Ch3-1 Bright Eyes

“But… I thought Golbez was supposed to be a bad guy?!”

This must be a mistake.

Everyday after lunch the pages of Baron went back to the Quarters to get their chores. Usually their errands were written on a scratch board and left on their pillows. The duties could be polishing weapons in the armory or dish-washing in the kitchen. One lucky page was allowed to leave the castle to fetch supplies for the Queen from time to time.

But something was very different today.There hadn’t been a scratch board on his pillow when he got back from lunch. Instead, a scroll was waiting for him. It was sealed with red wax and marked with the symbol of the King of Baron.

This can’t be for me!

The first thing he did was take the scroll to Master Hass to make sure it hadn’t been put on his bed by accident. When the Headmaster looked at it, he pointed out the writing on the silk marker that was attached to the scroll. The letters were really big and in a fancy handwriting.

But it has my name on it?

Chase Wescott.

It has my name and the official seal of King Cecil himself?

Something about the way the scroll unfolded between Chase’s fingers felt very important. The writing on the inside was big and fancy, too. His heart nearly stopped beating when he looked down and saw the name at the bottom of the page. Big curly letters spelled out “Cecil Harvey”.

Chase was so excited that he had to read the letter ten times before he actually understood what was written on it. It had official orders straight from King Cecil.

And I got his autographical too!

Headmaster Hass knocked Chase on the head a few times until the funny feeling in his stomach went away. Master Hass thought that hitting his students on the head was the answer to everything.

“Well, whazit say, boy?”

“I have to go up to the East Tower guest rooms. There’s some kinda guest that His Majesty wants for me to serve, I think?” the page answered, gold eyes growing large and round. “But why me? Why not one of the maids?”

“You gonna question the King’s orders, boy?”

The look on Master Hass’ face told him that ‘no’ was the only answer.

So Chase said it, “No, sir.”

“Then get your rear in gear, boy. If there’s a call to do your duty, you better get to it chop-chop!” The exclamation was followed by a startling hand clap.

“Yessir!”

“Does the scroll say for you to bring anything with you?”

“No, sir. It just says to go to the High Vista Room in the guest quarters of the East Tower. And to be there at four-thirty…”

Master Hass gave a quick glance towards the clock on the wall. “Which leaves you with ‘bout three minutes from now to get there!”

Oh no!

Chase’s mouth dropped open in fearful shock as he looked at the clock, as well. Before another scolding word left the Headmaster’s mouth, the page was running out of the door with the official scroll clutched tightly in one hand.

I can’t believe I’m gonna be late for an assignment from the King!! Why didn’t I open the scroll sooner?

He had never met King Cecil before. Of course, Chase had seen him from a distance. But he had never really talked to him.

I wonder if he’ll be waiting there for me? I sure hope he won’t be mad! They say he’s pretty nice… even if you do mess up on accident.

Running as fast as he could, Chase’s boot-heels squealed as he turned a corner. A few curses were thrown at the boy as he dodged in and out of the group of slow-walking grown-ups who were taking up all the space in the hall. He didn’t pay them any attention.

Finally, he came to the foot of the stone stairs and began to climb them in big leaps. There were so many stairs to climb in the castle towers that it took a long time to get to the top. And it always made him tired out by the time he finally got there.

Today he was too excited to be tired. The moment he got to the top of the tower, Chase kept running straight until he reached the guest quarters.

Turning the last corner, the page saw that the hall was very dark. There was no one there. Not King Cecil. Not even a torch was lit.

Did I come to the wrong tower?

Standing in the light of the tall window, Chase held up the scroll to read it again. And still, it said for him to come to the High Vista Room in the guest quarters of the East Tower.

That’s right where I’m at. I’m sure of it. But there’s no one else here?

A little frown crossed his face.

I wonder if this is a joke. I could just see Loric getting a big kick out of sending me running up here to this old tower for nothing. And making play that it was orders from King Cecil!

Suddenly, he felt sad and disappointed. It had been so exciting to think that the King was calling him to do something important. The thought that maybe it had all been a nasty prank made all the happy butterflies in his stomach disappear.

The hall was still dark. There was still no one there. It was very quiet.

Chase gave a little sigh and kicked at the stone of the wall under the window.

This isn’t very funny! I bet that Master Hass was in on it too. He seemed to think that the scroll was real. And he let me run off like that.

He looked down at the scroll in his hand for a long moment. But just as he went to ball it up in frustration at having such a prank pulled on him, he heard a sound. Like someone talking.

Jerking his head around, Chase squinted and listened to see if he could hear it again. But he didn’t.

Maybe there is someone really here?

The page began to creep forward hopefully. He placed his hands up against the smooth surface of a large wooden door. There was a layer of dust on the door as if the whole hall hadn’t been cleaned in a very long time.

Pressing one ear against the door, Chase tried to listen. There was no sound. Reaching up, the boy found that it was unlocked. The knob turned easy with a twist of his wrist. Even as big as it was, the door swung inward without having to push very hard.

Inside the room, Chase could see a flickering green flame on the far wall. He couldn’t make out much else in the dim light. Nothing except for strange lumps where a table and maybe a bed was. There were things leaning against the wall. Some of them were tall and some of them were fat. None of them moved.

The page curiously tip-toed into the room. Something about the strange color of the fire made him think maybe the best thing to do was turn around, walk out the door and not come back.

I’m not afraid of green fire! That’s all it is, right? Just weird green fire.

He couldn’t help but start to wonder exactly why it was green. And then he began to wonder who would want to make green fire. It did look really neat. But it didn’t seem to work as well as yellow fire did.

The page inched closer to the fire. Getting a good look at it, he could see it was actually a very normal torch sitting in a bracket on the wall.

I wonder if it’s hot like usual fire?

With his fingers spread, Chase reached one hand up, bringing it closer to the flame. He didn’t feel any heat coming from it, so he moved his hand closer. Just as he was about to touch the fire, it hissed and leapt up, growing brighter.

Oh no, what did I do?

With a small yelp, the page jerked his hand away from the green light. That was when he saw that there were a lot of torches all over in the room that were lighting up. All around him, green fire began to shine with a strange, scary glow.

I better get outta here! I should tell someone that weird things like this are happening!

Chase took a step back, turning to run out of the room. Instead, he bumped straight into something big and hard.

And the something gave a deep grunt.

“Hey there? What are you doing in here?”

Before the page could say anything, two strong hands closed around his wrists, half-dragging him off of his feet. Fear and motion made him feel sick to his stomach as the ground vanished from under him.

“I’m… I’m s-sorry! I didn’t mean…!”

“Doesn’t anyone teach human children better than to sneak into other people’s rooms?” the voice prodded.

“Ah..! Ah..!” Chase stuttered fearfully. Then he said the first thing that came to his mind, “Are the green lights yours? They’re awful pretty!”

For a moment, the voice was quiet. Then very carefully, Chase was set back on his feet. “So you like the torches, eh?”

The boy wasn’t sure why he was put down. But he did hope that the voice wasn’t angry at him because the owner of it sounded very big and scary.

“Ye… yessir…” Nodding and letting out a deep breath, the boy blinked up.

The green fire-light made the huge man in front of him look a little bit ghostly. Chase had never seen a ghost before. But if he had, he was sure this was sorta what one would look like. Especially the way the man’s eyes glowed in the darkness.

-Great darkness seeking the light…-

A shudder ran through Chase’s body as his eyes locked with the strangers’. The visions came as they always did.

This man was important. Very important. Very powerful.

And someone that Chase felt like he had met before. Long long ago.

-Sorrow… guilt… shame… scorn… rejection…-

His golden eyes grew wide as he felt his lower lip begin to tremble.

-Loneliness.-

This man was terribly alone.

A lot like me.

“I’m sorry.”

“What?” the man blinked down with a confused frown. Somehow, he didn’t look so scary when he was confused.

“You’re all alone here? So am I, mostly.”

The white-haired man didn’t look happy. But not too many people were happy when Chase asked about the things he saw in his visions.

People didn’t like to admit to the things he could see.

“Well, I’m not all alone right now… because you are here. Though you should not be,” the man frowned.

The page tilted his head with a look of question.

“Must I spell it out for you, child? Now go on… get out of here,” he pointed towards the door.

The boy remained staring and blinking up.

Seeing this, the man’s mouth curved down with a grumpy expression, “Don’t you know I eat little kids for breakfast?”

A jolt ran through Chase’s body. The words came to his lips before he could stop them.

“That’s not true.”

“Eh?” The green eyes focused on him again, narrowing.

Chase swallowed, “You fibbed. Fibbing isn’t nice.”

“Fibbed?” When the man spoke again, it was slow as if speaking a word he had never said before, “What is… ‘fibbed’?”

“It means you said something that is not true.”

“No I didn’t!” the man protested.

“There, you did again!” the boy pointed with a hint of pride.

“Hun?”

“Lying isn’t nice! You shouldn’t say things that aren’t true, you know?”

“Look here,” the man scowled, gently taking Chase by one arm and moving him towards the door. “I told you once – you shouldn’t be here. So why don’t you go and find somewhere less dangerous to play?”

Just as the boy tried to protest, the scroll fell out of his pocket, on to the floor. The man looked at it with a funny expression on his face. Then he leaned over to pick it up. The flames in the room grew brighter to let him read better.

“Where did you get this?” he finally asked.

“It was my chore assignment for today, sir.”

“Chore assignment?”

“Yessir.”

“So what are you trying to say?” The man flipped the scroll shut with a practiced motion. “Cecil assigned you to act as my servant?”

Chase nodded. He was not sure how to address someone who didn’t refer to King Cecil with a proper title.

