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Wings

He called me his “Wings of Time,” but I have never flown.

All I have ever known are these same four steel walls, this same chamber. The only sign of life is the occasional shuffling of the robotic Nu he constructed to stand guard over me. For what reason I need a guard, I can only imagine; Belthasar was a man who rarely deemed to share his tremendous wealth of knowledge.

Perhaps that is why I cannot understand why he named me thus, the Wings of Time. He never did strike me as one who would appreciate irony. A genius—-he was that, without a doubt. He was always tinkering with some new invention, muttering excitedly to himself as he drew up schematics and assembled parts.

And, at the end, I could not deny he was a little mad. He would always talk of the coming, when a group of heroes would arrive and, having mastered time, undo the overwhelming destruction Lavos had wrought. He would fail to eat or sleep, so rapt would he be with the idea; the hunted look about him made me feel sorry for him. I wish I could have done something to ease that burden on him; however, a creation can do but little for its creator. Still, through it all, my Master said what he meant and meant what he said. Irony could not have interested him much.

He always said that I would help these heroes, that I would be instrumental in their quest. Perhaps, then, he intended some greater purpose for me and, in fulfilling it, I would finally be able to fly. But no one, not even the great Belthasar, can be said to know the future.

Only in knowing the past can one know the future. One of his mantras. And it is from that past he professed to hail—-from a place called Zeal. I have linked up with the databanks in this dome and scanned every entry contained there; there is not, nor has there ever been, a kingdom of Zeal. The only reference I found was of a child’s rhyme from the early Middle Ages. It went

Zeal Castle floats so high
Like a cloud up in the sky
Then it all came falling down
And everyone in Zeal drowned
They lie asleep deep in the sea
And visit us all when we dream.

A myth, nothing more. It is no wonder then that, even from the first, any who knew of Belthasar thought him mad.

Of course, they did not know the wonders he built; I am testament to his brilliance. Though I have no eyes, I can see the world about me. No heart, yet I feel. No brain—-save the circuits humming within me—-yet I think. Now, thinking is all I can do. I can remember how this room used to be so alive. The Master would scuttle about with such fervor, chatting to me, the Nu, or one of his other inventions. The walls were aglow with the blinking of monitors and switches; now they were dark with disuse. How long has it been? Everything is hazy; I need a good dusting. The Nu only watches me. Always watching.

The door is opening. He must be making his daily check. Here I am; here I remain. But what is this? That is not him. It is…it cannot be. But it is. Humans. Flesh-and-blood humans. Here. Could they be the heroes Belthasar spoke of? The Master has me repeating his nonsense. I must be entrusted to them now—-is that it? Then finally I can be free of this chamber at last.

“Wow, this is amazing.” This girl looks at me quizzically. “How do you tell the front from the back?”

Her compatriots ignore her naïve question. Another girl studies me behind a pair of glasses, adjusting them as she walks alongside my length. “This must be the invention Belthasar spoke of.”

The third is no more than a boy really. His gaze has hardly moved away from me. As he approaches he puts his hand on my prow—-warm! It has been so long since I have felt a human hand upon me. I churn my engines once, to pique their interest even further. Though I cannot hear it over the sound of the ignition, I recognize the word on the boy’s lips: “Incredible.”

How unlike Belthasar these children are. There is an aura of vitality around them, and their faces have not the hardened look of my Master. These are the faces of youth. Could they be the time-travelers he anticipated? Perhaps I have been infected with his madness. But yet, I look into their eyes, and I see something I caught but briefly in Belthasar’s face. Hope.

The Nu has returned and explains to them how to operate me. Would that I could tell them myself. But no, I was not meant to have a voice. The Nu brushes dust from my chassis—-the world is so much clearer—-and I retract the glass canopy to allow them entry. They settle into the seats; again I feel that ineffable sense, the same as when the boy touched my metal body. Something clings to these three. It is as if time shifts around them, waiting breathlessly for their next act, so it may bend to accommodate it.

