In the darkness that seemed to press even tighter against the lantern's light, Crono and Lucca stood their ground. They knew now beyond the shadow of a doubt they weren't alone. But whatever was out there was just as apprehensive about a conflict as they were, judging by its reliance on cheap scare tactics. Beyond that, it was a stalemate. For several quiet moments, everything was still. Finally, Lucca broke the silence.
"Show yourself!" she demanded, spinning her light around in a circle.
"That's telling 'em," Crono remarked, "But I'd rather they stay away and out of sight until we're gone ourselves."
"No, whatever it is, I don't think it can hurt us," Lucca responded, "It's doing nothing but tricks, like Nikades did back then."
Crono tensed in his stance at the sound of that name, his sword's handle starting to dig a mark into his hand, "You think it's him? Nikades?"
"No, he's dead. Worse than dead, remember?" Lucca stepped past Crono and slowly advanced into the room towards the throne, "I think it might be the remains of the spectres."
Crono knew she was probably wrong, but couldn't think up another option at the time. They'd just have to find out if it came to that then. He instead followed her, not wanting to leave his friend defenseless. Though she could probably really put a beating on something with that lantern, he'd rather she didn't need to resort to that.
As they reached the far end of the room, the lantern illuminated something tall and gray and lifeless that towered over them from the center of the room. It was the crystal container that they had seen contain Nikades during his transformation, now dull and seemingly drained of color.
"Now this looks familiar," Crono remarked, hesitant to approach it, "Are you sure it isn't Nikades?"
"More than sure now," Lucca answered, "Nikades shattered his prison, remember?"
"Oh yeah... So what's this one doing here?"
Lucca held the light before her and squinted her eyes at the smooth surface of the object, as if trying to look inside, "I'm not sure. It doesn't look like it's being used. If it even has been used."
Crono tapped his sword against it, even the sound of contact seemed lifeless, "Maybe it has something to do with Magus? And that would explain why Schala went here."
"Well, if we had an answer to it; yeah, it would probably explain something," Lucca shook her head, "But we have no answer and no explanation. And Schala's not here, that's becoming clear to me now."
"If she didn't find Magus here, where would she have gone next?" Crono mused, "If you were Schala, where would you go if you were here and found nothing?"
"Maybe she did find something," Lucca backed away from the crystal, chilled by the implication in her words, "Or it found her."
Her subtle reminder that they weren't alone was enough for Crono's nerves. He put his hand on her shoulder to indication he was ready to leave, "That's all I care to hear for now. I think it's time to retreat and dissect this information somewhere safe and less damaging to my nerves."
"Yeah, you're right," Lucca took the hint and followed him back towards the exit, "But the door shut on us, how do we get through?"
"Didn't I just show you how a half hour ago?" Crono gave an exaggerated gesture with his free hand.
"Don't, Crono. We'll just think of another way. I don't want to draw anything's attention here."
Crono's didn't bother to respond, he agreed with her on that. Of course, he would never admit it. Their friendship wouldn't seem the same without the arguing.
They made tracks the rest of the way down the long room and reached the door still with no sign of their host. So far, so good. From there, it was a simple matter of Lucca reaching out and pulling on it.
"See, no--" she began as the door accommodated her attempt, but found she couldn't bring herself to finish as she saw what lay on the other side.
Not so much on the other side, but encompassing the entire doorframe emitted a red light much brighter than Lucca's lantern. Within it swirled infinitely of what seemed like tinted water, calm and eternal. It was a gate.
"What the hell?" Lucca's first thought wasn't quite as insightful as her second, "How the hell?"
"Okay, now I'm creeped out to the point I'll openly admit it," Crono added, "Can I start destroying things now? Perhaps a nearby wall to get around this thing?"
"I'm thinking yes," Lucca nodded emphatically, "And I'm thinking right now."
Underneath their conversation, a noise began slowly.
"What's that?" Crono asked as his ear picked up the sound; he turned around to peer into the darkness behind them.
Lucca waved her lantern towards the blackness, then mentally berated herself as she realized its light was nowhere near as strong as the gate's already was anyway. Even so, they could only clearly see about twenty feet beyond. Whatever was making the noise was much further off.
