A.Z. - After Zeal Chapter 1

An Easy Way Out

By Crystal Zeal

Sitting upon her chest, the violet cat peered down upon the sleeping form of a young girl. Leaning down, he gave a little kitty grin and licked the girl's cheek.

Startled, the girl awoke quickly and jerked up into a sitting position, sending the cat flying off of her. She looked around, eyes wide, until she spotted the disgruntled cat. Giggling, the girl leaned forward and scooped him up into her arms, cuddling him close.

"Aww, I'm sorry, Alfador," Crystal said. She gave another giggle and put the purple fuzzy feline onto her bed, getting up to stretch. Alfador, the purple cat, shot her that evil glare cats always seem to do and went to washing himself.

Stifling a yawn, Crystal clumsily stumbled towards her dresser. She was still quite groggy. Rubbing her eyes with her right palm, she moved her other hand towards the dresser and pulled a drawer open. Smiling softly to herself, she searched through until finding a dark blue, nearly indigo long-sleeved shirt. Slipping out of her sleeping shirt the girl pulled the blue shirt on over her head, sliding her arms through the sleeves. Crystal shut the drawer with a small push, and kneeled down to look in the bottom one. A plain, and fairly worn pair of brown breeches were pulled out. These were put on quickly as well. Tying the strings, she made her way back over to the bed, where an off-white, yet still very clean apron hung. The girl gave it a small look of distaste, the area above her nose crinkling. Letting out another small sigh, she reached down and pulled the apron up, slipping it over her head and then tying it in the back.

Yet another day of work had started. It was just another day for the girl to serve tables, take orders, and carry food around. This had become her life ever since Zeal City had been formed. The thirteen year old had to live somehow, so she got a job here.

Crystal was extremely grateful to be able to work at such a popular inne. Her life as of late, however, had turned, well... slightly bland. It was the same cycle of work, study, sleep, work, study, sleep... She hadn't even made much progress in the studying department. Though she had relentlessly tried everything in her imagination, she could simple not form a gate. Gasper had made it seem so...so simple! It was quite the opposite, though. She was missing something, and she knew it.

Lately, her dreams had been becoming much clearer. Crystal could easily bring to mind that small picket fence, the cobblestone floor, that lamppost... What it all meant, however, she hadn't the slightest clue. All the girl knew was that she was supposed to get there, and these gates were the key.

Plopping back down onto her bed, Crystal leaned down and grabbed a boot. Alfador hopped onto her shoulder, easily catching his balance as she struggled with one shoe, and then the other. Placing a hand upon the cat so he wouldn't fall, the girl stood and looked into the mirror, picking up her brush.

"Waitress duty today," she said quietly, running the brush through her long blue hair. Ahh -- her hair. The pride and joy of any of the royal bloodline. Crystal offered herself a satisfied smile as she placed the brush back down onto the dresser. Alfador let out a small mew of distaste, rubbing against her cheek as she tied her hair up into a long ponytail with her black hair band.

"Hey, it's better than kitchen duty," she replied to the cat, giving him a stern glance through the mirror. Turning, she suggested, "let's go raid the kitchen for breakfast."

The purple ball of fluff mewed a response.

"Alrighty then." Patting the cat, Crystal opened the door and stepped into the bustling kitchen. Wincing at the sudden onslaught of noise and smells, she closed the door quickly behind her.

The head cook, a tall man called Lester, spotted them as the entered. He grinned and steered the two to a table that was placed by the inn door, which was used as a table for employee's off-duty. Saying a quick "Good morning," he hurried off.

Lester was back in a matter of minutes with a plate of eggs for Crystal, and a bowl of cream for Alfador. The cook winked and went back to work.

Calling a quick "thank you!" as he left, Crystal smiled in appreciation and started eating her breakfast. The cat had already started licking his down. After quickly finishing her breakfast, she picked up the dishes and deposited them in the sink.

Motioning to Alfador, who was steadily licking his paws, she headed into the common room of the inne.

"Morning," Marie, the innkeeper greeted from behind a counter. Marie was the jolly, round sort of person who loved to serve and help, and was extremely fond of the girl and her cat.

Crystal aimed a smile her way and ran over. "Good morning!" She replied cheerfully.

"You'll have the right half today. Felix will take care of the rest," Marie told her, handing the girl a pad and a pen. A hand went to absently stroke Alfador, who had hopped onto the counter.

