Chrono Trigger: Until the End of Time
Based on characters created by Square
Part 1: The Fall of Guardia
What was the start of all this?
When did the cogs of fate begin to turn?
Perhaps it is impossible to grasp that answer now,
from deep within the flow of time...
But, for a certainty, back then,
we loved so many, yet hated so much,
we hurt others and were hurt ourselves...
Yet even then, we ran like the wind,
whilst our laughter echoed
under cerulean skies...
--Chrono Cross's opening lines
Chapter 1: Out of the Past
August, 1004 AD
"Hel-loo," Lucca called out, adjusting her glasses and brushing back her shoulder-length brown hair as she nudged open the unlocked door and walked into the quaint unpainted cabin that Melchior had used as his home and workshop for the past decade, "anyone here?"
She looked around at the rows of swords draped along the walls and the countless books thrown carelessly about the tables and wooden chairs; if it were anyone else, she might have suspected a burglary or a battle that had left the room a mess. But this mess was reassuring--it just meant Melchior was distracted by some new project.
"Hey," she called out again, and finally she heard footsteps clambering up the stairs and the basement door opening. Melchior suddenly burst into the room, a plump little man with dark round eyeglasses, a thick bushy grey moustache and a silly-looking blue uniform topped by an orange sash and a pointed hat.
There was a time when she might have laughed at the outfit, but not anymore--she'd learned years ago that the uniform marked him as one of the three legendary Gurus of Zeal, and that it was the only thing left to remind the absent-minded scholar of the ancient magical kingdom that, thousands of years ago, he had called home.
"Took you long enough," she teased him, smiling broadly, "what were you doing down there anyway?"
"Lucca," he answered cheerfully, "you should take a look at it! I've been reading about some of the crystal elements they use down in El Nido, and I thought maybe the material could be fashioned like metal."
"Any luck," she asked eagerly, surprised and disappointed that she hadn't thought of that herself.
"I've succeeded in melting it down, but forging it...is a little more difficult. But with your help, I'm sure we'll figure it all out! Come on, you can take a look at what I've done so...far...um, who's the kid?"
Lucca laughed softly as she gently rocked the swaddled infant in her arms, knowing how easily Melchior could distract himself and a little surprised he'd noticed the baby this quickly.
"You wouldn't believe how many people have asked me that," she giggled, "I'm thinking of just naming her Kid, so when people ask I can just say 'you got it.'"
"Oh," Melchior's eyes lit up, "you have a kid! Congratulations, who's the father? It's that Fritz guy over in Truce, isn't it? I just knew you two were made for each other the moment I saw..."
"Fritz," Lucca cried out in bewilderment, "no! Besides, he married Elaine last year. She's not mine, at least not like that...I found her in the forest outside Guardia castle yesterday, in a basket."
"So somebody left her there," Melchior remarked sadly as he stepped closer and looked down at the baby's rose-red face and deep blue eyes, "and she's so cute too. Who would want to do that?"
"I don't think that's what happened," Lucca shook her head, "there was some sort of flash of light when she first appeared. It looked a bit like, well...like the blue flash when a gate opens."
"But Lavos was the source of the gates," Melchior pondered, "there shouldn't be any more."
"That's not all," Lucca continued, "could you hold her a moment? I have to get something."
Melchior nodded and took the blanket-wrapped baby in his arms, rocking her a little as he looked down at her single lock of blonde hair, then smiled as she looked up into his glasses and cooed softly. Lucca smiled as she watched them, then dug through her pockets, pulling out a round amulet made from a solid piece of blue crystal and lifting it up into the sunlight for Melchior to look at.
"Do you recognize this," she asked him.
"Of course," he answered, a little confused, "it's Schala's pendant. Did you borrow it from Marle?"
"No," Lucca shook her head, "Marle still has her pendant. I found this one with the baby."
Melchior's eyes widened and he grabbed the dangling pendant with one hand as he folded his other arm around the gurgling baby, flipping the gemstone over quickly and studying the back carefully.
"Melchior," Lucca asked, "did you ever make a second pendant?"
"No," he answered, his voice quivering, "the pendant's incredibly complex, it took me years just to make the one Schala had. The only thing even close to being like the pendant is the Masamune."
"Is it a copy? Another pendant that just looks like it?"
"No, it's real" he answered, "look on the back. The crest of Zeal's inscribed and around the edge, you can see my name in very faint letters. That's how I authenticated all my works."
Lucca nodded, remembering a similar seal on the Masamune, and looked at the flat gold-plated surface on the back of the amulet. She shuddered a bit at the crest of Zeal, a stylized hieroglyph of the Mammon Machine, then looked around the edge of the pendant. She could just barely make out faint hairline marks in the metal, then felt the first real tremble of excitement as she spelled out the name: M...E...L...C...H...
"Then it is real," she said in a hushed whisper, "I just assumed it had to be another pendant you made..."
"Where did you say you found this," Melchior asked quickly.
"With her," Lucca pointed to the baby in his arms, "she was wearing it when she...appeared..."
"In a blue flash like a gate," Melchior whispered slowly and then looked down at the blonde-haired infant in his arms, bobbing her up and down gently, "Lucca, do you know what this means?"
"It means that," Lucca nodded, her heart quivering as she seriously considered the possibility for the first time since she'd found the little girl, "there's a really good chance that's Schala you're holding."
Melchior suddenly seemed to explode into emotion, hugging the baby tight, the dark lenses of his glasses wet with tears as he kissed both of her cheeks and hugged the infant again.
"You're alive," he cried out as he hugged her tight, "Schala, I thought I'd never see you again..."
Lucca blinked with confusion--she'd never expected Melchior to react like this. Then she smiled softly as she realized her mistake; she'd thought of him as the genius weapon-inventor from her own time, when he had really lived a whole different life in the Kingdom of Zeal . He had watched Schala grow up from an infant to a gentle and kind-hearted young woman--and the last thing he'd seen, before being dragged into the temporal vortex that brought him into this time, was Schala being consumed by the diabolical mammon machine, on the brink of death.
"You're alive," he sighed happily, and then looked up at Lucca, "except she's a little...young."
"Yeah," Lucca replied thoughtfully, "I've been trying to figure that out too. The only thing I can think of is that Schala was somehow pulled out of the past, out of a time when she was just a baby, and brought here."
"But how," Melchior thought aloud, "could she have come here if all the gates are closed? And if you three didn't go back and bring her here, who else could have?"
"I'm still working on that part," Lucca answered, rubbing the back of her neck with one hand, "the first thing we need to do is make sure that our...hypothesis is correct. That she's really Schala."
"There's only one person I know of," Melchior said thoughtfully, "who could tell you for certain."
"I know," Lucca nodded, "but I'll have to find some way to cross a hundred centuries just to find him...and finding him is probably going to be the easiest part."
* * *
"Are you sure this is really a good idea," Marle asked, leaning against the side of their old time-machine as Lucca unscrewed one of the panels and began reconnecting the wires and switching out the circuit-boards.
She and Lucca both sat outside Lucca's house, on the small grassy island that Lucca's family had owned for over five generations, a blanket spread beneath them as Marle watched Lucca fidget with the circuitry. Lucca carefully studied the inner workings of the platinum-white aircraft perched on the lawn, her goggles scanning each of the circuits while tiny lasers printed a green digital readout over the transparent lenses for her to read. Sea gulls cawed overheard and sunlight reflected off the ocean and the gleaming metal ship.
"Absolutely not," Lucca answered in a muffled voice, holding the screwdriver between her teeth as she glanced up to Marle and then back down to the inner circuitry of the Epoch, spitting the small plastic tool onto the blanket so she could speak, "it's probably the worst idea in our long and colorful history of bad ideas. But we owe it to him and besides, he's the only one who can really tell us if it's her."
"I know," Marle pouted, sitting down beside her friend and giving a single baffled look at the wiring, "but if Epoch runs into any trouble along the way...you said yourself that it's only going to have enough power for a single round trip, and that's only if everything works perfectly. What if it doesn't?"
"Don't worry, it'll work," Lucca said cheerfully, giving Marle a wink through her goggles as she replaced the panel and sealed up the hull, "trust me, there's no problem the Great Lucca can't figure out!"
"Alright," Marle answered, then giggled softly, "but if you end up stuck in my childhood, I'll be mad!"
"If that happened," Lucca laughed as she stood up and pushed a few buttons on the side of the sleek metal vehicle, the bubble-hood sliding up with a soft whine, "you wouldn't know to be mad. Besides, you could've used an older sister like me around to show you the ropes!"
"I'm serious," Marle frowned, "be careful back there. We don't know how he'll respond--if he's dangerous, just get back here. And you can count that as a direct order from the queen."
"Yes, your highness," Lucca snickered, pulling herself up into the Epoch and sitting down onto the leather seats as she checked the controls, "I would never disobey an order from Queen Nadia."
"Hush or I'll sic King Crono on you" Marle teased, hands on her hips, then she sighed a little, "I just wish Crono and I could go back with you..."
"It'll be boring," Lucca reassured her, "besides, you both have to attend the negotiations this afternoon. If we don't work out a treaty with Porre, we might as well just hop in here and not even come back."
"Oh thanks," Marle answered sarcastically, "now I'm going to be twice as nervous!"
"Don't worry," Lucca laughed, then pushed a button, the glass bubble dropping over the cockpit, "I'll take care of the past, you two will take care of the present, and together we'll save the future. It's what we're good at."
The engine began to hum to life for the first time in four years and Marle took a few steps back as Epoch's exhaust pipes began to glow. The time machine lifted into the air, hovering against the cloudless sea-blue sky for a moment before suddenly flashing and fading away in a burst of blue crackling light, wrenching outward through unseen dimensions and then vanishing, leaving Marle alone in front of Lucca's house.
She looked down at her pants and tank-top, remembering that she'd have change into her royal garb for the meeting later today. Lucca had tried to joke about the negotiation, but she was right--if they couldn't work out some sort of treaty with the military juggernaut that Porre had become, there might really be no future.
* * *
A tunnel of flashing golden light engulfed the craft and Lucca grabbed the control panel, her head slammed back against the seat by the sudden g-force. She'd forgotten to reconnect the inertial dampeners--oh well, it'd just be a rough ride, that's all. She strained to lift her head from the leather seat and rolled her eyes down to the counter as the years rolled backward, prying her fingers up against the pull of the inertia and struggling to type in the temporal coordinates for her arrival. She finished the program and then fell back against the seat, panting with exhaustion and staring weakly up at the flickering streams of light beyond the glass as the craft began to rock and shudder.
"Easy, Epoch...just a little bit further...we're almost there..."
The cockpit began to rattle and she closed her eyes tightly as she listened to a few of the bolts beginning to come loose. She rolled her eyes back to the counter and stared at it, silently praying for it to go faster.
5000 BC, 6000 BC, 7000 BC...
Epoch suddenly bounced and wrenched forward, throwing Lucca headfirst into the glass bubble, then tilted backward, knocking her into the seat. She shrieked as the whole craft rolled left and right, then sighed with relief as it began to steady again. She looked back down in confusion at the counter...
...7800 BC, 8000 BC, 9000 BC...
Epoch had hit something big around 7500 BC, something like a temporal speed bump, a disturbance so big it'd nearly knocked Epoch completely off-course...what could have had that sort of effect on time itself? She tried to think about it but then instantly forgot about it as Epoch finally began to slow, the flashing rings of light around the craft fading away to reveal a frozen landscape beyond the faint residual glow
Epoch cruised slowly through the air and Lucca lifted herself back upright, the gravity in the cockpit normal again as Epoch glided smoothly and silently above the ocean. She looked around at the stark gray clouds, the dark pounding waves below and the distant shadows of jagged ice-capped peaks, recognizing the bleak arctic landscape; she glanced back down to read the counter and smiled in triumph, then leaned back to catch her breath.
* * *
The cloaked figure glided above the ocean, leaving a wake of churning water behind him as he raced above the currents, scythe gripped in both hands, one elbow pointed forward to protect his face from the cold needle-sharp wind as the purple figure, clad in a flowing cloak and dull brass armor, flew across the limitless expanses of water, his face hardened into an almost-permanent expression of pain and grim determination.
A bright shining aircraft with pearl-white metal and golden wings suddenly dropped out of the dark clouds before him and he twisted away, levitating over the waters as he glared at it. He silently twisted around, turning his back on the floating ship and suddenly rushed away, flying over the cold grey waters and white surf without a word. The aircraft hummed for a second and then bolted forward, its shadow falling across the flying purple-cloaked figure as it passed him and the vehicle turned back around to face him. This time he simply hovered in place, bobbing up and down slightly, scythe tightly gripped in both hands before him.
"Lucca Ashtear," he snarled under his breath with disdain, floating over to the ship and setting lightly atop the hull, standing a few inches away from the edge of the cockpit and staring down at her. His long purple hair hung down his shoulders and his pale white face tightened into a glare, his red eyes glowing with contempt.
"Magus," she answered, standing up from her seat to meet his glare, "you're a hard one to find. It took almost a week to track you down."
"Why have you come back," he asked coldly, "our dealings are over."
"Don't count on that," she answered, "we've found something in the future that I think can help you."
"I've never needed your help," he snarled, "don't mistake my charity for weakness, Ashtear."
"Alright," she said slowly, "but you've sought our help before, and vice-versa. I know you've been looking for Schala, and I also know you haven't had much luck finding her."
"You know nothing," he hissed under his breath, "she's out here, lost somewhere among the glaciers and crags of this dying world, and I'll find her."
"She might not be here," Lucca said softly.
"NO," he suddenly screamed, enraged, "I clawed my way out of the abyss, she's NOT gone!"
"No, she's not gone," Lucca answered, "but you're not going to find her, not here."
"You think I'm too weak," he snarled, his voice rising, "I ruled empires before the birth of your family's name! I've led armies of mystics, I've survived the darkness of millennia! Can you say such things, child?!"
"It's not that," she shouted, "Magus, Schala's not here! She's in my time!"
Magus stared down at her for a moment, his stern pale face and glowing red eyes concealing a hidden tempest of thoughts and feelings as he tried to make sense of her words.
"What," he finally managed to ask, his voice a harsh whisper.
"Magus," she said softly, "I think we've found Schala. I wanted you to know."
"Where," he asked, his grip on the scythe tightening even more.
"She's in our time," Lucca said, "sorta, though it's been four years in our world since we last saw you, so it's 1004 AD now...or there, rather. Anyway, I think somebody sent her through a gate. We're not sure if..."
"Take me to her," Magus said suddenly, cutting her off.
"I was planning to," Lucca answered, annoyed by his interruption, "hey, isn't this the part where you thank me for repairing the Epoch and risking my life to come back here..."
"Take me to her," Magus growled, "and if you're lying, I swear I will..."
"I am NOT lying," she cried out in exasperation, "why would I even want to lie about that? So I could come back and see your cheerful face one more time? Please!"
"Then show her to me," Magus said impatiently.
