Nature of the Enemy Part 1
Collapse of the Empire
"Only time will see how it all ends..."
Tata shivered, even through his cape, as he ascended the black marble staircase surrounding the stone of the castle wall. The cold wind bit his skin despite his heavy clothing, leading him to think that perhaps it was an unnatural wind. But he knew that to be false. The truth was, he was frightened down to the bones.
Doggedly, he slashed at another bat as it tried to attack him, one severed wing striking the stone wall as the flying creatures body fell down past the precarious stairway, quickly disappearing in the dark of night.
Frankly, Tata didnt know how he was still alive. Without magic, he had managed to ascend Mt. Denadoro, fending off Ogans, or Gogans, or whatever, along with Outlaws and even Masa and Mune themselves, although theyd nearly beaten the life out of him.
Surprise, surprise, he thought, remembering the prize he received upon his victory. The sword wedged into the hard stone of the cave had actually been illusory, a mirage designed to lure travelers and adventurers.
In reality, the only thing there was a broken blade, made of some strange, hard material, but left without its hilt. Tata sneered bitterly. What good is a sword without a hilt, he thought.
In a moment, however, he retracted that thought. Whatever it was really made of, the broken blade had proven itself to be remarkably resistant to magical attacks. As such, he had used the ability to his advantage, having the blade welded to his shield. Admittedly, it made the small round buckler a bit heavier, but now, several years after receiving the Hero medal, he carried its weight effortlessly on his left arm.
Of course, had he not trained in preparation for his destiny for all that time, he wouldnt have gotten this far. He was now a little less than twice the weight hed been but a few years before, and all of it was muscle. The sword and shield were barely felt, his muscles not even straining to hold them up, despite the fact that his buckler had been replaced with a knights full-body shield, and his right hand carried a Claymore sword one-handed.
Now that he thought about it, he never would have survived the ascent through the Mystic castle, had he gone while Magus was still in power. But it made him feel no better that more innocent people had died as he gained strength, that hed stayed at home as the war raged on and on, only getting worse now that the Sorcerer had risen.
But that wasnt all that bothered him. One big thing that bothered him was the truce with the Mystics, so long enemies of all human-kind, then suddenly their only hope. Had he been told years ago that humans would be working with Mystics to stop the deadly menace, he would have denounced the deliverer of the news as a traitor.
But the past was the past, and he had to deal with the present, much as it may displease him. And that meant accepting the fact that humans were no longer the good side. They comprised the majority of both sides now, both the Guardians and the Thunder Bearers.
The first time he had killed a mystic, hed actually felt cleansed, as if the deed, in and of itself, was the bane of evil, that he was performing a great deed, ignoring the sickening flow of blood pouring from the unfortunate mystics death wound. Hed felt that this was his purpose in life, something hed later discover was untrue. Regardless, that memory still held a tinge of glory.
However, when he killed his first fellow human, he had almost burst into tears at the horror of it. Not until he had taken the life of a person had he realized the value of life, human, and even mystic. Not until he had taken the life of a human being had he seen the true folly of starting a war, of trying to rule over another, to suppress another, to cause pain to someone other than yourself. It was everything the Magus had stood for, only to be replaced by the Sorcerer, a darker evil, something Tata had formerly thought impossible.
Surprisingly, this realization hadnt scared him away from war, from battle, or from the prospect of death. All of these things, in fact, scared him less than ever after that day. His single-mindedness afterwards bordered on obsession, his thoughts always focused on only one thing: He was the Hero.
As the Hero, it was his duty to stop whatever evil faced the world, whether it be the Magus, or the Sorcerer. He would murder the Sorcerer, tonight, in fact, and take the fiends head back to his father. The burly man, now dwarfed by his own son, would be struck speechless, something Tata hadnt seen in such a long time... Never, in fact.
His eyes shifted upward as a bat suddenly dove at him from below, screeching almost loud enough to make Tatas ears bleed. The warrior sneered.
Calmly, Tata raised up his shield. He didnt flinch at the hard thump as the bat slammed face first into the shield, or at the crunch as the bats vertebrae snapped. In a moment, Tata continued on his way, ignoring the squish as he stepped on the bats dead form.
I am a warrior, Tata thought, I am the Hero. I am this worlds last hope. If I dont succeed, its unlikely anyone will. Im the only one who can defeat the Sorcerer. I can, and I will.
Tata abruptly came to a stop. "So why am I so scared," he asked himself aloud.
As would often happen, Tatas gaze wandered up, as always, to the stars. The sword, shield and armor he was using were forgotten now, his attention fully in the night sky. He sometimes wondered about the stars. What were they? How old were they? Where did they come from? How many were there?
