Until the End of Time Part 2, Chapter 1
Among the Ruins
By Demon-Fighter Ash
Insanity leads to chaos, then to solitude...
The fruitless effort of adding meaning to what is meaningless.
A lone crimson tear falls to the sea...
The echo of the remaining star cries out in the infinite vacuum
The least I can do is send my distant prayers
Over the wind of time, setting sail on dreams...
--The Poet of Arni Village, Chrono Cross
January, 1010 AD
Lucca walked alone down the small hiking trail that led from Truce back to the bridge and her house, two bags of groceries balanced atop her shoulders as she stepped down a low grassy hill, glancing back over the crest toward the village. Wooden scaffolds rested against the sides of the buildings and a few villagers browsed among the newly-built houses and shops far below the crest of the hill between Truce and the bridge to her house. Leene Square still lay in ruins, the bell cracked and fallen, the stone courtyard still scorched black from the fire that had engulfed it five years ago, when Porre had burnt both the castle and the village to the ground.
When Guardia fell five years ago, she'd thought the village of Truce would die with it, the people scattered across the continent as nomads and refugees--but somehow life had gone on and she had helped rebuild the town. Some of the same people even lived in the small village that had sprung out of the ruins of old Truce--Fritz and Elaine still ran their shop and the mayor's house had just been rebuilt and converted into a school.
She looked back at the road with a smile and then suddenly stopped, her smile fading as two Porre soldiers, wearing navy-blue uniforms and blue helmets with glass visors that covered their eyes, emerged from a small grove of leafless tree onto the road, led by a dark-haired young officer wearing a small headset, headphones covering his ears and a small microphone dangling from the headset in front of his thin pale lips.
"Lucca Ashtear," the officer said in a thin clipped voice, as the other two raised their rifles and watched her intently, "I'm Commander Gereth of the Porre military police. We have orders for your arrest."
"Not this again," she rolled her eyes, "look, I've been through this before. I'm in a hurry, you're not going to take me in, so why don't we just call it a day? I've really got to get some of this food to an ice-box..."
"This is serious," the young officer interrupted, "the council has demanded your apprehension!"
"Oh, the council," she said sarcastically, "alright, fine. Just give me a moment."
Gereth nodded to his soldiers and they lowered their rifles as she stooped to the ground and sat the bags of groceries down, then stood back up, a small grin on her elfish face as she looked at them.
"You actually thought I was giving up, didn't you," she snickered to the officer, "oh, come on!"
"We're armed," Commander Gereth answered, "don't try anything stupid."
"You know," she said, flexing her fingers, "Porre should really brief its soldiers better. Sure, you have guns, really impressive. But then again," she paused for a second, "so do I."
She suddenly whipped a gleaming automatic weapon from her belt and slid back the bolt before any of the soldiers could react. She pointed it straight at their leader, a red dot of light appearing on his chest.
"Boys, meet the Zonker-3800," she said with a grin as she stared them down, "laser targeting, magnetized denadorite barrel, sunstone-charged battery and self-loading rounds. So tell me about your guns."
"They, uh," the young officer said, then paused for a moment, glancing sheepishly down at the plain rifle in his hands before raising his voice, "it doesn't matter what kind of guns we have, we're acting under the orders of the Porre council! You have to come with us!"
"You didn't say the magic word," she answered, gun still pointed at him, "not that it'd do much good."
Their leader nodded to one of the soldiers, and the man began to squeeze the trigger. He suddenly tumbled backward with a cry as a small burst of electric light exploded against his chest. Gereth looked back as Lucca whirled toward him, smoke wafting from the barrel of her gun as the soldier tumbled limply to the ground.
"It's also got a stun-feature that lowers the charge just enough to knock people out," Lucca said, "but for some reason the switch keeps flipping back and forth, no matter how much I work on it. If I keep firing, it could probably go back to kill-mode any second now."
"Subdue the suspect," the officer shouted, "use any means necessary!"
"Take five, you lousy mugs!"
Lucca bent her hand sideways, twisting the gun at an angle toward the other soldier, and this time Gereth caught a glimpse of a small orb of light fly out of the barrel of her gun as she pulled the trigger, hurtling through the air and smashing into the Porre soldier's chest. The man screamed as a burst of energy swept through his limbs and he collapsed onto the ground as the commander looked back up to find the gun pointed at him.