"Listen," she answered, "we dismantled the Epoch four years ago, we thought its work was finished. I had to build a whole new reactor just to get enough energy to make a single round-trip, and the trip back will probably melt the circuit-boards. If you go with me, we may never be able to bring you back home."
"This is not my home," Magus answered coldly, "my home sank beneath the waves years ago, and only this frozen waste remains. I won't miss it."
"Alright," she said with a nod, "I just wanted to make sure you understood the risk. Is there anything you need to take with you, or anyone you want to say goodbye..." He glided into the cockpit, perching lightly into the back seat, and shook his head.
"No," he answered quickly, "now let's go."
"You might want to brace yourself," she warned him as she sat down and tapped a few buttons on the console, the glass bubble lowering over them as she reprogrammed the temporal coordinates, "the inertial..."
"Save your warnings for the weaklings who need them."
"Alright then," she shrugged with a barely-concealed snicker, then fired the engines.
* * *
Lucca jumped out of the Epoch as it landed in front of Melchior's house, the sloping grass-covered peak of Mystic Mountain casting long black shadows across the plains as the crimson sun sank behind the distant rooftops of Medina village. She glanced back and frowned as she listened the engine whining, circuitry born from a technology far beyond her comprehension popping and sizzling, never to be repaired again--she'd known this would happen, but her heart still sank at the thought that Epoch had truly made its last trip.
"Thank you, Epoch," she sighed as she listened to the hissing engines die into silence.
She heard a grunt and looked over to see Magus staggering toward the house, still clutching one side as he limped a little. He shot her a quick glare, then walked through the front door without a word.
Melchior rose from his chair, holding the baby as he walked to the door to meet them. He smiled to Magus and opened his mouth to speak, then yelped in surprise as the wizard pushed past him, knocking him away with one hand. Magus walked into the house and looked around at the main room as Lucca stepped through the door.
"Hey," Lucca called out, "at least pretend to be civilized! Thanks for watching her, Melchior."
"Where is she," Magus demanded, "where is Schala?"
"She's over here," Melchior called out cheerfully, standing at the staircase leading down into his basement workshop, and gestured with one hand toward the baby sleeping in his folded left arm. Magus simply stared at them both in disbelief, then glared over at Lucca, who'd walked across the room to join Melchior.
"Is this a joke," he sneered, lifting his palm up toward Lucca and Melchior, fingers spread as he prepared to cast a spell, "pray to your god for mercy, because I'll have none."
"Magus," Lucca said sharply, "it's not a joke. I found her wearing the pendant in Guardia Forest yesterday afternoon. She appeared in a kind of blue flash, like a gate. Marle still has her pendent and the only thing I can think of is that somebody brought Schala here, out of her..."
"Enough," Magus snapped, hand still raised, "you brought me here to show me a baby and a pendant?"
"Magus," Lucca shot back, "just try looking at her! We know you can sense people's auras, you did it with Crono when you were a kid! Just take a look at her and tell us what you see."
Magus glanced from Lucca back to the baby and stared silently at her, his gloved fingers dropping again as he focused on her, trying to see her aura, the ghosts of past, future and thought that surrounded every person.
"It's been too long," he said quietly after a moment, "I haven't wanted to know people's destinies for a long time now. I'll have to touch the child if you're to learn anything about it."
Melchior looked up from the baby to Magus, then glanced over to Lucca, who simply nodded. He took a step forward and lifted the infant up for the sorcerer to inspect. Magus scowled at the wide-eyed baby for a moment and then touched her cheek, holding his fingers against her face as he closed his eyes and focused.
"Kingdom of magic," he whispered to himself, reflecting the child's aura, "gurus, demon-machine...Janus."
His hand dropped from her face and his ruby eyes opened wide.
"Her memories," he said, staring down in wonder at the sleeping child, his usual sneering tone rising into a soft human voice for the first time Lucca had ever heard, "it's really her," he looked up, "how?"
"I'm not sure," Lucca answered softly, "my guess is that something happened that pulled her from her past, sometime just after she was born and...brought her here, now. Until now, I thought maybe you did it."
"No," Magus shook his head, "I still remember her, right up until...why would I still remember her?"
"That's one of the things I'm still trying to figure out," Lucca shrugged, "do you think it's really her?"
"I know it's her," Magus said with a cold glare, then he looked up from the child, glancing quickly about the room and suddenly darting out of the house. Lucca and Melchior gave each other baffled looks and followed him out the door into the twilight, the sun a faint sliver of light at the edge of the darkening sky behind their backs.
Magus stood in the yard, his eyes fixed on the eastern horizon, staring past the fields and distant hills at something beyond the village. He finally spoke in a low voice that quivered with rage and panic.
"What's beyond that horizon?"
"Um," Lucca tried to answer, baffled, "Medina. It's a village of mystics..."
"Beyond that," he hissed angrily, still staring at the horizon, "tell me what's beyond that!"
"Some fields, a beach, the ocean," Lucca asked impatiently, "I don't know! No, wait...if you go far enough, past Choras, you'd run into the El Nido archipelago. So I suppose El Nido's out there. Why?"
"Tell me about El Nido," he demanded, still staring at the horizon, fists clenched.
"It's this group of tropical islands," she answered, "Porre discovered it about a century ago. It has natives, though Porre colonists rule it now. The weird part is that we're pretty sure the islands weren't there before we fought Lavos in 1999 AD. I still haven't figured out how that could have created them, though."
"The black wind howls," Magus whispered to himself and Lucca felt a twinge of fear herself, remembering the last time she'd heard him say those words.
"He's out there," he continued, his voice trembling with fear and rage, "I wasn't listening before but he's out there in the El Nido islands. He's laughing at me...at all of us..."
"Who," Lucca asked, her stomach twisting as she realized the answer herself.
* * *
Magus glided silently down the stairs, his feet just a few inches above the carpet, and glanced left and right across the unlit room, his crimson eyes piercing the darkness and seeing though it. He floated through the room and lifted the sleeping infant from her makeshift crib, then turned his head slowly back through the living room, looking for the front door. He searched the air for different kinds of light, quickly finding the room filled with infrared rays, and he focused his eyes, looking through the deep red glow and seeing the cold door against the warm wall.
He hoisted the baby under one folded arm and quickly opened the door, then sighed in disappointment as a warm human shape rose from the doorway and flipped a switch, flooding the room in bright yellow light.
"It's great that you want to spend time with her," Lucca said, pointing her plasma-pistol straight at Magus's breast-plating, "but it's way past her bedtime. Why don't you take her for a walk tomorrow?"
"Get out of my way, Ashtear," Magus said through clenched teeth, enraged but not daring to charge at her with a plasma weapon pointed at him, "you can't do anything for her. She doesn't belong here."
"And you could," she asked, one hand on her hip as she kept the gun steady, "where would you take her? You can't go back, you knew that before we came here. And where would you go here, in this time?"
"You should have brought her with you when you went back," Magus snarled, "this isn't her world."
"I thought about that," Lucca answered, gun still pointed at him, "but I wasn't about to risk her life when I wasn't even sure Epoch could make the trip. Anyway, you said it yourself--her world's gone, it's nothing but a frozen wasteland back there. Do you want to know what happened to her? Do you even care what happened?"
"Of course," he barked, "but I don't need you to find that out!"
"Yes, you do," she countered, "how would you find out? Would you go to the forest and ask some of the trees what happened? Would you keep bullying the pendant until it's told you everything?"
Magus simply snarled at her, his gleaming fangs bared, enraged by her sarcasm.
"Oh now that'll do it," she taunted, "I'm sure the pendant will start talking if you give it THAT look! I can study the problem and figure out what happened, but she has to stay here--besides, I'm not letting you run off with her so you two can wander the countryside like stray dogs. If you want to leave, fine, but she stays here."
The two stared at each other, Lucca holding the gun tightly, Magus clutching the baby in one arm, neither of them daring to move. After a long while, an expression of disgust crossed the wizard's face.
"What is that...smell?"
"She needs her diaper changed," Lucca answered, not daring to lower her gun.
"Then change it," he growled, walking toward the stairs and plopping the baby onto the couch in disgust.
Lucca lowered her gun and suddenly laughed.
"If you're planning on stealing a baby away in the middle of the night," she snickered, "don't you think you should at least learn how change a diaper?"
"I'm the king of the mystics," he answered with a glare over his shoulder, "there are servants for that."
"These aren't the Middle Ages," she said, hands on her hips, "and you DON'T have servants here. So come on, it's your turn to change her."
"What," he asked, whirling back around in shock.
"I've been changing her all day," Lucca replied, "so I figure it's your turn. Come on, you've changed men into frogs, how hard can changing a baby into a fresh diaper be?"
"So be it," he muttered after a moment, walking back to the sofa, "but the moment you learn what happened to her, we won't need you anymore--and I WILL take her for myself."
"I'd like to see you try," Lucca challenged, then walked into the hallway, disappearing into the bathroom for a moment. She came back out with a towel, a handful of cloth diapers and a bottle of talcum powder.
"Here you go," she said, dropping them on the carpet beside him as he reluctantly knelt beside the crying baby, "you'll need these. By the way, it's a good thing you always wear those gloves."
"Why," he asked as he unfastened her old diaper, then twisted his head away, holding his breath.
Chapter 2: Survival of the Fittest
"Is Magus getting any better," Marle asked with a sympathetic shrug as she and Lucca walked through the crowd of people filling Leene Square, oblivious to the way people all around them shoved out of the way to make room for her. Lucca glanced around with a nervously apologetic smile, then turned to Marle.
"It's been a month," she answered, thinking about it, "but I still don't think he really knows how to deal with Kid yet. She was up for most of last night and he kept demanding to know why he couldn't use a sleep-spell on her. It took hours to convince him that a spell wouldn't give her normal sleep anyway."
"Youngest sibling syndrome," Marle giggled, "he probably doesn't even remember that Schala had to help take care of him like that when he was a baby."
"Baby Magus," Lucca pondered, "that's almost impossible to imagine."
"Yeah," Marle laughed, then grew serious, "Lucca, has he said anything more about....El Nido?"
"Not really," Lucca sighed, "just that he senses Lavos over there. I've done research on it, trying to figure out what their connection could be, and I haven't found anything. But there are a lot of strange things about those islands, not the least being those crystal elements they use."
"Yeah, those things are weird," Marle nodded quickly as they slipped into the large red merchant-tent draped over the square that had once housed Lucca's telepod exhibition and browsed through one of the clothing racks, "Crono and I saw them during a good-will tour of Porre's military training facilities...though I think the tour was meant to scare us more than show their good will. What are they?"
"So now Porre has them too," Lucca frowned, "they work by focusing natural elements like lightning, fire, water, shadow, ice...my guess is that it's a simulation of magic, using natural energy rather than Lavos."
"That's going to make things harder," Marle agreed, "Porre signed the non-aggression pact, but since then they've invaded Choras and Medina. They claimed Medina challenged their borders, if you can believe that."
"What," Lucca nearly shouted, "the mystics would never challenge them! All they've wanted for the past hundred years is to live in peace! Porre's just lying to get out of the treaty!"
"I know," Marle said softly, "we've got reconnaissance teams on their way to Medina to confirm the reports. If we're right, though," she sighed, "then Porre's broken the treaty."
Lucca nodded softly, knowing the unspoken implications.
"I just hope they're okay," Marle said after a moment, "look what Porre did with the demi-humans in El Nido, and I've even heard there was a race called dragonians that went extinct because of them..."
"Marle," Lucca said quickly, suddenly remembering something important, "have you ever seen a picture of one of the dragonians of El Nido? Have you read about them?"
"Not much," she shook her head, "they've only existed since we came back from Lavos, and so much has happened along the way...I haven't really had time to catch up with all the changes."
"The good news," Lucca answered with a small smile, "is that you learned about them in elementary school, like we all did. I checked the records, you made a B+ in El Nido History."
"Yay," Marle cheered, then frowned, "too bad I don't remember any of it."
"It's part of this new timeline," she answered, "none of us remember any of our new lives here. Last week I even found a receipt from Porre in my desk! Some weapon deal this timeline says I once made with them..."
"You mean they've had the great Lucca working for them," Marle asked in shock.
"That's what history thinks," Lucca sighed, "listen, I've studied everything about El Nido, including these dragonians. They were a race indigenous to the El Nido islands, living in peace with the native humans. They were very advanced, and left behind ruins like Fort Dragonia, which is supposed to have mystical powers. When Porre arrived a hundred years ago, a war began between them and the dragonians, and now they're extinct."
"See," Marle replied angrily, "that's just what I'm talking about! What if they do that to the mystics?!"
"Marle," Lucca said sharply, trying to get her attention, "there's more, a lot more. Of course, there weren't any cameras back in 900 AD, but lots of zoologists studied the dragonians. They left volumes of drawings and notes about them. They were unlike anything people had seen before...except for us."
"What do you mean," Marle asked, tilting her head curiously.
"Take a look," Lucca answered, unfolding a piece of paper she'd stuck in her pocket, an anatomical drawing torn from one of the books Lucca had bought about the dragonians of El Nido.
Marle lifted the sheet of paper and studied the drawing for a moment before she suddenly realized what she was looking at. She gasped in surprise, nearly dropping the page, and stared back at Lucca.
"But," she asked slowly, "how's that possible? How could they have survived?"
"I don't know," Lucca said, "but before Porre came, the dragonians of El Nido numbered in the thousands."
Marle's hand trembled a little as she gave the drawing back to Lucca and she studied the drawing herself, already familiar with it. The three of them had seen the dragonians before, in a time so far removed from Truce that it might as well have been another world. A world that should have died out eons ago, leaving no trace.
There were small differences, of course, as Lucca would expect over millions of years of evolution: a bigger tail, well-developed thumbs and fingers, and a larger cranium along with a sleeker, more bird-like posture. But the overall picture was horribly familiar--there could be no doubt about what she was looking at. They'd both seen the creature in the anatomical drawing before.
It was a reptite.
Marle slowly walked to the nervously fidgeting merchant behind the table and her wavering voice steadied as she spoke to him, pointing to one of the elegant white gowns draped across the back of the tent as a display, "I'd like to buy two of these white dresses, please, both medium sizes."
"Queen Na-Nadia," he stammered, wide-eyed, "you can have all the dresses you want!"
"I already told you," she sighed with a smile, "if I'm not in garb, you can call me Marle! We're exactly the same, except that I was born in a castle and you were born in the town--and you're not going to make any money if you give everybody free clothes. Right?"
"I, um," he shook his head, the concept still alien to him, "I guess so...would you like them wrapped?"
"Yeah, thanks," she answered cheerfully, counting out a few gold pieces and handing them to the reluctant merchant, then she turned around as Lucca tapped her on the shoulder.
"Did I hear you say two dresses," she asked Marle suspiciously.
"That's right," she exclaimed, "there's a big state dinner being held to discuss the Porre matter tomorrow, and you're coming! There's a moonlight dance after it's over and everything!"
"Alright," she gave in reluctantly, "but what about Kid? I'm not about to trust Magus with her."
"Lucca, there's a secret I have to tell you" Marle whispered, "I'm really Queen Nadia! I can have the royal servants look after her. They keep complaining that I don't give them enough to do, anyway.
