Chrono Trigger: Descent Chapter 1
Cause and Effect
Crono grunted impatiently.
Marle is late. No surprise there, but irritating nonetheless. One of the few disadvantages of dating a Princess, Crono supposed. One can not have everything. It is too much to expect that, with the burden of statecraft and succession, she could also devote all her time to him. With this a smile crept onto his face.
Who would have guessed?
He had met Marle just over a year or so ago in the Millennial fair, as the careless princess ran into him. The wayward girl had then asked to go with him. Although Crono prefers his solitude, he did not wish to refuse her. And her company turned out to be surprisingly pleasant. Certainly more than what he expected. He is not exactly the partying type, and though he enjoys the occasional bout as much as the next sword wielding world saviour. All his life he had trained to be a warrior, after his fathers vocation. And the calling of a warrior-to-be does not leave much time for other, less onerous duties. True, he had had playmates in the town, but they respected and feared him more than liked him. That is what comes of being a taciturn figure who can fly into a rage at the slightest provocation and really make his blows count. Only this little girl with violet hair was different. She was feared and respected by the towns children too, but for radically different reasons. Feared for her inventions, which work perfectly until someone decides to use them, and respected for her intellect. If anyone had trouble she is always happy to help. Whether what she does is actually helpful or not is irrelevant. She was the only one that treated him like she would any other, with kindness and the occasional dose of sarcasm. A wave of fondness washes over him as he thinks about his childhood friend. Lucca is like a sister to him. And counting the number of hours they spent together, talking, playing, or just enjoying each others presence, they are closer than most real siblings would ever be.
Anyway, that seemingly insignificant chance event led to more than he would ever dreamt of as a child. And he had big dreams as a child. He dreamt of inheriting his fathers mantle, and becoming a questing knight in the Kings service. He would succeed where his father failed (which, incidentally, he did). His father had died before he was even born, vanished in his quest to find the holy sword, the Masamune. It was not until years later that what was left of his body were discovered by a wanderer on the Denadoro Mountain. He had not understood why his mother sent him to his room when the man in armour called, and why she sobbed for a long time afterwards. Crono only knew that her mother never waited outside anymore. The next day, his mother told him that father is not coming back. He began practising with his fathers wooden sword the next day. The wooden sword is of Mystic design, a simple yet elegant slashing weapon. He believes that the Mystics call it katana, but he doesnt really speak enough Mystic to know. Now, Marle might know
Marle. It could hardly be described as love at first sight. More akin to the slower, but fuller blossom of the chrysanthemum. The mutual feeling and regard that develop between two whose fate is inexplicably intertwined, who come to care deeply for one another. The basis of this is hardly physical attraction, although Marle is a beautiful girl (and he is not bad himself, Crono thought with a grin). It is as if they were meant for each other, not of the kind that is immediately obvious, but as they learn more about each other, they are amazed at just how compatible they are.
Together they saved the past, the present and the future, became national heroes, and discovered each other. All in all, a good deal. He shudders to think what it would have been like had he actually not run into Marle on the fateful morning, a possibility all too real. Crono thought with a shrug, they would probably get to know each other anyway, although in all likelihood they wouldnt end up saving the world more than once.
Just when he was deep within this line of thought, his sharpened senses jolted him back to reality as he heard the shrill ringing sound of a bolt racing through air. Quickly dropping into the swordsmans stance, he brought his hand to draw his trusty sword, and realised that he hasnt got his sword with him. Without thinking, he fell back. He could feel the force of the bolt painfully against his cheeks. That was close. Up again in a flash, Crono assumed his unarmed combat stance, and quickly glanced around for his assailant.
He heard the ringing tone of a young womans giggle.
"Marle, not again!" Groaned Crono. This is the third time in the month. Marle seems intent upon besting him, and will not rest until she does. If it were anybody else he would probably have feigned defeat just to stop the pesky attempts, but he knows Marle far better than that. She would know he was cheating, and even if she does not realise at once, a simple question from her and he would have no choice but to tell her.
He twisted again, narrowly avoiding a bolt aimed at his waist, nearly losing his balance. He jumped sideways as he heard another three bolts flying towards him, one after the other.
"That will teach you to pay attention!"
"Marle, this is dangerous!" Crono admonished, ducking yet another bolt. Damn Lucca for giving Marle that auto-reloading crossbow for birthday. Where is she?
"No need to fear Crono dear, as usual I have twisted the tip off all the bolts. You dont think I would allow any harm to come to my darling, do you?"
Crono didnt bother to reply, but mumbled something about one day he would have his eyes plucked out by none other than his girl friend. This distraction is also part of Marles tactics. When each bolt comes so close to the mark, any mistake on his part and hed lost. There. Behind that bush.
Quickly the swordsman ran towards a bush, as he heard another giggle, about to chide him for his stupidity, when he suddenly dashed sideways, and tackled a very surprised princess of Guardia.
"Let go of me you boor! That hurts!" Said a less than amused Marle. She had expected the practise to last a little longer. She is out of practise. But for the crown princess with the demands of nation on her shoulders, she put in as much as she is able to. But affairs of the nation must take precedence. She had learnt, from Crono as much as anybody else, that however her private wishes might be, she has a responsibility, her birthright as the sole heir to the House of Guardia.
"Since when did you start taking that auto-crossbow with you everywhere you go? I need to talk to Lucca about this " Crono avoids Marles gaze as she put up the puppy dog look. He could never stay angry with Marle for long. The couple sat down together at the base of a tree, making themselves comfortable. Crono wrapped his arms around Marle.