Slowly, the boy activates my thrusters and they choke and cough, having lain dormant for so long, before surging into a whine, alive and eager. I replace the glass dome over their heads, clamping it shut. The world around us ebbs and swells like waves of water I have only glimpsed on monitor screens; I realize that I am shaking, though I am not sure if it is from the anticipation or the imperfections in my manufacture.

Then the walls of Belthasar’s dome—-my home and my prison for uncounted years—-blink away; in their stead is a mass of temporal energy. Blue and black and indigo; it whips around us like a storm, soundless in its fury. Their breath fogs up the bubble shielding them from the cold void, and they give voice to the excitement I cannot express.

“Awesome!”

“Ha ha, traveling at warp speed!”

In a matter of seconds, our journey spans centuries. Here, on the fringe of time itself, all paths are open to us—-every possible past, present, and future. There must be a future without Lavos. Perhaps they can lead the way to it.

The boy piloting, he works without effort. His every motion is sure; even with all the controls on the panel, he seems to know each one. He enters a time coordinate into the destination field. He smiles; I would do the same, if I were able.

“Full speed ahead, Epoch.”

That is the name I have been christened with. Because I roam the ages, because I am witness to the dawn and dusk of eras, I am called Epoch. I like it; it is a good name.

Snatches of timestreams, flickers of yesterday and tomorrow, race past us, showing us the infinite shapes time can assume. The energy bucks at me, streams of violet-blue snapping at me as I glide through the emptiness. The journey is a rough one, but at long last I am taking it. I am flying, the way Belthasar must have always envisioned I would. I thank you, Master, for this gift. I only wish you could have experienced it for yourself.

Finally the storm subsides and shapes coalesce around us, solid figures so different from the nebulous swirl of the time jaunt. It takes a moment before we have our bearings. White flakes speed past me. Snow. I am seeing snow. When one of the crystals lands on me, it instantly melts into a tiny droplet of water; the friction I endured when crossing the divide of years must have been tremendous.

The three step out into the bitter climate, hunched over, clutching their tunics close about them.

The girl with glasses on her face brushes me with her hand. “Wait here, Epoch.”

And so I wait as they head off into the distance, the boy leading. The wind howls and the snow drives against me, but I savor this moment. I can see sky, one long expanse of gray; I imagine that is how the sky looked outside the workshop. I could hear the rain on occasion, when it was especially strong.

There’s little else here, though; a few peaks, a sparse clump of dead trees…. In the distance, there. It is hard to discern through the snowstorm, but that must be the ocean. What else could look like a plain of silver, the churn of the waves making it seem alive? It might be alive, too, like me; being alive means much more than simply having a heartbeat.

As instructed-—it only now occurs to me that I do not know their names—-I wait. And wait. And wait. I have cooled off, and now a thick layer of snow has accumulated on me, an easy way to mark the passage of time. I spent so much of my life waiting. Now that I know what it is like to move, to spread my invisible wings and soar through time, I do not wish to wait any longer.

They could be in danger. But I do not know where they went—-I think it may have been due west. I do not like this feeling of helplessness. I want to do something, but what? Faintly, then growing louder, I hear a rumble, as if the sky itself split; what I see next makes me think it has. Chunks of rock fall from above; larger pieces follow, with increasing speed. Slowly, breaking the clouds as if in ceremony, an island—-impossible!—-descends. Upon it is founded an alabaster palace than shines even without the sun. Zeal. Belthasar, he was not mad. Master…forgive me.

As the island slips into the water, it sends up a torrent of water. The sound intensifies, growing nearer. That is when I see, less than half a mile off, a tidal wave that shames the mountains jutting out on this isle. The wall of water quickly occupies my entire field of vision.

Instinct overtakes me, and I plunge myself back into the nexus between time and space. From the safety of between-time, I watch the wave consume the land, dragging continents into the sea’s depths. The image before me undulates, but I do not turn away; I keep my gaze trained, searching. Did they survive? They had to; they simply had to.