Lucca giggled to herself: she often really did forget that her outspoken, unpretentious friend was also the queen of Guardia. She nodded and then asked, "what about Magus?"
"I'll probably regret it," her friend answered, as she picked up both dresses and led Lucca back out into the sunlit square, Nadia's Bell chiming in the background as the crowd of people parted before them, "but we'll bring him along too. If there's anybody who needs to learn how to unwind, it's him. Where is he, anyway?"
"He stayed at the castle with Crono," Lucca answered, "he's still not really a people-person."
* * *
Magus swung his scythe forward with a shout and smashed the blade into Crono's sword, knocking the young man onto his back as he charged forward through the blossoms of the royal gardens, the curved blade raised for the kill. Crono took a deep breath and leaped back onto his feet, blocking Magus's swing with his katana, then spun quickly around, slamming the hilt against Magus's fingers and pulling back a little as Magus screamed and dropped the scythe, aiming the sword up at Magus's chest, ready to strike if the dark wizard tried to move or reach for his weapon.
Magus grinned, his fangs showing between his thin pale lips, and leaped sideways, rolling across the stone courtyard in the middle of the enclosed garden as Crono plunged his sword uselessly through the air, grabbing his scythe as he rolled forward and leaping back up behind Crono, swinging the pole under Crono's feet and knocking him back to the ground. Crono quickly rolled over and looked up in panic just as Magus triumphantly raised his scythe and swung the blade down into his chest.
The blade hung less than an inch away from Crono's ribs; Magus smirked and lifted the scythe back up.
"Isn't that," Crono gasped, "cutting it just a little close?!"
"A true general leads his troops by example," Magus snarled as he swung the scythe between his fingers like a baton, aiming the blade left and right with each spin, "the Mystics of my era would never have tolerated a king who was weaker than the strongest among them. Neither should your so-called subjects."
"Those Mystics lived for war," Crono replied, climbing to his feet, "while Guardia longs for peace. We want more than a race of warriors, we want to preserve culture and freedom for all people."
"The only lasting peace comes from conquest," Magus answered, whirling around and swinging his scythe at Crono, then giving an approving grunt as Crono blocked it with the blade of his katana, "the only enduring treaty is total subjugation. If you don't want to kill your enemies then you must enslave them."
"You mean like we did with you," Crono laughed as he ducked one of Magus's swings and swept his sword across Magus's calves. Magus leaped over the blade then slammed back onto the ground as Crono kicked him out of the air, katana raised in his hand as he smiled, "we made peace with you, Magus. Why not with Porre?"
"Maybe you've never really made peace with me," Magus growled, kicking his legs up and knocking Crono away from him, groping the ground for his scythe, "perhaps I'm just waiting for the right chance to strike."
"You'd never get that chance," Crono smirked, twirling the light katana in his hand and suddenly stabbing the ground between Magus's knees with the blade, "not when it comes to swordplay."
"Maybe not," Magus remarked softly, a hint of admiration in his voice, then closed his eyes and raised his right hand out toward Crono, "IGNIUS ATRA!"
A black translucent orb, seemingly made of woven shadows, engulfed Crono and flung him backward into the courtyard wall, the liquid sphere of darkness clinging to his body and twisting around him as he fell coughing.
"Hey," Crono cried out, still choking as he lifted himself onto his hands and knees, "we said no magic!"
"I doubt the Porre soldiers would appreciate your sense of fair play," Magus snorted, smirking a little as he walked up to the double-over young man, "you should always exploit every advantage in combat."
Crono looked up at Magus, still coughing, his lungs and veins filled with the pulsing black energy, his red spiky hair still flickering and crackling with dark flames, and nodded weakly.
"Alright, I get it," he groaned, then stretched out both arms into the air, "TEMPESTA LUMINAIRE!"
Magus shrank back in horror, a single whisper escaping his lips, "luminaire?"
A blast of scorching light filled the stone courtyard and Magus flew upward into the air, hovering over the ground as the throbbing glow held him aloft, wave after wave of blinding, burning light knocking him backwards and roasting his pale flesh, leaving it a painful crimson hue.
He suddenly dropped onto the ground as the blinding streams of radiance faded back into normal afternoon sunlight and looked up at Crono with a groan, his face burnt cherry-red by the blast.
"Luminaire," he choked, "isn't that a bit much?"
"Serves you right for cheating," Crono answered, still on his hands and knees, coughing, "besides, Marle'll come along in a little bit and heal us both. Doesn't she always?"
"I don't need her help," Magus sneered as he tried to stand up, then collapsed to his knees, panting, "but I'll accept it anyway, since refusing might expose you as a weakling."
"That's generous," Crono chuckled, long since used to Magus's over-the-top arrogance and biting sense of humor, "but you've got it easy. She doesn't complain to you about how dangerous these training sessions are."
"That's only because your inventor-friend takes care of it for her," Magus panted, "I won't hear the end of this for days. It's obvious they've conspired together about this."
"Sounds like you two are already married," Crono joked, then snickered at the sound of Magus growling at his banter, obviously taken aback by it, "I get dibs on being the best man, right?"
* * *
Marle lay asleep beside Crono in the royal chambers, the silk curtains blowing lightly around them in the night breeze and the moon casting soft shadows around the bedroom. She stirred lightly in her sleep and smiled as she felt his embrace tighten a little. They'd been married for a little more than a year now, and she'd never imagined such a peaceful blissful moment as this, falling asleep in her husband's arms, her head on his shoulder.
Something seemed wrong, though--the warm smell of summer grass seemed to fade away, replaced by an acrid burning scent. Crimson bolts streaked overhead and she suddenly awakened from the nightmare.
She looked around, a little relieved--and then saw flames licking the tapestry on the far side of the room.
"Crono," she screamed as he stirred and suddenly awoke, "get off the bed, now!"
She shoved him over the side of the bed and rolled onto the floor herself as flaming arrows flew through the open window and stabbed the mattress, the sheets catching fire as the whole room shimmered with heat. She lifted her right palm up and closed her eyes, trying to remember words she hadn't spoken in four years.
The air suddenly turned blue as countless grains of ice condensed and blasted outward, an arctic gale of frozen wind beating against the walls and quickly extinguishing the flames, leaving the scorched sheets covered with a thin coat of frost. She helped Crono up to his feet and listened to screams from the rest of the castle.
"Porre," Marle growled, "Crono, I'll search the castle. Can you make it to the knights' quarters?"
"Yeah," he answered, still a little dazed, then kissed her softly, "be careful, Marle."
She nodded and kissed him on the forehead, then pulled open the bedroom door and stepped out into the hallway, the fur carpets and tapestries engulfed by flames as hollow metal cans rattled across the stone floor. Marle looked down at one and then leaped away, recognizing the canisters--grenades.
"GLACIUS DUO!" Another blast of glacial wind swept out from her stretched hands and the grenades bounced through the air, the explosions pushed inward by the force of her magic so that the metal canisters imploded, leaving nothing but ashes and ice. She nodded to herself and began searching the upper castle, stretching her arms left and right as she doused the spreading flames with her spells, rescuing each of the upstairs servants and leaving behind gleaming ice-coated hallways and blackened soot-covered furniture as the group made their way down the hall.
She finally turned around and led them down the stairs, nearly tripping on the sheet of ice covering them as she led them into the throne room, where the rest of the servants had already gathered.
"We're under attack. I want all of you to take shelter in the knights' quarters. It's solid stone, no windows and only one entrance. You should be safe from the fire down there. We'll take care of things up here."
Footsteps echoed through the stone chamber and she turned around to see Crono dressed in his bathrobe and his golden wing-tipped crown, carrying a sword and leading a group of soldiers.
"Porre's been driven off," he said to her, "they only sent a single platoon and they retreated as soon as we tried to confront them. This wasn't a serious attack, it was a message--the treaty's off."
"Your highness," the chancellor bowed to them both as he ran in, averting his eyes from Marle's pajamas, "the dining room and throne room are a mess! What should we do about the state dinner tomorrow?"
"Cancel it," Marle said grimly, "the Porre question's just been answered."
Crono nodded in somber agreement.
"The negotiations are over. They want a war."
Chapter 3: The Pages of History
"The kids are in bed," Marle asked quietly as Lucca walked down the stairs into her living room, Crono and Marle sitting at the table, studying a strategic map they had brought from the castle to work on, while Melchior sat in a rocking chair with Kid and Magus brooded by the window, the living room bathed in the warm dim glow of the fireplace and two small lamps glowing on either side of the couch.
Lucca sat down on the opposite side of the dining-room table and glanced around at the rest of the room, the twin shaded lamps and warm fire lighting the room and casting flickering shadows across the two upstair balconies that hung beneath the vaulted living-room ceiling. She let her eyes rest on the large glass storage-capsule that lay against the corner, her father's invention, the soft orange light casting dancing rainbow reflections across the curved crystal surface, and then she looked back to Marle as the young queen glanced from the topographical map at her.
"Yeah," she nodded, "Kid can stay down here for awhile, but Sarah and Jacky are tucked in."
"How are they holding up," Marle asked.
"Sarah's doing okay," Lucca sighed, "Jacky's still having a hard time with it, since he's younger. He still doesn't understand why his parents aren't coming back...and I don't know how to begin explaining it."
"It's wonderful of you to take them in," Melchior offered, "after that last attack on Truce."
"Yeah," Lucca said, "I just hope the war ends soon...I can't bear to see any more kids lose their parents."
"Since when," Magus asked as he stared out the window at the night sky, "has the world had two moons?"
"Good question," Lucca replied as she sat down, relieved to talk about something scientific, then glanced up to look at Crono and Marle studying the map and Kid gripping Melchior's finger as he looked over his own weapon schematics. It wasn't the most exciting night, but after six months of battle, they needed a quiet evening.
"That smaller red moon was here when we got back," she continued, "the three of us first saw it during the moonlight parade, but everybody else thinks it's always been here, even Melchior."
"They're fools," Magus answered, still looking up at the blood-red orb in the sky, "it was never in the skies of my world, not before or after the death of Lavos."
"That's interesting," Lucca pondered, "that means it only appeared sometime between 12,000 BC and now, but far back enough that people now think that there's always been two moons."
"Is there ANYTHING that wasn't changed by killing that monster," Magus cried out, exasperated.
"Even better question," she sighed, understanding his frustration--she'd spent years trying to figure out how so much of the past could've changed when the only real change they made was in the future, in 1999 AD.
"Porre also changed," Crono said, glancing up from the map at them, "for the worse."
"What do you mean," Melchior looked up in surprise, "they've always been this bad, haven't they?"
"No," Marle shook her head, "before we discovered the gates, they were a small trading village with a ferry running between their town and Truce. They weren't anything like this military nightmare now."
"I have a theory about that," Lucca said, "or at least, a hunch."
"Yeah," Crono asked, looking up at her.
"I studied everything about Porre's history, and their history seems to match the one we know right up until 900 AD, when they discovered the El Nido islands. It was part of a trade-route that used to be empty."
"What happened then," Magus asked, turning away from the window and looking at the fire.
"First there was a war between the dragonians and Porre colonists," she answered, "and the dragonians all died out. Porre became more militaristic, raising an army to defend their borders. They seized control of the El Nido islands and began developing weapons based on the element-crystals the natives use. Within fifty years a military coup overthrew the mayor of Porre, while their weapon technology increased at an exponential rate--within less than a century they've gone from swords to automatic rifles."
"Do you think," Marle asked, "the war with the dragonians changed them?"
"Not really," she shook her head, "even the war was completely unlike the Porre we know, or even the Porre that first landed on the islands just a few years before. It's more like something on the island changed the colonists and they began to affect the rest of Porre, developing them into an army over the course of a century."
"Who could do that," Melchior asked, "perhaps more importantly, why?"
"Who else could it be," Magus hissed, "it's him! Lavos!"
"We know he doesn't like reptites," Marle said, "maybe he used Porre to get rid of the dragonians."
"Maybe," Lucca said doubtfully, "but that doesn't really make sense. Why would Lavos have to wait for Porre to do that? There were natives on the island who said they've lived there for generations--why not use them if he wanted to create another Zeal? I just have a feeling there's something else behind this..."
"Another consciousness manipulating history, maybe even using Lavos's power to do it," Melchior said, his voice trailing off, "anyway, I've designed some element-crystal bullets for our own guns. That should give us some advantage in the next firefight with Porre. I just wish we didn't have to make such things at all."
"We should station them here," Crono said, planting two pushpins into the map, "along each side of Zenan Bridge. That's Porre's only land route, and the blockade will hopefully keep them off the coast"
"That may work for now," Magus nodded approvingly as he leaned over the table and studied the troops' positions, "but in time you might have to simply destroy the Zenan Bridge as they're crossing, as I did when Guardia threatened to invade and destroy the mystics' southern bases."
"That might be a good idea," Crono agreed, "but not unless we have to."
"I wish it were under better circumstances," Melchior looked up at Magus with a warm smile, "but I'm glad to work with you again, my liege. I never imagined that the three of us would ever end up here, helping to defend the distant future together."
Magus suddenly bristled and slowly lifted his head from the map, looking at Melchior out of the corner of his eyes, his face only halfway turned toward the old man as the soft crackle of the fire filled the silent room.
"The three of us," he asked in a clenched whisper.
"You, me, and your sister. A day never passed that I didn't worry about you, or search the pages of history for some word of you, some old record that tell me where the vortex had taken you..."
"Stupid old man," Magus hissed in a trembling, furious voice that slowly began to rise into a shout, "clinging to life like a coward when you should have met the reaper years ago! I'm not your liege anymore, and you're not a guru! You are just a senile, sentimental old fool who doesn't know when he's not wanted or needed anymore...who can't admit that he's obsolete!"
Everybody stopped and simply stared at Magus, and Crono rose to his feet and curled his fingers around the handle of his sword without a word, preparing for the worst. Magus glared silently at each of them and finally turned around, his cloak whipping through the room as he hovered into the air and flew out through the front door into the night.
* * *
"Hey! Wait just a minute," Lucca demanded as she climbed up the small hill overlooking her house, glaring at Magus as he stood beside the solitary oak-tree atop the hill. The gently sloping hill rose above the rest of the island, the large two-story house and the beaches of the island spreading out below the crest behind her, the forests and twinkling lights of the village stretching silently beyond the bridge on the other side of the tree, "why did you blow up at Melchior like that?"
"Because he's a weak little insect," Magus growled as he turned away from her to look at the silent village and twin moons hanging over the dark silhuette of the castle, the bright white moon and a smaller red orb hovering along the horizon, "clinging to what might have been instead of accepting his fate."
"That's not an answer," she said sternly, refusing to accept his usual bleak aphorisms, "he's my friend and I really want to know why you hurt him like that. He cares about you--he risked his life trying to save you! The only reason he ended up in this era is because he tried to save you from being pulled into the vortex!"
"He failed. The fires of Hell burn with good intentions. It's only what happens that matters."
"So is that it," she answered, annoyed by his selfishness, "you're just mad because he didn't succeed?"
