Rydia doesn't feel like she belongs. Edge/Rydia.
For Rydia, it had been two years since they defeated Zemus, but she knew that only two weeks would have passed in the lands above, where her friends were rebuilding their homes. Strange, the ways time flowed differently above and below. She missed her friends--Cecil's determination to set everything right, Rosa's soft voice and the healing magic that flowed so easily from her hands, and Kain with his sullen brooding silence. She even missed Edge a little, despite his habit of "accidentally" brushing his hands against her rear end. Hardly anything would have changed for them, but she was growing older here, and that knowledge weighed on her.
She hadn't realized before how great the difference would be. Asura had warned her, but it had taken her seeing Cecil, his face no older than she remembered, and yet she was ten years older when two months had passed for him.
She stood at her window, watching young monsters chase each other around the courtyard through the shadows of her own reflection in the glass. When she left to save Cecil, she had promised Asura she would return. Once this place had called to her, the true home of her blood, where the magic all around her echoed the magic that sang in her veins and bubbled forth in massive explosions of magic when she drew on that legacy to rip the veils between the Land of Summons and the other worlds, tearing reality itself to bring forth creatures of incredible power and strength. Now it was the world above that called to her, making a prison of this strange red-lit cavern beneath the earth.
Someone tapped softly at her door. Rydia turned, composing her face into a neutral expression. "Come in."
The door opened to admit Queen Asura, remote and lovely in her white gown. She closed the door behind her. "Good afternoon, Rydia," she said.
"Good afternoon," Rydia murmured.
Asura seated herself at one of the two wooden stools by the low table and gestured for Rydia to do the same. She waited until Rydia was seated, her visage changing in the blink of an eye to one of shadows and secrets. "You do not seem to be happy here any longer, Rydia."
Rydia fidgeted a little in her chair. She always felt like she'd been caught out doing something untoward when Asura was being dignified and formal. "I miss them," she said. She could picture them in her mind's eye. Cecil would be setting Baron to rights with his usual grave and quiet mien, while Rosa tended to the sick. She couldn't quite picture what Kain would do without a spear in hand and something to stab with it, except brood on the castle ramparts. And Edge...Edge would be racing around Eblan, ignoring Gramps's complaints about proper behaviour for a prince and rebuilding his castle with his own hands. The thought gave her a slight pang, remembering how late at night when the others slept, she and Edge would sit watching the embers of the fire while he talked about how he planned to rebuild his kingdom, and she could see it in her mind from his descriptions.
"I did not think you would stay here so long." Asura's lips curved into a chill half-smile at Rydia's look of surprise. "When you left to save Cecil, you promised to come back. I thought you would come for a visit. I am delighted you chose to stay, but this is not where you belong."
"I know." Rydia glanced out the window at the young monsters chasing each other around and around in one of their games of tag, where the rules were endlessly evolving and ever more complicated. "You and Leviathan have been so kind to me. You gave me a place when I had none."
"Yes. We knew Cecil would need your help as an adult, and not as the child you were, which is why Leviathan capsized your ship and brought you here."
"You helped me understand so much about my magic," Rydia said, leaning forward a little.
"In the process, we robbed you of your healing skills." Asura's gaze was direct, and her tone held no trace of apology.
Rydia smiled faintly. "Rosa is better suited to healing. My skills work best in battle."
Asura's face underwent another mercurial transformation, from the forbidding Dark Queen to an indulgent mother. "Your skills will work best wherever you choose to apply them with passion and dedication." She rose. "Leviathan will take you to the surface tomorrow."
"Thank you." Rydia hesitated a moment. "I will miss you."
Asura's smile was warm and bright. "We will miss you as well, Rydia. You may call on us any time, whether you have need of our strength or merely of our presence." She touched Rydia's cheek, and Rydia felt the cool-water sense of healing, the sizzle of a powerful attack, the warmth of life, and the chill of a shadowed cave. Then Asura turned and left, her face flowing back into her normal remote expression.
Rydia packed her few belongings quickly, and went outside to play tag with the young ones. Given the difficulty of reaching the Land of Summons, she likely would not meet them again in this lifetime, at least not for quite some time. They played tag, and they asked her to tell them (again) of the Paladin and how he led them forth to save the world. She sat up far later than she intended with them, finally nodding off on the floor in their playroom.
Shiva shook her awake in what passed for the dim light of dawn beneath the earth. "His Majesty is ready to take you above, Caller," she said formally, bowing to Rydia. A pool of frost was forming on the wood floor, radiating out from her bare feet.
"Thank you, Shiva." Rydia shook her head to clear it, and got stiffly to her feet. She'd had enough of sleeping on a hard floor during their quest to last her a lifetime, and the ache in her back and shoulders reaffirmed that notion.
Ramuh stood behind Shiva, holding Rydia's small bag of possessions. She took it and slung it over her shoulder. Ramuh smiled and stroked his beard, which crackled with static electricity and emitted bright blue sparks at random intervals. "Best of luck to you, young Rydia," he said. "Please do not forget us."
"I could never forget you." Rydia offered a half-curtsy and moved between them, heading for the library.
Leviathan and Asura awaited her in the basement. He was in his human form, garbed in a robe of seaweed and scales, and the air smelled of brine mixed with the tang of lightning and the scent of roses that surrounded Asura.
Rydia curtsied to them. Asura embraced her warmly.
"Remember, you've only to Call us," Asura said.
"I will remember." Rydia hugged her again and turned to Leviathan.
"Are you ready, child?" he asked with a kind smile.
Leviathan patted her arm, leaving damp hand-prints on her green robes. "Keep that young ninja in line. Make him work for it!"
Rydia chuckled, even as Leviathan's form melted into a pool of water and coalesced into his serpent-form, spraying salt water in all directions. He held out one large fin to her. She stepped up carefully and seated herself on his neck, perched sideways. He gathered himself and leapt upward. Rydia got a sense of suffocating pressure, the full weight of the earth pressing down on her, hot as her most powerful fire spell. Then the fire gave way to bone-chilling cold and slick wetness all around before they erupted out of the ocean and into the first crepuscular light of dawn, grey and pale in the vastness of the ocean around them. Leviathan's fins began to move, causing his muscles to shift beneath her. She could barely see, off in the distance, the dark smudge of the shore.
The rising sun tinted the sky in delicate shades of pink and gold before exploding into a symphony of red and deep gold. Beyond the brightness of the sun, the sky shaded to dark violet and a blue so pure it hurt Rydia's eyes, long accustomed to the dim red light of the underworld. She could see a dark, hulking shape rising off the shore. The sky brightened as they approached it, and she could see that the dark shape was a castle, built of forbidding grey stone and perched near the seashore.
Figures a small as ants scurried around on the shoreline, forming up into neat lines after some chaos and confusion. Leviathan swam closer, and Rydia could see that the lines were comprised of some half-dozen ninjas and perhaps three dozen young men and women holding short swords. One figure stood in front of the rest, the sunlight glinting off his pale hair, and Rydia realized how much she had missed his cocky smile.
Leviathan glided to a halt in the shallows, and Rydia slid down his side into water above her knees. She rested one hand on his shoulder. "Thank you," she said. "For everything."
He nodded and swam back out to sea, vanishing in a burst of spray and foam, and she turned to face the young King of Eblan.
"Back so soon?" he asked lightly, though his gaze was sober and worried when his eyes searched her face.
"It's been a long time for me," she said.
"I can see that." He smiled and took her hand. His skin was warm against hers, and held no trace of otherworldly power, a welcome change from the world below. "Welcome back, Rydia."