Until the End of Time Part 1, Chapter 5
The Final Battle
By Demon-Fighter Ash
August, 1005 AD
"This is it," Crono said as he rose from the throne, looking to the knights and the crowd of people behind them, "in less than an hour we will fight a battle that will decide the future of this continent. This future belongs to everyone, and it's our sacred duty to protect it from those who would try to steal it for themselves. Today we will be fighting for that future and I have no doubt that your courage during this battle will demonstrate the legendary spirit of Guardia, a spirit that has protected the people of this land for a thousand years!"
He nodded to the knight captain and took Marle's hand as she rose from her throne, then turned to the chancellor, gesturing for the old man to walk with them as they climbed the stairs to the royal chambers, white royal robes brushing the stone steps while the knight captain led his men downstairs to prepare for battle.
"Your highness," the chancellor said reluctantly as they climbed the stairs, "our scouts have spotted three legions approaching Zenan Bridge. The bombs have been placed, but there's five more behind them and a fleet of Porre ships is on its way. Some of the troops are riding lizard-like mounted beasts."
"El Nido dragon-riders," Crono answered grimly, "they've brought the Acacia Dragoons into this."
"The ones who fought at Dorino," Marle frowned, "they're tough...and they know how to use elements."
"On the bright side," Crono said, "they don't use guns and they're honorable."
"That honor could blow away like smoke," Magus answered as Crono and Marle stepped into the royal chambers, "if they find the advantage slipping away from them."
Marle nodded silently to the chancellor and he slipped quietly out of the room to consult with the knight captain as she turned back to the royal chambers. Lucca sat on the side of the bed fiddling with the inner circuits of her plasma gun while Magus stared out the open bedroom window at the sunlit courtyard and the gathering troops below.
"Thanks for coming," Crono said with an awkward shrug, "both of you. Are Kid and the others safe?"
"Yeah," Lucca nodded, "Melchior's keeping them at his house. That should be far enough."
"Right," he nodded, then turned to the brooding figure by the window, "Magus, I'll understand if you don't want to fight. This isn't your battle and your help with devising our strategies has already done a lot of good."
"This IS my battle," he said in a low voice, turning back to face them, "Porre is a nation of weaklings hiding behind their guns and ships. I side with the strong...and Guardia has earned its strength."
"Alright," Crono answered softly, amazed at the compliment Magus had given them, "we've discussed our strategy and we all know what to do. Lucca, the riflemen are armed?"
"Yeah," she stood up, "I've attached digital sights, magnetic barrels, element-tipped bullets...they should outclass Porre's weapons in every way. But Porre will still have a lot more guns than we do."
"We've faced worse odds," Marle shrugged, "if it comes down to it, we've still got one advantage."
"Right," Crono nodded, "but we've talked about that too. We know the people of Porre have been changed by something, that they're being manipulated. So no magic--it's too unpredictable and we're trying to avoid loss of life, theirs as well as ours. We use magic only as a last resort."
"Yes, we have talked about this before," Magus snarled, "why do you people always strive to be weaker?"
"It's not totally out, we just save it until we need it. Besides, if we use it too early in the battle, Porre'll know about our advantage and adjust their tactics. We don't want them to know our hand too quickly. Magus, you're the most powerful magician among us, which is why I need your support on this."
"So be it," Magus sighed, still frowning, but willing to accept Crono's decision.
"We have a half-hour," Crono said as he took off his golden crown, "everyone get dressed for combat and meet me downstairs in twenty minutes," he gave a wistful smile, "it'll be like old times again."
* * *
Crono arrived at the old cathedral and nodded to his escorts to stand guard as he descended into the secret chamber below the sanctuary, jogging down the stone stairwell and pushing open the brass door that had remained shut for the past three months. A few thin cobwebs had spread through the chamber since the workers had cleared it out before, and Crono batted them away with his electric torch as he walked toward the center of the room, where a gleaming broadsword lay sheathed within a bright scarlet scabbard atop a stone slab. He had specifically ordered the workers to leave the sword, as a memorial to the hero and friend who'd once called the blade his own.
But things had changed since then, and fate had brought him down here to ask for help.
Crono lifted the scabbard with one hand and tentatively grabbed the handle, drawing the sword out of its sheath and lifting it into the air to test its weight. The hilt suddenly seemed to grow hot, scorching his palms, and he called out into the chamber, forcing his burnt palms against the handle as he tried to awaken the sword.
The hilt quickly cooled down again as a beam of cold light swept out from the blade and coalesced into two robed figures, as short as toddlers but with white robes, olive-green almond-shaped heads and gleaming black eyes.
"Hey," one of them said in a high-pitched chirping voice, "it's the kid with the funky hair!"
"Yeah, it is," the one on the left answered, "you haven't seen Glenn around, have you?"
"Hi Masa," Crono said, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly, "hi Mune. Um, about Glenn...it's been a lot longer than you probably think. Four hundred years, actually. Glenn's been gone for awhile now."