"Dont be mad Crono," said Marle as she trailed her fingers across his chest, "I asked you to meet me here for something else, its just that I havent had any practise for a long time "
"Third time this month." Interjected Crono.
"OK, may be not that long, but I do miss our adventuring days." Said Marle as she sighed dramatically. And then she giggled, "that makes us sound like some old couple."
"So, what did you ask me to come here for?" Crono asked, with just the slightest hint of impatience.
"Oh you are no fun," said Marle as she got up and looked down at Crono, a look of false anger on her face, "We will come to that in good time."
"As you wish your highness," Crono said with a quick smirk. That always irritates her. For some one who had been a princess all her life, Marle sure is easily annoyed by that. Curiously, she seemed unfazed this time, Crono noted with mild surprise. He glanced up at Marle, who eyes seemed unfocused for a moment. He was about to ask if anything is wrong, when he felt something very cold behind him. He stood up as if somebody had poured ice down his shirt (somebody had). "How did you do that?"
"A lesson to you, young sir! As a member of the Kings court you must learn to respect your betters!" Replied Marle with a titter. Crono was about to protest that he followed protocol exactly when she reached and circle her arms around Cronos neck, "you didnt think my skill in magic is as limited as you spiky brute, do you?"
"Of course not." And She was right. Although he is versed in magic, and can summon and release great power in the form of lightning, in matters of control he is far less proficient than either of his friends. Marle seems able to command ice to do whatever she wishes, from the pure destructive potential of an ice storm to the soothing energy needed to revive a fallen comrade. And Lucca. Well, Luccas mastery in the arcane arts is far beyond the ken of either him or Marle, rivalling their one-time ally Magus. May be that has something to do with her clear and logical intellect. At any rate, unlike his skill in the sword, his magical mastery lies solely in the province of raw power, with little to no finesse. Even his power over life, he thought in wry amusement. Whereas Marle revives, he literally shocks the victim back to consciousness. He recalled that when he had to revive Magus in the Black Omen, the wizard was not amused. At least he got to see the great Magus with his flowing hair almost standing on end.
He was violently reintroduced to reality when Marle sent another ice cube down his shirt, and ran away, all the while singing like a songbird in her sibilant tones. "Catch me if you can!"
Crono shook his head and thought that he isnt quite himself lately, as if something is on his mind. He had been thinking too much. Putting this thought out of his mind, he ran after Marle.
* * *
The figure rose. It was a moonlit night. The radiance of the white orb outshining
the rest of the celestial bodies, casting a pearly glow on the land. The
very land seemed to exude a sense of tranquillity, belying the true nature
of the Night.
The figure can feel that he is finally there. Finally. The last part of the quest, the end of the road. With some effort the figure dragged himself up, and staggered towards the lights in the distance.
* * *
Elrund of the Mystics is not displeased by the recent developments. Ever
since the trade routes between Medina and the Kingdom ports opened, there
is a steady influx of merchants, students and even the occasional tourist.
The Kingdom also has high demand for the famous brews of Medina, and his
two distilleries are running full time to meet the orders. Business can not
be better. He mused that if every mystic enjoyed such profitable relationship
with the humans, there wouldnt have been such an internecine war between
the two people all those years ago. Then again perhaps not. Magus was a truly
powerful leader. The mystics at the time practically deified him. In fact
he was a bit surprised twenty years ago when the mayor (of the imp breed,
thought the Mystic with just the merest hint of scorn) decided to remove
the statue of Magus, heralding the age of rapprochement between the two
intelligent people on the planet.
A suddenly din in the front of the wagon train broke his silent reverie. The caravan master silently cursed. It must be another band of those birdman bandits. You just cant go pass the mountains near the Heckrans cave without meeting these mountain dwelling barbarians. Ever since the port town west of here is opened to accommodate the extra traffic between the Kingdom and the Mystics and to take advantage of the favourable current, the birdman had taken it upon themselves to tax any travellers, since they pass through their ancestral homeland. At least the birdman, or Tengu as they call themselves, are not nearly as territorial as the Ogans of the north, who wouldnt allow anybody to pass near their hunting ground unless they are an Ogan-friend. No, the crafty birdmen know that they have a stranglehold on any traffic between Port Xithron and Medina, and are making a steady profit of it. They would, of course, hotly deny any suggestions that it is banditry, and quote the Escheat that granted any of the mystics the right to extract rightful reparations to those who trespass on hallowed ground. And they wouldnt hesitate to draw their famed curved blades, the katanas, to enforce their points of view either. Well, they would be disappointed this time. Elrund of House Sanon muttered that he would teach any Tengu the spirit of the Convention (Elrund still regretted the Convention, which makes every one of the Enchanted a Mystic. To him a tengu is a tengu, an Ogan Ogan, and an imp imp. They are so radically differently that even a human should be able to tell them apart. Only the Mystics, who can trace their lineage to ancient Zeal, are Mystics. The great Magus himself and his trusted lieutenants Flea are Mystics, as is evident by their lobeless ears, angular features and pale complexion. But now even the Enchanted called themselves Mystics), as he reached for his sword and rode to the fore.
Elrund reined his mounts head and turn about, rode fore in canter. He was not a little surprised to see that the guards seemed to be talking excited in the commotion. His Ogan guards usually strike at anything that stood in the way. As he approached the front, the sight that greeted him drew an involuntary gasp from the normally imperturbable Mystic.