A current of time sweeps me away, but I turn up my thrusters and make for that timestream. My casing is greeted with a cold breeze and snow crunches beneath me as I materialize. All around this lone island stretches only ocean, sunlight now rippling across its surface.

I do not know where they are, but they are close. I can feel them, feel the malleable time that surrounds them. The storm has died down; I can finally see clearly, but there is little here to see. A knot of huts—-survivors. The time-travelers must be among them.

On the horizon, I see shadows of people approach. Could it be them? Using my thrusters I signal to them, melting the snow behind me and sending up a pillar of steam. They draw closer. I can see that there are more than three of them; perhaps the villagers are there to see them off safely. The fire of my jets glows white-hot; I am anxious to leave this desolate time.

They are now only a few yards away, and I feel colder than even this arctic climate should allow. They are soldiers with strange faces, and at their sides hang what I think to be weapons. Bundled in their hands are coils and coils of rope. I do not want to be captured. I prepare myself to dive into the time vortex, but I stop in mid-ignition. If these soldier are here to take me, then the adventurers must be captive as well. I cannot leave them stranded here, even if I cannot help them otherwise. At least I can be led to them.

The soldiers cast their ropes over me, binding me fast. Leaning upon me, they wait. I could shake them off so easily, but I must find the travelers. The soldiers’ eyes are craned toward the sky, searching it for something. A figure with wings outstretched parts the clouds; at first I think it is merely a bird. Then I see the twinkle of lights and a ray of sun curves upon its metal surface. It is a ship so massive it could pass for a winged city. The ship hovers by the coastline and, slowly, the soldiers tug at the ropes, dragging me toward a ramp into the ship. Then all I know becomes darkness.

For a long time I wait, only the barest of lights illuminating the walls around me. Cold silver fences me in on all sides; how much like the days I spent after Belthasar’s passing, waiting for the moment I would be free. History repeats itself. Lights overhead activate and flood the room; from a nearby door, a cadre of strange-faced soldiers enter, followed by a one-eyed man in a magnificent cape.

“So there it is, hmm?”

He steps closer, and his lone eye inspects me with such naked greed, I feel unnerved just by his stare. His hand upon me is so unlike the boy’s touch; it lacks something I cannot quite place.

“Such a splendid device. It’s Belthasar’s work, all right. How did those children come by it? Well, no matter. This shall be my chariot; surely it is fit only for a king, wouldn’t you agree?” A soldier nods, no doubt in fear of disappointing the man with one eye.

“I want it airworthy immediately. My Aero-Dalton Imperial shall be a thing of awe and beauty.”

Dalton. I shall never think upon another name with greater contempt. His cape billowing about him, he strides out. The soldiers advance on me bearing instruments vaguely resembling those Belthasar used when he constructed me. They set to work and, for the first time, I know pain. Hammer and drills gnaw at me. Miniscule flames trail along my flanks, warping the metal to accommodate whatever modifications this Dalton intends. So great is the agony that it soon becomes too much, and I black out. Clanging and a rending of metal accompany my lapse into unconsciousness.

When I come to, I feel strange. Different. My flanks still ache, though the pain is bearable now. In the cockpit stands Dalton, cackling with utter glee at his subordinates’ handiwork. Wings. By my Master, they gave me wings. But now Dalton controls my every action. Though I desperately want to try them out, to race through the sky with the ground so far below and forgotten, I count these wings as little solace. There’s no telling what this braggart plans to do with me.

His triumph is interrupted by a soldier; he leans over and reports a message into Dalton’s ear.

“Escaped? You incompetent…bah! I’ll dole out punishment for this later. As for them, I’ll handle it myself. Forward, Aero-Dalton Imperial.”

Escaped? Could he mean-—he must. They have gotten free. There is hope for the future yet! The hatch before us opens and he engages the thrust. A moment’s delay and we are gone, leaving the docking bay in a flash, surging forward at breakneck speed. Clouds rush by and winds pass over and beneath my wings. The sensation is dizzying.

