Cid's eyes opened in a flash, as though a sound had startled him. With his face half-buried in his pillow, the lone uncovered eye scanned around his blurry surroundings, wondering what could have woken him up. He slowly reached over to the end table, taking his glasses and slipping them on as he propped himself up with his free elbow. But they didn't help much, his surroundings remained dark and silent.
Groaning, he reached over to the lamp and flicked the switch. Nothing happened. He flicked it again but still nothing. In the darkness, the quiet seemed to increase, to envelop him. He shuddered involuntarily at the creepy sensation enveloping him and slid out of bed. It made him feel so alone. Like he was the only person around for miles.
It was probably just a power outage, he thought to himself, reaching underneath the bed to pull out his shoes. He wound just step outside and half a look for himself. But as he grasped his footwear, a light seemed to cross over the room's window behind him, vanishing instantly.
He straightened up immediately, shoes still in hand. Was it just a car passing? Or someone with a flashlight.
It hadn't made any noise though, couldn't be a car. And now that he thought about it, nothing had been making noise, and the darkness was unrelenting, his eyes failing to adjust at all. It was as if he had gone blind and deaf.
Cid mumbled to himself to assuage the paranoia that was creeping up on him, but even that didn't seem to make a sound. It was as if he was only mumbling in his mind. He quickly put on his shoes and threw on a shirt he randomly pulled out of his backpack and headed for the door. Maybe some fresh air would clear his head. But as he reached for the handle, another chill went through him.
The room behind him seemed to subtly change, as if he had swerved into another reality. He tried to turn around to look at it, but something stopped him, prevented him. That feeling that there was a monster behind you, waiting for you to face it before attacking. The irrational fear invaded him, forcing him to grab the door handle and throw it open to clear a path to flee. He couldn't feel the handle either, but knew it was there. It felt like all of his senses had been dulled.
And then the door was open and light came from nowhere to envelope him. He flinched from it, using his free hand to shield his eyes. He cautiously stepped outside, wondering what was going on. The night was gone, it was daytime.
He was no longer in Aegis Coast either. Cid lowered his arm, numb with confusion. He was now standing in a small clearing surrounded by a forest, a solitary oak tree caught in the middle. He turned around to further scout his new surroundings, only to find the hotel room he had left was now a small, decrepit shack. The door was still open, but it seemed to block the light. Only darkness stared back from within. Cid didn't dare enter.
And then a roaring noise brought him spinning around once more, to find the lone tree engulfed in towering flames. Before the pyre stood a small boy, his back to Cid. Judging by his clothes, he was most likely from around Lucca's time. His hand was stretched out, not as if he was reaching for the fire, but as if he had just thrown something into it. Slowly it descended back to his side and slowly he turned. Turned and faced Cid.
Cid took a step back, wondering what to do, what to say. He was still confused by his situation and this wasn't helping. As he trained his eyes to the boy's face, he noticed the eyes were full of fear, and they seemed to be looking straight through him. At something behind him. And Cid knew if he turned around once more towards the shack, he would see something he shouldn't and didn't want to see.
He squeezed his eyes shut, the fear holding him so strongly he was helpless to move his body. He tensed his whole body, trying to will himself back to the hotel. None of this was real. It couldn't be. He stood there for what seemed like forever as everything faded away. The noise and heat and light of the fire and the feeling of a pair of eyes staring towards him. And then he finally realized he was locked in a dream. Or a nightmare.
His eyes flew open at the sound of his name, expecting the boy. But there was no boy. Along with the forest, tree, and fire; he was gone. There was nothing but darkness. His mind became a jumble of thoughts as he tried to recollect what had just happened to him. He still could not speak and answer the voice that called to him. His mind began to ramble to itself.
Do you understand, Cid?
He did not. Cid tried to force sound from his mouth, to reply to the voice and possibly demand an explanation, but nothing came. This was still a dream and he had no form. He could only act what his subconscious scripted for him to do.
What is being presented to you... You must accept the reality behind it. You must control your thoughts, Cid. You must accept what is around you to understand.
Was the voice another figment of his dream, his wild imagination upping the ante of his nighttime dementia? He tried to force himself awake, but knew he couldn't. That never worked.
