I Don't Care What Happens Chapter 3

The Departure

Dawn brought a blazing sun rising over the sea to the East. Rosa shielded her eyes from the early morning rays of the red sun. Her heart sank as the fiery orb slid upward in the sky, its reflection in the water dancing just below the horizon. The unease that had been hounding her since her troubled sleep failed to subside. Between the strange tint on the moon last night and this bloodied sun, the celestial bodies quite deliberately mocked her, their evil omens begging for attention.

She stood on the walkway that joined the western courtyard to the grand hall. Few people passed this early in the morning, but those that did spoke quietly to one another, and glanced at the white mage quickly. Dissention and discharge were whispered words that found their way to Rosa's ears. She wasn't entirely surprised by it, considering it was a rather interesting bit of information. By now most of Baron had heard that the king released the Red Wings captain of his post.

Rosa was sure that rumors ran rampant throughout Baron's domain. Cecil Harvey, traitor to the crown. The dark knight who'd defied the nation. The captain without command. She shook her head, frustrated by the ludicrous phrases, knowing that by now Cecil's reputation had been tarnished by witless words.

There was hope, however. There were those in Baron who wondered about the king. Rosa's thoughts were with a few people with this sentiment. She reminded herself of Cid Pollendina, Baron's master engineer. He loathed the fact that his beloved airships were used only as weapons of war. Cid was extremely vital to Baron's military success as the only capable builder of the airship. It was the only reason that the king tolerated his very public criticism of Baron's rampant militarism.

Beyond Cid, and closer to home, Rosa's own mother was losing faith in Baron's monarch. She had once been side by side with Baron's knights as a healer, the same position Rosa was working toward now. She was often critical of her daughter's choice in lifestyle, and especially Rosa's involvement with Cecil. Rosa had been forbidden from seeing Cecil, as her mother relentlessly assured her that the relationship would lead to pain. After Rosa's father died in battle years ago, Mrs. Farrell was vehement in her protest of war.

Rosa hoped that her mother would see that Cecil lost his post for his free thinking, and finally accept him as more than another black sword for Baron. The thought lightened her heart for a moment, and as she looked to the East into the rising red star, she realized that not all was lost. The wicked omenof a blood sun made her uneasy, to be sure, but it still brought light, just as Cecil's dissention was the better part of his valor.

Rosa's mind had been reeling all morning while she stood behind the parapet. Her disjointed thoughts were quieted with the loud groan of the castle doors opening. Just as a brass horn heralded the departing men, Rosa caught a glimpse of Kain's blue armor, but her sight of Cecil was obstructed by the walls of the stone courtyard. Once the trumpet died, the rattle of chains and the ratcheting sound of gears in motion began, and Rosa could see Baron's iron gate sliding up, revealing the outside world to Kain and Cecil.

Her heart beat wildly in her chest once she saw him emerge from behind the main gate. They turned to the West, and the morning sun cast long shadows before them. Their small forms shrank as they made their way into the distance. Rosa kept her eye on Cecil, and continued watching long after he'd vanished from sight. Her body had turned cold as soon as she'd seen him fade into the horizon, even though the heat from the sun paired itself with the dew on the grassland. The air was wet and warm, and wholly uncomfortable for Rosa, so she finally took leave of her spot along the wall.

The hours that followed the dawn were as hazy as the early morning mist. She found herself wandering toward Cecil's tower, but forced herself to make a detour to Baron's archery range. Rosa hoped that some time spent there would give her a chance to focus her thoughts on something other than Cecil.

Her path took her outside of the castle, where a huge field stretched out toward the mountains to the North. At the end of the field, straw targets sat in a line. Rosa found an open lane, jabbed a few arrows into the ground in front of her, and eyed her target. Her mark was not more than one hundred yards away, a short distance for one of her caliber. She knocked an arrow and drew her bowstring back. The string heralded the flying dart with a telltale twang. She grimaced at the outcome, her arrow sticking up from the earth, a few feet short of the target.