"Nya ha ha," she cackled, "see what happens to fools who challenge the mighty Lucca!"
"This is Commander Gereth," the frightened officer whispered into his microphone as he pressed a small button on his right earpiece with one finger, "two officers are down, suspect is armed and dangerous! Proceed to phase two immediately!"
The trees around them rustled and shook, dried leaves fluttering down through the air, and suddenly a large group of soldiers leaped down from the treetops, all of them dressed in brown camouflage fatigues and holding rifles. They landed on their feet all around the bemused young woman, guns all aimed straight at her.
"You can't shoot all of us at once, no matter how advanced your gun is," Gereth said, his voice steadying at the sight of the platoon surrounding her, their guns raised toward her, "so just surrender."
"I guess so," she sighed, lowering her gun, then suddenly thrust her right hand into the sky.
Blasts of scorching air swept across the fields from every direction and the soldiers stared around in shock, rifles dropping to the ground as a crimson glow filled the sky. Bubbles of liquid fire floated overhead, each sphere swelling into a dim scorching sun hovering over the grove and searing the treetops. Gereth looked around at the shimmering landscape, beads of sweat rolling down his face--and the bobbing spheres of fire suddenly exploded, knocking the soldiers onto their backs. The commander blinked through a cloud of stinging tears, his lungs burning from the blistering air, until the incandescent red glow began to fade into cold winter sunlight.
Most of the soldiers had fallen unconscious, but Gereth and several others had weathered the firestorm and remained on their feet, although Gereth's skin burned against the sunlight and his lungs still ached with each breath. He groaned as he tried to take a deep breath, then managed to curl his charred lips into a defiant smile.
"I've heard stories about a secret explosive weapon," he panted, "but we're still standing."
"That was just a warning blast," Lucca said, arm still raised, "there's a lot more where that came from!"
"Stand down or we'll open fire," Gereth said, and then his voice slowly faded as twilight fell across the road and engulfed the small grove. He looked up and gave a sudden surprised gasp as the yellow afternoon sun seemed to shrivel and blacken, the blue sky fading into darkness. An ocean of thick white mist rolled across the twilight landscape and he twisted around as he heard a deep booming voice echoing from the unnatural darkness.
"You guys are in trou-uuble," he heard Lucca taunting from behind the thick wall of mist.
The mist suddenly seemed to burn against Gereth's skin and he heard the rest of his men screaming in pain as his own skin seemed to burn with some kind of cold heat, the mist scorching and freezing his already-burnt flesh as he stared around frantically through the purple fog-drenched twilight. Shadows twisted and tumbled around him as some of the soldiers collapsed, their lungs aching from the dark noxious mists, and then he noticed another shape gliding through the mists, red eyes glaring out of the gloomy twilight.
A wooden pole slammed against the side of his face and he staggered backward, spitting out the shattered pieces of his back teeth as he shook his head, trying to regain his bearings. A shadowy figure swept forward, a pole gripped tightly in its hands, and he grunted as he felt the pole swinging across his gut, his body doubling over the wooden staff. The pole slipped out from beneath him and then swung down across his back, knocking him onto his stomach as the figure disappeared again, taking down each one of the coughing, choking soldiers.
The mist suddenly evaporated, the dusky landscape suddenly drenched in bright sunlight, and Lucca bent down to pick up her groceries, quickly glancing at the fallen soldiers, then back up to the brooding figure standing among them, his long blue hair braided, dressed in a gleaming white tuxedo with gold trimmings and gripping a wooden quarterstaff in both hands as he narrowed his red eyes at her.
"You shouldn't toy with them Lucca," he said in a low voice, "Porre might have ended this with a single gunshot."
"Yeah," Lucca nodded as Janus glided forward and took one of the grocery bags from her, "but if I used my full power at once, it might have killed them. By the way, they're not..."
"No," he shook his head as they continued through the small clump of trees toward the bridge, "they're just unconscious. When they awake, I imagine they'll return to Porre and tell their generals you used a secret explosive weapon. After all," he added with a small grin, "they know Porre won't tolerate any rumors about magic."
