Crono, with his sword drawn and ready, crept around the corner of a hut that stood on the outskirts of the village. Keeping out of sight as much as possible, he scanned the surroundings, looking for life or movement. Nothing presented itself after several moments, so he turned back, signaling behind him that it was clear.
Across the clearing from him, Lucca burst from the tree line and quickly tiptoed her way to the wall Crono awaited her at. After she reached him, he nodded and turned back to look for his next move. There was still no noticeable threat, and the feeling he had that this place was empty was becoming more and more acute. But he still couldn't take any chances.
With his back pressed against the uneven clay of the hut's wall, he slowly edged his way around towards the entrance. He held his sword out at an angle, using its surface to try and create a reflection to peer around the corner of the door with. Realizing it was still a bit grungy from the fight with the mantis he brought it back down and wiped at it with his shirt. Which merely smeared the grime even more.
"Here," Lucca whispered behind him, "Use this."
He turned back around to see her offering him a small vial of something clear. Hesitantly, he took it and examined it. He gave her a questioning look.
"It'll work. I use it on my glasses," she assured him, then reached out and added a bit too loudly, "Here."
Crono made a shushing sound, but let her take the bottle from his hand. She responded to his admonishment with a goofy face as she twisted off the cap, then pulled out a rag from her pocket. She tipped the bottle into the cloth for a split second, the contents making a sloshing sound that seemed much too loud for Crono's liking, then offered the cloth to him. He ignored the face she had made, taking the mystery rag from her so she had both hands free to recap her vial. He eyed the thing for a second, still not trusting it.
"Now you rub it on the sharp thing to make it shiny again," Lucca said, always one to help.
He responded with another shush, but commenced with her advice. "I was just wondering what that stuff was, is all," he whispered."
"It's not going to corrode your sword, silly. It's just water and a disinfectant I mixed together," she explained, then thought to add, "And no, it's not drinkable."
Crono nodded, handing her back the rag and holding out his sword once more. Whatever that mixture was, it worked wonders. The sword now shone as though it were almost new. Peering into the angled reflection once more, he saw what he had by now expected at this point. An unpopulated hut. He lowered his sword, but still didn't sheath it. He had to duck his head to get through the low doorway as he entered. Lucca followed, ducking as well and giving a final glance outside.
The hut was cluttered, but not by anything that stood out on an initial glance. To the left and right of the entrance were two hammocks hanging from the wall, about two feet off the ground; the denizens' beds more than likely. On the far wall was an indentation, the ground around it charred and covered in soot. A fireplace obviously, though the opening where the smoke would escape had long since caved in. It hadn't been used in a long time. But beside it, and the cause of a lot of the clutter, was a medium-sized and opened chest. Whoever or whatever had lived here stored all of its belongings there, and they had been scattered all over the floor.
"Should we look for food here or search around for inhabitants some more?" Lucca asked, turning back to face the inside, then added, "Though I guess I already know what you're going to say."
"Yeah, that's a stupid question at this point," Crono nodded and sheathed his sword, "This place is deserted. It looks like it was deserted quite a long time ago."
"Now let's not go that far with our accusations yet," Lucca stepped ahead of him, examining the ground and the various items that adorned it, "It may have been much more recent."
"How can you tell?"
"I can't, I just said don't assume anything yet. Let me look for clues first."
Crono shrugged, and scanned the ground with her, taking the opposite side. He mainly saw utensils and tools, some wooden and some stone, somewhat more primitive than those of his time. But only barely. The further back he got into the hut however, the less the light was able to help. Lucca also noticed this problem around the same time and mumbled something to herself he couldn't hear.
"What?" he asked, looking in her direction.
A bright flash of light erupted from her direction in response, attacking his eyes with searing pain. He threw up his arms and shut his eyes to shield from it, but it was too late. He was temporarily blinded by the flash, tripping over some item on the floor as he reflexively stumbled away. His eyes watered up helplessly, and he covered them with his free hand as he used the other against the wall to right himself from falling.
"I said don't look directly at me," Lucca's voice offered from somewhere before him, "I was casting a fire spell for light."
"Well tell it to me more loudly next time," Crono pleaded, blinking rapidly in an attempt to regain his sight, "Am I okay?"
"Sorry, I'm still used to whispering," she apologized, "But you'll be fine. Give your eyes some time to readjust back. Do you see spots yet?"
"I don't see a damn thing," he complained, "I think I'm blind forever."
"Well, give it time. I'm the expert on bad eyes here, trust me. You're okay."