"Huh," the younger boy answered with mild surprise and Crono rubbed his eyes, the chamber seeming to shimmer as though it were underwater. He looked again and the two alien figures had now become two young boys dressed in modern slacks and t-shirts, the one on the left a little older. Crono nodded, realizing they'd adjusted to his human perceptions, making their forms as familiar to his thoughts as they were to each other.
"See what happens when you take a little nap," Masa, the older boy, sighed worriedly, "Melchior told us we have to stay awake, or the sword could get into trouble..."
"No, it's okay," Crono smiled at their bickering, "I checked the history books, Glenn passed away peacefully after a long life. The only reason you've been asleep is because nobody's tried to wield you since."
"Told you so," Mune, the younger child, said, sticking his tongue out at Masa.
"Guys," Crono interrupted as Masa started to reply, "it's important. We need your help again."
"What's wrong," Masa asked, then sighed, "it's not that Magus jerk again, is it?"
"No, it's not," Crono snickered, "actually, that's an interesting story. But right now we need your help in a war with another country. One that wants to overthrow the kingdom of Guardia."
"But I like Guardia," Mune protested, "they can't do that!"
"If Glenn's gone," Masa said, "we'll need a new owner, someone to wield us."
"I'll do it," Crono answered, "I want to be the new owner. I'm ready for the test and I'll fight alone this time."
"Should we," Mune looked up to his older brother.
"Nah," Masa shrugged, "you took it once already, that's enough. Besides, there's a lot of bad vibes coming from the southern horizon. We're gonna need all our strength for that."
"So that's it," Crono asked, blinking with confusion, "I'm the new owner?"
"Not really," Masa answered, "lift the sword up higher. We'll do the rest."
"Alright," Crono answered as he lifted the heavy broadsword to his chest.
The two boys vanished in a quick flash and the polished blade of the Masamune began to glow with a hot white light. Crono turned his eyes away from the blinding pulses of light and watched his shadow writhing against the stone walls as the now-liquid blade twisted and folded against itself. The blinding radiance slowly began to fade into darkness again and Crono took a hesitant look at the sword in his hands.
The Masamune, once a heavy broadsword that required both hands to lift, had now shaped itself into a thin folded razor-sharp blade, the slightly-curved katana balancing perfectly in Crono's right palm. Crono lifted the sword and looked carefully at the gleaming metal, finding the same faint etched name that had marked the sword through thirteen thousand years of history. Melchior. The name of the Guru who'd first forged it.
"Don't let us down," Masa's voice called from the empty air, "we want a real workout!"
"Break a leg," Mune's voice shouted cheerfully, "not yours, of course, but, you know..."
"Thanks guys," Crono smiled a little as he swung and slashed the light sword through the cobwebs, testing its weight, then he sheathed the blade, tying the scabbard onto his belt as he climbed back up the stairs.
* * *
The symbol of a black griffin stood against the red fabric of the Porre flags as they fluttered against the brisk autumn winds, marking the edge of a trench-lined camp of red and black tents set along Zenan Bridge.
Within the middle tent a large group of warriors knelt to the ground, their right hands resting on the handles of their down-turned swords. Blue-suited Porre soldiers bowed their heads in silence as their general walked to the front of the tent alongside a tall muscular man dressed in a white shirt and black leather overcoat and pants, an ancient broadsword slung across his waist, toward the front of the tent and toward the gold statue of a beautiful woman with long flowing hair, holding an emerald pyramid in her open palms.
"Today we are honored," General Lensh said to the group, "to fight alongside our brothers from the El Nido archipelago, our differences set aside for the greater glory of the sacred triumvirate, which has blessed us all as her children throughout this century. I give the floor now to General Viper of the Acacia Dragoons."
"Vita Unus," the tall powerful man said slowly, "Vita Dos and Vita Tres. The past, the present, the future. These are the three faces of the one who has united El Nido and Porre as her children, who has revealed to each of us our destiny and given us her blessing. Today we fight not for ourselves...but for the Goddess of Fate!"
* * *
"There's a lot more of them than I expected," Marle whispered, "and I really expected a lot."
Crono and Marle looked around in stunned silence at the vast armies of blue-clad soldiers stretching across the green fields, surrounding the small red-clad army that stood before the castle of Guardia. The ocean of people suddenly parted and four strange lilac-colored dragon-like beasts with bird-like heads galloped forward on two clawed legs, each one carrying a mounted warrior draped in a light metal breastplate and carrying a sword.
Each one of them leaped down from the beasts: a tall thin man with a gray moustache and bushy eyebrows, a gigantic muscular warrior with long white-blonde hair and a rough Nordic face, and a heavy dark-skinned man with short black hair and a stern weathered expression. Finally their leader stepped off his beast, a powerful warrior with gray thinning hair, dark eyes shining with intelligence and a broadsword dangling from his belt as he bowed before Crono.
