No Peace for the Hero Chapter 3
A Cold Reception
The End of Time
It didnt take Cronos eyes long to re-adjust to the familiar darkness of the End of Time. The single lamppost glowed dully in the center of the platform, as always. As he approached the lamppost, however, he noticed something that was definitely odd. Gaspar, the Guru of Time, and permanent resident of the End of Time, was missing.
There were only so many places to look, of course, before Crono was satisfied that the old man wasnt there. He glanced into Spekkios room, and found the great horned beast sound asleep in the corner. Gaspar wasnt there, either. Confused, Crono turned back and almost ran into Gaspar himself.
Gaspar! he exclaimed, Where were you?
The old man put a finger to his lips. Spekkios sleeping, he said quietly. If you could keep it down?
Cronos mouth twisted slightly. Gaspar was a man of secrets. Hed often managed to avoid telling Crono more than he needed to know, though he was as close to omniscient as made no difference. Here, at the End of Time, Gaspar could view all of history. Gaspar gave out information when he chose, and for his own reasons. Still, the old man basically had the good of Cronos world in mind, and Crono couldnt fault that.
However, this time Gaspar surprised him by volunteering information. If you must know, I was eating.
Eating? Why do you need to go somewhere else to eat? Now that he thought about it, though, hed never seen Gaspar do anything but sleep.
The old man shook his head. Because here in the End of Time, all bodily functions are suspended, from aging to digestion to... well, you get the idea. That water over there, he pointed at the pail, heals you magically, but you dont actually digest it. If I tried to eat here in the End of Time, the food would just sit in my stomach for eternity.
Crono frowned. But if you dont age or anything, why eat?
Surprisingly, Gaspar smiled. Because, my dear boy, I like food. It reminds me that Im human, which can be hard to remember when I know almost everything about almost everything.
I understand, Crono chuckled. By the way, how do you know all this stuff?
This time, however, Gaspar did not volunteer anything. Instead, he simply asked, Why have you come to the End of Time? Not to converse with me about food, Ill wager.
Crono shook his head. Gaspar wouldnt ever change. And Ill wager you know exactly why Im here, but Ill play along. I met someone claiming to be a future me. Was he telling the truth?
Do you think he was? Gaspar asked in return.
Cronos mouth twisted again, slightly. Yes... But Im not the most reliable judge in the world.
Gaspar nodded slightly. A wise realization, that. Nobody knows as much as they think they do. Not even me. Gaspar frowned, but shrugged and continued, I can tell you how to find out, though. Or, rather, when to find out.
I thought you might, Crono replied. He hadnt expected a straight answer, but Gaspars clues were almost always helpful.
Gaspar, however, didnt respond immediately. He stared down at the cane in his hands, deep in thought. Finally, he looked up. Do you know what A.D. stands for?
Crono blinked, taken aback. Uh... No, not really. I asked that once, and my mom seemed to think it was asking why the sky was blue. It just is.
I could tell you why the sky is blue, Gaspar responded with a wry smile, but I dont think youd understand. Whats important is that I do not even know what A.D. stands for, or B.C. for that matter. He looked off into the mists surrounding them. There are many worlds, Crono, worlds hidden amongst the stars. Many of them have reached the End of Time at some point in history. In one timeline, the End of Time is used for travel.
He looked back toward Crono. My point, Crono, is that I have spoken to others in the End of Time, men and women and creatures from other worlds. And every world has a turning point, an important event that the entire world recognizes as central, sometimes several such points. Often, years are counted from these points.
Our world also has such a turning point, Crono, a crux, to coin the ancient Zealian word. The crux is, of course, the point at which the B.C. years are counted as A.D. The problem is that from approximately nineteen B.C. to twenty-four A.D., I cannot see what happens. Gaspars eyes narrowed as he let slip this bit of information, that he didnt know something. This disturbs me, Crono. I believe that perhaps what happens during those forty-three years is vastly important.
As you know, I have seen the history of our world. Timelines fork and perpetuate constantly, but at certain key points in history, dramatic forks may take place. The ascension of Lavos to the surface of the world in 1999 A.D. was such a key point, and you and your friends brought about the favorable future.
