Part 1: The Ordeal of Ordeals
"KAaaaaaaaiiIIInnn!" Edge yelled at Mount Ordeals. "Kaaaiiinn, you moronic son of a dragoon-head! Where are you? Why are you? Here, that is?"
The mountain replied BWARGH ZOMBIE ATTACK!
Edge sighed and started killing like a gazillion shambling undead horrible horrors.
Only a zombie-brained doofus like Kain would spend months on top of zombie-infested Mount Ordeals.
And only an easily exploited doofus of a ninja would bother coming up here to try to drag the guy back down. Honestly, Edge didn't particularly care if Kain wanted to sit on a mountain for the rest of his life to atone or train or knit scarves or whatever.
Edge wouldn't have come at all if not for Rydia's expert bribery. I won't visit the Feymarch for a whole month! she'd said. One month in the Feymarch was like a year on her lifespan. He really wished she would stop trying to turn herself into an old lady before her time.
After the last zombie of the current horde had been skewered/fried/electrocuted (he'd gotten a little carried away), Edge spun his swords around and hmmmmed. Hmmm. Where would a grumpy dragoon hide on a grumpy grey mountain? Behind a huge rock somewhere, where he would blend in naturally with the grey and gloom and glum and other words starting with "g"? Probably.
Probably, the best way to draw out a gloomy gus like that was...to prey on his complexes, since he had so many of them.
"Hi, loser who didn't come to his best friends' wedding!" Edge called out cheerfully. "I sure could've used your help with that latest zombie horde? Were you too scared? I shoulda known, with that huge item of overcompensation you carry around!"
And lo, Kain stepped out from behind a rock carrying his huge item of overcompensation, a.k.a. his spear. "Why of all people are you here," he helloed, in his usual hello, rude way.Edge vaguely wondered if dragoons never had to take etiquette lessons or something. Then again, the big jerk didn't talk like a big jerk to anyone else, so maybe it was just Edge's special charm at work. He had skipped all the etiquette lessons too, after all.
"Nice to see you again too," Edge quipped. "I'm here because I wanted to give Cecil and Rosa a present when they come back from their honeymoon: your sorry ass. Though I'm not sure if seeing your ugly mug again, or your ass either for that matter, would actually be a present."
Kain's mouth tightened with displeasure. "You came a long way for naught, I'm afraid. I'm not ready to go."
"That's what she said," Edge mouthed off reflexively.
Oops, bad move. Now Kain's fingers were fingering his huge item of overcompensation in ways suggestive of violence rather than, well, other things.
"Look," said Edge hurriedly, not wanting to lose his audience, "I can understand why you're here - you hurt the people you love, in both the past tense and the present tense..."hurt" is a nice verb that way - but I also think that you're just hurting them more by staying away. You should have seen how sad they were when they realized you weren't coming for their wedding. They miss you. So...come home for them, if not for yourself, Kain."
Edge had spent a long time coming up with that speech. A whole five minutes, at least. If anything was going to get through to Kain, he'd decided, it was piling on more guilt.
"You would not understand." Kain's head turned away with slow, dramatic angst. "I have done such terrible things, blah blah blah blah. Honour shmonour wah wah wah. The world has suffered for my sins neena neena na. For every light there is a shadow hoo hoo rah rah."
"Wait, what?" Edge interrupted. "What do light and shadows have to do with anything?"
"Were you even listening?"
"Of course!" Edge's ninja sensibilities were slightly offended. He could multi-task with the best of them. "You were going on about your honour and then all of a sudden you said every light casts a shadow or something."
Kain nodded stiffly. "For every light there is a shadow, for every good there is an equal evil."
"Shadow is my lot. Shall I count the ways? Cecil becomes a paladin, I become a traitor. Cecil weds Rosa, I lose her. Cecil becomes king, I - "
"- finally pull your ass out of your head? ...Uh, wait, other way around. Look, I don't think - "
"No, you don't. Let me finish. Cecil becomes king, I am stuck with a fool of a ninja."
"Hey!" Edge heyed. "Stuck nothing! I don't have to be here, ya know. I'm just helping out as a concerned acquaintance."
Kain gave him a suspicious look. "Why are you really here? Did Rydia bribe you?"
"No," Edge sputtered. "As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, I don't think it works that way. Cecil being happy doesn't mean you can't be happy too."
"It's not just that." Kain's voice had the infuriating calm of the know-it-all. "One must consider the cosmic level as well. Black magic and white magic, good and evil, the holy and the dark. Baron just gained a paragon of paladinhood for its king, and the world is in a state of peace. It is too idyllic. The scales must balance, or else we risk the wrath of the gods."
"Uh...what?" The conversation had suddenly gone miles and kilometers and leagues from where Edge had pictured it going. (Of course, he'd pictured it going something like, "Hey, Kain, you suck, come back," and Kain going, "Oh okay you are awesome King Edge while I am worthless scum unworthy even to kiss your noble shuriken my noble liege but please allow me to at least touch your fabulous cloak, thank you." Man, that sounded kind of dirty now that he thought about it.)