Below, the village huts are little more than specks of color against the snowy tundra, and the island itself looks too small for me to land on. I ignore Dalton’s steering and indulge myself. I loop and bank, testing my newfound maneuverability. Freedom to move about space and time. I wish you could see it, Master. I am flying. I truly am your Wings of Time.

“Blasted thing.”

A kick to the controls, and I obey as he brakes, turns, arcing back toward the giant ship. His course is aimed at three spots on one of the wings. Every second brings us closer and, even before I recognize them I feel their presence-—the swirl of time, its readiness to shift according to their actions.

They jump and we are there to catch them. The girl is familiar, but with her are a frog hefting an impressive sword and a woman in primitive garb. More time-travelers? I suppose even the great Belthasar could not know everything.

Suddenly there is a great flurry of motion. Magic bursts from Dalton’s fingertips, even while the time-travelers charge at him, weapons drawn. Some are struck and thrown by the impact; the frog still stands and aims a sweep at Dalton. The blade rips his tunic and nicks his flesh. The others have recovered and ice shards careen toward Dalton. A fireball from his hand renders the attack into harmless steam.

They fight on and on like this, spells lighting up the sky, the shrill clang of steel resounding. I continue to fly, providing them with a level battlefield, and tilting this way or that whenever it might advantage the time-travelers. Dalton’s face is livid with rage, and I cannot help but revel in his frustration. He speaks words that even I cannot comprehend, and the fabric of space opens up, gusts from the unknown streaming from the void. Again he laughs in triumph, even as his feet abandon the ground, the vortex pulling him toward it. Then he is gone, the breach sealed over with a crackle of air. I am not sorry to see him go.

“The controls—-they hath tampered with them.”

“Just push anything.”

I thought they had only affixed me with this magnificent pair of wings, but I was wrong. They must have further customized me while I was unconscious. A laser shoots forth from one of my forward ports, slicing down the wing of the ship. A metal shard gives way and falls into the sea beneath. They activate another laser and this strikes the hull; explosions erupt and crew members leap from portholes and hatchways, flailing as the ground rushes up to meet them. I watch the ship’s trajectory shift, and it begins drifting down, its course taking it right into the heart of the ocean.

A geyser of foam marks the ship’s landing, and it sinks from sight into the watery depths.

“Epoch better!”

“Way to go, Epoch.”

The congratulation they heap on me, though welcome, is short-lived. We land on the timestream’s sole continent, and their faces become grim.

“Let’s go find Crono.”

They leave me again and it is then I notice the scars of battle left on my hull. A few patches of my body are scorched; the sheen has been stripped away in places by their fight against Dalton. I mourn for only a moment. They are alive and I, I have never felt better. Scrapes and burns are a small price to pay for what I have been given. How many time-adventurers are there? The primeval woman, the knightly amphibian—-the stand against Lavos draws such singular characters. What happened to the others, I wonder?

They return with a man in a cape; for an instant, I fear it is Dalton and all but shiver with the prospect. Nearer he comes, and it is suddenly clear that he is no ordinary person-—I can hardly classify him as human with his pointed ears, fiery red eyes, and milk-white skin. There is an aura about him, as well; the paths that time may spiral into hinge upon him. Yet it is something more, a darkness, a gloom that clings around his frame like a pall. I have never seen a greater melancholy than in this man’s face.

They settle in and we take off, bound for the End of Time, where all timestreams converge. No sooner are the time coordinates set than the air ahead fairly boils with energy. A rift in time, unlike any I have ever known of, opens wide. First a silhouette, then it becomes distinct, space and time bent nearly to the point of breaking. It is a ship, larger even that the one that took us captive. Without wings it manages to keep aloft, casting a great shadow beneath it. Every surface is black; light seems to be swallowed up upon touching it.

“What be that?”

“The Ocean Palace rises? Impossible!” The man in the cape tries to rise from his seat, but can only crouch pressed against the glass dome.

The very picture of it is ominous enough; the waves of volatile energy radiating from it reinforce the impression. We pass by it, unable to banish it from sight. The energy is one I recognize; somehow, that vessel is connected with Lavos.