With Cecil at the forefront of her thoughts, it was no surprise that the rest of her time spent at the archery range was of little consequence. Though her arrows usually flew true, today they barely hit the mark. Twice, she shot so wildly that her arrows found the target in the next lane. She became distinctly aware of the expressions of surprise on the faces around her. After a few more failed attempts at competent archery, she draped the bow over her shoulder and left.

Her feet took her all around Baron. For what seemed like hours, she walked aimlessly, unable to force the sight of Cecil fading into the horizon from her mind. If the image of Cecil departing hounded her thoughts, then her heart was tortured by her nightmare the night before. The flames seemed to glow brighter and burn hotter every time she closed her eyes and found herself reliving the terrible dream.

At one point, her path took her down a particular stairwell in the great hall of Baron. She stared at the heavy wooden door that she'd scrambled out of the day before, escaping crude curses and harsh insults. She nearly knocked on the door, but decided against it. If she had been mildly distracted yesterday with Cecil's absence, she would be completely useless today, after all that had happened. She turned and began to march back up the stairs, resolved in her decision to skip her lesson that day.

Still in a daze, Rosa found herself again wandering to Cecil's tower. Her steps took her through the great hall and out to the western courtyard. Ahead, Cecil's tower stood tall as it had the night before, but she knew that without Cecil, it did not offer the same kind of refuge. With no comfort waiting at the top floor, her feet stopped, finally breaking under stress.

Her eyes began to well up, and she could feel her face growing hot. She fought the urge to cry, but her heart felt so heavy, and the pit of her stomach twisted itself into knots. She was frustrated, confused, and beyond all else afraid for her lover. The tears ran warm down her face and her fists clenched, anger and sadness dancing side by side in her heart. She wished desperately for the life that she'd had only days earlier.

Her sobs were quieted once she was startled by a loud noise nearby. Rosa saw a young woman, roughly her age, exiting the infirmary. The din came from the moans and cries within, and judging from the strained expression on the woman's face, things inside were not going well. The woman, who Rosa could tell was a nurse, leaned against the cold stone walls and groaned, exhausted. She nearly ran her hand through her hair, but fortunately noticed blood that clung between her fingers. Her face twisted in disgust, and she took another deep breath before she noticed Rosa.

"It's Rosa, isn't it?" she said, with her eyes narrowed. Rosa was a well known white magic student in Baron, and many of the nurses and mages knew her by the excellent work she did when tending to wounded soldiers. She was often asked to help in the infirmary, and always obliged. The experience was frightening every time, but she handled herself well enough. It seemed that today she'd have another opportunity to help and to learn.

"Yeah. Everything alright in there?" Rosa answered. She knew the answer to her own question, but wanted the nurse to ask for her help before she imposed it on her.

"Not really," the nurse said, smiling grimly, as though to keep herself from becoming upset. "We just had a group come in. I think Navy, by the look of them. Some are hurt pretty badly." The nurse could see the concern apparent on Rosa's face as she looked at her, sizing her up. With a telling nod, she'd made her decision. "Can you help?"

"Of course," Rosa said firmly, set on going in and proving herself once again. She was also thankful for the diversion. If she were kept busy she wouldn't worry over Cecil so much. As she followed the nurse back through the door, she tried to clear him from her mind and prepare herself for what lay ahead.

Unfortunately, there was no kind of ample preparation for the sight that greeted her beyond the doorway. The sound of moans and cries that she'd heard outside was louder now as she passed through the entryway, and the air was thick with the smell of blood. The nurse stepped aside giving Rosa a full view of the infirmary. Beds lined the back wall, and each one was filled with a battered body. At the far end of the room, three nurses scurried frantically around a single cot. Light from the torches on the wall glimmered in a pool of blood that slowly stretched across the floor. The nurses' feet spattered the dark liquid across the floor, crimson ink on grey stone.

"Arm was ripped clean off." She stated the fact as though it were as common as a head cold. "He's most urgent, but there are some who are worse off." She pointed to a group of beds that were closer than the amputees. Other nurses slid from bed to bed, checking bandages and tending to the wounded. Rosa could make out what looked like huge quills imbedded in one man's leg, and what looked like whip lashes across another man's torso.