Magus glared silently out into the forests, gripping a knot on the side of the thick twisted oak tree with his right hand as he stared into the night, apparently waiting for her to leave. He sighed deeply after a few minutes, realizing that she wouldn't go away without an answer, and he finally spoke, without turning, as he leaned against the tree-trunk.
"That's not it," he said, "my fate was decided the moment I entered the ocean palace. He wasted all his efforts trying to change it. He shouldn't have been trying to save me, he should have..."
His voice fell silent and Lucca quietly finished the sentence, nodding to herself as she understood.
"He should have tried to save Schala. That's why you're always so mad at him."
"They all should have," he whispered, the wooden knot smoking and curling around his fingertips as his gripping fingers began to glow with unchecked magical energy, and his voice began to rise once more, "they just stood there! The Gurus, the Enlightened Ones, they just stood there while she screamed in pain and they did nothing!"
"They couldn't do anything," she answered softly, "everybody wanted to, but they couldn't."
"That's a lie," he suddenly shouted, still facing out toward the castle, away from the island and Lucca, "they didn't even try to save her, they just stood around and talked! That's all they ever did, they just talked! That old man even wasted his effort on that stupid filthy child instead of her," his voice began to crack, "they should have done something!"
Lucca didn't have a clue what to say as she listened to him, his face hidden as his voice breaking away into small choked gasps, shaking her head in disbelief as she dared to wonder if the cold-blooded Magus was actually...
"I should," he choked, leaving no doubt anymore, "I should have done something..."
She wondered if he'd even noticed that last sentence or realized what he'd really just said. She stared at the black figure trembling against the smoldering tree and shook her head again, trying to convince herself that this was really the same man who had waged a bloody war against an innocent kingdom, who'd secretly manipulated a magical empire and fought countless life-or-death battles without a trace of either fear or remorse.
Then she remembered Janus, the frightened little boy, terrorized by his mother, shunned by the Enlightened Ones, whose only kindness came from his sister. She'd never even thought about it before, but during the time-crash Janus had gone to the Ocean Palace for the exact same reason she and her friends had, to rescue Schala--and he too had failed. Suddenly she knew which person, between the boy and the man, was talking to her now.
"Janus, it's alright," she said gently, "Schala's safe, and you're protecting her. She's..."
"The past is dead," he answered in a cold empty voice she recognized all too well.
"Melchior is no more foolish than the rest of you for clinging to hope," he continued, his voice steadying as he talked, "in the end there is only the void, and all we can do is prepare for the abyss!"
He suddenly hovered into the air and swept across the hilltops, his cloak drawn tightly around him as he flew toward the forests of Guardia. She knew from experience that he'd spend a few days alone out there, living on wild plants and animals, while he built up his defenses again, drowning out his self-doubt and reassuring himself with his self-important nihilism.
It must be comforting for him, she thought, being out there in the woods alone, in the forests and groves where he'd spent over half his life growing up. Over four centuries, or even thirteen hundred centuries, the forests never changed. She shook her head, torn between pitying the guilt-ridden Janus and resenting the arrogant Magus, and turned toward the distant orphanage, wondering how the rest of the gang had held up.
* * *
"Hi everybody," Lucca said as she pulled off her brown cloak and hung it by the door. She looked around at her three friends, Crono still puzzling over the tactical maps, Marle leaning over his shoulder reading, as Melchior sat in her mom's old rocking chair, feeding little Kid and softly cooing at her as she finished the bottle.
"Did you find him," Marle asked, looking up from the papers.
"Yeah, but he's gone off to, well," she thought for a minute, "to sort things out, I guess."
"Janus has led a difficult life," Melchior said as he bounced Kid up and down in his lap, then stopping as he spoke more seriously, "all of our lives have been changed by Lavos, but none more deeply than his. Well, except for one, perhaps" as he started bouncing Kid on his knee again, the baby giggling as he stuck his tongue out at her, "isn't that right, little Schala," he said in high-pitched baby-talk, "yes, you're still Schala, aren't you?"
"Melchior," Lucca said gently, sitting beside him and smiling at them both as he played with Kid, "I think Magus might have regretted some of the things he said to you."
Melchior turned from Kid and gave Lucca a mock-suspicious look, one eye squinted and the other wide.
"Now I KNOW he didn't actually tell you that!"
"No, not in so many words," she said with a shrug, "but he did say you're no worse than the rest of us."
Melchior suddenly laughed out, nearly falling back in the rocking chair, then pulled himself back up and handed the gurgling baby to Lucca as he laughed harder, trying to catch his breath.
"No worse than the rest...at least I'm in good company, with three saviors of the future! Aren't we just a bunch of scoundrels, Schala?," he baby-talked, chuckling as Lucca smiled and rocked Kid in her arms.
Chapter 4: Janus and the Frog
"Sire," the knight-captain said as Crono stepped into the forest-clearing and looked at the crumbling stone walls and moss-covered wooden beams of the ancient cathedral, a troop of knights standing at attention around the edge of the forest, guarding the excavation against any Porre attack, "this is where we've found it."
"Right," Crono answered slowly, questioningly, then turned as the chancellor broke away from a group of knights gathered around the shadowy doorway and jogged through the overgrown clearing.
"King Crono," the chancellor panted as he reached the young king, "you know of the restoration project on the cathedral. While the carpenters were replacing the floorboards, they found a secret stairwell hidden beneath the altar. There's a carving on the doorway at the bottom of the stairs, and when the knights told me about it I thought you should be the first to see what's beyond it."
"It's in here," Crono asked as he stepped through over the threshold into the moldy church. Beams of faint sunlight pierced the otherwise shadow-drenched old church. A few rotted wooden pews lay on the floor and Crono looked up from them to the front of the sanctuary. The stone altar had been moved to one wall and the floorboards carefully piled in a corner to leave a large rectangular gap in the floor. A few of the knights stood at attention around the opening and he waved his hand for them to relax as he walked carefully down the aisle.
"Yes, your highness," one of the knights flanking the opening said, "we haven't opened the inner chamber. The chancellor thought it better if you were the first to see it."
"He told me that too," he answered as he looked down the hole at a flight of small stone steps leading into a dank underground chamber beneath the church sanctuary, "can I borrow your electric torch?"
"Of course," the knight answered, fumbling through his pockets and pulling out a small box with an electric bulb and switch on one end, "if I may ask sire, what does it mean? How could anyone have known..."
"Wait here," Crono interrupted and, flipping on the torch, he began climbing down the moss-covered stairs, small beams of sunlight giving way to darkness he made his way into the secret vault beneath the weed-choked old cathedral. The staircase twisted slowly as he climbed downward, and he rounded a corner to find the brass door that the chancellor's messengers had first told him about this morning at the castle.
The door had been ornately carved by a master of metallurgy--probably a royal blacksmith--and decorated with images of the Knights of the Square Table in battle, led by a knight wielding a powerful sword. Splotches and mildew covered most of the ancient doorway, and he wiped away a patch of grime with one hand. As he cleaned off the thick layer of dust and mold, he began to make out panels carved along the side of the door, reflecting the whole history of Guardia. The panels formed a boundary around the edge of the door, telling the story of the founding of Guardia more than a thousand years ago, all the way to the war with the mystics.
He shined the electric torch at the wiped-clean door and then he saw what had startled the knights and the chancellor so much. He looked down at the stone bricks beneath his feet and shook his head, trying to figure it out himself, then looked back up, at the legend emblazoned in runic letters across the solid brass surface.
"What rests in here must not be disturbed until the Millennial Fair, when it shall be presented to Crono."
* * *
Magus finished a glass of wine, left over from their wedding anniversary party for Crono and Marle last week, and walked around the softly-lit kitchen. The tables and walls gleamed with a dark pine-wood varnish and he lifted the plates from the table, the house silent; Crono and Marle had offered to give Sarah and Jacky a tour of the castle, and Magus and Lucca a night to themselves, and Kid had long been tucked into her living-room crib.
He glanced out into the starless night beyond the window, the empty wine-glass in one hand as he listened to the crickets and the distant roar of the surf crashing against the shore, then walked back to the sink for the evening ritual that he'd come to accept after several months in Lucca's house--she washed and he rinsed the dishes.
"I can't believe they didn't have a festival," Magus shook his head, "they're the rulers of this realm."
"We're at war," Lucca shrugged, "and they didn't want to seem extravagant, not after the townspeople have made so many sacrifices. At least they did get a surprise anniversary party here, though."
"That was devious of you," Magus nodded admiringly.
"Hey, it was for a good cause," she elbowed him, then grew serious as she wiped down a plate and handed it to him to rinse off, "alright, there's one thing I have to know and this is very important--and you can't lie or try to bluster your way out of answering this, alright?"
"Fine," he sighed, frowning at the tone in her voice, "what is it?"
"What exactly was Flea," she suddenly giggled, "that has been bugging me for five years now!"
"What," he suddenly whirled to her in surprise, still holding the dripping porcelain plate in one hand.
"It's a serious question," she shrugged, "was that a guy or a girl? He had bigger...you know, than I do!"
"Flea's a magician," Magus answered, covering his mouth with his fist to cover a silent snicker, "he had a very different sense of aesthetics than most humans."
"You said he," she said triumphantly, "so you mean he wanted to be a woman?"
"Flea thought each gender had its strengths," he replied, "and that he should display the best of both."
"How did you get mixed up with those guys," she shook her head, "Ozzie, Flea, Slash..."
"I grew up with them after Ozzie found me in the forest," he answered with a shrug, "at least, I grew up with Ozzie and Flea. Slash was a few years younger than me, I only met him as a teenager."
"None of it seemed strange," she asked, "I mean, you're human. They must have noticed that."
"The Enlightened Ones are perhaps as far removed from humans as the mystics," he said, "when Ozzie first discovered me in the forest, he ordered three imps to attack me. What happened to those imps was proof enough for him that I was not human. After that, I was raised among them, groomed to lead them in a future war."
"So what was it like," Lucca asked curiously as she handed him an empty glass, "growing up like that?"
"I was worshipped as a messiah," he said blankly, "trained to see the humans of the middle ages as tyrants who would drive the mystics to extinction if we didn't destroy them first. Ozzie believed that their gods had sent me to lead them in battle, to create the new world that he'd spent his whole life dreaming about."
"Did you believe it too?"
"For a long time I did," he answered as he wiped one of the glasses with a white towel and set it onto the cloth-covered kitchen shelf beside the sink to dry, "and for a long time I thought the kingdom of Zeal was but a dream. But in the end the dreams of the mystics weren't mine."
"Wasn't there anything good about it? It couldn't have all been war and battle."
"Mostly it was precisely that," he said, but then chuckled silently, covering his mouth with his hand, "but if you must know, I did have a crush on Flea as a child."
"WHAT," she laughed out loud, "you didn't!"
"I did at the time," he nodded, "of course, I didn't know his...full nature back then."
"Get out," she slapped his arm, laughing hysterically as she gripped the side of the sink, and the wizard's eyes narrowed at her touch, his voice lowering in suspicion as he spoke.
"You're tipsy," he said in a low voice, "your aura's clouded with alcohol."
"I am not," Lucca said haughtily, hands on her hips, "I've only had three glasses of wine!"
"And how many glasses have you had in your life before this?"
"Alright, none," she admitted, then gave him a cock-eyed look, "but you are too!"
"Of course," he answered calmly, wiping one of the plates with a towel, "I'd never have mentioned any of this if I were completely sober, and I already intend to deny all of it in a few hours. So savor this moment."
"Hey," she giggled as she dumped the last few plates into the basin of clear water, "so long as we're both saying things we'll deny later, did you know you have a cute smile? It's a shame you almost never use it."
"Careful Lucca," he warned her, "I can see your aura, and you've not nearly drunk enough to deny that."
"Are you sure," she asked doubtfully, "fine then, I'll say it anyway--you have a cute smile." "She used to say that too," he answered softly as he sat down at the square maple-carved dinner table, his left ankle resting on his right knee as he stared at his clasped hands, into the open space between his folded fingers, "when we were children."
"She probably still thinks so," Lucca said as she sat down on the opposite side, "haven't you noticed how her face lights up when she sees you? And you wouldn't believe the crying fits she gets into when you're gone."
"Do you think she remembers anything?"
"It depends," she asked, "do you remember anything, when you first met us at Enhasa as a child?"
"Sometimes I remember seeing you there," he said slowly after a few minutes, "while I was running around playing with Alfador at Enhasa. I'd never seen any of you before in my life. But mostly I remember a man in purple robes who scared me and hurt my sister. I hated him."
He paused, his elbows propped on the dinner table, and stared between his clasped fingers as he continued.
"Other times I remember seeing you in the throne room of Zeal. You were familiar to me, since I'd met you before at my castle. That's when I can remember being the prophet. I remember the child too; I hated him for being so weak, for not protecting her when she needed him. It seems the feeling was mutual."
"If I try hard enough I can remember both of them at once," he continued, "but it gives me a headache to see both sides of history at once. I don't usually think about it at all."
"If that's the case, then she might remember something from the original timeline too," Lucca said, suddenly feeling a twinge of compassion for him, but knowing him well enough to not mention it.
"She'll have to learn to talk," she continued, "and we'll probably have to help her make sense of her memories, but once she's a little older she may help us figure out what brought her to this time. But she has to stay here for that," she pointed her finger across the table at his chest, "so no sneaking off with her, got it?"
"Lucca," his voice lowered into a low snarl, then he sighed, "I really do want to help her."
"I know you do," she answered softly, "but you need to let other people help her too. And the same goes for you. There are a lot people who want to help you, if you'd just let them."
"I don't need their help," he growled defensively.
"But maybe they need to help," she offered, "because they care. There's something you should know, that Crono told us about while you were away. You know the old cathedral in the western neck of Guardia Forest, the one we've been trying to restore? A team of carpenters found a hidden chamber beneath the sanctuary."
"There are countless hidden chambers in that cathedral," Magus answered, bored, "Yakron dug most of them during the middle ages. You explored them yourself from what I've heard."
"Yeah, but this was a different chamber, beneath the altar. It was built on the orders of Sir Glenn."
Magus glanced up at the mention of his old adversary with silent curiosity.
"There were letters in the vault for all of us: the four of us, and Robo and Ayla. They were written by Frog decades after he returned to the middle ages, meant to be given to us during the millennial fair five years ago, just before everyone stepped through the gate to go back to their own time."
"Why didn't we see those letters then," Magus asked.
"We're still not sure," she shrugged, "the paperwork got lost somehow over the centuries and eventually they just forgot about the chamber. It's blind luck that we found it now."
"Then burn the letters," Magus said quickly, rising from the chair and stepping to look out the kitchen window into the darkness, "they mean nothing anymore."
"Not so fast," she said sternly, "he wrote one for you too. I haven't read it, nobody has, but Crono wanted me to give it to you whenever I thought you might be ready for it. In my letter, Frog mentioned that he might have found a way to help you. I don't know what he meant by that."
"How could that frog help," he asked over his shoulder, "especially now?"