So many unanswered questions, Tata thought. Can they be answered? Will we ever know?
In a moment, he had turned his attention back to the stairs, and was climbing again. He had no time to wonder about the stars. They were there, they were always there, and they would be there long after he died, if not eternally.
As he continued climbing, he turned his mind to the Sorcerer, the fiendish leader of the Thunder Bearers. What was the Sorcerer, in fact? Tata had wondered about that ever since the Sorcerer began recruiting humans.
At first, the obvious conclusion was that the Sorcerer was a super-Mystic, who didnt care about anything except his own power, but there were other options. The main fact that spoke against the first theory was that the Sorcerer gave some small amount of magical power to all of his troops, an impossibility, as Tata understood.
Magic was purely a mystic trait, and always had been. No human had ever been born with magic, and no mystic, according to the mystic themselves, had ever succeeded in teaching magic to a human. So, how was it that the Sorcerer not only had enough power to dethrone the Magus, the most powerful mystic in history, but was also able to distribute magic like candy?
One idea Tata had had was that the Sorcerer was a human who had somehow learned how to use magic, and had studied it until he was more powerful than Magus. But that didnt quite stand up to reason. Tata had once had a mystic explain to him how to use a simple fire spell. The explanation alone had taken over an hour, and Tatas mind had remained unaffected by the lesson, his understanding of magic unimproved in any way, save that he knew without a doubt that no human could learn magic.
That meant that if the Sorcerer was human, he couldnt possibly learn magic. The only option left that Tata could think of was that the Sorcerer was a mystic-human crossbreed, an idea that horrified both races, so he tried not to bring the subject up too much. Besides, as far as either race knew, no mystic or human, of the twisted few that actually tried, had successfully reproduced with another of the other race.
Tata had wondered about the Sorcerers identity ever since that day seven years ago, when hed first heard that the Magus had been overthrown. His joy at being freed from his heroic duty had been great, for the week that it lasted, but the Sorcerer had soon proved himself to be worse than the Magus, an idea previously beyond belief.
All of the thoughts in Tatas head abruptly vanished, as the stairway came to a halt, ending in a stone platform. The platform, like the stairs, connected directly to the castle wall, but there was a significant difference here. In this section of the wall, there was a door.
Tata, realizing that he had been holding his breath, let it out loudly, his breath rising up in a cloud of dissipating steam. Gathering his confidence and courage, he reached for the knob... and grabbed air.
Tata looked down in confusion. Wheres the door knob, he wondered. Deciding that there must be some trick to opening the door, he put his Claymore in its scabbard and began to probe the door using both hands.
It was a brass door, although it felt considerably stronger. After probing for five minutes, Tata gave up, instead deciding to look for another entrance. To the left of the door, he spotted a difference in the stone wall. New bricks. As if a hole had been created there, and patched back up. Maybe a result of the battle between the Magus and the Sorcerer?
Sadly, the patched hole was over empty air, not available, unless Tata could fly, discounting the possibility of it being a secret door. For a moment, it occurred to Tata that the Sorcerer probably could fly, but he didnt think the Sorcerer would waste his time making such an entrance.
Frustrated, Tata banged his fist on the door, hard, with no effect. Growling, he tried a different tactic.
"Sorcerer, you coward! Are you so afraid of one man that youll deny him entry to your lair? Surely, you could handle one measly warrior, and one without magic, at that!"
Tata smiled with satisfaction as the door swung open, creaking loudly, revealing nothing but darkness beyond. Cautiously, but not fearfully, Tata stepped through the doorway, out of the cold night air, into a slightly less cold room.
The entire room, floor, ceiling, and walls, was composed of stone, giving the impression of something inescapable. However, the door didnt shut behind him, as if telling him that it wasnt too late to go back.
Thin reed torches burned in metal brackets on the walls to each side, giving illumination, but not enough to allow vision past twenty feet. Tata stood on a red carpet, which led off into the darkness, toward whomever, or whatever, awaited him at the other end.
Sword in hand once again, Tata walked cautiously, but confidently along the carpet, the flickering light of the torches his only illumination. He stopped as two coal-filled braziers (no, not the clothing) suddenly burst into flames, the heat driving the young warrior back.
Beyond the braziers, little was visible, save some steps, a throne, and a dark figure sitting atop it. Tata squinted, trying to make out his nemesis form, but could not. Out of respect, he stayed his distance.
"Hello, Sorcerer," Tata said, breaking the wary silence.
The dark form shifted, the arms coming out into the firelight, surprisingly healthy, tan arms that gestured while the Sorcerers voice emanated forth, whispery, yet harsh and gravelly.
