The smell of sulfurous air and the heat of the magma seas to the south and east were not the first of Rydia’s concerns. The magic of the transportation spell fled her body like an electrical charge. She stood on the ramparts of an enormous castle with the concussion of explosives shaking the stones beneath her feet. She made as quick sense of her surroundings as possible and ran for the first door she could find, almost loosing her footing during the bombardment. If Cecil was going to be anywhere, it was in the throne room of this castle, and that meant reaching lower ground. She was so focused on this task, that she barely even noticed the surprised gasps of short stout men carrying spears and axes as she passed them along the way. She wasn’t even sure where she was going, but she barreled down staircases in circuitous fashion, past guards, and followed the castle’s unrest to its source—a set of double doors engraved with symbols and letters inset with gems of the finest craft. Men were beating at the doors in a frenzy, shouting unknown curses and possibly oaths to their gods; but for all their numbers, they could not budge the door.
Rydia hadn’t been operating out of her own consciousness from the instant she’d arrived here, and the moment she saw the doors, she felt the presence of strong magic barring them shut.
“Stand back!” she shouted at the men, raising her arms as they glanced at her in surprise. When she gestured again for them to leave, they stepped back in time enough for Rydia to hurl lightning at the locks, melting them clear off. The doors burst ajar and Rydia bolted into the room behind, not quite expecting to see what she found.
She was returned to the present as if by the force of a great wave, and when she saw Cecil wretchedly pinned to the floor faced with his own demise, there were no words to capture the emotion she felt. She sprang again into action. She was a summoner. This was exactly why she’d been sent—to help turn the tide of the war.
Rydia began to chant the words of the one summoning spell she had yet to use in battle. One that she felt was long overdue. Mist began to fill the corners of the room before its namesake summon had even arrived, and as Rydia began to advance, she wondered if she looked like an ethereal creature herself, swathed in the concealing vapors. Her spell rose to a crescendo in her ears, drowning out fear, drowning out the presence of the others in the room, and when she finally finished calling out Mist’s name, the tug of another life drawing on her essence nearly brought her eyes to tears. Mist came into being, roaring at Golbez’s paltry creation with defiant ferocity. The very sound made Rydia’s bones shudder, and she watched the clash of dragons from nearly outside of herself. Mist’s attack was chillingly beautiful, muted silver against a writhing darkness and it sizzled through the air like razor sharp rain. It sliced through Golbez’s summoned dragon, tearing apart the shadows that bound it into existence and scattered them into nothing. Even Golbez reeled backwards, caught off-guard.
He’s distracted. Act fast, she thought rapidly as she crossed half the distance of the room in a heartbeat.
By the time she had drawn near to Cecil, Golbez had recovered enough to see the full damage of her summoning.
“An Eidolon. My shadow dragon defeated by mere mist! Impossible…” he seethed, looking for the person to punish for this interference.
Rydia hastily opened the pouch the queen had given her and pulled out four phials, suspecting their contents to be remedies. She threw them at the floor directly behind her friends and watched them shatter into specks of crystal and glistening vapor. Golbez’s spell that held even the fallen in his control failed in the presence of the phials’ contents; but Rydia wasn’t ready to reveal herself quite yet. Instead, she shouted out to Cecil with as much confidence as she could muster.
“It’s all right! You can move now!”
Cecil swiveled in the direction of her voice, but the air was still thick with moisture and Rydia remained hidden within it, not wanting to lose the element of surprise.
“I know that voice…” she heard Cecil mutter, “Who’s there?” he demanded.
Not yet, she convinced herself. She needed to plan her next move before she lost her brief advantage. Golbez was already past cursing the loss of his dragon and had begun blindly throwing attacks into the fog that blanketed half the room. She took her place among the battle line and dismissed Mist from her service. With the summon’s absence, the room’s precipitation also left, and Rydia was finally revealed for who she was. The look on the former Dark Knight’s face was that of complete and utter shock.
“Rydia!” Cecil sputtered out, as if seeing a ghost.
“No time, Cecil, take these and revive the others!” she told him, tossing the pouch given her by Asura.
Cecil was still too in shock to move but he eventually fumbled to get the pouch open and tended to the fallen, leaving the offensive momentarily in Rydia’s hands.