"I don't know. But just try reading his letter. Even if you don't need his help, I think it would've meant a lot to him to known that you'd accepted it."
"He's been gone for centuries," Magus said grimly, "nothing matters to him anymore."
"Well then, it would mean a lot to me if you'd read it."
Magus simply snorted in response and stared out the window.
"Where is this letter," he asked after a long silence.
* * *
Magus lay in his upstairs bedroom, his cape draped over the foot of the bed and bronze armor lying in a corner, but otherwise still fully clothed--he only took off his leather tunic and trousers when he showered. He rarely even slept lying down; a lifetime among the sleepless mystics had taught him to sleep standing up, and he had long since taught himself to sleep only a few hours each night, to never let his guard down.
He lifted the sealed yellowed envelope between his eyes and the glowing electric bulb overhead, staring at the shadow of folded paper within it, a letter that hadn't seen the light of day in nearly four centuries. He could burn the letter just by thinking about it; he could send a surge of flame through his fingertips and burn the paper to ashes without even breathing a word. He wanted to burn the letter, to leave the past in its grave.
He didn't want to believe in the past--he couldn't afford to believe in it. Nothing could change history and so none of it really mattered. You could avenge the past, you could change the future, but you could never save the past, never return to it. Everything died. The man who wrote the letter died centuries ago. Whatever message he wanted to convey had died with him--they were voiceless, meaningless words.
He closed his eyes and focused on the letter. A rush of heat swept up his arm and through his fingertips, burning the paper into ashes. He opened his ruby eyes and glanced down at the folded letter lying on his tunic, the envelope burnt away by his magic to leave the letter itself exposed and intact.
The letter didn't matter anymore, but Lucca thought it did. Had it been his choice, he would have burnt the letter and sent the ashes flying through the wind into oblivion. But it wasn't really his choice--no matter how much he wanted to be rid of it, he had to read the letter. Lucca's words had somehow made certain of that.
He sighed, cursing her name, and sat upright in bed to unfold and read the crumbling letter.
"It hath been two score and three years since we last traveled the breadth of time together, though my younger self may still be with you--I am writing this letter many years after our adventures together. 'Tis nary a day that passes when I think not of thee and thy quest, thine oath to Lavos and Schala. I had sworn to slay thee and restore honor to the kingdom of Guardia, to avenge the death of Sir Cyrus, the noblest of our knights. It would be a lie to say that I have not sometimes regretted not fulfilling that oath and repaying Cyrus's death.
"(If thou art reading this letter and I have not returned yet to mine own time, then rest assured that I shall not carry out the oath, though the fact that thou art reading this would seem to prove that already. Aye, travel through the past and future can be a convoluted affair!)"
"But through these years I have also gained an insight I lacked before. Through the death of my sire, Cyrus, perhaps I have been made to understand what hath driven thee throughout the eons. When I awoke that morning to find my only friend gone and mine own life forever lost to me, I despaired, and cared nothing for the world, for good or evil, nor anything at all. I wanted only vengeance. In time, though, I returned to Guardia and gained a new role as the protector of the queen. I was pulled back from that brink by concern for those I cared most about, for those who were still here, who needed my protection.
"Thou didst not have the advantage I did. When Lavos took thy sister and cast thee out of thine own time, thou had not thine friends or family, nor even thine world to give you comfort. Lost in a world not thine own, thou fought despair and sought to avenge not only the loss of thy sister, but the loss of thine own world and childhood. And though thine deeds can never be excused, I find in these advancing years that I can understand them, and even admire the bravery and determination that led thee through them.
"I would not say that I have forgiven thee the death of Cyrus nor the war with the mystics, for mine heart hath not achieved such wisdom yet. But perhaps, had the threads of our lives been woven differently, I might have been the one raising an army of monsters, and thou might have been the one seeking to stop me, for we both have known the pain of loss and the taste of vengeance.
"Though it may never reach thee, I have created an archive, a compendium of all the knowledge about the age of Zeal that hath survived to my day. It will be left here, with the Masamune and the rest of these letters, to be opened upon the moonlight parade and, when thou find it, shall represent a lifetime of work. Some of the tales art but legends, while others art more substantial--with my guidance, our knights have found the Sun Palace and even the ruins of the city once called Kajar buried deep wirthin the valleys of Mount Denadaro.
"I know not whether these papers will help thee find what thou seeks, but I hope also for the reunion that thou searcheth for, and that the efforts of Guardia in helping thee to find her will not be in vain. Whatever may come of these efforts, I hope they will at least remind thee that thou searcheth not alone, that friends throughout the whole of human history have allied themselves with thine quest...and that thou shalt one day see her again.
Sir Glenn, of the Knights of the Square Table,
Magus shook his head with confusion and let the letter flutter to the floor as he rose from his bed and scowled out the window at the distant war-weary village of Truce. The frog had been his mortal enemy, an unsettled score from a dusty old era four centuries in the past. The curse had never been lifted--the squire known as Glenn had died as much an amphibian as he had lived. Yet the frog had spent the greater part of his life trying to help him.
He closed his eyes, holding the sides of the window in both hands, and tried to imagine what it must have been like for the frog to lead expeditions into the mountains of that mist-shrouded, forest-drenched world, to find the long-lost city of Kajar hidden within the crags of Denadaro. He imagined the amphibian standing atop a ledge, looking down into the valley with pride as the knights swept away the rubble to reveal the crests and golden chambers of Zeal, decades of research and exploration finally rewarded by the discovery. Yet the frog had nothing to gain from it.
Magus suddenly realized that some part of his mind had been working on something else, sorting through magical formulas and piecing together different spells and charms. It didn't seem to matter--just a distraction, a game to play while he pondered the letter and its meaning. The research had been in vain; he had no need for whatever the frog had found. He'd found Schala and would die without ever laying eyes on that ruined world again. None of the legends about the dead kingdom of Zeal mattered anymore. The frog had wasted his life.
He turned away from the window and grabbed a pen from a writing desk pressed against a wall, yanking out a few sheets of paper and sketching a few symbols, testing out different magic circles and different spells. Of course it didn't really matter--the past had died and the frog along with it. Still, it posed an interesting problem and Magus suddenly felt challenged by it, determined to figure out the puzzle the letter had inspired.
"I created this riddle," he thought to himself, "and I can solve it."
The solution suddenly seemed to leap out of the jumbled equations he'd scribbled across the page, and he smiled in triumph. Magic was simply the focused energy of Lavos and that energy could pierce time itself and create gates. No magic would ever truly create gates, of course, but it might be able to ripple through time, casting shadows into the past as well as the future. He began drawing a magic circle into the wooden bedroom floor.
* * *
Lucca awoke to the sound of chanting and looked around the darkened bedroom, suddenly seeing flashes of color beneath the crack of her bedroom door. She climbed out of bed, rubbing her eyes, her sleeping cap dangling from her head, and checked Kid's crib across the room, the baby girl still asleep beneath her blankets. Lucca turned away and stumbled sleepily toward the bedroom door, nearly tripping over the wires and cables leading to the devices she'd set up across her writing desk, then opened the door and looked around the hallway.
The hallway flickered and shimmered with light and the bedroom door across the hall seemed to glow with energy, the chanting and faint crackling noise growing louder.
"Magus's room," she thought irritably, her head throbbing, "of course."
She walked across the hall, dressed in pink slippers and silk shorts and tank-top, and knocked on the closed door with her fist. No answer. She sighed and knocked again, then finally pushed open the unlocked door.
"I don't know what you're doing in here, but Kid's asleep, I've got a headache and..."
She suddenly stopped as she saw a magic circle surrounded by arcane symbols glowing bright purple against the bedroom floor, and Magus hovering a few inches over the center of the symbol, cape fluttering in the wind, his eyes closed as the crimson storm-clouds outside the window flickered with rainbow-colored lightning.
Lucca had seen this once before: when Magus had summoned Lavos in 600 AD.
"Aguna anzai zieber zom," the wizard chanted, oblivious to the intruder in his room.
"Magus," Lucca shouted through a crash of thunder, "are you insane!?"
"As all things must come to dust..."
Lucca looked frantically around the room for a weapon; whatever the letter had said, it had obviously driven Magus into a frenzy. She had to stop him from finishing the spell, or else the whole house could end up in the middle ages or prehistoric past--or worse, Lavos could be summoned right into the middle of Truce village.
"So what has passed shall be no more...!"
The clouds outside exploded into a flash of scarlet light and Lucca covered her face with her forearm until the glow faded away. She looked up to see Magus panting, crouched within the now-dark circle drawn against the floor, and she ran to the window, looking frantically out at the darkness and sighing as she recognized Truce.
"You tried to summon Lavos," she said in disbelief, "what in the world were you thinking?!"
"I wasn't trying to summon Lavos," he panted, wiping a thin sheen of sweat from his forehead as he staggered to his feet, then smiled weakly, "but I can see why you thought that."
"Then what was that all about?"
"Do you remember that book on medieval history you bought?"
"Yeah," she answered, confused, "I bought it to keep up with Frog's life."
"Go check chapter 23," he said, "you may be interested in what you find."
"Alright," she answered, too puzzled to stay angry at him, and she finally relented and stepped out the door as he collapsed onto his bed, his eyes closing as he seemed to fall instantly to sleep. She shook her head with confusion and went back to her room, checking Kid's crib once more to make sure she hadn't woken up. She grabbed the History of Guardia from her bookshelf and stepped out into the hallway. She flipped on the hallway light and began searching through the pages, having read the book from cover to cover many times already.
"Chapter 23: The Knighting of Sir Glenn"
Lucca blinked and looked at the page for several minutes, at the illustration of the event beside the chapter. Frog had vanished from the page. She rubbed her eyes and looked again, then read the adjoining page.
"Legends say that a miracle occurred on the day before the knighting of Sir Glenn, who had been cursed with the shape of a frog during his battle with the Magus. While shopping in the markets of Truce, Glenn was struck by a bolt of lightning, despite the clear sky. The warrior was quickly felled--but then, before a crowd of villagers, his body changed in a flash of light, so that when he awoke he had the form of a handsome young man, the man that he had always been beneath the cursed shape of a frog. The next day he was knighted as a human being."
Lucca looked back at the engraving that decorated the opposite page and she realized why she hadn't seen Frog on the page; a young man with short spiky hair now knelt before the king, where Frog had been when she last read the book, just a few weeks ago. She stared at the young man and suddenly noticed a green cloak drawn over his shoulders and the Masamune slung across his waist. The young man was Frog.
And, until tonight, the picture had always shown an amphibian being knighted by the king.
"I don't care what you said," she whispered to herself with a small tender smile as she closed the history book and flipped the light off again, "there's no way I'm letting you deny this tomorrow, Janus."
Chapter 5: The Final Battle
"This is it," Crono said as he rose from the throne, looking to the knights and the crowd of people behind them, "in less than an hour we will fight a battle that will decide the future of this continent. This future belongs to everyone, and it's our sacred duty to protect it from those who would try to steal it for themselves. I have no doubt that your courage during this battle will demonstrate the legendary spirit of Guardia, a spirit that has protected the people of this land for a thousand years!"
He nodded to the knight captain and took Marle's hand as she rose from her throne, then turned to the chancellor, gesturing for the old man to walk with them as they climbed the stairs to the royal chambers, white royal robes brushing the stone steps while the knight captain led his men downstairs to prepare for battle.
"Your highness," the chancellor said reluctantly as they climbed the stairs, "our scouts have spotted three legions approaching Zenan Bridge. The bombs have been placed, but there's five more behind them and a fleet of Porre ships is on its way. Some of the troops are riding lizard-like mounted beasts."
"El Nido dragon-riders," Crono answered grimly, "they've brought the Acacia Dragoons into this."
"The ones who fought at Dorino," Marle frowned, "they're tough...and they know how to use elements."
"On the bright side," Crono said, "they don't use guns and they're honorable."
"That honor could blow away like smoke," Magus answered as Crono and Marle stepped into the royal chambers, "if they find the advantage slipping away from them."
Marle nodded silently to the chancellor and he slipped quietly out of the room to consult with the knight captain as she turned back to the royal chambers. Lucca sat on the side of the bed fiddling with the inner circuits of her plasma gun while Magus stared out the open bedroom window at the sunlit courtyard and the gathering troops below.
"Thanks for coming," Crono said with an awkward shrug, "both of you. Are Kid and the others safe?"
"Yeah," Lucca nodded, "Melchior's keeping them at his house. That should be far enough."
"Right," he nodded, then turned to the brooding figure by the window, "Magus, I'll understand if you don't want to fight. This isn't your battle and your help with devising our strategies has already done a lot of good."
"This IS my battle," he said in a low voice, turning back to face them, "Porre is a nation of weaklings hiding behind their guns and ships. I side with the strong...and Guardia has earned its strength."
"Alright," Crono answered softly, amazed at the compliment Magus had given them, "we've discussed our strategy and we all know what to do. Lucca, the riflemen are armed?"
"Yeah," she stood up, "I've attached digital sights, magnetic barrels, element-tipped bullets...they should outclass Porre's weapons in every way. But Porre will still have a lot more guns than we do."
"We've faced worse odds," Marle shrugged, "if it comes down to it, we've still got one advantage."
"Right," Crono nodded, "but we've talked about that too. We know the people of Porre have been changed by something, that they're being manipulated. So no magic--it's too unpredictable and we're trying to avoid loss of life, theirs as well as ours. We use magic only as a last resort."
"Yes, we have talked about this before," Magus snarled, "why do you people always strive to be weaker?"
"It's not totally out, we just save it until we need it. Besides, if we use it too early in the battle, Porre'll know about our advantage and adjust their tactics. We don't want them to know our hand too quickly. Magus, you're the most powerful sorcerer among us, which is why I need your support on this."
"So be it," Magus sighed, still frowning, but willing to accept Crono's decision.
"We have a half-hour," Crono said as he took off his golden crown, "everyone get dressed for combat and meet me downstairs in twenty minutes," he gave a wistful smile, "it'll be like old times again."
* * *
Crono arrived at the old cathedral and nodded to his escorts to stand guard as he descended into the secret chamber below the sanctuary, jogging down the stone stairwell and pushing open the brass door that had remained shut for the past three months. A few thin cobwebs had spread through the chamber since the workers had cleared it out before, and Crono batted them away with his electric torch as he walked toward the center of the room, where a gleaming broadsword lay sheathed within a bright scarlet scabbard atop a stone slab. He had specifically ordered the workers to leave the sword, as a memorial to the hero and friend who'd once called the blade his own.
But things had changed since then, and fate had brought him down here to ask for help.
Crono lifted the scabbard with one hand and tentatively grabbed the handle, drawing the sword out of its sheath and lifting it into the air to test its weight. The hilt suddenly seemed to grow hot, scorching his palms, and he called out into the chamber, forcing his burnt palms against the handle as he tried to awaken the sword.
The hilt quickly cooled down again as a beam of cold light swept out from the blade and coalesced into two robed figures, as short as toddlers but with white robes, olive-green almond-shaped heads and gleaming black eyes.
