When the world stopped shaking - or had it stopped?, or had it merely slowed its manic shuddering until the stones and the glass had ceased singing but the air and the subtle things, the open pages of his book, the flame of his candle, still moved like taut harpstrings after a final crescendo -
- when it stopped, or slowed, the Potions lined up in a row on a shelf swirling slowly, seeming to emit spirals of light in their dim midnight colours, Edward got up from his chair and walked upstairs to the roof. He could hear people shouting below. Twice, he passed someone rushing away from the heights. He stood on the topmost balcony and looked out across the land, seeing nothing but a few distant lights.
Everything felt red.
He looked up, and saw it.
It wasn't that the red moon looked so large tonight. That happened sometimes, and Edward was one to look up while others spent lives on the ground. No, it was that there was a moon. A moon. Every night of his life he had seen two.
He ran back downstairs on feet that trembled so hard it would have been easier to tumble down the spiral. He felt desperately afraid and alone, and didn't know who he should call to him. He ran inside his room and slammed the door, leaning against it. He should summon his general. His chancellor. Ask them what he should do. No, he was king now, and he was meant to be telling other people what to do. Gods, so alone. There was no one in Damcyan who could help him, or even tell him to calm down -
He ran to his window and opened it wide. He found the Whisperweed in a case under his bed. It was so out of tune, and his hands were so unsteady, but that didn't matter so much as knowing he'd be heard. He leaned against the windowsill, and played a song he hadn't so much as thought of in years. It was a memory of peaceful times when he'd not had to rule over anyone and the only danger he knew of was the fear of being separated from Anna. It was warm and loving and none of the lyrics made sense.
Cecil would probably think it was pretty silly but Edward didn't care.
Afterwards, he summoned the general and the chancellor, commanded them to keep order but to be kind to panicking Damcyans and to, as much as was reasonable, let them come and go as they pleased. He went back to his room and stared out of the window; the stars seemed unfamiliar and distorted, shaped like parts of constellations hidden behind panes of bottle-glass. The red moon was still huge, and had a darker shadow across its centre, like the middle of a bruise. He worried for the Lunarians - what had happened to them? What had they done?
A little after midnight, he heard a strange clang from the Whisperweed. That tended to happen when Cecil dropped it.
He wished, foolishly, for Tellah or Cid or some other wise person he could speak to. Someone who understood the moons - he thought of things he'd read and pictured the tides frozen in the seas, too heavy for the red moon to draw them along alone. He watched the moon set, imagining it descending into the sea, emerging again the next night washed completely clean.
He ran back to the balcony to look at the rising sun. It seemed normal, but perhaps dim and distant, and he wondered if he was simply imagining its distortion out of fear, or simply imagining its normalness out of hope.
He stared around the sky, hoping to see an airship. A carrier pigeon would do. Some sign that he wasn't forgotten.
Every so often he noticed the people on the ground, entering or leaving the castle - coming to seek safety, or leaving to seek answers. He kept looking up, paying them no heed, watch the sun get higher but no brighter; it was as if it shined on him through a wall of thick glass. But he kept watching for a sign til his neck ached. He rested his head against a parapet, trying to keep watching. What else could he do?
There he remained until the second lieutenant of the Damcyan Castle Guard clattered through the door, followed immediately by Rydia. "I tried waving to you from the road," she said, sounding tired and happy and furious, "but you weren't looking down at me."
She looked ready to fall and she took great gulps of thin air, as if she'd run all the way upstairs from the Feymarch to the top of Edward's tower. He stepped towards her and took her arm, found it steady beneath her disarrayed veils. "You heard me play Whisperweed?"
"No." She looked blankly at him. "I had to run away from the Feymarch, and Odin told me to find you."
Edward's hand went to his mouth. "You had to - Rydia, what has befallen the Feymarch? Is it gone, like the True Moon?"
"No - what? Someone came there to kill me. What was that about the True Moon?"
Edward swayed on his feet, remembering the other time in which reunion with Rydia had brought so much gladness and so much confusion. Child of Mist and Fey, subterran and friend to eidolons, heedless of the sky. And my, did she know how to get herself into trouble.
"I think," he stuttered, "that maybe, we should discuss this over breakfast."
"Odin recognised him," Rydia said flatly. "I have no idea how, but he did."
Edward absorbed this statement while watching her bury her mouth in a handful of fruit. It was an impressive display of hunger. Rydia was somewhat picky about food, and she always ate with her hands, which were rainbow-hued with jam and juices and speckled with sugar and biscuit crumbs. She only ate bread in the evening, but at breakfast she sometimes spread butter on slices of grapefruit. He'd dismissed the castle maids to spare their delicate sensibilities of this sight.
