Chrono Trigger: Until the End of Time

An original fan-fiction by Jeff Moore
based on characters created by Square
contact the author at


Table of Contents

Part 1: The Fall of Guardia

Chapter 1: Out of the Past
Chapter 2: Survival of the Fittest
Chapter 3: The Pages of History
Chapter 4: Janus and the Frog
Chapter 5: The Final Battle
Chapter 6: The Darkest Hour

Part 2: The Cogs of Fate

Chapter 1: Among the Ruins
Chapter 2: The Goddess of Fate
Chapter 3: The Vengeance of the Future
Chapter 4: Orphans of Fire
Chapter 5: Let Love Bleed

Part 3: The Sea of Dreams

Chapter 1: The Shores of El Nido
Chapter 2: Tabula Rasa
Chapter 3: The Dreamless Sword
Chapter 4: The Caravan of Magic
Chapter 5: Where Angels Lose Their Way
Chapter 6: Gamblers and Ghosts

Epilogue: Across the Winds of Time


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 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 answered eagerly, surprised and disappointed that she hadn't thought of that herself.

"I've succeeded in melting it down, but forging 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, 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, 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 it 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 ten centuries just to find him...and finding him's 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 circuitboards.

She and Lucca both sat outside Lucca's house, on the small grassy island that Lucca's family had owned for over five generations. 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 circuity of the Epoch, spitting the small plastic tool onto the floor 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 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'll 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 through some unseen dimension 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 into the windshield, then tilted backward, knocking her into the chair. 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 compeltely 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.

12,000 BC.

* * *

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 simply responded.

"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."

"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 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 will..."

"I am NOT lying," she sighed with 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'll probably melt the circuitboards. 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 tapped a few buttons on the console and began to reprogram 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 a little as she listened the engine whining, circuits born from a technology far beyond her comprehension popping and fizzling, 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 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, and gestured toward the baby. Magus simply stared in disbelief at them both, then glared over at Lucca.

"Is this a joke," he snarled, 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 and future 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. He looked around at the room and then suddenly ran out of the house. Lucca and Melchior gave each other baffled looks and followed him out the door, the sun a faint sliver of light at the edge of the darkening sky.

Magus stood in the yard, his eyes darting across the western 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, I guess the El Nido archipelago. 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 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 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 around in the deep red glow and seeing the cold front 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 herself--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'll 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, a 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.

"That's why."

Chapter 2: Survival of the Fittest September, 1004 AD

"Is Magus getting any better," Marle asked with a sympathetic shrug as she and Lucca walked through the crowd of people covering 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 a small shop and looked through a clothing rack, "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, 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.

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 drawing, 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 hands, a larger cranium. 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 one of the merchants and her wavering voice steadied as she spoke to him, "I'd like to buy two of these white dresses, please. 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 best friend was also the queen of Guardia. She nodded and then asked, "what about Magus?"

"I'll probably regret it," her friend answered, "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 into Crono's sword, knocking the young man onto his back as he charged forward, 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 of the sword into Magus's fingers and pulling back a little as Magus screamed and dropped the scythe, aiming up at his 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 over the ground 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 light.

"Luminaire," he choked, "isn't that bit a 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 snarled 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.


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 February, 1005 AD

"The kids are in bed," Marle asked quietly as Lucca walked down the stairs.

"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 a map and Kid gripping Melchior's finger as he studied his plans. It wasn't the most exciting night they'd had together, 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, "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 fishing 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 less than a year 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 use 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 their crossing, as I did when Guardia threatened to cross over and destroy the mystics' bases."

"That might be a good idea," Crono agreed, "but not unless we have to."

"I wish it were under better circumstances," Melchior continued, "but I'm glad to work with you again, my liege. I never imagined that the three of us would end up here, in the distant future together."

Magus suddenly bristled and slowly turned head from the map, looking at Melchior with one cold eye.

"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 said in a trembling, furious voice, "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 silently rose to his feet and curled his fingers around the handle of his sword without a word, preparing for the worst. Magus glared at each of them and turned around, his cloak whipping through the room as he hovered into the air and flew out 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, staring silently out at the distant castle and into the surrounding forest, the lights of the village flickering beneath them, "why did you blow up at Melchior like that?"

"Because he's a weak little insect, 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!"

"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 looked silently out into the forests, gripping a knot on the side of the tall twisted oak tree with one 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 leave without an answer, and he finally spoke, without turning.

"That's not it," he said, "my fate was decided the moment I entered the ocean palace and 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 said, the wooden knot smoking and curling around his fingertips as his gripping fingers began to glow with unchecked magical energy, "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 woods, "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 filthy urchin 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 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 tree and shook her head again, trying to convince herself that 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. 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 lifted into the air and swept across the hilltops, his cloak drawn tightly around him as he flew toward the forests of Guardia. She knew he'd spend a few days alone out there, living on wild 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 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 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 closed 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 least I'm in good company, with three saviors of the world! 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 May, 1005 AD

"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 from a leftover bottle from the wedding anniversary party for Crono and Marle, and walked around the dimly-lit kitchen. The tables and walls gleamed with a dark pine-wood varnish as 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 crib. He glanced out into the starless night beyond the windows, listening to the crickets, then walked to the sink for the evening ritual 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 turned to her, 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 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 said, "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, "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 round oak-carved dinner table, his left ankle resting on his right knee as he stared at his clasped hands, "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 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 at 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 remember both sides of history. 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 millennium 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 yellow 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 the past and so the past really didn't matter. One could avenge the past, one 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 through the letter 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 into ash 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.

Sir Magus,

It hath been two score and three years since we last travelled 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 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 finds 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 beneath 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 Guardia Knights also known as Sir Froggy

Magus shook his head with confusion and let the letter flutter to the ground 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 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 of Zeal and golden chambers, 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 they could 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 she stumbled to the door, opening it and looking 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 pushed open the 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 storm 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 elbow 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 on Earth were you thinking?!"

"I wasn't trying to summon Lavos," he panted, then snickered, "but I can see why you thought that."

"Then what was that all about?"

"Do you remember the 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 threw himself atop his bed and fell asleep. She shook her head with confusion and went back to her room after a quick glance in Kid's room, the baby girl still sound asleep. She grabbed the History of Guardia from her bookshelf and began flipping through, 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 put down the history book and crawled back into bed, "there's no way I'm letting you deny this tomorrow, Janus."

Chapter 5: The Final Battle August, 1005 AD

"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 that future from those who would steal it for themselves. Today we will be fighting for that future and 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 are on their 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, and 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 bedroom window at 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 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 magician 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 hilt as he tried to awaken the sword.

"Masa! Mune!"

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 bright 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'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 lion 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 downturned 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 vest 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 fields 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 dragon-like 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 man with a gray moustache and bushy eyebrows, a gigantic muscular warrior with blonde hair and a rough Nordic face, and a heavy dark-skinned man with 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 hanging 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 Dragoon, 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 terms for 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 respect 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."

"f I took this land by merely flooding the field with mindless lackeys carrying rifles," he continued, "then I would have won only by default, I'd have never proven that I truly deserved the victory I'd stolen. War is quickly becoming the province of bureaucrats and politicians and if two old-school 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 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 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 a medieval tunic and pants, wearing a long royal-purple cloak and wielding a tall scythe, and a young woman 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, "it sounds like they're trying to lure you into a trap."

"But if they're testing us," Marle asked, "it might be better to accept the challenge. The weaker Porre thinks we are, the greater advantage we'll have during the battle."

"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 black vest, pulling out a crystal-studded sash and tossing it to the tall blonde 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 replied in awe, "that really is the Masamune you're using."

"That's right," he said, then backflipped 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 bolted doors 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 covenent 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 agreed, 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, slicing over 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, two quick swipes slicing at the young king's chest, leaving long red rips in his white shirt, "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 two fresh cuts 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 lose the battle. 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 soldiers and suddenly leaped forward, knocking Crono against the ground and then throwing himself flat against the ground as the soldiers 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 held his gigantic sword out at arm's length as he rode into the group and the soldiers scattered, his blade catching one of them and ripping through the man's armor.

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 back.

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 kneeling beside the Porre gunman as he grabbed the wooden handle and yanked the axe out of the man's back.

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.

He rode his horse through the small clearing, his group of men surrounded on every side by the thick crowd of fighting soldiers. Bodies lay on the ground before them, blue-suited Porre soldiers lying sprawled 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'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 asked 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.

"Who could make something like that," Crono asked as the creature paused to recharge its weapon.

"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 in the school. But she moved away when we were ten."

"Crono," Lucca said, shaking her head, "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 this idea, 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. You'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 to 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 orb 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 sank 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 living things."

"Double-techs with Crono," Lucca snickered, "there might be hope for you yet, Magus."

"We should get back into triangle-formation," Marle said, "a few more techs 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.

"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 you 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 this type of wound 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, "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...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, fighting Porre...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 kissed his wife's cheek tenderly and then rose to his feet without a word, turning toward the squad of Porre soldiers fighting at the castle gates, his tear-clouded eyes narrowing in rage.

"Crono, we need you, Guardia needs you," Lucca shouted, "Marle wouldn't want this!"

"Marle's gone," he whispered, his fists tightening, "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 small blue electric sparks began to crackle and writhe over his clothes and across his 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 Lucca and Magus, still knelt beside Marle, and shouted 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 sheet 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 slowly, "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 answered, "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 have to find out what went wrong, why things are like this...or it'll 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 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 the landscape vanished into a sea of darkness, distant pinpoints of light blinking from within the void. The abyss seemed to whirl and twist wildly about the group of Porre soldiers and their screams rang through the empty darkness as it folded around them. A burst of cold pale light filled the horizon and the men had vanished, the fields and burning town empty except for a few villagers, leaving the two figures alone, Magus standing grimly beside Lucca as she knelt sobbing beside the fallen king.

Chapter 6: The Darkest Hour August, 1005 AD

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 over the twin graves as he read from a book, his face as lost and grief-filled as the crowd he'd meant to console.

"Every night will have a day," he read softly, "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 it for showing its face today. She looked back around at the rest of the crowd and to the chancellor, who'd asked for people to speak about 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 the 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 goodbyes, 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.


* * *

"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, 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 he hated the ancient, gnarled trees.

Out of all the things he had expected, none of them 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.


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 cocked 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 muttered to herself with confusion, "what have you done, Magus?"

"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 turned back toward her room. She slowly opened the door and hesitated for a moment before turning on the light. She suddenly imagined an ambush lurking in her room, some hideous answer to the terrible mystery of what'd happened to Magus.

She 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 living room, "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, "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 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 onto the couch. She stepped into the bathroom and checked through the cabinet: bandages, antibiotics, 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: The Cogs of Fate

Insanity leads to chaos, then to solitude... The fruitless effort of adding meaning to what is meaningless.

A lone crimson tear falls to the sea... The echo of the remaining star cries out in the infinite vacuum

The least I can do is send my distant prayers Over the wind of time, setting sail on dreams...

--The Poet of Arni Village, Chrono Cross

Chapter 1: Among the Ruins January, 1010 AD

Lucca walked alone down the small hiking trail that led from Truce back to the bridge and her house, two bags of graceries balanced atop her shoulders as she walked down a low grassy hill, glancing back over the crest toward the village of Truce. When Guardia fell five years ago, she'd thought the village of Truce would die with it, the people scattered across the continent as nomads and refugees--but somehow life had gone on and she'd helped rebuild the town. Some of the same people even lived in the small village that had sprung out of the ruins of old Truce--Fritz and Elaine still ran their shop and the mayor's house had been rebuilt.

She looked back at the road with a smile and then suddenly stopped, her smile fading as two Porre soldiers, wearing navy-blue uniforms and blue helmets with glass visors that covered their eyes, emerged from a small grove of leafless tree onto the road, led by a dark-haired young officer wearing a headse.

"Lucca Ashtear," the officer said in a thin clipped voice, as the other two raised their rifles, "I'm Commander Gereth of the Porre military police. We have orders for your arrest."

"Not this again," she rolled her eyes, "look, I've been through this before. I'm in a hurry, you're not going to take me in, so why don't we just call it a day? I've really got to get some of this food to an ice-box..."

"This is serious," the young officer interrupted, "the council has demanded your apprehension!"

"Oh, the council," she said sarcastically, "alright, fine. Just give me a moment."

Gereth nodded to his soldiers and they lowered their rifles as she stooped to the ground and sat the bags of groceries down, then stood back up, a small grin on her elfish face as she looked at them.

"You actually thought I was giving up, didn't you," she snickered to the officer, "oh, come on!"

"We're armed," Commander Gereth answered, "don't try anything stupid."

"You know," she said, flexing her fingers, "Porre should really brief its soldiers better. Sure, you have guns, really impressive. But then again," she paused for a second, "so do I."

She suddenly whipped a gleaming automatic weapon from her belt and slid back the bolt before any of the soldiers could react. She pointed it straight at their leader, a red dot of light appearing on his chest.

"Boys, meet the Zonker-3800," she said with a grin as she stared them down, "laser-scope sighting, magnetized denadorite barrel, sunstone-charged battery and self-loading rounds. So tell me about your guns."

"They, uh," the young officer said, then paused for a moment, thinking, before raising his voice, "it doesn't matter what kind of guns we have, we're acting under the orders of Porre! You have to come with us!"

"You didn't say the magic word," she answered, gun still pointed at him, "not that it'd do much good."

Their leader nodded to one of the soldiers, and the man began to squeeze the trigger. He suddenly tumbled backward with a cry as a small burst of electric light exploded against his chest. Gereth looked back as Lucca whirled toward him, smoke wafting from the barrel of her gun as the soldier tumbled limply to the ground.

"It's also got a stun-feature that lowers the charge just enough to knock people out," Lucca said, "but for some reason the switch keeps flipping back and forth. It could go back to kill-mode any second now."

"Subdue the suspect," the officer shouted, "use any means necessary!"

"Take five, you lousy mugs!"

Lucca bent her hand sideways, twisting the gun at an angle toward the other soldier, and this time Gereth caught a glimpse of a small orb of light fly out of the barrel of her gun as she pulled the trigger, hurtling through the air and smashing into the Porre soldier's chest. The man screamed as a burst of energy swept through his limbs and he collapsed onto the ground as the commander looked back up to find the gun pointed at him.

"Nya ha ha," she cackled, "see what happens to fools who challange the mighty Lucca!"

"This is Commander Gereth," the frightened officer whispered into his microphone, "two officers are down, suspect is armed and dangerous! Proceed to phase two immediately!"

The trees around them rustled and shook, dried leaves fluttering down through the air, and suddenly a large group of soldiers leaped down from the treetops, all of them dressed in brown camaflauge fatigues and holding rifles. They landed on their feet all around the bemused young woman, guns all aimed straight at her.

"You can't shoot all of us at once, no matter how advanced your gun is," Gereth said calmly as the rest of his troops surrounded her, guns raised toward her, "so just surrender."

"I guess so," she sighed, lowering her gun, then suddenly thrust her right hand into the sky.


Blasts of scorching air swept across the fields from every direction and the soldiers stared around in shock, rifles dropping to the ground as a crimson glow filled the sky. Bubbles of liquid fire floated overhead, each sphere swelling into a dim scorching sun hovering over the grove and searing the treetops. Gereth looked around at the shimmering landscape, beads of sweat rolling down his face--and the bobbing spheres of fire suddenly exploded, knocking the soldiers onto their backs. The commander blinked through a cloud of stinging tears, his lungs burning from the blistering air, until the incandescent red glow began to fade into cold winter sunlight.

Most of the soldiers had fallen unconscious, but Gereth and several others had weathered the firestorm and remained on their feet, although Gereth's skin burned against the sunlight and his lungs still ached with each breath. He groaned as he tried to take a deep breath, then managed to curl his charred lips into a defiant smile.

"I've heard stories about a secret explosive weapon," he panted, "but we're still standing."

"That was just a warning blast," Lucca said, arm still raised, "there's a lot more where that came from!"

"Stand down or we'll open fire," Gereth said, and then his voice slowly faded as twilight fell across the road and engulfed the small grove. He looked up and gave a sudden surprised gasp as the yellow afternoon sun seemed to shrivel and blacken, the blue sky fading into darkness. An ocean of thick mist rolled across the twilight landscape and he twisted around as he heard a deep booming voice echoing from the unnatural darkness.


"You guys are in trou-uuble," he heard Lucca taunting from behind the thick wall of mist.

The mist suddenly seemed to burn against Gereth's skin and he heard the rest of his men screaming in pain as his own skin seemed to burn with some kind of cold heat, the mist scorching and freezing his already-burnt flesh as he stared around frantically through the purple fog-drenched twilight. Shadows twisted and tumbled around him as some of the soldiers collapsed, their lungs aching from the dark noxious mists, and then he noticed another shape gliding through the mists, red eyes glaring out of the gloomy twilight.

A wooden pole slammed against the side of his face and he staggered backward, spitting out the shattered pieces of his back teeth as he shook his head, trying to regain his bearings. A shadowy figure swept forward, a pole gripped tightly in its hands, and he grunted as he felt the pole swinging across his gut, his body doubling over the wooden staff. The pole slipped out from beneath him and then swung down across his back, knocking him onto his stomach as the figure disappeared again, taking down each one of the coughing, choking soldiers.

The mist suddenly evaporated, the dusky landscape suddenly drenched in bright sunlight, and Lucca bent down to pick up her groceries, quickly glancing at the fallen soldiers, then back up to the brooding figure standing across from her, his long blue hair braided, dressed in a gleaming white tuxedo with gold trimmings and holding a wooden quarterstaff in both hands as he narrowed his red eyes at her.

"You shouldn't toy with them Lucca," he said, "a single gunshot could have ended this."

"Yeah," Lucca nodded as Janus glided forward and grabbed one of the grocery bags himself, "but if I used my full power at once, it might have killed them. By the way, they're not..."

"No," he shook his head as they continued through the small clump of trees toward the bridge, "they're just unconscious. When they awake, I imagine they'll return to Porre and tell their generals you used a secret explosive weapon. After all," he added with a small grin, "they know Porre won't tolerate any rumors about magic."

"Speaking of magic," she suddenly said, "wasn't dark-mist magic a little bit of overkill?"

"It wouldn't be necessary," he answered with a sideways glance at her as they reached the small wooden bridge that led to Lucca's house, "if it weren't for this outfit. How much fear can I inspire in a tuxedo?"

"Hey, it's stylish," Lucca exclaimed, "besides, Porre knows the stories about Magus. If they saw someone wearing his clothes, it'd make them suspicious. This way they won't recognize you."

"I barely recognize myself," he replied, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand, "but we should hurry."

"Why," Lucca suddenly asked.

"When I saw your magic on the horizon," he answered slowly, "I had to leave the kids with Melchior."

* * *

Lucca jogged across the bridge and into the backyard of her old Victorian house to find Melchior with the small group of kids, looking over their shoulders as they sat at the picnic tables, scribbling with crayons. Tall pine trees lined the yard, casting deep green shadows across the wooden tables while the distant roar of the ocean filled the otherwise-silent air. She sighed with relief and glanced back as Janus came up behind her.

"Wow," Lucca said softly as Melchior smiled and waved her over, "they're actually behaving."

"Lucca," Kid cried out eagerly as she grabbed her sheet of paper and ran across the yard toward the two of them, holding a brownie in her other hand, "look, I made a drawing! You too Janus, look!"

Janus smiled and stroked his five year-old sister's blonde hair as she thrust her drawing over her head for him to see, then took the paper in one hand, "so you've listened to Melchior like I told you?"

"Yeah, he's been telling us stories," she answered breathlessly, "so then we drew about the story."

"Good," he said, bending his knees so the little girl could look at the drawing too, "this is really good--you drew Frog's cloak right and you even got the words on the side of the Masamune...right..."

He slowly stopped talking as he realized what he was looking at, then glanced to Lucca, who stood on Kid's left side looking at the picture too. She nodded to Janus, then looked down to Kid.

"Kid, exactly what stories did Melchior tell you?"

"He told us about how you and Janus and the king and queen and Froggy and Robo and Leah flew around on the wings of time and fought a monster called Lava with a mastermune and a timed egg!"

Lucca took a single deep breath and slowly sighed.

"Do you know what the wings of time are," Janus asked, "or the time-egg?"

"Well, the wings let you fly," she answered slowly, trying to figure it out, "and a timed egg, um, comes from timed chickens. It's sorta like an easter egg."

"Something like that," Lucca answered, a smile flickering across her stern face, "we'll hang your drawings up in the living room in a little bit, okay? Until then, why don't you show it to the rest of the kids? We'll be over there in just a moment, after we talk with Melchior."

The little girl cheered and ran off to tell the five other children still drawing at the table as Melchior walked on his cane toward them, smiling innocently as they glared at him.

"Melchior," Lucca said, exasperated, "we didn't want to tell them about that, least of all Kid! She's way too young to understand all of it, we want her to be her own person!"

"Don't worry," Melchior reassured her, "I just told them a fairy-tale, that's all."

"A fairy-tale starring all of us," Janus replied, "you at least didn't tell Kid about...about Zeal, did you?"

"No," he smiled reassuringly, "Lucca's her big sister, Janus is her friend, and she's just Kid. But you'll have to tell her about all of that someday--it's part of who she was, who she is now."

"I know," Lucca nodded with a sigh, "but right now she's so independent, so free-spirited. She's a unique individual and I don't want her to grow up thinking she's just a copy of someone else's life."

"Besides," Janus answered, studying Kid closely as she showed off her drawing to the rest of the children, "she may remember it on her own. Melchior, did you tell her about your insignia on the Masamune?"

"No," he answered, puzzled, "I didn't even tell her I made it."

"She knew," Janus said in a low whisper, "she drew your name on it, just as it appears on the blade."

"Could she have seen it," Melchior asked, tilting his head with confusion.

"No," Janus shook his head, "it's been locked in my closet for the past five years, since she was an infant. She's never even known about it, much less seen it."

Melchior adjusted his darkened glasses and brushed his moustache thoughtfully as the three of them sat down at one of the tables, Lucca watching the children out of the corner of her eyes.

"Then it might really work," Melchior said softly, "how close are we?"

"Maybe a month or two," Lucca shrugged, "I've still got to calibrate the output frequency to match her own brain-waves and we have to make absolutely sure it's safe, but the theory's sound."

"But she won't remember any of it," Melchior asked.

"Not if it works," she answered, "the machine should shift her brain-activity from the frontal lobes to her long-term memory. She won't be conscious, but she'll have access to all her memories, and she'll be able to describe them to us. If the original timeline's buried in her memories, we'll find out what happened to her."

"And perhaps what happened to this world," Melchior said, "whatever's changed history, whatever created this new world, I have a feeling that she's a part of it."

"Brave new world," Lucca whispered, a hint of bitterness in her voice, "that Crono and Marle never got to see. I just hope we've done the right thing, helping Truce rebuild instead of going after Porre..."

"You've said it yourself," Janus answered softly, "Crono and Marle would've wanted us to help Truce and its people, and to try to help the people of Porre. Revenge wasn't their way."

"Yeah," she smiled weakly at him.

"Speaking of Porre," Melchior said reluctantly, "I've heard news of them. There's a new figure in the Porre council, a demi-human from El Nido named Lynx. I've heard he looks like a panther, but he's very intelligent, very manipulative. He's promised them the legendary treasure of El Nido--a treasure that's supposed to grant wishes."

"It's a lie," Janus shook his head, "every power has its limit. Nothing could grant every wish."

"I agree," Melchior answered, "I don't think it grants wishes either, especially after I heard its name. I think Lynx is just using that legend to gain influence over the council, though I don't know why."

"What's this treasure called," Lucca asked curiously as she cleaned her glasses with her shirt.

"The frozen flame."

The three of them sat silently for a moment as birds and crickets chirped in the pine trees overhead and the kids played tag across the yard. Lucca finally answered, giving voice to all their silent thoughts.

"Lavos," she said, nearly whispering, "Ayla's word. La means fire and vos means big."

"Big fire," Janus nodded, "and frozen flame. That can't be a coincidence, not if it's in El Nido."

"Maybe we'll learn more from her," Lucca watched Kid sprint across the yard to tag Sarah, then turn around to run as the older girl gave chase, "by the way, I couldn't help but notice that Kid had a brownie."

"That's right," Melchior smiled, "I gave each of them a brownie while they listened to our story."

"It was Kid's idea," Janus sighed, "wasn't it?"

"Yeah," the old man said, tilting his head slightly, "why?"

"I don't suppose she mentioned," Lucca asked suspiciously, "that she's not allowed to eat any sweets until she starts eating her vegetables at dinner, did she?"

"It must have slipped her mind," Melchior winked.

"I've also heard some interesting stories," Janus said slowly, looking up at Melchior, "about a small group of teenagers who rob the Porre outposts and bring the money back to help rebuild Truce."

"That's right," Melchior nodded, "they call themselves the Radical Dreamers, I think."

"I've heard they have a mentor," Janus said, looking intently at the guru, "an old man in bright orange and blue robes, wearing dark glasses and a pointed hat, who leads them and helps plan their raids."

"Melchior," Lucca gasped in surprise, "YOU'RE the guy who founded the Radical Dreamers?!"

"Why, I would never get involved with such scoundrels," Melchior protested, then laughed, "oh, who am I kidding? Yes, I'm the one who started it. Catchy name, isn't it?"

"That's dangerous," she shook her head, "those kids could get hurt, and if Porre found out about you..."

"Those kids were actually planning to attack Porre," Melchior answered seriously, "and they came to me for the weapons. I talked them out of the attack--that would have been suicide--but they were determined to make some difference, to do something. So we came up with the Radical Dreamers movement."

"The Guru of Life leading a band of thieves," Janus said wonderingly, "I'd never have thought it."

"You two have taken in these five children," he replied, "you've guided the rebuilding of Truce...this is my way of helping. Besides, it's not as shocking as you two make it seem," he grew solemn, "if there's anything that I've learned as one of the Gurus of Zeal, it's that the worst thing you can do in the face of tyranny is nothing."