"Hey," one of them said in a high-pitched chirping voice, "it's the kid with the funky hair!"
"Yeah, it is," the one on the left answered, "you haven't seen Glenn around, have you?"
"Hi Masa," Crono said, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly, "hi Mune. Um, about Glenn...it's been a lot longer than you probably think. Four hundred years, actually. Glenn's been gone for awhile now."
"Huh," the younger boy answered with mild surprise and Crono rubbed his eyes, the chamber seeming to shimmer as though it were underwater. He looked again and the two alien figures had now become two young boys dressed in modern slacks and t-shirts, the one on the left a little older. Crono nodded, realizing they'd adjusted to his human perceptions, making their forms as familiar to his thoughts as they were to each other.
"See what happens when you take a little nap," Masa, the older boy, sighed worriedly, "Melchior told us we have to stay awake, or the sword could get into trouble..."
"No, it's okay," Crono smiled at their bickering, "I checked the history books, Glenn passed away peacefully after a long life. The only reason you've been asleep is because nobody's tried to wield you since."
"Told you so," Mune, the younger child, said, sticking his tongue out at Masa.
"Guys," Crono interrupted as Masa started to reply, "it's important. We need your help again."
"What's wrong," Masa asked, then sighed, "it's not that Magus jerk again, is it?"
"No, it's not," Crono snickered, "actually, that's an interesting story. But right now we need your help in a war with another country. One that wants to overthrow the kingdom of Guardia."
"But I like Guardia," Mune protested, "they can't do that!"
"If Glenn's gone," Masa said, "we'll need a new owner, someone to wield us."
"I'll do it," Crono answered, "I want to be the new owner. I'm ready for the test and I'll fight alone this time."
"Should we," Mune looked up to his older brother.
"Nah," Masa shrugged, "you took it once already, that's enough. Besides, there's a lot of bad vibes coming from the southern horizon. We're gonna need all our strength for that."
"So that's it," Crono asked, blinking with confusion, "I'm the new owner?"
"Not really," Masa answered, "lift the sword up higher. We'll do the rest."
"Alright," Crono answered as he lifted the heavy broadsword to his chest.
The two boys vanished in a quick flash and the polished blade of the Masamune began to glow with a hot white light. Crono turned his eyes away from the blinding pulses of light and watched his shadow writhing against the stone walls as the now-liquid blade twisted and folded against itself. The blinding radiance slowly began to fade into darkness again and Crono took a hesitant look at the sword in his hands.
The Masamune, once a heavy broadsword that required both hands to lift, had now shaped itself into a thin folded razor-sharp blade, the slightly-curved katana balancing perfectly in Crono's right palm. Crono lifted the sword and looked carefully at the gleaming metal, finding the same faint etched name that had marked the sword through thirteen thousand years of history. Melchior. The name of the Guru who'd first forged it.
"Don't let us down," Masa's voice called from the empty air, "we want a real workout!"
"Break a leg," Mune's voice shouted cheerfully, "not yours, of course, but, you know..."
"Thanks guys," Crono smiled a little as he swung and slashed the light sword through the cobwebs, testing its weight, then he sheathed the blade, tying the scabbard onto his belt as he climbed back up the stairs.
* * *
The symbol of a black griffin stood against the red fabric of the Porre flags as they fluttered against the brisk autumn winds, marking the edge of a trench-lined camp of red and black tents set along Zenan Bridge.
Within the middle tent a large group of warriors knelt to the ground, their right hands resting on the handles of their down-turned swords. Blue-suited Porre soldiers bowed their heads in silence as their general walked to the front of the tent alongside a tall muscular man dressed in a white shirt and black leather overcoat and pants, an ancient broadsword slung across his waist, toward the front of the tent and toward the gold statue of a beautiful woman with long flowing hair, holding an emerald pyramid in her open palms.
"Today we are honored," General Lensh said to the group, "to fight alongside our brothers from the El Nido archipelago, our differences set aside for the greater glory of the sacred triumvirate, which has blessed us all as her children throughout this century. I give the floor now to General Viper of the Acacia Dragoons."
"Vita Unus," the tall powerful man said slowly, "Vita Dos and Vita Tres. The past, the present, the future. These are the three faces of the one who has united El Nido and Porre as her children, who has revealed to each of us our destiny and given us her blessing. Today we fight not for ourselves...but for the Goddess of Fate!"
* * *
"There's a lot more of them than I expected," Marle whispered, "and I really expected a lot."
Crono and Marle looked around in stunned silence at the vast armies of blue-clad soldiers stretching across the green fields, surrounding the small red-clad army that stood before the castle of Guardia. The ocean of people suddenly parted and four strange lilac-colored dragon-beasts with bird-like heads galloped forward on two clawed legs, each one carrying a mounted warrior draped in a light metal breastplate and carrying a sword.
Each one of them leaped down from the beasts: a tall thin dark-haired man with a gray moustache and bushy eyebrows, a gigantic muscular warrior with long white-blonde hair and a rough Nordic face, and a heavy dark-skinned man with short black hair and a stern weathered expression. Finally their leader stepped off his beast, a powerful warrior with gray thinning hair, dark eyes shining with intelligence and a broadsword dangling from his belt as he bowed before Crono.
"King Crono," he said as he rose to his feet, "and Queen Nadia, of the Kingdom of Guardia. I am Sir Viper of the Acacia Dragoons, ruler of the El Nido archipelago and leader of the Four Devas."
"We've heard of you," Marle answered sternly, her eyes refusing to turn from his.
"Then you know we're not barbarians," Viper answered, "behind me are the other three Devas, the greatest of the Acacia Dragoons: Radius, Garai and Zappa. We are all honored to face you in battle."
"If you're so honored by our presence," Lucca said in a low snarl from behind Crono's shoulder, "why don't you respect us and leave! Or is honor just another excuse for killing to your people?"
"We don't want a fight," Crono said to Viper, glancing back to Lucca for a second, "but we will defend this land if we have to. If your honor meant anything, you would never have started this war."
"It wasn't my will," the older man answered, "but I am a part of it now and will fulfill my role as the goddess has decreed it. But I judge strength by ability, by training and skill, not by numbers and weapons. I've heard much of you and I believe you hold these same values."
"What of it? If you're working your way up to the terms for our surrender, forget it."
"I would never insult another gentleman and warrior with such a request," he said, "face me in single battle, King Crono. Our struggle will decide who rules this future, not these clumsy guns and nameless soldiers. Think of it, a duel between two great warriors to decide the fate of this kingdom."
"And Porre would respect those terms," Crono asked skeptically.
"I am the colonial ruler of El Nido," Viper answered, "Porre values its trade relations with our islands, and so they'll respect my decisions on the battlefield. They may not like my decisions, but they'll abide by them."
"Why would you do this? You seem to have the advantage on the field, why give that up?"
"Because this isn't my way," Viper answered seriously, "throwing cheap guns and expendable troops at the enemy is the way of a coward, of someone who lacks the skill to truly face his opponents in battle...a point I've often argued with the war council of Porre. I believe in real combat, in testing one's skill against another, and I believe the strongest and wisest should rule, not merely the one with the most bullets."
"If we took this land by merely flooding the field with mindless lackeys carrying rifles," he continued, "then we would have won only by default, we'd have never proven that we truly deserved the victory we'd stolen. War is quickly becoming the province of bureaucrats and politicians and if two traditional warriors like us have a chance to change that, even for a single battle, I'm willing to take it."
"Alright," Crono said, puzzled, "what would happen if I win?"
"I would respect your kingdom's right to exist and the Devas would defend it...even if that meant war with Porre."
"You'd do that," Crono asked in surprise.
"Believe me, it wouldn't take much to incite a war with Porre in El Nido."
"And if you win?"
"Then you become a prisoner of Porre, they destroy this castle and take occupation of these lands. The same terms as would come from the pointless slaughter of both armies that would otherwise take place."
"I'll need to consult with my," Crono paused, "my own Devas."
Viper gave an approving nod to the queen and to the two figures flanking them, a long blue-haired man in medieval tunic and pants, wearing a long royal-purple cloak and wielding a tall scythe, and a young brown-haired woman wearing glasses and dressed in brown slacks and shirt, wearing a nasty-looking sidearm in her holster. Crono turned toward them.
"What do you think," Crono whispered to the three.
"It's a feeble attempt at deception," Magus answered, "he wants to see how desperate we are."
"I think he's right," Lucca nodded to Magus, then looked back to Crono, "it sounds like they're trying to lure you into a trap."
"But if they're testing us," Marle asked, glancing at the other three, "it might be better to accept the challenge. The weaker Porre thinks we are, the greater advantage we'll have during the battle itself."
"Good points," Crono nodded to all of them, "but I think Viper's telling the truth."
"You what," Magus choked in surprise, barely keeping his voice a whisper.
"I've seen Viper in battle before, at Dorino" Crono answered, "he's never used a gun and he only uses non-lethal elements to subdue mobs, never single opponents. He really seems to be an honorable fighter."
"They might just want us to think that," Marle protested.
"Maybe," he nodded, "but if there's a chance of ending this battle now, I should take it. An alliance with El Nido could swing the balance back to us, maybe even end the war. I'm going to fight him."
"Alright," Crono said aloud as he broke away from the group and turned to Viper, "I'll accept the challenge on one condition--all the armies stand down and hold their positions. If any one of the soldiers on either side makes even the slightest move during the battle, it ends and we open fire. Got it?"
"I would have it no other way," Viper nodded, and he reached beneath his overcoat, pulling out a crystal-studded sash and tossing it to the tall blonde-haired man behind him, the one he'd called Garai.
"Those are my collection of elements," Viper explained, "this shall be a true test of strength and will, my blade against yours, a testament to the art of battle. You've heard of the Einlanzer?"
"The ancient sword of the dragonians," Crono nodded as Viper unsheathed a gleaming broadsword from his scabbard, the alien metal of the blade refracting the sunlight into rainbow hues.
"I can only pray," Viper smirked, "that your blade is as true and unerring as this one."
"You'd be surprised," Crono replied, lifting the curved blade of the Masamune in both hands, "let's go."
* * *
Sparks flew from the blades as they crashed into each other, Crono straining to block the larger man's blade from knocking the Masamune aside. Crono stood beneath Viper, his sword lifted in both hands as he pushed back on the Einlanzer, then he braced his boots against the ground. He suddenly jumped into the air, the force of his leap knocking Viper onto his back, and a second later he flew back down, aiming the tip of the Masamune straight at the Deva's chest as he spun through the air. Viper rolled away and Crono quickly swung his legs back down, landing on his feet and whirling back to face Viper, swords raised between them.
"I'm impressed," Viper remarked, meeting Crono's swing with his own sword, "I've never seen a technique like that before and I've been training in swordplay for forty years now."
"I've never seen a blade quite like yours," Crono nodded, sweat rolling down his face as he quickly flipped Viper's sword downward and swung through the air, the general barely ducking the swing, "any other sword would have snapped in two by now."
"Then it's true," Viper said in awe, "that really is the Masamune you're using."
"That's right," he said, then back-flipped away, landing on his feet, "so what's your sword's story?"
"The Einlanzer," Viper replied, matching each of the young king's blow with his upraised sword, "is the last and greatest relic of the dragonians. They entrusted the dragoons with the sacred blade over three hundred years ago, and since then it's been the traditional weapon for the leader of the Devas."
"Which is why you wield it," Crono grunted as he knocked a sudden thrust to one side and plunged the Masamune forward, striking Viper across the left shoulder and leaving a blood-lined rip in his shirt, "but I thought El Nido worshipped some goddess. How does a holy dragon sword fit in with that?"
"Not bad," Viper nodded with a grunt of pain, then began forcing Crono back with quick powerful strokes, metal clashing and scraping as he drove Crono toward the steel gates of the castle, "long ago El Nido worshipped the six legendary dragon-gods who sleep among its isles. But that old religion has mostly died away as we've come to worship the goddess of fate. Only Guldove worships the dragons anymore, but the Einlanzer is still a cherished reminder of our covenant with the dragonians. This might be the last time I fight with the Einlanzer, though. I have decided to retire from the battlefield and make Garai the new leader of the Devas."
"A shame," Crono said, and then he took a deep breath. Viper watched curiously and then he quickly twisted around as Crono seemed to leap from every direction at the same time, four blades thrusting forward at once, slashing across his calves and wrists and dropping the warrior to his knees. Crono suddenly plummeted down from the sky and Viper flipped back, landing clumsily on one foot as Crono hit the ground and rose to his feet.
"It's because of your association with Porre," Crono remarked, "that you're retiring. I noticed you identified yourself as Sir Viper. I thought you were awarded the rank of general after the Dorino battle."
"I was," Viper answered as he flipped the Einlanzer upright again, and stood tense, ready to meet the next charge, "but it's only an honorary rank, since I'm not a Porre soldier, and it hasn't been formally bestowed yet. Also, there are subjects in El Nido who might question my loyalties if I assumed that rank here and now."
"If El Nido dislikes Porre that much," Crono answered, waiting for the next move, "why are you even here? Why fight alongside your enemy to destroy a kingdom you claim to admire?"
"This may be hard for a continental like you to understand," Viper answered as he suddenly charged at Crono, slashing him once across the chest and then leaping high into the air and plummeting down as Crono threw himself out of the way, the general's sword clanging against the stone walls of the castle, "but I was told by the record of fate to fight this war, or else El Nido would be cast into an era of darkness."
"You would fight a war," Crono asked in disbelief, his ribs burning from the fresh cut along his chest, "just because some kind of oracle told you to do it?"
"Not just an oracle," Viper said sharply, "the record. I couldn't risk it being right, no matter how I feel."
"Fine, the record," Crono rolled his eyes, then swung the Masamune up to match a quick inward thrust of the Einlanzer, "have you ever tried to ignore the record, to see what happens if you don't listen?"
"That would be dangerous," Viper answered, his face growing pale for a moment before he focused on the battle again, dropping to a crouch and delivering a swift kick across Crono's shins, knocking him onto his back as Viper lifted the polished gleaming sword over his chest, "besides, it's said that even those who try to reject fate will end up fulfilling her wishes," he smirked, "you might be an example of this."
"We make our own destinies, not fate or fortune" Crono said, kicking both his feet up into Viper's gut and flipping the general forward, jumping to his feet and kicking the Einlanzer out of Viper's hands, then holding his own sword, the Masamune, against the dragoon's neck, "the future is a blank page, there's no right or wrong way for it to unfold--it belongs to all of us. Trust me, I know something about this."
"So it'd seem," Viper answered with an admiring nod to the young warrior standing over him.
* * *
Across the field, Porre Lieutenant Gerad tapped his foot impatiently and walked back and forth in front of his riflemen, his expression growing more and more annoyed as he watched the two swordsmen's duel. He finally turned to his men and spoke to them in sharp clipped tones.
"This farce has proceeded long enough. Open fire on the king of Guardia."
"But," one of the soldiers protested, "General Viper ordered us to stand down."
"If we leave it up to that antiquated old islander, this whole war might be lost without a single shot fired. I didn't come out here to watch him practice his swordplay. Now open fire, end this game already!"