Gaspar sighed suddenly. Far into the future, long after your time, another such key point occurs. Along one path, our world survives and prospers, sending people out to meet those other worlds. Along the other path, our world is laid to waste, and several others as well. Whats so terrible about this key point is that-
You cant see it, Crono finished for him. When Gaspar didnt respond, Crono continued, Whatevers blocking your vision at the crux, the same thing is present at this key point. Gaspar nodded. And you want to me to find out what this block is and get rid of it, right? Crono finished.
Gaspar smiled slightly. You have a keen mind. He shook his head slightly. Perhaps keen enough to discern what I have missed. He looked at Crono again. Yes, I wish for you to do this. However, you should know that my talents are not completely useless there. Even if I am blindfolded, I can still hear, so to speak. I know that Castle Guardia is built during this time. If you can find it, stay in it, because I know that the castle survives the crux. Guardia the first wont be born for a few centuries afterwards, but the castle will already have that name. The answers you seek about your future self also lie in this era.
Is that all you have? Crono asked.
No, Gaspar replied, frowning slightly. I also have a riddle of sorts. He shall seek without finding, and find without seeking. He shall bring age to the unborn, and youth to the old. With his sword shall he show mercy. In saving his people, he shall rob them. He shall live only through killing himself. Nothing is what it seems. I dont know what it means.
Crono frowned. He certainly didnt know what it meant either. This he you speak of. Is it me?
I wouldnt be surprised, Gaspar responded, in a lecturing sort of tone. There are many prophecies about you and your friends. The one about your dying and living again is particularly interesting.
Crono winced. Gaspar had to bring that up. Suddenly, it hit him. Nothing is what it seems. Gaspar! he exclaimed, making the old man jump. Are there any other times you cant see?
A few, Gaspar responded, cautiously. Mostly, though, theyre only a day or two. In fact, there was a three-day period after the death of Lavos-
How about, Crono asked, reading from the piece of paper that hed pulled from his pocket, 2014 A.D., February 5, 6:00 P.M., Trann Scientific Research Center?
Gaspar very nearly dropped his cane. No, I cant see February 5, 2014 A.D. How did you know?
Crono smiled in satisfaction, giving the paper to the guru. According to my future self, thats when Philip T. Johnson is kidnaped. There must be a connection. Ring any bells?
Gaspar raised an eyebrow. Crono, Professor Johnson never went anywhere. I remember him, because he had several brilliant ideas concerning time travel, which were all discarded. Its too bad they didnt listen to him, because the Trann incident could have been averted.
Crono, of course, was interested in what the Trann Incident might be, but Gaspar waved the question aside, saying that hed find out once he got where he was going. Im afraid I cant send you to a specific year and day during the blank years, Gaspar told Crono as they approached the gate platform. All I can tell you is that youll get there before the crux. They stopped before the shining pillar of light. Be careful, Crono. You do not know what you are getting yourself into.
Crono stepped into the pillar, pulling on a glove, and wrapping a scarf around his neck. Neither do you, he replied.
Gaspar closed his eyes. The War of Ages, he whispered, and turned away as Crono vanished.
So, I had a mystery to figure out. This was something new for me. Before, I had always been able to count on friends, old or new. This time, it looked like I was going to be on my own. I realized, as I stepped into that pillar, that Id never really fought alone. Oh, sure, Id been attacked by imps, but that was certainly nothing to brag about.
It wasnt until much later that I realized that I wasnt alone at all. When you try to do the right thing, youre never alone, no matter how much it may seem that way.
The familiar swirl of colors around Crono reminded him of the exciting days hunting Lavos, not long ago. He had thought that, now that the world was safe, he could live a peaceful, normal life. Now, though, with his life once again on the line, Crono began to consider that maybe a peaceful, normal life wasnt what he wanted, wasnt what he was meant for. Maybe his destiny was constant battle, warfare with every force that threatened his home. The thought was at once depressing and exciting.