"Speaking of magic," she suddenly said, "wasn't dark-mist magic a little bit of overkill?"
"It wouldn't be necessary," he answered with a sideways glance at her as they neared the small wooden bridge that led to Lucca's house and the island her family had owned for three generations, "if you didn't insist on this outfit. How much fear could I inspire if they saw me in a tuxedo?"
"Hey, it's stylish," Lucca protested, "besides, Porre knows the stories about Magus. If they saw someone wearing his clothes, it'd make them suspicious, not to mention what the older children might think. This way nobody'll recognize you."
"I barely even recognize myself," he replied with an embarrassed glance at the suit, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand, then quickly shook his head and changed the topic, "but we should hurry."
"Why," Lucca suddenly asked.
"When I saw your magic on the horizon," he answered slowly, "I had to leave the kids with Melchior."
* * *
Lucca jogged out the back door and into the backyard of her old Victorian house to find Melchior with the small group of kids, looking over their shoulders as they sat at the picnic tables, scribbling with crayons. Tall pine trees lined the yard, casting deep green shadows across the wooden tables while the distant roar of the ocean filled the otherwise-silent air. She sighed with relief and glanced back as Janus came up behind her.
"Wow," Lucca said softly as Melchior smiled and waved her over, "they're actually behaving."
"Lucca," Kid cried out eagerly as she grabbed her sheet of paper and ran across the yard toward the two of them, holding a brownie in her other hand, "look, I made a drawing! You too Janus, look!"
Janus smiled and stroked his five year-old sister's blonde hair as she thrust her drawing over her head for him to see, then took the paper in one hand, "so you've listened to Melchior like I told you?"
"Yeah, he's been telling us stories," she answered breathlessly, "so then we drew about the story."
"Good," he said, bending his knees so the little girl could look at the drawing too, "this is really good--you drew Frog's cloak right and you even got the words on the side of the Masamune...right..."
He slowly stopped talking as he realized what he was looking at, then glanced to Lucca, who stood on Kid's left side looking at the picture too. She nodded to Janus, then looked down to Kid.
"Kid, exactly what stories did Melchior tell you?"
"He told us about how you and Janus and the king and queen and Froggy and Robo and Leah flew around on the wings of time and fought a monster called Lava with a mastermune and a timed egg!"
"I think you mean Ayla," Janus snickered quietly, "and Lavos, and the Masa..."
Lucca took a single deep breath and slowly sighed, glancing to Janus and shaking her head silently for him to stop. He nodded softly and looked back to Kid's eager face, handing the picture back to her.
"Do you know what the wings of time are," Janus asked, "or the time-egg?"
"Well, the wings let you fly like a clock," she answered slowly, trying to figure it out, "and a timed egg, um, comes from timed chickens. It's sorta like an Easter egg."
"Something like that," Lucca answered, a smile flickering across her stern face, "we'll hang your drawings up in the living room in a little bit, okay? Until then, why don't you show it to the rest of the kids? We'll be over there in just a moment, after we talk with Melchior."
The little girl cheered and ran off to tell the five other children still drawing at the table as Melchior walked on his cane toward Lucca and Janus, smiling innocently as they glared at him.
"Melchior," Lucca said, exasperated, "we didn't want to tell them about that, least of all Kid! She's way too young to understand all of it, we want her to be her own person!"
"Don't worry," Melchior reassured her, "I just told them a fairy-tale, that's all."
"A fairy-tale starring all of us," Janus replied, "you at least didn't tell Kid about...about Zeal, did you?"
"No," he smiled reassuringly, "Lucca's her big sister, Janus is her friend, and she's just Kid. But you'll have to tell her about all of that someday--it's part of who she was, who she is now."
"I know," Lucca nodded with a sigh, "but right now she's so independent, so free-spirited. She's a unique individual and I don't want her to grow up thinking she's just a copy of someone else's life."
"Besides," Janus answered, studying Kid closely as she showed off her drawing to the rest of the children, "she may remember it on her own. Melchior, did you tell her about your insignia on the Masamune?"
"No," he answered, puzzled, "I didn't even tell her I made it."
"She knew," Janus said in a low whisper, "she drew your name on it, just as it appears on the blade."
