"You're much stronger than initially thought, Cid. You should be proud."
Cid stared at the ground ahead of him with bloodshot eyes, ignoring the fake praise. The tiles passed and disappeared below his feet as he trudged on mechanically beside his caretaker. His limbs felt completely numb and exhausted, and seemed to move on their own accord. As if they had given up before him and were ready to follow the doctor's orders.
He had just been through hell.
The monster Lavos had tore at his sanity, somehow breaking into his mind and attacked his memories. It had taken all of his will to hang onto them, because he knew if he lost those, it was over for him. Whatever they and it wanted of him, it would begin with that first step.
Failing that, Lavos had then turned to a new tactic, and Cid was assaulted with nightmarish images he could not explain. The twisted visions themselves seemed designed to inspire insanity from viewing along. But still he had kept his mind focused and diverted away from the intrusion.
Stymied, the machination had become enraged, and instead focused all of its will into merely harming him, sending false messages into his nerves to tell his brain he was in pain. Everywhere at once. It was then that he passed out, his subconscious taking command and blocking out the invader.
When he awoke, he found himself lying before the door to Lavos' room, sprawled across the floor awkwardly as though he had merely been dragged out and dropped. If he hadn't been so numb, he knew he would be sore from the hard, cold floor. He had looked up to see Dr. Y looking down at him, a new emotion of anger on his wrinkled face.
Cid had beaten them his first trip. But it would happen again soon after his mind recuperated enough that it wouldn't pass out so easily. This was how he knew the doctor's praise was fake.
He hadn't been expected to win.
His feet stopped and he realized he was before his room--his prison--once more. He stopped his thoughts briefly and watched as the doctor reached out and prepared to enter the password into the keypad. Then remembering something, he stepped over and blocked Cid's view of it.
"Damn," Cid muttered to himself.
Dr. Y laughed at this, knowing he had read the boy's thoughts, "It won't be that easy."
Cid realized though, that the man had left his back open to him. He reached out slightly, but knew he was in no state to overpower anybody. Still, he mumbled out the threat, "I could take you right now, you know."
"I know, but you won't," the doctor finished entering the password and turned back to Cid, "Maybe tomorrow."
The door opened, but Cid remained rooted for the moment, "I'm hungry, incidentally."
"Too bad," Dr. Y shook his head, "We'll save it for breakfast in the morning."
With that he reached out and grabbed Cid by the front of his plain shirt with a speed that belied his age. Surprised and weak as he was, Cid could do nothing as he was thrown roughly through the doorway to stumble painfully to his knees and roll across the room. He came to a stop abruptly as his shoulder slammed into the wrought iron leg of his bed, forcing a moan from his mouth.
"Now get some sleep, you little brat."
The door shut, sealing him in near darkness. Cid remained where he was, half under his bed, curled into a ball of pain and misery. He was too hungry to sleep, and despite knowing whose side the doctor was really on from the beginning, he felt betrayed as well. He was so very, very alone.
All of these realizations came crashing down on him in a dark despair and he turned away from the door to huddle under the bed. He began to cry.
He was standing in the clearing again. Within the circle of trees surrounding the field and the shack that didn't seem to belong. It's door open, leading to a darkness that caused a primordial fear to well up in him.
He was in that dream again.
When did I fall asleep? Cid wondered to himself, not caring how self aware he had become in what was normally such a random, disorienting mental state.
More important was the question of what was going to happen.
Remembering last time, the hand that had removed him from the dream, Cid whirled around to face the forest and the tree he had bumped up against before. But it was empty, devoid of anybody. He was alone.
Insisting otherwise however, were the whispering voices. They returned, a cacophony of noise and sound, syllables that intermingled with others to be left wordless, meaningless. He slowly turned back towards their origin, the opening of the shack.
"Come here," the voices seemed to say suddenly amidst the whispering.
He took a step forward, seemingly at the behest of the voice that beckoned him. He tried to stop, but his legs suddenly seemed to have a mind of their own. Like the dreams he remembered, suddenly he was no longer in control. The siren song pulled at his body relentlessly and he took another step.
"Enter," the voices continued, "You will find peace within."
But something told him he wouldn't. He couldn't enter that door. He wished it were just the hotel like it should have been in the beginning of this nightmare. Where he hadn't been captured and tormented, his mind and the world hadn't betrayed him yet. But try as he might, suddenly he couldn't remember why he was even at that hotel to begin with. Where had he been going?
Had I even been there?
He tried to pull up the memories, but the whispering was so distracting, he couldn't focus.
His legs took another step forward and he found himself halfway across the clearing. The door seemed to grow larger as he approached, and not from a visual point of view. It seemed to envelop the house and tower over him after every step, swallowing the breadth of the small world he existed in now.
"This is your home."