Finally, the dark pinpoint at the end of the tunnel seemed to leap out at him, engulfing him. Darkness was all for a moment, and then-
-Darkness! Cold! Choking! Crono flailed wildly at the thickness around him, tumbling and swirling, his extremities rapidly growing numb. He opened his eyes, and regretted it as they almost froze, but he could see light... that way! Though he couldnt feel them, Crono commanded his arms and legs to move in a pattern... draw in, move up, push back, draw in, move up, push back...
The suddenness with which he broke into the open air startled him, making him gasp and choke. This way, he got rid of the water in his lungs, and managed to slow his heart. The cold air burned his lungs as the cold water further numbed the rest of him, but Crono enjoyed the feeling of breathing for a short time, of snow falling in his hair. However, he knew that he would lose the fight to stay alive if he remained still. Movement was the key.
Regretfully, he dropped his pack full of supplies, including his two spare swords. They all sunk silently into the depths below. He didnt drop the sword on his belt, though. With one fewer burden, Crono was able to stay above water and look around. Off in the distance, he spotted a dark shadow on the snow-blurred horizon, something that could have been land, and he forced his deadened limbs to move once again.
His eyes closed to avoid the searing cold wind, Crono knew he had hit land when he felt pain in his hands as he clawed the gravel of the shore. He quickly crawled out of the water, and lay still for a minute, just breathing. He kept from falling asleep, though, because he knew hed never wake up. Wearily, he stood, and looked around. Off in the distance, he saw... snow. Beyond the snow, he could see nothing. Except...
A quick flash of light. Too quick to even make out its color, but it had been there. Cronos mind assured him that the light was orange, that there must be fire in that direction. Crono was not sure of this at all, but it seemed as good a direction as any. Hugging himself tightly, he forced his foot off the ground, and moved it forward. Then the other foot. Again. Again. Again.
Of course, I was rescued. After all, Im talking to you, arent I? Later on, I found that Id wandered three miles, straight for that light Id only half-glimpsed. Pretty good, for being half-frozen. Thankfully, I didnt get frostbite. Id have enough trouble later on without missing fingers and toes.
From what Im told, I was found half-dead, my clothes frozen solid. Everybodys really surprised I didnt die right there. What can I say? Im special that way. I guess those gloves and the scarf helped. I still got a cold, though.
Usually, upon waking up in a strange place, Crono jerked upright and reached for his sword. This time, however, all he could manage was a long, painful groan, accompanied by protracted shivering, followed by a loud sneeze. He opened his eyes, and found himself looking up at the sloped ceiling of a long tent. It seemed to be made of animal skins. Crono could hear the wind howling outside, trying to get in, but he just smirked at its vain efforts. The flickering light and shadows on the surface of the tent also made him smile, because it meant that there was a fire in there with him. Cronos frozen clothes had unsurprisingly been taken away, including his bandana. Instead, he was wrapped tightly in several layers of fur.
Crono sighed. Hed been rescued. But by whom? If, as Gaspar said, there was this War of Ages going on, which side was he with? What were the sides?
Oh, youre awake? a voice said, off to Cronos left. He managed to roll his fur-wrapped bulk over so that he could see the newcomer, walking down the tent, between beds.
He was thin, first and foremost. Thin and bony. He looked like hed blow away in a strong wind. He had a sharp chin, thin mouth, and long nose. His clean-shaven cheeks and big, dark eyes made him look almost girlish. His head was shaved bald, except for a single lock of black hair hanging down from the nape of his neck, six inches long. His uniform, a dark blue shirt tucked into dark blue slacks tucked into brown leather boots, all covered by a heavy coat hanging down to his knees, was baggy. The entire uniform looked too big for him. The saber hanging from his belt, a thin blade, seemed to suit him well. The man, or perhaps boy, stomped over to Crono, and sat on the bed next to Cronos, facing him.
When the stranger sat down, however, Crono revised his opinion of the boy. First, small nicks and scars marred the prettiness of his face. Second, when he sat, seemingly at ease, he adjusted his belt so as to have the sword easy to reach. Third, those large, dark violet eyes constantly darted around the tent, as if searching for enemies in every corner, blinking only when he had to. Fourth, this boy was Cronos age, possibly a year or two older.