There are at least two dozen Tengu swordsmen, and they are all injured. Who would dare to attack the Tengu in their own territory? Whilst inter-clan warfare is not unknown among the Tengu (or any of the Enchanted for that matter, barring the highly regimented Hobgoblin clans), they tend to hide it from outsiders. Interlopers and trespassers are not welcomed. It is considered a great dishonour to show any intrafamilial animosity to outsiders, and for the life of him Elrund can not figure out why these Tengu would battle in a place so close to the Great Westward Road.
As he rode into view, a Tengu with a nasty gash on his face rose to greet him, "O, honoured sir, what brings you to our humble lands?" He recited the traditional Tengu greeting to allies. The Tengu, though obviously in pain, remained dignified, as befitting one of his station. His black sash with the mon of the eagle rising identified him as a centurion of the Black Falcons. He is evidently tired, as is apparent from his slightly slopping back. All Tengu hold themselves erect when addressing a guess.
"Respected sirs, we are here to bring needed supplies to the port, as dictated in the Escheat. We apologise for our trespassing." Elrund replied with the usual.
"Good sir, may I speak with you for a moment?" Asked the Tengu leader. An unusual request, Elrund noted. The Tengu has not even introduced himself. Elrund was about to remark upon the breach of etiquette when he noticed that the Tengus mon has the image of an argent star under the usual eagle rising motive. He cursed himself for not noting this sooner. This Tengu is none other than Mushisama Star Falcon. Had it not been his Mystic training, he would have embarrassed himself greatly by displaying his ignorance.
"Gladly my lord Mushisama." Elrund answered after a brief pause. For a moment Elrund could have sworn that he saw a hint of amusement of Mushisamas visage, as if he noticed the Mystics slight hesitation and divined its reason. Elrund could not be certain however. To him all Tengu seem to wear the same mocking grin on their avian features. Despite their reputation of being boisterous when inebriated, the birdmen are notoriously hard to read. The Tengu gestured towards a small clearing to the side of the road, where six of the least injured birdman stood guard, and walked towards it, expecting the Mystic to follow. Elrund dismounted with a graceful leap, and followed the Tengu.
Oran, Elrunds trusted Ogan guard captain, attempted to follow, but the Mystic waved him back. Reluctantly Oran stepped back, but unslinged his great hammer and stood to the opposite of the clearing, leaving the half-dozen Ogan guards with the rest of the Tengu. Oran had followed Elrund since he succeeded the leadership of the clan, and the Ogans loyalty is beyond doubt. Although Ogans are fierce and proud, once they have pledge their service, nothing short of death can change their mind.
The pair walked towards the clearing. The Tengu guards saluted Mushisama, and made way for him and the Tengu to pass. As they walked on, Elrund started to experience a most unfamiliar sensation. A momentary dislocation, and the faintest echoes of some faraway howl. Mushisama stopped and turned after twenty paces, apparently satisfied with their privacy. He watched Elrund in silent for a moment, and Elrund calmly waited. Finally, the birdman spoke.
"Elrund of House Sanon. I say this only because I owe your clan a debt of honour. Turn your wagons back. The Westward Road is closed."
* * *
Marle turned her gaze again to Crono. After an exhausting chase (for her
anyway, Crono is in far better shape than Marle, thought her with a little
chagrin) through the woods, they collapsed next to a small clearing on the
bank of a stream. Marle was too worn out to say anything, and Crono for his
part was content to enjoy her company. They lied side to side, watching the
traces of the setting sun gave way to the moon, as the sky turned from a
brilliant symphony of colour to the serene argent flow of the night. True
to his word, Crono never mentioned anything about the purpose of their date,
but then Crono seemed absent-minded to Marle, some how a little vacant, as
though something is constantly distracting him. Only somebody as close to
him as herself can tell, as Crono is usually rather reticent. But this is
different. Usually you can tell that Crono is paying attention at all times,
taking it all in, part of his training as a warrior. But recently he seemed
constantly distracted, and when Marle asked him whether there is anything
on his mind, he would stare at her blankly and mutter some apology about
not being himself lately. Deciding that these things do happen from time
to time, Marle dismissed the topic.
Although it does seem to give her a slight sense of uneasiness, a premonition of dread.
I worry too much. Must be all those reports I have been reading. I hate growing up.
Collecting her thoughts while she still have some semblance of peace, Marle resolved to proceed to the purpose of the date.
* * *
"What do you mean the Road is closed?" Elrund demanded, fuming. This is an
intolerable insult to his house and the Convention, and he is only too glad
to avenge that slight. His eyes narrowed as they begin to glow. He drew his
cape about him, and placed his hand on the hilt of his sword. If the Tengu
is alarmed, he did not show it. If anything he seemed irritated.
"Listen whelp, I know you father before even you were conceived, so you will accord me the courtesy as your elder." The Tengu suddenly looked up at Elrund, who involuntarily took a step back. The old mans eyes seem to bear such suppressed fury and anger that the young Mystic was briefly overwhelmed.
And hapless rage. What could have caused such a proud man such grief?
Elrund fumbled for words, stammering for the first time in his life. The Tengu seemed so wearied, spent. With a wave of his hands Mushisama indicated that it does not matter. He sat down on a log and motioned Elrund to do the same.
"For the sake of your father, I shall tell you what transpired."
* * *
Takita of the Hidden Scorpions glided along the morning breeze that ease
his journey to the Mystic village of Mithrandar on his weekly courier trip.
He always enjoyed the duty. He liked flying, unlike many of his brethren.