But it was definitely getting closer. As it got louder, they were able to recognize it. It was the clatter of many little feet running quickly across a stone floor. It was something. Many somethings possibly. An inhuman screech pierced their ears and they knew they had been spotted.
"We're in no position to fight here," Lucca told Crono, increasing her volume as the skittering noise threatened to drown it out, "Take out that wall now!"
"I don't have time," he yelled back, "They'll catch up to us regardless. But maybe it's just an illusion like what Nikades did to us."
"Do you want to take that chance?"
He glanced back into the darkness, and thought he could begin to see some movement in there. Something big. Crono shook his head, "Not today."
"We're going to have to take the gate," Lucca conceded, "It's a damn trap, I know it."
"No choice," Crono stepped towards it, "I go first this time, I'm armed."
Lucca didn't argue and he quickly jumped in, disappearing into the wall of light. Fighting the urge to turn and get a quick look at their enemy or enemies, Lucca followed suit.
But the gate didn't close just yet.
"So basically I'm not worth a whit to anybody, right?"
Cid was reclined back on an examining chair, eyes closed and merely listening to Doctor Y explain his situation yet again.
"Yes, yes you are," the doctor replied hastily, "Don't ever think you aren't. You're the most important person to us right now."
"I meant a real person. Not some scientist who just wants to use me to further his theories. Was there anybody here who cared about me in my make believe history?"
"Well," the doctor stalled noticeably, unable to come up with a quick response, "at the time we were allowed to let you out. We had to make sure of a few things."
"So yeah, the answer is no. That's all you had to say, you know," Cid made a gesture with his hand, "Well, at least that hasn't changed."
The doctor seemed to sigh to himself, though Cid couldn't tell if it was out of guilt or annoyance. He opened his eyes as he heard papers being rustled beside him. Looking over, he saw the doctor preparing to leave.
"I'll be back in a few minutes, first I have to drop these off. If I'm not back by then, you'll probably get an escort. In which case, don't worry. They know what they're doing and you won't be in any danger."
Cid sat up at that remark and held out his hand, "Way, way, way, wait! danger? What's all this?"
"Just don't worry," the doctor repeated, "They'll explain it all when they arrive; but I'll try to get here before them so I can explain it myself. Really, I'll be right back."
And then the door shut behind him, leaving Cid alone. He could get up and run now, he knew. He'd even make it past the door before the guards reached out and apprehended him. So much for that plan. He laid his head back down and let his thoughts wander.
While he was out, he had had another of those dreams. It still didn't make any sense and that damn shack was still sitting there like a gateway to hell. But the memories that had come at around the same time as the dreams, they seemed to be following the same theme. He was beginning to believe the boy in the nightmares and the boy in these strange memories were the same.
But was he that boy? He was positive the answer was no. He had his memories of growing up and working at RoboTech until he had met some new friends and his life went off course. All this new information Dr. Y had been giving him seemed to follow the thread of the dreams though, perhaps the boy was the person they had him mistaken for.
That would explain a few things, other than the mix-up and how it could have occurred. How did he fit into any of this? And most of all, Why him?
Cid snorted at his bad luck. The only way out of this was to convince them they had the wrong guy, but days of that had failed so far. If this kept up, he would never reach Death Peak.
That brought his thoughts around to a new direction, and he reminded himself of his quest before all this began. Should he even carry on with it now or just head back and try again some other day.
He already knew the answer to that, he would head back to his friends. The solitude was already getting to him. The only thing now was to find a way out. If only Marshall were here, he was the escape artist of their little group.
Cid smiled at this, at least he wasn't fixated on the tragedy of everything anymore.
"Are we set to go?"
Cid snapped out of his thoughts instantly and looked back at the door, where Dr. Y stood with a pair of guards behind him. The doctor was empty-handed, having dropped off the papers as he said he would, but the guards were definitely wearing their trademark stun guns. Cid marked off that method of escape quickly.
Instead, he played along for the time being, "As ready as a man strapped to a chair and filled with enough drugs to drop a rhino can be."