"Could she have seen it," Melchior asked, tilting his head with confusion.
"No," Janus shook his head, "it's been locked in my closet for the past five years, since she was an infant. She's never even known about it, much less seen it."
Melchior adjusted his darkened glasses and brushed his moustache thoughtfully as the three of them sat down at one of the wooden picnic tables, Janus sitting beside Lucca as Melchior sat on the opposite side of the table, Lucca watching the children out of the corner of her eyes as they talked.
"Then it might really work," Melchior said softly, "how close are we?"
"Maybe a month or two," Lucca shrugged, "I've still got to calibrate the output frequency to match her own brain-waves and we have to make absolutely sure it's safe, but the theory's sound."
"But she won't remember any of it," Melchior asked.
"Not if it works," she answered, "the machine should shift her brain-activity from the frontal lobes to her long-term memory. She won't be conscious, but she'll have access to all her memories, and she'll be able to describe them to us. If the original timeline's buried in her memories, we'll find out what happened to her."
"And perhaps what happened to this world," Melchior said, "whatever's changed history, whatever created this new world, I have a feeling that she's a part of it."
"Brave new world," Lucca whispered, a hint of bitterness in her voice, "that Crono and Marle never got to see. I just hope we've done the right thing, helping Truce rebuild instead of going after Porre..."
"You've said it yourself," Janus answered softly, "Crono and Marle would've wanted us to help Truce and its people, and to try to help the people of Porre. Revenge wasn't their way."
"Yeah," she smiled weakly at him.
"Speaking of Porre," Melchior said reluctantly, "I've heard news of them. There's a new figure in the Porre council, a demi-human from El Nido named Lynx. I've heard he looks like a panther, but he's very intelligent, very manipulative. He's promised them the legendary treasure of El Nido--a treasure that's supposed to grant wishes."
"It's a lie," Janus shook his head, "every power has its limit. Nothing could grant every wish."
"I agree," Melchior answered, "I don't think it grants wishes either, especially after I heard its name. I think Lynx is just using that legend to gain influence over the council, though I don't know why."
"What's this treasure called," Lucca asked curiously as she cleaned her glasses with her shirt.
"The frozen flame."
The three of them sat silently for a moment as birds and crickets chirped in the pine trees overhead and the kids played tag across the yard. Lucca finally answered, giving voice to all their silent thoughts.
"Lavos," she said, nearly whispering, "Ayla's word. La means fire and vos means big."
"Big fire," Janus nodded, "and frozen flame. That can't be a coincidence, not if it's in El Nido."
"Maybe we'll learn more from her," Lucca watched Kid sprint across the yard to tag Sarah, then turn around to run as the older girl gave chase, "by the way, I couldn't help but notice that Kid had a brownie."
"That's right," Melchior smiled, "I gave each of them a brownie while they listened to our story."
"It was Kid's idea," Janus sighed, "wasn't it?"
"Yeah," the old man said, tilting his head slightly, "why?"
"I don't suppose she mentioned," Lucca asked suspiciously, "that she's not allowed to eat any sweets until she starts eating her vegetables at dinner, did she?"
"It must have slipped her mind," Melchior winked.
"I've also heard some interesting stories," Janus said slowly, looking up at Melchior, "about a small group of teenagers who rob the Porre outposts and bring the money back to help rebuild Truce."
"That's right," Melchior nodded, "they call themselves the Radical Dreamers, I think."
"I've heard they have a mentor," Janus said, looking intently at the guru, "an old man in bright orange and blue robes, wearing dark glasses and a pointed hat, who leads them and helps plan their raids."
"Melchior," Lucca gasped in surprise, "YOU'RE the guy who founded the Radical Dreamers?!"
"Why, I would never get involved with such scoundrels," Melchior protested, then laughed, "oh, who am I kidding? Yes, I'm the one who started it. Catchy name, isn't it?"
"That's dangerous," she shook her head, "those kids could get hurt, and if Porre found out about you..."
"Those kids were actually planning to attack Porre," Melchior answered seriously, "and they came to me for the weapons. I talked them out of the attack--that would have been suicide--but they were determined to make some difference, to do something. So we came up with the Radical Dreamers movement."