A state of shock had asserted itself over Rosa, who could only stand in a fearful awe at the carnage that she saw. There was so much blood. Her mind was stuck, and as she struggled to think of where to begin, she could not get past the idea that she held these lives in her hands now. She had to act, and now. She fought the dizziness that began to creep into her head, still looking for a place to start. The screams seemed to echo in her head, and she struggled to act. There was just so much blood.

"Hey!" Rosa jumped when she felt someone shake her shoulder. She pried her eyes from the gory scene and found the nurse looking at her with her eyes narrowed, an expression she seemed to use often. "You gonna help or not?"

"Y-yeah," Rosa stammered. "What do you want me to do?" She had no idea where to begin, and hoped that the nurse had something in mind.

"Take these two," she said, pointing to the nearest two soldiers, "here on the end." The nurse looked at the two men, trying to remember their particular maladies. "Uh, you got a spike through a leg and a poisoning. Any questions?" she finished hurriedly.

Rosa shook her head quietly, even though thousands of things she could ask ran through her mind all at once. She couldn't take her eyes off of the spike that stuck through the pant leg of the soldier on her left. His hands were clasped around the wound, knuckles white. He rolled from side to side, his face twisted in pain. There was so much blood.

She mindlessly moved to his side, gliding gracefully just as the other nurses and white mages did despite the picture of discord around them all. She began with the most rudimentary of spells, a quaint cure spell, by holding her hand over the protruding ivory spike. She fought to keep her concentration on the spell, but the blood still gushed out from the hole in the soldier's leg.

Her weak spell ended abruptly when he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her closer to his face. His eyes were bloodshot and wild, staring hotly into hers. His dirty blond hair was matted to his forehead, soaked with sweat. His teeth were clenched, but he managed to groan loudly through them. His hand tightened around her arm as he spoke.

"You have to take it out!" His voice was scratchy and deep, as though he were possessed. "Take it out now!" He threw his head back as he finished, arching his back, fighting desperately to fend of the icy pain that crept up his body.

"Do it," a voice behind her commanded. Rosa turned to find the same nurse behind her, back a few rows and seeing to the soldier with quills embedded in his leg. "Now. You don't have time to waste with weak spells and hesitation." She finished as she ripped one quill from the leg of her patient, who was unconscious.

Rosa took her words to heart. Without much of a mind to do anything else, she wrapped her hand around the ivory spike and jerked. The soldier thrashed wildly on his bed, his mouth wide open, but silent. Rosa guessed that he was going to pass out any second. She steadied herself and gave another strong pull. The white spike fought for its place inside the soldier's thigh, but Rosa managed to pull it out. She looked at her patient's face, expecting to see his bloodshot eyes blaming her for the agony he went through, but they were closed.

She turned from the soldier and threw the barb, glistening with blood, to the floor. She still felt completely overwhelmed, but was confident that she was doing something right finally. Her confidence was dashed, however, when she turned back to heal the gash in her patient's leg. Instead of finding a sandy haired sailor with a leg wound, she saw an image that had gripped her heart with terror from the night before.

Cecil lay before her, his body charred and skin cracked, blood soaking the bed sheets. She thought she could smell burning flesh mixed with the smoke that drifted up from his figure. His body lay rigid, as though frozen in his final moments of unspeakable pain. One blackened hand was extended toward her, and Rosa thought she heard his final cries, with her name echoing in the thick air of the room.

Rosa staggered backward, a bloody hand clasped over her mouth. She let out a sharp cry, but her screams were stopped by the forming lump in her throat. She felt bile rising up in her throat, and her eyes watered at the stench of burned flesh. She fell back on the bed behind her, where the poisoned man lay, and doubled over in a dry heave.

"Rosa! Rosa, what's going on?" Rosa heard the nurse call from a few beds over. Rosa was dizzy, and couldn't answer for fear she'd vomit. The nurse left her patient and quickly made her way over. Rosa wondered why she hadn't noticed Cecil's burnt body. Couldn't she see her lover's blackened corpse?

Rosa felt the nurse's hands on her shoulders, and was faintly aware that she was being pulled up. Still fighting the urge to be sick, she began to stammer.