Crono scanned the foreign horizon warily as Lucca popped out behind him. They were now on some sort of pathway, though overgrown a bit with grass. A forest sprawled out along one side of the road, filled with trees that looked familiar but different in some way. And behind him on the other side of the road was an open field with grass half as tall as they were. But best of all, they were alone.
Plus there was light here.
"Hm, red sun," Lucca commented on the source of that light, looking up as she used her free hand to shield her eyes.
Crono followed her gaze to confirm that it was indeed red, "Around noontime, too."
"Depending on how long days last in this world, I guess," Lucca added, "At least it's a livable environment."
Crono took a breath and nodded his agreement, then glanced back at the gate, which still hadn't shut. "I wonder why--"
What he could only define as a blur emerged from the gate like a cannonball and slammed into Lucca, throwing her to the ground. It reared up, giving him an opportunity for a decent look at it, but he didn't bother. First priority was getting it off of his friend.
Crono swung his sword, only to have it glance off the beast with a ring. Some sort of exoskeleton, he realized. It mostly ignored his blow, retaining focus on Lucca who futilely tried to push it off. Cocking its head, it raised its arms up to reveal two cruel looking scythe-like hands adorned with tiny barbs along the bottom.
It's a giant preying mantis, Crono realized as he swung again, this time aiming for a joint. But once again his sword couldn't find a crevice to bite into. The monster however was distracted this time as it realized it was in possible danger, and faltered in its fatal blow to Lucca.
She took the opportunity to reach over and grab the handle of her lantern, which she had dropped on impact. It was still lit, the fire burning within, though dimming now. But good enough for the situation.
She swung it around and it smashed into the mantis' head with the noise of metal on bone, the glass breaking. The little bit of oil remaining splattered over the monster's face and quickly lit as the fire spread everywhere possible. The same screech it had made while chasing them through the throne room erupted from its maw as the monster panicked.
Its arms began flaying madly, its head whipping back and forth as it tried to get rid of the burning sensation that was slowly trailing down its body as the oil flowed. Several times it almost inadvertently slashed Lucca, who pressed herself against the ground in defense.
Crono however, had seen enough. Coming off of a quick first step, he body tackled the beast, throwing it off his friend and to the ground. Locked in a struggle, the two rolled around and across the path, each vying to gain advantage of the other. The flames flickered but refused to die in the tumble. Finally Crono came out on top, straddling the insect's abdomen and raising his sword for the deathblow. This time he knew where to go with it. The beast shrieked at him defiantly, the noise harsh and earsplitting. Crono grunted and drove the blade into its open mouth and into its brain.
The mantis convulsed under his weight, almost throwing him off. He grabbed onto his sword tightly, using it for balance as he waited out the violent movements. Finally, they subsided and he slumped over with a sigh.
Only to suddenly have Lucca slapping his back and shoulder hard.
"Ow! What are you doing?" he demanded, flinching away from her blows.
"You're on fire, Crono! Get off that thing and roll around quickly!" Lucca slapped his back again.
He didn't need to be told twice. Crono released his sword and took to the dirt, applying himself to it like a pig until Lucca finally gave him the all clear. He rolled over onto his back and closed his eyes.
"Are any more of those things coming?" he asked.
"No, the gate closed," Lucca replied, "We're safe for now."
He reached up and rubbed his forehead, feeling dirt and possibly blood there, "Good. I'm way out of practice for this sort of thing."
"Well you're the one who was trying to be so prepared," Lucca reminded him, "See what good it did you?"
"Please Lucca, don't. Just let me lie here and hopefully not die," which reminded him, "Am I bleeding?"
"Is your blood green?"
"I hope not," he shook his head.
He wiped his hand over his forehead again, checking and seeing he indeed had the insect's blood on him. He rubbed his hand in a nearby patch of grass to clean it off, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, it knocked the wind out of me, but you were able to get it off before it could cut me," Lucca appeared over him, looking down at his face, "Thanks."
"Hey, what are friends for?"
Lucca laughed, more to alleviate the stress than actually finding that old joke funny. She reached down and offered her hand, which he took, and she hauled him up, "Friends are for company in strange new worlds, for one."
The remark reminded him of their situation and he didn't return her laugh, "How do we get back now?"