"Yes," Kain said, interrupting Edge's fantasies with his particularly dragoonish brand of self-righteousness. "That is why, for the sake of the world, I must stay on this mountain and do penance."
"Seriously?" The guy was more delusional than Edge thought. "Seriously?" Edge said again, just in case delusional people were also hard of hearing.
"Of course not," said Kain, his mouth quirking into a smirk. "Did you really believe me? What kind of idiot would think that?"
Edge's jaw dropped. Literally, his lower mouth and chin dropped off his face and onto the ground because he was a zombie, how terrible, ha ha, no just kidding. But that's how it felt.
"You...you!" he accused totally coherently. "You are...the worst!"
"Yes, I agree," Kain said readily. "That is why you should leave. Because I loathe myself so very much."
Edge pointed a finger. "That's a lie, isn't it? You're not here to atone at all! You're here to...I don't know, why the hell are you here? There's nothing to do here. What do you even do all day? Kill low-level zombies? Knit?"
"I neglected to bring my knitting," Kain said with a sigh. "It's really a shame."
And then he stepped forward and pushed Edge off the mountainside.
Edge was surprised.
"Aaaaaaaahhhhh," he said, but with more screaming.
He was going to die, so young and handsome and he was going to die and get to meet his parents in the afterlife a lot of sooner than he thought, goodbye cruel world or so he thought until he noticed the warp stone Kain had thoughtfully shoved into Edge's hands while thoughtlessly shoving him to his death and it was it was a good thing for his future green- and white-haired children that Mount Ordeals was so tall, wasn't it.
"He actually shoved you off the mountain?" Rydia said skeptically, after Edge finally hauled himself back to Mist and told her the tale. "Are you sure? Were you maybe poisoned at the time?"
"I can't believe you are being so un-understanding," Edge moaned. "I just got murdered and this is the thanks I get."
"Thanks," she said briskly. "Now that we've gotten that over with, can we actually discuss what the heck Kain is doing up there, if it's not just guilt?"
"I have no idea," Edge moaned some more. "The man is crazy. Over the moon crazy."
Rydia stirred slightly to stir her drink. It had a cute little umbrella in it and looked sweet as she did. "Moon crazy, huh? You know, Cecil's father is supposed to be the spirit of Mount Ordeals. You think Kain's trying to become a paladin too?"
"Not if he actually believes that 'light and shadow' thing. If the world had two paladins we'd probably all die from unbalance or something, apparently."
"But he said that was just a joke."
Edge rolled his eyes. "It was all a joke, that whole conversation."
"Maybe it wasn't, you know. Maybe he really believes in a cosmic balance of some kind. The Eidolons do."
"Really?" Edge was kind of interested despite himself. "In Eblan we just think light is good for blinding your enemies before you slit their throats, and shadows make for great hiding places because you slit your enemies' throats."
Rydia spoke as if Edge hadn't spoken (this happened a lot). "There's white and black magic, the overworld and the underworld, and two moons in the sky. Most of all, there is light and dark in every soul."
"Well, one moon is gone now," Edge noted prissily. "So what does that mean for our cosmic balance?"
"Nothing bad, I hope." Rydia had a thoughtful look on her (gorgeous, heart-shaped) face. "There's nothing we can do about it, so there's no use worrying."
"I still think he's got to have another reason for being up there."
Rydia shrugged. "Even so, what does it matter? You tried your best. He has to come down eventually, right?"
"Yeah, I guess so. He didn't bring along his knitting, after all."
Part 2: After the After
17 YEARS LATER
"Wow, so that was a huge clusterfu - " Edge got a big wrathful glare from Rydia. She gestured (not very subtly) at Ceodore, who was staring at them with wide, innocent Cecil-eyes. "Uh, I mean it was a huge mess, wasn't it. Who would have thought the moon would come back like that. Crazy."
Most of their friends had gone home already, but Edge and Rydia had decided to hang around in Baron for drinks and gossip with their old "let's go to the moon and fight evil" crowd, plus the crown bratling of Baron, Ceodore.
"Were your adventures before I was born just as strange?" asked the crown bratling of Baron as he nursed his virgin margarita.
"Definitely not," Cecil answered emphatically. "This time was more..."
Fucked up. Edge refrained from saying.
"Interplanetary," Cecil finished diplomatically. "Although parts of it were certainly similar. I had to face my dark side, as before." Appropriately, his face darkened.
"Oops, didn't mean to turn off the light." The bartender flicked on the lava lamp once more.
"It wasn't all bad," said Rosa, putting her hand on her husband's arm. "At least you were able to see your brother again."
"Yes." Cecil gave a solemn nod. "It was a...hard experience for me, but it had its rewards." He looked to Kain, who was practically glowing with holy light, the bastard. "There is a balance in all things, after all."
