The future was not what Frog had imagined. After glimpses of Robo's time, dark and covered in polluted fog, the world before him as he stepped out of the Epoch was nature exploded. More verdant Crono's world, trees as thick as houses clustered so tightly that sunlight trickled through the leaves and left the ground in a dim gloom. Centuries worth of fallen leaves crunched as the ship landed in one of the few clearings and the small group disembarked, gathering at the side of the Epoch.
"How changed," Frog said, glancing at the trees. "The air seems as sweet as Crono's age."
"Cleaner," Lucca said, pulling out a camouflage netting and tossing it over her ship. "When we get to Cronopolis, you'll see the purifier towers that scrub the air."
"Is't far?" Frog asked. "I didst not see any city from the sky."
Lucca tugged the netting into place and stood back, wiping the dust from her hands. "Not too far. There's a road to the main gate half a mile north. I just didn't want them to spot the Epoch."
They started walking through the forest, Lucca, Magus and Frog in front and Marle and Crono bringing up the rear. Marle's voice was a steady whisper behind them as she explained aspects of the future to Crono. Magus tuned out her chatter and inclined his head towards Lucca.
"You're going to enter by the main gate?" he asked.
"Uh-huh. It's easier than sneaking in and there's only a small post--" A smile spread over her face as a thought struck her. "You're worried about the checkpoint, aren't you?"
Magus straightened and stared back at the path. "Hardly."
Beside them, Frog chuckled. "What, is it thy goal to antagonize every army in every era?"
Scowling, Magus drew his cloak closer and didn't answer.
After a few minutes of walking they came to the road, made of cobblestones with grass and glowers poking up between the cracks, so overgrown that Frog would have missed it if the hadn't pointed it out. The trees extended over the road, and as they walked on they spotted gleaming white walls through the leaves, patches of the city in bits and pieces.
The trees suddenly broke wide and Cronopolis rose before them. Five story walls surrounded the city, and within them towers spiraled up toward the clouds, as white as polished ivory. A flock of birds wheeled from one spire to another like the wind made tangible. And at the very bottom of the walls the path turned into a bridge over a deep chasm, ending at two giant doors flung wide and several guards milling at their posts. Instead of swords, sleek pistols hung at their hip.
Only as they approached the gate did Lucca notice Magus was gone. She glanced around for a swirl of a cloak behind a tree or a flash or blue hair in a shadow. Wherever he was, he was well-hidden. The lieutenant stepped forward and set his hand on his pistol, just as routine.
"Stand and state your business," he said.
"Four travelers, hoping to use the city's public archives," Lucca said. "Probably just a day or two."
"And where will you be staying?"
"With Prometheus in tower Serenitatis," she said, and pulled from a pocket a gold disc no larger than her palm. She held it up for him to see. An audible gasp went up from the guards. The lieutenant took another look at her, recognizing her more from the thick glasses than her face. "Lucca Ashtear," he said in an almost reverential tone. "I'd heard you'd mastered time travel, but I'd dismissed it as a rumor. It's truly an honor to meet you."
"Oh, I can't take all the credit for that," she started.
"Prometheus told us all about you," one of the privates said. "The genius who mastered robotics and gate technology despite living in a primitive age."
Lucca grinned and stood straight. Frog watched with interest as a change came over her, the respect infusing her with confidence that gradually became manic as it touched her eyes. The shy genius disappeared, leaving behind the scientist cackling in glee at her own inventions. Behind them, Marle sighed and leaned against Crono, waiting for Lucca to remember their reason for coming.
While the soldiers showered her with adoration, though, Frog noticed a shadow moving beneath the bridge. Without making a big show of it, he glanced at it and repressed a laugh as he watched Magus edge along a narrow ledge just under the guard post. The chasm drove the wind faster, and the wizard's cloak billowed behind him while his hair flew in his eyes. Frog could imagine the curses Magus was uttering as he fought to get it out of his face while inching farther beneath the bridge. If his transportation spell had a limited range, no doubt he wanted to be as close as possible before disappearing.
Finally in position, Magus took a deep breath and stepped off the ledge. Before he fell far, he vanished. Frog shook his head slightly. The wizard must believe the guards would recognize him, and he grinned in anticipation of teasing the reason out of him.