Then something seemed to pass across the blackness of the doorway. It lasted for a split-second, but Cid's mind caught it and froze the memory in his eyes. The dim outline of a human face, as if it had leaned too far into the sunlight for a moment too long before pulling itself back in.
Someone was inside watching him.
Waiting for him.
"I almost have you."
Cid broke out of his trance, and turned away in a run. To get as far away from that ghostly face as he possibly could. But before he had covered any ground, the world went searing white.
Cid's eyes flew open reflexively, as if trying to escape the nightmare before his mind was ready. He felt his heart thump in his chest, the heat of his rushing blood mixing with the cold of his sweat. As his vision slowly adjusted to the dim light however, he realized he hadn't completely left his dream.
"Almost," came a soft, far less antagonistic voice in the shadows before him.
It was then he saw something reaching out for him from the direction of the speaker, a hand. Cid jumped up in a panic, but only made it a fraction of the distance before his head struck the underside of his bed. Luckily it was the mattress this time, and he didn't knock himself out. Though he was sure it would bruise. Fully disoriented now he crawled backwards, out from under the bed and away from what had been reaching for him. Half standing, he gurgled out a noise, fighting the urge to yell in either fear or pain, as soon as he made up his mind which. His hand went to the back of his head to feel for a knot as he calmed his already tormented heart.
"Calm down. Shh..." the voice continued to sooth from underneath his bed, "I'm not going to hurt you."
The voice was decidedly female, he deduced. But the tone it set, he didn't like. It spoke like it was attempting to calm a startled animal, a cornered beast.
Then again, at this point that might be closer to what he felt like than anything else.
The voice changed tactics, "Could you come back down here? I've got food."
Cid actually let out a laugh at hearing this, the absurdity of finding someone under his bed offering food. He quickly brought his hand from feeling around the back of his head to slap over his mouth, muffling the sound. As absurd as the situation seemed, he was very hungry at this point. There was no reason to blow it.
He bent back over, using the bed to balance himself as he peered underneath the mattress. His eyes worked themselves overtime reading the darkness he was in, and he could make out the wall on the far end, though sideways. And in the middle was an air vent, the mystery arm still spouting from within. The hand reached gave him a friendly wave before resting on the floor.
"Don't be so obvious. They have a camera in this room watching you," the stranger hissed quietly, "It doesn't record sound at least, so we can talk as long as the guard outside doesn't hear. But don't look like you're talking to somebody." Cid leaned back onto the ground, acting as though he was trying to sleep again, crawling partially under his bed to hide his face from anything.
"Who are you?" he asked, still not fully trusting of her.
"I'm a friend," came the reply, barely over a whisper, "At least in a few minutes I hope to be. If you think you can trust me."
"Good enough," Cid acknowledged, "Can you get in here? Can you open that vent?"
"No, sorry," came the reply, "I just brought some food. I thought you'd be hungry since they didn't feed you."
"I'm very," he agreed, "What do you have?"
"Bread. No butter, though," there was a pause, "Nothing to drink either. Sorry. I couldn't find a way to sneak it in past security. Let alone carry it through these narrow vents without spilling it."
"It's okay, no need to keep saying sorry. I should be happy to get anything from this place at the moment."
"Here," the hand disappeared back into the grate briefly, then reemerged with a roll, "It was cooked a few hours ago, so it's cold. But it's still edible."
Cid stretched his arm out, trying to keep his body still for the camera, and grasped the meal, pulling it back to an awaiting mouth. It was indeed cold, but he didn't care. He chewed rapidly, trying to get it to his stomach as soon as possible. He could savor the taste on the second or third bite.
"Take your time, that's all I brought this time," the voice seemed bemused by his eating habits.
"This time?" Cid half-mumbled through the food, "I'm not getting out?"
"I can't, I didn't bring anything to get you out. Besides this way isn't safe for you. It ends still pretty far into this base, too much security to run through. I had enough trouble navigating that part alone."
"How did you get in then?" he swallowed and held back from taking another bite so he could get more information from her.
"Fake ID and all that. It's not easy, but I'm more up to wandering around here freely than you are. They're not looking for me."
"That's true," he admitted, "Do you plan to get me out? Or were you just here to feed me?"
"Of course," the voice was beginning to sound fatigued, not wanting to answer so many questions, "But we'll get to that later. I need to work out a plan."
"You don't have one now?"
"No, sorry. This was short notice," she paused a moment after this, collecting her thoughts to finish the conversation, "I have to get back out now. Finish your meal and I'll try to have something planned tomorrow. And after we've escaped and all that, I'll tell you everything I know. I'm positive you have questions."
"I have questions about everything right now," Cid responded, "I'll try to be patient."
"Okay then, good night, Cid."
She knew my name, he realized.
"Wait!" he knew he had called a bit too loudly, even as a whisper, and flinched at his own idiocy.
A long moment passed and he began to fear she had left him already. A pang of loneliness started to set in as the moment became longer. Finally the voice returned, noticeably stiff, "What?"