"You could try starting at the beginning?" he asked hopefully, and tapped his egg with his spoon.
"Uf." Edward appreciated that Rydia had had a strange childhood, and apparently no one had ever told her not to speak with her mouth full. "Ff Earf waf -" She swallowed. "The whole earth started shaking, and I think we were - breaking, like there were pieces of the Feymarch that had forgotten how to speak to the rest. I couldn't find Asura..." She looked upset, and remorseful, and angry. "And a man appeared and said - said he'd burned through time itself to find me. I didn't understand, so I cast Bio on him, and then Odin told me I had to run. He carried me up to a hidden place near here -" Edward had read that routes to the Feymarch were as plentiful and changeable as dreams, and only Rydia seemed capable of passing through them easily - "and he said we were close to Damcyan, which was where I needed to be."
"I can see you needed breakfast." She laughed, and juice ran down her chin. "Rydia. I can keep you safe here. I'll deploy the whole army to keep this murderer from you if I have to. But that feels like only the beginning of our problems."
"Did you say the moon -"
"It's gone. And the red moon seems closer than it should - or larger."
Rydia stood, absently grabbing a napkin as her chair scraped gratingly over the stone-flagged floor. "I need to go back up to the roof," she announced, mopping her chin as she walked.
"What's wrong?" asked Edward, following her with perhaps slightly more social grace, as if there were anyone present who cared for it.
"I can't summon Bahamut in your dining room. He has no manners at all."
Edward wondered belatedly if he should have made a prior announcement to his populace to inform them that Damcyan wasn't being attacked by a dragon. The possibility of panic was there, like an open door, beckoning anyone who wished for escape from all this uncertainty to drop their burdens and dance through it. A dragon landing on the castle roof, however majestic and however good its intentions, could easily rupture the very wall which that open door ingressed.
He was very thankful then that some people lived on the ground while others looked up at the sky.
Edward could never become used to the sight of Bahamut. He felt fear even to look upon the great Lunar-wyrm - it could have easily ripped him in two with one steel toenail. He had no way of communicating with the great dragon, and so he sat on his battlements and watched Rydia, with her upstretched hands braced against Bahamut's face; she was a speck in the eye compared to his vastness, like a moth to the scale of a man, and Edward envied her fearlessness, was grateful that he did not have to have dealings with eidolons.
Bahamut raised his head, and Rydia spun on her toes as his wingbeat caught at her clothing, lifting capes and veils in a rippling circle behind her; no wonder there were stories that claimed the summoners of Mist knew how to fly. "Edward!" She was yelling over the sound of moving air. "It's getting complicated -"
Edward clung to his battlements as the dragon ascended, and he watched the sunlight shine through the thin flesh of those crystal wings. It seemed like seconds, or forever, before Bahamut vanished - gone through that wall to the fey skies beyond, too magical and mad for ordinary existence. Gone to the place that Rydia too called home, so if she was talking complicated he wasn't even sure he wanted to -
"Edward, look!" She came to him and held up a hand to help him step down. "Is that - no - yes -"
He stepped down beside her and followed her eyes to the confusion that was their object - a shadow on the sun that gave his heart a ringing second of hope...and then vanished. It reappeared, closer, and then winked out again.
"Complicated, you say." Edward thought then that he'd been right, that the world had never stopped trembling. The Lunar Whale came, in broken spurts of motion, close enough that he could be sure that it was indeed itself - afloat in a cloudshadow existence, weaving from reality to nonexistence. What in the world had befallen them all?
"As the sky, so it is in the Feymarch," she said. "Bahamut told me so, and there are souls we can't speak to any more -" She looked as troubled as he'd seen her since she was a child. "And he said the moon you saw was - more than the Red Moon we know. He dwelt beneath the Red Moon for centuries. He'd know."
"I don't understand -"
"Neither do I," she said shortly.
He judged that the Lunar Whale's situation had been improving as they spoke - its present moments were longer, its vanishings briefer, and the clouds that parted around it seemed to form a dense honour-guard that outlined the path it took through the air towards them. When it was almost overhead, Edward saw the hatch open in its underside. The ship began to bank - to slow - to vanish against a crackling wall of lighting that seemed to tilt its nose and tail in some way that its body somehow ignored, as if its very presence were unstable - and when somehow the airship righted itself, Edward saw a speck tumble from it. A second later, that speck became a cloud of silk.