"Ce-Cecil! H-He's dead!" Rosa closed her eyes, and visions of Cecil vanishing into the horizon played out in her mind's eye. It was the last time she saw him alive.

"What's the matter with you?" said the nurse, harried confusion apparent in her expression. Before Rosa could respond, her guide looked down at the sailor. "Your patient is losing blood fast! C'mon!" she scolded, pushing Rosa up finally and shaking her to attention.

In the bed before her she found the blonde sailor that she'd been helping only seconds earlier. He was still unconscious, his face covered in sweat. Blood flowed freely from the gaping hole in his leg, staining the white sheets like red ink bleeding onto paper. Rosa looked him over, and there was nothing that even slightly resembled the scorched figure of Cecil.

Across the bed stood the nurse, her hands outstretched, working a strong cura spell. She worked with efficient skill, the kind of confident grace that came with her experience. The wound stopped bleeding in what seemed like seconds, but at the same time, time stretched out into forever under the judging gaze that the nurse held Rosa's eyes with.

But for all the shame and self doubt that Rosa was feeling right now, as the other aides looked on, expressions of both with sympathy and condemnation falling over her, she still could not shake the horrible sight of Cecil's burned body. It had seemed so real, from the smoke that swayed in the still air to the sickly smell of seared skin and muscle. His hand had been outstretched toward her, as though she had been his last hope, one that he couldn't count on.

"Rosa." She heard her name being called, and looked up to find the nurse watching her intently with narrowed eyes. Rosa tried to answer, but the lump in her throat was still there, and she realized that she was in tears. The nurse shook her head, and finally broke her stare, looking down at the work she'd done on the patient's leg.

"I'm sorry," Rosa finally managed to say, barely audible amidst the continuous moans throughout the room.

"I am too. You weren't ready for this. That was my fault," the nurse conceded, as she wrapped a bandage around the sailor's leg. When she finished, she moved around the bed and stood next to Rosa. "But when you're in here, you're gonna see things that will scare you." She paused and watched Rosa, waiting for a response. When one refused to come, she finished, "Do you want to keep going?"

Rosa was torn, once again. She wanted nothing more than to leave, and never come back to the place where her nightmares haunted her. At the same time though, she knew the nurses and mages were over extended, and needed whatever help she could give.

Fortunately, she was saved from making the choice herself. Behind them, a soldier threw the door open and entered. His uniform told her that he was a crewman of the Red Wings. He held up a hand to get everyone's attention.

"The Captain of the Red Wings will be coming in a few minutes," the soldier announced. Rosa's heart leapt, and she moved toward him as he continued his announcement. "He has an expressed interest in these sailors. He hopes that the measures being taken to aid them will not disappoint him." He lowered his hand and turned toward the door. Rosa tapped him on the shoulder.

"The Captain is back?" she asked, hopefully.

"Back?" the soldier looked at her quizzically. "Back from where?" Rosa couldn't contain her confusion. Things weren't adding up. She'd assumed it was common knowledge that Cecil left earlier that day, and if anyone knew the particulars of his mission, it'd be one of his crewmen.

When Rosa didn't answer, the soldier shrugged his shoulders and left the infirmary. She was left standing near the doorway with the nurses behind her murmuring to one another. Questions seemed to run through her head at a dizzying rate, a phenomenon that seemed to be presenting itself often over the past two days. How could Cecil be back already? A trek to Mist took up almost an entire day. There was no way that he could deliver his package and be back by late afternoon.

Not only that, but Cecil never concerned himself with the caliber of the infirmary staff. He often found himself there, visiting his injured men, but never to evaluate the aides. Rosa was still reeling from her episode earlier and nothing seemed to be making sense. She turned and found narrowed eyes focused on her.

"Well? Do you want to keep going?" the nurse said. Rosa was grateful for the second chance, but shook her head.

"I don't want to be in the way," Rosa said quietly, giving a weak smile. The nurse nodded and smiled back.

