"I hope you know what you're doing, Cid," Lucca stated as they stopped just beyond the castle's gates, out of earshot from the guards.
"So do I," Cid replied, "But you're going to have a bigger task than me, remember?"
Lucca gave him a confused look and he sighed, "You're going to have to keep Marle company until the two of you can corner Crono. And you're going to have to see what's wrong with him, if anything."
"I'm sure he's fine," Lucca defended her friend, "He's just under stress."
"We all are, I know. Whatever it is though, he isn't reacting to it the right way."
Lucca shrugged, "Yeah, you try to keep yourself under control too, though. I seem to remember a brash young man going haywire recently."
"Don't worry, this is important. I won't be screwing it up," Cid assured her, stepping off of the bridge, "And it's important to Marshall, so you have twice the assurance."
"I guess that's good enough," Lucca gave a small nod, "So how long will you be gone?"
"You just handle Marle and Crono, and I'll be back before you know it," Cid replied.
"I said something to that effect about the Gatekeeper, if I remember," Lucca stated, "Let's hope this doesn't end up like Crono thinks it is."
"It won't," Cid shook his head, "We've already been through too much for it to add something else to the fire."
"I think I said something to that effect, too, during the Lavos incident."
"Are you turning pessimistic on me here?" Cid cocked his head to the side in question.
"No, no, just reminiscing," Lucca said quickly.
Cid smiled, "Don't think back to the past too much, we've been through a lot of hard times."
Cid turned and began walking off, "Bye, Lucca. I guess I'll see you...uh...later."
Lucca nodded, "Yeah, later."
Cid entered the forest and left the castle's sight. Lucca stood watching for several moments after he had disappeared, before finally giving out a sigh. She turned back to reenter the castle to see what Marle was doing. Maybe Crono would return today. Then, halfway across the bridge, she stopped. There was something missing here.
Lucca turned back and quickly raced after Cid. Something was missing after all.
He'd need help putting the Gatekeeper back together.
The figure strode through the wasteland, each step taking her to a new location, though it looked just as bleak as the last. Miles stretched out around the marching person, the land flat and lifeless. Dead trees that were barely trees dotted the landscape sparsely, giving no shadows upon the already darkened ground. The earth was already shadowed, as a giant smog-like substance fluttered in the air and blocked out most light.
And without light, grew the dark and cold. The figure drew its cloak about itself more tightly, as if noticing this cold. Then, in the distance, a large black shape began to take form. The figure aimed its path towards this monolith, knowing that this was the person's destination.
This was where the figure would find answers to its questions. Here was where Schala would learn of her brother's fate.
"What's wrong with it?"
"The dial," Cid responded from his self-made seat on the grass, "It's been set back to Limbo."
Lucca bent over, looking over Cid's shoulder at the panel he held, "Yeah, so what?"
Cid turned the object around in his hands, examining the rest of it, "The last person we sent through time, who was it?"
"Schala, why?" Lucca was still curious, but she slowly put it together in her head, "No, wait. Maybe we accidentally changed it while taking the thing apart."
Cid jiggled the switch several times, reminding her that it was hard to turn. Then he shook his head, "What if we did send her there? There's no way back."
"But the gate would have been red, wouldn't it?"
Cid stopped his tirade and slowly stood up. He idly scratched the back of his head, lost in thought, "Now that I think back to it, it might have been red. I wasn't really paying attention and it's not like seeing a red gate would have jumped into my head as strange; not after all the ones we've seen."
"I specifically remember seeing it set to her time, though," Lucca continued, "What if she changed it herself--"
Cid finished, "to get to Janus. My thought exactly."
Lucca dove into the parts and began to piece them together much more quickly. After a few seconds, Cid joined in. They hadn't made any type of blueprints on how to piece it together, which had been a fairly large oversight. Luckily, however, it hadn't been long enough since the dismantling.
After a few moments, Cid changed the subject, "Lucca?"
She looked up briefly, throwing some hair out of her face, "Yeah?"
"You knew about Marshall's letter long before I did. You knew what he asked of me then. Why did--"
Lucca cut him off, "I just knew of it. Marle didn't tell me until she told you. Believe me, if I knew what it was, I wouldn't have wasted all of this time on the Gatekeeper."