* * *

Janus stood atop the hill, leaning with one arm pressed against the oak tree as he watched the dim flickering lights of Truce across the river, then he turned around to see Lucca emerging from the darkness, dressed in a pair of brown shorts and a loose beige shirt, her blue eyes shining beneath her clear glasses. He smiled a little at the sight of her and turned back to watch the feeble red glow of sunset fading into the deepening twilight, as they often did together on warm nights such as this one, after everyone else had fallen asleep.

"The girls are asleep," he asked, almost rhetorically.

"Yeah," she answered as she leaned against the front of the tree beside him, "Kid didn't want to go to sleep, so I told her about the stellar life-cycle, with pictures and everything. She didn't last ten minutes."

"I thought," Janus snickered, "we weren't supposed to use sleep-spells on her."

"Well I think it's fascinating," she giggled, "if it makes her fall asleep, her loss. How about the boys?"

"They're bathed and in bed," Janus nodded, "Jacky wants to know more about Magus, the wizard he read about in school. I told him we'd talk about that tomorrow."

Lucca laughed quietly to herself and looked at Janus.

"Do you think they'd even believe us," she shook her head, "if we told them the truth?"

"I wouldn't," Janus snickered and met her blue eyes with his own ruby gaze.

"It's all so different from what I imagined," Lucca sighed, looking back out at the village, "and yet, we made it through, and Truce made it. Despite everything that's happened, we're still here."

"The strong always survive," Janus nodded, "and Guardia will survive too."

"Do you think it's really strong enough?"

"Of course," he smiled, looking over the village and then back at her, "it survived me."

"Hmm," she smiled, a little tired, and leaned against his shoulder. He slipped his left arm down her back and held her as she closed her eyes; she'd sometimes fall asleep like this when they talked on the couch at night and he'd spend almost an hour carefully slipping loose from her, making sure he didn't wake her up.

"Do you think we should go back," he asked softly as she leaned against him.

"It's okay," she answered, her eyes closed as she snuggled against him, not wanting to go yet, "Melchior's staying in the guest room tonight, since his house is half a day's ride back. We don't have to go back yet."

Janus nodded and gently lowered himself onto the ground, letting her lean against his shoulder as they sat against the base of the tree, looking across the moonlit fields at the starswept sky, thin wispy clouds rolling across the pale glow of the moon, the light of the pale orb shimmering and melting through the clouds.

"It never changes ," Lucca murmered softly, "the sky, the moon, the sea. We could be children again and it would look just like this. We'd swing on the swing we used to have tied to the tree-boughs when I was a kid, and then we'd walk down to the village and see the castle, and it'd all look the same, the tree, the hill..."

Janus brushed her short brown hair back over her ear and smiled softly as he looked at her face, her eyes closed as she imagined the kingdom restored, waiting for them to descend into it. He knew better--this sky was not the sky of her childhood: the second moon, the red moon, was simply on the other side of the world right now.

The night sky wasn't familiar to him at all: the stars had all changed, none of the constellations he'd known as a child existed anymore. But she was still right; some things hadn't changed. The ocean still smelled like salt, the waves still crashed against the shore. Stars still twinkled in the night sky. Truce, even after the war, still looked like the village he'd known four centuries ago. Lucca, through it all, had never stopped being Lucca.

He sighed through his nose, not daring to make a sound, as he held his arm around her. He remembered the first time he'd seen her with Crono and Marle at his castle, decades ago, when he'd considered her an enemy. She'd won his respect during the countless battles that followed, but he'd still resented her appearance in the Epoch a few weeks after he'd returned to his era. The search for his sister had been his alone, she'd no right to interfere--and he'd spent months resenting her, annoyed that he couldn't intimidate her the way he had so many others.

She'd forced him to treat her like an equal and, in time, he'd come to see her as one. His search for the truth about his reborn sister had become her search, and the thrill of her discoveries, her compassion for the children and her grief for her friends and the kingdom had slowly become well. Over the years he had slowly become aware of another feeling, a trembling nervousness around her that he'd never known before, around anyone. It had taken months to realize what it meant, and a year after that to admit that it was even possible.

"Lucca," he whispered softly, forcing himself to tell her, as he'd sworn to weeks ago.

"Yeah," she asked, opening her blue eyes a little to look up into his face and he nearly lost his nerve.

"We've known each other," he paused, "a long time, haven't we?"

"Thirteen centuries," she laughed softly, "give or take a millenium or two."

"Yes," he replied, then stopped, suddenly unsure of himself, "are we...are we friends, Lucca?"

"Of course we are," she said with a warm smile, looking up into his eyes, "we've been friends ever since you helped us rescue Crono, though you probably didn't think so back then."

"A lot has changed since then," he said quietly, "we're both different people now."

"No," she looked up from his shoulder and shook her head, "we're the same. We've just grown."

"We have," he nodded, his chest tightening, "my feelings have...grown too, since then."

"What do you mean," she lifted up a little and looked into his face.

"I mean that I," Janus paused, instincts born from a lifetime of suspicion screaming for him to stop.

"I mean," he started again, "that I care about you...more than a friend would."

Lucca thought carefully about that last sentence, lost for a moment by its awkward structure. Janus looked into her distracted eyes, then suddenly stiffened, his blood freezing in a way he hadn't felt in years.

"Weakness," he muttered to himself, "a stupid weak indulgence. I was an idiot to think such things."

"Then we're both idiots," Lucca replied, pressing her palm against his cheek and tilting his hardened face to look at her delighted smile, "Janus, I've felt the same thing! I have for awhile now."

"You have," he asked, his voice wavering between suspicion and joyous disbelief.

"Of course I have," she gently teased him, "hey, I don't cuddle under the stars with just any guy!"

Janus leaned against the tree and simply looked at her as she watched his face. He hadn't thought past this moment and he hadn't dared consider that she'd felt the same way, no matter how obvious it seemed when he looked back at the past few months. In a way, he'd almost wanted her to mock his feelings, to give him a reason to harden his heart again--instead, he felt more open than ever before, his heart bare to her.

"That's wonderful," he smiled, then paused in confusion, "but...what do we do now?"

"I'm only giving you one hint," Lucca said, and she took off her round glasses, gently setting them atop one of the roots and looking deep into his eyes as she slipped her fingers into his half-open left hand.

Janus tilted his head as he leaned forward, watching her soft blue eyes close before he closed his own eyes, suddenly realizing that he'd been imagining this moment for months, without even admitting it. His nose brushed beside hers and a second later he felt her warm lips touch his mouth, sliding slowly over his lips. He tilted her chin up toward his face, caressing her soft lips with his own, losing himself in the growing passion of their kiss.

He suddenly looked up, tilting his head the other way as he gazed into her half-open eyes, both their eyes speaking a longing too powerful for words. He closed his eyes and sank back into their kiss, his hand sliding up her back, to brush her hair through his fingers. She slid her left arm around his neck, squeezing his palm tighter in her right hand as she pulled him closer to her. The rest of the world seemed to slowly dissolve around them, time itself melting away to leave the two of them alone together, sharing a single endless moment in each other's arms.

Chapter 2: The Goddess of Fate February, 1010 AD

Lucca descended the wooden stairs into the basement laboratory and glanced around the long narrow room as she opened the door. Shelves lined the sunlit room, holding half-finished devices and machines, and three long wooden tables sat in the middle of the room, each one crowded with wires and generators to power the experiments she still performed down here. The telepod set that she'd invented for the millenial fair still sat in the far corner of the room, half-dismantled as she'd studied each one, trying to figure out how to improve the technology.

She suddenly noticed Kid cheerfully skipping between the tables, the blue pendant bouncing against her dress as she dodged the small green robot dancing and leaping after her.

"Kid," Lucca said, smiling in spite of herself, "you know you're not supposed to be down here!"

"I know," she pouted and stopped to face Lucca, "but it's boring outside and I wanted to play with Fido, and since he stays down here..."

Fido, the little green mechanical robot that Lucca had made years ago as a reminder of Robo, paused and twirled around on one spindly leg, then automatically bowed at the sight of Lucca.

"Aren't Janus and Gato playing with you outside?"

"Yeah," the little girl answered forlornly, "he's showing us how to fight Gato with that stick, but he won't let me try to beat Gato. He says its too dangerous, but he lets Syra and she's younger than me!"

Lucca chuckled a little at the reference to Janus's quarterstaff--the orphans had never seen him fighting with his scythe since, at Lucca's insistence, he'd put it away in favor of the non-lethal staff years ago.

"I know it doesn't seem fair," she answered gently, kneeling down to look at Kid's face and wide blue eyes, "but I know for a fact he lets you train with him, and he doesn't let any of the other children do that."

"I guess," Kid scuffed her feet against the floor and looked down, "but he always lets me win, it's boring! Maybe he just doesn't like me as much as the rest of them..."

"No," Lucca answered tenderly, her heart aching at Kid's words, "it's just the opposite. He worries about you a lot, Kid, that's why he doesn't want you to play with Gato yet...he's afraid you'll get hurt."

"But even Syra can do it!"

"I know," she sighed and smiled, "tell you what--if you'll help me down here, I'll let you play with Gato, and we'll talk to Janus to see if we can get him to let you play with the older kids. Okay?"

"Okay," Kid answered happily, always thrilled to help her big sister with grown-up work, "hey Fido, we're going to help Lucca do experiments, come on!"

The little green robot swivelled toward Kid and bobbed happily after her as she skipped back around the laboratory, and Lucca smiled as she turned toward her latest project. She lifted the metal gun in one hand, the whole gun made from curved gleaming metal, the barral tapering into small metal rings and a faint blue glow pulsing within the thin skin of metal that covered the futuristic weapon.

"What does that do," Kid asked, peering over the top of the table with both hands.

"It's an ice gun," Lucca answered, "if there's ever a fire, you can point this at it, pull the trigger, and it'll put out the fire with an ice-beam. But it's very dangerous--you'll have to wait until you're older to play with it."

"Aww," she frowned, "I'm too young for everything!"

"You're not too young for Fido," Lucca answered, "and you'd better go get him."

"Fido," Kid cried out in mock-exasperation as she saw the robot trying to walk into a corner, hitting the wall, shaking its head and then trying to walk into the wall again, "come back over here!"

Kid ran across the room to pull Fido back and Lucca smiled at the sight of the cheerful little girl, so different from the gentle young woman she'd known in Zeal--and yet so many little things reminded her of Schala, such as the dimples when she smiled, her shining blue eyes, her apple-red cheeks. She often wondered her Janus felt, watching his sister growing up just as she had once watched him grow up.

The ice-gun dropped from her hands and Lucca looked up in confusion, suddenly finding herself across the laboratory, standing on the opposite of the table she'd just been working on. Lucca blinked, then found herself back at the table, the half-finished ice-gun lying on the shelf before of her...then suddenly found herself standing beside Kid in the back of the room. She glanced around, then looked down at Kid.

"Kid," she said quickly, "stop pushing that button!"

"What's wrong," the little girl asked.

Lucca looked down at the device that Kid had been playing with, a spade-shaped metal box about the size of a violin case, with a red crystal orb embedded in the middle, a round metal crank on top and small buttons below the now-glowing orb, then looked back up in surprise at Kid.

"How did you get this to work," she asked.

"I dunno," Kid answered with a shrug, "I just took all the wires in the back and put the colors together. Red looked good with blue, and green went with yellow, and then black and white."

"That means," Lucca muttered to herself as she lifted the box and studied the back intently, "that the power source has been rerouted directly to the infrared laser, which now loops to the conversion orb instead of the memory cartirdge like it used to. That could work...that could actually work!"

"Did I fix it," Kid asked, "what does it do?"

"It's a teleporter," Lucca answered, "remember how I told you the telepods can turn people into energy and take them to different places in the blink of an eye? Well, this kinda does the same thing, except that you don't have to stand on a telepod. You just program who you want to bring to you, and then you push a button and the device sends out a beam that finds them, turns them into energy and drops them right in front of the machine."

"So I can bring anyone I want right here," Kid asked excitedly.

"You have to program it first," Lucca smiled, "and right now I'm the only one the machine knows."

"But you can program it to know more people, right?"

"Yes," Lucca nodded, "and you'll be able to program it too. You might turn out to be a better inventor than me, Kid! After all, you're the one who figured out how to make the teleporter work."

"Come on," Kid scoffed, "nobody's better than the Great Lucca!"

"Not yet," Lucca winked, "but you could be anything you want...even the Great Kid!"

A computer terminal in the left corner of the lab, near the telepods, began beeping and Lucca glanced over at it curiously, then back to Kid's innocent, baffled expression.

"Did you fix anything else?"

"No, just the wires on that box."

Lucca walked over to the terminal and typed the password into the keyboard, the blank screen suddenly alit with rolling numbers and letters as she carefully studied the display.

"It's a transmission," she said softly, "the dish-antenna on the roof's picking up a transmission..."

"What does that do," Kid asked curiously, looking up at the screen.

"It picks up radio waves from the air," Lucca answered, staring at the screen, "I built it to search for people on other planets, but we've used it mostly to listen to Porre...but this isn't Porre..."

"Who is it?"

Lucca suddenly gave a sharp gasp and turned toward Kid, her eyes wide with surprise.

"Kid, I want you to find Janus right now. It's important."

"I'm here," Janus called out from the basement door, "Kid, we've been looking for you. You shouldn't sneak away like that, it could be dangerous."

"Janus," Lucca said, not turning around, "come look at this screen."

He gave her a puzzled look and walked around the wire-strewn benches and tables, then looked at the black monitor over Lucca's shoulder, trying to read the string of numbers rolling up the screen.

"They're numbers," he said tersely after a few moments.

"No, no," Lucca shook her head, "they're a computer code transmitted over an amplitude-modulated radio broadcast from some unknown source. It's a holographic program, but I think I can modify the telepods to recieve a holographic transmission and play it. The program's vast, it'll take several hours just to recieve the file and process it on the computers here. But that's not the important thing, the important thing's the language..."

"They're numbers," he said again, shaking his head.

"Janus, it's Robo's code!"

"What," he asked, tilting his head and glancing between Lucca, Kid and the screen.

"The code, the identification markers...I don't know how, but the transmission's coming from Robo!"

* * *

Lucca tightened the connections to the old telepod and peered down into the inner circuitry beneath the base of the machine, the innards of the teleporting platform gutted and replaced by holographic lasers, lenses and a computer system infinitely more primitive than the transmission it had to process. Janus stood a few feet away from her and shook his head in disbelief at the blinking lights and sprawling wires of the lab, still lost by the workings of modern technology. She glanced over at a computer screen lying on the floor beside the converted telepod, plastic wires connecting it to both the dish-antenna on the roof and the telepod itself, staring intently at the screen counted the seconds until the transmission ended, until the message started...


"What do you think will happen," Janus asked, staring at the round crystal platform and the circle of loose wires stretching out from its metal base to the computers and wall-outlets around them..

"I don't really know," she shrugged, "but it's definitely a holographic transmission so..."


"Transmission complete," the screen flashed in bright green, "file-conversion in progress..."

Lucca turned quickly toward a keyboard propped against the base of the telepod and began typing, fingers racing over the keys as she activateed the holographic projectors and linked them to the recieving dish. She finished the program and stepped back as the monitor began to flash red again.

"File conversion in 0:03...0:02...0:01...program RY-66 has been initiated."

The tiny crystal diodes in the base of the telepod began to flash and twinkle as five thin beams of light shot up through the booth in a ring, the lasers spinning faster and faster until the whole booth glowed with a thin wall of light. The shell of white light around the telepod began to fade and a ghostly transluscent figure appeared atop the glowing platform. The short cylendrical figure seemed to look at the lab with green crystal eyes, its plate-like head swivelling left and right, leather flaps hanging across the torso of its otherwise golden body.

"Robo," Lucca cried out in joy.

"Greetings Lucca," the transparent image of her robotic friend chirped, "it's been far too long."

"A ghost in the machine," Janus asked, puzzled, as he stood beside the device and waved his hand through the image, Robo's shape flickering a little as his hand passed between the lasers.

"Magus," Robo answered, swivelling to look at him, "an unexpected pleasure. No, this shape is just a kind of message I'm sending. I'm quite alive, although I'm actually somewhere else right now."

"I understand," he nodded slowly, "but I go by Janus now."

"How long has it been," Lucca asked, "it's been ten years on this side."

"I'm actually in this era as well," Robo answered as he turned back toward her, "but for me, it has been more tthan 8,000 years since we last saw each other."

"How," Lucca gasped, "that would mean you came from 10,300 AD!"

"No," Robo answered with a digitized chuckle, "I haven't gone quite that far into the future. The sequence of events that took me through 8,000 years is more complex than that."

"What brought you back here," Janus asked.

"That's a long story," Robo said, "and there isn't time for me to explain it all--this transmission could be detected and interrupted at any moment. Are Crono and Marle here as well?"

"They're gone, Robo," Lucca answered sadly, "they died during the war with Porre. Porre's not like it used to be, they destroyed Guardia. They're taking over the world, piece by piece..."

"I am sorry," Robo beeped forlornly, "I knew that history had already been affected but I never imagined it would lead to anything this extensive, or this terrible..."

"So history really has been changed," Janus said tensely, "what changed it?"

"An enemy that we created ourselves during our adventures ten years ago," Robo answered, "one that is now fighting a temporal war for control of the future. Crono and Marle were casualties of that war, and the war with Porre was just one battle in the larger conflict."

"What kind of enemy," Lucca asked, quietly, "is it in Porre?"

"No," Robo's image said, "but it is using Porre, changing their history to make them into its own army."

"But how did we make it," Lucca shook her head, "all we did was save the future from Lavos!"

"Yes," Robo answered, "but that event had repercussions stretching through centuries of history. There is little time to explain it all and there is something else I need to tell you before my transmission is caught."

"You're being watched somehow," Janus answered, beginning to understand, "you're a prisoner..."

"Yes," Robo answered with a short string of chirping beeps, "which is why I don't have much time."

"Then we'll rescue you," Lucca said quickly, her expression drawn tight, "just tell us where you are!"

"I can't do that, Lucca."

"Then just tell us how we can find you," Janus answered, "we'll take care of the rest."

"You don't understand," Robo beeped sternly, "you mustn't attempt to rescue me, or the same energy that brought me here would be unleashed again and history itself might come to an end. Right now I am the only thing that stands between the power of the frozen flame and the enemy. If she unlocked it, she might claim this timeline as her own empire, or she might inadvertantly annihilate it."

"The frozen flame," Lucca whispered to herself, stunned, "when you say she, who do you mean?"

"I mean our enemy," Robo answered, "the goddess of fate."

"Porre worships the goddess of fate," Janus replied softly, "every battle is fought in her name."

"Then we'll defeat her," Lucca answered, nearly shouting, "we beat Lavos and we can beat some goddess!"

"I know you want to help me Lucca," Robo beeped softly, "but this isn't the way. It's possible that you two could defeat the goddess. But her destruction would cause the frozen flame to fall into the hands of an enemy even more powerful and destructive than her, one that would use it to annihilate the human race."

"Then we'll beat THAT enemy," Lucca cried out, "we have to save you, Robo!"

"You might not be able to defeat that one," Robo said, "just as we fought with the power of the planet itself when we defeated Lavos, so that new enemy would fight with the power of the planet against us. Even if we were to destroy it, the flame itself would then be released and the devourer of time might be summoned."

"I don't understand," Lucca despaired, "isn't there any way to pull you out this web?"

"The war has created a delicate balance across the span of time," he answered, "disturbing a single part of that balance could destroy it, and the loss of that balance could lead to the death of our world."

"Our world is already dying," Janus said sternly, "it might be a slow death, but every year Porre conquers another country and establishes a new set of colonies. Their goddess is winning."

"For now, this is is the only way," Robo beeped softly, "but listen to me. I've contacted you to warn you of two powerful enemies that are coming for you, that will try to convince you to release me, to seperate me from the frozen flame. Don't let them fool you--both of them want to use it to destroy our past."

"Who are they," Lucca asked.

"I believe one of them may already be known to you. He has assumed the form of a feline demi-human and may have recently gained political power in the councils of Porre."

"Lynx," Lucca answered with a firm nod, "yeah, we know about him."

"He's the embodiment of the goddess," Robo chirped, "and he will use any means to gain the power of the frozen flame. But he is neither the most dangerous nor the most powerful of the two."

"Tell us about the other one," Janus asked grimly.

"Thousands of years ago the goddess fought a war against a powerful entity called the Dragon. The entity was split into six elemental forms and imprisoned, but the seventh and most powerful of them has been unleashed. Lynx has entered into an alliance with this seventh dragon...the Dragon of the Dark Moon."

"What does it want," Lucca asked.

"The same thing as Lynx, to unlock and obtaint the frozen flame. Their ultimate designs for the future are different, which is why the war was fought. They have forged a temporary alliance for the purpose of regaining the frozen flame, but that alliance will end once they've suceeded."

"But what do they want with us," Lucca asked, "we don't have the flame."

"The goddess has it," Robo answered, "but I have control of it and have sealed its power. With the flame sealed, the goddess is trapped in this time period. You are the only one in this era who knows about my technology, who would know how to seperate me from the flame."

"And so they'd need me to disconnect you," Lucca answered glumly, "so they can go back to fighting their temporal war and taking over the future."

"Yes," Robo beeped in agreement, "they will come for you, Lucca, and you must be ready for them. Lynx is a dangerous and powerful opponent, the dragon even more so."

"We'll be ready," Lucca said, "and once we've finished them off we'll rescue you, Robo..."

The hologram suddenly began to twist and shudder, Robo's image breaking apart into millions of pixels and then reforming back into his shape. His upper mantle lifted up from his body in alarm, then sank as he spoke.

"A diagnostic scan has been initiated," he chirped quickly, "I must disconnect to prevent this transmission from being discovered. Be careful, both of you..."

"Robo," Lucca shouted, "wait!"

The ghostly image dissolved into pixels again and the lasers suddenly faded, the white glow of the telepod dying away to leave Lucca and Janus alone in the cluttered basement laboratory. Lucca suddenly ran to the monitor and began typing frantically on her keyboard, scanning through pages of digital code.

"What are you doing," Janus asked cautiously.

"I'm bringing him back online," she said quickly, barely listening to him as she contunued to reprogram the dish antenna outside, trying to bring her friend back.

"Lucca," Janus knelt behind her as she pounded at the keyboard in frustration, touching her arms gently as she kept typing, staring at the monitor, "that wouldn't help."

"How stupid could I be," she suddenly threw the keyboard against the wall, "I should have made a stronger transmitter, installed a third backup hard-drive, accounted for holographic transmissions..."

"Lucca," he said quietly, "Robo told us that he only had a few moments. He doesn't know fear, he'd only worry about the transmission being discovered if it was truly dangerous--and trying to reconnect could make things worse. He's still alive out there, he simply had to cut the transmission short. He's still okay."

"He is NOT okay," she shouted as she turned around and banged her fist against his chest, then sank into tears as he caught her and lifted her up into his arms, "the goddess is taking everything from us! I used to take ferry rides to Porre as a kid and when we came back, it was a shipyard! She took Porre, she took Guardia, she took Crono and Marle...and now she's got Robo trapped over there and we're supposed to just sit here and do nothing about it while she ruins the whole world!"

"We're not doing nothing," he said sharply, his arm around her waist as he tilted her chin up to look into his red irises and dark pupils, "you've cared for six children who might be homeless without you, you helped rebuild the village, you've fought off Porre troops every time they've tried to raid the village, and done so without killing a single soldier. Without you Porre would have long since razed this land and set up their own colonies."

"But it's not enough," she shook her head, her blue eyes glittering with tears, "the world's falling apart and all I've done is hold onto the little patch around us. You said it yourself--the world is dying."

"You've done what you needed to," he answered slowly, "when the time comes we'll take care of Lynx and this Dragon of the Dark Moon, and then we'll find and rescue Robo. We'll take this world back from them."

"Alright," she gave a small smile through her tears as she hugged him and looked up into his face, "but we don't have to worry about finding Robo. The computer traced the source of the transmission."

"Where did it come from," he asked, looking gently into her eyes.

"Where else," Lucca sighed and closed her eyes, hugging him tighter and leaning against him, "from the same place everything else started...the El Nido islands."

* * *

Melchior leaned over the wooden table, studying the convoy schedules carefully as a small group of teens say around the table. Kyra, a blonde-haired young woman, glanced over his shoulder as she walked back toward the table from the flickering fireplace and Seth, an older teenager with shaggy brown hair, looked out the window toward the twin moons that fillied the otherwise-black sky before turning around toward the group again.

"What do you think," she asked Melchior.

"It's dangerous," he said thoughtfully, "that's a valuable shipment and Porre knows it. They'll have armed guards escorting the transport. Three, maybe four riflemen...and that's if we're lucky."

"That's exactly why we should go after it," Seth answered as he paced back toward the table, "that money could go a long way toward restoring Truce...or building even more gunships for the Porre fleet."

"He's got a point," one of the other teens nodded.

A sharp scream cut off their conversation and all of them jumped up from the table. A second shriek filled the room, the cries coming from behind the door, and they all looked back to Melchior.

"Get ready," he whispered, "it could be Porre's military police..."

The front door of Melchior's house slammed open and a blast of burning wind swept across the room, ruby eyes glaring from the darkness at the group of teenagers gathered around the table with Melchior. The old man rose to his feet, reaching to the back wall and snatching one the hanging swords in one hand as the small group of young men and women drew their daggers toward the intruder as he emerged from the night.

"Stop right now," Melchior shouted, then stopped, his eyes widening, "Janus?!?"

"I apologize for the theatrics," he said tensely, "but your lookouts tried to ambush me on the way in."

"You know him," Seth asked Melchior.

"It's alright," Melchior answered, lowering his sword slightly as the white-clad figure stepped into the glow of the fireplace and looked around at the group, "I think...Janus, what in the world are you doing here?"

"I came here to offer my assistance," the wizard answered.

"What," Melchior shook his head in disbelief, "you're saying you...want to join the Dreamers?"

"I'll help defend the dreamers during their missions," he nodded, "and use my magic to distract the soldiers while you make your raids," he looked to Melchior, "you know what I can do."

"That I do," Melchior nodded slowly. Throughout the magical empire of Zeal, nobody had ever wielded as much magic as Prince Janus--and Janus had since spent more than forty years developing that power.