"Whatever you say," he leaned back against the wall, continuing to rub at his eyes.
He heard her rummaging through something to his right, and realized he could feel a slight heat emanating from her direction. The product of whatever spell she had cast, more than likely. Soon, he could see the spots she had mentioned as they blurred and unblurred and tried to take shape.
"I'm getting better I think," he said, opening his eyes wide in an attempt to try and focus the blurring, "I can see your movement."
"I'm over here," she said from his left, "But that's good news. I need you to get up and move, I think you're sitting on something."
Crono did as she bid, reaching out to find another wall to orient himself on. He turned to find her blur hunched over another blur on the ground. She was holding a bright blur over whatever it was she was inspecting. He shook his head to try and clear it some more, but it did as much as the eye rubbing and blinking. Nothing.
"What is it?"
Lucca reached down and gingerly picked it up with her free hand, "It's a piece of clothing, I think it used to be a dress."
"A dress dress?" he asked, "For a human?"
"It's humanoid, as far as I can tell," she answered, "Two armholes, a neck, and, uh, I guess the bottom opening was for two legs. If I were crazy, I could put it on and I'm sure it'd fit me, more or less."
"The best time to try would be while I'm over here blind, I guess," Crono goaded her, then asked the obvious, "So the people here are human?"
"Humanoid," she corrected him. We still don't know the specifics. They could be like the reptites. Animalistic or alien, but bipedal."
"What?" that had all gone straight over his head.
"Nothing," she stuck the cloth in her pack for safekeeping and continued her search, "I don't see any pictures or drawings or anything of that sort, though. I think the beings here were a basic bunch. Doing what they had to survive and not much left for anything else."
"A lot of good that did them," Crono pushed himself off the wall to walk back into the room, his eyesight restored enough he felt safe to move around again.
"Don't be like that," she chastised him, "Besides, we don't know anything for sure yet."
"Any food?" he asked, ignoring her barb.
"Nope, and we probably won't find any here," she shook her head and stood, facing him, "I think the village stored all their food together and shared it amongst themselves. Unless this village was looted, which I doubt, I don't see anything that could be currency. So I think the concept of ownership didn't extend too far. Beyond a home, a bed, and tools to work with."
"So there's no food?" he persisted.
"I'm getting to that, Crono. Don't interrupted," she pushed up her glasses and continued, "One of these buildings should be a granary of some sort. If there's any food left, that's where it'll be."
She shrugged, "Maybe the same place. Or maybe they just collected run-off from the side of the mountain nearby. I don't even know how often it rains around here, if at all."
"I'm glad I brought you along, detective," he admitted, half-jokingly.
She laughed at that, but shook her head, "It won't mean a thing if I can't actually lead us to the food or water. Let's start looking before we starve."
Crono drew his sword in response and she snuffed her magic light. Lucca gave one last look inside, then turned and followed him outside, "We'll start in the center and work our way outward. I'm sure that middle building is the most important."
"That's what I had in mind," Crono agreed, "That middle hut looks special anyway."
They advanced that way, much less wary than last time, but still keeping their eyes open for trouble. When they reached the middle hut, Crono poked his sword through the entrance first before following it inside. His eyes darted left, then right to avoid any surprises from his peripheral directions.
But this hut was just as empty and devoid of inhabitants. Instead, it was filled with other things.
"It's a library!" Lucca exclaimed loudly, surprised at their find.
Crono didn't even bother to quieten her, it was too late now, "Well, I guess we can safely say these people were a little intelligent."
"Very," she agreed, walking into the room.
Only one table loitered in the middle of the room, but it was surrounded by bookcases, wall to wall, loaded with books. Lucca quickly grabbed one off the nearest shelf and flipped it open, then gasped in amazement.
"Crono, this one's written in our language."
"That's impossible," he sheathed his sword, nearly impaling himself in the rush, and hurried to her side, looking over her shoulder at the print.
"No, it's real," she argued, turning the pages and skimming through the book, "Let me sit down at that table so I can read this better."
He stepped aside as she took her discovery to the table and sat down. She turned the pages back to page one, then having a second thought, turned it over to the front to look at the title, which was blank.
"Strange," she mumbled, then turned back to the first page.
"Do you need any light? Should I look away for a moment?" Crono asked, preparing to do just that.
"No, I... Well, okay." she recast the spell she had used before to illuminate her surroundings, "I shouldn't have shut it off earlier anyway."