Once Lucca led them in at last, Frog looked around for their wizard and found him sulking in a corner, hood drawn low over his face. He left Lucca for a minute and walked over, ignoring the looks he received as usual and leaning against the wall beside him, hands resting on his hilt.
"Thy transgression must have been quite a show for thou to keep out of sight."
Magus snorted and glanced around the street for any roaming patrols. All he saw were walls and small shops like mouse holes, and the crowds of people farther down the street. "More trouble than they're worth." He glared at Lucca, who was waving to the gate guards. "They stroke her ego enough?"
"Thou'rt one to speak of egos," Frog said. "Besides, it seems harmless enough. She receiveth little recognition in her own time."
"Well, I'm not going to wait while she laps up praise like some starving dog," Magus said. "I'll see what I can find in the archives myself."
Before Frog could answer, Magus disappeared again. The knight shook his head and headed back to the group. "Protest all thou likest," he whispered to himself, "thou art willing to work in a team and bend thy impatience to serve others, as obnoxious as thou act regardless."
If he'd heard Frog speak, Magus might have considered another dig about Queen Leene. The sunlight glaring off the white towers put him in an even worse mood. He reappeared just around the corner and started walking toward the castle, now the tallest conglomeration of spires in the city. He passed store windows full of various goods, shelves of fresh baked bread, colorfully wrapped candies, spinning crystals, toys that walked when a key was turned, silk clothes and neon lights of female lips and gracefully emptied wine glasses. His dark cloak stood out amidst the light and color. People parted before him, giving him easy passage through the crowded streets until he was only a few stores away from the castle gates.
If he was lucky, there wouldn't be a repeat of his last visit. Three teleportation spells, one right after the other, sent him first behind a tall oak near the gate, then inside the grand hall, and finally safely ensconced on the staircase that led to the archives. One of the guards inside the hall shivered in the breeze he'd brought with him, but no one said anything. Silently he swept down into the darkness, and the electric lights burned blue instead of white as he passed. The only difference between the castle of the past and future was the white facade of the walls. Alfador slipped out of his shadow and stayed at his heels, the two of them shadows in the bright archives.
A row of small screens stood against the wall, and he sat down at one of them, pressing the power button and waiting for the machine to come on. He'd preferred the microfiche Lucca had developed, quickly displayed and easily sorted, but he'd never seen anything like that in this archive. Everything humans made seemed designed to frustrate and annoy him. He growled as the screen finally glowed and blinked, showing that it was loading. When his cat jumped into his lap, he absently stroked its fur and let the familiar purring calm him.
Now came the interminable clicking of the mouse as he searched, examined and scrolled through electric scrolls. Long pages of small type zoomed by on the screen, and he winced at the screen's brightness. There was no way to dim it, though, since the buttons meant for that wouldn't work. His shoulder started to ache as he pushed the mouse around.
Sharp claws grazed his fingers and he found Alfador on the desk, batting at the mouse. He allowed himself a small smile and watched him dive and grab the plastic casing, kicking at it as he mewed. For a little while he forgot about the search and, after a quick glance even though he knew they were alone, played back, allowing nips and scratches as he wrestled his cat.
A hiss, like a foot sliding against the floor. It was faint, far across the room, but Magus had scooped Alfador back into his shadow and stood up before it faded. He looked around the room. During the centuries, the royal family had expanded the archives so that a hundred people could fit inside, and he'd only lit what he'd needed to spare his eyes the extra glare. Now he commanded each light to glow blue, the long tubes snapping on one after the other, driving out the darkness.
A whirlwind whipped up and rushed towards him, sending tables and computers flying as he leaped out of the way. He sent a lightning bolt throughout the room, destroying many of the screens but also dragging a screech out of his enemy. He turned towards the sound and spotted a pink and white figure in the corner. Strange. It wasn't Flea, but...he frowned. A human who'd been changed, then.
"You let them do that to you?" he asked.
"Small price to pay," came the reply. As it came into the light, Magus saw that though the figure was modeled after Flea, the skin was now obviously more red, the features harder. At its waist, its body formed scales and where legs had once been, a tail slithered across the tiled floor.