Crystal nodded, grimacing internally. Taking the pad and pen, she turned and scanned the room. Another waiter was already serving guests. Spotting a couple that had just walked down the stairs and seated themselves, she made her way over.

"Good morning. Are you ready to order?" Crystal asked with a bright smile. They answered good morning, and went on to ordering.

"I'll have two eggs, scrambled, with a piece of toast on the side," replied the man.

Crystal pushed a rebellious strand of hair behind an ear and wrote the order down.

"I'll have the same," the woman finally said.

Nodding, the girl jotted it down as well. "Very well. Your food will be here shortly." She hustled over to the kitchen, dropping the order in a pile. Gritting her teeth, she turned and went back to taking orders.

The whole morning went pretty much the same.

By the afternoon, things were getting to be very busy. She was returning from the kitchen when Alfador mewed and ran out from behind the counter.

"Alfador, hey, come back!" she called after the cat. Crystal sighed, and went after him. The fuzzy purple feline was sitting on a table, being petted by a cloaked figure.

Alfador seemed to know the person, and actually liked him or her. That was odd, for Alfador had only liked four people: Janus, Schala, Crystal, and oddly enough, the Prophet. Perhaps...

"Excuse me," she said. "But I'm sorry about my cat. He usually doesn't so such things."

The man looked up.

Crystal gasped, recognizing him. "Prophet!" She exclaimed, stepping back with her right foot. Her hands clutched her pencil and pad so tightly that her knuckles were white.

The Prophet raised his head. The only thing visible from under the good of his cloak was his mouth, which was upturned into an unpleasant scowl. The scowl deepened as he realized whom Crystal was. "Hello girl. What are you doing here?" He said somewhat sourly, looking as if he didn't want to see her.

"I live and work here," she stated rather arrogantly, glaring at him.

The prophet chuckled. "Proud of this place? Heh." A faint and bitter grin showed on his face. This grin quickly faded quickly. "It's a fine day indeed when Zealian royalty are reduced to the status of waitresses..." He shook his head a bit, letting out a sigh. "Do you, by any chance, know what happened to your dear cousin?"

"Janus got sucked through a portal. You saw that yourself." She said, arching an eyebrow.

"Not him, I know what happened to him... I mean Schala. What happened to her?" The man demanded. Crystal looked at him suspiciously. His shoulders were bunched up under layers of cloth, and he seemed...nervous?

"Why do you want to know...?" the girl asked in return, a queer look upon her face.

The Prophet glowered, teeth tightly clenched. Gloved hands were bunched into fists upon the tabletop. He looked up into her eyes. "I have need of her. You are going to tell me all that you know about what happened, or face dire consequences."

Crystal was at a loss as of what to say. She just sort of stood there, not talking. Around them, guests were staring.

Alfador rubbed his head against the man's hand, as if to say, "It's all right, be calm!" The Prophet petted the purple fluff ball back in appreciation, before standing.

Giving a nervous glance around the room, Crystal tucked her pad and pen into her apron and spoke. "I'll meet you at the Cape in about an hour. We can talk there."

The Prophet shook his head, apparently not buying what she was saying. "Don't be late," were his last words before he turned swiftly and slipped out. When Alfador tried to run after him, the girl grabbed him around the waist.

Alfador mewed pitifully and hopped back onto Crystal's shoulder. "...That was odd. I wonder where he's been all of this time... Prophet..." She stared at the door, before shaking her head. The cogs in her head moving steadily, she started back up on her job.

After helping another table, the girl made her way over to Marie. Getting the woman's attention, she spoke. "Hey! I was... uh... wondering if I can have a couple hours off?" She asked, hope showing in her voice. She gave her best puppy-dog eyes.

"Fine," the plump woman said.

Crystal smiled and started to turn.

"If you take laundry duty tonight," Marie added.

The girl cringed at that, replying, "All right." She hated laundry duty.

The inne-keeper grinned, knowing her weak spots. "Now run along, you've got the rest of the day off, girl."

Crystal thanked her, and hurried to her room.

She threw off her apron and grabbed the staff from its place against the wall. It was a good five and a half feet long, capped with a polished ball of processed dreamstone. Melchior had made it for her as a gift.

Alfador watched her do this from his usual spot on her bed, mewing occasionally. She beckoned the cat to come to her, and made her way to the door, the cat following loyally behind her. Even the cat something on his mind, however...

