The next day, as Ifrit and Shiva are casting Fira and Blizzara on sluggish monsters along the edges of the horizon, Rob asks them, "Sodoyoujustkillmonstersonsight?"
Once I realize what he's asking, my chest wraps into a big bundled ball around my heart. Why do I feel so horribly uncomfortable? My feelings for Shiva are just scraping the surface of how complex this whole shit gets; and I'm not ready for more maddening feelings. Not yet.
He's right, though. "Shiva, Ifrit," I start. "Mindlessly killing monsters is wrong."
"They're lesser life forms then us," Ifrit shouts, "and lesser than you!"
"Ifrit," Shiva murmurs.
Ifrit calms his roaring enthusiasm enough to look into me. And I look into him.
"Well, uhh," he mumbles.
"We can cool it for awhile," Shiva says. "But then we might become inundated with too many followers to protect you; are you ready to fight them yourself, if it comes to it?"
I chew the corner of my mouth. First of all, I cast Fire earlier; I was good to go. Ifrit just clobbered the echnida before it meant anything. Second, if we become "inundated," why not try to talk out our conflicts? And third, does she have no faith in me?—no hope I can protect myself?
She's just like Cecil.
How can I feel simultaneously attracted and pissed off? How horrible.
I'm not lucky enough to cast Shiva's warning off as paranoia, either. Hours later, closer to the glow of the Lava Sea—nearing the tightening tunnels of the Cave of Sylphs; struggling with hills of stone rising from the flatland—a cockatrice tests our meddle by casting Stone on my feet.
Two other cockatrices clack at Shiva and Ifrit as I panic at the creeping granite. Tiny yet measurable stones harden on my skin, inch by inch, while I try to cast Cure and Curaga to make the affliction disappear. Then my mind clears enough for me to try, "Esuna—," but the Stone spell creeps up to my shoulders, and I shrill.
Rob kicks one of the three cockatrices in the head and shouts, "AgainRydia, doitagain, don'tquitafteronetry—"
"Esuna...!" I choke.
I glance at Shiva. Can't she use white magic? Of course she can; except, she's busy channeling Curaja into Ifrit, who's staggering around in front of a cockatrice a quarter his size.
"Why—," I gasp, then I close my eyes. Don't complain. Don't fear. Just do.
The Stone shatters from my body into a pile of beautiful, glistening geodes, glittering with my sweat, crystals, and granite. Pumped by my success, I run at the cockatrice same as Ifrit would do. Then I pick up Rob, who squeals, "Ohyeahbringiton," and throw the Bomb at that awful little bird.
As Rob explodes on the cockatrice, I fear for a moment that I might've killed my friend.
Then Rob bursts out of the flames of his own body, rising like a phoenix, even smaller than before. At his current pint-size, I could carry him in one hand. His already zipping voice is an octave higher as he cries, "IRETURNGREATERTHANBEFORE."
The cockatrice blinks charred eyes. Though it survived, I'm not sure if it's thrilled with the situation, considering its bare of every feather. The other two cockatrices balk at their featherless companion, then hurry off into the flatland yonder.
Ifrit and Shiva both beam at me as I stand over the featherless cockatrice and growl, "I wanted to make friends. I wanted to talk out our conflicts. Then you tried to turn me into a geode."
"S-s-sorry," the cockatrice croaks.
"Iknowhowyoucanmakeituptoher," Rob says.
The cockatrice's beading eyes bug out. "H-h-how?"
"She'sasummonerofMist," Rob says.
Ifrit adds, "So she can summon you, if you let her."
My shadow casts over the cockatrice, even larger than I've already grown. I cross my arms.
"Y-y-yes," the cockatrice says. "Of c-c-course y-you can s-s-summon me whenev-ev-er."