“We’ll worry about it later. First things first.”

Back into the timestream, past temporal possibilities. Each of the heroes looks different now; their faces have aged, and they are unfocused, distracted.

“Magus…can we really bring Crono back?” The girl with hair like a ribbon of sunlight.

Magus, the man with strange features, fidgets in his seat. “Only Gaspar can say. Death is not something easily undone.” His voice is a cold wind over an open grave.

Death? Crono—-that boy. Dead. But how? It cannot be. Belthasar, he could not have been wrong. Even if his predictions seemed foolhardy, it must come to pass. I sense the resolve these travelers have. I feel time reconstitute itself with their every action. If Lavos it to be defeated, they alone can accomplish it.

Our stay at the End of Time proves short, although at the End of Time, short is such a meaningless term. They seem to return no more than an instant after disembarking; the girl carries a small egg, etched with cascades of indecipherable script, a language long-forgotten no doubt. We tack our way to 1000 A.D. and there they procure an astonishingly lifelike facsimile of the boy Crono. Making room for it in the cockpit proves difficult-—it was never intended for four—-but we manage and resume our journey.

They key 2300 A.D. into my destination field, and a swell of joy runs through me. It has been so long since I have been home; I have gone so far and seen so much. I have seen a kingdom fall. I have ridden the sky. I have traveled to the End of Time and back. If only I could return my Master’s favor, gifting me with this life.

We emerge from the time-nexus and below us I see Belthasar’s dome. From the outside, it looks derelict; its ports are dark and the wind was having its way with a sheet of metal hanging loose. Ahead of us, so tall that even from the air we could just barely glimpse the pinnacle, is Death Peak. It was on those cliffs that Lavos’ spawn roamed, feeding off what little more the planet had to offer. Soon they would drain it completely, rendering it a lifeless shell. I hoped to see a hint of one, so I could fire upon it and rid us of even one of those parasites.

They head to Belthasar’s dome-—I wonder how the Nu fares without my company-—and thereafter, they begin the harsh climb up the mountain. I can feel the winds that howl down from the upper reaches, threatening any who would dare to ascend it. Even so I watch them climb, bent against the gale, and disappear.

I wait once more. Would that I could have whisked them to the top, but I am not equipped for such altitudes. In the year 1000, I saw verdant grass and villages that bustled with life. They were a far cry from the withered, solemn people who occasionally risked the trek to my Master’s abode, seeking his advice; in the past, humans wanted for nothing. Lavos took that away. I believe in the time-travelers that much more now; perhaps by belief, their will would be strengthened, and Lavos would fall.

Though the sky is already overcast, it darkens further, from a shade of gray to an oppressive black. My instrument panel registers a fissure in the timestream, about the size of a Gate, but a thousandfold more powerful. I cannot make sense of the data being fed to my circuits; time, it seems, is doubling back on itself, looping to a single moment. The calculation is too much and my system shuts down until it can restore itself.

At the very summit of Death Peak, barely visible from so far below especially under this pervading darkness, the air shimmers. Violet bands funnel around the peak, obscuring it from view. Without thought to the possible danger, I lift off, bound for the vortex of energy. With each moment of my ascent, the storm dwindles, vanishing into the air like coils of smoke.

I climb as high as I would dare, and wait. It is minutes later before I think I see shadows of movement upon the cliffs, but it could merely be the play of shade, the sky brightening to its hue of pale gray. Still the shadows move down the slope, becoming larger and ever more distinct. I count four—-they had done it! Their trek down the crag is swift; they practically leap toward the mountain’s foot.

I loop once to catch their attention and they stop, looking down on me. They nod to each other and retreat back from the edge. Then they are suddenly running, springing from the scarp, embracing the empty sky with arms spread in attempted flight. I charge upward-—meant for such heights or not—-and swerve left and right, catching each in the cockpit, one landing atop the others. Not the most pleasant landing, but it could have been that much worse.