"Yes sir," the dissenter answered grimly, and the small platoon of armed soldiers lowered their rifles, sliding their bolts at once and aiming the guns at the two sparring fighters.
* * *
Viper glanced over Crono's shoulder at the Porre soldiers and suddenly leaped forward, knocking Crono against the ground and then throwing himself flat against the ground as the riflemen opened fire on them.
"Stay down," he shouted to Crono, then he looked over to the three mounted Devas as gunfire filled the air overhead, "Porre has no respect for honor or the will of the Dragoons! Take them down!"
"You've got it," Garai answered and the dragon-like beast gave a hoarse vulture-like shriek as he pulled on the reins and rushed toward the kneeling gunmen. He drew a gigantic sword with his right hand and held it out at arm's length as he rode into the group. The soldiers scattered and his blade caught one of them, ripping through the man's armor as he drew another sword with his left hand. He knocked the soldier to the ground with both swords and rose into the crowd, swinging both blades against the Porre troops.
Viper looked over to Radius and the mustached man simply nodded, then drew his rapier and held it in front of him, pointing at the soldiers. A crystal embedded in the handle of the sword flashed and a sudden blast of swirling green energy flew through the air, rings of wind knocking the platoon backward onto the ground. He suddenly reared back on his beast and charged into the panicked crowd, slashing lightly through the soldiers as they tried to push away from his hissing dragon-mount.
Garai rode through the Porre legions, slicing through one soldier after another as his dragon-beast trampled the fallen men, and Zappa threw his axe into the crowd, the sharpened steel blade striking one running soldier in the back. He then rode through the fleeing blue-clothed soldiers toward the dead soldier. His beast knelt beside the Porre gunman as he grabbed the handle and yanked the axe out of the man's back, then gave a hoarse shriek as Zappa pulled the rein and disappeared into the battle, swinging his axe over his head.
Meanwhile the Guardia knights around Crono began to fire on the Porre soldiers, the battle rippling and spreading throughout the battlefield until every man had been pulled into the fight.
"Forgive me," Viper said as he crawled to his feet and mounted his dragon, giving a backward glance to Crono before he rode into the crowd to begin his own battle against the Porre troops, "this was not my doing. So far as I'm concerned, you've won our battle, and so now the Devas fight alongside you. Good luck to us both."
"What about fate," Crono called out as the brawny warrior disappeared.
"I've spent my life obeying the records," he shouted back, "and they led me into this despicable battle. So from now on, we make our own destiny. No more fearing the future!"
Crono nodded as the general vanished and then turned to the Guardia knights, mounting his own horse and leading them toward the rolling blue tide of Porre troops; the battle had finally begun.
* * *
"What is all this," Lensh demanded.
The general rode his horse through a small clearing in the human forest of clashing soldiers. Bodies lay on the ground before them, blue-suited Porre soldiers lying sprawled across the scorched grass like ragdolls all around Lensh's own group of soldiers, and one of them dismounted to check their pulses.
"Sir, you're not going to believe this," the man called out through the gunshots, "they're alive."
"Just tell me what happened to them."
"I don't know," the man answered, checking one unconscious soldier's wrist after another, "the sleeves are scorched and their hair's bristled. My guess is maybe mild electrocution."
"How," Lensh shouted, "the sky's clear!"
"You got me," the soldier answered, and then the small group of men looked up as a red flash filled the sky. A pyramid of flickering light stretched above at least a third of the battlefield, engulfing a horde of Porre soldiers in a force-field of shimmering colors. The distant troops all collapsed onto the ground and Lensh looked back at his own men as the pyramid of energy melted away into the clear turquoise-blue sky.
"What was that," he answered in low clenched voice.
"I don't," the soldier muttered in awe as another pyramid of flashing light appeared on the opposite side of the field, yellow and blue light shimmering over its transparent walls as a red glow filled the pyramid, all the soldiers within its boundaries screaming and collapsing into unconsciousness, "maybe a new weapon?"
"Guardia shouldn't even have guns," Lensh snarled, "how could they have something like this? Fine, so be it--they have their secret weapons, we have ours. Prepare Grobyc for combat operations."
* * *
"How many," Magus asked as the four converged on the battlefield, floating lightly over the ground as he swung the handle of his scythe backward to smash a charging Porre soldier in the face.
"Not sure," Crono gasped as he and Marle emerged from the crowd, "fifty or sixty soldiers, maybe."
"Sixty-eight," Lucca panted as she fought her way through the crowds of fighting soldiers, "we've taken down sixty-eight of them with the delta-force technique. But we can't keep this up forever."
"Then let me," Magus growled restlessly, "I could annihilate this whole army with a breath."
"Maybe," Crono answered sternly, "but we're not trying to kill them."
A loud chorus of screams broke through the din of battle and the group turned around toward a group of fleeing soldiers. Some of the knights leaped off their horses and sprinted across the field on foot, while the others fought to control their steeds, several thrown onto their backs by the panicked horses.
"Your highness," the knight captain called out, bringing his horse to a halt beside the group, "you all have to leave at once. Porre's unleashed something...it's a monster..."
A pale lavender beam of solid energy fell from the sky and the knight captain screamed as it pierced his breastplate, vaporizing his torso within the blinding stream of energy. The beam faded away after a second and the man fell to the ground dead, his face frozen in an expression of terror and a scorched hole burnt into his chest. The group traced the fading beam into the sky and Marle gave a sudden gasp at the shape floating above them.
"What is that thing," Marle whispered in disbelief.
A dark hovering figure looked down on them with solid black eyes, its face cloaked in a red cloth mask, its blue uniform the unmistakable mark of a Porre soldier--but that's where its humanity ended. The thing's flesh shared the same deathly blue pallor as its uniform, its hair a single oak-red spike. Its right arm gleamed in the sunlight and Crono suddenly realized that circuitry and wires lay beneath the torn skin.
"It's a cyborg," Lucca said, then the thing flipped through the air, its head pointed at them. Its hair began to glow and suddenly a burst of burning plasma swept down, a solid beam of pink light slashing through the ground and leaving a smoking crevice as the group leapt away from the laser blast.
"What's a cyborg," Crono shouted, then ducked as the energy beam swept over the field again.
"A human implanted with machines," Lucca called back, "to make him a kind of living robot!"
"That's horrible," Marle said softly.
"Fascinating," Magus muttered as he stared up at the hovering cyborg, "it looks like they used element-technology in some of its weapons."
"Who could make something like that," Crono asked as the creature paused to recharge its weapon, "even Porre's not that advanced.
"Luccia could," Lucca said softly, "Crono, do you remember that girl we used to play with when we were kids? The one who used to help me with all my inventions and science-fair projects?"
"Yeah, you two were the smartest kids in the whole school. But she moved away when we were ten."
"Crono," Lucca said, shaking her head quickly, "she moved to Porre."
Crono groaned suddenly as he realized the implications.
"Just tell me this," Magus asked quickly, "is it alive?"
"I remember her talking about something like this, even in our timeline" Lucca answered, sighing, "no, she would have replaced his brain with a computer processing-unit. It's not a living creature anymore."
"Then let's take it out," Magus nodded to Crono, "just like we did in training."
"Alright," Crono agreed, "you go left, I'll go right. We've got ten seconds to get into position, let's go!"
Magus turned away without a word, ducking the sweeping plasma-beams as he crawled over the ground toward a scorched tree on the far left side of the floating creature, listening to the screams and sizzle of soldiers as the beam sliced through the crowds. He sprang to his feet and sprinted the rest of the distance across the smoldering field, then grabbed the tree, swinging himself back around to face the mechanical creature.
Crono stood on the opposite side of the field and gave a single nod to Magus.
The creature suddenly dropped onto its feet and it turned around, its black gaze focusing on Magus as the wizard stared back in contempt. The ninja-like cyborg lifted its right arm toward Magus and the tree.
"We'll see about that," Magus sneered, then leapt aside as Grobyc's fist suddenly flew forward, blown off its arm by a blast of energy and smashing into the tree like a bullet. A small digital counter lit up on the side of the embedded metal fist, giving a ten-second countdown, and Magus quickly ducked away from the tree as the projectile suddenly exploded, the charred leafless tree shattering into a rain of branches and dirt. He whirled back around to the creature and stretched one hand forward, gloved palm turned out toward Grobyc.
"Now," he shouted across the field to Crono, who stood on a hill behind Grobyc with his arms spread.
A bright sphere of burning light suddenly appeared in the air above the monster Grobyc and quickly filled the sky, the orb engulfing the cybernetic assassin and blasting him upward into the center of the sphere, waves of scorching radiance crashing against the ensnared creature. The air within the glowing sphere suddenly grew darker and liquid shadows drowned the struggling cyborg, a storm of living darkness ripping at the creature's limbs within the still-bright sphere. The shell of light began to collapse and it sank into the darkness, the cyborg's inner circuitry smashed by the pulsing blackness while the rushing torrent of light scorched its blue flesh.
The orb of hollow light vanished and Grobyc tumbled to the ground, its metal legs bent, both its feet and left hand shattered by the blast, as the faint hum of its processor faded into silence. Magus looked back around at the empty battlefield, most of the fighting having moved away after Grobyc began its attack.
"That was amazing," Marle shouted as she ran through the empty battlefield to Crono and Magus, "I never thought that 'dark luminaire' idea would really work!"
"Yeah," Crono panted, then stood up straight and tried to hide his gasps as he noticed that Magus hadn't even lost his breath, "we tried it out during training, but I didn't really know if it'd work on the battlefield."
"Double-techniques with Crono," Lucca snickered, "there might be hope for you yet, Magus."
"We should get back into triangle-formation," Marle said, "a few more spells might be enough..."
She suddenly screamed and closed her eyes tight in pain. She fell backward, Crono barely catching her as she tumbled onto the ground and stared up at her friends, the front of her shirt sticky with a hot wet fluid. A Porre soldier lowered his rifle and ran toward them, then fell to the ground, hit by a stray shot from the battle behind him.
"What happened," she asked weakly, the pain fading away, "what's that on my shirt..."
"Oh my god," Lucca whispered under her breath, then she quickly knelt down beside Marle and ripped off the bottom half of her shirt, pressing the folded cloth to Marle's gut.
"Marle," Crono's voice answered, his voice and hands trembling as he took the cloth, "you've been shot in the stomach. You'll be okay, but we need to find a doctor for you. Just don't try to move."
"Crono," she giggled softly, then winced, "where are we going to find a doctor out here?"
"Crono," Magus answered grimly as he knelt beside Marle and looked at the stomach-wound, "the blood's almost solid black. I've seen these kind of wounds before."
"So you can fix it," he said quickly, "come on, with all that magic you must know how to fix it!"
"No," the wizard shook his head slowly, "her liver's been pierced by the bullet, and probably several other vital organs besides. She won't last another hour." "SHUT UP," Crono suddenly screamed, knocking Magus away with one arm and then kneeling beside his wife again, "don't listen to him, Marle, he's just a bitter old wizard! We'll find a doctor and you'll be fine, I promise. Lucca, get a field medic...Lucca, NOW!"
"No," Marle shook her head, "I want her to stay. And don't blame Magus, he's just being honest as usual."
"No he's not," Crono said, propping her head up with his arm, "he's just being bleak, that's all."
"Crono," she answered, barely able to whisper, "I don't feel anything, no pain...I didn't even know that was blood...that's not good and you know it."
"I'm sorry," Crono suddenly hugged her tight, one hand still pressed tight against her wound, a single tear trailing along his cheek, "you shouldn't have been out here, we should have evacuated, surrendered..."
"I insisted on coming, remember," she asked with a smile, her glazed eyes looking blindly up at them, "and I wouldn't change any of it. Meeting you, saving the future, defending Guardia...not a thing..."
"Marle," Crono called to her, then his voice rose into a squeak as her head fell limp over her shoulders, her blue eyes dim and lifeless, "Marle, wake up! Nadia, listen to me! Come on, WAKE UP!"
"Crono," Lucca stammered, her trembling fingers on Marle's wrist, "she's not sleeping..."
Crono looked speechlessly up at Lucca and Magus, then toward the cloudless blue sky overhead, his gleaming eyes staring into the sky with a silent wordless question. He finally looked back down and kissed Marle's cheek tenderly, then rose slowly to his feet and turned toward the squad of Porre soldiers fighting at the castle gates, his clouded eyes narrowing with rage. Lucca shook her head quickly as she suddenly realized what he intended.
"Crono, we need you, Guardia needs you," Lucca shouted, "Marle wouldn't want this!"
"Marle's gone," he whispered, his fists tightening as he stared at the blue-clad soldiers surrounding the castle, "they killed her...and they're going to pay..."
A bolt of lightning suddenly cleaved the blue sky and coursed through the young king's body, his thick red hair rising and waving within the current of energy, his blue eyes glowing with a yellow light. The bolt twisted into the ground and blue electric sparks began to crackle and writhe across his clothes and skin as though he'd become a living generator. The air around him suddenly exploded into an electric-yellow aura and Crono looked back to Magus and Lucca, still knelt beside Marle, and gave his last order as the king of Guardia.
"Stay out of my way!"
He suddenly catapulted into the sky, leaving a thin streak of crackling light in his aerial wake, and hovered in the air, his body flashing with electricity as the Porre troops turned toward the burst of yellow light that'd briefly filled the horizon. The glowing youth stretched his palms out toward them and screamed a single phrase.
A blast of electric light exploded from within the troop of soldiers and they trampled each other, desperately trying to escape the swelling bubble of searing light as it swept over the ground. The whole squad of Porre gunmen vanished within the orb and it quickly evaporated, leaving a blackened crater in the ground. Crono twisted his head toward a second group of soldiers along the side of the castle and screamed again.
The blast of energy shattered the outer walls of the castle and swallowed the panicked soldiers, leaving a second bone-lined crater in the grassy fields. Crono twisted back toward the Porre encampment at Zenan Bridge and screamed again, arms stretched out, his eyes hidden behind a film of golden light.
"Janus," Lucca looked over to the staring wizard in panic, "you have to stop him!"
"I can't stop him," he answered softly, "not without killing him."
The tents and wooden barbed-wire fences around the bridge suddenly vanished within a swelling fireball of searing golden light, the blast leaving a charred hollowed-out pit where the Porre camp used to lay. Crono floated in the skies of Guardia, blind with rage, nothing mattering except Marle and the monsters that took her, laying waste to the forests and fields as he annihilated the separate groups of terrified Porre soldiers one by one.
He suddenly screamed in pain as a bullet whizzed through the glowing electric air and sliced through his shoulder, a spurt of blood flashing against the yellow aura around him. He turned around toward the rifleman below him and lifted his palms as the man dropped his gun and stared up in terror at the glowing figure.
Another shot from behind him pierced his back, the bullet flying out through his gut, and he twisted around to see a small group of soldiers gathering below him, all of them aiming their rifles upward.
"Open fire," General Lensh barked to his troops, "shoot it out of the sky!"