"Price?" Magus put one hand behind his back, ready to draw his scythe. "What did they promise you?"
"Eternity." The naga examined her clawed hand and hissed, a forked tongue tasting the air. "Instead of a few years of mortality."
"You don't know what you asked for," he said with a bitter laugh. "I bet you just woke up."
She stared at him and hissed louder, baring her fangs as they dripped green poison. Without another word, she stirred a whirlwind in the air and hurled it at him, tables cracking in half as it drove over them. All the fury of a tornado spun inside the miniature twister.
Drawing his scythe as he leaped, Magus dodged the wind and readied an ice spell, throwing it in her way as she tried to maneuver around the shelves and chairs. The spell caught the end of her tail and froze it solid, leaving broken ice behind as she slithered forward. She screamed and picked up a chair, aiming it at his head. It flew across the room and struck the wall behind him with such force that it splintered.
Claws up, fangs poised, she glanced wildly around the room, but during her attack he'd disappeared. She reared up as high as her tail would allow and turned in all directions, the only sound her own scales dragging on the floor.
And then the lights went out.
Her mystic eyes began to compensate faster than her human eyes ever could, but she was unused to seeing silhouettes and waited longer than she should have. When the lightning bolt crashed into her, the sudden light blinded her. It threw her against the wall where she slid several feet to the floor. The next bolt struck inches above her head, and she slithered towards the faint glow that she recognized as the door out. Once safely around the corner, she reared up again, one hand against her head, and sped to the stairs.
Panting for breath, Magus paused at the doorway and watched her struggle with the staircase, forced to pull herself up since her tail wouldn't cooperate. He dug through his armor until he found an ether, but it was only half full and a weak potion at that. Too many transportation spells and his earlier fun with Marle's guards had left him drained, and there wasn't much left in him. He drank it anyway and followed.
Squinting as she came into the light, the naga heard the yelling guards before she saw them. She skated around them by ear, and the heat of their pistol shots passed over her skin. Though she hated to head for the light, the main door was the only way out and it was still lowered. She slithered recklessly across, barreling by a blonde blur and then into the street.
Behind her, Magus raced past the guards, also dodging their bullets as they fired at him. He heard Frog and Lucca both tell them to stop and noticed Crono helping Marle back to her feet, but he passed them quickly and followed his prey into the street. People scattered screaming as the naga flung shop carts as if by magic and exploding the glass windows into the street. Flying shards slashed several bystanders and Magus pulled his cloak over his face, but not before his face received a few cuts. He hissed and sent a dark mist rushing after her.
With a sharp turn, she dodged the mist before she even knew it was there. She screamed as it missed her tail by inches and left a flower stand full of withered, wilted trash, and she spotted a stairway leading up one of the towers. She went up as fast as she could, shrieking as lightning bolts shattered the hanging plants along the railing. The staircase stopped on the second story but turn into a bridge to the next tower. Knowing he had to be right on her tail, she ducked into the first open door. She got as far as the railing that saved her from dropping to the next floor, but she couldn't see it yet. The light in here was even brighter than the sun, if that was possible, and it took several seconds for her eyes to adjust. One clawed hand on the railing, one slicing the air in case anyone came close, she bent forward and caught her breath.
Behind her, Magus halted at the entrance, one hand over his eyes. What a love of light humans had! By the time he could see clearly, the naga was already slithering down the walkway, now clear as humans pressed themselves against store windows. An indoors market? With several flights, he realized, spotting the open floor and more shops below. He didn't recognize half the things he saw, mostly electrical devices but some familiar things, furnishings, decorative knives and swords, all made by some other process than by hand, that was obvious.
Useless to him, anyway. He didn't see any ethers or healing potions offered and he was running low on energy. If he didn't stop her soon, he'd collapse and he did not want to be trapped in this city, or at any human's mercy. He vaulted over a collapsed stand full of shattered crystal vases and landed running. The glare off of the windows and mechanical things left him half-guessing his way, and he knocked over about as much as the naga did.
"Magus, where art thou!"