"King Crono," he said as he rose to his feet, "and Queen Nadia, of the Kingdom of Guardia. I am Sir Viper of the Acacia Dragoon, ruler of the El Nido archipelago and leader of the Four Devas."
"We've heard of you," Marle answered sternly, her eyes refusing to turn from his.
"Then you know we're not barbarians," Viper answered, "behind me are the other three Devas, the greatest of the Acacia Dragoons: Radius, Garai and Zappa. We are all honored to face you in battle."
"If you're so honored by our presence," Lucca said in a low snarl from behind Crono's shoulder, "why don't you respect us and leave! Or is honor just another excuse for killing to your people?"
"We don't want a fight," Crono said to Viper, glancing back to Lucca for a second, "but we will defend this land if we have to. If your honor meant anything, you would never have started this war."
"It wasn't my will," the older man answered, "but I am a part of it now and will fulfill my role as the goddess has decreed it. But I judge strength by ability, by training and skill, not by numbers and weapons. I've heard much of you and I believe you hold these same values."
"What of it? If you're working your way up to the terms for our surrender, forget it."
"I would never insult another gentleman and warrior with such a request," he said, "face me in single battle, King Crono. Our struggle will decide who rules this future, not these clumsy guns and nameless soldiers. Think of it, a duel between two great warriors to decide the fate of this kingdom."
"And Porre would respect those terms," Crono asked skeptically.
"I am the colonial ruler of El Nido," Viper answered, "Porre values its trade relations with our islands, and so they'll respect my decisions on the battlefield. They may not like my decisions, but they'll respect them."
"Why would you do this? You seem to have the advantage on the field, why give that up?"
"Because this isn't my way," Viper answered seriously, "throwing cheap guns and expendable troops at the enemy is the way of a coward, of someone who lacks the skill to truly face his opponents in battle...a point I've often argued with the war council of Porre. I believe in real combat, in testing one's skill against another, and I believe the strongest and wisest should rule, not merely the one with the most bullets."
"If I took this land by merely flooding the field with mindless lackeys carrying rifles," he continued, "then I would have won only by default, I'd have never proven that I truly deserved the victory I'd stolen. War is quickly becoming the province of bureaucrats and politicians and if two old-school warriors like us have a chance to change that, even for a single battle, I'm willing to take it."
"Alright," Crono said, puzzled, "what would happen if I win?"
"I would respect your right to exist and the Devas would defend it...even if that meant war with Porre."
"You'd do that," Crono asked in surprise.
"Believe me, it wouldn't take much to incite a war with Porre in El Nido."
"And if you win?"
"Then you become a prisoner of Porre, they destroy this castle and take occupation of these lands. The same terms as would come from the pointless slaughter that would otherwise take place."
"I'll need to consult with my," Crono paused, "my own Devas."
Viper gave an approving nod to the queen and to the two figures flanking them, a long blue-haired man in a medieval tunic and pants, wearing a long royal-purple cloak and wielding a tall scythe, and a young brown-haired woman wearing glasses and dressed in brown slacks and shirt, wearing a nasty-looking sidearm in her holster. Crono turned toward them.
"What do you think," Crono whispered to the three.
"It's a feeble attempt at deception," Magus answered, "he wants to see how desperate we are."
"I think he's right," Lucca nodded to Magus, "it sounds like they're trying to lure you into a trap."
"But if they're testing us," Marle asked, "it might be better to accept the challenge. The weaker Porre thinks we are, the greater advantage we'll have during the battle."
"Good points," Crono nodded to all of them, "but I think Viper's telling the truth."
"You what," Magus choked in surprise, barely keeping his voice a whisper.
"I've seen Viper in battle before, at Dorino" Crono answered, "he's never used a gun and he only uses non-lethal elements to subdue mobs, never single opponents. He really seems to be an honorable fighter."
"They might just want us to think that," Marle protested.
"Maybe," he nodded, "but if there's a chance of ending this battle now, I should take it. An alliance with El Nido could swing the balance back to us, maybe even end the war. I'm going to fight him."
"Alright," Crono said aloud as he broke away from the group and turned to Viper, "I'll accept the challenge on one condition--all the armies stand down and hold their positions. If any one of the soldiers on either side makes even the slightest move during the battle, it ends and we open fire. Got it?"
"I would have it no other way," Viper nodded, and he reached beneath his overcoat, pulling out a crystal-studded sash and tossing it to the tall blonde-haired man behind him, the one he'd called Garai.
"Those are my collection of elements," Viper explained, "this shall be a true test of strength and will, my blade against yours, a testament to the art of battle. You've heard of the Einlanzer?"
"The ancient sword of the dragonians," Crono nodded as Viper unsheathed a gleaming broadsword from his scabbard, the alien metal of the blade refracting the sunlight into rainbow hues.
"I can only pray," Viper smirked, "that your blade is as true and unerring as this one."