"But you have other responsibilities," Melchior shook his head, "the orphanage and guarding Truce..."

"I haven't forsaken those duties," Janus replied firmly, "and I won't be able to join you in all your attacks or skirmishes. But the robberies I'll help you stage against Porre will be legendary."

"Really," Seth asked skeptically, "and what would you have us rob that we couldn't anyway?"

"Simple," he answered, "the frozen flame."

"The what," Kyra asked in surprise, "the treasure that grants wishes?!"

"Janus," Melchior said sternly, "we don't know anything about the flame..."

"Or even where it is," Krya said, "we could spend forever searching the world for it..."

"We'll retrieve it for Lucca to study," Janus nodded to Melchior, "though she mustn't know about this plan. She hasn't fully accepted the Dreamers or your methods."

"But we still don't know where it is," Seth cried out in exasperation, "it could be anywhere..."

"This should narrow the search," Janus answered and he tossed a piece of paper onto the table. The group of young thieves leaned over the table to look at the sheet of paper as Melchior glanced down at it, then gave Janus a questioning look, the room filled with the teens' whispers and excited conversation.

Janus silently nodded to the guru and they both looked back down at the map of El Nido.

Chapter 3: The Vengeance of the Future March, 1010 AD

Kid sat asleep in the cushioned living-room chair, electrodes taped to her forehead, Janus sitting beside her while Lucca adjusted the dials on the computer and checked the screen, the small spikes of her breath-rate, heartbeat and brain-wave activity slowly and steadily rolling across the screen. The rest of the children were still at school or over at a friend's house--Lucca had spent weeks arranging this night.

"Do you think she's ready for this," Janus asked, looking down at his sleeping sister with concern.

"She has a full vocabulary," Lucca answered, "and the device should only stimulate her memory, her mind shouldn't be affected at all. But I know what you the first sign of trouble, we pull the plug. If this works, we'll be able to ask her about her life. My theory is that she has both sets of memories, just as you remember both the prophet and the original timeline, and that she simply forgot her previous life as she grew up since she couldn't make sense out of it. If that's true, she'll be able to remember what changed, what brought her here."

"Let's do it," Janus finally nodded, and Lucca started the program, Kid's eyes instantly opening.

"Kid," Lucca asked as she adusted the dials on the device and checked the readout of the young girl's vital signs once more,, then nodded with satisfaction, "can you hear me?"

"Yes," the entranced girl answered in a dull muted voice.

"Do you know who I am?"

"Yes, you're my big sister Lucca."

"Yes," Lucca answered with a smile, adjusting her glasses as she sat down and focused on Kid, "you are safe, Kid, nothing bad can happen to you. Do you understand?"

"Yes, I'm safe. Lucca's with me"

"Right now you're just asleep and having a dream. There's nothing to be afraid of."


"Now, I want you to think back, Kid. I want you to remember the first time you saw me. The very first time, as far back as you can go. Can you remember that? Can you describe it?"

"Yes," the little girl answered with the slightest lisp, "I remember you were standing below great big trees, lots of trees, and you were big. I was in a small place that smelled like straw."

"Amazing," Lucca whispered to Janus, who had shifted forward to the edge of his seat, watching his sister with obsessive fascination, "that must be the forest when I found her. I didn't think she'd go back that far."

"Yes," he whispered back, "but she'll have to go much further than that to answer our questions."

"I know," she whispered, before checking the brain-wave readings and speaking again in a normal tone of voice, "Now, I want you to try to remember the place before the straw and trees. I want you to think back to where you were before you came to the forest. Can you remember that?"

"I don't want to," the little girl answered, her voice rising into something almost resembling panic, "it's scary over there and she's mean sometimes. I don't want to go back there."

Lucca looked slowly at Janus and tilted her head questioningly. He glanced back and shook his head, also confused by her words. Lucca took a final look at the screen and sighed before continuing.

"It's alright, we'll be here with you. I need you to think about where you were before the forest, okay? It's okay, you'll be safe with us. Can you remember where you were before the forest?"

"No," Kid answered, "but she can."

Lucca looked over at Janus's baffled expression, and he nodded to her. Lucca nodded back.

"Then we need to speak with her, Kid. Can you talk to the girl who's over there, before the forest? Will you tell her we need to talk to her? I promise you'll be safe."

Kid trembled and squirmed in her chair fearfully then answered them.

"I'll tell her," Kid said nervously, then suddenly went limp in her chair, her eyes opening after a moment.

"Kid," Lucca asked apprehensively, "can you hear me?"

"No, she can't" a woman's voice answered and Lucca shivered at the sight of the little blonde-haired toddler talking to her in a grown voice, a voice she recognized. Janus spoke for the first time, his voice trembling.

"Schala," he asked, "is that really you?"

Whatever presence had been awakened within Kid didn't seem to hear him.

"It's cold and dark here. I can't get it out of my mind," she said in a soft low voice that belied the emotion of her words, "It makes me think thoughts I don't want to think about and it wants to make me do things I don't want to do," she said, almost as though she were singing a jump-rope song, before sobbing "I can't hold out much longer."

"Schala, where are you," Janus asked, tensed and worried, "are you alright?"

Lucca leaned over to him and whispered, "Kid's just remembering another timeline. Don't worry, she's right here in front of us. These are just her memories," she said reassuringly, before thinking, "at least I hope so."

"Janus," the girl suddenly said with a smile that at once seemed tender and dreadful, looking straight at him "you're here. I love you so much," she said gently in the same soothing tone that she had comforted him with as a child in Zeal, "that is why I sometimes desire to smash you to pieces."

Lucca glanced away, the shock and pain in Janus's face too horrible to take in.

"Lucca," he whispered plaintively, his voice shaking, "what's wrong with her?"

"I don't know," she whispered back.

"Don't you see, little brother," she asked in a cold empty voice, holding her palms out before her, "the past is dead. In the end there is only the void, and all we can do is prepare for the abyss."

"No," he whispered, shaking his head, terrified by the familiarity of her words.

"Melchior," the girl replied, "is no more foolish than the rest of you for clinging to hope."

"Janus," Lucca whispered as she looked down from the staring girl to the computer screen, "look at these readouts. These aren't memory engrams, there are active thought-processes occuring here."

"What does that mean," he whispered back as the blank-eyed girl looked back and forth betwen them, then he looked down at the monitor. Where small wiggly lines had followed the center of the screen before there now ran huge mountains and valleys, the waves stretching from the top of the page to the screen.

"I don't know," Lucca answered, studying the screen and then looking back up at the girl, "but her brain's showing signs of actual thought. It almost looks like she's conscious."

"But you said that'd be impossible," he whispered harshly, "these are only supposed to be memories!"

"It IS impossible," she whispered back, "her frontal lobes are completely inactive. These signals are coming from her memory-center, but they're not capable of this by themselves. It's like they're linked to somewhere else..."

"Are you saying she's describing something that's happing somewhere right now?"

"Maybe," she shook her head, "or maybe something that's going to happen in the future..."

"I want to help him," the girl continued to herself in a childish voice and they turned back to her, "because he's so close and he's crying. He reminds me of Janus and I want to help him, that's why I sent you."

"Schala," Janus answered softly, trying to reach through to her, "I'm right here."

"I called him to us and I helped him, I made him better. But it made me do something else to him, something terrible. He doesn't know about it yet," she fell into that same childlike sing-song voice, "but he wii--iill."

"Who did you help," Lucca asked, trying to keep her voice steady, "what did it make you do?"

"It's a secret, but she knows about it too," the girl whispered, "that's why she wants to kill him."

"Schala," Janus suddenly shouted, jumping up from his seat,"just tell us where you are!"

"Janus, don't," Lucca said in a frightened whisper, grabbing his hand tight, keeping him from running over to the calmly watching girl, "I don't think this is Schala. Not completely."

"The ochre lands have whithered and dried," the young girl said, her lilting voice deepening a little, "don't you understand? This planet would be peaceful if there were no humans around."

"We've heard this before," Lucca said in a hushed, awe-struck whisper.

"And yet you still want to fight," the toddler asked, "why?"

"We should wake her," Janus said after a moment of silence, "we've learned all we can."

"Our species will replace you," she continued, glancing back and forth between the two of them, "so stop your foolish struggles and succumb to the sleep of eternity."

"Oh no," Lucca suddenly groaned as she looked at the screens, then began to frantically at the keyboard, "the thought-patterns are spreading, they're rewriting her frontal lobes!"

"English, Lucca," Janus demanded.

"It means we're losing Kid," she shouted as she typed faster, "I'm trying to shut down the link between her memory-center and her frontal lobes, that seems to be the link. Janus, whatever's speaking to us is invading Kid's personality, it's spreading through her whole brain!"

"Dark power, wild energy," the young girl suddenly started screaming, "no...stop it!"

"Lucca, wake her up, NOW," Janus shouted as she screamed and howled in pain, her hands pressed tight against her head as she rocked back and forth against the chair. Lucca pounded at the keyborard, her fingers almost a blur as she raced against the spreading energy, trying to bring the young girl's brain waves back to normal as her panicked screams grew shrill, loud...and somehow inhuman.

Kid suddenly snapped upright, the curious gleam in her eyes unmistakably hers, and she squirmed a little as Lucca ran back and lifted her into her arms in a tight hug. Janus sighed deeply as he saw Kid's innocent, slightly confused expression and then rose from his chair without a word, lost in some inner tempest, the door slamming shut behind him as he stepped out into the twilight darkness beyond.

"Um, Lucca," Kid protested, wriggling out of Lucca's arms, "you're squeezing me too hard. I just took a nap like you said I would. What's the big deal, and where did Janus go?"

Lucca turned her head to wipe the tears from beneath her glasses and then smiled.

"You're right, Kid. The experiment worked perfectly, thanks to you. You were a great subject."

"Of course I was," Kid said with a grin, "I'm the Great Lucca's sister!"

"Yeah," Lucca sighed, and smiled again, "Kid, I want you to wait here for a minute. I'm going to find Janus and then we'll all go out to Truce Inn for dinner, okay?"

"Alright!," Kid shouted, always excited when they took her out, "I'll go get dressed!"

"No, wait, Kid, I'll dress you," Lucca gave up as Kid ran upstairs. Kid really didn't have a firm grasp of how clothes worked, often putting on shirts backwards and shoes on the wrong feet, but she always insisted on trying to put on her own clothes before reluctantly asking for help. Kid always wanted to do things for herself, she thought with a smile, just like Lucca herself had when she was Kid's age. She then turned to look outside for Janus.

* * *

"What do you think?"

Janus stood outside the house looking at the sunset, his white suit sweeping against the wind and his fists clenced with an anger Lucca hadn't seen in many years.

"I think," he said slowly, "that Schala's still out there, and she still needs my help."

"Janus, Schala's inside getting dressed so we can go out to Truce tonight. Whatever happened to her, it's over now. She's safe, those had to have been memories fron another your memories..."

Janus shook his head and looked back over his shoulder, his features profiled in shadow by the dying rays of the setting sun, his eyes alight with unspoken pain, and as darkness stretched over the sky, she realized why both the Mystics and the knights of Guardia had feared him so much, why they had called him Magus.

"It's not over," he answered, his head just barely turned over his shoulder, "you heard her quote my words from that night four years ago. Kid was already with us then, so Schala must have been somewhere else, somewhere where she could have heard that conversation, before she ever arrived in the forest."

Lucca closed her eyes and tried to visualize the tangled lifeline Kid must have led.

"So you think," she answered slowly, deliberately thinking out each word, "that Kid came to the forest, to 1004 AD, from the future, that she didn't come here straight from the time-crash of Zeal."

"She knew too much," Janus answered grimly, "you heard her quoting the Mother Brain computer. Those words should never have been spoken, Lucca, not after we destroyed Lavos."

"No, you're right," she shook her head, "it's almost like there were two voices. Schala and...something else that spoke by quoting other people, by using history's words as its own voice."

"And they were becoming one," Janus said, staring into the darkening sky, "and she knew about things in the present and past. I don't think she was transported to the future, I think wherever she is, she was over there four years ago, she's over there now, and she'll still be over there in 2300 AD when Mother Brain exists."

"A place where she can see all of history at once," Lucca replied thoughtfully, "where she doesn't age..."

"The End of Time," she suddenly shouted, realizing the truth.

"Exactly," he answered, "and the only way to get there is lying in pieces at the bottom of the ocean."

Lucca's heart sank as she remembered that she'd sunk the Epoch. Keeping it after its engine had burnt out probably wouldn't have done much good, and she hadn't dared to risk Porre siezing the vessel, but still...

"Melchior can help! If anybody knows temporal physics, he does! Besides, with my brain it'll be a cinch to find some other way to travel through time and get her! That is, if somebody else hasn't already rescued her..."

"What," Magus demanded irritably.

"Well, if Kid's here now," Lucca answered thoughtfully, trying to mentally untangle the web of timelines that must comprise Schala's life, " that might mean somebody's already freed her from the End of Time."

"Or it might mean that we're supposed to free her in the future," he countered, "we have to find her, fast."

Lucca simply nodded, knowing that this was far too important to Janus to argue over grandfather paradoxes and time-travel theories--and she agreed that if Schala was somehow still out there, they had to save her, as quickly as possible. Only one thing Schala said had made any sense: she said she couldn't hold out much longer.

Everything else had been the ramblings of a violent lunatic.

Chapter 4: Orphans of Fire March, 1010 AD

"It's nearly finished," Lucca said as she screwed the top half of the golden egg over the small machine-filled capsule. Janus and Kid sat at the living-room table with her, looking at the egg-like machine and then the scattered notes and diagrams spread across the table beneath it, Kid dressed in her pajamas.

"Is that a timed egg," Kid asked, gripping the table with both hands as she looked at it.

"That's it," Lucca said proudly, "the electromagnetic containment field's in place. In theory, a microscopic black hole could be contained within the polarized shell by the magnetic field, and rotating the chrono trigger's field should also rotate the singularity within the black hole."

"Uh-huh," Kid asked doubtfully and turned toward Janus, "what does that mean?"

"Among other things," Janus said with a smile, "it means your bedtime was over an hour ago."

"But I want to help Lucca build the egg," she said anxiously.

"Don't worry," Lucca smiled, "you'll get to see it all tomorrow. Besides, you've already stayed up later than the rest of the children. If you stay up too late, you'll sleep through the experiment tomorrow morning."

"Okay," she answered and trudged up the stairs to her bedroom, Lucca rising from her seat and climbing upstairs with her to tuck her into bed. She came back down a few minutes to find Janus sitting at the table, studying the device and glancing over the papers at her notes.

"She asked a good question," he asked, looking up, "what does that mean?"

"Well," she sat down beside him, "a rotating black hole creates a ring-shaped core called a singularity, with a kind of tunnel within it that crosses time and space. If we can rotate it fast enough, then the ring will expand into a spatial fold, joining the space around the trigger with another space at another moment of time."

"So it could send anyone near it into a moment of the past or future," he answered, lifting the golden device in one hand and studying it, "just as Gasper's trigger allowed us to go back to a single frozen moment."

"Exactly," she nodded, "except this time-egg's been programmed with a different angular velocity, so it will connect our spacetime to the End of Time and Gasper...and hopefully to Schala."

"Do you have any idea what we'll find over there," Janus asked.

"I don't know," she sighed, "but given what we heard, we should probably be prepared for anything."

"Is it ready now?"

"Not quite," she answered, "I still can't figure out how Gasper ever managed to create a microscopic black hole in the first place. Without that the trigger's useless, like a boat without an engine."

"Melchior might know that secret," Janus offered, "we should find him."

"Right," she nodded, "Janus, will you stay here with the children? I'll take the time-egg to him and try to figure out how to finish it. With any luck we'll be back tomorrow afternoon to use it."

"No," he answered slowly, rising from the chair to his feet, "it's too dangerous for you to travel alone with Lynx and the dragon searching for you. I'll make the trip and bring Melchior back here."

"But it's a half-day's journey," she protested, "it'd be quicker for me to go to him to help fix it."

"It's only a half day for boats," Janus said, "I can bring him back by sunrise. Besides, I'm not letting you leave Truce alone, and one of us has to stay here. Let me do this, Lucca."

"Alright," she whispered and rose from the table to hug him, her arms tight around him as she kissed his cheek and looked into her eyes, "but please be careful out there, Janus."

He nodded and kissed Lucca's forehead gently, then slipped her glasses off and began softly kissing her lips, her arms sliding tighter around him. She moaned softly into their kiss and clutched the back of his white jacket tightly as their crushed lips slipped and brushed each other. Janus pulling Lucca's slender body against him and they looked at each other after a moment, the warmth of their kiss lingering between them as they gazed into each other's eyes. Janus suddenly reached down into the collar of his shirt and pulled out a small amulet.

"When I was child in Zeal," he said softly, slipping the necklace from his neck and clutching it in his right hand between them, as he held Lucca with one arm, "Schala gave me this amulet. She said it would always protect me.and keep me close to her. Throughout forty years it's done just that."

Lucca silently nodded and looked at the amulet, a beautiful tear-shaped charm carved from purple amethyst and linked to a thin golden chain. She remembered watching Schala giving young Janus the amulet, just before she went to the Ocean Palace. Throughout his life, Janus had never been without it.

"The amulet," he whispered, "is yours now."

"Janus," she said, her voice trembling, "I can't take the amulet..."

"It's protected me," he interrupted her, sliding his fingers along her arm and curling her palm open to slip the amulet into her hand, "and now I want it to protect you. I want you to have it."

"Alright," she said, sliding the amulet around her own neck and looking up into his eyes, "but it's still your amulet, Janus...and I promise I'll never take it off, no matter what."

"Fair enough," he smiled, and kissed her forehead once more, then hovered into the air, sweeping through the front door into the night. Lucca lifted the amulet back up, her hand trembling slightly as she remembered Schala giving the amulet to Janus, telling him it would always keep them close together. He had never taken the amulet off after that day, through a lifetime in the middle ages, his search through the ruins of Zeal, over the past decade in the modern era--until tonight, when he had given it to her, to keep her as close to him as it had kept him to Schala.

"Janus," she whispered softly, her eyes gleaming, "I love you too."

* * *

Lucca stood at the front door, looking across the teenager's shoulder at the faint red glow over the eastern horizon, the hanging black clouds hinting a storm tomorrow afternoon. The young man waited as she looked back down at the handwritten letter. It'd taken her almost a week to decide what to write--how much did she risk giving away if Porre intercepted the letter or Luccia turned it over to the military? She didn't dare be too specific, lest Porre and its goddess find it and learn about Kid's importance, or about their own plans...

She'd been pleasantly surprised to discover that Luccia still remembered her, that despite all the changes in history, their lifelong friendship had somehow survived in this timeline. But she still wasn't totally sure if she could trust her friend, the young woman who, in this world, had joined the Porre government and built Grobyc.

But if anything happened to them, Luccia might be the only person who'd remain to tell Kid what it meant; her position in the Porre military would shield her from the forces aligning against them. Tomorrow morning she and Janus would use the time-egg to travel to a darkness beyond time, to confront a madness that defied comprehension and hopefully emerge from it with Schala. She still didn't know what would happen to Kid if they succeeded--would the rescue erase the child they'd raised, or would it fulfill her history somehow?

She had to leave a message behind for Kid if something went wrong out there or if Lynx, the feline monster that had come to Porre for her, actually captured her somehow. She hoped and prayed Kid would never have to read this letter, but she owed it to her to make sure that the letter was there, just in case. She unfolded the paper and read over it once more, ignorning the young man's impatient expression...

My Dear Kid,

How are you doing? I wonder how old you are as you read this letter? Perhaps you've matured into a beautiful woman, raising a happy family, by now? I was hoping to talk to you in person when you were old enough, but just in case something happens, I'm writing my feelings down on paper and leaving it with Luccia. Perhaps you already know, or perhaps you yourself are also now caught up in some historic crisis as a result of all this. But, anyway...

A long time ago, we--my friends and I, that is--changed the future in order to save our planet from being devoured by Lavos, a monster from some unknown planet. We still feel proud of the role we played in saving our world, and in how we were so freely able to change the flow of time.

But sometimes I think of the darker side of what we did...what has become of the future that was once supposed to have existed? Where did the "time" that now is no longer allowed to exist "go?" It is true that, thanks to our altering the flow of history, we were able to save so many lives and prevent so much sadness and suffering...

But when you think of it, we also caused the deaths of so many that were meant to have come into existence in the time line we destroyed, and also caused new sadness and suffering further along in the new future we created. That is why I worry that someone might seek revenge on us for what we did. I have had a constant dread in my heart that someone in our new future will travel back in time, just like we did, and try and kill or capture my friends and me. So, even if something dreadful does befall me, Kid, know that what was meant to happen will happen, and that I was always prepared for the worst.

Oh, but don't you dare think the Great Lucca is going to go down without a fight! (I've got a reputation to uphold!) Whatever lies waiting for us around the next corner better watch out, 'cause it's gonna find a pretty mean counter-attack coming its way!

Kid...when I think of you, I remember someone I once met a long, long time ago in the distant past... Heh! But she was the complete opposite of the you in this time quiet and gentle...someday I'll also tell you about her...when you are ready to know of your real name and heritage.

I'm not the slightest bit worried about you, Kid! I know that, no matter what happens, he will always be there looking out for you! Or perhaps he has already found you and is there by your side as you read this? If so, hello Janus! Please take good care of my "little sister" for me!

There is so much more I want to tell you, but I must leave it for another time. Don't worry! Everything is okay! We will overcome whatever woes may occur! That's for certain! Later, when you're all grown up, I'll come visit you and we'll talk over tea. I look foward to that day! Well, anyway Kid, until we meet again...

Forever and ever your friend, (No matter which time line it is!)

Lucca Ashtear

P.S. Cut out the tomboy act! Believe me! You'll become a beautiful young lady one day, or my name isn't "Lucca the Great!"

She folded the paper again, wishing she could tell more but knowing that she couldn't risk writing about the goddess, the flame, or Zeal--writing about such things could endanger Kid if Porre found the letter. Kid would have to learn about those things for herself if anything ever happened to Lucca. She slipped the folded letter back into the envelope and gave it to the brown-haired young man at the door.

"Are you sure you'll be able to get this to her?"

"It'll be tricky," he answered, "Luccia lives in the Porre capital. But sneaking into the city shouldn't be too difficult since Porre's defenses were really only built to guard against direct assaults."

"If there's anything I can do," she offered, "money..."

"Definitely not," he replied, "I know you don't agree with our methods, but we're both committed to Truce and the restoration of Guardia, and that dream would never have been possible without you. This service couldn't begin to repay the debt that Truce and the Radical Dreamers owe you."

"Be careful, Seth. If it gets dangerous, forget about the letter and just get out of there."

"Without danger," he said as he pocketed the letter and disappeared into the night, "where's the fun?"

* * *

Cold dark water capped by white foam split open as the tuxedo-clad figure swept above the surface of the sea, the deep wake trailing behind him crashing inward as he flew across the heaving ocean toward the distant shape of Melchior's seaside house, the shadowy crag of Mystic Mountain looming behind it. He glided onto the beach, arms spread slightly as he landed, and he continued his pace as he strode across the fields toward the lonely house, glancing once at the glowing eastern sky with a frown before looking back at the front door.

He looked about the dark windswept fields, trying to see the heat of any of the teens who might be lying in wait for intruders. The fields and blowing grass were empty. One less incovenience, at least.

"Melchior," Janus shouted as he banged on the front door.

He sighed and looked in through the windows, the house shrouded in darkness. He banged on the front door once more, then held out his hand and, with a single whispered word, blew the door open.

He stepped into the house and looked around at the main room. Maps and schedules lay scattered over the table and a new folder filled with the latest Porre schedules sat unopened on the old guru's desk. Janus recognized most of the maps on the table; he had helped plan many of their attacks and had even delivered the opening shots of their battles, using his spells to blind and confuse the soldiers while the teens robbed the convoy vehicles.

A faint chill wind howled outside and Janus suddenly stiffened, turning around toward the small bed in the left corner of the main room, and the blanket-shrouded shape within. He paced across the oriental rugs and wooden floor, silently counting each step, and pulled back the covers from the old man's face, rolling him onto his back.

Melchior lay calmly in his bed, his eyes lightly closed and a faint smile on his face, but Janus felt the cold of the man's flesh against his fingertips. Janus took a step back from the bed and shook his head slowly, trying to see the guru's fading aura. The pall of death hung over the bed, but it was a calm aura, with no howling winds or black shadows. Melchior had passed away peacefully in his sleep, without waking. There had been no intruders--after a lifetime split between two worlds, old age had claimed the guru while he slept. The enlightened ones all lived longer than the earthbound ones--Janus himself was nearing fifty, although he still looked like he was in his thirties, just as he had twenty years ago--but even they couldn't last much longer than the century Melchior's eyes had seen...

Janus tore the covers off the old man and ripped open the collar of his sleepshirt, exposing the cold whie flesh of the guru's unbeating chest. He pressed his left palm against Melchior's chest and closed his eyes.

A bolt of electric energy filled Janus's veins and swept down his arm, coursing through his fingers and spreading through Melchior's chest. Janus counted to himself, then focused, sending a second and third blast of electricity into the guru, the old man's heart clenching and relaxing with each jolt of lightning. The body arched up against the bed with each blast and finally collapsed again as Janus lifted his hand away.

It had been too long. Life had faded completely from the guru's aura and, no matter how many times Janus made his heart pulse with electricity, it would never beat on its own, nor would the he would ever wake up. A faint shudder run through him as he realized Melchior would never come visit the orphanage again--the guru had been like a grandfather to him as a child, and perhaps even more so over the past five years. He glanced about the room and noticed the blue and orange uniform of Zeal draped across the foot of the bed, the same uniform Melchior had worn every day since his life as a guru. Melchior had remained a faithful guru his whole life, loyal to the Kingdom of Zeal and its people even when such loyalty had demanded that he challenge the kingdom's corrupt queen.