“I see.” The green eyes softened somewhat, “I thought you might have come to my room to steal something. I seem to attract thieves as of late.”

“N-no sir! I’m not a thief! I’m a page!”

“Page?” the man mused. “Funny thing to name yourself after a piece of paper in a book.”

Chase blinked. Then shook his head again, a half laugh rising in his throat. “No.. no… not that kinda page!”

“There’s another?”

“Yeah! You know? A page is a knight-in-training!”

“Is that so?”

“Yes sir! I’m training to be a knight under the service of King Cecil himself!”

“I see. I still don’t understand what that has to do with books though,” the man frowned slightly.

Chase frowned too, getting confused. “You’re strange.”

“Thanks,” the word was followed with a soft grunt. His expression looked a little sad.

“It’s not a bad sorta strange though! Really!” the boy nodded up and down quickly.

The man’s mouth folded into a firm line as he sat down on the edge of the bed. “So you’re sent here to..?”

“Serve you, of course! I can do lots of things! Anything you want me to do!” Chase gave a hopeful look.

“I don’t want anyone to serve me.”

The boy’s face fell, “But… it’s on orders of King Cecil…”

“I’ll get them changed. I don’t want anyone to serve me.”

“I won’t be any trouble, I promise!”

“Especially not a child…”

“I may be little but I know all the places in the whole entire castle and city!” Chase pressed becoming somewhat anxious. “And I know all the guards, too! I betcha I could find anything you want me to find in all of Baron if you just asked! Go ahead and ask me!”

“What did I just say?” His eyes slitted dangerously as his finger jabbed sharply at the air with each sentence, “I don’t want a page. I don’t want someone to serve me. I can find my own way around town. And you are dismissed.”

The boy’s golden eyes grew round and sad.

The white-haired man suddenly choked, coming under the full force of the boy’s pitiful gaze, “Eh! Stop looking at me like that!”

Chase whispered very slowly, “But… you… you shouldn’t be left all alone.”

“I like it that way!”

“No you don’t.”

“Listen to me…” A hint of frustration clouded the man’s face. “I don’t want to be bothered. And I don’t think you want to bother me. You have no idea who I am.”

Chase tilted his head, “Yes I do.”

The glowing green eyes turned to meet the golden gaze. This time, the man seemed to look deeper. A chill ran through Chase’s body as he felt something pressing upon his mind… something very big… something very powerful… He was scared but he tried not to show it.

“How interesting,” a musing expression came to the man’s face. “Those eyes… you can really see?”

The boy’s mouth fell open in surprise. Somehow the stranger had figured out about his visions by just looking at his eyes. No one had ever done that before. It was if the man could see things, too.

Chase swallowed and nodded.

“That is unusual…”

The page had heard people say that sort of thing about him a whole lot. But this was the first time someone had said it and not meant it in a bad way.

“What’s your name, boy?” the white-haired man leaned forward slowly.

“Chase Wescott, sir.”

A frown crossed the man’s face. “Well, my name is not ‘sir’. And if you’re gonna be… serving…. me, that’s the first thing you better remember. I’m not ‘sir’… and I’m certainly not ‘Master’. Got that?”

“Yes, si– … er… I mean…?” The boy suddenly paused. He realized he did not know the man’s name.

“What?” the man chided softly. “I’d think that Vision of yours would at least tell you what to call people.”

The boy frowned, shaking his head, “Nah… nothing like that.”

“Well, in that case, I’ll give you one last chance to back out before you seal your fate,” a grin slipped across the stranger’s face as he spoke. “I am King Cecil’s brother, often known as Golbez Benjamin Ya. But if you’re gonna call me anything, I prefer the name ‘Ben’, okay?”

“G..ol…bez? As in–” The boy’s heart suddenly plummeted straight down to his feet as a cold fear gripped him.

The Man of Darkness Golbez?

“Yes. Golbez. The very same,” The man set his chin sternly, “Why? What’s wrong?”

“But… I thought Golbez was supposed to be a bad guy?!” Chase blurted quickly. “You don’t seem all that bad to me!”

Green eyes widened in absolute surprise.

The boy blinked up, waiting for an answer.

“Well… ah… you have a chance to leave now if you want to,” Ben responded somewhat uncertainly. “Ordering you here was all my brother’s grand idea. I knew nothing about having a page-servant assigned to me. But I won’t keep you here if you don’t feel like you can… well… now that you know who I am and all…”

He really doesn’t want to be alone, no matter what he says… even if he is Golbez.

A look of determination fell on Chase’s face, “My Liege ordered me to serve you. So that’s what I’m gonna do.”

“Really, now?”

“Really!” the boy chirped, rocking back on his heels.

I can’t leave. Something feels like… I’ve met him before. I know him somehow. But I don’t know why.

Chase lifted his eyes and asked, “So… what do you need me to do first?”

The white-haired man scratched his chin in response. “You said you know your way around the town, yes?”

“Sure!”

“Then I bet you know where…” Ben’s eyes were glowing again, though in a different way. “The very best place to get a double decker ice cream floater would be, yes?”

Chase took in a deep surprised breath. Then a big, bright grin crossed his face, “I sure do!”

Advertisements

Ch3-2 The Enemy Within

“I thought that he’d be dead somewhere, rotting on the end of a pike in the underworld!”

Double-decker ice cream floaters. They were one of the few happy things that Ben could still remember clearly.

The depths of memory clung to the image of himself as a child, sitting on his knees in a little booth with face and hands covered in ice cream. His father or mother might have been there. But he didn’t really know since the image grew fuzzy around the edges whenever he attempted to push his memory beyond its threshold.

If given the chance, the Half-Lunar would have been happy enough to simply forget everything. Wipe things clean. Start life over again. But the wavering half-memories of his lost childhood would not release him from their haunting grip. The knowledge that he had once held a happy, normal life before the blurring void of Zot continued to plague his soul.

FuSoYa said that with time, my memories might return. He said that I just have to wait for the side-effects of Zemus’ mind magic to fade.

His human life was lost to a time that he would never be able to recapture… much less hold on to for comfort.

But it’s been five years now. I’ve found nothing more about my past than what I knew when I first woke in the Giant of Babil.

It was another reason that the Master Wizard had yielded to the fact that he had to return to the Blue Planet, despite the hostility he knew that he would receive. Ben was absolutely certain that this world was his place of birth. He also knew that he had lived with his family for many years in the town of Mysidia and they had made frequent trips to visit Baron.

If I’m ever going to discover who I really am, I have to stop waiting and start searching for my truth.

A hazy image of Baron was his final memory from the Blue Planet before he was taken to Zot.

So what better way to start my search than to return to the place I last remember? That’s how one goes about searching for all things that are lost.

And maybe that was why he had asked the page boy to lead him to the ice cream shop. It was one memory that still remained strong.

As they rounded the final corner to the Baronian Square, Chase froze, stopping dead in his tracks. Ben stumbled to a halt, barely missing trampling the boy for being so lost to his thoughts.

“What’s wrong?” the Half-Lunar squinted down at the sandy-haired boy. “You said you knew the way?”

Chase did not reply. The only sound that came from him was a soft-throated half-cry.

Ben lifted his eyes to scan the square for the very first time. Having been so engaged on his own thoughts, he had not been paying attention to anything in the town around him. Now that his gaze drifted away from the stones at his feet, the picture of destruction met him with a sudden sharp intake of breath.

“The dragon attack… did this?” Chase swallowed.

Everywhere, buildings of the city lay splintered as if the structures had been nothing more than matchstick houses. People dotted the mounds, digging in the rubble to find what few things they might be able to salvage. Somewhere down the road, the sound of chocobo carts rolled through the town, sent to retrieve the bodies of the warriors that had fallen during battle with the dragon.

I didn’t realize so much had been destroyed. We were just glad to have defeated the Dragon.

A dull, emotionless veil dropped over Ben’s mind. It was the only thing that could cover the panic that threatened to break through the cracks of his façade.

“Does this mean we aren’t going to get ice cream?” he heard himself say. His voice was so distant. His thoughts had grown fuzzy and estranged to his own will.

Blinking rapidly, the boy swallowed and worked his mouth before finding the words to reply, “How could you even care about ice cream right now?”

“That’s… what we came here for…” Something chided him for being so petty. But coming to grips with the people’s suffering felt far too overwhelming to even know where to begin.

Chase’s face contorted. It was hard to tell if the expression held dismay or shock or just sorrow.

Is he gonna cry?

Confusion shifted on top of pattering guilt. When Ben’s voice rose, it was soft to even his ears, “Chase… Are you upset at me?”

“Can’t you see that people are sad?” the boy demanded.

Ben wrinkled his brow, trying hard to follow the child’s train of thought. “Well, I didn’t make them sad, did I?”

“No, I don’t think so…”

“I even helped to protect them this time,” his words came, a little bit defensive.

“Y…yes… I know you did, but…” the boy didn’t seem to know how to continue the conversation.

“Then what does this have to do with me?”

Chase glanced at the pile of stone and wood that marked the remains of a building. It now sat scattered in rubble across the block. “Because when people are sad… don’t you want to help to make them happy again? Don’t you feel sad for them, too?”

“Me? Sad?” Ben frowned. “Why would I be? The loss of a few buildings is a very little price to pay… I have more important things to be concerned with.”

“You don’t mean that!”

“You’re too young to understand,” the Half-Lunar attempted to explain. “In life, there will be these sacrifices. You can’t cry over everything lost or you’ll never get around to doing what is most important.”

“No…” Chase shook his head slowly. “You’re the one that doesn’t understand.”

Two children stood only a few feet away, watching as their parents salvaged the remains of a shattered shop. With a very soft and plaintive sound, the youngest began to cry. Neither father nor mother seemed to be able to pull themselves from their task to comfort the tears.