She began another incantation, focusing her energies on the summoning of Ifrit. The room’s temperature began to rise, preceding the fire demon’s grand entrance. Rydia hoped his foul temper would be an asset to her today, enough to blaze through Golbez’s dark cloak of magic. Ifrit tore through the fabric of the dimension like a crazed animal, and the feeling of molten rock stifled Rydia’s breathing and caused sweat to saturate her robes and stream down the sides of her face. Ifrit’s fireball blazed across the crystal room, sending flames and light bouncing off of the walls and ceiling and melting portions of the floor. It struck Golbez with an impact that sounded like an avalanche and in the explosion, Rydia glanced briefly at the others to see Rosa conscious and assisting Yang while Cecil rushed to heal the man in blue armor—Kain. When she returned her attentions to Golbez, the man stood unharmed and unblemished, dark armor glistening like polished onyx. Ifrit howled at this injustice, the sound lingering even after Rydia had dismissed him to the Feymarch. She herself stood frozen solid despite the residual heat of the summoning. How could that have done nothing? She had never taken the time to notice how powerfully interwoven the enchantments upon Golbez’s armor had been created, but now she saw it as clear as day—he was impervious to whichever element he chose!
Cecil caught her gaze, his gray eyes as concerned as hers. In that moment, Rydia felt completely helpless. She knew no spells that could aid her, nothing that would tell her the secrets of Golbez’s protective spell! Thoughts raced through her head at a tremendous pace and all the while, she could hear Cecil chanting, drawing on words that she thought she’d once known. Could it be that he could decipher the secrets? Until she knew for sure that her efforts wouldn’t be uselessly spent, she dug through another pouch at her side and pulled from it the spare quantity of potions that she carried. She gave Yang one, Rosa another, tossing it to the white mage, as the other woman narrowly missed an arc of lightning that singed her already sooty white robes. Yang now stood on his feet, disoriented, and even though Rydia had helped him, he was not entirely aware of her presence. In the din of the room, she was a stranger they didn’t yet have time to address.
“Ice!” Cecil hissed at Rydia as he bore the brunt of a powerful fire spell and plunged to his knees. “Ice,” he repeated, looking her straight in the eyes.
“Please be quick, Shiva, I need you,” Rydia murmured to herself, beginning the complex lines that spanned dimension and time to bring this third summon to bear.
Only half-way through the incantation she felt the drain of an attack, magic that crept into her skin like a toxin and weakened every muscle and sparked every nerve painfully. Despite herself, she was on the ground in an instant, unable to control her limbs under this malady. Moments after losing her strength, she was again revived as she felt Rosa’s magic counteract the first and infuse her with energy. Rydia stood and opened her eyes, beckoning Shiva to enter—frost clinging to the tiles and causing Rydia’s breath to fog the air. Shiva appeared in her full regalia, stunning and deadly. Swords of ice were in her hands and she raised them to the ceiling where they shattered like glass and called upon a tempest of snow and ice that hurtled toward Golbez. It sliced a chunk out of the heavy breastplate and he stumbled backwards, momentarily losing his footing and being slowed by the intense weight of ice that clung to his armor.
Success! Rydia thought triumphantly, and considered a second pass with Shiva’s magic, but Cecil reached out and gripped her arm, halting her command. He shook his head, and Rydia had enough presence of mind not to be swept up in the euphoria of magic, dismissing Shiva before she did something rash.
To her right, Yang was moving, running toward Golbez with claws extended. Rydia watched in a daze, sensing, rather than seeing, a change in the magicks that surrounded their enemy. Yang’s attack was repelled, and Yang was sent flying by a hard blow from Golbez’s gauntleted arm. To her left, Rosa was tirelessly chanting an endless stream of spells, and farthest from her, Rydia could see where the dragoon Kain stood. She felt nothing toward him, not even anger, but she hoped beyond hope that he was truly on their side this time. He didn’t disappoint.
Between Cecil’s strikes of the sword, Rosa’s chanting, and Yang’s physical barrage, Kain would fly into the air toward the rafters and hang there as if suspended, only to plunge downward again and strike with a force that shook the floor. Rydia was amazed at the grace he achieved in flight the first time she saw him launch into the air, but her ruminations had been cut short by Cecil’s instructions, revealing Golbez’s new weakness whenever it turned, and turn it often did.
Ramuh, Shiva, Ifrit, Mist—all of them were summoned, some of them several times, and while the battle lengthened on, Rydia came near to dropping on so many occasions that she’d lost count of how many debts of gratitude she owed Rosa. Weapons and magic exchanged blows, and blood trickled down Rydia’s forehead and into her eyes, but she paid it little heed. She was consumed with the power she called upon, bent on her task. The presence of her friends only bolstered her further. She felt like a person crazed, a beast, and it gave her unnatural courage.
At last, when Rosa’s voice was hoarse, Yang’s fists dripped blood, and even Cecil was weary of lifting his sword, did Golbez finally fall to the floor. His armor had become brittle and cracked, the magic protecting it having all but faded, and he collapsed in a heap of metal and flesh.