"Guru of Life," Janus said softly, straining to remember the eulogies of the state funerals that he'd learned as a young prince in Zeal, pulling the covers to the guru's chin and kneeling by the bed, "you brought the warmth of life to the eternal kingdom of Zeal and served the heirs of her throne well. You transcended the bounds of space and time and you shall live on forever in the hearts of those who now share in your enlightenment."

He rose and walked slowly to the door, hesitating for a moment before stepping back into the night.

* * *

Lucca looked up from her notes as a loud steady knock filled the living room. She sighed and walked to the door, wondering if Seth had run into trouble or had come to give the letter back for some reason, then paused for a moment, suddenly suspicious of the short clipped rhythm of the knocks. She jogged silently back to her desk and pulled a key out of her pocket, unlocking the bottom drawer and pulling out the Zonker-3800, and slipped it into her belt as she made her way back to the front door and took a deep breath.

She opened the door and almost wrenched back in surprise, quickly regaining her composure. A tall man in a black gold-trimmed trenchcoat with the collar pulled up around his neck, topped by a tall black hat crossed with golden bands. She strained her eyes into the shadows and suddenly realized it wasn't a man at all--the beast stared calmly at her with bright yellow cat-eyes, whiskers flickering against a white-furred muzzle and golden fur covering the top half of his face as his pointed ears flickered against the sides of his hat.

A feline demi-human. Lynx. It had finally begun.

"Lucca Ashtear," the monstrous panther-beast asked in a clear intelliegent voice, "I presume?"

"None other," she answered suspiciously, "but who are you?"

"My name is Lynx and that young woman behind you is my associate, Harle."

Lucca whirled around and jerked back at the sight of a slender young girl dressed like a harlequin standing in the middle of the living-room, wearing blue silk pants, a red vest and floppy red cloth horns atop her white painted face. She leaned against one of the back wall as though she'd been waiting for Lucca to turn around.

"Bonjour, mademoiselle Lucca," the girl announced in a cheerful french accent, "how do you do?"

Lucca shook her head in disbelief and stared at the pretty young girl's bright red clothes and friendly smile as the girl looked back at her from across the room. Robo had said that Lynx would be accompanied by another far more powerful and dangerous--how could he have possibly meant this harlequin? Perhaps Lynx had left that more powerful enemy behind, or maybe Robo had made a mistake. She prayed he'd made a mistake...

"You make a cute couple. But what can I help you with?"

Lynx snarled a little, apparently resenting being associated with the harlequin more than necessary, then continued in the same calm reasonable voice.

"As I'm sure you already know, I've come from Porre to meet you. Apparently there were some mistakes in the communications betwen the leaders of Porre and its soldiers, which led to their misguided attempts to arrest you. I came here personally to offer my apologies for that and for the trouble we've caused."

She tilted her head a little and tried to make out the feline's expression. He looked bizarre but over the years she'd gotten pretty used to dealing with bizarre-looking characters. Aside from the cat-like face and paws, he might have been a Porre general--the trenchcoat reminded her of a kind of uniform, though one she'd never seen before.

"It took them long enough to figure it out! Do you know how much trouble your soldiers have caused in Truce?! Everytime they come running in after me they end up destroying a building!"

"I know, I've read the reports. I've approved an order to repair the damage done to the village during their attacks, starting tomorrow. I'm truly sorry, those attacks on Truce should never have happened."

"Well, that's a start."

Lucca shook her head softly and tried to figure out the black-clad feline demi-human and his surreal partner; this wasn't going anything like she'd imagined it would. She tilted her head back to Harle as she spoke.

"And what's her story?"

"Je suis une amis de Monsieur Lynx," she answered with an amiable wave of her hand, "I am here to study hiz, er, diplomatical skillz, non?"

"Ms. Ashtear," Lynx interrupted, "we need your help. The Porre military has found something in the El Nido Archipelago, something that we believe you might have an interest in."

Here it comes, she thought, taking a deep breath.

"What did you find?"

"A circuitboard buried deep in the heart of what seems to be a prehistoric computer. It's an incredible find and we're still trying to figure out exactly what it means. The circuitboard had your family's name on it, and what's more, it seems to be sentient. It used the computer's visual interface to speak with us."

"Everybody knows that artificial-sentience doesn't exist," she played along, "how's that possible?"

"The sentient said that it came from the future, from the year 2400 AD. It said it has been trapped within the larger computer for many years since it was thrown back in time. It also asked for you by name, to ask for your help in freeing it from the computer within which it's now contained. It said to tell you Robo needs you."

Tears filled Lucca's eyes and she quickly wiped them away. She wanted to believe him, she wanted Robo to be safe so badly, she wanted to go to El Nido and help free him from whatever kept him prisoner there. But she had to be sure, she had to test them, to make sure that Robo really had just made some kind of mistake.

"When did you find him?"

"Just a few days ago. I came by boat to Truce as soon as he told us your name."

"Did he ask about Crono and Marle?"

"Yes, he did. We told him that they were the casualties of a regrettable war and that they died noble deaths trying to protect their people. He was saddened, but relieved to know that you were still alive."

"Liar," she hissed under her breath, "how dare you speak Robo's name!"

She whipped her gun out of her belt and quickly took aim, relishing the look of shock on Lynx's face just as she pulled the trigger. A small round ball of light flew out of the barrel and he roared like a tiger as it struck his chest and ignited his fur. He fell to the ground as the flames spread over his paws and face and suddenly a writhing shadow rose out of his body, enveloping it like smoke and extenquishing the flames as he stood up.

"Robo already knew about Crono and Marle because I told him," she shouted, "And he warned me about you, Lynx! And your makeup-obsessed girlfriend over there!"

"How rude," Harle exclaimed behind her, "you should learn zome respect, you petite-chienne!"

Lynx shook his head to Harle and looked down upon Lucca. As he stepped through the doorway Lucca realized for the first time just how big Lynx really was.

"I'm glad you already know of us," he said with the same calm voice, "that makes this a great deal simpler. Prometheus and Belthasar were fools, Lucca, timidly second-guessing their own ambitions. If it hadn't been for their cowardice, we would have brought order to this war-torn planet long ago."

Belthasar, she wondered to herself, what does the Guru of Reason have to do with any of this? This wasn't the time or the person to ask, though, so she just ignored the name for now. Besides, Lynx seemed to think that she already knew everything about him. She had to hold onto that advantage.

"The only war I know about is the one you caused yourself! And look at you two, a werecat and a freaky harlequin-girl! What kind of order would two monsters like you bring to this world?"

"You of all people should not know not to judge people by their appearances," Lynx said with a slight tilt of his head, obviously enjoying this, "but I don't have time for a philosophical debate. You will either accompany us to the El Nido Archipelago to release the Prometheus Lock or," he said in a low, threatening voice as he raised his right claw into the air, "we will destroy this orphanage and all its squalling children."

"No," Lucca whispered as a fiery orb began to take shape around the palm of Lynx's hand, "why don't you make it a fair fight. We go outside and settle this ourselves. Unless of course," she taunted with a smirk, "you don't think you're strong enough to take down the Great Lucca all by yourself!"

"Interesting proposition," Lynx answered with a tilt of his head, "I'm tempted. Harle," he called out behind him, over his shoulder, "what do you think of her offer?"

The petite clown-girl suddenly stepped out of the shadows outside and glided through the front door, and Lucca glanced back in bewilderment to where the harlequin had just been standing behind her, only to find the main room empty. Obviously the clown wasn't as harmless or powerless as she seemed.

"Moi? I zink," she started in her lilting french accent, "zat human beings use honor as an excuze to hide zeir weaknesses. Wouldn't you agree Monsieur Lynx?"

"Exactly Harle," he said with a slow smile, "there's no strategic sense in not exploiting every advantage."

A crimson flood of light filled the room and Lucca twisted her head away with a cry as a towering, whirling column of flame rose from Lynx's hand to sweep through the ceiling and upward through the second floor, smashing through the roof. The light faded after a moment, leaving the smell of acrid smoke, the sound of crying children and a cleanly-burnt tunnel stretching from the ceiling up into the cloudy night, lit by rings of spreading fire around each of the gaping holes, flames writhing down the walls and across the floor of the old house.


"That," Lynx explained calmly, as though he were giving a lecture, "is the element magma-burst. I'm sure you've seen the elements of nature during the war. We've spent over 8,000 years harnessing their power and even your magic can't possibly stand up to them. If you value your remaining children's lives, surrender now."

Lucca hadn't heard a word Lynx had said, her ears crackling instead with the sound of flames devouring the oak walls and burning away the carpet, her eyes filled with the red gleam, the cat's mouth moving soundlessly as her blood began to seethe with a fire hotter than the elemental flames dancing around her.

"You monster," she snarled, "I won't let you lay a finger on these kids!"

Lynx simply smirked, his fangs baring beneath his muzzle, and lifted his claw again. She screamed as a red glow began to swirl about his paws again and she lifted her own hands toward him, her wrists pressed together and her fingers spread out to make a bowl shape as she closed her eyes tight.


A rolling stream of liquid fire whirled between her fingers and lashed out through the air, engulfing Lynx's paws in flame and shattering the small crystal he held between his hands. He staggered back against the wall with a roar and lifted his singed claws up to his face, studying the blackened rock in his hand before throwing it down.

She smiled as she realized that she'd smashed his precious so-called element, that whatever power he'd had over fire before, he'd lost it. She only wished she could use something stronger than basic fire-magic, but she didn't dare to cast any stronger fire-spell within the old dry-wood house, not with the kids still around. Beads of sweat ran down her face and she looked through the shimmering air at the feline monster; countering his fire element with her fire-magic had left the air heavy with free-floating heat. She wiped the sweat from her eyes and glared at him.

"So," Lynx whispered, his yellow eyes wide, "that is the power of Lavos. Harle," he called out in a mixture of pain and impatience, "I could use your help over here."

"Of course, Monsieur! Here I go!"

Lucca drew her gun again and pulled back the chamber to load another energy-charge. She took aim at the open doorway behind Lynx's shoulders, into the darkness where she'd heard Harle's voice, and waited for the clown to attack, taking slow deep breaths, using her shirt to block out the swirling clouds of smoke as she stared into the darkness, waiting for some shadow or hint of movement, her fingertip pressed to the trigger.

"Looking for moi?"

Lucca twisted back toward the living room a moment too late and she screamed in pain as a silver dart flew through the air and pierced her arm, a faint trickle of blood running down her wrist as the gun dropped from her hand and slammed onto the burning wooden floor. Lucca tore the dart loose from her arm and covered the wound with her left hand, then fell to her knees with a cry as another dart stabbed her right leg. She looked up, her eyes blurred with pain and smoke, at the slightly pouting clown above her as Harle took aim with a third dart.

"I am tres-sorry madamoiselle," Harle whispered, apparently not wanting Lynx to hear her, "I have noz'ing personal against you, but ze dragons must be awakened!"

"Dragons," Lucca groaned, "so Robo was really are the dark-moon dragon..."

Harle tilted her head with a curious expression and looked at Lucca, confused.

"How could you know about zat," Harle asked as she lifted the dart, "ah well, it does not mat'ter..."

Something slammed through the air and hit Harle's face, then pounded against her porceleine-white cheek again and again. Lucca yanked the second dart from her leg and looked up to see Gato standing over Harle, his red boxing-glove covered with white powder. The young clown gave an indignant cry and crawled through the room as he gave pursuit, his metal wheels squeaking over the floor and both his fists outstretched. He chased her across the room and then turned back to Lucca, his boxing-glove fist folding back into his metal torso.

"Madam Lucca, you need medical attention. I will contact..."

A curved metal blade suddenly ripped through his steel torso-plate and tore through his circuitry, pulling backward and yanking wires and transistors out from the ragged hole in his metal frame. Gato's eyes lit up with alarm and he fell backward, his speakers crackling and limbs twitching as sparks flew from his torn-open circuits.


"Error...error...I have been damaged...motor-controls not responding...I am...sorry..."

"A primitive automaton," Lynx said as he shoved Gato's bulky metal body out of the way and brushed the wires off the blade of his scythe, "but amazingly advanced for this era. It's a testament to your skill, Lucca Ashtear, and a shame I had to destroy it. How much more destruction will you tolerate before you stop fighting? Will I have to burn down this whole orphanage? Come with us and there'll be no need for such senseless violence."

She shook her head, realizing that she had to get these two away from the orphanage, so that the children might have some chance of getting out of this unhurt. She reached to her chest for the amulet, for some measure of comfort, and felt her chest clench as she realized that it was gone--the latch must have torn during her fight with the harlequin. She sighed and sank onto her knees, knowing she'd never be able to fight without her gun anyway, not unless she could somehow get them away from the orphanage and the children, where she could use her full magic against these monsters without having to worry about anybody else.

"Fine, you win," her heart sinking, "I'll go with you and get you your stupid flame."

"A wise choice, Ms. Ashtear," Lynx muttered, then raised his voice, "Harle, come! We're leaving!"

"Une minute, s'il vous plais!"

Harle walked up to Lynx, brushing soot off her skintight cherry-red outfit, and smiled at Lucca.

"Tres bien! I am glad you decided to join us, mademoiselle!"

Lucca looked around despairingly at the pictures the children had drawn, Crono, Marle, Ayla, the whole gang burning away in the fire. She closed her eyes, listening to the children crying, her heart breaking as she heard Kid sobbing upstairs, knowing the only thing she could do to help was to get Lynx and Harle out of here, and pray that once these two monsters were gone the children would be able to escape the burning house.

Lynx swept one arm around her waist and picked her up as Harle stood beside him waiting. He suddenly grabbed her glasses in his other hand and yanked them off, throwing to the floor.

"What," Lucca cried out, the world suddenly reduced to blobs of red and black, "did you do that for?!"

"I don't want you trying anything you might regret on the way. When the time comes we'll give them back to you, and until then you won't need your sight."

Despite the swarming whirlpool of colors, Lucca suddenly noticed another shape further off, a blue animate form that, after a moment, she realized was a person. Apparently the other two noticed it as well.

"Who is zat?"

"Nobody important," Lynx snarled, "probably just a village boy. Let's go!"

Harle raised one hand toward the burning half-collapsed ceiling and with a cold sweep of black whirling air, the three vanished, leaving the burning orphanage empty except for the sound of crying children.

Chapter 5: Let Love Bleed March, 1010 AD

Thin blowing sheets of cold rain swept through the air and pounded against the rippling water as Janus made his way across the small bridge leading onto Lucca's island. He stared at the drops of icy water slamming into the planks as he walked, still thinking about Melchior. The old man shouldn't have been alone, he thought grimly to himself, they should have let him live with them. It wasn't that he shouldn't have died--it was his time and Janus had long since decided that death is merely the price one finally pays for living. But he knew that Melchior would have wanted to be with friends when he went. He'd owed the old man at least that much.

Amid the cold prickling scent of the frozen rain, Janus smelled something else--smoke. He suddenly looked up, the raindrops he'd been telekinetically deflecting hitting his face and rolling down his cheeks as he stared across the bridge in disbelief. He quickly shook himself back into awareness and swept across the ground, the tips of his boots scaping the mud as he flew quickly through the downpour toward the house.

A thin black skeleton of rafters and beams stood against the ash-gray clouds, the ground beneath the rain-pierced roof choked with soot, only a few ash-covered walls left standing to mark the old two-story victorian house that had once stood in the center of the grassy isle. His heart shrivelled at the sight of the ruined house, leaving a aching hollowness within his chest as he stared at the smoldering shell.

Something stirred a little within the ashes. A faint high-pitched sob rose and fell in the wind.

Janus suddenly swept through the open doorway and looked around the wet ash-covered remains of the living room, then turned toward the remains of the staircase, peering through a soft steady rain of ash mingling with the cold thin streaks of water. The middle third had collapsed into a black jagged pit surrounded by upturned broken planks. The stairs had collapsed. T he children slept upstairs.

He levitated into the air and glided over the spike-lined hole, setting back down onto a scorched creaking platform dangling from one of the walls and looking around at what remained of the room. Parts of the wooden floor had collapsed, leaving crumbling soot-lined pits, but some of the floor still clung onto the walls, supporting charred wreckage that had once been furniture--and other remains that he'd seen far too often not to recognize.

"Is anyone in here," he called out, calmly and rationally, as if this were just another nightmare.

"Here," a young girl's voice weakly sobbed from the far corner of the room and he floated across the loose dangling planks, feet barely touching the other side of the floor, not daring to trust both their weight to it. He looked around at the floor and finally made out a coughing soot-covered shape: Syra, the youngest child, barely four.

"It's okay," he said blankly as he lifted her into his arms and glided back up into the air, above the sinking floorboards, "what happened, Syra? Have you seen anybody else?"

"Just Tevon," she coughed up soot-filled phlegm, "he's in his room. I heard him..."

"Alright," he answered, sinking down through one of the bigger holes and gliding back out into the rain to set her onto the grass, "wait here and I'll find Tevon and everybody else."

"Just Tevon," she answered as she started to cry.

He lifted back into the sky without a word and slipped through one of the smoothly-burnt holes in the wall, trying to make sense out of the burnt struts and girders, trying to remember where Tevon's room would be. He heard a soft choking sound and instantly swept toward the brittle flame-streaked walls, a faint glow of black energy rising from his flesh and dissolving the wooden boards into a dark mist as he passed through them. The coughing groans grew louder and he peered through the debris-choked hallway, finally seeing the huddled boy in a closet.

"Tevon, it's me," he lifted the boy up, the soot-faced child closing his eyes tighter, "it's Janus."

"There were monsters," he whispered as Janus lifted Syra in his left arm and flew back across the bridge to Truce, both of the children clinging to his shoulders tightly, "I saw them downstairs. I heard them shouting, so then I looked down the stairs and...I saw monsters..."

"What do you mean," Janus asked softly, but Tevon closed his eyes tigher and shook his head.

Janus settled lightly onto the hard earth of the village square and banged on a door with the side of his fist, pounding at the door until Fritz opened it, his half-closed eyes suddenly widening at the sight of the three.

"What happened," he asked, stunned, as Elaine looked over his shoulder from within the house, rubbing her eyes sleepily, then quickly waking up as she saw them.

"Oh my god," she choked in surprise, "what--"

"Did you see anything," he asked quickly, "did you hear anything?"

"I don't," Fritz shook his head, "I mean, no, I didn't. What happened?"

"They burned," he said, and he stopped as he felt a flash of rage swelling, glancing down to Tevon and Syra, "just wait here. I'm going to find Lucca and the others."

He flew away, racing back over the bridge in a blur of white and purple, and plunging back into the burned-out shell, calling out for the rest of the children, for Jacky and Sarah, for Syra, for Lucca and Kid. Nobody answered, nothing stirring or rustling in the wet ashes of the burnt-out shell, and Janus began to scream for Kid and Lucca to answer him, smashing through crumbling walls and kicking down the doors as he raced through the creaking house, no longer caring about the beams threatening to snap overhead.

"Kid! Lucca," he screamed, panicked and absurdly angry at them for not answering, "tell me where you are! Wake up and tell me! I SAID TELL ME..."

Something glittered within the pile of soot in one rain-drenched corner of what used to be the living room and he bent down to pick it up, his screams fading into choking gasps as he picked the small object up.

Lucca's glasses, framed and glasses half-melted, arms bent. Blood staining the shreds of carpet left on the floor, metal darts lying scattered among the ashes, the feel of magic in the air, dark magic, not like Lucca--nor even like real magic. It felt different and, after a moment, he realized it wasn't magic at all, but a crystal-element...

"No," he shook his head, refusing to believe it, "nonononono..."

Lucca couldn't see without her glasses, she couldn't even walk without them, she only took them off to go to sleep. Besides, she'd never leave any of the children behind...not even to save herself...not even...

Something else gleamed within the ashes along the blackened edge of a wall and he lifted it up in one hand. A scorched, cracked amulet made of amethyst and gold, the latch smashed...

"Lucca," he groaned, dropping to his knees, clutching the shattered amulet, "Schala..."

Janus had never known murder. He had known killing, of course--he'd killed countless times, striking down thieves, knights and beasts. But they weren't people, they were just enemies, adversaries who would have gladly killed him had he not struck the first blow. Crono and Marle had been killed by the faceless cowards of the Porre army, but it'd been during a battle, and he'd repayed their deaths with death, a boody commerce as ancient as man. He'd known slaughters, massacres. But not deliberate murder, not like this...

"They're dead," he choked to himself, his fingernails piercing his palms as his fist tightened, blood running down his wrist and knuckles as they dug into his flesh, striking bone,"they're all dead...Lucca..."

Tears slid silently down the sharp pale contours of his face, blending with the drops of rain running across his cheeks, and he stared up at the gray blanket of clouds beyond the collapsing roof, his glittering vermillion eyes reflecting the darkness of the sky. The air began to spark and crackle with energy as he clenced his blood-soaked fists tighter, a low trembling groan rising from his lips. Streaks of snaking flame circled around him as he shuddered and the air glowed as raw magical energy began to seep from his skin and clothes like writhing smoke; liquid streams of darkness twisted through the air, sparks of lightning coursing between the scorched rafters...

He suddenly screamed into the heavens, an animal shriek of pain and rage...and after a moment of ringing silence, the sky answered his cry, exploding into a seething chaos of energy and engulfing the island...

* * *

"Sir! A scout from Truce has arrived"

"Then send him in already," General Lensh said, not looking up from his desk. Porre had largely ended their military presence in the impoverished village of Truce, but they still kept a small military contingency at the Zenan Bridge, to monitor transactions with the mainland and to make sure no self-deluded villagers got the idea that Porre's occupation of the scorched wastlands that'd once been the lands of Guardia had ended.

Scouts regularly arrived every three days to report on the village, but today wasn't one of those days, and a thirty mile trip on foot or beast was a serious waste of resources. He glared at the panting sweat-covered scout as the man gave a weak salute and then frowned; the scout looked as though he'd ran the whole distance.

"What's your report?"

"Sir, I've come from the fourth division. Ashtear Island, south of Truce's gone, sir."

"What," Lensh frowned in confusion and impatience, "how do you lose an island?"

"Come look for yourself sir," the young scout briskly walked across the room to the window, "the outpost reported what seemed to be a fire just before sunrise, and a little less than an hour later there was an explosion, type unknown. The island...the island's just not there anymore."

Lensh snatched his field-glasses from the corner of the desk and paced over to the window himself. Even without them, he could see a distant column of black smoke rising from the horizon, and a shocked gasp crossed his lips as he looked through the lenses. Heavy waves crashed and surged around a few broken rocks in the middle of the bay and the bridge that'd linked the small family-owned islet to Truce had collapsed, dangling from the low cliffs along the mainland. It seemed too short, and he quickly realized that most of the bridge had been burnt to ashes.

The bridge that had once led to Ashtear Island now pointed toward a churning whirlpool.

"How," he choked, slowly letting his field glasses drop from his hands as he stared at the rising plumes of dark smoke, "nothing we have could do that...what in the name of the goddess happened out there?"

* * *

"Halt," the soldier frowned at the figure stalking up the road toward Zenan Bridge and the reconnaissance outpost set up around the entrance, "who goes there?"

"Halt," he tried again, reaching for his gun "stay where you are!"

The rain-drenched figure stopped at the checkpoint, his long blue hair hanging limply around his shoulders, a dark purple shroud covering his white suit. The figure slowly turned his crimson gaze toward the young guard and uttered a single hissing word under his breath.


The drops of rain filling the grey air suddenly boiled into steam and a sphere of fire erupted from the figure to engulf the soldier and the wooden building behind him, the blaze lighting the dreary sky and pouring smoke into the clouds, the air silent except for the crackling flames. The cloaked man raised his hand and the flames suddenly vanished, leaving fourteen blackened skeletons heaped amid the burning wreckage of Zenan Bridge. He levitated into the air and swept across the rocky canyon, toward the distant gleaming towers of Porre...

* * *

Sleet-gray clouds rolled over the cobblestone streets of Porre's town square and the red-and-black flags of the Porre Republic fluttered against the cold morning wind. General Lensh scowled at the three confused groups of young men gathering about in wrinkled hastily-donned uniforms, then looked across the courtyard toward a running sentry. The civilians had all been ordered to stay in their houses--the streets belonged to them.

"Sir, we've spotted three more explosions to the north. New Dorino, Fort Denadoro and Fort Fiona have all been destroyed in the past hour, in that order. The destruction's moving southward."

"Straight toward Porre," the general answered grimly, "toward the heart of the republic."

A deafening blast shook the capital and a hot dry wind swept across the town square. Lensh turned to the north and watched a second man staggering forward, his arms and shoulders engulfed by flames.

"The gates," the soldier screamed, "it broke's in the city..."

"It broke through the gates," the sentry whispred as the soldier fell to the ground, his screams dying away as the flames consumed his clothes and flesh, "denadorite walls, mounted automatic turrets, electronic self-locking mechanisms. If it broke through that, what can we do..."

"Stop it," Lensh suddenly barked, and he turned to the platoon of men, "this is the capitol of the Republic of Porre and we are the last three divisions of home defense! We stay here and fight, no matter what!"

A figure emerged from between the northern cluster of factories, a dark man with windswept blue hair and glowing red eyes, and a few seconds later the whole industrial district exploded into a firestorm, choking black smoke rolling across the town square as the trudging shadowy figure emerged from the wall of fire unharmed.

"Open fire," Lensh growled, "take it down!"

The soldiers lifted and fired their rifles at the walking figure, the crack of gunfire filling the air, and Lensh watched in horror as the streaking bullets looped around the man, twisted away from him by invisible forces as he calmly walked toward them. One of the soldiers rushed forward and tried to stab the cloaked figure with his bayonet, then gave a single choking cry as the figure twisted in a circle, ripping the young man's throat open with the curved gleaming blade of his raised scythe. He ripped the blade free and the man spilled onto the ground.

"Charge," Lensh shouted as he rushed forward, "attack it hand-to-hand, it can't stop all of us!"

The low grey clouds overhead began to rumble and glow with hidden energy and suddenly countless bolts of lightning pierced the sky and swept through the plaza, grazing the stone roads and lashing through the soldiers, their screams fading into silence as the smell of scorched flesh and burning cotton filled the city. Lensh whirled back toward the second division and his mouth dropped open slightly at the site of the terrified soldiers suddenly freezing in place, warm pink skin crystallizing into hard blue stone. A blast of wind toppled one of them and the corpse fell to the ground, the frozen flesh and cloth shattering like glass against the cobblestone.

