With the Pillar dead and Cephiro literally crumbling away, Ferio tried to make himself useful by shepherding new arrivals to the living quarters, reuniting separated families, and joining what remained of the Pillar’s Guard to keep the local monster population down. More and more people recognized him as the Prince, which was uncomfortable, but word got around and what could you do? The title made them trust him, for some reason, and he supposed that was useful when he had to convince frightened people to abandon their homes and live in a glorified refugee camp.
He still felt like an imposter.
Somehow, he had lost track of Clef in the chaos that followed the construction of the new castle. Having no magical talent to speak of, Ferio couldn’t locate Clef by his presence. When he asked around if anyone had seen the Master Mage, he either got a helpless shrug, or, if he wasn’t recognized, some smart-ass comment about wasting important people’s time.
Going around incognito all the time had its pluses and minuses.
He continued his search systematically. What he knew to be Clef’s apartment on the upper level was a bust. The bed was untouched and the rest of the space appeared chronically uninhabited. The observation deck was full of mages who turned and stared pointedly at the scruffy interloper until Ferio saw himself out. The council room was empty. The dining hall was noisy and crowded; a quick scan over peoples’ heads did not reveal the staff that never left Clef’s side. Ferio worked his way down, moving deeper into the castle, without any sign of Cephiro’s most powerful mage. Clef hadn’t gone out on a monster hunt, had he? Not that Ferio would blame him if he just wanted to blow some things up, but Clef was more of a big-picture kind of person.
He was starting to get worried when he came upon a stairwell that he had forgotten existed. They had built this fortress out of the ruins of the Pillar’s castle, and much of the interior had carried over before being rebuilt or repurposed to house Cephiro’s population. Still, Ferio was surprised to see the dark entrance to the Water Dungeon. Why did they bother keeping this place?
He descended the stairs. The slightly luminescent castle walls provided just enough light to see the corridor open up into a cavernous room. The mirror-smooth surface of the water-prison glimmered, and stalactites dripped from the high ceiling to pause ominously in mid-air.
Near the gilded edge stood Clef, silent and unmoving even as Ferio approached. There was a focused, distant look in his eyes, as if he was reliving some memory.
“This place always gave me the creeps.” Ferio broke the silence, unable to take the weight of it anymore. It was not a comfortable silence, there were no more of those, and he knew from experience that Clef would speak only when he was ready. The Water Dungeon was quiet, too, interrupted only by the soft movement of small air currents that did not stir the water’s surface.
“This is where she sent me away.”
Ferio bowed his head. He had left, burdened by his title and the expectations it placed upon his shoulders, and then he had tried fruitlessly to become his sister’s savior. Guru Clef had stayed, even as everyone around him had gone. First Ferio, then Lantis, then Alcyone, then Zagato broke from him and Emeraude locked herself away from the world. Through it all, Clef had stayed. Would have stayed, until the end.
“I met the Magic Knights,” Ferio said, feeling like he should say something. Anything. “In the Forest of Silence. That’s when I knew,” the words tumbled out now. “It never made sense to me why the Magic Knights had to be from another world. I always thought, why not me? All I ever wanted was to help my sister, so I went looking for Escudo so I could become a Magic Knight.”
There was less of an echo in the Water Dungeon than the vast space would suggest.
“It sounds so stupid now.” Ferio whispered, confession spent.
“You were never stupid,” said Clef, still looking across the water. “You loved your sister and have always been devoted to her. You sought only to serve her in the best way you knew how. No one could ask more of you.”
Intellectually, Ferio knew these things. It sounded like absolution to hear them from Clef.
After several more long minutes of silence between them, Ferio asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?” It wasn’t an accusation. When Clef had revealed the truth of the legend to him, Ferio had felt no anger, just sadness. Sadness that his sister had to orchestrate her own death, that she felt she had no other choice. That Clef felt the need to carry this burden alone for so long.
“You were young, and you were somewhat impulsive, and Princess Emeraude asked that I not.” Clef sighed. “And then you were older, and more determined, and I hoped it would never be necessary.” He turned to meet Ferio’s eyes. “I was wrong, and I am sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too.”
Clef shook his head. “You have nothing to apologize for. You did what you felt was best.” For all his accumulated wisdom of the ages, Ferio wondered if Clef heard himself sometimes.
“I heard her voice in my head,” said Ferio quietly, and out of the corner of his eye he saw that Clef started ever-so-slightly. “She said that she was happy to pray for Zagato as…a lover, and not as the Pillar before she died.” Clef’s jaw tightened and his free hand clenched into a fist. The cool, damp air pressed heavily on Ferio as he waited for Clef to respond. Finally, Clef slowly and deliberately unclenched his hand and his face shifted into an expression of profound sorrow.
“Thank you.” Clef looked out over the glassy surface of the water-prison again. “Sometimes, we cannot save those we love from themselves, no matter how much we try,” he said softly.
Ferio stared at Clef. Even if he weren’t Cephiro’s foremost mage, he had tutored both Zagato and Emeraude, knew them better than anyone else living, save perhaps one. There was no way he wouldn’t have known. What had he done to try to stop them? What unspent plans had Clef kept secret for so long?
“It’s not your fault,” said Ferio.
“We have stayed here long enough. There is work to be done.” Clef turned and walked deliberately away from the water-prison, pausing in the vaulted doorway. “Coming?”
Ferio let out a shaky breath. “Yeah. Like I said, this place is creepy.” He trailed Clef up the stairs, glancing over his shoulder at the Water Dungeon. His sister’s prison. The water remained unnaturally still.
Looking ahead at Clef’s white-cloaked back, straight and unyielding as always, Ferio made a decision. He took a few steps two at a time to catch up with Clef.
“All right. I’ll be the Prince in public and sit on your Council. I don’t know what good it'll do, and you probably shouldn’t give me too many responsibilities, but I’ll do it.”
“Thank you.” Clef almost sounded relieved. “If we have as many people as possible from the old government, it will add legitimacy to the Council while we determine what to do next.”
They climbed the rest of the stairs in silence less heavy than before, when Ferio looked down at Clef and smirked.
“Did you ever think you’d see the day that I added legitimacy to anything?”
“Well, the heart that believes,” A smile tugged at the corner of Clef’s mouth.
The sound of Ferio’s laugh echoed through the stairwell, and he would later swear that the walls around them brightened.