The older child reached down to hold the youngest. Upon closer look, Ben could see they were brother and sister. And the boy…

It’s the little boy that I met there in town before! The one with the lucky stone!

A strange, tightening feeling rose up in the Half-Lunar’s chest. He found it hard to swallow, as if there was a big lump of emotion welling in his throat, fighting to break through the numbness that had invaded his mind.

So, he lived through the attack!

Before he realized it, Ben found himself kneeling down awkwardly next to the children, head tilted in attempt to catch a glimpse of their faces. The girl’s was covered in dirt and traced with silver tracks where her tears had passed.

Chase remained standing where he was, watching with a hint of curiosity.

“Hey there…” Ben dropped one palm lightly upon the little boy’s shoulder.

The child startled, blinking up. It took a moment before recognization shifted through his clear eyes.

“Mister!” the little boy breathed.

“What happened?” the most rhetorical of questions drew from between Ben’s lips. At the moment, he had no idea what else to say.

“Daddy’s shop…” the boy choked, hugging his sister more tightly. “The shop and our house… it got destroyed.”

Ben’s mouth hung open for a long moment. His heart groped for something he could say to ease the hurt. His mind chided him for letting himself get so concerned over something that had nothing to do with him at all.

“I guess the Lucky Stone didn’t really work,” the boy intoned with a hint of bitterness.

The Half-Lunar blinked, “Is anyone in your family hurt?”

The boy shook his head.

“Then everyone made it through the attack alive?”

The boy nodded.

“In that case, I think your Lucky Stone worked just fine,” Ben placed a hand on the boy’s head. “You still have your parents… and your little sister. They need you to look after them right now. So you gotta try to stay tough for them, yeah?”

“I… guess so…” the boy nodded again.

“You can build back your Daddy’s shop… but you can’t build back people,” his eyes softened. “That’s why I think your Lucky Stone worked. Your family is still here… no one was hurt. That’s what is really important.”

The boy’s hand unconsciously moved to touch his pocket. No doubt the stone was tucked inside. The merest hint of hope and belief touched the child’s face when he looked up at the Half-Lunar.

That was when Ben’s gaze dropped on a small, brightly colored patch of material peeking out from under a piece of broken stone a few feet away. Carefully, he reached over and lifted the rock up in one hand. Peering underneath, he uncovered what was left of a battered toy chocobo.

Pulling the toy out from under the stone, the Half-Lunar brushed it off, attempting to clean some of the grime from the once purple plush. Then, without a word, he turned and offered it to the little girl.

“My Marnie!” Instantly, she grabbed the toy in a familiar manner and clutched it to her chest.

For a moment, Ben could see his image reflected in the depths of her round eyes. With a strange little sound, she buried her face into her brother’s side, holding the toy between them in what seemed a sense of mutual comfort.

She had stopped crying.

“You really are a Master Wizard…” the little boy echoed the words from the day before.

Ben rose slowly to his feet. “I suppose… I really am?”

Across the mound of stone and wood, the father’s voice could be heard shouting to his children. Maybe something important had been found. Maybe something that had been bitterly lost was recovered. But for all the sorrow of the day, the man’s call held one of sudden hopeful discovery.

The two children instantly made a dash for the call, disappearing around the corner of the stone without a second thought. The Half Lunar watched them as they ran. Then he let out a long deep breath.

Chase was peering at the Half-Lunar with a little smile on his face.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Ben grimaced.

Chase continued to smile ever so slightly.

“Whaaaaaat?” the Half-Lunar demanded.

“I knew you didn’t mean it when you said you didn’t care,” the boy’s eyes lit up as his smile touched them.

“It was just a toy…”

“Maybe to you.”

The Half Lunar wrinkled his brow in confusion.

Chase just went back to smiling.

“Well, I’ll be!” A jovial exclamation broke across the somber atmosphere of the street. “If’n it’s not Master G. himself!”

“Eh?” Ben’s head turned. He knew without a doubt someone was addressing him. Still, it was the first time he had heard anyone call him something odd like ‘Master G.’

“Fancy seein’ yer face outs and abouts the town!”

A small, heavy-set man in oil-splotched cover-alls paraded up to him. His face was concealed within a massive, bristling brown beard. It was so impressive that it immediately made Ben think that perhaps this was what FuSoYa might have looked like had he been a human. What little bit of face that was left to him was hidden behind a thick set of aviator goggles and a huge toothy grin.

“And how are ya, Chase, M’lad?”

“Just fine, Master Cid! Thank you,” the little boy beamed widely at the stranger.

“Good… good…”

Behind the man strode a young girl who looked to be no more than twelve or thirteen years of age. She was dressed down in an over-sized flight jacket and also wore a set of goggles strapped atop her head. Her wild brown hair gave the distinct impression that she was related to the stocky little man. There was an expression of slight discontentment upon her face.

“Um, I’m sorry?” Ben frowned slowly at the man. “But do I know you?”

“I dunno, Master G.” He grinned widely in response, “Ya tell me.”

The Half-Lunar squinted, green eyes tracing over the stranger in frustration and surprise.

He knows who I am… it’s obvious in the way he makes reference to my name. But…

“Around these here parts, I’m known as Cid.” The man wiped down one of his grimy hands on his even grimier apron, then thrust it out towards Ben. “Cid Pollendina, Chief Engineer of Baron. At yer service.”

But… he’s not afraid of me at all. How… odd.

Ben’s face was blank as he stared uncertainly at the outstretched hand.

The man who had called himself Cid seemed like he was waiting for something. There was a patient feeling about the way he left his hand hanging in mid-air.

“I… um…” the Half-Lunar looked from the hand to the man’s face, then back to the hand again.

What do I do?

“Don’t tell me they wiped all the manners outta ya too? It figgers,” the Engineer sighed softly. He closed his hand around Ben’s with a gentle grasp and began to shake it slowly – up and down. “This is how it’s done around here, boy.”

“Eh?”

“It’s just a way us commoners say ‘hello’ and ‘nice to meet ya’! That’s all. It’s called ‘shaking hands’.”

“Oh… uh… okay?” Ben nodded, studying the shaking hands carefully.

“And this here is my daughter, Corleona,” Cid nodded his head back over one shoulder.

A sudden shyness welled up within his chest nearly freezing his breath hollow. As much as Ben hated it, this was always the way he got when he was forced to talk to any girl for the first time. And he didn’t understand why.

It’s nothing more than a little human girl-child. What do I have to fear from her?

“Er… eh… hello there?” the Half-Lunar thrust his hand out towards the girl in stiff imitation of Cid’s gesture, his green eyes blinking rapidly in apprehension.

Even though the girl slowly reached out to take his hand in turn, it didn’t help the matter. His mouth grew even drier than it had been before. Almost as soon as their hands met, Ben yanked his away.

There was a glimmer of caution in her eyes as if she didn’t quite know what to make of him and was considering the worst possible scenario.

With a father’s intuition, Cid deciphered his daughter’s expression. His husky voice held a hint of warning, “Leona, be nice there, girl…”

“Um… no. It’s okay…” Ben ran his fingers through his bushy white hair nervously.

Though he may have discounted it verbally, something within the Half-Lunar wished it didn’t have to be that way. Cid’s kindness seemed almost genuine. It was a pleasant change from the panic-stricken reactions he had been acquiring the past few days from just about everyone else.

It would be nice not to constantly have to struggle with these people—each and every one of them. But I suppose how can I blame them? Golbez was a huge, black-armored demon in their eyes…

A slow, nasty smirk rose to the girl’s face. Then she leaned over towards Chase and muttered in a familiar manner, “Where did you dig him up from?”

Taken by surprise, the young page blinked at her, “Do you really wanna know?”

Leona leaned back with a slight shrug, toying with the straps of her goggles. The unconcerned tone of her voice contrasted sharply with the word she spoke, “Yeah.”

“He’s King’s Cecil’s brother…”

“King Cecil’s brother?” the girl echoed with a splutter. Then she lightly smacked the boy in the back of the head.

Chase cringed, wincing at the blow.

Ben’s mouth opened as if to voice a protest. His brows lowered as his gaze fell heavily on the girl.

“Man, for a boy who isn’t supposed to fib, you sure come up with the craziest ideas! Everyone knows that King Cecil doesn’t have a brother!” Leona turned her gaze towards her father, shaking her head with self-important exasperation. “Kids…”

Cid’s frown spoke only disapproval.

“Right, Dad?”

The Engineer cleared his throat, glancing over at Ben musingly.

“Riiiggght?” the girl pressed, a flustered look rising to her cheeks.

“Actually…”

Ben could feel his stomach sinking rapidly. This was exactly what he had been trying to avoid by leaving the castle for a little while.

Face it… you’re never gonna escape it here. You’re guilty…

The girl crossed her arms, hues of red emigrating through her flustered face. “Okay… the three of yous owe me a mighty good explanation!”

“Er… maybe it’s better that we didn’t–” Ben’s words were quickly overridden.

“Leona! Behave yerself!” Cid snapped sharply. He seemed to be bracing himself at the end of his patience. “Ya should treat Master G. with a bit more respect than that!”

Ben winced, taking a step back out of the crossfire.

“Master G?” Leona scoffed, her voice full of contempt. The way her eyes narrowed, there was little doubt that a scalding rebuke was soon to follow.

“What does the ‘G’ stand for? Goofball?” A slight groan escaped her lips, “Just what we need — another snowball clogging up the works of Baron!”

Cid’s face was blank with mortification. One grubby hand lifted to slap his forehead in a gesture of annoyance.

