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The last time I encountered Golbez, I was a seven-year-old snot-nosed kid with a penchant for setting adults straight. Golbez took the Light Crystal from Fabul, after the boys locked me and Rosa in the basement with the king; then Cecil, Yang, and Edward wallowed about their failure, until I told them to pick their egos off the floor and suck it up.

I'm a wise woman. Even as a child, I had an elder's spine.

And seriously, why did they treat me and Rosa like we're helpless damsels? The nerve. Thinking about it now, as a seventeen-year-old Summoner of Mist, I feel the itch of an attitude coming on.

I'll just have to prove how capable women are by whooping Golbez's ass myself.

I'm pumped up and ready until I pass through the Eidolon-blocking Shell, walk up to Dwarf Castle's gate, and feel the overwhelming darkness of Golbez teleporting to the Dark World. Once I really think about what kind of magical power it takes to move into the crusts of the world, towards the Lava Sea—without hijacking a ride in Leviathan's stomach—my insides tremble a little.


No turning back, right?

Two earth-skinned dwarves man the gate. Remembering the Lali-ho my Eidolon friends taught me, I shout out, "Lali-ho!"

Both dwarves are eager to greet me after that. "Lali-ho, Stranger!"

"Need an Inn? It's just down the first hall..."

They must not feel Golbez's presence. This terrifies me even more. As I think about explaining the danger the Dark Crystal is in, a third dwarf hurried to the gate, his forehead wrinkled with concern.

"Oi, we need you in here!" he shouts. "There's a ten-foot-tall doll trying to shove that dragoon's face into a floor—"

Dragoon? Wasn't Cecil's friend, Kain, a dragoon? There aren't many of them. Like the dark knights, Baron's dragoons are a dying breed.

The dwarves hurry inside, and I follow cautiously behind. Torches cast the dark iron stonewalls with an eerie red light.

They beeline it to the throne room, down and up stairs, slamming closed doors open. The last stairwell is narrow, tucked behind the throne.

I feel like the dolphins that rode in the wake of our ship, before Leviathan capsized us, back when Yang and Edward helped me read books until they felt seasick. I'm just riding the currents of the guards, at least until I reach the castle's basement, the Dark Crystal's chamber.

Then I'm stunned to stillness.

The Calcabrina Doll is bone-rattling. Anyone who's afraid of clowns should take a look at this massive marionette's doll, with her frayed pigtails and broken jaw, then tell me they aren't shitting themselves. And I may or may not be afraid of clowns.

But what's even more shocking than the ten-foot-high Doll of Death?—the dragoon balancing on its shoulder, driving a spear through its neck.

But because dolls and clowns are creepy as hell, the Calcabrina still stomps and clacks, ignoring the spear in its throat.

I gawk at the dragoon. That's Kain. He's here. In the Dark World.

Rosa's here too, firing flaming arrows into the massive doll's chest. My chest tightens as the Calcabrina tries to stomp her down. At the last second, she tumbled out of the way, a skillful drop-and-roll.

Then there's Yang, pummeling the doll's leg! How are they all here?

And Cecil.

He's no longer a dark knight. Donned in shining armor, violet-silver hair whipping freely behind him, a holy sword and divine shield—when and how did he become a paladin?

It's a little much to take in. I'd like to say, I'll charge in there to save the day, except it's Rosa who lands a final arrow in the Calcabrina's head.

Kain leaps off the enormous doll as it crashes towards the ground. Cecil and Yang stumble back, towards the wall. I feel the impact of the Calcabrina, shuddering throughout the castle grounds.

Before they have a chance to regain their bearings, Golbez manifests in a whirl of glittering black light, mere yards from the Dark Crystal.

"No—!" I start, trying to run towards them, except a paralyzing aura drops me to my knees.

Cecil, Rosa, Yang, and Kain fall to their knees, too.

"You fought well," Golbez commends before turning towards the Dark Crystal.

Damn it, no—

"Golbez," Cecil groans through gritted teeth. "I won't—let you—"

Golbez laughs, one of those evil laughs that just makes me want to punch him, as Cecil struggles futilely against his paralytic powers.

Swinging a punch won't help.

So I close my eyes and reach into my soul.

Buried deep, deep down, I find the crystallized memory of my first Cure.

I remember my mother's hands, cool and wet. We stood together in a pool of water under a hot summer sun, so I could feel at one with the healing energies all around us. She reached her arms towards that healing light, lifting mine with them.

Mom was always filled with endless love. Mom always moves like water, reached for light, completed people.

"Cure," I try, and my body glows with white magic. The adrenaline rush of my success unbinds me from Golbez's spell.

After all, if I can eke out the little white magic left in me, Golbez is in a hell of lot of trouble. He's about to lose his Ace card.

Stepping boldly toward my old friends, I bellow with everything in me, "Esuna, motherfucker," and the whole chamber undulates with green and blue light.

Cecil stands, pointing his sword at Golbez. Kain also pushes himself off his knee, saying, "Who...?"

I step between Rosa and Yang. Both of them gawk at me. Guess they didn't expect all the hips and curves, the extra foot of height.

Maybe they even wrote me off as dead.

But I never did. I always made damn sure I kept on living.

"Rydia...?" Rosa stammers.

"Let's do this!" I rally. "We can fight him together now!"


First draft: September 18

Word count: 1018

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