The girl made her way out through the kitchen, careful to avoid the people working busily. She stepped out the side door, into the crisp afternoon breeze. The many stores attracted her gaze as Crystal made her way to the North Cape.

A crimson cloth wristband caught her eye in an armor shop. Knowing that she had time, Crystal slid into the store, eyes sparkling. She went over and picked up the bracelet, examining it.

"Ah, I see you are interested in the speed bracelet. It increases your speed in battle. A bargain, only 50 GP," said a voice from behind her.

The girl spun around. Behind her was a Nu. He rocked back and forth a bit, big eyes upon her. "Do you wish to buy it?" He asked.

Crystal nodded, taking out the amount of money he said, and handed it to him. He kind of bowed his entire body, gripping the money in his little blue hand.

"Happy battles!" The Nu commented, and went over to help another customer.

Crystal went back outside and put the speed bracelet on. She felt a surge of power for a second, but it faded away. With a smile, she went back to her walk to the cape. Crystal was absently twirling the staff in her hand when she reached her destination.

Like the Prophet said he would, he was waiting at the cliff, facing the sea. His cape flapped in the wind, giving him an ominous appearance.

"You have come," he said ominously, clutching his scythe. He turned, and threw off his cloak. Underneath was the same armor he had worn when he had first come to Zeal.

"If you were a real Prophet," Crystal proclaimed, "you would've already known that I would've come. And you would also know where Schala is."

The man snickered. "Well, the cat's out of the bag now." Alfador padded over to him, and rubbed against his leg. A smile touched his face for a second, and he picked the cat up. His face set into its normal grim expression. "Now tell me what you know."

Crystal glared at him. "I know nothing. If I did, I wouldn't be stuck here. Don't you think I want to find her as well, and Janus too? And why do you want to find her, to get her to help you in some twisted plan?"

At the name Janus, the man flinched.

"Janus doesn't need to be found! He's fine as he is, well on his way to revenge now, gaining power, learning spells..." His glare darkened. "He should be left alone."

It suddenly made sense. She stumbled back a bit. There had always been something about the Prophet that had reminded her of her cousin. That was how he knew everything that had happened, he had been there when they happened! The Prophet was Janus!


Janus grinned. "So you figure that out. You always where the clever one. Though I'm disappointed that you don't know about time gates as well, after studying so much with the Gurus. You were their little apprentice grinned, "it allows you to use gates to transport yourself between time. This is how the intruders, the ones who confronted the Queen and Lavos, were able to arrive at Zeal."

Catching the key in her open hand, he inspected it; thumb trailing over its smooth surface. "This is...the key? It's so small."

The false prophet nodded. "That is it. There are gates still open from when the intruders and I first arrived. One in is a cave to the east, while the one I entered through it at the base of this cliff. There should be another cave down there."

"Does this mean..." She started, looking up towards Janus and raising her eyebrows.

The Magus couldn't believe he was doing this. Growling softly, he nodded. "Yes. Use it. I've had enough time traveling." It was the truth. Something had been itching in his mind, something here. He was going to search this entire world.

Her heart skipped a beat. This was it, her chance. She could escape, she could find her way! She could finally figure out what those dreams meant, what she was supposed to do... Crystal let out an unexpected giggle. Another one soon followed. Looking up at her cousin, eyes starting to tear, she launched herself at him. Her arms wrapped around his waist tightly, and she hugged him as fiercely as she could.

Magus pushed the excited girl away, repulsed. "Don't get so excited, girl." He sneered at her.

She nodded and stepped back, head ducked. Her lips were curled up into the tiniest of smiles.

He cleared his throat awkwardly. "You should be getting back to work. I'll walk you there." Janus grimaced internally. Why was he being so nice? It was sickening! Perhaps it was because Crystal was his only remaining family, and the closest thing he had to his sister. How pathetic.

Alfador, who had been watching all of this from afar now, ran up to his owner, and hopped onto the family place of Janus's shoulder. He mewed loudly, rubbing himself against the Prophet's face. He purred softly as the former prince brought a hand up to pet him.

Many things were racing through Crystal's mind, but first thing was first. She would finish the day, pack, and tomorrow morning, she would head for the end of time, and start her quest to find Schala.

But what she didn't know, that her quest would end up being far more important than finding her cousin. It would be very long and difficult, indeed. And so, the cat back with its owner, Crystal and Magus turned and walked down the cape.

And so the adventure started.

Chapter 2

Crystal Zeal's Fanfiction