"The Guru of Life leading a band of thieves," Janus said wonderingly, "I'd never have thought it."
"You two have taken in these five children," he replied, "you've guided the rebuilding of Truce...this is my way of helping. Besides, it's not as shocking as you two make it seem," he grew somber, "if there's anything that I've learned as one of the Gurus of Zeal, it's that the worst thing you can do in the face of tyranny is nothing."
* * *
Janus stood atop the hill, leaning with one arm pressed against the oak tree as he watched the dim flickering lights of Truce across the river, then he turned around to see Lucca emerging from the darkness, dressed in a pair of brown shorts and a loose green shirt, her blue eyes shining beneath her clear glasses. He smiled a little at the sight of her and turned back to watch the feeble red glow of sunset fading into the deepening twilight, as they often did together on warmer nights such as this one, after everyone else had fallen asleep.
"The girls are asleep," he asked, almost rhetorically.
"Yeah," she answered as she leaned against the front of the tree beside him, "Kid didn't want to go to sleep, so I told her about the stellar life-cycle of white-dwarves, with diagrams and everything. She didn't last ten minutes."
"I thought," Janus snickered, "we weren't supposed to use sleep-spells on her."
"Well I think it's fascinating," she giggled, "if it makes her fall asleep, her loss. How about the boys?"
"They're bathed and in bed," Janus nodded, "Jacky wants to know more about Magus, the wizard he read about in school. I told him we'd talk about that tomorrow."
Lucca laughed quietly to herself and looked at Janus.
"Do you think they'd even believe us," she shook her head, "if we told them the truth?"
"I wouldn't," Janus snickered and met her blue eyes with his own ruby gaze.
"It's all so different from what I imagined," Lucca sighed, looking back out at the village, "and yet, we made it through, and Truce made it. Despite everything that's happened, we're still here."
"The strong always survive," Janus nodded, "and Guardia will survive too."
"Do you think it's really strong enough?"
"Of course," he smiled, looking over the village and then back at her, "it survived me."
"Hmm," she smiled, a little tired, and leaned against his shoulder. He slipped his right arm down her back and held her as she closed her eyes; she'd sometimes fall asleep like this when they talked on the couch at night and he'd spend almost an hour carefully slipping loose from her, making sure he didn't wake her up.
"Should we go back," he asked softly as she leaned against him.
"It's okay," she answered, her eyes closed as she snuggled against him, not wanting to go yet, "Melchior's staying in the guest room tonight, since his house is half a day's ride back. We don't have to go back yet."
Janus nodded and gently lowered himself onto the ground, letting her lean against his shoulder as they sat against the base of the tree, looking across the moonlit fields at the starswept sky, thin wispy clouds rolling across the pale glow of the moon, the light of the pale orb shimmering and melting through the clouds.
"It never changes," Lucca murmured softly, "the sky, the moon, the sea. We could be children again and it would look just like this. We'd swing on the swing we used to have tied to the tree-boughs when I was a kid, and then we'd walk down to the village and see the castle, and it'd all look the same, the tree, the hill..."
Janus brushed her short brown hair back over her ear and smiled softly as he looked at her face, her eyes closed as she imagined the kingdom restored, waiting for them to descend into it. He knew better--this sky was not the sky of her childhood: the second moon, the red moon, was simply on the other side of the world right now.
The night sky wasn't familiar to him at all: the stars had all changed, none of the constellations he'd known as a child existed anymore. But she was still right; some things hadn't changed. The ocean still smelled like salt, the waves still crashed against the shore. Stars still twinkled in the night sky. Truce, even after the war, still looked like the village he'd known four centuries ago. Lucca, through it all, had never stopped being Lucca.
He sighed through his nose, not daring to make a sound, as he held his arm around her. He remembered the first time he'd seen her with Crono and Marle at his castle, decades ago, when he'd considered her an enemy. She'd won his respect during the countless battles that followed, but he'd still resented her appearance in the Epoch a few weeks after he'd returned to his era. The search for his sister had been his alone, she'd no right to interfere, and he'd spent months resenting her, annoyed that he couldn't intimidate her the way he had so many others.