"You'd be surprised," Crono replied, lifting the curved blade of the Masamune in both hands, "let's go."
* * *
Sparks flew from the blades as they crashed into each other, Crono straining to block the larger man's blade from knocking the Masamune aside. Crono stood beneath Viper, his sword lifted in both hands as he pushed back on the Einlanzer, then he braced his boots against the ground. He suddenly jumped into the air, the force of his leap knocking Viper onto his back, and a second later he flew back down, aiming the tip of the Masamune straight at the Deva's chest as he spun through the air. Viper rolled away and Crono quickly swung his legs back down, landing on his feet and whirling back to face Viper, swords raised between them.
"I'm impressed," Viper remarked, meeting Crono's swing with his own sword, "I've never seen a technique like that before and I've been training in swordplay for forty years now."
"I've never seen a blade quite like yours," Crono nodded, sweat rolling down his face as he quickly flipped Viper's sword downward and swung through the air, the general barely ducking the swing, "any other sword would have snapped in two by now."
"Then it's true," Viper said in awe, "that really is the Masamune you're using."
"That's right," he said, then back-flipped away, landing on his feet, "so what's your sword's story?"
"The Einlanzer," Viper replied, matching each of the young king's blow with his upraised sword, "is the last and greatest relic of the dragonians. They entrusted the dragoons with the sacred blade over three hundred years ago, and since then it's been the traditional weapon for the leader of the Devas."
"Which is why you wield it," Crono grunted as he knocked a sudden thrust to one side and plunged the Masamune forward, striking Viper across the left shoulder and leaving a blood-lined rip in his shirt, "but I thought El Nido worshipped some goddess. How does a holy dragon sword fit in with that?"
"Not bad," Viper nodded with a grunt of pain, then began forcing Crono back with quick powerful strokes, metal clashing and scraping as he drove Crono toward the steel gates of the castle, "long ago El Nido worshipped the six legendary dragon-gods who sleep among its isles. But that old religion has mostly died away as we've come to worship the goddess of fate. Only Guldove worships the dragons anymore, but the Einlanzer is still a cherished reminder of our covenant with the dragonians. This might be the last time I fight with the Einlanzer, though. I have decided to retire from the battlefield and make Garai the new leader of the Devas."
"A shame," Crono said, and then he took a deep breath. Viper watched curiously and then he quickly twisted around as Crono seemed to leap from every direction at the same time, four blades thrusting forward at once, slashing across his calves and wrists and dropping the warrior to his knees. Crono suddenly plummeted down from the sky and Viper flipped back, landing clumsily on one foot as Crono hit the ground and rose to his feet.
"It's because of your association with Porre," Crono remarked, "that you're retiring. I noticed you identified yourself as Sir Viper. I thought you were awarded the rank of general after the Dorino battle."
"I was," Viper answered as he flipped the Einlanzer upright again, and stood tense, ready to meet the next charge, "but it's only an honorary rank, since I'm not a Porre soldier, and it hasn't been formally bestowed yet. Also, there are subjects in El Nido who might question my loyalties if I assumed that rank here and now."
"If El Nido dislikes Porre that much," Crono answered, waiting for the next move, "why are you even here? Why fight alongside your enemy to destroy a kingdom you claim to admire?"
"This may be hard for a continental like you to understand," Viper answered as he suddenly charged at Crono, slashing him once across the chest and then leaping high into the air and plummeting down as Crono threw himself out of the way, the general's sword clanging against the stone walls of the castle, "but I was told by the record of fate to fight this war, or else El Nido would be cast into an era of darkness."
"You would fight a war," Crono asked in disbelief, his ribs burning from the fresh cut along his chest, "just because some kind of oracle told you to do it?"
"Not just an oracle," Viper said sharply, "the record. I couldn't risk it being right, no matter how I feel."
"Fine, the record," Crono rolled his eyes, then swung the Masamune up to match a quick inward thrust of the Einlanzer, "have you ever tried to ignore the record, to see what happens if you don't listen?"
"That would be dangerous," Viper answered, his face growing pale for a moment before he focused on the battle again, dropping to a crouch and delivering a swift kick across Crono's shins, knocking him onto his back as Viper lifted the polished gleaming sword over his chest, "besides, it's said that even those who try to reject fate will end up fulfilling her wishes," he smirked, "you might be an example of this."
"We make our own destinies, not fate or fortune" Crono said, kicking both his feet up into Viper's gut and flipping the general forward, jumping to his feet and kicking the Einlanzer out of Viper's hands, then holding his own sword, the Masamune, against the dragoon's neck, "the future is a blank page, there's no right or wrong way for it to unfold--it belongs to all of us. Trust me, I know something about this."
"So it'd seem," Viper answered with an admiring nod to the young warrior standing over him.
* * *
Across the field, Porre Lieutenant Gerad tapped his foot impatiently and walked back and forth in front of his riflemen, his expression growing more and more annoyed as he watched the two swordsmen's duel. He finally turned to his men and spoke to them in sharp clipped tones.