And this route is a particularly pleasant one. The gentle caress of the morning
breeze on his outstretched wings, the resonance of the zephyr, the music
of the light wind coursing through the pine of the Mithren, the forest south
of the Ryu Bannin Mountains, and the gloriously mesmerising kaleidoscope
of the rising Sun. And he liked the Mystics of Mithrandar too. They are a
gentle yet powerful people, which is something a Tengu can respect. After
all, they do claim the longest lineage, the first amongst the Enchanted and
they did not stumble onto that honour. However fragile they might appear
besides an Ogan or a Hobgoblin hench, they are quick and resilient, with
finely honed senses, and extremely gifted in the mystical arts.
He would never admit it, but he is also fond of the Mystic children. On a typical trip, after arriving and delivering the packages, letters and the rare emerald dust from the Mountain, he would rest before the return flight. He used to spend this time simply sipping his pint of berry wine, a delicacy not suited to the rest of his peoples taste. But ever since the kids started to ask him about his sword, his mon and all things Tengu, he had taken to telling them stories of Tengu warrior and other Tengu folklore while they listened, wide eyed. He had even begun to give simple lessons on kenjitsu, teaching them the ways of the Tengu swordsman. Even though they only use sticks to spar, the Mystic children seemed like little kenshis, their little faces flush red from exertion, ever eager to learn. He approved. They would make excellent kenshi, were they Tengu. Some of their parents approved, whilst others did not. It is of little relevance. A Tengu must always teach those so eager to learn.
The Sunrise seems uncommonly colourful today.
Takita admired the view, noting that the shades of red are even more brilliant than usual, as a faint aroma tickle his nostrils. He wondered what the smell could be. Being a Tengu, his olfactory senses are not very acute. Flyers such as his kind rely more on sight than any other sense. It reminded him of the gift he received from little Kierra, a Mystic girl who showed remarkable talent in the ways of the kenshi. It was some form of incense made from star amber, when burnt it gave off a soothing scent that he found helps his meditations immensely. Come to think of it, since most of the houses in Mithrandar are made from silver pine, their buildings also give off the scent, which is perhaps another reason why he likes the village so much.
Suddenly, in a moment of clarity, it all connected.
The Mithren is burning.
Takita frantically raced towards the village, preparing to warn the villagers of the oncoming disaster. As he approached Mithrandar, Takita had a sinking feeling in his stomach as his worst fears are confirmed.
It was not the forest, but the village itself.
In front of him the verdant sea stretches on for miles, but is now punctuated by a red glow, that of a wild fire, tearing a swathe through the peaceful woods. It is strange how peaceful it all seemed. There was no sign of animals fleeing, and the startled flight of bird is conspicuous by its absence. From this distance the fire seem more like a scenery painting than an elemental force of destruction. It was eerie how still it seemed. Brushing this thought aside, the Tengu brave the increasing temperature and begun to descend.
The heat struck him like a physical blow, and reminded him just how real the fire is. Bracing himself, Takita located the central clearing of the village, and prepared to land.
Nothing prepared him for the sight.
Kami have mercy.
Before him lied a vision of Inferno. The whole thriving township was in flames. Bodies were strewn all across the ground. Men, women and children. One thing they had in common was their expressions. Their faces were contorted in agony, twisted mockery of their once fair complexion. It appeared as if their final acts were to scream, yet they found no voice to express the utter terror and hopelessness they felt. And they were outside, in their night clothe. One glance told Takita all he needed to know.
It was not natural.
Whatever hit them, hit them hard, and not long ago either, since the houses are still relatively intact. They had time to leave their houses, and from the pattern of the destruction, it is safe to assume that the houses were set on fire to drive the villagers out into the open, that they might be slaughtered. And yet there was no blood. All the dead bodies were oddly whole. As though they simply had their life snuffed out.
Takita searched the ruins in vain for any survivors. He found Kierra, the young Mystic girl near her home, her fragile body propped against a collapsed section of the wall, an expression of horror and pain etched on her delicate features. Some body had hit her with enough force to send her crashing into a stone wall, and caused the wall to collapse. The Tengu silently vowed that whoever committed this affront to nature will not get away with this.
Silently, the birdman stepped away and prepared to return with the grim news. The fire had subsided, since every flammable object in the village area was consumed. He stepped on something. Looking down, Takita found that it was a dead bird, a robin that he treaded upon. With renewed determination, Takita flew back.
* * *
"Mithrandar was burnt to the ground?" Asked Elrund incredulously. He has
known the village for as long as he can remember. The village was one of
the only remaining settlement built on the ruins of an ancient Zealian city,
legacy of the ancient civilisation of the Mystics. It was by no means well
defended, but the Order of the Black Thorn always had a priest and a few
acolytes station there for any Mystic mourners. Elrund simply cant
imagine how any member of the Thorn would be killed so easily, even if taken
by surprise. Besides, nobody slaughters a whole village of Mystic so easily.
And did it so quietly that a month passed without him hearing a word of
it?Suddenly, another point struck him.
"Where could the culprits have came from? To the West lies Port Xithron, the North is the Tengu of Ryu Bannin, the Naga dwell in the southern shores, and the East is Medina. Nobody could have got to Mithrandar without being noticed. And you need quite a force to smash Mithrandar like that! Unless it is one of our kind "
"Hold that my young friend. No Mystic, even the barbarous Nagas to the south, would breach the Escheat like that." Elrund was about to protest when he saw Mushisamas expression. He knows more.
"Naturally we sent our men to investigate after hearing the Scorpions report."