He faintly heard the cry and ignored it. Of course they'd be following, fat lot of good it did him. Let them follow the mess and the panicked cries. The naga was tearing through the eating area, scattering tables in her wake. Blinking lights advertised food shops in different colors, but he was more stunned by the smell of several types of food cooking together. Nauseated, both of them rushed out and down another corridor. Magus started to wonder how wide each tower was, let alone how tall.
No other option open, the naga grabbed the railing and pulled her tail up, then leaped into the air. She turned as she fell, sending as many whirlwinds as she could. Reaching the railing just the first wind did, Magus turned aside and let his cloak take the full brunt of the attack, ripping down the side. He stepped sideways and leaped the railing out of range of the next whirlwinds, sending a block of ice on top of her. She turned and hit the ground on her tail, already throwing herself forward, but the ice still flattened the end of her tail. Scales and internal tissues froze on contact, and with a scream and a spray of blood she wrenched herself free.
She didn't get far. Moving slowly now, she screamed again as he came around and grabbed her throat, slamming her against the nearest wall. She hissed and slashed at his face, and found her hand frozen solid.
"When are they going to do it?" he shouted. He held her several inches off the ground, her mangled tail dripping underneath her. She used her good hand to hold his arm and hold herself up. "Give me a year!"
"They never told me," she snarled, spitting a volley of poison.
He dodged it and squeezed her throat, baring his own fangs at her. "When were you made? Answer me--"
"Six...hundred...twelve..." she hissed.
"And put to sleep at the same time?" He tightened his grip not out of spite but to keep her up. His body trembled less with anger and more from fatigue, and her blood pooling on the ground excited his senses. "Who were you waiting for?"
"...any of you."
A light hand touched his arm, but he didn't look aside.
"Magus, put her down," Marle said, out of breath from running. Behind her, the others caught up. "We'll learn more if you don't kill--"
The naga spit poison again, nailing Marle's eyes. She screamed and scraped it away, stumbling into Crono's arms as she cast a healing spell on herself. Magus slammed the naga again into the wall, and this time blood poured out of the back of her head. Her eyes started to unfocus.
"Answer me and I will give you an easy death," he said softly, fangs still bared. "Where will it happen?"
Her head lolled forward and blood dripped out of her mouth. "...not here anymore...long ago..."
"A name," he said. "A king, a queen."
"...Vele...sia..." She gasped the word out, no longer able to breathe.
"Good," he whispered, and drew her close. Tilting her head to one side, he tore her throat open and drank freely the blood now gushing out of the severed artery. Much better. The fatigue melted away as he drank his fill. He heard the gasps of the modern people as they stared, but it was the scrape of the Masamune out of its sheathe that made him fling the body down and turn, thinking he'd have to fight Frog.
Instead he saw Frog holding the modern guards at bay with a water spell, the sword drawn mostly to bolster himself and keep them at arm's distance. Crono knelt on the floor with Marle in his arms, her eyes clear but stunned by the shock. And beside them, Lucca with one hand over her mouth, eyes wide in fright. Her glasses lay crooked on her face, her hair wild after chasing him. She suddenly looked very young, and he considered what he looked like, red eyes flashing over bloody fangs, blood soaking his gloves.
"What are you staring for?" he growled, dragging the back of a glove over his mouth to wipe away the few traces of blood. "You've always known what I am."
Mute, she nodded once, taking a deep breath to steady herself. Fixing her glasses, she stood straight and turned back into Lucca the great. "Prince Janus," she said in a loud voice, "what happened here?"
For a moment he wondered at the formal title, one he hadn't used in ages, then realized she was giving him an out in front of all the guards. He took a deep breath and drew himself to his full height, imposing even without his recent kill. "A mystic assassin in the archives," he said, "laying in wait to kill either you or me. I couldn't let it escape, could I?"
Frog glared at him over his shoulder, but held his tongue.
"I think we'd better speak to the king and queen about this," Lucca said. "Frog, it's all right, you can stand down. I don't think there are any more evil mystics about."
Not at all the reason he had drawn his blade, but he sheathed it again and let his spell dissipate. The guards likewise holstered their weapons. Lucca looked back at Magus. "The body?"