They trust me so completely that they put their lives in my care, however briefly. It is only fitting that I return the favor. I ponder that even as they plot the course for the End of Time. They say they have to “thank Gaspar”—-the name sounds oddly familiar—-and relieve ourselves of one passenger. Back at the controls, Crono navigates with surety as if he had never left. He glances at his comrades-—his friends—-and smiles, communicating everything words could not.

At the End of Time, they disembark onto the platform, the only physical matter occupying this time, and proceed to this Gaspar. I circle around as quietly as I can, hovering just beneath the suspended flooring to catch what they are saying. I should know where our journey may take us next. I am as much a part of this as they. An old voice, Gaspar’s, I imagine, is already speaking.

“…time has come to take on Lavos.”

The very word chills me. Lavos. Now. After all that has happened, the quest draws to a close. The red star that fell from the sky. The parasite lying deep in the earth, absorbing, watching, waiting. For me, the Day of Lavos was a piece of the past, history. For them, it was—-is—-the inevitable. Destiny. They are so young, and they hope to take on that monster. What could drive them so? Perhaps I misunderstood my Master. It was not madness that led him to speak of their coming, to believe that Lavos, even after its triumph, could be defeated; it was hope. The two can seem so indistinguishable.

They are doing what they must. As will I.

I return to the docking ramp before they can notice me missing; the three who found me settle in and chart a destination for the Middle Ages. I deny the command and input 1999 A.D., the Day of Lavos. Again they try to no avail; we have only one more flight ahead of us.

“The Day of Lavos? But…are we ready? Can we do it?”

There is a moment of silence, one as infinite and empty as the End of Time itself. Their eyes speak to each other and, gradually, agreement passes between them.

“Lavos, here we come!”

The trip is nearly instantaneous-—things unwanted arrive far too soon. The land below is peaceful, the sky clear and blue. It does not last much longer. A tremor shakes the earth, a shockwave that could tear the world apart. Slowly a bulge in the ground forms, larger and larger. Rocks give way from the pressure and a mass of lancing gray spikes pokes from beneath the rubble.

Then it rises, terrible, majestic: Lavos. Even from above, it is huge; it opens its mouth-—or is it an eye?-—and unleashes a roar that rips the air around it. The spines glow yellow, then bolts of energy shoot forth, arcing up then raining down, blazing swaths of destruction. It roars again, echoing over the wasteland it has just created.

“No…”

“So how do we fight that thing?”

I curve around, descending, and perch a few yards above the ground, Lavos’s head directly forward, miles off. There I idle, poised.

“We’re going to break through?”

“Epoch, no. You can’t…”

I have to. I have fulfilled my purpose, but, what’s more, I have lived. I have you to thank for that. This fight is mine as well as yours; let me do this. Please.

“It won’t survive the impact.”

“We won’t know unless we try.”

“But we can’t risk—-”

My thrusters burn into white-hot life and I am rushing forward, ripples of water trailing my course. I am trembling again, and I know that this is not due to any defect. This is fear. If they can brave perils, if they can overcome even death to fight for a better tomorrow, so can I. I will. Heroes know fear, but they have the strength to conquer it.

My instruments are overloaded by the power Lavos emanates. The beast is motionless, shows no signs of anything in fact; still I speed on. Closer and closer. They pull back on the steering control, fumble at the brakes, and all for nothing.

We collide and the world is only light, the purest light I have ever seen. I cannot feel my wings, nor my thrusters; my body has shattered into fragments large and small, scattered about the innards of Lavos. I do not know how it is I still have consciousness, but I do; even so, it is fading. I sense a power nearby, the true Lavos.

“Epoch…” The voice is choked by a sob, and I recognize it as the girl with golden hair. I want to tell her that she should not cry for me; I cannot even cry for myself. I wish you luck, my friends. On your shoulders lies the fate of past, present, and future.

“Thank you, Epoch.”

No, thank you. Because of you, I was able to truly be my Master’s Wings of Time. I was given real wings. And I finally knew what it was like to fly.


All That Glitters Is Cold 2 Fanfic Competition
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