* * *
"Mushisama-san, we found the temple."
Mushisama sighed in impatience. This place is uncomfortable to any Tengu. Even now the acrid smell of a burnt village still lingered in the air, a week after the fire itself. And it was disagreeably hot from all the burning in the past week. The whole place stunk of death. Nothing, not even a lowly vermin was near. No birds, beasts nor insects will come near this place, and from the number of dead animals of all shape, size and description littered on the ground, they had good reason not to. Why would the clan send the Star Falcon on such a fruitless mission? They are more worried than they ought to be.
Mushisama sullenly walked towards the temple. Despite himself, the Tengu was impressed. Temple of Thorns, shrines to ancient Zeal, was always built on Zealian ruins. Usually constructed with worked stone, and sometimes marble, these structures are extremely strong. And they are enhanced by the Mystics magic, making them well nigh indestructible. There were tales abound of how citizens survived earth quakes, tidal waves, even a meteor shower in one of these temples. So much for indestructibility. The remnant of the signature dome was the only vaguely recognisable feature on the entire ruined building, other than the fragments of worked stone here and there. Mushisama was getting more and more agitated. Youd need a siege engine to do that sort of damage, and where on the face of the planet did they come from?
And then he saw.
Very few things surprise a Tengu Kenshi Master, and fewer still surprise the master of masters, the Star Falcon, said to be the best swordsman of all Mystic since Slash, renowned companion of Magus himself.
But he gasped. It was a scorched mark on one of the stone fragments. The relatively unbroken piece of masonry showed a section that caved in, with the unmistakable mark of heat on it. And the section seems melted. This is impossible. Nobody, not even the mightiest of wizards can summon that sort of power. And the hollow mark on the stone seems to suggest that it was rent from the block by some unspeakable talons. Only that it cant be talons, because no talons can cause such structural damage.
And then it dawned upon him what it was.
Stygian sorcery. Very powerful Stygian sorcery.
* * *
"I thought they were gone for good! The practise of Stygian sorcery was outlawed
along with hobgoblin necromancy in the Third Assembly at least two centuries
ago!" Elrund said, grasping for words.
"That was what I thought too, especially since we had a particularly bloody time purging the ninja clans of Stygian witches. But death magic, Bale-fire, razor wind, these are all signs of Stygian sorcery. In fact no other magical discipline I know of are capable of such effects. And it would explain how in the world these people managed to sneak pass so many Mystics."
Elrund felt a chill rising up his spine, understanding the implication all too well. If the Stygians were once again amongst them, and their first act was to destroy Mithrandar
"Ryu Bannin " Said Elrund, finally understanding.
* * *
"To me! To me! Falcon formation! Make all haste to Ryu Bannin!" Shouted a
frantic Mushisama. They must return to Ryu Bannin immediately. If the Stygians
would strike at Mithrandar first, one of the three places cursed by Kathra,
thought to be the last dark mage, their homeland Ryu Bannin, one of the other
place cursed by Kathra, is in grave danger. He must return with all speed
to warn his people of the coming disaster, and send an envoy to Hou Mali,
the headquarters of the Black Thorn north of Medina.
The other Tengus did not understand why their leader would call a complete withdrawal so soon, but as any good Tengu would, they obeyed. The company of Mushisama consist of the elite few of the clan Rising Falcon, itself the best trained of all the clans. As one, the Tengu quickly fell into rank, assuming the distinctive falcon formation utilised for rapid travel. The strongest flyer took the fore, whilst the less powerful fell in behind him, when the apex, the name given to the one at the foremost, is tired, he is replaced by the second strongest flyer, and so on. In less than the time it would have taken a lesser company to simply gather, the company was ready and in formation. Mushisama allowed a terse smile to appear, signifying his approval and pride in his men. Wasting no time, the great swordsman took off, and his company followed.
* * *
"Crono, have you ever thought about our adventure? You know, of how we brought
peace to the land, as well as hope to the future? Doesnt it sometimes
overwhelm you that the destiny of a world had lain on the shoulders of seven
young and inexperienced people?" Marle enquired, by way of preparing herself
to come to the point.
"Well, first of all, I wouldnt call Magus inexperienced, or Ayla for that matter," Crono replied, with a playful gleam in his eyes. He is fond of such repartee with Marle, and she needed the practise anyway. Putting on his straightest face and best imitation of the aging chancellor, Crono continued, "And yes, sometimes I wondered whether or not other people might have done better. But such contemplation is fruitless at best, since we have done the best we can, and it had turned out satisfactorily, so all in all we have not much cause to complain."
Slightly rattled by Cronos less jesting reply to her perfectly serious question, Marle set up and gaze up the skies, "Normally I would agree with you, except that, you know, with all this time travelling, we could actually do better by doing it again..."
"Are you sure we should, or could change fate again?" Suddenly serious, Crono opened his eyes, "We did bring peace to the land, several times, and destroyed the threat to the planets future, and the future of countless other worlds."
And he was right. If the effect of their other exploits were not very noticeable from this age, at least the destruction of the Black Omen was. In fact it was the only thing that most of the people of Guardia thought the heroes had accomplished. The King had seen fit, and quite rightly in Cronos opinion, not to reveal too much of their quest to the populace, who would have doubted the validity of their claim in any case. It also drew the Mystic and the humans closer together, since the Omen was viewed as a curse on the Mystics since time immemorial. After all, it did symbolise the end of Mystic dominance on the planet, the magical kingdom of Zeal.
