorry?” the Prince gave the Half-Lunar a strange look.
“It would seem… that the women you met at the Sealed Cave are the very people that we are seeking to find,” Cecil answered slowly, trying to explain the best that he could. “One of the Crystals they have in their position belongs to my brother.”
“Ah… I see…”
“However, what happened when you met them at the Cave?” the Paladin asked shortly.
“Rydia and I… we challenged them, of course. After all, it’s our duty to protect the Dark Crystals.” The young prince frowned, “The power that they had between the two of them was extraordinary. Maybe it was the Crystals… I don’t know. But… we… lost the battle…”
Edge’s face was awash with horror. “What… happened to Rydia?”
“I thought they were going to kill her at first. But the younger woman — the one with white hair — she pleaded for Rydia’s life. So they took her captive instead,” Edhan replied, his voice marked with deep shame. “I’m sorry…”
Golbez’s words rasped slowly, “Did you say… a younger woman… with white hair?”
“Are you certain?”
“Why, yes… I am. She was one that I did get a good look at,” Edhan nodded slowly.
The Master Wizard closed his mouth, the expression on his face churning like a stormcloud.
“No… no… Rydia..!” the overwhelming anguish of the Ninja King echoed through the Baronian throne room. Jerking away from Kain’s grasp, Edge turned on his heel and dodged out the doors.
“Hey! Wait… Edge!” Kain called with a frustrated demand.
As the Dragoon moved to follow, Cecil found his own voice rising. “No Kain. Let him go.”
Kain froze, peering back at the Paladin with questioning eyes.
Slumping down on his throne, Cecil could feel the weight of his worries doubling upon his shoulders. “Just… let him go.”