"This farce has proceeded long enough. Open fire on the king of Guardia."
"But," one of the soldiers protested, "General Viper ordered us to stand down."
"If we leave it up to that antiquated old islander, this whole war might be lost without a single shot fired. I didn't come out here to watch him practice his swordplay. Now open fire, end this game already!"
"Yes sir," the dissenter answered grimly, and the small platoon of armed soldiers lowered their rifles, sliding their bolts at once and aiming the guns at the two sparring fighters.
* * *
Viper glanced over Crono's shoulder at the Porre soldiers and suddenly leaped forward, knocking Crono against the ground and then throwing himself flat against the ground as the riflemen opened fire on them.
"Stay down," he shouted to Crono, then he looked over to the three mounted Devas as gunfire filled the air overhead, "Porre has no respect for honor or the will of the Dragoons! Take them down!"
"You've got it," Garai answered and the dragon-like beast gave a hoarse vulture-like shriek as he pulled on the reins and rushed toward the kneeling gunmen. He drew a gigantic sword with his right hand and held it out at arm's length as he rode into the group. The soldiers scattered and his blade caught one of them , ripping through the man's armor as he drew another sword with his left hand. He knocked the soldier to the ground with both swords and rose into the crowd, swinging both blades against the Porre troops.
Viper looked over to Radius and the mustached man simply nodded, then drew his rapier and held it in front of him, pointing at the soldiers. A crystal embedded in the handle of the sword flashed and a sudden blast of swirling green energy flew through the air, rings of wind knocking the platoon backward onto the ground. He suddenly reared back on his beast and charged into the crowd, slashing lightly through the soldiers as they tried to push away from his hissing dragon-mount.
Garai rode through the Porre legions, slicing through one soldier after another as his dragon-beast trampled the fallen men, and Zappa threw his axe into the crowd, the sharpened steel blade striking one running soldier in the back. He then rode through the fleeing blue-clothed soldiers toward the dead soldier. His beast knelt beside the Porre gunman as he grabbed the handle and yanked the axe out of the man's back, then gave a hoarse shriek as Zappa pulled the rein and rode into the crowd, swinging his axe over his head.
Meanwhile the Guardia knights around Crono began to fire on the Porre soldiers, the battle rippling and spreading throughout the battlefield until every man had been pulled into the fight.
"Forgive me," Viper said as he crawled to his feet and mounted his dragon, giving a backward glance to Crono before he rode into the crowd to begin his own battle against the Porre troops, "this was not my doing. So far as I'm concerned, you've won our battle, and so now the Devas fight alongside you. Good luck to us both."
"What about fate," Crono called out as the brawny warrior disappeared.
"I've spent my life obeying the records," he shouted back, "and they led me into this despicable battle. So from now on, we make our own destiny. No more fearing the future!"
Crono nodded as the general vanished and then turned to the Guardia knights, mounting his own horse and leading them toward the rolling blue tide of Porre troops; the battle had finally begun.
* * *
"What is all this," Lensh demanded.
The general rode his horse through a small clearing in the human forest of clashing soldiers. Bodies lay on the ground before them, blue-suited Porre soldiers lying sprawled across the scorched grass like ragdolls all around Lensh's own group of soldiers, and one of them dismounted to check their pulses.
"Sir, you're not going to believe this," the man called out through the gunshots, "they're alive."
"Just tell me what happened to them."
"I don't know," the man answered, checking one unconscious soldier's wrist after another, "the sleeves are scorched and their hair's bristled. My guess is maybe mild electrocution."
"How," Lensh shouted, "the sky's clear!"
"You got me," the soldier answered, and then the small group of men looked up as a red flash filled the sky. A pyramid of flickering light stretched above at least a third of the battlefield, engulfing a horde of Porre soldiers in a force-field of shimmering colors. The distant troops all collapsed onto the ground and Lensh looked back at his own men as the pyramid of energy melted away into the clear turquoise-blue sky.
"What was that," he answered in low clenched voice.
"I don't," the soldier muttered in awe as another pyramid of flashing light appeared on the opposite side of the field, yellow and blue light shimmering over its transparent walls as a red glow filled the pyramid, all the soldiers within its boundaries screaming and collapsing into unconsciousness, "maybe a new weapon?"
"Guardia shouldn't even have guns," Lensh snarled, "how could they have something like this? Fine, so be it--they have their secret weapons, we have ours. Prepare Grobyc for combat operations."
* * *
"How many," Magus asked as the four converged on the battlefield, floating lightly over the ground as he swung the handle of his scythe backward to smash a charging Porre soldier in the face.
"Not sure," Crono gasped as he and Marle emerged from the crowd, "fifty or sixty soldiers, maybe."