"Oh yeah," he nodded, the latter point dawning on him instantly, "Sorry."
"You know," Lucca smiled briefly, "putting things together like this has always been sort of fun for me. Kinda like a big puzzle and putting the pieces together. Except you start in the middle and work outside on this."
"And this puzzle does more than fit in a picture frame, too," Cid added, then thought about what he had just said, "Well, not that it'd fit in a picture frame in the first place...Well, whatever I just said."
"Do you think the Gatekeeper caused more good than bad or more bad than good?" Lucca suddenly asked, her hands stopped for the moment.
Cid looked up at her again, "Huh?"
"I still think about what this has done sometimes. I know I shouldn't, but I think about how it nearly destroyed everything; how it killed Marshall, killed Marle's dad, kill--"
"Don't think about..." Cid began, then changed what he was gong to say, "You shouldn't ponder on things that would have happened with or without you. That's what you tell me several ways all the time.
"The Gatekeeper freed Nikades, yes. But if not it, something else would have freed him eventually. And maybe that other thing would have been unavoidable. At least we were able to put him down so nobody will have to worry about him ever again.
"The Marshal's death is nobody's fault but the spectres. Nobody's. Not you, I never would blame you. And I've learned that it wasn't me now. It was them. He got to live more in his last adventure than he ever would have the rest of his life. He thought he was gone, as it was. Because of us, we were able to bring him out of that and made him realize he still had something to live for."
"And what was that?" Lucca interrupted his speech briefly, though she wanted him to continue.
"I don't know. He found something to live for again, though. Maybe I'll find out on my journey, maybe something will clue me in on it. But he was empty when we--well when I--first met him back in my old work. Something along the way opened him up again. Personally, I'd like to think it was that he had friends again, but it doesn't seem like that. I was able to find friends again during the journey, and I was very different from him."
Cid was getting off topic and he realized it. He needed something to calm Lucca down and rambling wasn't going to do it. He quickly changed the topic again, trying to put a finale to his speech so he wouldn't bore her, "Don't blame yourself for releasing Nikades, you should blame the person or people that made him the way he ended up as. You didn't create the monster and you aren't the one responsible for his actions."
"Thanks, but I can tell you're just trying to make me feel better," Lucca tried to fake a smile.
"If you really thought I was just trying to make you feel better, you'd be mad at me," Cid shook his head, "I told you the truth. Each person is responsible for their own actions. Nikades made his own moves, it's his own fault. The same with the spectres."
Lucca nodded, "I guess so. And I guess nothing would improve whether I beat myself up over this or not. You're right. Nikades takes the blame and he took the punishment. Story ended."
"That's good to hear," Cid waved a part of the Gatekeeper towards her, "We can't have you brooding or this'd never get done."
"Oh!" Lucca punched her knee, "I forgot about Schala, how are we going to work that out? Should I get Marle to help me?"
"Yeah, that'd be a good plan. Get Crono too, though," Cid nodded, "You don't know what's in there."
"But that'll mess up the return controls," Lucca noted, "Which time would we mark the Gatekeeper to keep on standby?"
"I'd say go with Limbo. My journey's going to take a little longer than a search party."
Lucca nodded briefly, "I hope so," she began to absently fish her hands through the box of parts.
"If you want, you can leave someone here and he can make sure everything stays in order," Cid proposed, "Then nobody gets stuck for a long period of time."
"Crono or Marle?"
"I'm sure you can work it out somehow," Cid answered, "Right now we have to get this done. It's almost lunchtime, after all."
Their conversation died as they doubled their efforts. They could work out a suitable plan later.
"Crono, where are you going now?"
Marle stepped over and blocked the doorway in his path. She crossed her arms across her chest and waited for an answer. Crono, with the same apathetic look on his face, tried to step around her. She merely grabbed his shoulders and pushed him back, stepping by and then pulling him back into his room. He gave no resistance.
"Lucca and Cid came yesterday, did you know that?" she asked him.
He shook his head and took a seat on his bed that Marle pushed him back against it. She looked down at him for several moments, the began pacing, "When's the last time you slept? A good sleep? I don't even think you eat very well anymore."