She'd forced him to treat her like an equal, his stubbornness matched only by her own tenacity, and, in time, he'd come to see her as one. His search for the truth about his reborn sister had become her search also, and, without his even realizing it, the thrill of her discoveries, her compassion for the children and her grief for her friends and the kingdom had slowly become his as well. He had never dared to let himself care for anyone before--he knew such feelings could destroy him, as they nearly had when he was a child.
Yet he'd found his love for his sister spreading to the rest of the orphans, and to the first person he had ever allowed himself to consider a friend--especially now that they were the last of the small group that had fought and destroyed Lavos, the only two who shared the memories of that battle and of the world that once was, the world that should have been. Over the past year he had also become aware of another feeling that had developed over the years of living with Lucca and the children, of helping her take care of them and fighting alongside her against the Porre troops; a trembling nervousness around her that he'd never known before, that he'd never felt around anyone. It had taken months to realize what it meant, and countless more after that to admit that such a thing was even possible for someone like him.
"Lucca," he whispered softly, forcing himself to finally tell her, as he'd sworn weeks ago.
"Yeah," she asked, opening her blue eyes a little to look up into his face and he nearly lost his nerve.
"We've known each other," he paused, "a long time, haven't we?"
"Thirteen thousand years," she laughed quietly, "give or take a millenium or two."
"Yes," he replied, then stopped, suddenly unsure of himself, "are we...are we friends, Lucca?"
"Of course we are," she said with a warm smile, looking up into his eyes, "we've been friends ever since you helped us rescue Crono, though you probably didn't think so back then."
"A lot has changed since then," he answered, "we're both different people now."
"No," she looked up from his shoulder and shook her head, "we're the same. We've just grown."
"We have," he nodded, his chest tightening as he closed his eyes and focused on his words, "my feelings have...grown too, since then."
"What do you mean," she lifted up a little and looked into his face.
"I mean that I," Janus paused, instincts born from a lifetime of suspicion screaming for him to stop.
"I mean," he started again, taking a deep breath before finishing, "that I care about you...more than a friend would."
Lucca thought carefully about that last sentence, lost for a moment by its awkward structure. Janus looked into her distracted eyes, then suddenly stiffened, his blood freezing in a way he hadn't felt in years.
"Weakness," he muttered to himself, his heart wrenching back into his chest as he stared out at the moonlit village below them, "a stupid weak indulgence. I was an idiot to think such things."
"Then we're both idiots," Lucca answered, pressing her palm against his cheek and tilting his hardened face to look at her delighted smile, "Janus, I've felt the same thing! I have for awhile now."
"You have," he asked, his voice wavering between suspicion and joyous disbelief.
"Of course I have," she gently teased him, "hey, I don't cuddle under the stars with just any guy!"
Janus leaned against the tree and simply looked at her as she watched his face. He hadn't thought past this moment and he hadn't dared consider that she'd felt the same way, no matter how obvious it seemed when he looked back at the past few months. In a way, he'd almost wanted her to mock his feelings, to give him a reason to harden his heart again, to fall back into the familiar role of Magus that he'd give up over the past five years with Lucca, Kid and the orphans--instead, he felt more open than ever before, his heart bare to her.
"That's wonderful," he smiled, then paused in confusion, "but...what do we do now?"
"I'm only giving you one hint," Lucca said, and she took off her round glasses, gently setting them atop one of the roots and looking deep into his eyes as she slipped her fingers into his half-open left hand.
Janus tilted his head as he leaned forward, watching her soft blue eyes close before he closed his own eyes, suddenly realizing that he'd been imagining this moment for months, without even admitting it. His nose brushed beside hers and a second later he felt her warm lips touch his mouth, sliding slowly over his lips. He tilted her chin up toward his face, caressing her soft lips with his own, losing himself in the growing passion of their kiss.
He suddenly looked up, tilting his head the other way as he gazed into her half-open eyes, both their eyes speaking a longing that had silently grown over the past five years, that had grown too powerful for words. He closed his eyes and sank back into their kiss, his hand sliding up her back, to brush her hair through his fingers. She slid her left arm around his neck, squeezing his palm tighter in her right hand as she pulled him closer to her. The rest of the world seemed to slowly dissolve around them, time itself melting away to leave the two of them alone together, sharing a single endless moment in each other's arms.
Part 2, Chapter 2