"So, the child Hero has come at last," the Sorcerer announced, as if to himself. "Are you here to slay me, Tata?"
Tatas jaw flexed. "I see my reputation precedes me. How do you know of me, Sorcerer?"
"I know many things," the Sorcerer answered cryptically. "I know of the past, of many people, of things none other could know, and even of the future. But what I would like to know is, have you come to slay me?"
"Thinkst thou he came for tea," a voice asked, from behind Tata. The young warrior spun around, to see a small figure, dimly illuminated in the firelight, a cloak covering all of his features, save a gleaming sword in his hand.
The Sorcerers voice sounded surprised. "Well, I did not expect to see you here, Frog."
The one the Sorcerer had called a frog suddenly pulled back the hood of his cloak, revealing himself to be just that-a frog. Tata instinctively recoiled in horror, but his expression soon changed.
"You," Tata whispered, "I know you. Youre the one who dropped the Hero Medal seven years ago."
The Frog nodded. "Indeed. And thou hast fulfilled the Medals purpose thus far. Tis good to know thou recognize me, Tata, but I wisheth to know, how, thee Sorcerer, thou knowest of me."
The Sorcerer chuckled quietly. "Oh, weve met before, Frog. Or should I call you Glenn?"
Frog looked surprised at that, but the Sorcerer continued, asking, "Were you aware that Magus kept meticulous journals? Everything he did in his life, is in my personal library, including every spell he knew, some of which Ive taken the liberty of improving upon.
"I know of your past, Frog, apprentice to Cyrus, because what Magus knew of you was written in his journals. Strange, he was certain that after his death, you would return to human form. Apparently, he was mistaken. Too bad for you."
"Indeed," Frog agreed, nodding, "but this night hast nought to do with mine past, but with yours. Thou hast robbed me of mine revenge, Sorcerer. But worse, thou hast become a worse foe than even Magus ever could have been. For that, thou must pay."
The Sorcerer shook his head. "I think not, Frog. For you see, regardless of whether or not you could defeat me in a fair fight, you shall never get that chance. You will die before you even lay a hand on me."
"Well see about that," Tata replied, and, waving his sword wildly, leapt in the air toward the Sorcerer.
Tata thought he heard the Sorcerer laugh in satisfaction as a fiery explosion threw him back, away from the enemy. Tata hit the red carpet hard, his chest black and smoking.
Even though he was struggling to keep conscious, he managed to stand, breathing hard. "I should have seen that coming," he remarked.
The Sorcerer nodded. "Perhaps you should have. However, dont feel too bad. It wasnt done by anyone you could see. But how about we change that?"
"Sounds good," a womans voice spoke up, from the left of the throne, drawing the attention of Tata and Frog.
As if a palpable curtain, the darkness drew away from the area, revealing a woman, wearing black leather armor. She was pretty, a few years older than Tata. Strangely, she wore spectacles, something Tatad never seen on a young woman. He was instantly attracted to her, but she didnt seem to be thinking the same thing.
In contrast to Tatas reaction, Frog was also surprised, but not pleased at all with the result. "Lucca," he whispered in horror. "What art thou doing here?"
The woman named Lucca smiled, but not pleasantly. The smile was satisfied, like a cat who knows shes got the mouse cornered. "Hey, Froggy," she announced in a voice in startling contrast to her serious appearance. "Glad to see ya remember me. Weve both changed a bit since we last saw each other those seven years ago, eh? Im more mature, blossomed into my full beauty, and at the side of the most powerful man in the universe. And you... actually havent changed that much at all."
Frog seemed shaken by the appearance of this woman. "But... What happened to thee? I met thee, and Crono seven years ago, and hath not seen thee since. Wouldst thou betray thine friend to side with this... this... Warlord?"
"She didnt betray Crono at all," another voice announced, again feminine, this time to the right of the throne.
As before, the darkness slid away, revealing another woman, breathtakingly beautiful, with a blonde ponytail. This one, however, wore a low-cut white shirt, and had two rectangles of cloth hanging from her waist, one behind her, one before her, both brushing the floor. Her white boots came up to mid-thigh.
At first, Tata was enchanted with her beauty, but he soon gasped in surprise, just as Frog dropped his sword. "Qu... Queen Leene," Tata exclaimed, "What are you doing here? And dressed like that?"
The woman who looked exactly like the queen smiled. "Whats the matter? You dont like the outfit? I could take it off... But Im afraid that privilege is reserved for someone else."
Frog shook his head. "Worry not, Tata. Tisnt the queen. Tis another girl, one I met long ago."