At the word "balance" Edge felt a twinge, a seventeen-year-old twinge, twingeing at his memory.
"Kain, can I talk to you?" he said, grabbing the dragoon by the arm and hauling him away, all the while trying not to get stabbed by the pointy points sticking out of that stupidly impractical holy dragoon armour.
"Get a room, you two!" Rydia called gleefully at their retreating backs.
"Shut up!" Edge yelled over his shoulder.
When they were suitably alone in another room (not like that), Edge gave Kain his most sternest, most seriousest look and said, "Were you not shitting me when you said all that cosmic bullshit stuff seventeen years ago?"
"You swear more when you're angry, don't you?" Kain noted mildly. Despite being a holy paladin/dragoon hybrid...whatever thing now, the man had obviously not forgotten how to be an asshole.
"Just answer me," Edge demanded.
"I don't really remember what I said to you." Kain's reply was almost insouciant. "Did we talk about cosmic balance? I only remember you being extremely gullible."
"You also shoved me off the mountain," Edge reminded him. "You remember that, oh holy one?"
"Oh, right. I gave you a warp stone, didn't I? You're still here."
"Did you really spend seventeen years on a mountain because you thought the world needed more angst on the balance sheets? Really?"
Kain gave a noncommittal harrumph.
Edge looked Kain up and down. The new paladin dragoon outfit was pretty spiffy, he had to admit, even if it was completely impractical for, well, anything. "I think you just wanted paladin power, and that's why you stayed on Mount Ordeals so long. You've even got white magic now, right?"
Kain gave an even more noncommittal harrumph. But he looked pleased with himself this time.
"Was it worth it?" Edge pressed. "I mean, seventeen years of that place. What did you even do all that time?"
Kain appeared to be thinking it over. "If I tell you, I'll have to kill you," he said.
"What, again? Didn't stick last time either."
"Fine. I'll tell you." Kain leaned forward, closer to Edge's ear. "For seventeen years..."
"Yeah?" Edge was genuinely curious now.
Edge reeled back, actually physically reeled back. He glared with the force of Meteo at Kain's smirking face. That same smirk from seventeen years ago!
"It makes sense to knit when you live far away from civilization," the man went on, every word dripping with sarcasm. "My clothes kept getting worn out, and I had to make new ones. I made such a nice turban and scarf for myself."
Edge's voice was a strangled wreck of barely contained fury. "Where did you get the yarn? Zombie hair? After you ate the corpses?"
"Ah, if I tell you that I really will have to kill you."
Throwing up his hands, Edge stalked out of the room. Now he really needed a drink. And a for-real girlfriend, goddamn it. You think he'd have one after all this time.
Rydia's pina colada had a pink umbrella in it, of course.
"So Kain spent seventeen years knitting, is your conclusion," she summed up, then took a thoughtful sip of her drink. "Hm. Makes no sense, but neither did anything else that happened lately."
"Who cares about that guy," Edge groused drunkenly. He'd finished off his own five pina coladas long ago and the Baronion bartender was cutting him off, the jerk. "Who cares what the heck Mount Ordeals is, or about cosmic balance, or moon girls who look exactly like you did when you were five."
"Cuore's hair is actually a bit bluer than mine."
"What I really want to know is how the heck you still look like you're a teenager even after all that time you spent in the Feymarch." He eyed her blearily. "You used to bribe me by saying you wouldn't go down there too much, but then you'd do it anyway."
Rydia shrugged gracefully. "Time flows mysteriously in the Land of the Fey. Anyway, are you sure you're not concerned about the cosmic balance thing? We have two paladins now. Two. And peace and happiness and all that. Cecil is talking about disarming the Red Wings, and I bet King Giott will scrap the tanks again. That's just unbalanced. And the last time we had unbalance, we ended up with..."
"A cosmic shitstorm."
Edge rubbed his eyes. "Whaddyou want me to do about it? Start a war? Sit on Mount Ordeals for seventeen years?"
"Would you?" she asked playfully. "For me? If you do, I promise not to go down to the Feymarch for a whole year."
"You're just trying to get me out of your hair. Anyway, Asura already kicked you outta there."
Rydia pouted. "Thanks for reminding me."
"Maybe the best thing we can do is just stay exactly as we are," Edge bleated, laying his head down on the bar. "Just don't change too much, and that'll hold off the next disaster for at least another seventeen years. And then we can have all the disaster-ness at once and get it over with."
"Hmm, I guess so. I think the Eidolons would approve. They pretty much never change."
"OH WAIT, except one thing." Edge lifted up his head. "I almost forgot. Rydia, my dear Rydia...will you finally, finally be my actual girlfriend?"
Rydia tilted her head to the side girlishly and gave him a sweet, teenaged smile. "Give it another seventeen years."
"Argh," said Edge, and his libido.
- THE END -