The darkness around him vanished for a fraction of a second, like a subliminal frame in a film. For that brief moment, Cid found himself in the clearing once more, with the shack now burning instead of the tree. A tall man stood in the child's place, staring at him with those soulless eyes. And then darkness shattered his vision once more.
Too late. You must learn to focus. I need your mind to be focused.
Cid reached out, trying to find the source of the voice, still unable to emit a reply. Was someone there or was he simply speaking to himself?
And then there was sound.
Cid jerked awake at the sound of rain pattering outside. He glanced about the fading darkness, trying to understand where he was. He glanced to his side, a huge shadow within the shadows looming over him. A bed.
He was lying on the floor. Back in the hotel.
Cid quickly reached up, fumbling for the lamp, then finding it. He flicked the switch, the click dulled by the pattering rain outside.
And then there was light.
He shielded his eyes briefly from the flash as the room was illuminated. The hotel room. He scanned the area, trying to recollect something about himself. As he looked about, he realized everything was getting darker again. Fading away from him. Becoming blurry. He was forgetting the dream.
Cid inhaled deeply, realizing he hadn't been breathing. And with the oxygen, the light quickly refilled the room, the blur leaving.
And then there was life.
And like the previous flash of light, memories struck him. Memories of the dream, the voice. But something else had been brought with it. Memories he did not remember. A history that didn't fit, that he didn't know of.
The rain continued to pound around him, like a quick and subdued drumbeat that carried these memories to him.
A past that he never had was opened in his mind. And like a puzzle in a box, the pieces were all scattered. A person's life stood on a rearranged timeline, a kid, then a teen, a toddler, and a kid again. The history failed to make sense. The subject personified within a mystery.
He picked a memory at random. A young child in a futuristic complex from what looked like Cid's time. He was surrounded by unfamiliar people who seemed to be giving him their full attention, scientists studying him for some unknown reason. The boy reached out as if to touch the empty space before at their coaxing. And then a blue orb of light, familiar and foreign at the same time, opened and enveloped him. He was carried to a new time, emerging in a forest with two startled figures standing over him. The blue light vanished.
And then another memory pushed itself forward. The boy was there again, though slightly younger this time. He sat once again in a modern room, playing with his toys below the gaze of two people, different than the couple before. Perhaps these were his parents? Their warm demeanor juxtaposed the cold studying looks of the scientists from before.
Cid quickly reached up and switched off the light, as it was beginning to glare on his eyes and distract him. The dream had been quickly forgotten as these memories continued to flow through his head, pushed to the back of his mind.
"What... what is this?" he finally spoke, pulling himself up to a seated position on the bed.
Now the memory, in the form of a young teen, was swinging a sword at the air. The moves deliberate yet shaky. A figure behind him was soundlessly giving him pointers.
With the memories brought a headache, pounding on his mind as if to reseal what had been set free. He covered his temple with his palms and fell back on the bed, shutting out the visions for the time being. The digital clock on the end table told him it was still far from morning, so he fell back onto his pillow and threw the covers back over him.
He could figure this out in the morning when he could think clearly. As long as he had no more psycho dreams to distract him, that is.
A brief flash erupted, and then the ever-memorable red light threw itself across the surroundings, causing the three to scrunch their eyes for a moment. The gate was open.
"I guess it's not a good time to say this," Crono began, "but I've always hated the red ones."
Marle turned to him questioningly, her head cocked, "Huh, how's that?"
"Actually, scratch that. It doesn't bother me. I just wanted something cool to say before I went through," Crono corrected himself.
Lucca smirked, "To make up for the fact you aren't?"
"Pretty much," he shrugged, neither agreeing or arguing.
The plan was pretty simple, mostly due to the fact they really didn't have much to go on with their current situation. Marle would remain at the Gatekeeper while Crono and Lucca went in to search for Schala. With or without her, they would return within a day. Without her, they would report what they found and then form a new plan based on that.
Also, that would give Lucca the privacy to talk to her childhood friend and maybe pry something out that Marle couldn't. But of course, Crono wasn't told this part.