He was aware that Cid had, under the tutelage of a master librarian of Fabul, been studying means of leaving an airship without troubling to stop and land the thing, but he would not himself have been willing to trust such a device. Yet Cecil's expression as he drifted towards them was almost serene.
Rydia was tilting her head curiously, as if trying to unravel the natural magic that allowed his gentle descent, and Edward considered that, when Cecil landed, he would have the chance to make some witty declaration about how good it was that his friend had dropped by for breakfast, but in practice as soon as Cecil had touched the ground Edward took his arm and held it, feeling the strength in Cecil's disoriented earthly presence, feeling so grateful and glad to have not just one friend in this rupturing world, but two. He felt Rydia catch his other hand again, and he looked from one to the other - Rydia barefoot, unarmed, her veils ravelling around her in the wind like the strangeness of them - describing her, cloaking her, sometimes flowing out behind her like wings. Cecil was all familiar strength, a sword at one hip and Whisperweed resting in a case over the other, moon-pale hair tangled by his latest act of daring (and he never lived a day without one of those). He watched Cecil join hands with Rydia, and one whole complete silent moment passed between them before all three started talking at once.
"What did I do that the both of you chose -"
"It's so good to see you - we have to -"
"I came as fast as I could but did you two see the -"
It was Rydia who broke away first, and turned to the stairs, moving gently and urgent, as if stepping in to a dance, skirts rustling. "We have to get underground."
"Rydia, did you feel the earth -"
"Of course I did. But I have to. I'm losing touch with him and Bahamut said that something -"
"With who?" Cecil followed her, and Edward heard the windchime-tingling of crystal-plated boots striking stone.
"Titan. My eidolon." Edward scurried behind them. There were few whose company could make him feel so plain - in all the world, maybe only these two, the earth's daughter and the moon's son. They were tidal forces in his life. He tried to listen to her words over the pull of their presence. "The eidolons are all mine because I'm all they have left, but I'm Titan's and earth since always." Earth was what she called an element, Edward knew. She could open it up, breathe it, move through it. If she'd been Ifrit's, perhaps they would have found her and her Feymarch in the heart of the sun instead. "Bahamut told me there was something waiting for us underneath the castle."
"What?" He almost stumbled at the thought of what the gods might have done to Damcyan Castle's cellar.
"The end of time. I think. It's complicated. Cecil, would you please stop treading on my dress?"
Edward persuaded them to pause, three floors below the roof, so he could collect the other Whisperweed. Rydia was insistent that there wasn't a moment to waste, but a pause in the beat was worth taking if it ensured that the beat would go on.
"This is wrong," she said, cruciform in the cellar doorway, arms pressed to the walls on either side of her. "This is all wrong."
Cecil laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, as if through her he somehow hoped to feel her contact with the world. "Rydia, you told us to come here -"
"Titan?" Edward exclaimed. By his meagre understanding, such a thing was not possible. Titan was the earth.
"Gone. It's like we're not in Damcyan any more." She shuddered, held upright by her finger-grip in crevices between Edward's ancestral stones. "But - Bahamut sent me to - so it can't matter that -" She blinked, and sagged back against Cecil, as if her attempt at connection was at an end. "There must be something else here for us. Something that -"
Edward walked past her, looking far down the narrow corridor, one hand tracing the wall beside him. There was something - not a distortion, not the kind of thing they'd seen up in the sky. It wasn't a barrier to his eyes' focus, but an enhancement of it. He heard the others following, close behind. He would have spoken, but he didn't come down to these reaches very often, and didn't trust himself to say it. Perhaps Rydia's words had merely poisoned his mind with the idea of it. He wished he could trust himself to say for sure.
He felt the stones change under his hand, smooth sides that felt brushed by water giving way to something rough and dry and, somehow, older. He looked back and met Rydia's wide eyes, hoping she understood.
Edward walked faster, fingertips dancing on the stone as if he were playing its melody. This wasn't his home any more; he was no longer here as a king, but as an invader. He felt Cecil step up beside him, and in a passing glance he saw Cecil's pale hands resting on the hilt of his sword.
A grotesque, guttural moan sounded from somewhere nearby. Cecil drew his sword. Rydia froze, her mouth hanging open as if she no longer trusted her own incantations. Edward, for the first time since their madcap descent, looked back.
Nothing seemed out of place; there was no break in his manic focus, no place where what was not Damcyan became Damcyan again. He could no longer see the open door that had admitted them only minutes ago.
They had no way to return. Wherever they were, they would stay.