Until the End of Time Part 1, Chapter 2
Survival of the Fittest
By Demon-Fighter Ash
September, 1004 AD
"Is Magus getting any better," Marle asked with a sympathetic shrug as she and Lucca walked through the crowd of people filling 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 the large red merchant-tent draped over the square that had once housed Lucca's telepod exhibition and browsed through one of the clothing racks, "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, ice...my 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 thumbs and fingers, and a larger cranium along with a sleeker, more bird-like posture. 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 the merchant fidgeting nervously behind the table and her wavering voice steadied as she spoke to him, "I'd like to buy two of these white dresses, please, both 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 friend was also the queen of Guardia. She nodded and then asked, "what about Magus?"
"I'll probably regret it," her friend answered, as she picked up both dresses and led Lucca back out into the sunlit square, Nadia's Bell chiming in the background as the crowd of people parted before them, "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 through the blossoms of the royal gardens, 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 against 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 across the stone courtyard in the middle of the enclosed garden 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 a bit 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 sneered 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."
Part 1, Chapter 3