"So I'll see you later then," Marle spoke, interrupting Lucca's jab, "If you're not here by the night, whose bed should I use?"
"You can use mine, it's a lot better than the one I gave Cid," Lucca responded, then hastened, "But don't tell him that."
"I wouldn't," Marle assured her.
"I would," Crono was tactful in his own interjection.
"Then I'll make you wish you wouldn't," Lucca said, pointing her finger at him to punctuate the threat.
"I mean I wouldn't," Crono corrected himself.
"If it comes to an overnight trip, I'll be sure to try and cook you something for your return then," Marle tried to force the conversation back on topic.
"That sounds fine to me," Lucca nodded before turning serious, "But hopefully it won't be that long. I don't even know how time flows in Limbo now. When we were battling Nikades, he had adjusted it to match our world's time flow. But with him gone, it might have reverted to itself. Which would mean an eternity there is an instant here."
"That wouldn't bode well for Schala if she's really trapped there though," Crono reminded her.
"I know, so hopefully Nikades' tinkering hasn't been reverted to that extent," Lucca sighed, "We'll just have to wait and see."
"Well then, why don't we?" Crono gave a grand gesture towards the gate, "After you."
"Nononono," Lucca, "After y--"
Crono pushed her in.
"You b--" Lucca disappeared into the gate.
"Crono, that wasn't nice," Marle scowled at him.
"I know, but it was funny," he gave her a kiss on the cheek, "See you soon."
And he jumped in as well. Behind him the red gate closed.
"See you soon," Marle echoed solemnly.
The red light engulfed her and devoured her; it consumed her and sent her reeling through a void, a point between times, between worlds. The light intensified as she plummeted through, then finally subsided when she shot out the other end, within the realm of Limbo, the world between worlds.
Before her, loomed the massive castle, the previous home of Nikades the god and of the spectres. Surrounding the building, and the three before it, was the vast nothingness. A foggy light everywhere. The world had a brownish hue, as if it was stagnating like a swamp.
Lucca stepped away from the gate, her mind searching for a means of revenge against Crono, but before she could devise something cruel enough, he was spat out before her. He stumbled briefly, trying to find his footing, then failing completely and sagging to his knees.
"You know, I think I was right the first time," Crono continued his earliest thought as he shook cobwebs from his head, "I simply don't like this. I think I'm a little nauseous."
"Serves you right," Lucca mumbled, flinching slightly as the gate shut behind them.
"Oh come on, you would have thought it was funny too. You know, if it had been someone else."
"Maybe," Lucca shrugged and glanced around once more to determine their course of action, "The castle will be the first place we search, I guess. If Schala was sent here, she would take refuge there."
"Or she would wander off into the void," Crono added helpfully.
"Shut up, Crono," Lucca retorted offhand, "We go there first."
"Whatever you say," Crono finished.
Lucca took a step forward, eyeing the structure, "Do you think there's still anything in there; like the spectres? A few stragglers?"
"If there are, at least we're armed for the occasion," Crono indicated his sword.
"I hope that's enough. I gave my blaster to Cid."
Without another word, they stepped forward, and headed towards their first target.
Something thumped nearby.
Cid was brought back to reality, awakened from his sleep by the noise, and he opened his eyes once again. It was morning now, the rain had abated. Coughing slightly, he sat up in bed and tried to remember what had occurred during the night.
The thump repeated itself, it was a knock at the door.
Cid sighed and reached down to the floor for his shirt, "Who is it?"
"Room service," a male voice replied haltingly, "It's time for you to turn in your room."
He grabbed his shirt and glanced at the clock, which stared back at him in a blur. Cid moaned and reached on the dresser for his glasses and put them on, staring at the clock again; it was only 8:30.
"I thought I wouldn't have to until ten," Cid responded, annoyed; he quickly pulled on his shirt and glanced about for his shoes.
"I only do what I'm told, son," the voice replied after a long pause, "If you have a complaint, take it to the front desk."