"What's your name? I mean, you know my name and all..." he left it hanging.
"Alice," she replied after a pause.
"Alice," he repeated, then replied, "Thanks."
"You're welcome," the voice was honest, but seemed more urgent now as she continued, "Now really, I have to go. I'm really sorry, but if I'm not out of here in the next twenty minutes, they shut down the room this vent exits and I don't get out. And then they catch me. And they'll do worse to me than they do to you."
"I doubt that," Cid said, forcing some humor into the topic, though he didn't feel it.
Suddenly her hand reached out through the bars once more; no food this time, but with a gesture he still understood. He extended his matching hand and grasped hers, shaking it. The contact alone made him feel better, much less alone. He felt hope well up in him once again, knowing that someone knew he was here. Someone was helping him.
"I'm gonna get you out of here, Cid. I promise you," she tightened her grip on him, "And when we're out and free as birds, I'll buy you a big meal to make up for that roll. And while you eat I'll tell you everything about everything I know. Deal?"
He reciprocated her grip and nodded, knowing she could see him backlit from the light streaming through the door's window, "Deal."
"Don't forget to hide the crumbs, either," she added as an afterthought, "There'd be hell to pay then."
She released him and drew her hand away, snaking it back through the bars, "Well, wish me luck."
"Good luck, Alice," he responded, saying her name mostly as a means to not forget it.
And then she was gone. He couldn't see, but he felt it. The loneliness creeping back into his heart. But still, he had hope he hadn't had before. And it did well to combat the negative feelings. He smiled to himself, and reminded by her promise of a big meal, he took another bite out of his roll, feeling suddenly much better than he did hours before.
"Yes, this definitely counts as water," Lucca mused as she turned away from the rope ladder, the illuminating fire spell making its third appearance, "Good boy."
Crono laughed at the understatement and swept his arms towards the underground lake before them, "After you!"
"Oh yes," she remembered, "You were going to have me test the water to see if it was safe first. My most valued and trusted friend."
"Well, what are frien--"
She clamped a hand over his mouth as she passed by him, interrupting his cliche before it got dangerously close to completion. One in a row was enough. He swatted her hand away, but didn't finish his quote. Instead, he followed her and her light as they trodded along what seemed like a makeshift walkway that led to the edge of the lake.
The lake itself stretched far away, turning into a river on the far end, which winded a ways before leaving their sight. They couldn't see it well yet, so they couldn't be sure if it flowed into or out from the lake. But if she had to wager a guess, Lucca would say it flowed into the lake, as it came from the direction of the mountain that overlooked the village. Perhaps fed by water seepage from the surface. Enhancing her theory were the numerous stalactites that dotted the domish ceiling over their heads, which towered over them about thirty feet up at its lowest point.
Lucca reached the bottom of the trail and hunched down, leaning over the water and cupping her hands into a bowl. With a moment's pause, she dipped them into the water, filling up before bringing them out. Giving a shrug to Crono, she brought her rapidly draining hands to her face and drank. She shrank away with a giggle as some of the cold water managed to drip down her shirt.
"How is it?" Crono asked as she finished and regained her composure.
"It tastes a bit like sulfur, but it'll do," she responded, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, "It's cold, but what do you expect?"
Crono stooped down beside her and took a slurping drink himself. Shaking the water from his hands, he confided to her, "I should probably mention that I already had a drink earlier, though. Just thought I'd let you think you were being brave for a moment."
She gave a ladylike snort in response and took another drink before leaning back on her hands, the cool rocks soothing to her. "I wonder if there are any fish in here," she mused, "That would cover our food needs."
Crono made as if to take off his shirt, "Want me to check?"
"No, please. Spare me that," she responded, mock covering her eyes, but then added as an afterthought, "Although you do need a bath with all that mantis gunk and travel dust on you."
"The water's probably too cold though," Crono admitted, releasing his shirt, "I was just kidding anyway."
"No, it's cold but not freezing. As long as you don't stay in for too long it'll be okay."
She stood back up and started to walk back up the steps, "Go ahead, I'll wait for you back at the library."
"Are you sure?" he was still skeptical about the idea, not entirely trusting of the dark depths of the lake.
"Don't worry, Crono. You're healthy enough," she pointed an accusing finger in his direction suddenly, "But you're starting to smell and that needs to be fixed before we go any further. Are we understood?"
"You probably smell pretty bad yourself, you know," he turned the argument around on her, though he knew he had already lost, "With that mantis dust and stuff."
"Yeah, I know," she admitted, "But I'll wait until you're done before I take my turn. That's probably for the best, wouldn't you agree?"
She took a hold of the ladder, and without another word or even a look back, she climbed up and out of sight. In her wake, Crono shrugged and put in his last words, "Okay, fine. But if I find any fish, you get to cook them."