"You should get some rest. Don't get down about today. I hear you've got talent. Maybe you'll be better than the rest of us one day," she mused, giving a small wave before turning back to the row of injured men. At that, Rosa turned and headed for the door. She reached for the handle when it swung open wildly, nearly striking her in the face.

Towering over Rosa was the most intimidating man she'd ever seen. Through the dark eyeholes of a horned helmet, Rosa could feel the man's eyes staring straight through her. His tall body was outfitted with a full set of armor, dark like Cecil's, but adorned with golden studs all over. Draped over his broad shoulders was a long black cape. At his side, black broadsword hung, its hilt decorated with beautiful gems. A huge gauntlet pushed the door open wider and he entered the room, forcing Rosa from his path. His cape whipped gracefully from side to side as he walked, like a snake in mid strike.

Behind the menacing figure came Baigan, captain of the castle guard. He moved from side to side, trying desperately to keep in step with the towering man, like a child trying to keep the pace of a parent. All the while he avoided stepping on the snakelike cape.

The domineering soldier stopped in the center of the room, taking stock of all the different injured men. The nurses in the room stopped working, as the towering figure commanded everyone's attention. Baigan finally had a chance to happily draw himself up next to the walking shadow. The captain of the guard smiled with the delusion that it was he whom everyone was staring at. He took a moment before he introduced the man in armor, addressing the injured men more so than the mages in the room.

"Allow me to introduce the king's choice as the new Red Wings commander." Baigan announced. Immediately, Rosa's heart dropped. A new commander? Baigan continued, "He has also been named head of Baron's military, and as such, he is commander of the Dragoons and Navy." Rosa's jaw dropped, and her expression was similar to many around the room. "I present to you the commander of Baron's armies, Captain Golbez."

Her head began to throb with mounting stress and a constant stream of disjointed thoughts that were finally taking their toll. Rosa shut her eyes tightly trying desperately to blink the pain away, but it persisted. A chill ran down her spine and the pit of her stomach twisted in apprehension as she looked at the new captain. Her body turned cold once she heard him speak.

His voice was quiet and deep with a hidden strength and calculating quality to it. It was a tone that inspired awe at its power, and a quiet fear. Great men would be swayed by its guile, Rosa knew, and she feared its effect on those of weaker quality in Baron. With such a commanding presence, it was no surprise that the new captain's assent was so quick.

"His majesty has honored me with my new position. I will not disappoint him. As such, I refuse to suffer those who disappoint me." He seemed to stare straight into the heart of everyone in the room. "I expect exceptional work from all of you." At this, he turned to the group of nurses at the far end of the room who were still fighting to save the amputee. "He will be of no use should you save him. Save your time and focus on the others," he said, pointing to the other sailors. At that, he turned toward the door, apparently satisfied with his impromptu visit. He strode past Rosa without noticing her and exited the room. Baigan once again struggled to match his pace, but Rosa stopped him before he left.

"What about Cecil?" Rosa asked, with a mixture of concern and anger apparent in her voice. She hated having to speak to Baigan, but he might have answers. His response sent hot anger shooting through her body.

"Upon his return from Mist, the King will find a position worthy of the former Captain Harvey." Baigan's eyes slid downward taking in Rosa's shapely body. He licked his lips. "Don't worry, Rosa," he finished before giving a knowing chuckle.

Rosa's hands were balled, and she wanted desperately to hit the wicked snake that stood before her. He turned and left in a full sprint to catch up to Golbez, leaving her fuming. She turned back and gave one last look at the nurses and mages in the room. The three at the far end watched with the same lost expression on their faces that Rosa had had when she first came in. With nothing more that she could do, she cleaned her self off and took the opportunity to leave quietly.

Outside, clouds stretched across the sky, orange and pink in the afternoon sun. Against them, the western tower stood like a spike of the darkest colored wine. The late afternoon was Rosa's favorite time of day. She was usually done with her lessons by now and often found herself in Cecil's chamber. She saw no reason for today to be any different. She made her way up the stairway, the orange sunlight pouring in through the windows.