"More to the point, we could always improve upon what we have done, and in changing history time and again, our efforts would be reduced to absurdity." Said Crono in conclusion.
"I am sure that you are right, its just that, I cant help but wonder. We have seen more than our fair share of tragedy in our travels. Sometimes I thought that if we were more experience, we could avert all that " Marles voice trailed off as she stared into the darkness. Recognising her condition, Crono set up and placed his arms around Marle.
"I understand." Crono said in his best soothing voice. No matter how many times he told Marle that he hadn't actually die, and that they stopped it in the last moment, he can tell that it still troubled her greatly when thinking about that. And he did understand. Marle had been literally obliterated from existence at the very beginning of their adventures, and although he didnt know her quite as well then, the situation still gave him a cold feeling in afterthought. And there are others too. The destruction of Zeal, the genocidal conflict with the Reptites, the list is too long to count.
"Promise me you wont do that again." Marle whispered, all the time knowing the answer.
"I cant. I am sorry, but if something like that happens again, I would do it without hesitation. I guess it is selfish of me to get out the easy way. But I far prefer putting you through endless misery than having to live without you."
It was a most uncharacteristic display of tenderness. Crono usually never show much of his feelings, especially such intimate ones as these. It always amazes Marle that Crono, who normally can only be described as obtuse when it comes to emotions, becomes so sensitive and eloquent with her.
"I guess I will just have to live with that then." Said Marle, deciding that she didnt want to dwell on that point. Turning her mind to happier thoughts, she turned her face to meet Cronos.
"Crono, remember what you asked me after the last journey?"
The mention of the last journey never failed to bring a smile on Cronos face. After their arduous world-saving adventure, the last journey is anticlimactic to the extreme. Cronos mother ran through the last portal chasing one of Cronos many cats, and the trio had to search through time on the Epoch. Just as well the Epoch only home in on certain time periods well, and they found her without too much trouble. She had been with Glenn, who saw her appearing moments after he himself returned with King Guardia XXI. Much to his irritation, she still confuse him with Cronos pet from time to time. But since she was a lady and Cronos mother, his innate chivalry forbade him from doing anything but to grin and bear it. They found her in the castle, safe and sound, along with Cronos cat. It was pleasant to see Glenn again so soon, but they both know that in all likelihood their paths were no longer crossed, and made a short farewell. The only complication was that they had to make to trips, since no more than three may travel at a time (which always confuses Crono. They can go in quick succession in numbers far more than three, such as when the party dispersed to their own era, but if just four travel at a time, they are hurled to the End of time. Lucca has some theories on that, but then she has theories for everything).
And then he remembered, and blushed.
"Oh, yes, of course. Well, its pleasant to see you and all, I will see you next time, OK?" Crono quickly extracted himself and stammered a quick goodbye, trying to escape his own embarrassment. He had proposed to Marle shortly after their last journey, but they had to wait before the actual marriage can take place due to some obscure piece of Guardian law, vigorously enforced by the Chancellor. But they were engaged in a small ceremony, in which Crono made a royal (both literally and figuratively) fool of himself. Apparently, according to Knight-Captain McGrath, he inherited his fathers affinity with the blade, but none of his knightly grace. Rillon of Truce was renowned amongst the knightly circle for his elegance, despite being of low rank. It was, therefore, something of a surprise when he decided to wed his childhood sweetheart instead of wooing some noblemans daughter, as is the practise of any self-respecting knight. Lucca and Taban were both there, since they were both members of the House Eternia, the family of smiths and craftsmen, one of the original supporters of the Guardian line, and the only one that stayed out of the courtly intrigue and true to their houses original purpose. The name Eternia was given to them by the first king Guardia to signify that their creations are strong and long-lasting (and the kingdom by extension, since the House built the foundations of the Guardian castle), as would their support for the kingdom. Crono and the other kids used to find Luccas last name intensely funny, and few believed that she was of noble blood. Come to think about it, Lucca didnt seem to enjoy herself at the banquet, which was odd, since she usually enjoyed this sort of things.
Anyway, why would Marle bring up the topic?
Cronos doubts were swiftly answered as Marle forcibly set him down.
"Would you listen for a moment? I didnt bring up the topic to humiliate you. Not this time anyway, Mr. Fumble. You see, the chancellor relented earlier this week, and its all being prepared, we were wondering whether youd like to come and see us sometime next week, so we can work out the arrangements."
Too stunned for words, Crono decided to express himself by his actions.
He kissed Marle.
* * *
The figure proceeds towards the light in the distance. Already he sensed the presence of shadows. Readying himself, the figure prepared the various disciplines he had not used in aeons.
* * *
Mushisama was nervous. It took much to make a Kenshi Master nervous, and more to worry the Star Falcon. Nevertheless, he was worried. He had made all haste to return to Ryu Bannin, and the clans mobilised to defend Ryu Bannin and the Shogun no matter what the cost. Hou Mali was also warned of the impending strike from the Stygians. But two weeks had past without a single sign. There are now whispers amongst the younger warriors that the Master had finally lost his edge, although none would say it to his face. But he can sense the shadow. They are definitely out there, he just dont know where. Striking from the shadows, letting fear and anxiety do their work. How Stygian. They are doing exactly what their enemies wanted by staying in the castle and cowering in fear, and yet if they separate their forces to look for the Stygians, they would be spreading their forces dangerously thin. Either way, you cant win. Mushisama realised that they are in a particularly delicate position. And yet he knew from his heart that there is a solution.