“Hun?!” Ben’s eyebrows rose in two arches straight up to mark his surprise. He wasn’t quite sure what the words meant. But the insulting tone was all he needed to catch the basic drift.

So, she’s got guts… does she? And a mouth bigger than she should have a right to! It’s a surprise she’s kept her tongue this long considered how badly mannered she is!

Humming in warning, Chase grabbed himself a fistful of Leona’s coat and began tugging on it repeatedly to get her attention.

“Ah man… another high-and-hol…” The girl paused, shooting a dirty look down at the page. “What’s your problem? Yer bothering me kid!”

“Goooollbezzzz…” the single word hissed from between the boy’s lips. The tone alone was enough to turn Ben’s blood cold.

“Ahh… hah… whatever…” Leona jabbed one finger towards Ben’s midsection repeatedly. As the word began to dawn on her, the motion slowed until it came to an absolute stop. “Did you just say Golbez?”

Chase nodded in silence.

Part of him silently cheered in triumph as the girl reacted as many before her had – she leapt quickly behind her father seeking protection. Another part of him grew terribly ashamed that he could even consider being happy about such a thing.

Leona’s eyes narrowed. There was fear. But there was also a terrible brewing anger storming across her face. “Now let me get this straight… We’re letting the same guy who hypnotized the king, let my Dad rot in prison, and threatened the known universe with destruction… just walk around?”

Ben’s mouth worked open and shut soundlessly. Then with a defeated hunch to his shoulders, the Half Lunar dropped his eyes to the ground.

“Is it just me or do you guys have a few nuts and bolts loose?”

A huge forced-grin slipped over Cid’s face as he gave his daughter a quick hard pinch on the arm. Apparently such a thing did little to work at such an age because Leona’s expression grew even more angry and defiant.

“I thought that he’d be dead somewhere, rotting on the end of a pike in the underworld!”

Chase winced, backing away from the girl. His eyes lifted upward as if watching for a stray lightning bolt that would strike Leona from out of the blue.

“Don’t you wish,” Ben retorted with a deep-throated grunt.

“As a matter of fact…” the girl’s voice rose again, only to break off this time under the weight of father’s disapproving glare.

“Ya wanna finish that sentence?” The Engineer crossed his burly arms over his chest, and then continued, “This man may be Golbez… but he is also Cecil’s older brother. And it’s not yer judgment, but Cecil’s that has allowed him in Baron. So I’d be mindin’ my mouth if I were ya, girl.”

Leona was not swayed by the words. In fact, she seemed all the more angry at the sight of her father defending what she probably considered to be a terrible black-armored demon.

But why should I care?

“That doesn’t change how I feel about the situation,” her voice came as a hiss.

I don’t care how you feel.

“And if I were you,” When her gaze fell on Ben, the pure hostility shook him to the core. “I’d be packing my bags and making my stay short… I don’t like you. I don’t trust you!”

I don’t care!

“And I’m not the only one!” With a powerful jerk, the girl flung herself from her father’s grasp and dashed back up the street at full speed.

But if I really don’t care, then why do I feel…

Ben looked down to see his hands shaking.

Stammering in disbelief, Cid stared after the retreating form of his daughter. Then he turned to the Half Lunar with an apologetic expression on his face.

“She’s right,” Ben spoke before the little man could utter a sound. His green eyes lifted, watching as the girl finally vanished around the corner. “No need to honey-coat the truth.”

I am… and always will be… nothing more than Golbez.

Ch3-3 Those of Marked Time

Chase had buried his face into the wizard’s cloak.

Humans…

Green eyes flickered in waves of pale light, tracing the motion of a hundred life forces swaying below. The vantage point that Ben had discovered atop the castle battlements was breathtaking. Not only did he have the vast stretch of brilliant blue sky overhead and the dappled color of mountain-on-plains in the distance, but he found himself ruling over the passage of life of the people down below.

So fragile… yet so self-assured.

The first thing that struck him was the sense of freedom he had found upon the Blue Planet. Despite the fact that he was standing in full sight up on the castle tower, not a soul had turned to acknowledge his presence. It was as if they didn’t even realize. As if they couldn’t sense his eyes upon them.

So different from the Lunars… more so than I would have thought.

There had been nowhere to hide in the Lunar Fortress of Titlanus. Everywhere Ben went, he felt their watching minds pressing on him. Some in fear. Some in curiosity. Some in contempt.There had never been a time he had not been under the locked awareness of the other Lunars. No time except for when he had taken shelter beneath the city in his tiny hidden room within the ancient library. He had shielded the chamber from the senses of the rest of the Lunars. It was this desire for solitude that had caused him to hide away in his study so often.Only FuSoYa had access to his room.

And only one other had ever chanced to discover it.

Joran…

She was the only Lunarian that hadn’t looked upon him with a constant flicker of fear. But then again, she wasn’t exactly what most Lunars would have considered to be the average, well-behaved girl. It was probably part of the reason that Ben found her somewhat enjoyable to spend time with.

Eh? With all this going on… why am I thinking about Joran?

The Half-Lunar shook himself out, fists gripping tightly along the top of the stone wall.

Lunarians… Humans… they’re all the same. And I… am neither.

A cold intensity filled his gaze as a passing breeze tangled through his long white hair.

Nor do I ever want to be…

“Ummm…?”

There was a little tug on the corner of his cloak. Pausing in mid-contemplation, the Half-Lunar turned.

Chase blinked up, his golden eyes sheened with worry. One little hand gripped the hem of green timidly. Ben’s expression softened as their eyes met, the dark thoughts scattering and taking wing like startled roc-lings.

“What’s wrong, Chase?” Ben’s voice hinted with concern.

”I’m sorry to bother you…”

“You have my attention,” the wizard coaxed, attempting to be reassuring.

“It’s just…” Chase peered back over one shoulder into the darkened frame of the tower door. “Nodd.”

“Hun?” Ben’s head jerked up, instantly swinging about to stare across the tower’s crown. Where he had expected to be met with the Kit’s mischief, he found… absolutely nothing. It took half a moment for the dilemma to dawn on him. “Wait… where is he?”

“I don’t know! I didn’t see him leave!” Chase gave a troubled look. “He’s good at sneaking…”

Adjusting to life in the human castle had been a great trial for Nodd. The Kit was used to having his free-run of the halls in the Lunar Stronghold. No one had ever instructed him to sit still… much less remain in the same room for hours on end.

However, with preparations for the upcoming Meeting of Nations in full swing across Baron, FuSoYa had demanded that the troublemaking Kit be kept under close watch. Not to mention it was obvious that the humans were not used to seeing cat-like humanoid creatures scampering around their town. More than once had the situation resulted in a frightened mother or confused city guard.

It seemed that anything so out of the ordinary was quickly classified as a “monster”. Even if it was something as innocent as a Hummingway child.

“Wonderful,” the Half-Lunar gave a deep, grumbling sigh as he turned, making his way toward the waiting stairway. “He’s going to get himself hung out to dry if he’s not careful. I’ve tried to warn him that the people of this world just don’t understand…”

The boy winced, following with galloping steps and a shamed look on his face, “I’m sorry, Ben… I didn’t mean to–”

“Eh, Chase… no. I’m not upset with you,” Ben’s frown widened, blinking back over one shoulder, “It’s not your job to watch over Nodd. It’s mine.”

Chase pursed his lips, “Does it worry you?”

“Somewhat,” Ben admitted slowly. “But only because I’m afraid of what other people might mistake him for.”

Chase gave a concerned look, “Is he in trouble?”

“Trouble is Nodd’s constant companion, believe me.”

The boy gave a quizzical look, finally falling silent in his own pondering. When he spoke again, his thoughts had shifted, “Where are we going?”

“To find Nodd.”

“You know where he is?” the question rose with surprise.

“Yes. I can find him.”

“Oh?”

The wizard waited patiently for the next most obvious question. But it never came. Instead, Chase gave a quiet, high-pitched gasp.

In making their way across the dark passages of the castle, they had stumbled upon the beginning of the infirmary corridor. It was as if they had suddenly crossed the threshold into a warped nightmare.

A haunted, collective moan rose and fell, dripping from the stone walls. Mages from Mysidia were piled in the hall, waiting treatment for wounds. Many were wrapped in ghostly sheets of white and splattered with black crusted blood. Some of the bodies lay absolutely motionless. Others were not so lucky, their broken minds flailing in twisted torture as consciousness faded in and out of being.

Ben found his own feet falter as the stench hit him. It was the same odor that had filled his senses when he had battled with the Elemental Dragon. There was little doubt the beast originally arose for vengeance against the city of Mysidia. But when the mages had evacuated through the Serpent Road, the dragon had followed, resulting in a full scale assault of Baron.

These people… are suffering with wounds beyond the healing of human hands. They have been struck down by an Elemental of the Crystal itself.

His eyes wandered, falling upon the fluttering of white and red robes that lay in the hall next to his foot. Cold and motionless, a pale hand spilled out from under the sheets. The skin was pitted black where the acidic waters had eaten away at the flesh.

Their time is marked.

A soft whimper called Ben’s attention back from thought. Chase had buried his face into the wizard’s cloak.

Something inside of the Half-Lunar’s chest tightened.

One large hand dropped on the boy’s sandy-blond hair as the Master Wizard pulled Chase closer to his side in a protective manner. Carefully avoiding the splayed limbs and robes that leaked across the floor, Ben led the boy through the hall. Long after they had turned the corner, the page refused to pull his face from hiding.

He shouldn’t have seen that…

A scowl rose over Ben’s face.

But how was I to know? I wasn’t even told that so many people were wounded.

He managed to take in a deep, ragged breath. The air had finally cleared.

And I’m sure that’s only a tiny fragment of what really happened. I didn’t see any of the Baronians among their numbers. And I know many warriors also fell in the streets.