"Sixty-eight," Lucca panted as she fought her way through the crowds of fighting soldiers, "we've taken down sixty-eight of them with the delta-force technique. But we can't keep this up forever."
"Then let me," Magus growled restlessly, "I could annihilate this whole army with a breath."
"Maybe," Crono answered sternly, "but we're not trying to kill them."
A loud chorus of screams broke through the din of battle and the group turned around toward a group of fleeing soldiers. Some of the knights leaped off their horses and sprinted across the field on foot, while the others fought to control their steeds, several thrown onto their backs by the panicked horses.
"Your highness," the knight captain called out, bringing his horse to a halt beside the group, "you all have to leave at once. Porre's unleashed something...it's a monster..."
A pale lavender beam of solid energy fell from the sky and the knight captain screamed as it pierced his breastplate, vaporizing his torso within the blinding stream of energy. The beam faded away after a second and the man fell to the ground dead, his face frozen in an expression of terror and a scorched hole burnt into his chest. The group traced the fading beam into the sky and Marle gave a sudden gasp at the shape floating above them.
"What is that thing," Marle asked in disbelief.
A dark hovering figure looked down on them with solid black eyes, its face cloaked in a red cloth mask, its blue uniform the unmistakable mark of a Porre soldier--but that's where its humanity ended. The thing's flesh shared the same deathly blue pallor as its uniform, its hair a single oak-red spike. Its right arm gleamed in the sunlight and Crono suddenly realized that circuitry and wires lay beneath the torn skin.
"It's a cyborg," Lucca said, then the thing flipped through the air, its head pointed at them. Its hair began to glow and suddenly a burst of burning plasma swept down, a solid beam of pink light slashing through the ground and leaving a smoking crevice as the group leapt away from the laser blast.
"What's a cyborg," Crono shouted, then ducked as the energy beam swept over the field again.
"A human implanted with machines," Lucca called back, "to make him a kind of living robot!"
"That's horrible," Marle said softly.
"Fascinating," Magus muttered as he stared up at the hovering cyborg, "it looks like they used element-technology in its weapons."
"Who could make something like that," Crono asked as the creature paused to recharge its weapon, "even Porre's not that advanced.
"Luccia could," Lucca said softly, "Crono, do you remember that girl we used to play with when we were kids? The one who used to help me with all my inventions and science-fair projects?"
"Yeah, you two were the smartest kids in the whole school. But she moved away when we were ten."
"Crono," Lucca said, shaking her head quickly, "she moved to Porre."
Crono groaned suddenly as he realized the implications.
"Just tell me this," Magus asked quickly, "is it alive?"
"I remember her talking about something like this, even in our timeline" Lucca answered, sighing, "no, she would have replaced his brain with a computer processing-unit. It's not a living creature anymore."
"Then let's take it out," Magus nodded to Crono, "just like we did in training."
"Alright," Crono agreed, "you go left, I'll go right. We've got ten seconds to get into position, let's go!"
Magus turned away without a word, ducking the sweeping plasma-beams as he crawled over the ground toward a scorched tree on the far left side of the floating creature, listening to the screams and sizzle of soldiers as the beam sliced through the crowds. He sprang to his feet and sprinted the rest of the distance across the smoldering field, then grabbed the tree, swinging himself back around to face the mechanical creature.
Crono stood on the opposite side of the field and gave a single nod to Magus.
The creature suddenly dropped onto its feet and it turned around, its black gaze focusing on Magus as the wizard stared back in contempt. The ninja-like cyborg lifted its right arm toward Magus and the tree.
"We'll see about that," Magus sneered, then leapt aside as Grobyc's fist suddenly flew forward, blown off its arm by a blast of energy and smashing into the tree like a bullet. A small digital counter lit up on the side of the embedded metal fist, giving a ten-second countdown, and Magus quickly ducked away from the tree as the projectile suddenly exploded, the charred leafless tree shattering into a rain of branches and dirt. He whirled back around to the creature and stretched one hand forward, gloved palm turned out toward Grobyc.
"Now," he shouted across the field to Crono, who stood on a hill behind Grobyc with his arms spread.
A bright sphere of burning light suddenly appeared in the air above the monster Grobyc and quickly filled the sky, the orb engulfing the cybernetic assassin and blasting him upward into the center of the sphere, waves of scorching radiance crashing against the ensnared creature. The air within the glowing sphere suddenly grew darker and liquid shadows drowned the struggling cyborg, a storm of living darkness ripping at the creature's limbs within the still-bright sphere. The shell of light began to collapse and it sank into the darkness, the cyborg's inner circuitry smashed by the pulsing blackness while the rushing torrent of light scorched its blue flesh.
The orb of hollow light vanished and Grobyc sank to the ground, its metal legs bent, both its feet and left hand shattered by the blast, as the faint hum of its processor faded into silence. Magus looked back around at the empty battlefield, most of the fighting having moved away after Grobyc began its attack.