The woman smiled. "Seven years, actually. Luccas right, you havent changed much at all. But I think Ive changed for the better, dont you," she asked, leaning forward, affording them both a good look at her. She smiled. "If I wasnt already spoken for, Tata, you mightve gotten a better look than that. But, thats all you get. My name, by the way, is Marle."
Abruptly, the Sorcerer himself stood. Slowly, he took a step down from the platform his throne was on, down the steps, and into the firelight, finally revealing his identity.
He was human. His hair was spiked, and an extremely deep red. His outfit was much simpler than that of his aides, a simple travel outfit, but looking into his deep green eyes filled Tata with the deepest fear imaginable. There was something about the man that gave the impression of inescapable doom.
"Crono," Frog whispered, identifying him.
Tata blinked, surprised. "Crono? As in the hero who found and rescued Queen Leene from Yakra seven years ago? Youre the Sorcerer?"
Crono smiled, inspiring sudden dread in Tata. "Bingo," the man agreed, in a voice that sounded older than he really looked. "Surprise, surprise. You should see your faces."
"But... why," was all Frog could manage.
Crono shook his head, as if it had been a stupid question. "Frog, Frog, Frog... Why, you ask? For power. But even more, for a way to get home. You see, Im not from around here."
"Really," Tata asked, suspiciously, "then where are you from?"
"From the future," Crono replied simply, drawing confused looks from the two warriors. "From the dawn of the second millennium. I should be living in the year 1007 right now, but I came back here by accident. I dont suppose that if I explained it, youd understand, but just trust me."
"All right..." Tata replied, "Even if you are from the future why are you taking over the world now?"
Crono laughed. "So I can take it over in my time." When he noticed their uncomprehending stares, he laughed again. "You see, every decade, several elements come into place that allow a certain extremely powerful spell to be cast, but you need to have certain materials in place, which is why Ive been capturing mining areas and such."
"But, why not simply get the materials? Why keep the war going," Frog asked.
"I killed Magus for my own reasons. Once I did, the Mystics started treating me like their leader. I found I liked the attention. So I decided to rule the world. Besides, under a strong man like me, the world would be more orderly, sophisticated. I could use my knowledge of the future to bring about a Golden Age.
"However, gentlemen, I dont like this time. So, I intend to use the spell to travel back to my time. There, I shall rule."
"But," Tata interrupted, "Youd have to take over the world again once you got there."
"Not really. Everyone in my army is loyal, in some cases to the death. Before I leave, Ill cast a spell, capturing their loyalty, and passing it down through the generations. And at the same time, I shall call a truce, promising that if my lands are left alone by Guardia and his descendants, we will not attack. And we wont, because I wont be here.
"However, once I get to my time, I shall gloriously reappear to the descendants of my army, activating the loyalty engrained in their family line. I shall then restart the war, catching the rest of the world by surprise, and easily conquer it. Its as simple as that."
Tata was aghast at the thoroughness of the plan. But Frog was wary. "Why are thou telling us these things?"
Crono smiled. "Because, quite frankly, there isnt a thing you can do about it."
And as abruptly as that, Tata and Frog found themselves directly in front of Guardia castle. "What just happened," Tata exclaimed, "how did we get here?"
Frog looked around. "Teleportation. Ive seen mystics use it on themselves, but they claim one cannot teleport another. Praps theyrt wrong..."
"Whyd you do that, Crono," Marle asked, surprised. Being ignored by Crono as he sat in his throng, she continued, "Why didnt you kill them?"
Crono smiled, and patted his knee, indicating he wanted her to sit there. She obliged, and he wrapped an arm around her waist.
"Because, darling," he answered, rubbing her leg with his palm, "I dont hate them yet."
Marle blinked. "You dont hate them? That hasnt stopped you before-"
Crono silenced her by pressing his mouth to hers, and her complaints and questions soon became muffled moans.
Lucca knew when to leave the room.
"Well, did he kill them?"
She shook her head. "No. He was about to, but he decided not to. I wonder why?"
He placed a hand to his chin in thought. "I know. But it doesnt matter. If things work out the way were planning, they dont really work into the equation."
"I dont know... Ill keep an eye on them, okay? If they start getting too close, or they can be of help, Ill tell you." She pulled up a chair and sat across from him, holding his hands in hers. "And then youll be able to see just what kind of woman youve got."
"I already know what kind of woman Ive got." The sides of his mouth lifted in a slight smile. "A devious one."
She leaned forward from her chair, and kissed him, for many long moments. When she pulled away, he added, breathlessly, "With a good body."
"He is powerful, but he is blind to what is happening around him."