His eyes narrowed.

And all for what? Incrytan? The Crystals?

His mouth drew in a slitted straight line.

These people had nothing to do with the one who stole Incrytan.

The tightening in his chest grew almost painful. The thoughts merged with the sound of Chase’s sniffles, echoing in strange patterns within his mind. Thoughts that had never come to him before.

Why did so many people have to be hurt… when they weren’t even involved to begin with?

An alien form of insight gripped him, a sense of strange awakening unfolded within the depths of his mind. Stricken by the power of the emotion, the Half-Lunar faltered in his step.

I feel…

“B..en..?” Chase choked slightly, blinking up at the wizard in sudden concern. “Are you okay?”

“I… I…”

Why… do I feel…?

“I don’t know?” the Half-Lunar answered slowly, attempting to hide his unease.

What does it mean?

The boy simply nodded, then laced his fingers into Ben’s in a quiet, familiar manner. The Half-Lunar studied the merger for a long moment before closing his own fingers around Chase’s hand with a gentle, reassuring squeeze.

“It will be okay,” the page nodded with confidence. “The White Mages of Baron are trained in the same way that Queen Rosa was. They’re the best!”

But the wounds can not be healed… not like that…

Ben’s lips parted as the dark realization drew around him. But the words would not come.

He has so much faith in his people… how can I take that away from him? He’s just a child…

The wizard closed his eyes and simply nodded. He knew anything he would say could only give the truth away – especially with Chase’s uncanny ability to see things that most people could not.

“We’re supposed to be finding Nodd, right?” the boy tugged at Ben’s hand.

“Eh… that’s right!” the Half-Lunar jolted up with a frown, grateful for the distraction. Once again, he began to lead them in the direction that his senses pointed him. “Wandering off like that… you can bet he’s up to trouble.”

“Trouble!” the boy echoed with a stern look on his face.

Ben finally paused, glancing up a nearby flight of stairs. His foot met the bottom step as Chase’s words rose up after him.

“Wait! We can’t go up that way!”

“Why not?”

“That’s King Cecil and Queen Rosa’s room!”

“Hun?” Sudden thoughts of what the Hummingway Kit might be doing up in the royal chambers only served to quicken his pace.

“Beeeeeeeen! We can get in big trouble!”

“We’ll be in trouble either way.”

“But, we’re not supposed to go into the King’s chambers! It’s high-treasonable!”

“Eh?” Ben frowned back over one shoulder, unconvinced.

“High-treasonable!” the page held one finger up, staring from the bottom of the stairwell. “It’s a terrible punishment!”

“Let Cecil try.”

Chase gave a little gasp, hopping up the stairs with wide eyes. “But… but…”

“Besides…” Ben paused upon reaching the chamber doors. “I’m the king’s brother, right? So, that technically makes me a prince?”

“Uh… uh…” the boy blinked as the idea dawned upon him, his mouth falling open.

A slick grin crossed the Half-Lunar’s face as he turned the knob, “So go ahead and let Cecil try.”

Ch3-4 To Know Compassion

A soft hum began to rise from the stone as the Half-Lunar shifted his awareness into the first thread of connection with the Crystal.

The door to the Royal Chambers rumbled inwards, lacking the agonizing squeal that normal castle doors usually possessed. It was obvious that someone had been taking great care with the upkeep of the room.

Most likely Rosa.

Ben’s feet met with the gentle plush of a deep-cushioned carpet as he stepped over the threshold into the room. The rug was a soft sea of cream that spanned from the massive doorframe all the way to the huge canopy bed on the far end of the room. The tall, west-wing windows were cast wide open, allowing for the late-afternoon breeze to caper through.

Everything from the draperies to the gauzy bed curtains was hung in soft creams and muted browns. A tall set of mirrors spanned across the far wall, standing over what looked to be a small vanity desk. The surface of the desk was dappled with brushes, powders and other hair fixings. A blueprint marked “The Enterprise” was scrolled upon the other wall, hanging with a sense of pride. The greenery of flowers and vines hung about, sculpted to grow delicately along the window perch and from ceiling urns above.

The essence of Paladin was so strong in the room that it made Ben’s eyes sting.

Chase stared around in mute surprise. The page had obviously never seen the inside of the royal cambers before and was taking it all in with wide eyes.

Standing there in the middle of the Royal Chambers was Nodd. The Kit was crouching, ears pointed forward and twitching with intense curiosity. His green eyes were round and unblinking as he stared into the open doorway to an adjoining chamber.

“Nodd,” Ben half-hissed. “What are you doing? You… not to mention I… can get into huge trouble if anyone catches us up here!”

The Kit’s tail twitched once. His eyes remained focused into the gloom of the other room as he said simply, “There’s something here.”

“Don’t you know better than to sneak around in the king’s room?”

“The king must keep strange pets…” Nodd murmured.

“What do you mean?” Ben pursed his lips.

“’Cuz there’s some really weird sounds coming from this other room. If you’re real quiet, you’ll hear them…”

“What sort of sounds?”

“I don’t know… they’re sorta scary…” the Kit blinked a few times.

“Ben…” Chase swallowed, looking uncomfortable. “I think we should go back now.”

“Yeah… come on, Nodd,” the Half-Lunar motioned toward the doorway with one hand, “I’m sure that whatever you heard is Cecil’s business not ou–”

A soft, eerie moan wafted across the room, shifting from the darkness of the side chamber. Ben froze at the sound of it, a deep sense of dread filling his chest.

“Beeen!” Chase wrapped his arms around the Half-Lunar’s legs, hiding his face once again in the long green cloak. “Ben… can we go!? Please!”

Nodd’s eyes narrowed. He began to creep slowly into the side room, the fur on the nape of his neck standing on end.

Despite Chase’s insistence, the Half-Lunar slowly began to follow the Kit. Though the other room appeared to be commonly used as some sort of study, the shades were now drawn, casting the chambers shadow. In the middle of the room sat a make-shift litter, swathed deeply in white sheets.

It wasn’t until Ben drew closer that he realized the white cloth was spotted black.

“S-sh-shiva!” Nodd hissed as he peered up at the bed and back-stepped, jarring right into the big Half-Lunar.

As the scent of acid and burnt flesh leapt to his senses, Ben found himself struggling not to choke. He didn’t need to look to know that the bed held someone who had been wounded during the elemental Dragon attack.

But why… would Cecil be keeping someone up here and not in the infirmary?

Taking one last step forward, a twisting sensation curdled his gut. There was not one, but two people in the bed. Both were marked with the same wounds as he saw on the mages that were scattered in the hall. And both were…

“Children…” the Half-Lunar choked. “They’re nothing but children.”

A boy and a girl lay there. Being nearly identical in features, they were obviously siblings. Due to muted tingle of magic rippled over the wizard’s skin, he could also sense that they were mages.

“They’re Mysidians…” Chase whispered, “They’re wearing Mysidian seals on their uniforms.”

Mysidian… children?

As Ben stood over the bed, the light behind his eyes shifted… a flicker of something embedded so deep, yet lost to time. Nodd gave a quiet hiss as the Half-Lunar’s fingers reached out to trace the golden seal upon the hem of one of the tattered robes.

Flashes of distant memory — the sound of children playing in the streets… children who had dressed in a very similar manner… children of Mysidia.

Ben had once played along the same streets when he had been a child.

Chase was sniffling softly and pulling on the wizard’s cloak, asking to go back into the other room.

The Half-Lunar found himself unable to move. His eyes were still fixed upon the twin faces that lay before him, children lost to pained slumber. It looked as if all manner of healing spells had been attempted upon them already – to no avail. The sound of his own thoughts shifted through his mind with a haunted, chilling finality.

Their time is marked.

“H-hey…” Nodd’s voice was hoarse next to him. “What’s wrong with them?”

“They were struck down by the Elemental of the Water Crystal,” Ben answered slowly, his words very distant to his ears.

“And that’s what’s wrong with the rest of the Mysidians?”

“Yeah… And some Baronians, too.”

“What happened, Ben?” Chase blinked up fearfully, “Why did the Dragon attack our city?”

“Well…”

“It’s because someone stole your Crystal, isn’t it?” Nodd blurted quickly.

“Actually…”

You have a Crystal?” Chase stared up at Ben in surprise.

“I used to, but…”

“Someone came and stole it!” Nodd’s ears flatted.

“Stealing is baaad…” the page frowned.

“Yeah, it is…” Ben finally managed to get a word into the conversation.

“Especially when it’s stealing a Crystal,” the Kit added.

“Like a real Crystal? An element Crystal?” Chases’ eyes were wide.

“It’s similar… but not quite,” the Half-Lunar answered, “I think that whoever took my Crystal has used it to destroy and absorb the power of the Mysidian Crystal of Water.”

Chase’s mouth fell agape. “That’s…. really bad… isn’t it?”

Ben nodded somberly.

“What about the Dragon?”

“I believe that the Dragon was the elemental guardian locked away within the Water Crystal. It was sealed there to prevent things like this from happening.”

“Well, it didn’t seem to help much,” Nodd grumbled.

“Things do not always end up working out as originally planned.”

Chase took in a deep breath, peering down at the Mysidian children. “They can be healed, right?”

Ben felt the weight of his silence fall through the chamber. The Half-Lunar’s eyes closed slowly. He could do nothing more than turn away.

“You can’t leave them like this,” the boy protested. “They’re hurting a whole lot!”

The wizard took a deep breath.

“You can do something?” Chase pressed, becoming more desperate.

“Chase…” Ben’s voice grew thick, “I’m a Dark Wizard. Not a Healer…”

“But…” Chase’s eyes were round and pleading. “You’re the bestest wizard in all the world, right?”