Rydia was so relieved she fell to the floor with exhaustion and took several minutes to reclaim her breath. Her companions were each expressing their own brands of relief, and when Rydia was more conscious of her surroundings, she watched Rosa run into Cecil’s arms and bury her face into his shoulder and neck.
“We—we did it! We defeated him!” Cecil cried, looking unable to believe it himself. Rydia finally stood to join in his celebrating, and suddenly found all eyes upon her. Rosa detached herself from Cecil and ran to Rydia’s side, taking her by the shoulders.
“Rydia? Rydia!” the golden haired mage exclaimed, hugging her so fiercely, Rydia couldn’t breathe for the second time since the end of the battle. “You saved our lives!”
Rydia smiled sheepishly and felt tears creep to her eyes, which she hastily rubbed away along with sweat and blood.
Cecil was walking toward the two of them, and he stared at her like one studies a book. “What happened to you? We thought you were dead! Leviathan’s attack—”
“He didn’t kill me, he…well, he saved me. He brought me to the home of the Eidolons,” Rydia tried to explain in a rush.
“The home of the Eidolons?” he repeated.
“They call it the Feymarch,” she went on. “I lived among them and befriended them. They trained me in the art of black magic and also in the lore of summoning.”
“But just look at you! You’re so much older now, and your hair and everything about you…You were just a little girl the last time I saw you,” Rosa was practically fluttering.
Rydia smiled at the woman she’d looked up to for so long, acting like a little girl herself. “Time in the Feymarch is not the same as the time outside of it. Ten years have passed for me since we were separated and you journeyed here.”
“Ten years…you trained for ten years with the Eidolons and grew into a young woman while we covered the world in search of the crystals,” Cecil tried to summarize.
“I was waiting for you to come here, I knew someday I’d be able to come back to you!”
“I’m so happy to see you, Rydia!” Rosa repeated happily.
Rydia beamed. “Rosa, you have no idea how glad I am to see you safe!”
From the corner of her eye, she could see Kain approaching, hesitantly, maintaining Cecil as a shield between them as much as possible. Rydia’s smile faded somewhat, as she heard him ask Cecil who she was.
“This is Rydia of Mist,” Cecil explained.
When Kain reeled backwards, guilt constraining his features, Rydia felt a satisfied smile return to the corners of her mouth. Good, let him feel guilty, she thought.
“The child?” he nearly croaked.
At his reaction, Cecil seemed to remember the past as well, and looked at Rydia with a pained expression. “But why did you come to save us? If it wasn’t for us, your mother—”
“Don’t say another word!” Rydia quickly interrupted him. “The queen of the Eidolons told me this: the wheels of a fate greater than us all are turning now. She told me we must stand against it…and we must stand together. I agree with her, and so I’m coming with you through whatever dangers we face. I’m strong now, and I’ll prove it!”
“You have nothing to prove to me, Rydia,” Cecil replied, shaking his head. “And thank you.”
“Cecil!” Yang suddenly shouted, and everyone turned to look where he pointed.
Golbez had already pushed himself up to his knees and was crawling up the crystal dais when everyone realized just what was going on.
“Give up, Golbez, you’ve been defeated. Your quest for the crystals has ended!” Kain shouted, menacing.
Ignoring Kain’s challenge, Golbez was atop the dais stairs and the darkness of his presence returned to plague their senses, seizing them all in place.
His gloved fingers took hold of the crystal, and he turned to look at Cecil through the shadows of his helm.
“Death will not claim dominion over me,” he hissed. “You haven’t won this day, Cecil. We will meet again.” And with those foretelling words, Golbez vanished into thin air. When the gravity of his evil presence was gone, everyone ran forward instinctively but to no end.
There was heavy silence that followed Golbez’s escape. Kain cursed and Cecil’s expression was grave. Rydia too felt the exhaustion of battling catching up to her now that it had all been for nothing.
“We need to explain this to King Giott,” Rosa said at last. “And pray this wasn’t our last chance.”
“You’re right,” Yang agreed. “We’ve finally been re-united, we can’t let Golbez defeat us now!”
“Let’s go,” Cecil announced, wiping his sword clean and returning it to his sheath.
Everyone nodded, and it was Yang who led the way out of the decimated crystal room to meet with this king that Rydia had never met. She followed them anxiously. It had been a long time since she’d felt what it was like to be at war, and this confrontation had tested her beyond what she’d expected.
Eidolons…she thought desperately, please continue to lend me your support. I truly know I’ll need it!