Escorted out of the large market by both his fellow timetravellers and the castle guard, Magus noticed that they all walked in a broad row, talking up the entire street. There were no carriages on the streets, though, nor stands to get in their way, at least none left standing. Shattered glass, messes of exploded fruit and flowers and an occasional wounded person still lay in the street, with people gathered on the sidewalks watching as they walked by. Frog grimaced and opened his mouth.
"Not a word," Magus hissed. He looked down at Lucca, somewhat annoyed that he was still following a few inches behind her. "Where are we going?"
"The castle spire," she said. "I think we can talk the current monarchs into not having you executed, but these ones aren't as open and giving as the kings we've met before."
"Damn..." The castle was already in sight, no point in trying to vanish if there was a chance he could talk his way out of things first. Hell, he'd walked through Guardia castle without being attacked before. He pulled off his ripped cloak and began wiping his gloves clean.
In the grand hall, dozens of soldier surrounded them as they went up the staircase into the throne room. The king and queen sat in their thrones, blinking lights and buttons embedded in the arms of their seats. The king pushed one of these, closing the door behind them.
"The genius of the past," the chamberlain at the door announced, "Lucca the Great, with...um, entourage."
Lucca took a deep breath as she sized up the royalty. Looking quite similar to their ancestors, their narrowed eyes and upraised heads told her that not only were they angry, they were probably always angry. They couldn't be tyrants for the city to be so beautiful and bright, but it didn't bode well for errant trouble makers.
"What the hell happened?" the king demanded, looking at each of them in turn. He stopped at Magus, more human than most mystics but more mystic than most humans, and obviously cleaning up after a vicious fight. "You're the one who damaged my archives?"
"No, your majesty," Lucca cut in before Magus could. "The naga assassin caused that damage in its attempt to--"
"And where is that naga now?" he interrupted, still talking at Magus. "Dead, I hope, after all the trouble you caused. I saw you chasing after it. You caused nearly as much damage as it did, hurting innocent bystanders and destroying property--"
"Quite dead," Magus said, and everyone stared at him. Everyone but Frog, he knew that voice. Angry wizard was his companion's normal tone but on rare, formal, occasions Magus could act like a arrogant prince, and with this king, that seemed to be the best response. "Such a pathetic army you have if it can't safeguard your own castle, let alone kill one naga. But then I've had to clean up after other Guardia kings, so I can't say I'm surprised."
Stunned for the moment, almost amused, the king looked at his queen once as if to ask 'can you believe his nerve?' He looked back at the blue-skinned man in bloodied armor. "And who are you, who presumes to censure kings?"
Magus rolled up the ruined cloak and tossed it at the king's feet, blood splattering on the immaculate marble floor. "Prince Janus of Zeal, son of Queen Zeal, and a destroyer of Lavos." He tugged on one glove, tightening it so that it showed off the lines of his claws beneath the leather. "And you?"
"King Delavue XXVI," he said, not as amused as he'd been when Magus had been a commoner. "The Zeal Kingdom? I've never heard of it."
"The Zeal kingdom was destroyed by Lavos in your year 12000 b.c. Eternal summer in winter, it was an island kingdom floating in the sky."
"Preposterous," the queen said and laughed. "There are no generators strong enough to lift a kingdom, nor a plane broad enough."
"You put too much faith in your technology," Magus said. He held one hand out and created a ball of lightning crackling around itself. Its light overpowered the soft lamps in the room and sent shadows flickering wildly across the walls. Everyone but his companions drew back.
"We held our kingdom above the ice age beneath us," he said, "solely through magick." He regarded his little lightning sparking across his palm and reflecting in his eyes. It crackled in tight double helixes and coursed through his fingers, straining to leap away. So many years of casting spells, but he rarely looked at them anymore. He closed his fist and the lightning vanished. "Do you believe me, or should I open a black hole and prove it further?"
"I think that will do," the king said, sharing a look with his queen. "What business do you have in our kingdom?"
"Only a look at your archives," Magus said, "once they're repaired, in any case."
"We have to avert a terrible crime in the far past," Lucca said. "Two powerful mystics have put all of humanity at risk."
"And you?" the queen asked, motioning towards Magus and Frog. "Are you mystics yourselves?"
"No, we're not," Magus said, and did not elaborate.