The Half-Lunar’s mouth fell open slightly.

“You can fix them. If no one else can fix them… you can!” the boy chanted with conviction.

But I’m no White Mage. Holy Magic drains me just to be around it, much less to try and use it…

The breath rose within Ben’s throat shallowly. Chase was watching him, eyes full of hope.

But if Chase says I can do it… then maybe I really can? It’s supposed to be impossible for the boy to lie, afterall.

Nodd was watching him, too.

Still, they’re only a couple of humans. Why should I car…

The mantra of indifference suddenly fell short within Ben’s mind. For the first time, he couldn’t bring himself to finish the thought.

‘Why should I care?’

They were the words that he had used for so long to shield himself away from the uncertainty of his own emotion. For it was easier not to feel… not to confront the pain that came with knowing compassion…

But now he had found the answer to this question.

He had found the answer in the pain of the Mysidian children that lay wounded before him. In the moaning bodies of the mages strewn upon the castle floors in front of the infirmary. In the grief of the Baronian people as they had worked to gather what was left of their shattered lives in the streets below.

He had found the answer in the light of Chase’s eyes and the hope of his words – ‘You’re the bestest wizard in all the world! If no one else can fix them… you can!’

The Half-Lunar looked down at his open palms and saw something there he never had before. More than just his own power… he saw promise born of possibility.

He saw a strange, newly-realized hope.

I should care… because I am Golbez.

“I… will try,” Ben finally said.

The Kit blinked in disbelief. Then he grinned, “All right!”

“Go, Ben!” Chase’s face beamed brightly.

Ben gave a weak smile of his own, slightly abashed at their reaction. There had been very few times he remembered in his life that he had said or done something that had been met with a joyful reception.

Something inside of him grew lighter. And almost warm.

“Though…” the Half-Lunar peered around, his face growing serious. “I will need a Crystal’s aid.”

“Why?” the page chirped, face confused.

“The only way to undo something done by a Crystal is to use another Crystal to nullify it,” Ben patiently attempted to explain. “That’s why the White Mages are having no luck healing those wounded in the battle.”

Chase’s face lit up. “Ohhh… so we need a Crystal that–”

“But… where are we gonna find one?” Nodd frowned.

“I know! Hold on!” Chase waved one hand and darted out into the other room.

Ben watched him disappear, brow furrowed. A scuffling sound came from the other room. When the page finally reappeared, he was carrying what looked to be a sword. Though the blade of the weapon was sheathed in protective leather, the rounded stone in its grip gave off a soft light.

Cecil’s Sword! Of course! It has a Crystal in the pommel!

“Will this work?” the boy offered, struggling with the weight of the weapon as he brought it to the Master Wizard.

“I don’t know… but we could try?” Ben tilted his head with a musing expression.

The Half-Lunar took the sword from the boy’s arms, careful to not to handle the exposed steel of the weapon. He then balanced it against the bed, lifting his hand to hover inches above the Crystal pommel stone.

No need to touch it longer than I have to… A Paladin’s holy blade has little love or mercy for a Man of Darkness.

A soft hum began to rise from the stone as the Half-Lunar shifted his awareness into the first thread of connection with the Crystal. He could feel the burn of the holy light as the uncomfortable warmth began to touch his open palm, a sharp tingle of dancing pinpricks waltzing across his skin.

I must not pull away…

Multicolored threads of light and shadow spun off in every direction. Each held its own signature sound and feel, though some were easier for him to hear than others. As his will turned to focus upon them, a warm harmony began to take form within his mind. Carefully, Ben worked to sort through the threads, reaching to the furthest boundaries. Somewhere in the far distance, he could sense the purest white of Spirit.

He commanded the Light.

It balked and slipped through his grip like sunlit water.

Again he reached, this time commanding more aggressively.

Again, it balked, swerving as his presence sent the Light spiraling away from him.

This time he seized it… clawed at it… fighting to keep hold, and to wrap his mind with its energy. It burned like raw, white flame.

A silent, mental scream ripped through Ben’s essence as the holy energy filled him. It tore through every inch of his body, struggling like a creature desperate for escape. Fighting to balance the flow, the hum of the Crystal stone grew more insistent, changing its pitch to harmonize with that of the Light.

As the sounds merged, there was no thought, no idea, just a sudden quietness within. The words came of their own will, the soft accented lilt calling forth the syllables.

Dia liom, mo chroi… Athair an oich… Gan ghruaim. Dia linn… Dia linn… Dia linn…

Then came the release. What might have proven an irregular, tsunami of power by his normal standards instead trickled gently out through the Crystal’s balance.

The harmony was sweet enough to draw tears as the Light intensified. Lost within mind’s eye, Ben could feel more than see it drizzling down, washing the scars and torn flesh away. Thread upon thread wove and passed until the children were restored to their former unscathed state.

Passage of thought shifted through the wizard’s mind.

There are more that were wounded. Their time is also marked…

“Quickly!” Ben’s voice did not seem real to his ears. It was soft and flowing, only a hint of lilt coming through. “Get me something… anything!”

Chase gasped and reached down to grab the closest item he could find – a small white piece of cloth. Leaping forward, he shoved it into Ben’s hands. As the wizard’s fingers passed over the material, he channeled the last of the spell’s energies, locking them into the weave of the cloth.

Just as suddenly, the Light was gone.

Tekume,” Ben croaked hoarsely. Then the Half-Lunar reeled forward, collapsing on the floor.

Ch3-5 Call of Duty

“Me? Redeem Golbez?”

By the time Cecil reached the guest quarters, Golbez was gone.

He pushed aside the heavy bolted doors to reveal a tousled and empty bed that huddled in the dim light of the filtering sunset. The Paladin’s initial panic was instantly quenched at the sight of his uncle’s hunched form residing within the chambers. The ancient Lunar was calmly holding a hushed conversation with a little boy dressed in Baronian page attire.

If FuSoYa is not alarmed, then all must be well. But that shockwave of energy… it had to be Golbez!

Cecil stopped himself, waiting politely at the door for his presence to be acknowledged. To his amusement, it only took a matter of moments before the page boy glanced his way. As realization flooded the child’s face, his body shifted from a position of caution to outright awe.

“Your… M-Majesty?” The way the page’s eyes grew round, it was obvious that he had never met the Paladin King face to face before.

Cecil’s own expression sharpened.

Golden eyes? The boy of golden eyes. He is the page that was assigned to watch over Golbez’s activities.

“I hope that I am not intruding?”

If the two of them are here… where is Golbez?

“Ah, Cecil,” FuSoYa turned slowly to regard his nephew, eyebrows bristling. “What took you so long, boy?”

The page glanced quickly at the Lunar Sage, blinking at the lack of formality in the greeting. Cecil’s face remained pale with neutrality.

“Uncle…” The Paladin dipped his head forward in attempt to cover the tension in his voice.

“Where is Golbez?” the old Lunar finished, filling in the lingering question. Like a dragon swooping upon its prey, FuSoYa was right on target. Just as he always was.

Cecil lifted his green eyes to gaze on his Uncle’s grizzled face. “It was him, wasn’t it?”

“Elaborate?”

“The spell. I’m not all that magically inclined. But even I felt that spell as it was released,” The Paladin pursed his lips before continuing, “Then I discovered that Palom and Porom had been cured.”

“Indeed?” FuSoYa’s tone of voice spoke with little surprise.

“Uncle… we’ve been giving the children the best of Baron’s best in curative remedies and absolutely nothing has been able to heal them. Don’t tell me that one spell from one wizard could do what dozens of our mages could not!”

“He is Golbez,” the Sage nodded slowly.

Cecil swallowed, running his tongue over his lips.

“You act as if this is a bad thing? I could see making a fuss if he had cast something to harm someone. Did you not want the children to be cured?”

“Of course I did! It’s just… I’m not sure I understand. What exactly happened?”

“I have not actually talked to Golbez about it. We got him to bed to let him sleep off the backlash,” FuSoYa explained slowly. “When he woke up, he said he needed some fresh air and silence and that he wished to go to the battlements for a while.”

“You let him go alone?”

“Why not?” The Sage’s expression was sharp. “He knows his way there and back.”

“Yes… yes… of course…” Cecil gave a nervous frown.

“But I did talk to this young man here… he seems to have a pretty clear idea of what happened,” the Lunar made a motion towards the page.

The boy was still staring at Cecil, mouth slightly open.

The Paladin drew closer to the page and leaned forward, placing his palms on his knees to bring their eyes level. “Hello there, son. You’re Chase Westcott, if I remember correctly?”

The boy nodded quickly, eyes blinking in disbelief. “You… you’re really Cecil..!”

Cecil smiled.

“I… I mean… Your Majesty!” Chase gave a despairing look, covering his mouth with both hands.

“At ease,” the young King murmured in a coaxing voice. “I’ve heard all about your service to my brother Golbez. I’m very pleased with all your hard work. Is he difficult for you?”

“No, Your Majesty. Ben’s very kind to me!”

“Ben?”

“He likes to be called Ben… I don’t think he likes the name Golbez much anymore.”

“Is that so?”

Chase nodded quickly, “He’s nothing at all like the stories say he should be! Are you really sure he’s really Golbez?”

Cecil’s eyebrows arched in surprise.

This from the boy who supposedly sees the truth in all things? How curious.

“There’s no doubt in that, child,” FuSoYa’s face had grown uncharacteristically light.

The boy’s mouth became a small letter ‘o’.

“So, Mr. Westcott… may I call you that?” the Paladin began, a slight shimmer in his eye.

“Chase is fine Sir!” the page peeped.

“Mr. Chase then,” Cecil grinned. “Can you report to me what exactly happened today with Golbez?”