* * *
"Mushisama-san, are you sure this is wise?" Enquired a dubious Yamada, who
had followed the Star Falcon since he was but a green kenshi. Mushisama had
decided to seek out the Stygians with his select group of companions. They
would not weaken the defence of the castle significantly, since four dozen
or so powerful individuals wouldnt make much of a difference in siege
warfare, especially in a well-fortified fort such as the Ryu Bannin, and
there are five thousand strong Tengu warriors defending the place in any
case. But the company had been scouting the area for years, and is uniquely
qualified to deal with the task of locating the enemies. The catch of the
plan is that the scouts are not expected to survive. If the Stygians are
anything like the legend said, even the masters of stealth stand no chance
in avoiding detection, and they would be lucky if half their number escape
after locating them. But the duty of the kenshi Master is clear.
"It is time to do the Falcon honour." Answered the Tengu simply. To die defending the Shogun against overwhelming odds is one of the best death a warrior can hope for. If any of them escapes. Mushisama quickly brush this errant thought out of his mind. At least one of them would be able to report their foes location, strength and weaknesses to the castle, ensuring their victory. At least, so he hoped.
* * *
It came without warning. A week had gone by uneventfully, and then it came.
Even given the Stygians reputation for preternatural speed and stealth,
he did not thought it possible that they could sneak up on him and his chosen
band of seasoned veterans. It was so quick, one moment he was flying through
the forest, just below the top of the trees, looking for signs of the enemies.
Everything seemed normal, the noise made by insects, the soft tinkling noise
made by the running stream, the mixed scent of the pine wood and vines. Then
something appeared. In all sixty years of active service Mushisama had not
seen anything like it. Tangible darkness is the closest thing he can think
of. A mass of tendrils, wisp-like and insubstantial came writhing out of
the shadows. It instantly struck Mushisama as similar to a mass of maggots
on a corpse, but there was something far more disturbing in the vague shapes
it seems to take. The Tengu shouted in alarm and tried to fly above the tress,
out of the shadows reach, but two of them were caught in the maws of
the shadow before they can react. Yamada uttered a small cry and dived down
with katana drawn, intent upon cutting free his comrades. Before Mushisama
could warn him, an aggregate of tentacles caught him from behind. He screamed
a silent howl of agony as the worm-like tendrils burrowed into his flesh,
eating him alive. For a moment Mushisama fought hard to keep his composure.
Yamada, his long time friend and fellow servant of the Shogun, deserved better
than this. But there is no time for sentiments. The Stygians are far stronger
than they imagined, and they must tell the castle of this.
"Isawa! Fujimoto! Return to the castle! The rest, to me!" Shouted the swordsman as he slash at one of the tendrils in an attempt to fend it off. Isawa and Fujimoto are the two rear guards who were instructed to fly away at his command in case that they were ambushed. Hearing his commands, the two warriors ascended to above the tree lines and dashed away. Mushisama himself climbed to about twenty feet above the tree lines as the rest of the Tengu congregated around him, but not before another three were caught. The warriors hovered above the trees, awaiting their leaders command. Most of them have yet to recover from the intense horror in the brief respite.
And then out of the trees all around them rose boils of shadowy serpents, contorting and changing, a dark mist where vague suggestions of tormented faces appeared and disappeared. Mushisama realised the hopelessness of the situation. Their weapons are capable only of fending off the mist briefly, but the mist is perfectly capable of killing them. Even if they managed to deflect the black tide, they would die from simple exhaustion.
For the first time in his life, the Kenshi Master was afraid.
* * *
"After that it all went blank. I remembered slashing again and again, cutting
down tentacle after tentacle. But somehow it stopped. It must have, because
I found less than half my company and myself lying on the forest floor last
night." Concluded the old sword master, a faraway look in his eyes.
Elrund was at a loss for words. Could it be that the fates have decreed the undoing of the Mystic Races just when things are looking up? Perhaps they did. With the fall of Zeal Millennia past, maybe their time has gone.
But he is not going to take that lying down.
"Honoured sir, I ask a favour."
"What is it?"
"Take me to Port Xithron. I have some contacts to make."
* * *
King Guardia XXXIII is a tired man. The burden of a nation for thirty years,
although one of the most peaceful reigns as long as people can remember,
has taken its toll. In the mean time, he is also a happy man.
For his daughter has found love, something he gave up all those years ago for the responsibility of the monarch. And they are getting married. Silently, he prayed that his daughter would have better luck than he in balancing the duties of a Sovereign, which is her birthright, and the one she loved. And he can not hope for a better consort for Nadia either. Not quite of the station of kings, it is true, but Crono showed the honour and determination of a true hero. And what is nobler than a hero? Although somewhat reserved and quiet, he is by no means shy, and almost always has a dry repartee or two, often at the most unexpected moments. For him, duty and responsibility is always clear. Something that will serve the kingdom well in the future.
His first meeting with Crono was not the under the most auspicious of circumstances, as the princess ran off with him and a lady friend of theirs (who the king found out later, was a Tabans daughter, the heir to the house Eternia). Their eyes met, and their gaze locked for a moment. He sensed true power behind those eyes, burning with righteousness. He had not seen such power before, and suspect that he never will. After all, it is not everyday that you meet a person who save the world several times over at the age of seventeen. Despite himself, the king chuckled at the thought. The people of the future must think that we are desperate to send a band of teenagers after the greatest threat to our world. He would just have to live with that.