Cecil's room was nothing like the night before. The pale blue light of the moon complemented the room's stone walls and sparse furniture, but the glow of the afternoon sun made the room seem foreign. There was the wooden bed across from the stairwell, neatly made before Cecil's departure. Over his headboard a clock hung on the wall; its pendulum swinging quietly. A large window faced the North framed on either side by swords hanging on the wall. A small wooden table stood in the corner with a half empty bottle of liquor standing next to a glass resting on top.

Rosa made her way to the bed and smoothed out some of the wrinkles in Cecil's white sheets. She took a deep breath; her heart aching with his scent filling the room. She turned to the table and poured herself a drink. She pulled the stool over to the window and sat, sipping quietly as she looked to the North. Behind her, the clock ticked away incessantly.

Below, she could see the targets at the far end of the archery range. Beyond the range, the edge of a forest stretched out to the West. Rosa could faintly make out the glimmer of a river that flowed between the forest and two rows of snowcapped mountains to the North. She could make out the rim of the different peaks that lined Mist Valley as sunlight lit the mountainsides. Shadows stretched toward the East in the waning sunlight, and Rosa could see a violet sky creeping up over the mountain peaks, fighting the bright orange of the dying day.

She swallowed a mouthful of the clear liquor, a harsh, burning liquid that felt good as it slid down her throat and into her stomach. Behind her, the ticking clock echoed in the quiet room, reminding her that plenty of time had passed, and Cecil was surely in Mist by now. She breathed deeply while staring at the panorama that she decided could only be described as dreamlike. Oddly colored clouds were off set by the violet sky floating slowly over the most majestic mountain range in the world. The dreamscape lent itself to the bizarre events that had unfolded over the last two days.

Yesterday morning Rosa awoke with a note on her pillow. He was away, flying over the sea on an errand for the king. She'd worried about him all day and was utterly distracted throughout her lessons. The threats and berating that had come only a day before seemed to have happened so long ago. An eternity had passed since she stood outside the throne room and heard the king lash out against his most loyal soldier. From there, she'd been locked in a world spiraling out of control. Often thrown into a mass of swirling emotions, she needed Cecil to hold her as she wept, but also to stand tall and strong in his time of need. She had been haunted by a nightmare that she feared would never leave her, or worse, become reality.

The morning brought his departure, and one of the most surreal days of her life followed. Her routine had been the same, but nothing happened the way it should. She hadn't been able to push Cecil from her thoughts and had been crippled by fear for his life. And finally, the designs of the king were made clear with his new lieutenant taking almost complete control over Baron's military. Rosa grimly realized that Cecil's mission was a diversion for Golbez's ascension. Sending Cecil abroad had been a mercy, giving him a few more days before the devastating truth was revealed. The loss of his post was permanent.

She finished the rest of the liquor in the glass and poured another drink for herself. As she did so, Cecil's voice echoed in her head and she repeated his words quietly, drowned out by the loud ticking of the clock on the wall. She sat back on the stool, staring out the window, but seeing nothing at all

"I'm just a dark knight."

She shook her head. She never realized how dependant he'd been on his place in Baron. His captaincy made him the man that she loved, a leader of lesser men in a world of power lust. He put his faith in the law, and worked to uphold the order that Baron maintained.

But Baron betrayed him. Rosa was becoming angry the more she thought about it. Baron twisted its laws, and used him. His missions no longer were divided by right and wrong. Too often the Red Wings forced him to follow the rule of his majesty over the laws he believed in. He saw it happening but still held fast to his post. He hoped that the assault on Mysidia had been a lapse in judgment, but his heart told him otherwise. Cecil could no longer look to the laws of the king and his kingdom as a moral compass.

It was the arbitrary thought of a compass that prompted Rosa to look to the North. She could faintly make out the ridge that surrounded Mist Valley, light still glowing on the different faces of the mountainsides even in the coming dusk. Her eyes searched the mountain range, waiting to see the last rays of light give way to shadow. But as long as she watched, the light wouldn't fade, and it made her uneasy.

The last streaks of orange sky were sliding down into the horizon when she saw smoke rising from the valley. She took one last drink and watched the rising plumes of smoke as they floated ever higher. Soon she could hardly make out the peaks of the mountains, and the smoke was quickly turning darker. Her heart sank when she realized what was happening.