Friendly, aren't you? Cid thought to himself, as he finished tying his shoes; he reached for his backpack on the dresser, but stopped when he noticed the complimentary mint and the dubious card underneath it:
HOSPITALITY IS NOT A BUILDING FOR THE SICK AND INJURED; IT'S OUR JOB
"Yeah, right," Cid mumbled to himself in response; he popped the mint in his mouth and grabbed his backpack; he yelled to the man outside, "Okay, give me another moment."
What kind of hotel kicks their guests out at 8:30? I mean, it isn't even an even hour--
Cid's thoughts were cut off by the sound of something coming from the bathroom behind him. Not the random noise you sometimes hear from nowhere, the sound made by another person as they try to move about a room. There was someone in there.
Wasn't there a window in the bathroom? Cid thought quickly, Did someone break into there?
He quietly put the backpack on the bed, unzipping it and reaching inside. He grasped the blaster, and almost pulled it out. However, he realized that wasn't the best option under the circumstances and released it.
But what else did he have?
Then he heard a small click from the bathroom. And not a standard click, it was the sound of a walkie-talkie coming to life. Cid began to think maybe the blaster might be worth it.
He took several steps toward the bathroom door, reaching for it apprehensively. He took a deep breath and released it, then decided to get on with it.
"Hey, who--" he began to yell.
Behind him, another click sounded. A different click. He quickly spun around to see his door knob turning, as someone had either picked the lock or gotten a key to it.
And then outside, he heard a loud "NOW" being shouted, a shout that was echoed through the Walkie-talkie in the bathroom behind him. It finally dawned on him what was occurring.
"Damn it!" he yelled and ran for the bed, for the backpack, and for the blaster inside.
"He's moving!" came another shout from the bathroom, Cid didn't have to turn and look to know that the person had come out and was right behind him.
The entrance door to his room was thrown open loudly, the bottom of it slamming against the doorstop with enough force to send it bouncing back. But as it bounced back, it struck the shoulder of one of two armed and uniformed men.
They quickly aimed their guns at him, yelling various versions of "FREEZE" as they panned across the room in opposite directions, more following behind them. Cid stopped in his tracks, his hand inches away from the backpack, and his blaster. He stood like this for several seconds, glaring at the men who formed a semi-circle around him. A standoff. Then something heavy hit him from behind.
He was thrown forward roughly onto the bed, and someone grabbed his hands; most likely the man who had snuck into his bathroom. The man who would have prevented his escape route had he known what was going on.
Handcuffs slapped onto his wrists as he tried to turn his face away from the bed that was suffocating him and he glanced at the soldiers around him. It certainly wasn't room service.
The military had found him at last.
Finally, a new person entered the room. He wore a much more sophisticated uniform, indicating to all snipers of the world that he was the commander of this operation. He calmly reached down and clicked off the walkie-talkie he had at his belt and smiled at Cid.
"Good to see you back so soon, Beta," the smile became a smirk, "Though it doesn't say much for your sense of self-preservation. I guess the other half did get the better deal after all."
"What are you talking about?" Cid demanded, as he was pulled up off of the bed to face the officer.
"You know, in a situation like yours, a person would usually ask things like 'Who are you?' or 'What have I done to deserve this?' They also tend to say things quite vulgar or threatening to me. Actually, the third option is the most oft repeated. But...I don't think I've heard 'what are you talking about?' before."
He turned to his men, "Have any of you?"
They all shook their heads and smiled, some laughing, enjoying the game of their leader. One of them piped up, "Don't forget the bribes!"
"Ah yes," his smile widened, "Some decide not to say anything important at all and simply try to bribe me. In these cases, I take all their money and arrest them anyway. Would you try this? You have any money in your wallet you feel might be worth your freedom?"
Cid felt someone fumbling around his back pocket, going for his wallet. It was soon found and relieved from him. The person behind him then tossed it over to the officer, who put it into his vest.
"Grab his pack, too," the commander said, pointing towards the backpack.
As that was confiscated as well, the officer finished his speech, "But really, 'what are you talking about?'? What kind of question is that? I speak English, don't I?"
He chuckled and turned away to leave the room, but not before adding the finale, "Put him out, we've a long trip ahead of us."
Something heavy struck him in the back of his head and he pitched forward, back onto the bed. And once again, he fell asleep.