Crono waited a few moments longer before reopening his eyes. Content that all was well, he hovered over her shoulder to have a look himself, "What does it say?"
"I'm still on page one, idiot," Lucca retorted, "Give me time to read a little more."
Crono huffed, "In that case, I'll just go back out and keep looking for food and water. Will you be safe in here while I'm away?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," she replied, her eyes glued to the book before her, "I think we've concluded that this village is deserted by now."
"Alright, I'll be back in thirty minutes at most then," he waved to her as he headed for the exit, "See you then."
"Be careful," she returned the wave lazily, turning the page with her free hand to continue reading.
"You know me."
"Hello?!" Crono bellowed loudly as he strode purposefully into yet another hut.
Like every time before, no answer came. But Crono was beyond caring. He had grown impatient with the slinking around about four huts after leaving Lucca to her study session and just wanted this over with. Besides, he had reasoned with himself, his stomach was making far more noise than his mouth ever could at this point.
Not that he really believed that. But still, its logic suited him at the moment.
Crono scanned his new surroundings quickly, giving himself an abridged version of the room, and almost missed something. Halfway turning towards the door, he caught himself and snapped his head back to the far end of the hut. There, stacked about a foot high, sat a ring of rocks surrounding what he knew to be a very, very deep hole.
"Hello," Crono repeated as a statement, elongating the second syllable enticingly.
He stepped towards the well, bending down to scoop up a small pebble about the size of his thumbnail, and peered into the blackness below. After realizing it was too dark to see the bottom, he dropped the rock and stood motionless as he awaited a crack of impact at the bottom or even better, a small splash. After waiting twenty seconds, he gave an exaggerated exhale and scoured the ground around him.
"Need a louder rock," he mumbled to himself.
It was then that he noticed the second surprise this hut had for him. Carefully stepping around the well, Crono advanced towards the wall and the small segment of it that seemed to be moving. As he got closer, he realized it wasn't just more of the wall, but some sort of curtain, gently flowing in a mysterious breeze. It was covered in dust and cobwebs which, coupled with the darkness, camouflaged it very well from beyond ten feet away.
He redrew his sword, getting tired of the maneuver, and held it out, using the tip to push the hanging cloth aside to reveal the other side. Behind it was another hole leading down, this one surrounding a ladder composed of wood and rope. A way down.
"Here we go," Crono gave a satisfied smile and stepped forward.
Lucca looked up with an annoyed expression as a redheaded blur noisily ran into the library before sliding on his feet the last few strides to rest in front of her. Effectively, she had lost her place on the page she was reading.
"Found water," Crono informed her helpfully, resting his palms on the corner of her table.
"Great," she said, an honest statement despite the annoyed tone she gave off, "Did you drink it all?"
"Haven't touched it yet, I thought I'd get you to test it first to see if it's safe," he leaned over on his arms to look at the book she had in front of her, "Found anything in there?"
"No, and I probably won't. This book seems more like a mythology. Nothing mentioned in it seems pertinent to the area around here."
"Oh," Crono added with a lost look on his face.
"By 'pertinent' I mean 'related to,' in case you were wondering."
"I know what pertinent means," Crono straightened himself, slightly insulted, "I just wonder what you meant by it."
"I mean the stories seem set in a--"
"Yes, stories," Lucca groaned, "That's what this little book was."
"Oh, sorry," Crono apologized, "I thought it was like an almanac or something."
"They seem set in a less temperate climate than here," Lucca continued, not bothering to berate him further, "As in a permanent frozen tundra."
"Sort of like Zeal?"
"Yes, it popped into my head too," Lucca conceded, "A lot like Zeal, actually. They seemed to worship something on the top of a mountain from what I read so far, but it didn't go into detail. That's all I dug up."
"Well, if you want to take a break from reading, I'd like to show you what I found."
"I've seen water before, Crono."
"Yeah, but it's been a while. You might've forgotten what it looks like," he retorted, "Trust me, you might find something there I couldn't."
"I wish, I didn't see any of that anywhere either. Animals have probably ransacked this village after everyone left. But I thought I should get you before I kept looking for other stuff."
"Alright, alright," taking the hint, she dog-eared the page she was on and shut the book, throwing up a cloud of dust, "I'll finish this later. I could use that drink, come to think of it."
Marle stared at the painting in front of her, bored out of her mind once again. Initially, she had decided it was an image of a burning building of some sorts, but the more she stared at it, the more it seemed to blur and lose definition. her eye would pick up on a certain part and sudden it looked like a paint smear. Soon it was all just a swirl of colors that gave her a headache.