Mist was burning.

Immediately, her nightmare tore itself from the recesses of her mind and played itself out once again. Her body turned cold while she watched the mountainsides flicker in the glow of the burning village. As the light pulsated on the edges of billowing smoke, she kept seeing the image of Cecil, his skin black and cracked, blood rolling onto white bed sheets, his hand outstretched and looking for help. Her worst fear was being realized.

The lump in her throat was back, and it was all that stopped her from getting sick. Her chest heaved with each breath, and sweat rolled down and mixed with the tears on her face. With each second thunderously ticking away, her head throbbed. She watched, wide eyed, as the plumes stretch higher into the twilit sky, masking what would have been the first stars of the coming night.

Rosa's silence was broken when she saw the tallest mountain peak; half hidden behind a screen of smoke, begin to slide down behind the ridgeline of the mountain range. Almost immediately she felt the floor begin to shake. The further the mountain peak slid down into Mist Valley, the more violent the tremors became. The window panes began to rattle, and dust and dirt drifted down from the ceiling. She let out a gasp, unable to muster anything more in her state of shock. She lost her footing, and pressed up against the window panes. The glass began to crack, and she cut her hand as some panes shattered.

Rosa did not wait to watch the dust settle. She raced down the stairwell and out of Cecil's tower. The western courtyard was dotted with people who all looked in awe at the spectacle that had just unfolded before their eyes. She was making her way into the great hall when she heard the commander's deep voice.

"The enemy of the North is bent. They are not broken!" Golbez said loudly. His voice was stripped of all pretenses, without care to hide its malicious power. Rosa peered around the corner and into the great hall where the commander was addressing s small contingent of soldiers.

Torches lined the walls of the great hall, their light falling on long red banners emblazoned with Baron's royal seal. The flickering light fell dimly on the steel grey armor of the soldiers in formation as shadows stretched across the faces of onlookers. All were mesmerized by the new commander as he spoke from atop a small stone platform at the end o the hall. His visage was totally illuminated in the firelight, a tall frame casting ghostly shadows on the stone walls behind him. He stood with his hands raised high, as though he were in the middle of an incantation. He finished his speech.

"Survivors might appeal to Damcyan, or Fabul. Go to Mist and kill anyone left, regardless of allegiance." The soldiers, who looked like the king's personal guard, shouted confirmation of their command as they raised their arms in praise of the new captain.

Rosa did not need to hear more. Golbez meant to kill Cecil, if he wasn't dead already. Her feet ran swiftly through the gates of the castle. She passed awestruck people, each with the fixed expression of dumbfounded surprise on their faces. She pitied them, trapped in this oppressive kingdom, under a sinister commander and a power hungry monarch.

Cecil's own men were being sent to kill him. It would seem that one betrayal deserves another. Cecil may not have been able to defy the king, but there was no doubt in her mind that she could. She took little time in preparing, taking only what she needed, and resolving to make due.

With her bow still draped over her shoulder, she made her way to the archery range, picking up random arrows that had missed their marks. She would make them fly true. To the West, in the dying light of the sun, she saw the king's men taking the same route that Cecil had that morning toward the Mist Caverns. If she pressed on, and was lucky, she would find Cecil hours before they did. She had to.

As her trek took her past the forests and rivers that she'd only ever seen from high up in Cecil's chamber, she looked back on all her shortcomings in the last two days. She would never let herself become distracted while performing magic, but more importantly, she would not be afraid to fail. She would try as hard as she could and fight as hard as she could. She wouldn't be paralyzed by fear anymore, and she wouldn't rely on others for help. She was the mage, and her soldier needed her. Above all else, though, she refused to deny her instincts. Last night she stopped herself from lying in Cecil's arms, and now she wasn't sure if she'd ever see him again. Right now, everything in her body told her to go to him, to be by his side, and to help him, no matter what the cost.

She looked up at the craggy face of the mountains, resolved to climb them if need be, and whispered to herself and to her lover, wherever he was:

"I don't care what happens, as long as I'm with you."

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