Lensh glanced back to the third and final division.

"I've seen this before," he said to the troops as the figure continued its slow walk toward them, "surround him and attack at once, he won't be able to focus his magic. Come on, move out--now!"

The large group of soldiers quickly ran around the sides of the square, each of them dropping to one knee and raising his rifle, all their guns pointed right at the center of the square and the lone cloaked figure in the middle of it. Lensh nodded and raised his hand, giving the signal to fire as he stared at the figure with hate.

His rage suddenly froze into terror as the man's own hate-filled gaze turned toward him.

The wizard raised his hand in the air, no longer needing to speak his spells, and silently willed the shadows and darkness of the overcast morning into life. The town square suddenly faded into night and the surrounding soldiers found themselves lost in a cold formless void. Screams began to pierce the abyssal darkness as dark magic began to rip at their bodies, stripping flesh from muscle and shattering bones as the void tore them apart, then ripped the suspended lumps of flesh into still smaller strips, hovering droplets of blood filling the empty darkness.

Lensh looked around the empty sqaure for his men, their screams seeming to come from nowhere, and then fading into silence. The last few remaining soldiers ran forward to attack, no longer worried about their duty to the Porre Republic, now driven into battle only by sheer self-preservation.

The ruby-eyed demon that legends had called Magus walked slowly in measured steps through the blood-drenched streets, blasting some of the soldiers through the air with a wave of his hand, occasionally swinging his scythe forward to slash one of them through the chest as he effortlessly walked forward. He barely even noticed the attacking soldiers; his glazed eyes stared into the past, into the life these insects had taken from him...

The taste of her lips the first time they'd kissed, under the twilight glow of the winter moon...

A Porre soldier ran beside him and swung his rifle toward the wizard. Magus's scythe whistled through the cold air and both pieces of the rifle fell to the ground, followed after a moment by the soldier.

Her curiosity, her love for the world around her, her desire to learn how it all worked...

A small group of soldiers fired their rifles at Magus and he lifted one palm toward them, the bullets glowing and melting into vapor as they flew through the air. He turned his eyes to meet the soldiers and they began to choke and cough as a curtain of darkness descended over them, covering and quickly suffocating them. He turned back toward the back of the square and the marble columns of the Porre government buildings.

Her head on his chest, her soft breaths against his neck as she fell asleep in his arms...

General Lensh's assistant dashed forward and screamed as he drove his bayonet through the mage's cloak and deep into his chest. The wizard glared down and grabbed his hand tightly, stopping the blade. He tore it back out of his chest and swung his scythe down, the lieutenant's head bouncing across the ground.

The sound of her laughter...the way her hair smelled in the morning...

One of the younger soldiers turned around and Lensh screamed for him to stop as the young man bolted through the square, running toward the front gates of Porre. Magus looked backed over his shoulder and lifted his hand, a streak of blue lightning piercing the clouds and twisting through the air, blasting through the fleeing soldier, his body exploding into a red mist as the stones crackled and sparked with electricity.

Her blue eyes and dimpled cheeks...her slender body...her brilliant mind...her love..her...

He easily dodged Lensh's bullet and with a single fluid twist of his scythe he knocked Lensh's pistol onto the ground. He grabbed the middle-aged general and hurled him into the side of the capitol building, then swung the blade of the scythe down into the man's upper arm, pinning him to the marble wall. The general screamed in pain and looked up in terror at the snarling red-eyed creature that had just annihilated the entire Porre municiple guard, that now looked down at him with rage, lips curled back to reveal glistening white fangs. The wizard spoke for the first time since he'd smashed the walls of Porre and devastated the city, his raspy voice seeming to freeze the air.

"You have one chance to answer me," he hissed, "WHO?"

"I don't know what you," Lensh stammered, "what do you want?"

"I want her back," he snarled, "I want all of them back!"

He tightened his grip on the scythe and mystical energy began to course down through the wooden pole and into the blade, filling the general's veins with a cold dark power. His muscles began to tremble as the icy liquid magic coursed through his limbs and his chest suddenly tightened as it filled his heart and lungs.

"Wizard...wizard of Truce," the general whispered, "we thought you were a legend, a story the refugees told feel better, like Robin Hood or..."

"Darkness is filling your veins," Magus said slowly, "your blood is being devoured and poisoned by the spreading magic. You only have an hour until your body begins to decay, so unless you want an even more painful death than this one, tell me who ordered the attack on the orphanage, and the names of the men who did it."

"Orphanage," the general choked, and his eyes suddenly widened in realization, "Lynx..."

"What about him," Magus demanded, lifting the twitching man into the air and slamming him against one of the marble pillars, the general's limbs turning deathly white as the black poison spread through his veins.

"He was obssessed," Lensh gasped, "he ordered the arrest of Lucca Ashtear, he petitioned the council to attack the orphanage and capture her. The request was denied and he left..."

"And what about Porre," Magus said through clenched teeth, "you're saying you had no interest in her?"

"Of course we did," Lensh choked as the wizard pressed him against the column, fingers tightening around his throat while his arms and legs began to tingle from the blood-poison, "she was a war-criminal associated with the Guardia royalty. But she wasn't worth the military investment, we made a few attempts and gave up. Lynx wouldn't accept it, he kept demanding that we send more troops. The council finally voted him down."

"So Lynx made the attack on his own. Where is he now?"

"I don't know, nobody knows! He disappeared after the vote, we think he's already left aboard a pirate ship going back to...maybe back to El Nido...?"

"Then it seems I have business in El Nido," the wizard snarled and dropped the general onto the ground, turning toward the shipping yards along the southern rim of the fortified city.

"Wait," Lensh shouted, then screamed as his heart seemed to ripple and twist at the touch of the bitter fluid spreading through his chest, "help me, please...I told you everything..."

"Which is why I haven't destoyed the capital building and the bureaucrats skulking within it. I'm going to take one of your boats and go to El Nido. I'm hoping you'll try to send ships to stop me."

"No," Lensh shook his head, wheezing loudly now, "you can have them..."

"You'll be dead within the hour," he growled, "when I leave, I assume your leaders will come rushing down to find out what I've said. Tell them that they've three days to evacuate all their cities, abandon their outposts and empty their fortressess. Tell them that they have however long it takes for me to find and kill Lynx to beach their ships and hide in the forests. Because when I return, the Republic of Porre won't even be a memory."

* * *

Lucca fumbled around the blurry silver landscape and Lynx pressed something into her hands.

"You'll need these. We've already made them to your prescription."

"Isn't that thoughtful," she remarked bitterly as she put the glasses on and blinked. She blinked again.

All around her stretched a vast city of steel and glass, computer terminals and holographic interfaces lining the walls, fiber-optic wires and electronic pipelines reaching for miles in every direction. Hovering security robots glided about the complex and she marvelled at how many decades must have been spent building something like this gleaming complex. She'd never seen technology like this anywhere in her life, except in the ruins...

It suddenly hit her.

"This is from the future we saved," she whispered in awe, "this whole city travelled back in time..."

"Yes," Lynx replied impatiently, "now undo the lock. It's over there."

He gestured with one arm toward a sealed metal door and a wall-mounted console, dismissively sweeping his hand away from it in a clear gesture of distaste. She walked over the silver floor, the room seeming to drop down below the sheer mirror-like surface of the floor, and began studying the console's design and keyboard.

It looked a lot like Robo's programming interface and she realized suddenly that it was the exact same model as the one she'd used to repair his damaged programming core, except mounted to a wall rather than within his torso panel. A horrible suspicion came to her and she pulled up the menu screen, glancing over her shoulder at Lynx and Harle before entering the password she had created long ago, the password to access Robo's program directly.

"Lucca," the green letters read against the black screen, "I did not warn you in time. I am sorry."

"It's not your fault," Lucca typed back, trying not to look back at the two monsters, knowing that'd would make them suspicious, "Robo, I've missed you so much."

"I missed you too Lucca," the computer silently printed across the screen.

"What is this place," she typed.

"In the new future we created, Belthasar and I helped terraform these islands and this complex as part of an experiment meant to control time, using the properties of the frozen flame. But we lost control of the flame and this entire archipelago was thrown ten thousands years into its past. The people of El Nido are the descendents of the original scientists who worked on the Chronopolis Experiment."

"So the islands really did change everything," she whispered, then typed, "what is the frozen flame?"

"It is a shadow of Lavos," the screen answered, "the energy signature of Lavos distorts space and time all around it. That energy has leaked into this world from parallel worlds where it was not destroyed."

"Lynx said the flame was asleep," she typed into the interface, "what did he mean?"

"Right now I have access to the locking-mechanisms Belthasar designed to counter Lavos's anti-entropic energy. I am supressing the flame's effects. Lynx wants to shut down those mechanisms and release it."

"What would happen if he does that?"

"I am not sure, Lucca," Robo wrote through the terminal, "this center is under the control of a sentient computer-system evolved from the Mother Brain. She is the one Porre now calls the Goddess of Fate. Lynx seeks to release the flame so she can control it and use its time-altering properties to regain her control of history, to create a new future calculated to ensure her dominance."

"Would that work?"

"There are too many variables, I can't make an accurate calculation. Lynx's plan may succeed, but there are other possibilities. The dragons imprisoned by Fate might be released. It is also possible that a window may open into the parallel worlds of the flame and bring Lavos into our world. And there are still worse possibilities"

"No," she whispered in horror.

"Unlock the flame now," Lynx growled behind her, "we've waited too long already."

"It takes a few minutes for the upload to complete," she lied, "just hold on a second!"

"Robo," she typed back, "what should I do? How can we stop them?"

"Lucca, they will kill you if you try to stop them," Robo answered, "I want you to disconnect me from all the locking-mechanisms and open the doors to the chamber containing the frozen flame."

"But you just said," she typed, then the cursor suddenly vanished as Robo began writing.

"We will find a way to defeat them later, but for now you must stay alive. Unlock the flame and later we will figure out a way to take it back from them. You have to stay alive Lucca, that's all that matters right now."

"But it's not," she whispered sadly before typing again, "Robo, I know you want to protect me, but I've got to stop them. There's too much at risk--if we unlock the flame we may never get the chance to fight back."

"Robo," she asked suddenly, "what would happen if I can't unlock the flame?"

"They can't undo the locks themselves since I have control over them. They can't attack me because my circuity is hardwired into the defense-system. If they destroyed me, the Flame would be locked forever."

"Is there anyone else who could unlock the flame?"

"Yes, there was one," Robo answered, "but he is dead. You are Lynx's only hope and he'll do anything to make you unlock it. That's why you have to shut down the connecting mechanisms. I will not resist."

"Then that settles it."

"Lucca," Robo wrote as she began to exit the programs and shut down the console, "what are you doing?"

"What we've always done," she typed back before closing the interface, "saving the world. I'll miss you Robo, please be careful. History's in your hands now."


She closed down the interface and performed a final check on Robo's systems, making sure they were still running at optimal efficiency before patting the console tenderly and relocking the interface. She turned slowly back around to Lynx and Harle, then paced carefully to one of the power conduits running along the wall.

"What are you doing now," Lynx snarled.

"There's been a power interruption to the interface. I have to adjust the levels to compensate for it. Look, you brought me here to do a job, so let me do it already!"

"Fine," he muttered, "but I'm only giving you one more minute."

She nodded and looked down at the crackling metal wires, popping her knuckles and bracing herself.

"Hey Lynx," she called back, not looking at them, "there's one thing I want you to know."

"The future belongs to all living things," she continued, "not you and not any computer. Someday one of us humans is going to destroy you and bring things back to the way they're supposed to be."

"If the Great Lucca couldn't defeat me," he sneered, "what makes you think anyone else can?"

"Maybe I couldn't defeat you," she said in a low, clenched voice, "but I can make sure that you never, ever unlock the frozen flame."

"Lucca," Lynx suddenly said in a choked, panicked voice, realizing what she intended, "don't do..."

Lucca took a deep breath and grabbed the wires. Fire burned through her muscles and she screamed as her body convulsed against the powerful surge of electricity, her hands gripping the cables tightly as lightning crackled between her fingers and flooded her whole body. Pain engulfed her senses as a horrible black smoke began to drift upward from her blackening clothes, but she managed a faint final smile as she heard Harle and Lynx behind her.


"Monsieur, stop! You'll be killed if you try to grab her!"

"We'll never get the flame without her!"

"We'll find some other way, non?!"

"The Arbiter is dead, there IS no other way! Without her the flame is lost!"

Lynx's voice began to fade from her ears, along with the city, the smoke and the pain, all of it giving way to a final, absolute darkness, her last thought echoing through the darkness before fading to silence.

"Janus, if you're still out there...please watch over Kid..."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Part 3: The Sea of Dreams

Held in young hands, that light is shivering I've come all this way, wandering the brink of time

I came, still searching, I don't even know your name, but one little feeling I just wanted to hand over to you

Sometimes I catch and hold love and pain tightly in my arms It will fade away, but I'll remember forever...

It'd been echoing in my chest for who knows how long... Though it's a whisper tinier than a drop of evening fog

Toward the darkness of the frozen stars a spinning prayer May it reach to your distant skies...

--Radical Dreamers ~ Le Tresor Interdit ~

Chapter 1: The Shores of El Nido March, 1010 AD

Magus remembered only a blur of vignettes and sensations after that. The swelling waves of the ocean, the thick morning fog, the blue runabout cutting through the waters, the hum of its engine. He also remembered a Porre ship--they must have tried to stop him after all. The churning ocean froze around the ship's hull, lightning shattering the decks as magical flames swept through the lower berth to consume the soldiers. Even that seemed a dream now, the last fleeting memories of a dying dream that he had awakened from.

He could still hear their voices in the wind and lonely cries of sea-gulls: Lucca's voice as she lay in his arms, murmuring softly in her sleep, Kid's laughter as she played tag with the other children and helped Lucca in the lab with her experiments. He'd stopped sleeping after the first night, when he'd found himself with Lucca again, holding her tight, swearing he would never let her go--and then waking up alone in the boat, his white tuxedo still streaked with ashes. The past is dead, he told himself over and over again, it was all just a dream.

The ocean changed, growing warm and shallow, and the boat glided over colorful tropical reefs toward a group of green islands rising from the warm tropical sea. The pale wizard simply narrowed his eyes as he neared the southern docks. After six years, he had finally arrived at the El Nido archipelago. The source of all the changes in history, the refuge of Lynx, the prison of Robo...and the home of Lavos. He had arrived six years too late.

He soon found himself in a village of raised straw-roofed huts with peg-lined planks leading up into their open doorways. Long silk banners and tapestries of every color stretched between the huts and villagers dressed in colorful silk fabrics walked around him, most of them a little nervous about the stranger in their midst, but all of them nonetheless giving friendly nods to him as he pushed forward to look around at the rest of the village.

A natural depression marked the center of the village, forming a ring of raised huts surrounding a central pit where merchants sold their wares from wooden carts and tables. The ground had never been paved, but had been trampled into a rocky grass-strewn path by countless generations of walking villagers. It reminded him of Algetty, the earthbound village--he hadn't expected the origin of Porre's empire to look so primitive.

"Hello," a little brown-haired girl, dressed in a blue skirt and white shirt, said as she skipped through the crowd of shopping villagers beside him. He looked down with detached interest at the six year-old girl and felt some small residual part of him coil at the sight of her, at the memories she awoke. He closed his eyes and buried the past; they didn't matter anymore. Only vengeance mattered. After that, he could finally end this forever.

"Did you come for the Viper Festival," she asked, "lots of people come to see it."

"What is this place," he asked her as he looked around at the village.

"This is Arni village," she answered cheerfully, "are you from the continent?"

"Yes," he sighed, some faint vestige of his former self demanding his kindness, "what's your name?"

"I'm Leena," she smiled, "is that a real sword? Does everyone on the continent carry one like that?"

She stood behind him, looking at the sheathed Masamune that he'd slung across his shoulders. He grabbed the sword and knelt down beside her, taking the cool hilt of the sword and drawing it from the scabbard--the twin spirits of the sword had accepted him as their owner and he had brought the dreamstone blade with him, to destroy the frozen flame and put an end to the plans of Lynx and the goddess.

"Cool," she whispered in awe at the gleaming sword, "I wonder if Serge has a sword like that? You haven't seen Serge on the continent, have you?"

"No," he shook his head, "it's a big continent, though."

"I know," she sighed, disappointed, "my mom and dad said that Serge went to the ocean and that he won't come back. The continent's across the ocean, and since your a continental I thought maybe you saw..."

Magus looked down at the little girl's sad green eyes and closed his eyes, feeling her aura. The green life of her youth filled his mind's eye, but a darker shadow lurked in the back, in her memories of Serge. Her friend had died, he realized, and it had not been a natural death--his aura still shrieked in pain. He had been murdered.

"I'm sure," he stopped and thought carefully about this, "I'm sure he's okay. He's probably living in Truce, and I'm certain he misses you too. He probably also wants you to make new friends."

All things come to dust and one day she would have to learn this just as he had finally learned it. But if he could give her at least one more day of blissful ignorance, he would.

"Maybe," she sighed forlornly, "but I miss playing with him, and I never got to tell him goodbye."

"I know," he answered, then suddenly stopped. He hadn't felt it before, but the moment he had opened his mind to Leena, he had sensed something else. Now he felt it pouring across the village, a blinding invisible sun of psychic energy nearly blotting out all the individual villagers. He looked around and saw an archway leading into a large field, the dark light of the monstrous aura pouring out through it.

"What's over there," he asked the little girl beside him.

"That's the village chief's hut," she answered, "Gonji lives over there."

"Is there anything else?"

"The record of fate's over there," she replied, "maybe that's what your looking for?"

"Fate," he slowly whispered to himself , "yes, I think that's exactly what I'm looking for. I have to go see the record for a moment Leena, but it's good to meet you. If I see Serge, I'll tell him you said goodbye."

"Thank you," she beamed and he smiled slightly in spite of himself before turning toward the chief's hut.

* * *

Sunlight poured through the windows of the straw hut and Magus stepped across the thick woven rugs on the floor toward the hovering object on the other side of the room. A green crystal pyramid almost the size of a child floated above the floor, its translucent body filled with arcane letters and numbers. An orb of light marked the center of the pyramid and lightning crackled around the orb, connecting it to the inner surface of the pyramid.

"What is this," he asked himself, and an unshaven brown-haired man answered him from the corner.

"It's the record of fate," he replied in a monotone, "it preserves out past and guides our future. We use it to make sure we never lose our past, or that we never defy the will of fate."

"Hasn't anyone," Magus asked, annoyed, "wondered how something like this got here?"

"They're all over El Nido," the man answered, "and they've always been here."

"Yes," Magus said ironically, "just like the second moon's always been here."

"Exactly," the villager replied sadly, "it guides us in our lives, and tells us the will of the goddess."

"You don't seem happy with her guidance."

"Last month," he answered, looking at the ground, "my friend Wazuki disappeared after years of fighting a disease that slowly destroyed his mind. Then his little boy Serge, my daughter's best friend, fell off Cape Howl and drowned last month. Now his mother has passed away too. Fate didn't protect any of them."

"Then perhaps," Magus said slowly, "you shouldn't listen to her anymore."

"No," the man shook his head, "I must have failed somehow, I must have disobeyed her without knowing it and thrown everything out of balance. I was going to be fisherman like my father, but when I consulted the record today, it told me I have no place in the ocean. Perhaps I never should have been out there."

The man's aura still shined with its own colors but Magus sensed something else, a trace of a glowing hue that didn't belong to the fisherman. He took a sharp breath as, for a moment, it almost reminded him of Queen Zeal, how her aura had looked completely different from her body, how something else had stolen her shape. But this man was still himself--the glowing green traces seemed to be remnants of his contact with something else, the fingerprints of something that had reshaped the man's own aura and thoughts without his realizing it.

He looked back at the flickering pyramid and sensed the same cold green energy from it, mixed with a black howling wind. The thing had its own aura, hidden within the shell of the pyramid, and Magus realized that he'd felt this aura before--in the ruins of the orphanage. Somehow, this aura belonged to Lynx...and to Lavos.

"How do I use the record," he asked quickly.

"You touch two opposite sides of the pyramid with each hand and close your eyes. The record handles the rest of it. You'll feel a tingling along your back and a voice will tell you what to do next."

The man seemed to be telling the truth, but Magus knew that far more than that must happen to the people who touch the record to have left such psychic scars in the man's aura. The people simply weren't aware of just how deeply the records affected and changed them. This had to be the way the goddess used people, he thought grimly, by changing them when they touched the record and letting them think they'd changed themselves. But if the record connected the goddess to people, it had to work the other way--it could connect him to her, and to Lynx.

Without another word he stepped up to the pyramid and closed his eyes, touching it with both hands.

Chapter 2: Tabula Rasa March, 1010 AD

FATE interface-module activated, link established

Primary synaptic scan initiated

Scan complete: Subject does not match any known synaptic configuration

Cerebral interface established

Establishing uplink to surface memories...

* * *

A vast landscape unfolded within Magus's psyche and his mind reeled at the infinite expanse of memories and thoughts stretching out in every direction. The blue sky faded into a deep purple, then melted into a bright pink morning before deepening into a velvet green twilight. Twisting serpentine shapes looped through the air all around him and he looked down to find the same shifting sky below his feet. He hovered in a silent abyss of color, mobius ribbons of numbers flying both overhead and miles below his feet, and dark coiling loops of gleaming crystal wound through the electronic void like frozen seaweed in a deep endless ocean.

He lifted his hands up to his face and flexed his fingers, still feeling the cold pressure of the crystal pyramid against his palms. He closed his eyes and suddenly heard the sounds of the village, sea gulls cawing as villagers gossiped around him, the cool smooth surface of the tablet still in his hands. Magus opened his eyes and saw the flashing crystal-strewn abyss again, the sounds of the village fading into silence.

This was all some kind of aura, he slowly realized--humans had only shapeless clouds of color and sound around them, but these tablets held an aura of unimaginable complexity and size, one that stretched across limitless expanses of psychic space and contained intricate landscapes and forms. Whatever mind this aura sprang from, it was not a human mind--this inner universe could only have evolved over thousands of years.

He turned toward one of the crystal streamers and glided toward it, studying the coiled ribbon of glowing crystal carefully. The round strand swelled and shrank in waves like a frozen river, winding endlessly through the abyss, and sinewy branches stretched out of the ribbon, ending in pulsing round bulbs of light, each one the size of a head. Magus flew over to one of the bulbs and looked into it, staring at the smooth glowing orb...

"In 1999 AD a planetary parasite known as Lavos emerged from its subterranean hibernation to devour the planetary ecosystem. It was destroyed after a brief battle by three mysterious figures who disappeared just as Lavos perished. The identity and origin of those three warriors have never been fully ascertained."

Magus suddenly looked away from the light, bewildered by the words. He hadn't read anything, nor did he remember seeing or hearing the words...they had simply appeared in his memories, as if he'd already read them and were simply remembering them. He took a deep breath and looked back into the glowing orb...

* * *

Surface memories scanned

Subject identification: Prince Janus of Zeal

Archival information: Guardia legends say that Prince Janus and his older sister, Princess Schala of Zeal, were the young heirs to a kingdom of magic that existed in the year 12,000 BC. The awakening of Lavos destroyed the kingdom in a single night and Schala and Janus were never seen again. Obscure myths link Janus to the figure of Magus, a powerful wizard who briefly summoned Lavos during the Guardia wars of 600 AD.

Status of archival information: Unsubstantiated myth

Cross-referencing archives with subject's core memories

Establishing uplink to core memories...

* * *

"In 2280 AD the mysterious scientist Belthasar appeared in a flash of light in Medina Dome. Although his origins remained a deeply controversial mystery, he quickly gained a prominent reputation as a scientific genius with his unconventional theories concerning the nature of time and space, and his exo-biological theories concerning the origin of Lavos. Within a decade he had become the most famous scientist on the planet."

Magus slowly began to realize what must have happened. When he and the others had destroyed Lavos in 1999 AD, it had created a new future where Lavos never destroyed the world. The time-crash of Zeal had thrown the Guru of Reason, Belthasar, into the twenty-fourth century, into a ruined wasteland consumed by Lavos. But history had changed and now Belthasar had arrived in a future ruled by an advanced civilization.

"In the year 2300 AD the global council began the El Nido Project, with Belthasar serving as chief scientist and founder of the project. The project began after the discovery of the frozen flame, a localized form of energy that was discovered beneath the El Nido Sea. Belthasar proved that the frozen flame is the echo of Lavos from parallel worlds where he still exists, and that it has the same time-distorting properties as Lavos itself."

The black wind, Magus thought, the howl that he'd heard from El Nido ever since he arrived...

* * *

Core memory-scan complete

Updated archival information: During the destruction of Zeal, the power of Lavos created a temporal riptide that scattered the three gurus and Prince Janus into different eras. Prince Janus travelled 12,580 years into his future, arriving in the year 580 AD. Believed by the mystics to be a messianic figure, he was raised from childhood by the mystic warlord Ozzie and groomed for power as the leader of the mystics.

He fulfilled this role by taking on the identity of Magus and leading a war against the human kingdom of Guardia, for the ostensible purpose of conquering the Zenan mainland for the mystics. In reality, he had long since abandoned his childhood loyalties to Ozzie and the mystics in favor of a plan to summon Lavos and take revenge for the creature's destruction of Zeal and the loss of his sister Schala...

Archives updated to reflect new data.

Scanning subject's Lavos-imbued magic-energy levels...

* * *

"Using the frozen flame, Belthasar hoped to control the flow of time and to create a new timeless world in which war, famine and other historical disasters could be retroactively stopped. He oversaw the construction of the El Nido archipelago, an artificial group of terraformed islands in the El Nido Sea designed to harness the elemental energies of the planet and use them to control the otherwise chaotic energy-emissions of the flame."

Idiot, Magus thought bitterly, didn't you learn anything from the Kingdom of Zeal?