“I… told him not to go up there,” the boy’s face became troubled and afraid. “I told him he could get in trouble if he went into your room, but he wouldn’t listen. But Nodd snuck up there and he was trying to get him out.”

“Nodd?”

“That would be Golbez’s pet Hummingway child,” FuSoYa noted with a frown of distaste.

“I see…” Cecil’s face wrinkled.

“But we found Nodd,” Chase nodded firmly. “He was up in your room. And that’s when we saw the Mysidian children… they were really sick. I know we weren’t supposed to go in there… but we heard someone crying. I think one of them were sad in their sleep. So Ben went in to see.”

“And what did uh… Ben… do?”

“He took your Crystal sword and used it to heal them!”

FuSoYa gave a sound of understanding.

“Uncle?” Cecil pursed his lips.

“Of course…”

“Uncle?”

“The Crystal…”

“What about the Crystal?”

“It was the Crystal of Water that caused the wounds and illness. It would take the power of another Crystal to heal them,” the old Lunar finally said. “That is why the magic that was cast was so potent. Golbez tapped into the Crystal matrix to amplify his own power in order to create such a spell.”

The room fell into a thoughtful silence.

“Your Majesty!” Chase finally choked a frightened peep.

Cecil turned his head to regard the boy.

“Ben won’t get in trouble will he? You won’t High Treason him, will you?!”

The boy is really that concerned… and fond… of Golbez?

“No, Sir Chase. He is not in trouble.”

The page let out a deep breath. “I’m glad. He was really trying to help the mages that were hurt. He even made something to help the other sick people!”

“He… did?”

FuSoYa nodded gravely. One hand extended as he unraveled a small white cloth, holding it out to the young king. Much to Cecil’s horror… it was a pair of boxer shorts. With his initials monogrammed into them.

“Wha.. wha… where…”

“I hope these do not have any particular significance to you?” the Sage asked drolly.

Cecil’s face flushed quickly, his voice slightly strangled. “Where did you get…”

“Underwear,” Chase nodded curtly.

The Paladin King swiped out with one hand, snagging the offending garments. Instantly he felt it.

What’s this?

A tingle of woven holy magics rose and shifted through the material between his fingers. The look of surprise must have been evident on his face, for FuSoYa spoke up quickly.

“They have been enchanted. Enchanted with a copy of the same magic that was used to heal the Mysidian children.”

Cecil swallowed, blinking down at the boxers in his hand. “How… can that be possible.”

“Golbez is like his… your… father. They both posses the knowledge of locking spells into items for future usage,” the Lunar answered. “It is a series of advanced skills that is not very common even within the ranks of our people. But it goes hand in hand with things like Crystal making. And that is what he has done here.”

“Was it needed?”

“You felt the magnitude of the spell, Cecil.”

“I know… but…”

“Besides, it was holy magic. Casting magic of that sphere not only drains but physically harms Golbez.”

“What?” Cecil blinked up.

It was strange to think of someone like Golbez actually casting White Magic. And it spoke even more that the holy light might actually hurt him upon usage.

“Golbez was almost instantly rendered unconscious from the pain he endured. Therefore, reproducing this spell himself as many times as would be needed to heal all the wounded in this castle is not very logical, yes?” FuSoYa’s eyes were sharp, as if reading the Paladin’s very thoughts.

The Half-Lunar nodded slowly, the consideration sinking in. Finally, when he found his voice, the words rose in question.

“Uncle… if holy magic harms him… does that mean that he’s…”

“What? Finish your sentence, boy.”

“Well… you know… still dark?”

The Sage gave a grunt. “Golbez has been torn by both sides – dark and light – so often, I think he is honestly beyond them both. He just does not know it yet.”

“What do you mean?”

“You fear him Cecil. Do you not?”

“I fear his intentions. I don’t fear Golbez.”

“Then you are a fool.”

The Paladin’s mouth opened slightly. Then closed with a click.

“You would be wise to keep him under your hand.”

“So you mean he is…”

“Let me finish, boy,” FuSoYa grunted.

Cecil fell silent.

“I say to keep him under your hand. But not for the same reason you think I do.”

The Paladin nodded slowly, encouraging his uncle to follow up on the idea.

“Golbez… I do not know how to explain him. I only know the suffering I have seen him going through since his release from Zot. And it is immeasurable to anything I have ever seen another living creature put under.”

“Suffering?”

“Do you think that Zemus would allow those under his control to leave him so easily?”

“I…”

“Of course not. Zemus was a master in his forms of torture. To remain in the tower under his control was far less painful than to attempt to escape. He made sure of that.”

“How?”

“I do not know the details. I simply know that any creature that was chosen for Zemus’ plans was altered in many ways… mentally as well as physically… to ensure the greatest potential in performance and obedience to him,” FuSoYa looked down. “Your brother was twisted and formulated to become his perfect weapon. Thus, the extent of the alterations that were carried out upon his body and mind could only be left to nightmares.”

A shocked silence prickled over Cecil’s skin.

Chase was staring up with wide, golden eyes.

The Sage nodded finally, “I simply know… there are times that I look at Golbez and he does not even feel Lunar. Nor human. He feels like something else completely. And I blame this on the things that Zemus ordered to be carried out upon him in Zot.”

“I… had no idea.”

“Well, now you do. He may have been a Master of the dark forces, but his life has been anything but pleasant.”

“And now?”

“He seems to stay to himself if given the choice. Actually, it has been rather surprising to see him attempting to communicate with the humans in such a forward manner as he has. It is quite strange… to think he would willingly go out of his way to cast holy magic like this,” the Lunar shook his head. “I wonder if coming back to the Blue Planet might have been the best thing for him.”

“You speak as if it’s a condition that can be fixed,” Cecil frowned.

“Golbez is a strange case. His memories as his time under Zemus’ control are skewed and lost to darkness. As are most of his memories from his previous life,” FuSoYa explained. “I have a good idea that KluYa raised Golbez to be like the humans of the Blue Planet despite the powers I am sure the boy possessed even then. He was not always the evil Dark Lord that you know. As it should be obvious in the manner by which he tries to mend things between himself and you.”

“Me?”

“Can you not tell that he wants very much to get to know you? And to find your forgiveness.”

“He is… forgiven…”

“Really, now, Cecil?”

The Paladin pursed his lips, eyes lowering.

“Golbez… Benjamin Ya,” the Lunar stated, one syllable at a time. “He has been given a second chance very few have ever been. In some ways his mind still retains a child-like manner because there are many things he never learned before he was taken away by Zemus. But I believe in that part of him, our hope does lie. There is a good possibility that Golbez could become a very powerful ally to our cause. But only if there is one to guide him towards that light.”

Cecil blinked slowly.

“I have failed in this, Cecil. I find our minds more often at odds than in harmony. I tend to lose my temper and drive him further away. And it is my shame. I do care for the boy. There is a lot there to care for…”

“Uncle?” the young king looked to the Sage. It was very rare that FuSoYa admitted to feelings so openly.

“I took Golbez in as a way of making things up to KluYa. But now, I feel it may have been a mistake. There is very little I can do to understand Golbez, much less help him.”

“I don’t think so!”

FuSoYa scowled, “Have you asked him?”

“Well,” Cecil paused. “I haven’t actually spoken to him much.”

“Cecil,” there was a heavy sound to the ancient Lunar’s voice. “I ask you to keep him close under your hand and your care to lead him. You are his brother… and a Paladin. Perhaps you can do what I could not? Perhaps he will listen based off the respect that I know he holds toward you.”

“Toward… me? Are you certain?”

“Just tell me that you will try. If not for my sake… for your father’s name… and for your brother’s spirit.”

“Me? Redeem Golbez?” Cecil’s face set in a strange, pensive manner. After a long moment of thought, he nodded. “I… I suppose… it is my duty to… try?”

“Thank you, my boy.” The look on FuSoYa’s face became one of relief and subtle peace, “Thank you.”

Ch3-6 Sunset

“My memory was a distraction from my ultimate purpose. So they destroyed it.”
“Um… let me see…. Hello. Pleasant evening, isn’t it?” Cecil paused as the sound of his footsteps carried heavily through the silent hallway. “Sunsets are always nicer come spring in Baron…”

The Paladin King broke off his rehearsal with a screwed up face and shook his bushy head.

“No… no… that’s about as lame as you get! Maybe I need to try to approach him as King… he needs to know who’s in charge of this conversation.”

Rounding the corner, Cecil lifted one hand for dramatic effect.“Greetings, sir. I hope you are finding your stay here in my kingdom to your liking. The view is very nice this time of year…”

He choked.

“Absolutely not!”

It was not like Cecil to have trouble finding the right words to say. Being a king had taught him the finer points of diplomacy and public speaking. He could easily address crowds of Baronian people and international representatives.

But for some reason, he couldn’t find a single sentence to say to his brother.

“Maybe I should address him by name? It’s always more effective to use someone’s name,” Cecil frowned to himself, clearing his throat as his feet began the final stretch up the stairs of the tower. “Hello, Ben….”

He paused.

“Golbez…”

He paused again.

“Ben?”

Then he sighed.

“I simply can’t see him as this… ‘Ben’ character. I don’t know where he gets off trying to change his name thinking it’ll change what happened in his past.” A scowl drew over the Paladin’s face as he made his way through the doorway, “Though I guess it’s not too wise to keep reminding him that he was – GOLBEZ!”

Every ounce of discretion shed from Cecil’s shoulders as the shout rose to his lips. All thought of finding the perfect introduction scattered to the wind as his body immediately launched forward in a dash across the battlements.