The throne room fell silent as the king thought, all the while watching Magus. A light on his chair lit up and beeped, and he flipped a switch. He watched the screen that lit up for a moment, then leaned back in his seat and nodded once. "Very well. I've been informed that Prometheus himself is on his way from Geno Dome and will arrive in the morning. You will be shown to rooms you may stay in while you wait for repairs to effected. And Prince Janus...there is a doctor and full staff available if you require treatment. I noticed you were bleeding."
"Thank you but no," Magus said, unable to quelch a smile. "None of this blood is mine."
Everyone but the small group of time travelers grimaced. Eager to get out, Lucca made a quick box, followed by Crono and Frog. Magus walked behind them out of the throne room, but at the door the king called him back. Careful to keep an ear out for anyone sneaking up behind him, he stepped back inside and stood before the king, one hand on his hip.
"I require a true answer," Delavue said, "and you need not betray yourself in front of your comrades. You and the frog knight, are you mystics tamed to Lucca's hand?"
Magus shook his head once. "The frog is a human knight from 600 a.d. who I turned into his present shape. And I assure you, I am no mystic." He glanced around at the throne room full of humans of all normal skin colors, but nothing extraordinary. "But even if I was, do you think I would tell you? I noticed none in your city and none in your forest."
"You dare question our actions?" the queen said, sitting straight with her head tilted slightly. "Forgotten prince, if prince you truly are, you know nothing of our time."
"Your pardon, lady," Magus said, "but persecution is a thing of all times. I know it well." He raised one hand, cutting both of them off. "Relax, I'll be sure to keep a good eye on myself and the frog. For our sake if not yours."
He turned to leave, but Delavue pushed a button and sealed the doors. "This audience is not over, mystic--"
Lightning destroyed the doors' circuitry and wind blew them open with such force that the guards on the other side were knocked sideways. Magus turned, cape billowing in the storm created inside the throne room. His eyes flashed like stars. Still covered in blood and with bared fangs, he drove back the only guard to step forward and stared at the two monarchs.
"I am not a mystic. I am not something you are prepared to deal with. I don't care if you believe I'm a prince, but you'd better believe I'm a wizard who could take your beautiful castle apart and the only people who could stop me are my traveling companions." With a sharp wave of his hand the storm abated, the lightning faded and the wind died down.
Alfador slipped out of his shadow then, taking a look around before jumping into Magus' arms, nuzzling against his chest and putting all four paws in the air. Magus glared in annoyance at him. "You couldn't wait five more minutes?" he mumbled. He grumbled and looked back at the king. "I'll be gone soon enough. Deal with it until then." And with his arms full of a fuzzy kitty, the dark wizard stalked out of the throne room and up the stairs after his party, whispering to his cat.
At the top of the stairs, Frog stood waiting at an elevator with two guards several steps behind him. "Thou were't slow. An' thou hadst any problems?"
"No problem," Magus said. They both entered the elevator, speaking in low tones so the guards would not overhear. "But watch your back. They don't like mystics here and they won't trust either of us."
"Thou noticed the lack of creatures in the forest as well?" Frog said. "'Tis most worrisome. Though it pain me to say it, p'raps we'd best keep together whilst here."
Frog chuckled as their ride stopped and they walked out, impressed by the thick carpets and heavy tapestries on the walls. "I admit, I am curious. What didst thou tell them thou art, if not a mystic?"
"A pissed off wizard." He growled again at his cat, who purred in response. "Although walking out with a cat kind of ruined that."
"I am sure thou looked no less impressive." He glanced over his shoulder to make sure the guards were too far back to hear. "Did they recognize thee from thy previous visit?"
"They're idiots, of course not. All they saw was a fast moving shadow." Several courtiers in brightly colored, plastic clothing came down the hall, chattering in a group, but as they saw Frog and Magus they fell silent and stepped aside, whispering hurriedly as soon as they'd passed.
The guards left them at the door to their chambers. They stepped into a well furnished room with thick red carpets, two ivory doors and heavy velvet curtains framing the balcony. A vase of roses stood on a small circular table in the center of the room, and Lucca had already set her helmet down and was busy removing her holster and tool pouch. Marle came out of one door with Crono behind her.