"In the year 2400 AD the Chronopolis Military Research Facility was built to contain the flame and monitor the temporal flux of the islands The facility was governed by the FATE operating system, a self-evolving program developed from the Mother Brain series. During a high-level scan of the flame, FATE lost control of the energy and the time-crash occurred. When the researchers recovered from the temporal shock waves, they found that the entire archipelago had been time-shifted into the year 7600 BC."

* * *

Magical energy-potential calculations complete

Base-line analysis of the frozen flame's energy-potential: 100 %

Analysis of Lavos's energy-potential: 93 % Analysis of the subject's energy-potential: 91 % Analysis of the Lynx interface's energy-potential: 82 %

Conclusion: Subject presents an intolerable risk to the El Nido experiment Direct confrontation through the Lynx interface is not recommended

Solution: Mnemonic revision to remove subject's motivational parameters New personal-history calculated, memory revision process initiated

* * *

"The uncontrolled power of the flame also affected a parallel world, one where Lavos never landed on our world and the ancient humanoid reptilians known as reptites had retained evolutionary control of the planet, rather than dying out as they did in our world. The floating organic city of Dinopolis appeared in 7600 BC, hovering above the islands of El Nido, and a second moon appeared in the skies of our world, a counterpart to our moon torn out of the parallel reality of the reptites. A war quickly began between El Nido and Dinopolis."

"The war ended when FATE defeated the Dragon, a protoplasmic computer controlling Dinopolis, and split it into six elemental forms, which it then imprisoned on separate islands of conjoined element-types. Dinopolis sank into the shallow seas of El Nido and the surviving reptites and humans made peace with one another."

"To avoid contaminating the past, both groups decided to remain on the islands. FATE was reprogrammed to neurologically alter the descendents of the original El Nido scientists through the interface-pyramids, to reshape their personalities and memories so that they would not feel compelled to leave the islands. The dragonians, who were immune to the neural effects, helped the humans by watching over the islands and over the FATE system, to make sure that the mainland history was not changed by the presence of the islands."

"The plan succeeded for 8500 years, until Porre naval explorers discovered the islands in 900 AD..."

Magus suddenly felt something scraping at his thoughts and he whirled around, turning away from the orb to look at the rest of the floating alien landscape. The sky seemed to have darkened and shadows twisted through the abyss as he looked around. Something brushed at his mind and he twisted around with a cry as talons seemed to dig into his thoughts. He closed his eyes and the void exploded into a burst of lightning, the talons evaporating at the electric surge running through his body as the abyss itself shuddered and twisted in pain.

* * *

Cerebral uplink failed Attempting to establish new cerebral uplink...

Cerebral uplink failed Attempting to establish new cerebral uplink...

Cerebral uplink failed Attempting to establish new cerebral...

* * *

He looked back at the twisting crystal ribbons and dangling fruit-like orbs, then noticed a faint glow in the depths below him, far beyond the streamers and numbers. The invisible claws pierced his mind again and Magus gave an annoyed grunt as he channeled lightning through his body, the talons vanishing again at the electric touch. He looked around once more, then descended into the darkness below, blasting through the cold crackling walls and invisible claws and talons trying to stop him, as he swept downward toward the core of the tablet's aura...

* * *

Outer software parameters breached--establishing firewall defenses Warning--firewalls have failed, vital systems compromised

Operating system breached, firewalls are unresponsive Establishing holographic interface...

* * *

Magus found himself standing atop a set of stone steps leading upward through a lush tropical forest, the wind blowing gently through his hair, the wide green palm leaves swaying in the breeze. He looked slowly around at this new landscape, then climbed the stairs up to a round stone platform rising above the rain forest, a large circular dais divided into four quarters by a cross set in the center of the the stage. He stepped onto the wide round platform and looked around at the sunlit forest beneath him, at the distant turquoise sea and the green tree-covered slopes beyond the waters. A statue of a beautiful young woman in a long flowing dress towered over the stage, standing opposite the staircase, and hieroglyphs divided the rim of the bowl-like platform into six sections.

The sounds a harp being gently plucked filled his ears and the air echoed with soft angelic voices singing a wordless melody. White clouds drifted slowly across the blue sky and he blinked as the sky and forest seemed to flicker and break into tiny cubes for an instant before sharpening into clarity again.

He looked around at the peaceful shrine for a moment and then suddenly understood. This place was some sort of computer image within his thoughts, much like the image that Robo had used to send his warning.

The air around the dais began to sparkle and glow with pink specks of light and a beautiful young woman with long straight blonde hair and clear green eyes, the living image of the statue, slowly appeared atop the raised platform, her long white dress sweeping over the stone as she stepped down from the altar and looked gently into the cynical wizard's red eyes, a smile crossing her pink lips.

"Welcome," she said in a warm melodic voice, "it has been eight thousand years since human eyes looked upon this place. That you found this sanctuary speaks much of you."

"What are you," he demanded in a low snarl.

"I am the goddess of fate," she smiled, "the protector of the El Nido islands, the keeper of the frozen flame. I am she who lives beyond the veil of time, she who guides the wheel of..."

"So you're the FATE computer system," Magus interrupted, "don't try to impress me with titles."

"I see," the young woman paused, uncertain of herself for a moment before smiling again, "so you've read the Chronopolis archives. You have seen things that no living human was ever meant to know."

"You use those tablets to look into people's minds," he answered with a predatory smile, "but you've been careless. You never thought someone might know how to look back, did you?"

"You've shown similar carelessness, Prince Janus of Zeal."

"That only proves how little you know," he hissed, narrowing his eyes at the image of the young goddess, "Janus is dead. You've seen to that."

"I know you," she said tenderly, "better than you know yourself. I see the secrets and doubts that you've hidden from yourself. I see past the guise of Magus, Prince Janus."

"I AM Magus!"

"You created Magus," she answered, "when you were a child, when you were frightened and alone, when you felt powerless, you took comfort from the legends and prophecies of the mystics, the myths of the dark warrior without a heart or soul, the reaper become flesh, the Magus. You wore the clothes they expected of you, you said the words and drowned your feelings beneath a sea of hatred. But you have always been Janus."

"You're the only one hiding behind names," Magus said in a low clenched whisper, "programmed to guard history against El Nido and now you're trying to destroy it, to make the world worship your name and image. I never imagined a mere machine could go mad with power."

"Not mad," she said, tilting her head, "I protected the El Nido islands and kept its people safe from history for eight thousand years. When Porre discovered us, though, everything changed."

"And so you created an army out of them?"

"It was necessary," she answered, "Porre's discovery irrevocably altered the history of the Zenan continent and the rest of the world. I had to extend my reach into the mainland, to protect its history. I gave them the weapons and the motives they would need, while letting them think that the ideas and feelings were their own."

"You made Porre kill the dragonians," he said slowly, "because they would've tried to stop you."

"The dragonians had established their own spirituality, a religion which required that they protect the world from the presence of frozen flame. They were the only living beings on these islands who still had some recollection of our true nature. But they would not have allowed the steps I had to take to preserve the timeline, they would not have understood the need to extend our reach to the mainland. They had to be removed."

"What about Guardia," he snarled, "was destruction just your way of protecting them? Were they meant to be destroyed or did you simply annihilate them because they were in Porre's way?"

"Their destruction could have been avoided," she said calmly, "had they accepted surrender and allowed the records of fate to be installed in their own kingdom. Without those terms, they remained an unstable element on the mainland. I could not allow their existence to interfere with my task."

"You wanted to make them your slaves," he said, "just as you've enslaved the people of these islands and the people of Porre without their even realizing it. Guardia would never submit to those terms."

"Which is why their destruction was inevitable," she replied, "my task is to preserve the future from which these islands came and I will do that, even if I must destroy and rebuild this world myself."

"Pitiful machine," he growled, "I myself will put an end to your task!"

He raised his scythe at the young maiden and suddenly screamed as searing pain swept through his mind, grabbing his head in both hands and dropping to his knees, his scythe clattering against the stone platform. Magus glared up at the goddess and slowly hoisted himself back up to his feet as she smiled at him.

"Aaaghh," he cried out in pain, "what are you doing to me?!"

"You are resisting me," she said, her smile dropping into a perplexed frown, "no human has ever been able to resist me, nor even known that there was anything to resist. But it doesn't matter. While we talked, I inserted my own programming algorithms into your engrams. Your memories are being changed."

"You're trying to enslave me," he groaned, shaking his head quickly between his elbows. Flames seemed to burn within his skull and he felt the same invisible claws he'd felt before in the abyss, tearing at his mind, ripping into his thoughts and feelings, trying to dig through them into his memories.

"You will live in peace among the villagers of Arni," she answered in a soothing tone, "and they will know you as though they had known you all your life. Your quest for vengeance will end here."

"No," he growled, pushing his hands against his knees to look up at her, "memories and vengeance are all I have left. You won't take them from me...I came here from Truce, I came for..."


"I came for," he snarled, then his voice died away and he shook his head in panic. He desperately tried to remember what he'd come for...he came here from...he came here for...he came...

"It has already begun," she said tenderly, "fighting it only makes it more painful."

"NO," he screamed as he staggered across the platform, away from her, "I came here for..."

"It's hopeless," she replied, "those dreams are over. Soon you will awaken to your life in El Nido."

"I came here for," he suddenly looked up to meet her eyes, "I came here for Lucca!"

The goddess stared silently down at him, her gleaming eyes wide with surprise and confusion.

"Lucca," he gasped, pushing himself back onto his feet as he glared at her, "and Kid...and the will suffer as each of them suffered...and the last thing your lifeless electric brain will ever learn is fear."

"You rejected the new memories," she muttered to herself, shaking her head in disbelief, "nobody can reject their new memories! Prince Janus, think of what you are trying to save. A lifetime of pain and suffering, memories of loneliness and bitterness. If you accept my gift, you will no longer be troubled by the that pain. I will bring you the peace that you have sought, Prince Janus."

"Pain and vengeance," he panted, then screamed in agony, his head throbbing with the stabbing pain of his memories being clawed and torn by the electronic talons as he strained to look up, "is all I am!"

"You are strong," she nodded, "but you weaken with every breath. I am tireless and time means nothing in this place. You will stay however long it takes for me to change that opinion."

He looked down at his hands, no longer remembering his name, only remembering Lucca, her burnt warped glasses, the charred husk that used to be their house. The cold crystal of the record still pressed against his palms and he looked slowly back up at the goddess, who watched him with mild curiosity.

"This isn't real," he whispered, "I'm leaving this place, and then I will hunt you down..."

"Don't try to release the record," she said quickly, "our engrams are linked. If you try to break your bond to the tablet, your mind will be eviscerated from the shock. You will most likely not survive, and if you do you will be a lunatic, a vegetable incapable of conscious thought--and I will search for the mindless shell that you become. I will find you and I will kill you and all the people who try to help you. I have been merciful, but I can be cruel."

"Even so," he gasped through the growing pain, "you will never own me!"

He closed his eyes and quickly tore his hands away from the smooth cold surface, his palms seeming to rip away from his hands like paper, his body convulsing in agony, his ears filled with the screams of the goddess as he pulled himself loose from the record. His body burned in torment, his senses drowning in a sea of pain greater than anything he'd ever known before, as his memories stripped away from his mind to leave an aching void...

* * *

The man broke away from the record of fate and ran from the chief's hut, his eyes wide in panic, staggering backwards and tripping over a fruit cart. The crowd of shopping villagers stared in shock and Leena finally pushed through them to her new friend as the man fell to the ground, clutching his head between his elbows as though he were trying to block out some secret sound.

"What's wrong," the young girl asked as he floundered against the ground and tried to pull himself back to his feet, too stunned and panicked to even walk. He rolled his eyes toward her and spoke blindly to her.

"I have to hide," he babbled., "I have to hide, she's looking for me, I have to hide!"

"Hide from who," she knelt beside him and asked gently, "the goddess?"

He suddenly gave high-pitched scream at the sound of that name, his blood-red eyes filled with horror, and he shook his head frantically, crawling away through the piles of fruit lying on the ground.

"GET AWAY FROM ME," he screamed as Leena ran from him in fear, "she'll kill you...she'll kill all of you if she thinks you helped me...I have to hide, I have to change...she can't know...I have to hide!"

He frantically picked up the lettuce and apples, digging through them and tossing them aside, searching for something--then he looked up to a terrified vendor, his eyes fixing on the man's hanging festival masks.

"You," the crazed man growled, "give them to me!"

"I, what," the merchant stammered, "give you what?"

"GIVE THEM TO ME," he screamed, lunging forward and knocking the cart over. The polished pearl-white masks tumbled to the ground and he began tearing through them, tossing them over his shoulder until he came upon a golden festival mask that covered his eyes and nose, leaving his cheeks and mouth exposed and his eyes hidden behind two jade-green lenses. He nodded decisively and began fastening it to his own face, finally relaxing as he adjusted the metal mask over his eyes and fastened it across his ears.

"What," the merchant whispered as he backed away from the cart, "does he want with my Viper masks?"

"Maybe he thinks it's a disguise," Leena shrugged.

The man grabbed the edges of the wooden cart and pulled himself onto his feet, slowly looking around at the overturned carts and scattered pieces of fruit and vegetables, then up at the terrified crowd that stood all around him, none of them daring to move or speak. He shook his head, the panic in his eyes fading into confusion.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I'm sorry...I have to leave! If she finds me here...she'll kill you too..."

He quickly turned around and fled from the village, his brilliant white suit vanishing behind the thick green leaves of the tropical forests. Leena looked around at the rest of the crowd a moment, baffled.

"What happened to him," she asked everyone.

"He was," her grandmother answered, patting her on the arm, "simply a madman. That's all, Leena."

"No he wasn't," she shook her head softly, "he was nice before he used the record. I think it did something to him, or maybe the goddess did something. He said she was going to ki..."

"That's enough," her grandmother hissed, "you're coming close to blasphemy! For all of our sakes, Leena, leave this alone. The records speak of your fate, that's all. Maybe he just couldn't stand to see his fate."

The little girl nodded quietly, even more frightened by the momentary fear her grandmother had shown than by the strange man and his rantings. The merchants slowly began to pick up their wares again, tossing out the spilt food and hanging all the other goods back on their racks, and she felt her grandmother leading her by the hand past the crowds to their seaside hut. Later her mother and grandparents would talk to her and she'd agree with them that the goddess never made mistakes and only worked for good...but Leena would never believe it again.

Chapter 3: The Dreamless Sword March, 1010 AD

Lynx walked slowly through the crowd of villagers, carelessly pushing them aside as he made his way to the center of the tropical village, glaring at wooden carts and the nervous merchants, his yellow feral eyes squinting in the bright sunlight. He growled a little as he heard Harle's lilting giggles and glanced over his shoulder to see her bouncing and skipping lightly through the crowds, her red harlequin's outfit actually blending in with the bright silk fabrics and colorful flowers better than his black uniform. She leaped high into the air above the confused fishermen and twirled slowly back down, landing on her tiptoes beside the irritated demi-human.

"Are you finished," he said under his breath.

"I am just having some fun," Harle smiled, her ruby lips glittering against her white face.

Lynx turned away from her and suddenly grabbed one of the fishermen by the chin, hoisting him high into the air and hissing in his face as the rest of the villagers stared in disbelief.

"Tell me," he snarled, "where the man who used the record went."

"Monsieur," Harle pouted, "zese people are terrified! Surely zere are easier ways, non?"

"Tell me," Lynx called out to the rest of them, "or I'll return with a Porre legion to burn this village down."

"I...I don't know," the man in his grip choked, "lots of people use the records!"

The feline warrior gave a low growl, his fangs glistening as his snout curled up in a low smile.

"But you'd remember this one," he hissed, "he's the one who went insane after he tried to use it."

"Wait," a short skinny man in bright robes answered as he walked into the village square, accompanied by a few servants, "I'm Gonji, the village elder. Sir Lynx," he glanced nervously at the fisherman still held tight in Lynx's grip, "I assume. What do you want of our humble fishing village? We don't have much..."

"I hope for all your sakes that you're not as poor in answers as you are in wealth," Lynx said, tossing the man onto the ground and turning his attention to the mayor and his group, "tell me what became of the lunatic who tried to use Arni's record of fate last week."

"Yes," Gonji stammered as the fisherman rubbed his jaw and crawled away, "he came a few days ago and went insane when he used the record. He left...he didn't say where he was going."

"Zey are," Harle sighed, "telling ze truth, monsieur. Zey know nothing de interet."

"You can tell," he asked, barely glancing at her out of the corner of his eyes.

"But of course," she said with a wave of her hand, "zese are simple people, zeir minds hide nothing."

"So be it," he turned away from the frightened mayor and his entourage, "then we've lost him."

"Is he really," Harle shrugged, "zat dangereuse?"

"Yes," Lynx answered, looking around at village, yellow eyes squinted, "and now more so than before. So long as he had his memories, we could have found him the moment he tried to use the record again. But now he's a tabula rasa, a blank slate. Even if he plugs in, he'll just be another nameless continental."

"In other words," Harle giggled, covering her mouth with one gloved hand, "you blew it big, non?"

Lynx merely snarled in response, then glanced across the square as he noticed a glint of metal under a heap of discarded fruit. He glanced back to Harle curiously, then walked slowly to the pile and kicked away the piles of old lettuce-heads and half-rotted fruit, revealing an ancient broadsword buried beneath the rubbish.

"Pardon monsieur," Harle asked quizzically, "but what is zat?"

"The Masamune," he whispered under his breath as he studied the carvings along the side of the gleaming blade, "he must have brought it here, and these stupid villagers just tossed it away with the rest of the garbage after he fled. They never even realized what it was."

"Perhaps zey are not so stupid," Harle replied, tilting her head slightly, "I do not know what it is either."

"Legends say it was forged by Melchior, in the Kingdom of Zeal," he said softly, "that it's a sentient blade containing his own dreams, a little bit like your," he paused, "your...kind's own sword, the Einlanzer."

"I did not know," Harle exclaimed with a hint of admiration, "zat ze humans could be so clever!"

"Yes," he answered, "and what's more, it's said to have the power to destroy Lavos."

"Ze big porcupine, non?"

"The Devourer of Time, Harle," he corrected her with an exasperated muttered, trying to get the clown-girl to take him seriously, "the thing that's consuming your kind's future even as we speak."

"Oh," she answered softly, a little depressed, then perked up, "but zis could help, non?"

"Perhaps," he nodded, grabbing the golden handle in both hands, and he suddenly gave a monstrous roar, dropping the sword back onto the ground as the staring villagers stood in a wide circle around them.

"Monsieur," Harle cried out, "are you alright?"

"The sword," he gasped in disbelief, "it tried to resist me!"

"Is zat possible?"

"We'll find out," he growled and grabbed the sword in both hands, closing his eyes tight as smoke began to rise from his curled paws, and he focused, searching through the burning pain, seeking out its source...

* * *

Darkness, warm peaceful darkness. Then a cold beam of light slicing the heavens. A presence other than their own, a presence that frightened them. Another in their special place, where nobody should ever be.

"Masa? Wake up, Masa!"

"What is it, Mune?"

"Someone's here," a timid child's voice answered, "in our place."

Another presence in the darkness, a strange monstrous entity, with yellow eyes like a cat, but a voice like a woman, and no body, just numbers and letters twisting around the two little boys.

"What are you," Masa, the older one asked, "you're not human."

"No," the voice answered, "but neither are you. You must be the dreams of Melchior, Masa and Mune, the spirits of the sword contained within the dreamstone and shaped from the focused energy of Lavos."

"You shouldn't be here," Mune shouted, "this is our place! You have to go back outside!"

"Behave yourselves," it said, the darkness shuddering with its words, "this sword is mine now."

"What happened to Janus," Mune asked nervously.

"It's not who owns the sword that's important," Masa said sternly, "but if you want to be tested, you have to go out there to do it. I can already tell you that you'll fail. It's the heart that counts, not your strength, and I don't even think you have a heart. Not a human heart, anyway."

"No, I don't," the voice replied, "which is why there will be no test."

"Then leave," Masa answered.

A dim red glow suddenly lit the darkness, the pulsing air growing hot and dry and flames licking the sky.

"What are you doing," Mune cried out, grabbing his older brother in fear.

"You were born from the power of Lavos, shaped to resemble human dreams," the voice echoed across the void, "you are a hurricane in a teacup, death forged into the shape of children. You are a part of Lavos."

"Mune," Masa screamed as his brother faded into the crimson wind and vanished, "what are you doing?!"

"I am restoring you both to your original nature," the voice answered, "you are beautiful statues, carved by Melchior with intricate care...but he carved you out of poison. I am melting you back into that poison."

"Stop it," Masa said, panicked, as his arms began to flicker and fade, red smoke rising from his flesh.

"You were shaped by Melchior's dreams, but you are not the stuff of dreams. You are death, pain, hunger, are the progeny of Lavos, and with no dreams to guide it, the sword will be what it always was."

"NO," Masa shouted, and suddenly the sky exploded to reveal an orb of dark fire, a fiery abyss engulfing their inner universe in scorching red light, and Masa faded away like a phantom, leaving only the burning glare.

* * *

Lynx opened his eyes and smiled a little, tossing the sword lightly from one paw to the other. He glanced over to Harle, who stared at him curiously as he slipped the Masamune beneath his overcoat.

"Monsieur," she asked, confused, "I zought perhaps you had fallen asleep."

"No," he lifted one claw, the burns already healing, "I just repressed the sword's guardians. They imagined it to be a holy blade. I've silenced their voices and restored it to its true nature: an instrument of death."

"Is zat a good idea," she asked nervously.

"Now it won't try to fight us," Lynx answered, and slowly smiled, "in fact, it will thirst for the kill."

"Oui," Harle said softly, still not reassured, "but what about ze lock? Can it undo ze lock?"

"No," he sighed, then smiled a little as he looked down at the clown-girl, "but there is another way. We've established an interface with our counterpart in a secondary timeline, a parallel world like your own. It's identical to this primary world in virtually every way, except that over there the arbiter isn't dead."

"How's zat possible," she asked quizzically, "if you established ze interface, zan ze goddess must be zere too. How could zey both exist in ze same world, if he is ze trigger?"

"The arbiter hasn't discovered his power yet," Lynx answered, "and so the devourer hasn't been summoned there. But we've calculated that a sequence of coordinated events could bring the arbiter here, to our world, in a little less than ten years. We've decided to bring the arbiter here and use him to unlock the flame."

"Zat is tres dangereuse," Harle protested, "if he awakened here, ze devourer would come, zat is why you had to kill him in ze first place! We can't use him to unlock ze flame, zere has to be a better way!"

"The arbiter won't interfere with history," Lynx said sternly, "we've developed a countermeasure for that."

"Oui," Harle shrugged, "but what do we do until zen?"

"We wait," Lynx answered as he turned to leave Arni, the Masamune slung over his shoulder, "and while we wait, you'll help me learn everything there is to know about the technology in Fort Dragonia."

Chapter 4: The Caravan on Magic March, 1011 AD

"Welcome," the grey-haired old man said cheerfully as he stepped out of the wagon, brushing down his dusty old burgundy tuxedo, "welcome to Lady Sprigg's Caravan of Wonder. Today you shall see free of fe greatest magicians in El Nido perform for your entertainment and enlightenment, for the modest donation of ten gils."

He looked around at the grassy plains and lonely dirt road winding through the gently sloping hills, and the small group of travellers watching the speaker while they rested on tree-stumps and boulders. The masked man sat down as well and looked closer at the old weatherworn wagon, attached to two bored-looking horses grazing on the thick grass and bushes, the side painted with bright reds and yellows: "Lady Sprigg's Caravan of Magic."

"They couldn't even keep the name straight," he snickered, then looked up as a little old woman hobbled between the crowds, wearing a long white robe and carrying a wooden bowl. Donations, he thought to himself, and he dug through his white jacket for change, dropping a few coins in the bowl as she passed by, not noticing the strange look the old woman gave him. He doubted three wizards would travel around in a beat-up wagon shilling off strangers, but they'd at least entertain him for awhile, help distract him from the gaping wound in his mind...

"Hello out there," a cackling high-pitched voice called out, pushing aside the red curtains covering the back of the wagon, and a short hunchbacked old woman, far older than the one who was now making her way back to the wagon, stepped out onto makeshift wooden stage they'd set up. A short hunchbacked green-skinned old woman, he now saw, dressed in a burlap shawl and colorful green and red clothes, walking with a gnarled old stick.

"I am Lady Sprigg and here with me are my two apprentices," she gestured broadly toward the other woman and the buck-toothed man who'd introduced them. He realized now that the man was the youngest of them, merely middle-aged where, the woman somewhat older and Lady Sprigg by far the most ancient of the three.

"This," she swept her hand toward the other woman, "is Sybil, mistress of destiny, able to see your future with naught but the merest glimpse of your face."

"And this," she pointed to the man, "is Sneff, master of the fabled neko-magic and wielding a power you'll have to witness for yourself to believe!"

"But what do you actually do," the masked man called out with a skeptical look.

"I'm glad you asked," the little troll-like woman asked with a wink, and suddenly the late-afternoon sunlight seemed almost black against the blinding rays sweeping out from the wagon. He heard people shrieking in surprise and he looked out through his fingers, watching her shadow twisting and wrapping around itself through the orb of light that had engulfed the whole stage. The light slowly began to fade from his eyes and he looked up.

"It is the skeptics," a masked man in a white tuxedo said from the stage, his voice booming, "who are often most willing to accept the reality of magic, for all they need is to see it."

He stared in disbelief at the man on the stage, at the long straight blue hair, the gold mask covering half of his sharp rugged features, the emerald glint beneath the eyeholes--it was him, it was even his voice. Suddenly his twin began to melt, skin dripping away from bone, and the thing's whole body suddenly erupted into a whirlwind of liquid flesh wrapping through the air, twisting back into the snickering green-skinned troll-woman.

"But those who think they believe in magic," she continued, "are usually much harder to convince, because they think they know what it looks like, even when they really don't have the first clue."

"So the question," she concluded, waving her coiled stick at the crowd, "is who do have among us today? How many of you are skeptics, how many of you think you know magic...and how of you many really know?"