"That was amazing," Marle shouted as she ran through the empty battlefield to Crono and Magus, "I never thought that 'dark luminaire' idea would really work!"
"Yeah," Crono panted, then stood up straight and tried to hide his gasps as he noticed that Magus hadn't even lost his breath, "we tried it out during training, but I didn't really know if it'd work on the battlefield."
"Double-techniques with Crono," Lucca snickered, "there might be hope for you yet, Magus."
"We should get back into triangle-formation," Marle said, "a few more spells might be enough..."
She suddenly screamed and closed her eyes tight in pain. She fell backward, Crono barely catching her as she tumbled onto the ground and stared up at her friends, the front of her shirt sticky with a hot wet fluid. A Porre soldier lowered his rifle and ran toward them, then fell to the ground, hit by a stray shot from the battle behind him.
"What happened," she asked weakly, the pain fading away, "what's that on my shirt..."
"Oh my god," Lucca whispered under her breath, then she quickly knelt down beside Marle and ripped off the bottom half of her shirt, pressing the folded cloth to Marle's gut.
"Marle," Crono's voice answered, his voice and hands trembling as he took the cloth, "you've been shot in the stomach. You'll be okay, but we need to find a doctor for you. Just don't try to move."
"Crono," she giggled softly, then winced, "where are we going to find a doctor out here?"
"Crono," Magus answered grimly as he knelt beside Marle and looked at the stomach-wound, "the blood's almost solid black. I've seen these kind of wounds before."
"So you can fix it," he said quickly, "come on, with all that magic you must know how to fix it!"
"No," the wizard shook his head slowly, "her liver's been pierced by the bullet, and probably several other vital organs besides. She won't last another hour."
"SHUT UP," Crono suddenly screamed, knocking Magus away with one arm and then kneeling beside his wife again, "don't listen to him, Marle, he's just a bitter old wizard! We'll find a doctor and you'll be fine, I promise. Lucca, get a field medic...Lucca, NOW!"
"No," Marle shook her head, "I want her to stay. And don't blame Magus, he's just being honest as usual."
"No he's not," Crono said, propping her head up with his arm, "he's just being bleak, that's all."
"Crono," she answered, barely able to whisper, "I don't feel anything, no pain...I didn't even know that was blood...that's not good and you know it."
"I'm sorry," Crono suddenly hugged her tight, one hand still pressed tight against her wound, a single tear trailing along his cheek, "you shouldn't have been out here, we should have evacuated, surrendered..."
"I insisted on coming, remember," she asked with a smile, her glazed eyes looking blindly up at them, "and I wouldn't change any of it. Meeting you, saving the future, defending Guardia...not a thing..."
"Marle," Crono called to her, then his voice rose into a squeak as her head fell limp over her shoulders, her blue eyes dim and lifeless, "Marle, wake up! Nadia, listen to me! Come on, WAKE UP!"
"Crono," Lucca stammered, her trembling fingers on Marle's wrist, "she's not sleeping..."
Crono looked speechlessly up at Lucca and Magus, then toward the cloudless blue sky overhead, his gleaming eyes staring into the sky with a silent wordless question. He finally looked back down and kissed Marle's cheek tenderly, then rose slowly to his feet and turned toward the squad of Porre soldiers fighting at the castle gates, his clouded eyes narrowing with rage. Lucca shook her head quickly as she suddenly realized what he intended.
"Crono, we need you, Guardia needs you," Lucca shouted, "Marle wouldn't want this!"
"Marle's gone," he whispered, his fists tightening as he stared at the blue-clad soldiers surrounding the castle, "they killed her...and they're going to pay..."
A bolt of lightning suddenly cleaved the blue sky and coursed through the young king's body, his thick red hair rising and waving within the current of energy, his blue eyes glowing with a yellow light. The bolt twisted into the ground and blue electric sparks began to crackle and writhe across his clothes and skin as though he'd become a living generator. The air around him suddenly exploded into an electric-yellow aura and Crono looked back to Magus and Lucca, still knelt beside Marle, and gave his last order as the king of Guardia.
"Stay out of my way!"
He suddenly catapulted into the sky, leaving a thin streak of crackling light in his aerial wake, and hovered in the air, his body flashing with electricity as the Porre troops turned toward the burst of yellow light that'd briefly filled the horizon. The glowing youth stretched his palms out toward them and screamed a single phrase.
A blast of electric light exploded from within the troop of soldiers and they trampled each other, desperately trying to escape the swelling bubble of searing light as it swept over the ground. The whole squad of Porre gunmen vanished within the orb and it quickly evaporated, leaving a blackened crater in the ground. Crono twisted his head toward a second group of soldiers along the side of the castle and screamed again.
The blast of energy shattered the outer walls of the castle and swallowed the panicked soldiers, leaving a second bone-lined crater in the grassy fields. Crono twisted back toward the Porre encampment at Zenan Bridge and screamed again, arms stretched out, his eyes hidden behind a sheet of golden light.
