Chapter 14

Edgar leaned back in his chair and sighed. He had received no report from Cyan - and for the Captain of the Royal Guards to be late with a report was truly cause for concern.

Oh, it was possible that there was just a delay in communications - very possible, these days.

But it was also possible, and altogether more likely to Edgar’s mind, that something had gone very wrong.

And if something had gone very wrong...

Edgar couldn’t bring himself to think about that. The possibility that he might have sent his friends and colleagues to their deaths was too much for him to even consider, unless he knew for a fact that it was true.

That he would seriously consider the possibility of Cyan and Strago failing... that said something in and of itself.

Now, more than ever, Edgar wished he’d left it to chance to decide whether the King would be he or Sabin. He still had the double-headed coin he’d used for the toss all those years ago. What if he hadn’t used it?

Where would he be if it had been he, and not Sabin, who’d won freedom and lost power?

But that was selfishness. It was selfishness he could not afford. He was, and would certainly remain, King of Figaro.

He must not ask where he would be, but where his country would be. And, as much as Edgar loved his brother, he knew he was not suitable to be King. Especially not now. Sabin’s particular brand of gung-ho enthusiasm was surprisingly effective against an enemy you could see, fight, destroy. It was much less so against a hidden, unknown menace, and even less against the chaos which had been sewn in the wake of Kefka’s defeat.

No, Edgar would have to deal with these matters. He would also have to trust that Cyan and Strago had not failed, and be prepared to take a different course if they had.

There was a knock at his door.

“Who is it?” Edgar called out.

“It’s me. Terra,” came the high, sweet reply.

His heart skipped a beat. He rose, his worries lifted off him as soon as he heard her voice.

When he had the door opened - it could not be fast enough - he thought his heart might well stop beating at all. She was clad in no more than one of the sheer silken nightgowns she’d picked out from the castle’s wardrobe. When he’d shown them to her, Terra had said, “They’re ever so lovely!”

Terra, sweet, innocent Terra, hadn’t known just how lovely.

He forced himself to look at her eyes, and his worries returned. Her big green eyes were welling up with tears. Wordlessly, she threw herself into his arms and began to sob.

“What has happened?” he asked gently.

Terra was not the one who answered.

“Your Majesty.”

Cyan’s voice. Why would Cyan have returned so soon? Had they found something?

Edgar tore his eyes away from Terra. He must not be distracted. “What’s happened?” he asked.

Cyan met Edgar’s eyes. “Your Majesty, Strago wishes to speak with you. He doesn’t have much time.”

“I understand,” Edgar said. Yes, he did understand. He’d been considering this very possibility - had considered himself as prepared as he could ever be for it. But intellectual preparedness was of little use.

Strago was dying. Edgar had, it seemed, sent him to his death.

Without another word, Cyan beckoned for Edgar to follow and started off down the hallway.

Before he did so, his eyes shifted back to Terra. He would not tolerate her being further upset. And he would need all his thoughts on the matter at hand. “Please, stay here. No, better, go to Celes’ room and tell her what’s happened.”

She looked up and shook her head.

“I must go to Strago,” he said.

She nodded. “Then let’s go together, Edgar.”

.

Strago’s lined face was pale and drawn, a far cry from the almost youthful flush he normally wore. His quick, birdlike movements had been replaced with a slow turn of his head.

“Strago, I’m here.” Edgar leaned forward in his chair.

The old mage knight nodded just slightly. At length, he managed to speak. “Then... perhaps it wasn’t in vain.”

“No, no it wasn’t. You mustn’t speak-”

“I must!” Strago tried to shout his interruption, but it came out as little more than a whisper. “I must,” he said again. “Listen to me, Edgar. There is a... a... a rift. A gap in our world.”

Edgar raised an eyebrow.

“Beyond it... there is magic.”

“And that is what happened to the guard? What of your condition, though?“

“Too... much. Too much... power.” Strago gave a half-laugh, half-cough. “I suppose... this is one Lore I can’t learn. Too much power for my body.”

“Then you’ve told us everything,” Terra knelt down next to the bed. “Rest now, Strago,” she said, her voice soft.

“Terra? I’m... glad you’re here. Less things to worry about,” Strago said. “Please... take care of Relm for me. Take her to... Moblitz.”

Terra wiped a tear from her eye and nodded. “I will, of course, but you must rest.”

He shook his head. “One thing more. The rift... is... growing...” His voice trailed off and he closed his eyes.

Terra took his frail old hand in hers.

Edgar put his own hand on her shoulder. “He’s still alive,” he whispered. “That means there is hope.”

She didn’t say anything. Terra had to know as well as Edgar that for Strago to admit he was dying meant he almost certainly was.

Edgar looked up to Cyan, who was standing at stiff attention by the bed. “What happened?”

“I am not sure of the details, Your Majesty. We arrived at the Tower eight days ago. On the third day, we were investigating the summit and something... pulled Strago in.” Cyan bowed his head. “He escaped, but immediately lost consciousness. I decided that we should return here in the hopes that, should he awaken, he could tell us what happened. He was only somewhat lucid before, Your Majesty - I know no more than what he told you.”

Edgar looked away.

At the door, Ghaleon stood, his eyebrow raised in a curious expression that was practically a mirror of the one Edgar himself sometimes adopted. Curious only, at such a time!

True, Strago was no friend to Ghaleon. But to be so cold at any death - and to be so calm after, presumably, hearing what had been said - was unthinkable.

Before Edgar could challenge his court musician’s presence, though, his attention was called back to the bedside by Terra’s weeping. He knelt down beside her and put his arms around her shoulders.

Only then did he see what had caused her to cry.

Strago’s breathing, faint as it had been, had stopped entirely.