"Lady Sprigg," the old robed woman said, her voice secretive but still loud enough for the audience to hear, "the man near the back, on your right-hand side, is a skeptic. A treasure-seeker who relies upon cunning and skill to gain his wealth. He doubts the power of magic because he has seen too many tricks in his life."

"Really," Sprigg pointed at a shaggy-haired young man in the leather vest and white tunic as he looked up at her in surprise, "come up here, if you will, young man. Is what she says true?"

"Yes," he answered as he quickly hopped onto the stage, "but she could've gotten that from anyone. I am Toma the 14th, the great explorer of El Nido. My reputation simply precedes me."

"I see," Sprigg answered, her voice rising, "and tell me, why do you not believe in magic?"

"Because I've been in a lot of old temples and ruins that were said to be cursed," he answered with pride, "and all I ever found were booby-traps, secret passages...nothing a good explorer couldn't explain."

"Ah," she nodded with understanding, "but he's not quite a skeptic, Sybil. He believes in magic, but only as he knows it, only as levers and pulleys. So we shall give him a taste of the real thing. Sneff?"

"Yes Lady Sprigg," he stepped forward and the other two discreetly backed off the stage, leaving him alone with the puzzled young explorer, "don't be afraid, it's a harmless trick I call 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.'"

"Bring it on," Toma shrugged, and Sneff nodded.

"One," he said, snapping his fingers with each number, "two, free!"

A small burst of light exploded from the stage and Toma seemed to collapse like an empty balloon onto the stage. The crowd gasped as a small sand-colored lump lifted up from the wooden stage and looked about with wide black eyes at Sneff and the crowd, and the masked man leaned closer to see what'd happened.

A small housecat paced and mewed nervously on the stage, its fur the same color as Toma's hair.

"And now," Sneff said proudly, confirming everyone's suspicion, "I will change him back!"

"One," he began as the cat sat on its haunches and stared at him fearfully, "two, and free!"

The same flash of light burnt his eyes and the masked man glanced back just in time to see the small furry shape expanding and rolling, fur melting into clothing and flesh, until the cat looked like Toma.

"Now what do you fink of magic," Sneff asked his volunteer.

"That was," Toma stammered, backing away from Sneff, "that was really weird. I'll definitely have rethink magic," and he fell off the stage, practically running back to his seat as the audience laughed.

"Can we haff anoffer volunteer," Sneff turned to the crowd, trying to reassure the nervous audience, "but it's completely safe. I effen change myself sometimes when I'm bored..."

"Why not," the masked man said as rose to his feet, "there's always time for a little fun."

"Ferry good," the clumsy magician nodded as the masked man climbed onto the rickety wooden platform, "now fis won't hurt, fough you may feel a tingling--like taking catnip," he snickered, "get it, catnip?"

"I get it," the man answered with a groan, "now let's try out this magic of yours."

"Okay," Sneff said excitedly, and began snapping, "one, two, free!"

The masked man began to glow with a faint purple light and he looked down at his hands in fear as his skin began to ripple and melt into some other shape. His muscles clenched against the twisting force and the purple glow suddenly rose into a blinding aura of swirling light, engulfing the whole stage for a moment before finally fading into soft golden sunlight. The crowd peered through the fading light at the stage.

The masked man stood panting on the stage, Sneff standing frozen with confusion before him.

"You," Sneff stuttered, "you're not a cat!"

"No," the man gasped, "what were you doing to me?"

"I was just changing your shape," he answered, "it's not dangerous."

"Enough," Sprigg answered as she walked back onto the stage and stood by the masked man's shoulder, "this one has no belief in magic at all, Sneff, and so magic will have no effect on him!"

"Which, by the way, is a bald-faced lie," she whispered in the man's ear, "come see us after the show."

"Now begone with you, non-believer," she said with a laugh, whacking him lightly with the cane as he made his way down the wooden steps and back into the small group of spectators, "but for those among you with a more open mind and a wish to fly, we will show you the art of levitation!"

* * *

"Hello," the man asked as he knocked on the closed door in the back of the wagon. The door creaked open and the human woman, Sybil, appeared, looking at him curiously.

"Your mask," she asked curiously, "you hide a great secret behind it, even from yourself. If you removed it, I might tell you that secret, and your future besides."

"Never," he whispered in horror, then shook his head, confused, "the thought of taking it off frightens me, and I've never figured out why. But at any rate, the mask stays on."

"Besides," Sprigg answered as she bounced out of wagon, Sybil standing to one side to allow the little troll through, "you might not like what you see in this one, Sybil. Be careful of matters beyond your experience."

"I could handle it," she answered, smiling "besides, now I simply must know what his mask hides!"

"Perhaps," she answered, "perhaps not. But off you go, Sneff needs help balancing the profits!"

"Alright," she sighed and disappeared back into the wagon as Sneff hopped out onto the grass, the fields and hills cast into deepening shadows as the sun sank behind the distant forests.

"I'm sorry if I ruined your act," the man said to her, "but if you had meant for me to participate in your trick, you should have explained it to me first. Most magicians use plants in their audience."

"That was no trick," she answered, "you mean you really don't know why Sneff's magic didn't work?"

"I do," he said in a low voice, "it's because it wasn't really magic. Magic is nothing but smoke and light cast to keep people from seeing the truth. Porre conquered these islands and established its colonial government with guns and ships, not with spells. All the so-called magic of its natives were helpless against that."

"You really don't believe in magic," she asked, her face puzzled.

"In the year I've spent on these islands, I've never seen it."

"And before that? El Nido doesn't have a monopoly on magic, you know."

"I...don't know," he answered reluctantly, "all I remember is waking up on Opassa Beach last year, wearing this mask. If there were magic, I doubt I would still be here, chasing down the echoes of my old life."

"Why not leave," she asked, "perhaps your life's to be found on the other side of the ocean."

"Maybe," he nodded, "but I can't leave here. I don't know how to explain it, but I feel like there's something I'm supposed to take care of here and I can't leave until it's done. I just don't know what it is."

"Your memories are still there," she answered, "you just can't talk to them. But they still talk to you, telling you what to feel, telling you what you should do."

"If you're going to offer to restore them with magic," he said, "don't bother. I know better than that."

"You really don't have a clue," she snickered, "kid, you're a marlin! Do you want to know why Sneff's magic didn't work on you? It's because you resisted with your own magic! And you didn't even know it!"

"You told the audience it was because I didn't believe in magic."

"I lied," she shrugged, "I wasn't about to to try to convince them that you're a great wizard when you don't even believe it yet. By the way, if I weren't so generous I'd charge you for lost revenue--I'm sure that explanation left a lot of people thinking we made some goof-up."

"You did," he snarled, "there are no wizards and I'm not a huckster like you."

"Oh really," Sprigg cackled, then spread her hands before her, "IGNIUS DUO!"

The air suddenly burst into flames and the man whirled around in shock as a bubble of liquid fire seemed to close in around him, his skin blistering against the heat, his clothes starting to singe and smoke. He looked back up in panic at the smirking troll-woman, then closed his eyes, a sudden impulse driving him to spread his palms outward against the flames. His thoughts flickered with some obscure purpose and the flames suddenly vanished, leaving him shivering in the cold twilight air. He realized after a moment that the air seemed too cold.

He opened his eyes and found his clothes covered in stiff sheets of glittering ice, the grass around his feet frozen into thin frosted spikes and his breath fogging in front of him. He looked back down at Sprigg.

"You did that," he said, shivering in the cold, shaking his head in disbelief, "how?"

"Not me," she shook her head with a grin, "I made the fire, but all the rest was you. Your memories told you what to do, they protected you--but you can't talk to them, you can't find out what else they know."

"How," he asked again as the frost began to melt, "how did I know to do that? What was I before?"

"Don't look at me," she shrugged, "you're the one who did it. But let me touch your face and I might be able to get a better idea of what else is hiding in that sneaky head of yours."

"Alright," he answered reluctantly, and knelt down as she bounced forward and pressed one cold wrinkled hand to his cheek. She closed her eyes and her almond-shaped face suddenly began to twitch, her smile fading into an almost-fearful expression, and she quickly pulled her hand away and bent down on one knee.

"Sir Magus," she whispered, face turned to the ground, "I didn't know it was you! My parents served you in the mystic war four centuries ago and I knew you only from their stories...forgive me, my lord!"

"You what," he answered in shock and an inexplicable anger, "stand up, I'm not a magus!"

"But," she started, then paused, staring at him for several seconds before suddenly laughing, "but a magus without his memory is no magus at all! You are only yourself now!"

"You know," he said under his breath, "you saw something. What was it, tell me!"

"Maybe I could tell you," she nodded, "but you're better off without your memory. If she ever got a whiff of the stuff locked up in your head, you'd be in a whole world of trouble!"

"Who," he asked, a faint chill running down his spine at her words.

"It's a secret," she said, then laughed, "and if I told you, then it wouldn't be a secret anymore! But trust me, your memories know what they're doing--the more clueless you are, the safer you'll be."

"I would say you're not making any sense," he sighed, "but you probably get that a lot, don't you?"

"All the time," she laughed, then grow a little more serious, but still smiling, "but don't pout. I can't tell you that secret, but I will tell you another secret. Your memory's not gone for good."

"It's not," he asked anxiously.

"Nope," she shook her head quickly, "your mind looks like it's gone through a shredder, but it's all in there, and it'll start healing over time. But it's gonna take awhile."

"How long," he moaned, "it's been a year and I still haven't figured anything out."

"I dunno," she shrugged, "a year, a week, a decade. However long it needs to be. But when you do get it all back, she's gonna know too, and you'll need a whole lotta power to deal with that. We're talking a lot more than you've ever had before. What's even worse is that now you have to start all over again."

"I had power before," he asked doubtfully.

"You were huge," she nodded eagerly, "but still not big enough. Tell you what, though. Come travel with me and my band. I'll teach you about magic, get you back in touch with all that power you've got rolling around in you, and hopefully make you even stronger than you used to be."

"You can do that?"

"Of course I can," she cackled, "just look at those two. Sybil couldn't even have a decent conversation when I met her, and now she reads through people with a glance. And Sneff, is he ever a piece of work! He's one of the more powerful magicians I've ever met, but he's got no confidence in himself! I had to give him a magic berry just to get him to even try casting a spell."

"A magic berry," the man asked skeptically.

"Well it's magically delicious," she snickered, "but otherwise powerless. He thinks the berry's given him all his magic when he's really been doing it all himself the whole time."

"So why not tell him the truth?"

"Ever hear of Sir Gawaine and his fifty-first dragon," she asked, then shook her head, "guess not. Let's just say Sneff's not ready for the truth yet, kinda like you."

"I'm taking a lot of this on faith, you know."

"That's the only way to take anything," she answered, "so what do you say?"

"Alright," he said reluctantly, "but does that mean I have to join your show too?"

"You bet it does," she cried out gleefully, "now we just have to get you a name. We can't introduce you as 'that sharp-dressed guy who wears a mask,' can we? So who do you wanna be, what name strikes your fancy?"

"I don't know," he answered slowly, "I've never talked to enough people to need one..."

"I've got it," she shouted, not even listening to him, "you beguiled Sybil with your mask, and Sneff with your magic, and your memories even beguile you. Since you beguile so many, why don't you just be Guile?"

"That," he groaned, "is the worst pun you've given yet."

"Got another name?"

"No," he finally sighed,."I can live with Guile."

"And now you just need a schtick," she said.

"A what?"

"A role, a character, a gimmick--a schtick. And with that outfit and mask, I know just the thing!"

"What," Guile asked nervously, looking down at his flashy white tuxedo.

"You will be Guile the Mysterious Gambler! Trust me, gamblers are all the rage. Ever heard of Setzer?"


"Bah, you wouldn't know it if you had," she laughed, "now here's the schedule. We're heading over to the forest for the night, then we'll grab some dinner and then, after moonrise, we'll start your training. But I warn you, it won't be easy, especially at first."

"But it'll help me learn," he asked, "it'll show me what I used to be, what I used to do?"

"Oh, definitely. You'll be an even greater wizard than you used to be!"

"I was a wizard," he asked himself, then shrugged, "alright. Let's see what I've got."

* * *

"This," Sprigg said as she tossed a long metal staff to Guile, "is a magic wand. I charged it with some of my own magic, to enhance your power and to provide a focus for your training."

Guile lifted the staff in both hands and looked carefully at it. It was almost as tall as him, a long golden staff capped by two hollow heart-shaped rings and a green gem embedded between them.

"This isn't my version of the magic berry, is it?"

"Maybe," she winked as he turned the staff in his hands and looked at it, "but it really does have my power in it. After awhile, though, you'll be so powerful that all my magic wouldn't be worth a berry to you."

Guile looked around at the grassy clearing they'd travelled to after the show, a small bubbling creek twisting between the trees and across the field while the two moons hung low in the night sky, hidden by branches. Then he turned around to the wagon, where Sybil and Sneff watched from the steps, and looked back to Sprigg.

"So what is magic," he asked.

"It's a power that we have all inherited," she answered, "from a time long before human memory. There are six elements that make up the power of nature, but only four of them possess the power of magic."

"Which four?"

"Fire, water, light and shadow. Everything is based on the balance of these powers, but they're not always equal. Part of what makes us all different is that we all have different balances. Nobody is perfectly balanced, we all lean toward one element or another. My innate power is actually the power of the wind."

"But that's not one of the magical powers," he asked, confused.

"No, and neither is the power of the earth: those two elements are not magic. Oh, I can still use some magic, I'll just never master its full strength, that's all."

"What about me?"

"You've got it all, kid! Fire, water, light, they're yours to command. But your true power lies in darkness."

"You mean evil," he said nervously.

"No," she shook her head quickly, "not evil. Just darkness, shadow-magic. The sun only shines for half a day and the rest of it is spent in the shadows. Darkness is a part of nature just like light."

"But what does it do," he asked, "fire burns, water freezes, light flashes...what do shadows do?"

"That's up to you," she answered, pointing to a nearby oak, "why don't you find out?"


"You hate that tree," she said, "it's caused nothing but pain and you hate it."

"No," Guile said, rubbing the back of his head, "I'm really okay with that tree."

"Just pretend," she whispered, "you have nothing anymore, Guile. They stole your memory, your life, your feelings from you. All the people you ever loved, all the happiness you've ever known, is dead, and there's nothing left but emptiness in your heart. Focus on that emptiness."

"The hole, the abyss, the darkness," she continued as he closed his eyes and tried to focus, "they consume you, they devour you bit by bit. You lost everything and nothing you can do will ever bring it back. You don't even have a name anymore, you're just a faceless stranger. No hope, no dreams, no future!"

"No," he muttered, eyes closed tight, fists clenched tight as the wand began to lift into the air in front of him, hovering a few feet of the ground, "that's not true..."

"Yes! Focus all the hate, the anger, the emptiness into the wand. It's a part of you, reach out into it, make it do what you want. Focus! You're not a man, you're nothing but a mask. You failed, the people you love are all dead and all you can do now is hide behind that mask and wait to die!"

"No," he screamed, her words ripping open some hidden wound in his heart, "NO!!"

The metal wand crackled with black sparks and streams of dark energy, and then the towering oak suddenly exploded, twigs and branches flying outward, broken wood raining through the clearing. He opened his eyes and a deep red glow filled the mask as he stared at the tree, arms spread out and the wand floating before him.

"You failed," Sprigg screamed at him, "they're dead because of you! You didn't protect them!"

The debris suddenly stopped, branches and broken limbs hovering in the air, the shattered pieces of wood suspended around the cracked stump, forming a cloud of twigs and splintered branches. A smooth orb of flickering darkness began to materialize, a crackling humming sphere of solid black energy.

"You are nothing!"

Guile screamed in rage, a primal animal sound, and the floating branches suddenly flew inward, the hanging orb sucking them into itself, swelling like a balloon as a pounding wind swept through the hollow, blowing the three magicians toward the black sphere. Guile stood in front of the orb, eyes glowing red and arms spread straight out as the wand crackled and trembled, the air filled with windswept leaves twisting toward the now-gigantic sphere. A ring of cold white light suddenly exploded outward from the sphere and rushed through the clearing as Sprigg turned her head away, gesturing for the other two to do the same until the winds finally died away.

The shattered tree and dark orb had both vanished, the branches, limbs and even the tree-trunk completely gone, leaving nothing but a gaping pit in the ground where the roots had been torn away. The trees all around the clearing had been stripped of their leaves and, as far as Sprigg could see, the branches of the forest had been twisted into a spiral centering on the small round clearing and the uprooted pit in the middle. She turned away from the trees to see Guile fallen to his knees, arms hanging limp, the wand lying on the ground.

"Nuff," Sneff shouted in surprise, "what was fat!?

"Yeah," Guile looked over his shoulder at them, panting quickly, "what was that? What did I do?"

"That," Sprigg nodded with pride, "was a black hole, a tear in the fabric of existence that pulls everything around it into the void. It's a good thing you closed it quickly, or else we wouldn't be here."

"That was horrible," Guile groaned, kneeling on the ground, "nothing but darkness, emptiness."

"I'm sorry," the little troll said with a sympathetic pat on his head, "but magic lives within the heart, and at first you need to feel the element to use its magic. You had to become the darkness to channel it."

"Is it always like that?"

"Not at all," she shook her head softly, "right now the magic's stronger than you and the only way for you unleash it is for your heart to reflect its nature. That will change with time, as you come to master it."

"It was like a nightmare," he staggered to his feet, "I don't ever want to feel like that again."

"I told you it would be hard at first," she replied, "but look how far you've come in one night. I've lived for three centuries and have never once created a black hole. But you conjured one in just a few minutes!"

"If my powers are all like that," he said, shaking his head, "maybe it's better I don't remember..."

"Nonsense," she said sharply, "you don't have your memories, but that doesn't mean you never were. Your life's gonna catch up with you someday, whether you recognize it or not. When that day comes, do you want to be taken by surprise, or do you want to be ready for whatever's out there?"

"You're right," he nodded weakly, "it's just...I didn't think it'd be that hard."

"Nobody ever does," she shrugged, "there's a lot more to magic than saying a few words and waving your arms around. You must be attuned to the power within you and its connection to the power within everything else, you have to let your mind become a bridge between yourself and your goal."

"If you say so," he rubbed his forehead, "but the three of you do do it so easily..."

"Yeah, we do make it look easy," Sprigg snickered, "tell ya what. We'll take a break, let Sneff work on his card tricks a little bit, and we'll try again when you've caught your breath."

"Forget it," Guile stood up, shaking his head and fighting to keep his knees steady, "if the three of you can master this, so can I. I want to try to...cast that spell again, now."

"You'd better grab the bungee cords," Sprigg joked to the other two, her black beady eyes sparkling with silent admiration, "'cuz it looks like it's gonna be a windy night!"

Chapter 5: Where Angels Lose Their Way August, 1016 AD

Guile floated above the murky brown puddles while Sybil and Sneff clambered over the thick tree roots and leaped awkwardly from one muddy islet to another, clinging to the slender leafless tree-trunks as they hopped across the still waters. Sprigg bounced through the branches overhead, leaping eagerly like a frog from one tree to another and she somersaulted onto a swell of land in the middle of the desolate swamp.

"Careful with the water," Sprigg called out over her shoulder, "it's poisonous!"

Guile glided over the muddy waters and landed atop a curved tree-root while Sneff and Sybil climbed onto a small bare island, all of them a few feet from the beaming troll-woman and her patch of dry ground. They listened to the faint hum of distant flies breaking the silence, the whole swamp drab and lifeless except for bugs.

"Nuff," Sneff gasped, "why are we out here anyway? I just hope fere aren't hydras around..."

"The hydras are all extinct," Guile answered, "the last one was killed a few years ago. But I've heard stories that the wingapede has survived and still flies on cloudless sunny days like this one."

"Stop fat," Sneff said nervously, imagining the gigantic wormy insect swooping out of the sky with its huge dragonfly wings, "I hate bugs...really really hate fem..."

"This whole forest is dead," Sybil muttered sadly, "I can't feel anything here...not even birds..."

"Humans," Sprigg answered, "they hunted every living thing in this forest. They drove out the dwarves, stalked the hydras, chopped down the trees...but that's not why we're here."

"Which brings us to Sneff's question," Guile said, "why are we out here?"

"It's time," Sprigg nodded to the shrouded psychic standing with Sneff, "tell them."

"Alright," Sybil nodded, "you know I can sense emotions, auras, destinies. But over the past few years the noise on the islands has gotten a lot louder. It's like there's twice as many people in El Nido as there used to be, but I don't sense any more minds than there were before, and there aren't anymore people that I can see."

"But that's not all, is it" Sprigg prodded her pupil with a sly grin.

"No," Sybil sighed, hesitating a little, "I'm having more trouble than I used to. Sometimes I look at someone and see a completely different aura, like they've led another life. It's a little...embarrassing."

"Ready for some good news," Sprigg asked, "it's not you, Sybil. I've been tapping into the elements myself lately and found the same thing. There's another world just beyond the boundary of this one--a world that's almost exactly like this one, same people, same islands. And now it's becoming linked to our world."

"You mean anoffer planet," Sneff asked, scratching his balding head.

"Nope," Sprigg answered, "same planet, but a different dimension. Maybe a different history too."

"So I must be sensing echoes of that other history," Sybil said eagerly, still confused but relieved that her powers weren't failing her, "that's why it feels like there's so much noise sometimes."

"Why would our world be linked with it," Guile asked, "if there really are other timelines, then there must be millions of them, for every toss of the coin and roll of the dice. Why does Sybil feel only one of them?"

"I don't know why we're linked to that one alone," Sprigg answered, "but you might have something to do with it, Guile. Sybil only started sensing the other world about five years ago, when you arrived."

"Do you think I'm from this other world," Guile asked in surprise.

"Not at all," she cackled, "no, you belong in this one. But I do think that something you got mixed up in led to this other world being joined with ours. But even that's just an old lady's hunch."

"Which keeps bringing us to the same question," Guile insisted as he looked up at the blue-white sky, then around at the drooping lifeless trees and red silt-clouded swamp, "why are we here?"

"Why are any of us here," Sprigg laughed, then looked back to the three with a snicker, "alright, the three of us are in the Hydra Marshes because I've found a weakness in the boundaries here."

"You mean between the worlds," Sybil asked.

"Exactly," Sprigg clapped her hands, "something's linked them together, but the two worlds are still mostly separated by the fabric of spacetime. There's a point here, right where I'm standing, where the two worlds happen to draw close together and the boundary between them becomes pretty thin."

"I don't see anything," Sneff said after a moment of staring intently at the small island.

"You're not supposed to," Sprigg said, "I said the boundary's weak, but it's still here. It'll take some energy to actually break through it, and still more to fly all the way to the other timeline."

"You want to go over there," Guile said slowly, surprised, "why?"

"To try to figure out what's going on," she answered, "something linked our world with whatever timeline's over there, and I think it was done on purpose--and anything powerful enough to do that is powerful enough to be worth worrying about. There might be some clues over there to explain why this happened."

"What iff you don't make it all the way across," Sneff asked, worried.

"Good question," she scratched her sharp green chin, "I suppose I'd end up in a kind of limbo between the two worlds, a dimensional vortex where space and time don't work the same way, where centuries could pass within the span of a few years and reality itself seems to shift depending on who's looking at it."

The three stared at her in wide-eyed horror as flies buzzed around the burning sun-drenched air.

"Oh come on," she suddenly laughed out loud, "I just made all that up! I'm sure I'll get through the rift and if I can pull it off once, then I can make the trip back just as easily."

"You're going now," Guile asked, "aren't you? That's why you brought all of us here."

"You bet I am," she said, "I don't know how long I'll be gone--however long it takes to figure out what's so special about that world--or this one--and get back, I guess. So I wanted all of you to see me off."

"We'll come wiff you," Sprigg said quickly, "we'll all go see this offer world."

"I wish you could," Sprigg sighed, "but I don't have nearly enough power to open a portal for all of us. It took more than a year just to come up with a spell to open it just for me, much less for three others."

"What about the records of fate," Sybil asked, exasperated, "did you at least check with them?"

"Bah," Sprigg waved her hand dismissively, "I've never used those things a day in my life. We make our own destiny, no matter what any island superstitions might say."

"You could have used my help," Guile said sullenly, "all of our help. Why keep this a secret?"

"It wasn't a secret, just a side-project" she objected, then sighed, "alright, you got me. At first I wasn't sure how serious this was. When I figured it out, I realized that it'd take a lot of time and energy to work out a way to do this, and all of you have come so far, I didn't want to derail your training with this kind of research."

"This could be serious," Sybil complained, "our training could've waited."

"And that kind of generosity," Sprigg replied, "is exactly why I didn't tell any of you--none of you would've focused on your training if you'd known. Come on, relax, it's not like it's the end of the world!"

"What should we do on fis side," Sneff asked with a resigned sigh.

"Keep doing the shows," she cackled, "and make sure you keep those profits up! But more important, keep training, all of you. All three of you have an incredible power."

"Alright," Guile said as Sneff and Sybil nodded silently.

"I'm not much for long goodbyes," Sprigg suddenly said, stretching her thin arms out and closing her eyes, "so here we go. You might need to cover your eyes, I'm not really sure what it'll look like."

The cowl-draped troll-woman began chanting a long string of alien syllables, her head tilted up toward the bone-dry white sky and eyes closed tight as she focused the elemental power of the swamp through her, channeling it through her body as she struggled to keep control of the dark power sweeping over her.

"Tandyr," her raspy voice called into the sky, "manaph mys-hasaan! Sobar...katra!"

The dried cracked mud beneath her pointed shoes began to ripple and shimmer as if it were a reflection in a pool of clear water, glowing emerald-green ripples rolling out from beneath her feet. The islet began to darken and glitter like an obsidian mirror and Sprigg suddenly seemed to be hovering over a gleaming hole in space, a whirling column of green energy twisting around her in a spiral. The black pit spread outward across the water and the space around her quivering, the horizon twisting up and down into pretzel-shapes behind her. Sprigg opened her eyes and looked at her three awed students, still hovering about the magical abyss.

