Dark Winds Chapter 3
A Gathering of Clouds
"Be careful where you step, and follow me closely. These tunnels have been abandoned near to four hundred years."
The warning hardly seemed necessary, Crono noted, eyes flicking back and forth as he followed Janus through the rank and musty underground. Ankle deep water reflected the flicker of their torches, broken only by the splashing of their feet and occational drip of condensation. They seemed the only living creatures to have graced the area for quite some time, save only the lichen and algae that coated the heavily mortared bricks that formed the tunnel walls.
Several twists and turns left Crono complete lost as to their whereabouts, but Janus strode forward, confident in his knowledge. The torches flickered and danced, sending writhing shadows against the walls, mocking them just ahead, or just behind. After what seemed like hours, Janus halted before a broken and bulky looking door made of heavily reinforced wood. It hung abjectly from its hinges, splitered down the middle to reveal cracked and aging wood beneath, riddled with parasitic insects and microscopic molds.
With a flick of his wrist, the door melted into splinters at their feet, the hinges popping loudly under the weight of his power. The heavy scent of smoke and something putrid and old blasted them both from the room beyond. Crono coughed, turning away before it nauseated him, but Janus continued forward, unaffected by the stench.
The room beyond reminded Crono of a tomb, the tiled floors left a smoky charcoal grey and black burn marks marring the walls and ceiling. The pedestal itself lay in ruin in the center of the room, broken marble left in clumps. Whatever power it might once have held had long since dissappated. The two stared at it in silence for a long moment, until Crono decided it was time for an explanation.
"Did the door explode?"
Janus shook his head, followed by a shrug of his shoulders as he readjusted his cloak. "I do not know for sure, though it certainly looks that way. It would explain the state this has been left in." He gestured to the rubble that once was a pedestal. "However, I tend to doubt it, this is done too purposefully. I created the door myself, and I do not recall any component that would force an explosion. An _implosion_ was my main concern."
"Not only that, but the residue of magic is at the most two decades old. This is more then enough time to erase traces of tampering... to all but the most talented of mages." With an arrogant flash of a smile on his lips he added, "Such as myself."
"There are traces of foreign energies here, weaves of power that are not mine in origin. They are faintly familiar to me, but too faded now for me to decipher their origin. All I knew, upon discovery of this, is that another had come here and destroyed my own weaves."
Crono glanced at the Magus, understanding the implications. "And that would mean.... Meoni was destroyed with it."
Janus grew painfully silent then, turning away, flicking his cape around his tall frame. "It is what I first believed.... that she was forever lost to me."
Crono felt that familiar tingle at the back of his mind, something was wrong with this entire scenario. "There is no black wind here, Janus. I sense it too, sometimes, you're right, even years after it's passed by a violent death, but not here."
The Magus nodded, slowly turning around to face Crono, "I had often thought you might. And I agree, the black winds have not been here, as surely they would have if Meoni were gone. So that leaves me to query, where is she?"
Twilight had descended on the world above as they emerged from the tunnels at the base of Janus' keep. Thick clouds had begun to gather at the crest of the horizon, swirling like hoards of demons chasing away the sun as it descended to sleep beneath an arch. The scent of rain filled the air, along with the ozone of a coming storm. All around the world was deathly still, even the crickets silenced in anticipation.
Crono felt deeply disturbed by the entire scenario. Meoni's disappearance, along with the destruction of her prison were mysteries of themselves, but it still didn't explain the foreboding that haunted his every waking moment. Like a storm, the clouds of this mystery were gathering, and he feared that soon enough that storm would break, and reveal far more then he or Janus had bargained for.
"It is late." Janus gestured to the melting sun. "And we are at an impass for now. Though I feel that our adversary will soon be revealing himself to us. I realize how vague I have been with you, Crono, and it surprises me that you endure it. However, there are things even I do not know yet. Like you, I only feel the black winds, and I know they howl for us."
With that, he disappeared into the keep, intending for Crono to follow at his leisure. He remained outside, watching the sun complete its descent below the horizon, gold and pink turning slowly to purple, and finally darkness peirced only by glittering stars.
Tomorrow was another day, a day of waiting and wondering. Crono didn't like this one bit. It was simpler to second guess their enemy when Lavos was so real, so tangible. This new threat was too vague, a shadow in the darkness. It rendered him too easily vunerable. Knowing Janus' arrogant nature, he had to wonder how the Magus dealt with that same feeling of helplessness.
The red haired boy finally disappeared into the keep, the great doors closing with a heavy 'thoomp'. The forest was emptied of their presense, only a few lights in various windows hinted that the humans were even awake.
"Now, now, we should go now."
"No. Not yet. Mistress say no. Wait."
"It late. They sleep, yesssss?"
"Not yet. We wait."
Twin eyes glowed from the darkness of the forest foliage, winking like melevolent stars. Silent, patient against their wills, they waited with hunger baiting their breaths. But, the Mistress gave orders.
And, disobedience meant death.
(To be continued...)
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