Crono sighed and retorted silently, "I'm okay."
"Yes, you're okay now, because I'm not letting you leave here this time," Marle stopped her pacing and gave him a demanding glare, "You're going to lie down and then you're going to get a good 20 or so hours of sleep. And then you're going to eat. And then you're going to repeat this until I think you're healthy again."
Crono tried to sit up, but she pushed him back down. He clenched his hands, "I have to do this. You know that it's not over, it's never over."
Marle ran her hand back through her hair, shaking her head in amazement, "Crono, since when did the world lie in your hands?"
"Since we were put in the position to save it," he replied with resolve.
Marle continued to shake her head, speeding up a bit, "It's all our responsibility, not just yours. You can't just go out looking for trouble, you have to wait for it to appear. If you don't, you're just going to fatigue yourself to the point that if something really does pop out, you can't do a thing."
"I said I'm okay," Crono repeated, "If we don't stop the threat before it begins, then more will die."
"What threat?? Where is it?!" Marle spread her hands out and scanned around her in anger, "You're jumping at shadows, Crono."
"I don't know what or where," Crono admitted, then heated up, "That's why I'm looking, why I'm trying so hard to find it and crush it before it grows."
Marle turned away from him and walked back towards the door, "Get some sleep, forget about this. We'll take what we get. Don't ask for more, you're doing more harm than you think."
She reached the door and stepped outside, turning back to him. He still sat solemnly on the bed, staring at her. But the fatigue showed greatly on him and she couldn't tell if he was looking at her or through her. A slight shiver went down her spine reflexively, "I'm locking this door to make sure you stay inside. I'm also going to put guards outside the window."
"I escaped from prison before, you know," Crono stood up and began walking towards the door, "You can't hold me in here."
"This isn't a prison, Crono," Marle sighed and shut the door before he could reach it. Then she turned the lock and leaned her head against the door, "Please, rest and think about what you're doing."
There was no reply. Marle closed her eyes and sighed again. What was she to do?
She quickly jerked her head away as the door shook under an impact. Crono had hit the door from the other side. She slowly took a step back, waiting for another.
"...Ow," Crono finally said from the other side.
Marle continued to wait for several seconds later, hoping he didn't hurt himself any more. Seconds later, there was a slight creak as he sat back down on the bed. Marle released her breath, realizing that she had been holding it for several moments. She turned away from the door and stepped down the hallway, looking for some guards to monitor the parapets.
The shadows quickly enveloped her as Schala stepped under the arched entryway that led into the mysterious castle. She stopped briefly to allow her eyes to adjust to the change, but they seemed to do so at a slow pace. As if there was nothing here but shadows at all. Finally, the outline of the walls around her began to show and she returned to her forward movement.
I have never been here...Where do I go? Schala looked left, then right, then back to forward. All led to passages that were nothing more than darkness. Too much darkness. Where?
Wary of her surroundings and the fact that she might not be alone in this dreary architecture, she slowly raised her right hand. Fingers open and palm up, she concentrated and a ball of light formed within, illuminating her surroundings for a good 30 feet. Pivoting around, she scanned each corridor, hoping to find a clue as to where to go. They each looked the same.
She went straight.
"Are we set to go then?" Lucca asked again, her hand ready on the Gatekeeper.
"Yeah," Cid nodded, rubbing his hands together before picking up his travel sack, prepped for the trip.
"Okay... good." Lucca nodded, "After this, I'll get Marle and Crono and we'll try to find out if we have a problem with Schala or not. When you're done, just click on the Gate key to connect to the Gatekeeper. Someone on the other side will open up a gate for you as soon as they catch your signal."
"Crono or Marle?" Cid asked simply.
Lucca shrugged, "Does it matter?"
"I just want to know how enthusiastic the person'll be, is all," Cid shrugged, trying to keep a hold of his sack, "I mean, how long would I have to wait after activating the Gatekeeper."
Lucca sighed, "Don't worry about it, Cid. It'll open eventually, it doesn't matter who's at the helm."
"It could be an emergency," Cid reminded her.