A swarm of whistling bullets filled the air and Crono screamed and twisted within the golden aura as they pelted his chest, the yellow air filled with drops of blood. A bullet pierced the scabbard of the Masamune and sent it flying through the air, disappearing into the growing swarm of soldiers below. Crono glared down at the gunmen, blood trickling along the corner of his mouth as he took a deep breath for one final spell.
The yellow aura surrounding him suddenly exploded outward, the glowing air spreading and engulfing the troops below. The men dropped their metal rifles as the guns began to crackle and spark with electricity, and bolts of yellow lightning raced over the ground, striking a few soldiers and knocking them to the ground as Lensh motioned for the rest of the troops to withdraw. The aura suddenly vanished and Crono plummeted to the ground.
Crono slammed onto the ground and looked up weakly as Lucca ran to him, followed by the gliding figure of Magus. Lucca knelt beside him as the last of the Porre troops fled and Magus stood beside them both, glaring at the fleeing soldiers and watching to make sure none others tried to attack them.
"That," Crono coughed up blood, "wasn't the smartest thing..."
"No it wasn't," Lucca screamed, silent tears running along her cheeks as she shook him, "you knew that would happen, that's why you went out there! You can't do things like that!"
"I wasn't thinking," he groaned, "I'm sorry."
"Well I don't accept," she said angrily, "and you can't die until I do, so there!"
"I don't think it's up to us, Lucca."
"Yes it is," she suddenly shouted, "I watched you die once and I'm not doing it again! I'll figure out some way, just like before...we'll get you back, and Marle, and Guardia..."
"Guardia," Crono wheezed, his shirt riddled with bullet-holes, "we thought we were saving the future, when we really just screwed up the present...destroyed it..."
"We thought we were doing the right thing," she answered quietly, "I still think we did the right thing, even if it made all this happen...we had to help the future, we couldn't leave it like that..."
"The future," Crono gasped quickly, fighting for each breath, "Lucca, listen to me. You have to figure out what happened, why it all changed. You made the gate-key, you fixed the Epoch...you're the smartest one, you're the only one who really knows how time works...you have to find out what went wrong, why things are like this...or it'll just keep getting worse...until there's no future anymore..."
"I can't do that by myself. Crono, I need you to help me...I can't do that alone!"
"Magus," Crono whispered to her, "he's changed, Lucca. He's helped us fight Porre, he changed Frog back into a human--he didn't have to do any of those things. He's not the same person he used to be. He knows about time too, maybe more than any of us...he'll help you, I'm sure of it...you two can solve it..."
"We'll all figure it out," she sobbed, "you too! You'll be okay, and we'll fix things, like we always do..."
Crono didn't answer and, as his ragged wheezing breath died away into silence, she turned away to look at the sky, at the half-demolished castle beyond the forest, at Truce village burning in the distance as the Porre soldiers smashed the windows...anywhere but down at her best friend's unblinking face.
"Lucca," Magus said, his voice a stern rasp, "we have to go."
Bullets sliced through the air and Magus grabbed Lucca by the top of her head, pushing her to the ground as a small group of Porre gunmen made their way through the flaming ruins toward them. He raised one palm toward the group and closed his eyes, a low growl escaping his lips as he spoke to himself and Lucca.
"This ends now," he snarled, "this ends right now! MATERIA ATRA!"
A flood of midnight swept across the fields and the landscape vanished into a sea of darkness, distant pinpoints of light blinking from within the void. The starlit abyss seemed to whirl and twist wildly around the crowd of Porre soldiers and their screams rang through the empty darkness as it folded around them.
A burst of cold pale light exploded across the horizon and slowly faded to reveal that the company of soldiers had vanished, the charred fields and burning town empty except for a few villagers, leaving the two silhouettes alone against the hellish crimson landscape, Magus standing grimly beside Lucca as she knelt sobbing, clutching the fallen king tightly in her arms.
Chapter 6: The Darkest Hour
It should have been raining, Lucca thought bitterly to herself.
She looked around at the crowds of villagers standing in the waning sunlight, vermilion and golden leaves tumbling lightly through the air as the chancellor stood behind the stone markers. Two coffins hung from hoisting ropes above the twin graves as he read from a book, his downturned face as lost and grief-filled as the crowd he'd meant to console.
"Every night will have a day," he read aloud, "and even forever must come to an end..."
She shook her head and clenched her fists, staring up through the hanging canopy of dried leaves into the warm yellow sunlight, silently cursing the sun for showing its face today. She looked back around at the rest of the crowd and the chancellor, who'd asked for people to tell their memories of Crono. The village had been mostly burnt to the ground, the castle destroyed--the battle had ended quickly after the death of the knight-captain and the royal couple. Even this funeral had been held in secret, in a small grove behind the ruins of the cathedral.
Magus glared around at the crowd and he suddenly looked over his shoulder.
"What is it," she asked in a monotone, barely even hearing her own words.
"This is pointless," he answered in an annoyed whisper and she suddenly felt a flash of anger toward him.
"This is their funeral," she whispered back, "this is the only chance we'll get to say goodbye!"
"We're not saying goodbye to them," he hissed back, "they're already gone! It's too late for good-byes, too late for regrets and apologies--they'll never hear them! This whole ritual is just a comforting lie!"
"How dare you," she whispered furiously at him.
"I have more important things to do," he said suddenly, and turned around, slipping through the crowd and vanishing into the forest as the two white caskets slowly began to lower into the ground. The royal band played a soft melancholy elegy, the harp-strings and light bells filling the chirping forest, and Lucca shot the wizard a quick hateful glare before turning back to look through a blur of tears at the single stone marker, as the villages slowly released the ropes, letting the caskets sink into their graves.
KING CRONO and QUEEN NADIA
* * *
"Halt," Lieutenant Gerad called out into the shadowy forest, "identify yourself."
The lieutenant had been prepared for a vagabond, or a gang of thieves, or perhaps even one of Guardia's famous walking mushrooms to come stumbling out of the woods onto the narrow worn-out path. He had expected to turn back to the small group of soldiers behind him and to casually, almost thoughtlessly, give the order to open fire on the intruder. He had expected to give a bored nod as the intruder fell to the ground and then to order them to lift the wagon containing the treasure of Guardia again, to continue their journey through the forests of Truce until they met a platoon of Porre troops on the other side. He had expected to order the forest burnt to the ground once he and his men had made it through; it made strategic sense and the ancient, gnarled trees gave him the creeps.
Out of all the things he had expected, none of them had included a pale figure draped in a royal purple cloak to glide out of the shadows, a scythe slung across his shoulder and thin red lips curled back to reveal fangs. It turned its head toward them and blood-red eyes that seemed to glow from beneath the shadows fell upon him.
"I said," he heard himself stammer, "identify yourself!"
"You took something that's not yours," a low raspy voice growled, a voice that seemed to emerge from the depths of the forest, as though the dried leaves and hollowed-out trees were whispering all around them. He looked back and realized with a shudder that the pale creature--he didn't dare called it human--had spoken and that the full weight of its crimson eyes had turned directly toward him, ignoring the company of soldiers behind him.
Gerad looked away from the creature's hate-filled face and glanced down at its feet, at the dried maple leaves blowing around in small whirlwinds and the thick leather boots instead, at the pool of shadows rustling beneath its dangling feet. His heart suddenly froze into ice as he realized that its feet didn't touch the ground.
"What are you," he managed to choke through his clenched throat, staring at the hovering apparition.
"A prince among wizards," the thing snarled in a low hissing voice, "and a king among demons. But then Porre prides itself on the slaughter of kings, doesn't it? Perhaps you'd like to try your luck on one more..."
"Open fire," the lieutenant muttered, backing away toward the wagon and the six young soldiers standing open-mouthed behind him. He glanced back at them and closed his eyes, trying to make himself sound firm.
"I said open fire!"
Smoke and white burning sparks filled his nostrils as all six men aimed their rifles and began firing into the middle of the path, at the fluttering, hovering wraith that had appeared before them. The lieutenant stared down the trail but the figure had vanished behind the billowing clouds of acrid smoke. He silently raised one hand and the soldiers lowered their rifles, leaving the forest immersed in a rolling fog of gunsmoke.
The nostril-burning smoke drifted away and the lieutenant stared at the trail.
The figure had vanished.
Maybe it had never been there. Maybe he had imagined some kind of wrathful ghost from the forests of Guardia stalking him, waiting to avenge the death of...the elimination of Porre's enemies. Maybe his men hadn't seen anything. That had to be it--why else had they hesitated when he told them to fire?
Of course, they'd simply opened fire at the empty trail because he ordered them to do so; it spoke of their loyalty that they obeyed him even when his orders must have seemed like lunacy. Besides, he remembered stories about a wizard with pale skin and red eyes that haunted the woods of Guardia.
He must have imagined it out of exhaustion. As soon as they returned to Porre he'd write a commendation for his men and request some personal leave. The war had left him shell-shocked, seeing ghostly wizards in every shadow and ordering troops to fire at thin air. He smiled a little in relief.
Something grabbed his neck and lifted him into the air, throwing him backwards. His head slammed into a tree and he lifted himself up with a groan. His eyes blurred with pain and he saw through a cloud of tears his men and a blotch of purple and white. He shook his head and barked one last order, one that didn't need to be said.
"OPEN FIRE! KILL IT!!"
He knew they must have been trying to shoot; the cracks of gunfire echoed all around him and he smelled the bitter smoke and saw flashes of white bursting from the trail. But then he heard the cracks of the rifles dying away one after another and as he staggered blindly toward the wagon, eyes still glazed and blurred, he winced at the new sounds filling the otherwise silent forest.
A young man screaming, maybe begging--and then a bone snapping in two. Footsteps running and then a whirl as though a gale had swept through the trees; but the commander knew this gale had red staring eyes. A soft tearing sound as a blade ripped through...he tried not to think about it. Then silence, and a blur of red and brown.
"Retreat," he groaned uselessly into the rustling stillness of the forest, "retreat."
His vision had cleared and he stumbled back onto the trail, to the wagon. He had expected to see the horror of the massacre sprawled across the wagon, the dead eyes of his men staring accusingly at him.
The wagon sat bare and dry in the middle of the empty trail, red and brown autumn leaves everywhere.
Then something grabbed his chin and lifted him into the air. He rolled his eyes down and saw the sneering pale face below him, a long purple cloak fluttering over its shoulders as it snarled at him, its fangs jutting behind its lips like daggers. The thing held him in the air with its right arm, the gleaming scythe hoisted in its other hand.
"Just take it," Lieutenant Gerad gasped, "take whatever you want."
"And let you live," the creature asked, red eyes locked into his own, a cold burning hatred filling them, "did you give Truce that chance? Did you ask them to give you their belongings in exchange for their lives, like thieves? Or did you burn their houses, slaughter their children, and call it the spoils of war when you were done?"
"You're Magus," he choked out as the wizard lifted him up, "you're the ghost of Magus."
The glaring wizard suddenly tilted his head to the side with a faint icy smile, as if secretly amused by the commander's words. Then his face hardened and he stared back into the commander's eyes, a howling wind blowing through the branches and grass, a sweeping wailing blast of cold dead air twisting around them both.
"Do you hear that? You're a man of death, so you must recognize that sound."
Lieutenant Gerad knew exactly what it was, and he closed his eyes tight as the scythe flew downward.
* * *
Lucca sighed as she looked over the fields and forests, through the still-burning remains of Truce for some sign of him. She shook her head, enraged at his stubborn arrogance, and slammed the front door of her house, stepping carefully around the cables and wires of her inventions as she flipped on the living room light.
She nearly screamed at the sight of the half-conscious purple-cloaked figure lying on her couch.
"Oh, it's you," she barked angrily, eyes clouded with fury, "I should have known you'd show up for dinner and a bed, you're like a stray dog! You couldn't even bother to stay at the funeral, you couldn't even pretend to care about them! Crono really thought you'd changed, but you're," her voice suddenly dropped, "you're bleeding..."
"It's just blood," he groaned slightly, "it proves that I still live."
She hopped over a metal transceiver-coil on the floor and knelt beside him as he lay on the couch, his eyes closed tight against the overhead lamp, and studied the wounds scattered over his shoulders and chest. Small holes had been dug into his tunic and skin, metal gleaming within them...almost like...
"You've been shot," she whispered, suddenly understanding. She took a small step back as he lifted up on his hands, arms propped up behind him as he sat upright and looked toward her. He suddenly winced again and she noticed the edge of his palms charred deep red, as if he'd pressed them against a skillet.
"Your hands," she asked, bewildered, "where did you go, Janus?"
"The sword," he answered with a groan as he shifted his weight across his blistered palms, "Melchior's dreams don't agree with me. They didn't understand what I was doing."
"Melchior's dreams," Lucca said to herself in confusion and sudden horror, "Magus, what have you done?"
"Go look in your room," Magus groaned irritably, "your answer's in there."
She stood up, puzzled by the anger and hurt in his voice, then climbed the stairs and opened the door to her bedroom She hesitated for a moment before turning on the light, imagining unspeakable sight waiting in her room, some hideous answer to the terrible mystery of what Magus had done.
She reluctantly flipped the switch.
A sword lay on the bed. A broad heavy sword with runes inscribed along one side...
"The Masamune," she said softly, turning back to the stairs, "but Porre stole it."
"I couldn't let them take it," Magus said, almost to himself, as he folded his knees beneath him to sit upright against the couch, "after all they did, after all they took...I couldn't let them have that too..."
"You took it back from them," she said in a low, amazed tone as she climbed down the stairs, "you left the funeral because you had to stop them before they reached Porre. And they shot you..."
"It doesn't matter," he said with a glare as he looked over her shoulder at the sword, "the Masamune is back and they'll never touch it again."
"But your hands," Lucca asked, and then suddenly drew a sharp breath as she quickly realized what must have happened, "the Masamune...it burnt you when you tried to carry it, didn't it?"
"They didn't understand," he answered, and after a moment's confusion she realized he must have meant Masa and Mune, "and I didn't have time to summon and explain it to them. They thought I was still...that I was still Magus," and she noticed that he'd fallen back on the couch. She stepped into the downstairs bathroom and searched the cabinet: bandages, antibiotics, and tweezers. This would be a long night, she thought to herself, for him even more than her. She wondered if she had any ether, but realized that he wouldn't want to use it even if she did.
She walked back over to the couch and found him already passed out--it must have been worse than he'd told her. She glanced upstairs and felt a little relieved that Kid was staying with Elaine and Fritz for the night, that she wouldn't have to see any of this. She lifted his hands up and winced as she saw his palms, scorched brown in the middle and fading to dark red burns across his fingers, imagining what he must've gone through to carry it back to her house. She grabbed the tweezers and bandages and began plucking out each of the bullets, making herself think of his unconscious bullet-shattered body as just another machine that needed to be fixed.
A sudden swell of affection broke through her focused intellectual attention and she reached her hand up to softly stroke his face as he twitched in his sleep at the touch of rubbing alcohol.
"Crono was right about you," she whispered as she gave the unconscious man a gentle kiss and went back to bandaging his chest and shoulders, "thank you, Janus." Part 2