Golbez was hanging over the castle wall. Only his feet were left dangling precariously on the up-side, leaving the wizard inches away from toppling the full drop from the tower into the moat below.

Cecil’s desperate sprint had taken him from the doorway to the far side of the battlements in record time. One hand shot out and clamped onto the back of the other man’s shirt. With all of his strength, the Paladin hauled back, his heels grinding into the stone of the floor from the effort.

That was the moment Cecil realized just how big a man his brother was.

“Odin’s Blade!” The wizard gave a startled shout, lurching at the unexpected feeling of someone grabbing him from behind. Lurching – much to Cecil’s dismay – forward and further over the drop.

“Akk – Golbez! Pull baaaack… pull baaaaak!” the Paladin barked, catching his footing against the wall itself.

Hand over hand, inch by inch, he began to reel the other man in until they were at a point of balance. Once Golbez found his own handholds, the wizard promptly took control of the situation, sprawling the two of them back to the floor with one tremendous jerk.

His breath coming in shallow gulps, Cecil found himself staring directly into his brother’s face. Much to his embarrassment, a half-gasp of surprise fluttered from between his lips. Though his green eyes were wide, the young king fought to find composure in the presence of his former enemy.

The last thing I want is for Golbez to think I’m afraid of him!

Another wave of surprise took Cecil as he realized… his brother’s expression mirrored his own almost flawlessly. There was a hint of subdued apprehension playing at the curve of the bigger man’s mouth. Golbez’s eyes rapidly fluctuated from cold detachment to sincere vulnerability. And they never left Cecil’s face.

It was like looking at an image of a man overlapping the reality of a man. As if there were two people inhabiting the light behind Golbez’s eyes. And both were fighting to gain ultimate control.

FuSoYa… was right.

“Golbez…” the name came out as a hoarse squeak — not at all the manner in which Cecil had wanted to approach his brother. “What in Shiva’s name were you doing?”

“Me… I… I was just…” Uncertainty flooded the wizard’s face. A mere moment later, a calm mask hid away all emotion. “I could ask the same of you.”

Cecil swallowed.

He hasn’t called down the Meteo on me yet… I suppose that’s a good sign?

“I thought you were going to fall over the edge,” the Paladin answered slowly, giving a sincere face.

The words must have come as a surprise to Golbez. A hint of astonishment began to trickle through the cracks that were forming in his façade. “I was… okay.”

“Maybe…” Cecil looked down to hide his slight embarrassment. “But what else does one think when they see someone half-way hung over the wall of the battlements?”

“Ah,” the sound came as realization dawned upon the bigger man. “I’m sorry… I didn’t know that it would scare anyone.”

The young king simply nodded, not knowing what else to say.

Good job… make a royal fool out of yourself in front of him. Of course he’s not about to fall – he’s a Master Wizard! For all I know, he could probably grow wings and fly…

Golbez pushed himself to his feet. His eyes turned back to the cityscape, voice dwindling as he confessed, “I was watching the children.”

“Children?” Cecil rose to stand, brushing himself off with one hand. Then he, too, turned to look over the twilight rooftops below.

Capering along the thin shadows of the houses, a group of young children were darting back and forth through the cobbled streets. The edge of their cheerful shouts carried on the stillness of the coming night, sparking a pulse of sound from time to time. The pattern of their movements suggested they were playing a game.

The Paladin glanced over to observe the expression on his brother’s face. The wizard’s eyes were hooded in struggle, squinting slightly as people do when they are fighting to remember something that lay just out of grasp. His lips were slightly parted and his brow was drawn down with tortured yearning.

“Are you feeling okay?” Cecil ventured to ask.

The wizard’s head jerked up at the sound of his brother’s voice. Then he nodded slowly. “Something just seems… so familiar.”

Thoughts of FuSoYa’s words filled Cecil’s mind. Impressions of who Golbez might have been before he was Golbez…

‘I have a good idea that KluYa raised Golbez to be like the humans of the Blue Planet despite the powers I am sure the boy possessed even then. He was not always the evil Dark Lord that you know.’

The Paladin tilted his head, gazing back across the city.

But how can I see him as anything but the thing I’ve known him to be…

“Familiar?” Cecil’s voice was thick as he forced the question, “In what way?”

Golbez’s eyes were distant as he answered, “I think I’ve played that game before as a child. But I can’t really remember.”

The Paladin lifted a hand to his chin. Words began to match reality within his mind.

‘His memories as his time under Zemus’ control are skewed and lost to darkness. As are most of his memories from his previous life…’

“You’ve forgotten?”

“Yeah…”

“How?”

“There are ways,” the sudden shift to coldness in his voice sent a prickle rushing over Cecil’s skin. “My memory was a distraction from my ultimate purpose. So they destroyed it.”

“Your purpose?”

Sharp green eyes turned on Cecil. The Paladin suddenly wished he hadn’t pressed the topic.

“You were there. You know what my purpose was,” Golbez replied. His voice was unyielding.

“I… apologize…” the young king swallowed, breaking away from the gaze with a shaken jerk.

“It’s… okay,” the wizard’s words grew suddenly wavering. “I’m… sorry, too.”

“Sorry?” Cecil was tempted to turn back to his brother. But fear of what he might find there kept his eyes upon the rising cloudbanks.

“It’s just… the first time.”

“First time?”

“Yeah. No one’s ever asked me about… you know… that… before.” Golbez paused before dropping his voice in a childlike whisper, “I think everyone’s too scared to ask.”

The honesty in his brother’s voice struck at Cecil’s very spirit. He felt his breath catch in his throat, his words choking up, “Do you give them reason to be?”

“Be scared of me?”

“Y-yeah…”

“Sometimes,” the wizard grimaced wistfully. “I guess that’s easy for someone like me to do. I mean… considering how I look and all…”

Cecil turned to look at his brother, this time to study his appearance. Other than the fact that his towering size was rather intimidating… and to an outsider the combination of white hair and green eyes would be striking… there was very little about Golbez’s features that one could find sharply fearsome. In fact, looking as he did at that moment, he seemed almost friendly.

“I don’t think it’s that bad,” the young king offered.

“Hmmm?” An eyebrow arched as the wizard gave a puzzled frown.

“I mean…” Cecil found himself stumbling over the thought. “You and I don’t look all that different when it comes down to it.”

Green eyes blinked slowly as they traced the Paladin’s face. Golbez then tilted his head in thought, “I suppose you’re right…”

“Besides, intimidation is all a matter of how you carry yourself.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well… if you walk around all sulky and distant, sure people are gonna stay away from you. Most people are pretty good about telling when someone wants to be left alone.”

“Maybe.”

“You ever try smiling much?”

“Eh?”

“You know like…” Cecil twisted his face into a big playful grin as an example.

Golbez’s eyebrows shot up simultaneously. It wasn’t too often that Cecil grinned in front of people… and it was just as likely that his brother had never seen much in the way of a smile from him.

“You see?”

“Eh… Yeah?”

“So how about it?”

“Uh?”

Cecil chided gently, “Can the mighty Master Golbez manage to break a grin?”

The wizard gave a soft nervous laugh, “I…”

“Well?”

“Heh…” Golbez’s mouth curved upward with a slow, droll expression. Gradually, a lopsided grin spread until it lit his eyes with a vacantly benign light.

Cecil couldn’t help himself from quipping a little laugh, “Yeah, that’s it.”

The wizard’s face took on a hint of embarrassment at the encouragement.

“It’s not one-hundred-percent, but chances are much more likely that people will find you more friendly if you smile now and then,” the Paladin nodded.

“That’s it? Just smile?” the doofy grin was still pasted to Golbez’s face.

Cecil chuckled. “Believe me. A well-timed smile is sometimes the most persuasive tool known to human-kind.”

“Is that so..?” The wizard’s tone grew thoughtful as he turned his eyes back towards the shifting twilight.

Leaning forward with a new-found assurance, the Paladin followed his brother’s line of sight. The words that came now held a real conviction rather than the rehearsed hash that he had attempted to spout earlier. “Sure is pretty. The sunset.”

“I can’t get over it.”

“Why?”

“We don’t have sunsets on the Lunar Homeworld.”

“Really?”

“Yeah… there’s always some sort of illumination in the sky,” Golbez mused. “We have four moons there… including the Red Moon.”

“Seriously? I bet that makes for some interesting skies.”

“Sometimes. But we don’t have sunsets,” the wizard murmured. “I forgot how beautiful this world could be…”

“I know what you mean.” The peaceful symphony of crickets rose from the forests below as Cecil ventured, “Maybe one day I could come see your world?”

A soft scowl drew over Golbez’s face. “It is not ‘my’ world.”

“Ah?”

“It does not belong to me… and I do not belong to it.” The words held a hint of pain, “I only stay there because I have no where else to go.”

Realization shook Cecil as the words fell upon his ears.

And for the first time he could see a glimmer of Golbez not as the former Dark Lord and Destroyer… but as a torn man, lost to a spiral of events that were beyond his own control. A man who was struggling to simply remain a part of the flow of time without being swept away. A man of great power… yet so childlike and open to potentials of influence. Even to the Light.

The words of FuSoYa rang once again in his ears.

‘There is a good possibility that Golbez could become a very powerful ally to our cause. But only if there is one to guide him towards that light.’

“Hey…” Cecil pushed himself away from the wall with an encouraging smile. “How about you and I go down and grab a bite to eat?”

The look on Golbez’s face was incredulous with unspoken surprise.

“Come on. Why not?”

“I just thought… you’ve been busy lately.”

“Well, I’m not busy now. Besides, there are a lot of things I’d like to talk with you about…” Cecil paused before adding a gentle afterthought, “…Brother…”

“I’d… like that a lot…” Golbez perked up with a small grin. “…Brother…”