"Janus," Lucca looked over to the staring wizard in panic, "you have to stop him!"
"I can't stop him," he answered softly, "not without killing him."
The tents and wooden barbed-wire fences around the bridge suddenly vanished within a swelling fireball of searing golden light, the blast leaving a charred hollowed-out pit where the Porre camp used to lay. Crono floated in the skies of Guardia, blind with rage, nothing mattering except Marle and the monsters that took her, laying waste to the forests and fields as he annihilated the separate groups of terrified Porre soldiers one by one.
He suddenly screamed in pain as a bullet whizzed through the glowing electric air and sliced through his shoulder, a spurt of blood flashing against the yellow aura around him. He turned around toward the rifleman below him and lifted his palms as the man dropped his gun and stared up in terror at the glowing figure.
Another shot from behind him pierced his back, the bullet flying out through his gut, and he twisted around to see a small group of soldiers gathering below him, all of them aiming their rifles upward.
"Open fire," General Lensh barked to his troops, "shoot it out of the sky!"
A swarm of whistling bullets filled the air and Crono screamed and twisted within the golden aura as they pelted his chest, the yellow air filled with drops of blood. A bullet pierced the scabbard of the Masamune and sent it flying through the air, disappearing into the growing swarm of soldiers below. Crono glared down at the gunmen, blood trickling along the corner of his mouth as he took a deep breath for one final spell.
The yellow aura surrounding him suddenly exploded outward, the glowing air spreading and engulfing the troops below. The men dropped their metal rifles as the guns began to crackle and spark with electricity, and bolts of yellow lightning raced over the ground, striking a few soldiers and knocking them to the ground as Lensh motioned for the rest of the troops to withdraw. The aura suddenly vanished and Crono plummeted to the ground.
Crono slammed onto the ground and looked up weakly as Lucca ran to him, followed by the gliding figure of Magus. Lucca knelt beside him as the last of the Porre troops fled and Magus stood beside them both, glaring at the fleeing soldiers and watching to make sure none others tried to attack them.
"That," Crono coughed up blood, "wasn't the smartest thing..."
"No it wasn't," Lucca screamed, silent tears running along her cheeks as she shook him, "you knew that would happen, that's why you went out there! You can't do things like that!"
"I wasn't thinking," he groaned, "I'm sorry."
"Well I don't accept," she said angrily, "and you can't die until I do, so there!"
"I don't think it's up to us, Lucca."
"Yes it is," she suddenly shouted, "I watched you die once and I'm not doing it again! I'll figure out some way, just like before...we'll get you back, and Marle, and Guardia..."
"Guardia," Crono wheezed, his shirt riddled with bullet-holes, "we thought we were saving the future, when we really just screwed up the present...destroyed it..."
"We thought we were doing the right thing," she answered quietly, "I still think we did the right thing, even if it made all this happen...we had to help the future, we couldn't leave it like that..."
"The future," Crono gasped quickly, fighting for each breath, "Lucca, listen to me. You have to figure out what happened, why it all changed. You made the gate-key, you fixed the Epoch...you're the smartest one, you're the only one who really knows how time works...you have to find out what went wrong, why things are like this...or it'll just keep getting worse...until there's no future anymore..."
"I can't do that by myself. Crono, I need you to help me...I can't do that alone!"
"Magus," Crono whispered to her, "he's changed, Lucca. He's helped us fight Porre, he changed Frog back into a human--he didn't have to do any of those things. He's not the same person he used to be. He knows about time too, maybe more than any of us...he'll help you, I'm sure of it...you two can solve it..."
"We'll all figure it out," she sobbed, "you too! You'll be okay, and we'll fix things, like we always do..."
Crono didn't answer and, as his ragged wheezing breath died away into silence, she turned away to look at the sky, at the half-demolished castle beyond the forest, at Truce village burning in the distance as the Porre soldiers smashed the windows...anywhere but down at her best friend's unblinking face.
"Lucca," Magus said, his voice a stern rasp, "we have to go."
Bullets sliced through the air and Magus grabbed Lucca by the top of her head, pushing her to the ground as a small group of Porre gunmen made their way through the flaming ruins toward them. He raised one palm toward the group and closed his eyes, a low growl escaping his lips as he spoke to himself and Lucca.
"This ends now," he snarled, "this ends right now! MATERIA ATRA!"
A flood of midnight swept across the fields and the landscape vanished into a sea of darkness, distant pinpoints of light blinking from within the void. The starlit abyss seemed to whirl and twist wildly around the crowd of Porre soldiers and their screams rang through the empty darkness as it folded around them.
A burst of cold pale light exploded across the horizon and the company of soldiers had vanished, the charred fields and burning town empty except for a few villagers, leaving the two silhouettes alone against the hellish crimson landscape, Magus standing grimly beside Lucca as she knelt sobbing, clutching the fallen king tightly in her arms.
Part 1, Chapter 6