Lucca activated the machine and it began humming again, for the first time in a while. As it quickly warmed up, it began rattling, the quit reconstruction not perfect; Cid stepped back a bit.
"Don't worry," Lucca assured him.
"Shoddy wor--" Cid began, but went silent as a blue gate formed within the machine.
Lucca smiled at him, waving, "Just as long as it works, who cares?"
"I suppose. I guess it's 'bye' then... again," Cid smiled back, giving her a nod.
"Again," Lucca repeated, as he turned and entered the Gatekeeper, being enveloped within the blue light.
Then he was gone. Lucca looked into the gate for several seconds more, hoping this was safe. Then she deactivated the invention and the gate died. Sighing, she turned and walked back to her house, to prepare to bring the news to Marle and Crono. Possibly Crono.
Schala, after nearly an hour of aimlessly walking, spoke for the first time as she finally found what must be the throne room. Another light glowed from within this room, from a source she had yet to figure out. She took another hesitant step, peering into the entry.
Sitting upon the thrown was a large crystal, the object that had been shedding the light. Schala stepped inside, turning her head to peer at this object. Something seemed to be inside of it.
"Janus?" she asked again, taking another step, "Are you here?"
Schala jumped at the voice, quiet and commanding, as it entered her head. She spun about quickly, looking for a source, but she was alone. Her and the crystal. She gave another look at the object, her feet continuing to push her forward. She was curious about it. Curious about what was in it.
Please, don't Schala.
Schala stopped briefly, listening, but the voice was quiet yet again. She shook her head, wondering if it was just her conscience talking to her. But she wasn't sure.
"Who are you?" she demanded to the darkness around her.
Another step forward.
Schala, you don't know what you're getting into.
The voice seemed scared now, it was afraid of her reaching the throne. She stopped again, "Give me your name!"
Only silence answered her demand. She shook her head and took another step, and then another. She was now just ten feet from the strange glowing crystal.
You must get out of here now!
This time the voice was giving a strong order. It seemed strained, as if talking was a painful thing to do. Schala turned around and glanced behind her, suddenly becoming unsure. The exit seemed much farther behind her than she earlier thought. As if the room had stretched behind her.
A noise came from the throne. Schala turned back around and gasped as she stared at the crystal. The black thing inside of it was writhing now, slamming itself into the barrier, the only sound a gentle clink. She took a step back as she realized that the being inside was humanoid in shape. A beast of some sort.
Its will exists beyond its physical boundaries! You must escape now!
"Is that you Janus?" Schala asked the voice, "Please tell me what's going on!"
For a response, all light died. The magic in her hand faded away as if covered by infinite shadows. The crystal itself stopped glowing and disappeared into the darkness. For all purposes, Schala was blind.
Before it's too late!
It IS too late!
Schala didn't like the second voice. She stepped back, away from where the crystal would be, wondering what would jump out at her in the darkness. A distance howling noise, like a rushing wind, seemed to reach out at her from all directions.
Schala turned and began sprinting as fast as she could, not daring to look back at the crystal even as a red light seeped over her shoulder from behind her. The howling increased, drowning out the voice of Janus. The light stretched forward, illuminating her path, as she dashed out of the throne room. She turned right, not breaking stride and hurried down the corridor, the howling behind her.
Then before her, the walls seemed to shift, to meld into each other and she found herself facing a blocked path. She doubled back in panic and took another passage. Everything was red around her, as if the walls were glowing with the color of blood. Behind her, she heard crashing noises, the sound of something following her. She pushed off the wall to her right and darted down a left side passage, now completely lost. Even as her hand left the wall, it seemed to shimmer and shift as the castle's structure continued to change.
She turned left and right, taking every passage she could find and trying to lose the thing behind her. But the crashing continued to increase. Ahead of her, the ceiling dropped down like a piston, slamming into the ground and blocking her path. She turned back around to try and find another side passage, but stopped as she saw what was making the noise.
The floor was collapsing, the flagstone bricks falling into a void below in a chain reaction leading to her shaking feet. She slowly backed away, finding the wall and hugging it. There was nowhere to go.
Then the red light died and she was blind yet again. The noise enveloped her and then she felt nothing.