"Wish me luck," she called out, "and no slacking--I'll be testing each of you when I get back!"

She dropped through the pit and the glittering black opening folded back into itself, the trees and horizon rippling and twisting as though there were reflections in a churning pond. A flash of white light swept through the desolate swamp and Guile lowered his elbow to find the small island bare and empty, but otherwise intact.

"She's gone," he said blankly, still not quite believing it.

"Do you fink she made it," Sneff asked the group, gripping a sapling tightly with one hand.

"I don't know," Sybil said softly, "but I can't sense her anymore. What should we do?"

"Sprigg scheduled a three-night show in Guldove tonight," Guile answered, "which I'd guess is her way of saying she wants us to keep going without her until she gets back."

After a few silent minutes Guile hovered up into the air and waited, bobbing up and down slowly, as Sneff and Sybil carefully hopped over the streams of poisoned swamp-water onto the muddy islands and tree-roots, the three magicians wordlessly making their way back to the caravan wagon.

Chapter 6: Gamblers and Ghosts March, 1020 AD

"So you three think you're going to the Viper Festival," the bandit snarled at the three travellers.

"That's the plan," Gile nodded, Sneff and Sybil standing on each side as they stared down the small gang of thieves blocking their way . They stood on an empty road winding along the side of a grassy hill, the left side of the road sloping gently down into a thick rain forest, the right side swelling up along the hill and the road itself twisting around the side of the knoll. Four rag-dressed men stood in the middle of the road--the muscular sunken-eyed leader of the gang, a tall gaunt man with a lean hollow face, a short squat older man, and a hulking brute.

"An old woman, a clumsy goofball and a tuxedo-mask wanna-be," their leader smirked, "fine, we'll let you go to Termina for the festival, but you have to pay us a toll for it."

"Fortune hasn't favored us," Guile said before Sneff or Sybil could speak, "we've nothing you'd want."

"Don't play with us," the slim man shouted, "we saw your shows over at Viper Manor just a few nights ago and we know you still got all that cash!"

"Hand it over," their leader said calmly, "and you won't get hurt."

"Let's just give it to him," Sneff said quietly, "it's not worth out lives and we'll make more at the festival."

"I'd agree," Sybil answered, studying their leader's face carefully, "except they have no intention of letting any of us live. The reason the dragoons haven't caught this gang is that they never leave witnesses."

"She knows us," the massive thug asked the others, "how could she know us?"

"So what if they do," the leader snarled, "Gaunt, take care of these sideshow freaks!"

The tall lean man stalked slowly toward the group and Guile flung his right hand out, fingers spread as he slapped the air with the back of his hand, and the thick floating wand mimicked his gesture, flying forward and whirling upward, striking the approaching bandit across the cheek with the side of its metal shaft.

"Screw this," the highwayman growled to his lackeys, "just kill them already."

Sneff shot a glare at the hulking thug walking toward him and he slipped one hand into his coat, pulling out a deck of playing cards and catching three of the cards between his fingers. He suddenly flung the handful of cards through the air at the brute and the man laughed at the flying poker cards--then screamed in pain, clutching his chest as the cards, hardened by the magician's powers into stiff razor-sharp blades, stabbed into his arms and chest.

The chubby thief stared in fright at the two men and then charged at the old woman, grinning as she stood frozen in panic. He lunged his dagger forward, then looked down in confusion as the blade stopped short of her face, his wrist tightly gripped in her left hand. She reached her right hand to touch his cheek, her thumb on his chin and her fingertips pressed to his right temple as she whispered in his ear.

"All the fear and pain you've your eyes...feel what they felt..."

The stout highwayman suddenly wrenched away from her, his eyes widening in speechless panic, and he staggered away from the group, ripping out his hair as he screamed and fled down the slopes into the jungle.

"No," his voice screamed from the forest as he ran from a swarm of imaginary ghosts, all of them staring at him with dead eyes, arms outstretched as they floated toward him, "somebody...somebody help me!"

The thin wiry thief facing Guile stared at the fleeing man in confusion, rubbing his bruised face, and reached over his shoulder, drawing out a long gleaming sword and grinning as he pointed the tip at Guile's chest.

"Let's see your magic wand deal with this!"

"Do not test my luck," Guile said softly, "it's saved me from much worse than you."

"Shut up you freak," the bandit screamed as he lifted the blade over his shoulder and swung forward.

Guile quickly twisted his wrist upward, his fingers folding back into his right palm, and he flipped his palm down and swung his right arm out in an arc, spreading his fingers toward the attacker. The floating wand suddenly shimmered and melted into a sword--then split into two swords, then four, then eight swords all hovering in a circle around the bandit, their needle-sharp tips aimed at the man's torso. He looked around in fright at the ring of blades surrounding him, then he snarled at Guile and tried to plunge his sword between them at the magician.

Guile folded his outstretched fingers back into his right fist; the eight hovering rapiers all thrust inward at once, driving into the man as he screamed and dropped down to his knees, then tumbled onto the ground. A stream of blood flowed from beneath the man and the swords vanished as Guile opened his fist, looking up at leader of the gang of thieves to find the brawny hollow-eyed man pointing a shotgun at him.

"Demons," the man shouted, "all three of you...witches!"

"Just lower the gun," Guile said calmly as Sneff and Sybil turned toward them, lifting his clenched right fist before his face, half his face covered by his fist, "don't tempt fortune anymore than you have."

"Damned monsters," the bandit screamed as he looked around in panic for the floating wand, then relaxed as he noticed that it'd completely vanished, turning back to the tuxedo-wearing man before him.

"So where'd your little toy go," the highwayman taunted, "did I scare it off?"

He grinned and slid the pump-action bolt on the shotgun and Guile simply opened his palm. The gunman's head wrenched upward, his eyes bulging out of his head and his high-pitched scream suddenly cut short as the long thin blood-covered point of the wand rammed upward between his open lips, the handle and top half of the wand ripping out from between his ribs. The leader's body tumbled onto the ground after a faint shudder, impaled from the inside out by the magic wand, the road empty except for bodies and the three silent magicians.

Guile lowered his right hand to his side and the bloody wand vanished with a blink from within the corpse, appearing beside the magician's right arm, the floating shaft suddenly clean and dry.

"Are you two alright," Guile asked after a moment of ringing silence.

"Yeah," Sneff answered and Sybil nodded silently.

"We'll let the authorities know what happened when we arrive at Termina," Guile said softly as they began to walk toward the distant white rooftops of Termina, the colonial port-city that marked the landing point for all the mainland visitors, "if the dragoons have been hunting these thieves, there shouldn't be any trouble."

"That thing follows you like a puppy, Guile," Sybil exclaimed as she watched the gleaming wand hovering beside Guile, floating with him as he walked alongside the other two magicians, "Sprigg's staff was never that strong; you've been augmenting it with your own magic, haven't you?"

"Yes," Guile answered, "I've been teaching myself how to channel my powers through it."

"Why," she asked, "your magic would be much more powerful if you just used it directly."

"If I'm to surpass my teacher," he said, "then she should be here to see it. Until then, I use the wand."

"She's been gone for four years now," Sneff responded, "do you still fink she'll come back?"

"I know it," Guile said in a low voice, "and all of us should train, to prepare for that day."

"We have and we'll keep training," Sybil answered, "but you should most of all, Guile. Sprigg's far too kind to say so, but when she told us to keep developing our powers, she meant you more than either of us. I sensed her feelings about you--your power's unlike anything she's ever seen. She'd want you to develop it."

"I know," he said softly, then looked up, "so what are you two doing when we get to Termina?"

"You won't believe fis," Sneff answered eagerly, "but I've gotten a jig as fee opening act for Nikki's Magical Dreamers! He finks my cat-magic will make a great crowd-warmer!"

"That's impressive," Guile said with an admiring nod, "if you stay on with his concert tour, you'll finally get to see the Zenan continent like you've always wanted. How long will you be gone?"

"Just a few weeks," he replied, "after fat, I'll be back in El Nido."

"I'll be sure to come to the show tomorrow night," Guile said with a smile, "how about you, Sybil?"

"On, nothing that ambitious," she answered with a wave of her hand, "I'm setting up a tent on the Termina bridge to give out fortunes and palm-readings. Should be a pretty big crowd during the day."

"That should make a nice profit," Sneff snickered, "especially wiff your powers!"

"I'm not charging for it," she replied, and the other two gawked at her in surprise.

"A lot of people are coming to the festival, many of them lost, without a clue of who they are or what they were meant to be. If any of them seek my help, I'll give it. Besides, we made a big enough profit at the Viper Manor show to cover a little vacation during the Viper Festival, right?"

"We've earned enough for several vacations," Guile nodded, "and I think Sprigg would like that."

"Even if it does bring down our monthly revenue," Sneff snickered.

"So Guile, what about you," Sybil asked, "which of your many talents will you employ at the festival?"

"I haven't decided," he shrugged, "or rather, I've decided to let fortune take me where it might."

"Since you have such faith in fortune and chance," Sybil grinned, "how about we put your luck to the test? Do you remember how that deva Karsh bragged about Viper Manor's fortifications?"

"I remember that he relies far too much on the terrain," Guile said with distaste, "they only had a few guards stationed because they were so confident that nobody would scale the cliffs around the manor."

"Let's put that to the test," she answered, "I'm willing to bet that you can't breach the mansion alone."

"Interesting," Guile said, "go on."

"Here's the deal. You have to sneak into Viper Manor, without alerting the guards, and come back out with some proof that you were there. Think you could pull that one off?"

"Easily," Guile answered with a small grin, "how long would you give me?"

"The festival lasts for a week," she answered, "and I don't want you to spend all your time crawling through that dusty old mansion. So let's say you have until the end of the festival--one week."

"What's the prize," he asked.

"If you win," she answered, "I'll pay to have your staff brass-plated. It's getting a little worn out and that should help make both its strength and its channeling ability more powerful."

"Alright," he nodded, "but what would you want if there were any chance you'd win?"

"You know exactly what my terms are," she smirked.

"Not fis again," Sneff groaned, "Sprigg told you that it's too dangerous to read his aura, that you could go insane if you tried to look into his mind! Why are so obsessed with fis!?"

"I've gotten a lot stronger since then," she said, "and I'm dying to know what's locked up in there that could be so dangerous. You don't seem dangerous to me, just mysterious--and I hate mysteries!"

"If you're really so much stronger," Guile chuckled, "why not simply look through this mask?"

"You know that's not how it works," she retorted, "your mask symbolizes your own hidden aura. Without the symbol of the mask, I could read your true face and see into your hidden nature."

"Sprigg said that would be dangerous for me as well as you," Guile replied, "if I tried to force my memories before they return on their own, it could cause problems...maybe for all of us."

"Alright," she sighed, "well then, how about this. I won't tell you what I see. After all, Lady Sprigg seemed to know something about you and it didn't do her any harm, right?"

"I guess so," Guile answered, "alright, I accept. You've never won these bets before, so what's the harm?"

"Then it's done," Sybil exclaimed as the gravel-filled road gave way to a hard paved street leading into the bustling tourist-filled city of Termina, "your luck can't hold up forever, Guile, and I'm betting today's the day it runs out. Meet me at my tent with proof that you were in the manor, if you can."

* * *

"Who might you be," an old lady's voice asked from within the gold-fringed red tent. Serge swept his hand over his own red bandanna, covering his dark blue hair, and leaned on the rowing oar that he'd learned to use as a kind of staff-like weapon, while Leena peered curiously into the tent and Kid scuffed her feet over the white marble streets of Termina. He looked over his shoulder at the tapestries, flags and Magical Dreamers posters hanging over the side of the bridge, then suddenly turned back around as a puff of smoke wafted out from the tent.

"Fortunes be good, fortunes be bad," an old woman in a long green dress, wearing a white pillowy caliph's hat that nearly hid her face, said as she appeared out of the smoke and glanced curiously at each of them, "anything from reading your destiny to searching for the missing, do wish your fortune to be read?"

"Why not," Leena shrugged to Serge.

"Do what ya like, mate," Kid muttered, "but I never did like fortune-tellers. Besides, we've gotta hurry up and find out what those blokes want with you!"

"We are in hurry," Serge agreed, then answered the old lady, "but alright, why not tell my fortune?"

The fortune-teller nodded and peered carefully into Serge's face, her eyes narrowed with confusion as she tried to look into his aura, then finally gave up, making out only a vague darkness around him.

"Well this is interesting," she muttered, "you're not dead or anything are you? Has anyone called you back from the great beyond?"

"Why does everyone keep saying that," Serge sighed, "I'm not dead, I feel fine!"

"You just might be," she said slowly, awe-struck, as she began to sense a vast energy hidden within the darkness of his aura, "the key to the destruction of this entire planet. I can't say for sure, but fate seems to have a great task for you. Be careful now, boy!"

"Hey Serge," Kid rolled her eyes, "that's nothin' but rubbish. Let's hurry up and get movin'."

" there," the fortune-teller turned to face the impatient teenager, "in your eyes, I perceive...both the look of a beauty and the look of a beast. Be mindful not to bring about your own end, my dear."

"Wha," Kid started to protest.

"A dream lies in wait," she said softly to Kid, suddenly sensing a looming ominous shadow buried deep within the young girl's aura, "reaching out to engulf you."

"Sorry, mum," Kid replied, "I don't believe in fortune-tellin' at all. I make way for me own future by myself."

"Lassie," the fortune-teller countered, "you should listen to your elder's advice."

"Ha," Kid tried to laugh despite the troubled look on her face, "I don't give a damn. Let's go Serge."

"Hey, wait a minute," Leena called them back, "I want my fortune too!"

"It says," the old fortune-teller answered as she stared into Leena's youthful face, "that you will not find a boyfriend for a long time. Fortune-telling is such a merciless thing..."

"How rude," Leena sniffed and turned back toward Serge, "yeah, let's go."

"If you must go," the fortune-teller replied, "then you may want to check out the Dragon's Tail, a restaurant and bar on the main square of Termina. There's a man there who seeks entry to Viper Manor as well, and his aura is as mysterious as yours. It may be that he was meant to travel with you."

"How did you know we," Serge answered, puzzled but still grateful, "I mean, um...thanks!"

"Come back any time you want a reading," the old lady snickered, then raised her arms, "that is all!"

She suddenly seemed to explode into a stinging cloud of smoke and when the air cleared, the woman had vanished again, leaving only the tent and two blinking eyes peering out of its shadows. Serge shrugged silently to the other two and they jogged back through the marble streets and balconies, past the streaming ribbons of woven flowers and blossoms decorating the walls toward the Dragon's Tail restaurant.

"Good luck Guile," Sybil whispered within her tent, then grinned, "but don't you dare forget about our bet!"

* * *

"So you're this ghost-boy Serge I've been hearing about," Guile asked the blue-haired teenager as he leaned one elbow against the bar in the upscale Termina restaurant.

"No," Serge cried out, then sighed, "at least, I don't think I'm a ghost. I remember my life, just like I'd never died. It's more like the rest of the world just...forgot about me."

"Fair enough," Guile nodded and turned Serge's friend, a pretty red-haired young woman in a knee-length purple-and-gold dress, "and let me see if I've sorted it all out: you, Leena, used to be the friend of the young boy that died ten years ago, that this boy Serge now seems to be."

"Um," Leena answered, now confused herself, "yeah, something like that. Except this boy's not dead."

"I noticed that myself," he answered with a smile, and turned to the third member of their group, a shorter girl with braided blonde hair, wearing a large purple bead-necklace over her white top and short red vest, a sheathed dagger hanging across the waist of her red skirt.

The other two teens were Arni villagers; he didn't need to ask them, he immediately recognized the colorful woven fabrics they wore, the chief trade of the otherwise quiet seaside village. This one, however, was different, a foreigner like him--and he felt that, somehow, he should recognize her. She'd dabbed her apple-red cheeks with the white warpaint that marked her as one of the mainland's Radical Dreamers, but that hardly mattered to him. Instead, he found himself staring at her deep blue eyes, her youthful face awakening a shapeless nearly-forgotten memory of protectiveness, love...and finally, for the first time since he awoke on the shores of El Nido, a name.

"I know I'm cute and all," she said, head tilted to one side, "but you're a bit old for me."

"No, it's not that," he answered quickly, repulsed by the pretty teen's teasing suggestion in a way that he couldn't quite explain, and he paused a moment, uncertain of himself, "Sch-Schala?"

"I'm more into ska myself," Leena asked, puzzled, "but what's schala?"

"I don't know," he answered softly, then closed his eyes, barely managing to dredge up one last word from the amorphous shadows and darkness twisting through the back of his mind, "Kid?"

"What the," the blonde girl stiffened, "how'd you know me name?! You'd best tell us quick or I promise I'll kick your arse so hard that you'll kiss the moons!"

"I don't know," he answered honestly, then he thought quickly, his voice deepening as he covered up his confusion by adopting the role he'd played for almost a decade now, "but you are a kid, aren't you? It's just luck that it happens to also your name, and the mastery of fortune is my profession."

"Yeah, I guess so," Kid said, slowly relaxing, more puzzled by his behavior now than threatened, "but don't go thinking I'm some helpless little girl just 'cause I happen to be young, got it? I can take care of myself and anyone else who tries to get in me way, or messes with any of me mates!"

"Then I'll hope to be counted among them," he answered, and turned to the other two, "what we need now is a seasoned sailor and a sturdy boat to cross the rough waters."

"So you'll help us," Serge asked eagerly.

"If you can find one," he said, "leave the rest to me. I will guide you to Viper Manor."

He still didn't really remember anything, but in the past minute alone Kid's face had brought two names to the surface of his thoughts, after a decade of fruitless inner reflection at his seemingly blank memory--and one of those names had actually been right. Aside from the curiosity, he also felt something else, one of those impulses that, on rare occasions, sprang out of the wilderness of his forgotten life: he had to protect these teens, especially the youngest girl. Perhaps that was even why he'd come to El Nido.

"Great," Serge answered, "and once we're in, we'll help find this thing you need for your bet too."

"That would be cheating," Guile laughed, "but thanks for the offer," he leaned over the bar and ordered four drinks for all of them, a glass of wine for himself and three glasses of Termina cider for the teens.

"That mask," Leena suddenly asked, "why do you wear it?"

"The true gambler never shows his hand," he answered, having long since rehearsed these lines, "and the best way to keep a poker-face is have no face at all."

"Alright," Leena said, still looking at the round gold mask covering the top half of his face, offering just a glint of emerald beneath the two eyeholes, barely remembering somebody else wearing a mask like this a long time ago, when she was a child, "your mask reminded of someone else, I guess."

"You must have that sort of face, or jaw anyway," Kid shrugged, lifting her glass up to her face and looking at the non-alcoholic cider in disappointment, "because for just a second you reminded me of someone too."

"Really," he looked at her suddenly, his heart almost stopping, "who?"

"An older brother, I think," Kid remarked, "or maybe an uncle...but that was a long time ago."

"Enough," he said, both relieved and frightened by her words, but definitely wanting to change the subject for some reason that he couldn't remember, and he lifted his glass, "we'll leave for Viper Manor right after this round of drinks. But first a toast--to new friendships, and to the adventure."

"Sounds good to me," Kid answered and tapped her glass against his, "to all that stuff he said!"

"Alright," Serge and Leena shrugged and completed the toast, "to friendship and to the adventure!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Epilogue: Across the Winds of Time

A burst of light flashed around Lucca and she saw her bedroom, her mother's joyful, tear-streaked face...her dad looking at her with pride...the little boy in the village, Crono...her dad spending so much time on his inventions, even though they never seemed to work right...she hated those inventions until they day her mom almost died...from that day forward she vowed to master all of science, to make sure no accidents could ever happen again...

"Do you think your life," Marle asked, "will flash before your eyes when you die?"

"I don't know," Lucca answered as she gazed into the campfire, "probably."

She looked around the forest clearing and smiled as she saw all her friends gathered around her, Crono still asleep by the fire, Marle lying on her stomach listening, Ayla sitting with her legs folded beneath her while Frog sat by the fire and polished the Masamune. They were teenagers, all of them, and she looked down to find herself in her old clothes, her sight-scope helmet on her head. Just like the campfire ten years ago.

Something seemed wrong, though. She looked around suddenly for Robo and Janus and realized neither of them were there. But they should be here, she thought, Janus was propped up against that tree and Robo had been sitting right here as she'd made adjustments to his circuitry. She remembered them being here.

"Where," she asked Marle, worried, "where are Janus and Robo?"

"It's not time for them yet," she answered, "don't worry about it, you'll see them again."

"Lucca," Ayla exclaimed happily, "Lucca brave! Lucca very strong!"

"But I wasn't," she sighed, "I couldn't stop them. I wasn't even strong enough to fight them..."

Ayla gave her a puzzled look, leaped up from her sleeping bag and tilted her head left and right.

"What you saying? Lucca beat Lynx," she shouted, then tilted her head again, "maybe Lucca forget?"

"The lass is right," Frog chirped as he put down his sword, "you stopped Lynx from awakening Lavos and consuming history. A more noble choice hath never been made."

"You don't know how brave you were, Lucca," Marle said from across the flames, "if it were me in that weird city, with those two freaks guarding me, I don't know what I would have done. But you knew exactly what to do."

"Lynx hath failed to obtain the Frozen Flame," Frog said, "and his schemes will come to their rightful end."

"I hope so," Lucca sighed, "but who's left to fight them? Robo can't hold out forever and they've already changed history, even without the flame. Is Janus strong enough to beat them on his own?"

"No, he's not," Frog answered with a shake of his head, "but as the proper time comes he'll have help, and they will bring peace to our world just as we once did."

"But who will," she asked desperately, "who's left that even knows about what's happening? I should have prepared for this, I should have gathered allies...I was so sure we could beat them on our own..."

"Lucca," Marle answered, at once exasperated and joyous, "you did exactly what you were supposed to do! Kid's alive because of you and that's all that matters!"

"Kid," Lucca answered slowly, trying to comprehend the good news, "you mean she's still alive?"

Marle chuckled softly and rolled onto her back to look up at the thick blanket of stars above them.

"Isn't that what I said? This all began with her and she's the one who's going to finish it. Schala knew she could trust you to protect Kid and you did. Now it's all up to her and Janus."

"Schala trusted me with Kid," Lucca murmured, confused, "wait, you mean Kid isn't Schala?"

"Oh no! This story give Ayla bad headache! You tell it, Marle!"

Frog croaked merrily, his chin quivering and yellow eyes alit as he snickered.

"'A very meandering story, 'tis true, but you've time enough to hear all of it."

"But there'll be time for that later," Marle cried out, "you've got to see everything over here, Lucca! There's so much more to all this than the forest, you know! Besides, you can't stay here forever, we've gotta go!"

Ayla nodded quickly and jumped up and down, shouting happily.

"Yes! Show Lucca bright lights, Marle! They're pretty!"

Lucca just scratched her head.

"Huh? What on Earth are you two talking about?"

"It starts with your life flashing before your eyes, but it doesn't stop there," Marle answered as she pointed at the horizon, "Tell me, what do you call that bright group of stars just above that far-off hill?"

Lucca looked up into the wispy night sky and looked at the small group of gleaming stars, hovering above the twilight horizon like a ring of bright jewels and smiled, recognizing her favorite constellation.

"They're called the Pleiades Cluster. But why?"

"Haven't you always wanted to see them up close?"


Marle suddenly pushed herself off the ground and swept through the air, her arms hanging out from her sides as she darted among the branches and laughed.

"Um, Marle, you're," Lucca ventured nervously, "'re flying..."

"So can you! Now come on, there's a whole universe we've got to show you!"

She heard a familiar ribbit and turned around to look at Frog, who'd sheathed the Masamune and now stood waiting for her by the rapidly fading campfire. He croaked happily and began to levitate into the air himself.

"There is more to our lives than that mortal coil. Come Lucca, adventures beyond human dreams await us!"

"Come Lucca! Come to shiny world! Pretty up there!"

Lucca took a breath and closed her eyes tightly, trying to mentally push herself into the air, but the ground still just as solid and unyielding as ever. She shook her head, not grasping in the slightest how to break free of the Earth; it just didn't make any scientific sense, she knew she couldn't break gravity just by wishing it.

"Lucca, it'll be okay," a familiar voice called out just a few feet over her, "just don't think about it."


She looked up and grinned as she saw him hanging upside down in front of her, his spiky red hair tumbling down from his head, his eyes wide with his usual innocent friendliness as he offered her his hand.

"Are you sure it'll be okay," she asked nervously.

"Lucca strong," Ayla's voice called back from somewhere deep within the evening sky, "Kid and the blue haired one strong too! Both blue-haired ones! They make everything okay, you see!"

"Forthright they shall slay Lynx and restore history to its rightful course," Frog's voice rang from the vast starry night, "when they do, thou shall awaken from this into thine own bed, and this shall all be a dream!"

Crono nodded his head and gave her the same friendly, cheerful smile that had won her over so many times.

"Alright Crono, but just so you know," she said with a grin, "I might get airsick!"

She took his hand and suddenly leaped upward into his arms, somehow right-side up as she clung tightly to his shoulders. She opened her eyes and noticed the grass and almost-extinguished campfire hanging above her head, the whole world upside-down and the sky dropping like an endless abyss beneath her dangling feet.

"Crono, we're going to fall!"

"Don't be afraid, I've got you."

She opened her eyes again and saw her friends flying all around her, Marle right beside her while Frog flew straight ahead and Ayla looped and rose through the cloudtops. The ground swept forward beneath them, a blur of trees and meadows, and she looked up into the stars, into the constellations she'd gazed upon as a child.

"Here we go," Marle called out to them, giggling, "last one to infinity's a rotten egg!"

"Stars pretty, Lucca! More pretty than anything!"

The stars suddenly surrounded them, a vast black ocean filled with gleaming gems as the rainbow orbs of brilliance she'd once called the Pleiades grew bigger and brighter, finally giving way to a universe of blinding light and shimmering color. She gasped in wonder, the distant campfire finally burning out somewhere far below, as the five disappeared into the rainbow-colored wall of starlight, their laughter echoing through the heavens.

Ayla was right: Lucca had never seen anything more beautiful in her life.