When he smiled, though, Crono couldnt help but smile back. The boy seemed excited, and it was contagious. His legs seemed to jiggle of their own volition while he sat. Hi, he said enthusiastically, trying to make his voice sound lower than it wanted to. Im Ran. Im the one that found you out in the snow. What were you doing out there? Where are you from? We thought sure youd freeze to death. You must be really strong. Your clothes were frozen solid. Did you fall in the water? He paused for breath. Youre not a Trann, are you? If so, we wont hurt you, but we cant let you go back.
Ran blinked suddenly, apparently as surprised as Crono at the torrent that had rushed from him. He smiled sheepishly, blushing slightly. His eyes never stopped moving, though. Sorry. You must be tired, but I cant let you rest. He abruptly reached into a satchel, much like the one Crono was accustomed to carrying. He pulled out Cronos clothes. But not his sword-belt, Crono noticed. Heres your clothes, Ran continued. I was told to give em to you, and then to take you to the Captains tent.
With some effort, Crono managed to push himself into a sitting position. He picked up the bundle and looked through it. The clothes were dry now, but not necessarily clean. He sighed with relief when he found the Dreamstone Pendant, and slipped it over his neck before anything else. He was distressed, however, to find that the Gate Key was nowhere to be found. Then he groaned as he remembered: the Gate Key had been in his backpack! He had dropped his only way out of this era into the ocean!
I think that was one of the worst moments of my life, realizing that I could not get home, that I might never see my era again. Still, I knew that the crux was coming up. Also, Ran had said something about being a Trann. Add that to what Gaspar had said about the Trann Incident, and I figured that some time traveling must be going on. With any luck, Id solve the mystery, get home, and marry Marle, like Id been hoping.
Its been four years, now. Ive stopped hoping.
As Crono dressed, he couldnt help but be aware of Rans presence. Cronos requests that the soldier turn around had been met with apologetic shrugs and further scrutiny. He hadnt actually seen Ran staring at him; the boys wandering gaze seemed to be all but ignoring him. Still, Crono knew he was being watched very closely. Was he considered that dangerous? He was half-frozen, he didnt have a sword, and... a sneeze reminded him that he was coming down with a cold. What was he going to do, beat Ran over the head with the Pendant, then try to escape what appeared to be an army encampment?
After Crono was finished, he took the spare coat offered by Ran. It was warm, and not too heavy. The buttons were large, probably so that they could be undone quickly in case of a battle. In this cold climate, such coats were probably always necessary. Crono completed the ensemble by wrapping his scarf around his neck, and pulling on his gloves.
Outside the tent, Ran finally turned his back on Crono as he stomped along through the slush and snow, leading the way. Crono considered kicking him in the ankle just to see his reaction, now that Ran had finally turned his back, but realized he might get his head cut off. So, he followed peacefully instead, taking the chance to get a look at his surroundings. There were tents everywhere, placed in more or less straight lines, all animal hide. Most of the tents had fires in them. Even small tents had small fires. Larger bonfires were placed periodically in clearings, with soldiers talking, laughing, and drinking around them. To his surprise, Crono occasionally noticed a blue-haired woman wearing uniforms. There werent many, though, and they tended to travel in groups. Outnumbered at least forty-to-one as they were, Crono imagined life could be miserable for them, especially considering the way some of the men looked at them.
He suddenly realized he had been speaking out loud when Ran, without looking back at him, remarked, Almost every woman who joins the army gets cornered a few times before they realize that theres strength in numbers.
Crono frowned. Get cornered? You mean raped, right? You sound so calm about it.
Ran shrugged, again not looking back or slowing. If you cant change it, accept it, right? Its just the way things are. Crono could see the boys hands tightening into fists, though. He accepted it, but that didnt mean he had to like it.
Finally, Ran stomped to a halt before a tent, slightly bigger than most of the others. He glanced inside, then stepped aside and held open the entrance flap. Theyre ready for you, he said.
All is mystery; but he is a slave who will not struggle to penetrate
the dark veil.