He met Crono earlier this week, and together with Nadia, the chancellor and the Master of Ceremonies, discussed the wedding. The young man still seemed a little awkward with the King, but he suspected that it had something to do with the insufferable pompous snob that is the Master of Ceremonies (sounds a bit over-qualified). The chancellor was jubilant. He used to tutor Nadia himself, and came to care for her like a grand father. That she is finally getting married brought much joy to the aging man. That the consort happen to be the man who freed him didnt hurt either. Only Jerrod was leery about this, and had made himself quite plain that he considered a crown princess marrying some knights son grossly improper. He was swiftly overruled by Nadia however, who made it even plainer that the position of the Master of Ceremonies is at the gift of the Royal House.
After that it was plain sailing. A lot of details must be decided, but he left that to his daughter and the chancellor. He had decreed a week long festival in the couples honour a month later, from three days before the wedding to three days after. The autumn tax was reduced by one third, and minor crimes are pardoned that the people may share the joy of the occasion better. He sent heralds to the furthest corner of the Kingdom to invite anybody of note to the Royal wedding, as well as envoys to the Mystics. It still amazed him to think how far the relationship with the Mystics have came in the last few years, thanks again to Crono and company for destroying the Black Omen.
But there are problems. Whilst the commoners are unanimously in favour (thanks in part to the tax reduction), he can already sense the grumbles from the Lords, who are sure to be displeased that their houses lost a chance at the throne. Once again he can only count on three houses to be fully at his back, House McGrath, House Elund and House Eternia. No doubt they will try to create some trouble for the Crown, but with the commoners and the three houses on his side, the most he would have to deal with is a little reduction in taxes from the lords next year, and a lot of sour grapes. Just another cross for the king to bear.
* * *
"How about this one?" Marle asked, beaming, as she tried on yet another wedding
gown. This one is a long elegant design, white brocaded silk and of old Porre
cut complete with a veil and golden ferronierre. Excellently done and tastefully
combined to maximum effect. Much like the last two dozen or so outfits. Lucca
"Marle, I am really out of my element here. They all look wonderful, so why dont you just pick one at random?"
"Oh Lucca, we must choose just the right piece! You wouldnt want Crono and I not to look our best do you?"
"Of course not." Muttered Lucca under her breathe. "Listen Marle, I will go and check up on Crono while you try on the next one, and when I am back I will try to give you an impartial opinion."
"Go ahead," replied Marle with a slight frown, Lucca seem preoccupied lately, and not just when choosing dresses either.
Lucca got up from behind the piles of clothing and carefully navigated out of the room, taking care not to step on any item of jewelry liberally littered on the floor. Sometimes the sheer scale of the wedding marvels her. Marles considerable wardrobe, which is enough to lose a herd of buffalo in, is the least of all the festivities. People from as far away as Choras are arriving to take part in the Royal Wedding, and even the Mystic Races are sending their representatives. The decree of prohibition was lifted, and town folks all over the kingdom are getting drunk on imported Mystic beverages. All the inns in the Truce area are booked to the brim, and enterprising families are renting out their beds to the steady influx of well-wishers, charging exorbitant prizes, but still they are overbooked. Shipment in Truce harbour alone has increased threefold. It seemed that Truce had turned from tranquil township to bustling metropolis overnight. As a member of the house Eternia and close friend to both the bride and bridegroom, she must also help out with the planning and preparation. It was not easy for her to keep her own feelings under wraps, but with both Marle and Crono in states of constant euphoria, nobody is likely to notice. Sighing half from exasperation and half from sadness, Lucca knocked on the door to Cronos dressing chamber.
"Come in," came the simple reply. Lucca pushed open the heavy oaken door and gasped. Crono looked magnificent.
He wore a white camlet tunic with an azure surcoat. Over it he wore a broad white cape and a golden coronet. The only familiar item of clothing was his cravat, wrapped snugly around his neck.
"Lucca? Just the one I want. What do you think of this?" Asked Crono, turning around and posed. Lucca simply stared. "Lucca, are you listening to me?"
"I didnt expect to see you like this, thats all," Lucca stammered
"I know. I am usually wear training garb, and as far as I can remember I havent dressed up like this before, anyway, come on in," Crono answered and chuckled. Lucca entered the chamber and closed the door behind her.
"Well?" Crono asked, with an expression of concern, "Lucca, you are rather preoccupied lately."
It was not a question. Lucca is behaving rather oddly of late, he would have expected some snide comment from her, but she seemed at a loss for words. Now thats something you dont see everyday.
"Just thinking about the wedding," Lucca answered, which is true. The wedding is only a week away, and she had to do a lot of supervising. Of course, that wasnt quite all that was on her mind about the wedding, but she really didnt feel like thinking about them, much less talk to Crono about it.
"Nothing that needs to worry you, little one." Crono said with a grin and patted her head. In the last few days Crono had taken to calling her that, something he hadnt done for some years, to cheer Lucca up. It usually just annoys her, but that serves the purpose equally well by bringing her our of her preoccupation.
"I wish you wouldnt call me that." Lucca murmured. At this moment there was a knock at the door. Before Crono could answer, Marle walked in, preening. She is in yet another dress, this time an old Guardian style satin gown. Lucca let out a small breathe in relief. She was getting really awkward a moment ago.
"Crono! Lets see how this go with yours," she said as she eyed Crono critically, "so thats what you have chosen? Hmm, not bad, with a martial touch, just about right for you. Now lets see how we go together?" Marle walked up to Crono, and the couple proceeded to the large body length mirror at the corner of the dressing chamber. Lucca followed them and looked over their shoulders, curious as to how they looked together.
They matched each other perfectly.