She shrugged, "I don't know. But we're standing in a road, so civilization should be around here. Hopefully we can start an idea from there."
"If it's a friendly civilization," Crono reminded her, "Which way do we--"
He stopped as she took a rag out of pocket and began wiping at his head, getting what he had missed. He rolled his eyes at her fussiness but relented. Until he saw the underside of her arm, which had a long red streak down it. He reached up and took her by the wrist.
"Save that for yourself, that's a nasty cut you've got on your arm."
"Yeah, I know," she shrugged, "It stings like a bastard. But it's not impairing my vision."
"Neither is whatever's on my head," Crono added a bit more harshly than he would have wanted to.
"Fine, be that way," she stuffed the cloth back into her pocket and looked down the road, "We'll go that way."
She started off without him.
"Sorry," he called to her as he reached down and grabbed his sword.
It released itself from the mantis' head with a slurp, causing the thing to convulse reflexively. Crono jumped at the moment and stabbed the monster again, just to make sure. In response, it lay still and silent. Satisfied, he sheathed his sword and ran to catch up to Lucca.
"What was the purpose of that?"
Janus pressed his hands and face against his glass prison in an attempt to peer out into the darkness, to hopefully receive a glimpse of who or what he was speaking to, though he knew he wouldn't. Murasame had remained beyond his vision since the beginning. And he knew he and Schala beside him were also both invisible to others.
He had just seen the entrapment and escape of Crono and Lucca, and the beast following them into the gate. He knew on the other side they were going to have their hands full fighting it off. Both he and Schala had tried to warn them, using every means possible, but the pair couldn't see or hear them. Murasama's influence was too strong.
There was no response to his demand either. Murasame was there, he knew, but it chose not to speak for the time being. It refused to give away any information and showed no signs of altering that.
Frustrated, he beat his hand on the glass and turned to his sister. Schala gave him a sympathetic look but also didn't speak. Maybe there wasn't any point in doing so, anyway. The thing that had them trapped had a purpose, a plan, and they would have to play along for now. Perhaps in the end they would find it was right in its decisions and help it along. That was surely what it wanted anyway or it would have done away with them by now.
But the options were too far into the future, there was no point in trying yet. Janus signed and lowered his arms. There was nothing to do now but rest. He would have to be ready for when he was needed.
Something big was going to happen soon and he couldn't be caught unprepared for it.
"So what are you a doctor of?"
Cid tried once again to start up conversation with Dr. Y, who was surprisingly solemn during their trek to wherever they were heading. And once again, he was shot down by a quick uninformative response, "People."
"Okay," Cid drew out the last syllable to give the impression he wanted more, but was met with silence.
They took a right and were met by an elevator. One guard stepped up and pressed the down button, then waited for the doors to open and allow them in. Cid glanced around to view their surroundings, mapping out a possible escape route just to pass the time.
"This place looks familiar though," he remarked.
"It should," Y responded.
The doors opened and they stepped in. The same guard reached forward once again and hit a button on the panel, causing the doors to shut. Cid tried to look past him to see the panel and what button he pushed, but couldn't manage without pushing the guy out of the way. And he didn't want that. Instead, he pressed his question again.
"No really, why?"
"You've been here before, of course," the doctor turned his head around to look him in the face, "This is where, to us, you were born."
The pieces began to assemble in his head and his response leapt from his mouth as it appeared in his head, "Project Lavos."
"Yes. Our leading research point for time travel," Dr. Y was opening up a bit as the topic steered towards something he enjoyed talking about, "But to you apparently a racecourse for a tank."
"Will I be able to try that again?"
"No," this time it was one of the guards who responded, his voice gruff and unfriendly.
"Fine," Cid shrugged, "I wasn't that good at it anyway."
The doctor shook his head at this, probably wondering what delusions this young man was living under, Cid thought. They still thought he was this time traveler guy. Though technically he was. Just not the one they wanted.
"What do you need me here for then?"
"You've asked that three times now," the doctor reminded him, "I'm not at liberty to answer. Just wait until we get there, please."
"Will Dr. X be there?"
The elevator came to a stop and Dr. Y turned to him his face even more serious than before, "You'd better hope not." And then the doors opened, offering them entrance into Project Lavos.