"Are you okay in there?"
Marle whirled towards the door at the voice, and was immediately given an even stronger headache as the light shone in through it to hit her eyes. She squinted her eyes as her hands automatically raised up to shield them. The door was shut before they had time to fully adjust to the light however, leaving her blinded to the dark room even more. But she knew she was not alone anymore.
"I see you've been admiring my finest work," her visitor said.
"You paint between kidnappings?" Marle demanded angrily, ignoring his annoyingly jovial tone.
"I don't mean the painting itself..." he responded, then suddenly changed the subject, "I just came here to bring you food."
A small light erupted before her suddenly, a flame. She had no idea where it had come from and gasped in surprise before composing herself. It enveloped a small torch and grew until it gave a flickering light to the entire room, illuminating her surroundings at last.
The room was medium-sized and nicely furnished for what she thought of as a prison. A clean bed sat in the corner with a waist-high desk beside it. The window overlooking the bed was barred on the outside, however the curtains tried to conceal that as best they could. A light blue, spongy carpet ran underneath it all, though seemingly purple in the reddish light of the fire.
Plus there were the paintings, which adorned every wall. She had counted at least a dozen of them at first, but now the light gave sight to more. They were of people, of events, landscapes, and some that seemed to just be a splatter of colors. The one that drew the most attention from her however was the one over the head of the bed, a framed painting of herself.
Her examination was brought short by a clatter. Marle turned back to see her captor place a tray of food on the desk. As his hands left, she scanned her dinner, which was not nearly as grand as her room. Soup and bread. The lone utensil was a spoon.
"Just leave it here," she said, "I'll eat it later when I'm hungry."
"You'd best eat it quick before it gets cold," the man said, refusing to budge.
"It's already cold," Marle responded, "It's bread."
"I meant the soup," he corrected.
Marle simply dipped a single finger into the broth and concentrated. A brief twinge fluttered down her arm and into the soup, her own personal magic. The ice spell froze the soup solid, trapping the vegetables within.
"I think it's already cold, too."
The man smiled at this, as if oblivious to the threat her magic may pose to him. This unsettled her a bit, he wasn't afraid of her power. He instead sat down on her bed, steepling his hands above his knees.
"Well, in that case, let's talk again."
"I won't tell you about Marshall, I've already made that clear," Marle immediately tried to close the conversation.
"I know, that was a poor choice of words for myself to use. At the time they seemed okay," he shrugged and continued, "Nobody could tell me about Marshall because he doesn't tell anybody about himself to begin with."
"Who are you?"
"What I meant to say at the time was something more along the lines of 'Now we just wait for him to show up,'" he ignored her question.
Her previous query fruitless, Marle changed direction, "Then what do you want to talk to me about?"
"What do you want to talk about?"
The man laughed, "You won't eat, you won't chit chat. You seem positively bored, engaging in at least one of those might help that."
"Then tell me, who are you?" she tried again.
In response, he stood up and towered over her. But still without seeming a threat, "I can't tell you that, I'm sorry. That's my own little secret for the moment. Maybe someday though, I'll be able to share it with you."
"Don't bother," she shrunk away from him despite the hardness in her voice.
"Well, in that case..." leaving the sentence hanging, he stepped towards her, then past her, reaching out with his hand and placing a finger onto the top of her ice soup.
Marle's eyes grew wide as she watched the ice begin to melt, then steam. Soon it was back to the way it was before she had tampered with it herself. He drew his finger away and to his mouth, sucking the now hot broth off of it, "It's not bad, you know. Probably just not what you're used to."
"...How?" she managed to get out, staring, instead of at him, at the soup.
"Yes, well that's my other little secret. One I'll gladly share with you," he gestured at his torch, "You don't think I lit this thing with the bread, do you?"
He turned towards the door, prepared to leave, "Now please eat. I have no intention of starving you."
She ignored his parting words as her mind tried to digest what she had just seen. Magic obviously, but he shouldn't have been able to do that. In this day and age in fact, she only knew of four actual people who could. And from Lucca's notes, those four were almost it for every point beyond the time of Zeal. Five of them had been accounted for.
But there had been that one missing piece they never found...
The door shut and sealed her in her room, bringing the darkness back and breaking her from her thoughts. Marle sighed and decided to take the man's advice, she could dwell on magic later. She picked up the spoon and inspected it. Clean, like everything else she been given so far, at least. She sat down on the bed, scooting over towards the desk and tray, and began eating.