"There's only two beds," she said, "but the sofa looks comfy enough and there's plenty of blankets in the linen closet. Um, we call the first bed."
Lucca, Frog and Magus all looked at each other. Frog was about to volunteer to take the sofa, but Magus beat him to it.
"I'll sleep out here." He walked away before either of them could say anything, slipping into the bathroom. In the morning he'd have to find a new cloak, but for now he focused only on figuring out the shower controls. Once he had the water only slightly warm, he stripped and lined his clothes on the edge of the stall. Without them on, most of the blood lay in his hair, and he rinsed it out as best he could. One by one he rinsed off his clothes and armor, saving his boots for last. The leather had been through worse, but naga blood stained quickly if left too long.
As he stepped out of the shower, toweling himself off, he spotted a bit of movement and turned to face it, one hand already coming up, only to see himself in the mirror. Her amulet still hung around his neck, never once removed. Deep blue hair, alabaster skin, sharply pointed ears. He'd always had blue hair, but his skin had once been normal, his eyes green instead of red. He touched the glass. His hands hadn't always been claws.
He stared at his reflection, wondering how long it had been since he'd seen himself armorless and without his cloak. It was a luxury he couldn't afford, when everyone who saw him thought 'evil mystic.' Even though Frog bore the only weapon that could truly kill him, he could still be hurt or poisoned, and healing would take too much time away from finding Schala.
He turned from the mirror. He shouldn't be here hunting down Flea and Slash. At best they were a minor distraction, easily held at bay. But some time during the last year, he'd stopped believing he'd find anything. Zeal was nothing but a legend in the past, completely forgotten in the future, and Marle's pendant seemed to spontaneously appear in the diaries of queens. Historians had no use for odd jewelry and the diaries only went back so far.
And if he did find her? If he admitted the truth to himself, his imagined reunion was not pleasant. She only knew him as the cold prophet, the sorcerer who had tried to defeat Lavos on his own and found himself far outmatched. What would she think of her quiet, strange brother now turned into a dark wizard? He touched one of his triangle earrings. He'd made them after mastering his strongest spell and had worn them all the years after.
At some point, he'd stopped learning magic and had become magic. No wonder that strange thing in the end of space and time called him powerful. Living with mystics and constant exposure had altered him even more than his sister.
"More than that," he whispered, staring at the floor. "I was only her step-brother. Mother, who was my father?"
But he'd never had an answer then and he certainly didn't expect one now. A burst of heat dried his clothes and he came out again in full armor. Marle, Crono and Lucca sat on the couch facing a black box on the wall with moving images on its screen.
"--wanted to stay with him at Serenitatis, but I guess the castle'll do." Lucca yawned and curled up on the edge of the sofa. "It'll help avoid the usual mob, too."
"Mob?" Frog asked.
Lucca grinned. "Yeah, whenever people find out the great Lucca Ashtear is in town, they absolutely crowd the streets trying to see me. That's why Marle and I usually visit in disguise."
Forcing a small smile, Marle nodded once and stared at the screen. Magus recognized images of himself inside the shopping center with the naga in his hand. The picture was a little grainy and monotone, so the blood looked like shadows, but there was no mistaking him slamming his victim against the wall.
"--body has already been burned," a voice inside the box said, "on a pyre outside city walls. Anonymous sources at the castle say the man shown is Prince Janus of a long lost Zeal Kingdom, and a powerful sorcerer. Also seen here--" and the camera focused on Frog holding the Masamune, "is reportedly a human knight turned into a large frog. Sources say Janus claims neither is a mystic, although--"
He ignored the rest and walked onto the balcony. Frog was already leaning against the curved white railing, but the balcony was large and Magus sat on the windowsill at the far end, bracing one leg on the railing. The city spread out before them like a blanket of glittering diamonds in neat rows as the sun sank and lights came on. None of the spires were as tall as the castle's and few even came close, giving them an unobstructed view of the horizon. Soon the brightest stars covered the sky, the dim ones washed out by the city's glare.
A few minutes later Marle came onto the balcony, standing a few feet from Magus as she glanced over the edge. She leaned forward on the railing, letting the wind blow her hair out of her face. "It's a beautiful city," she said softly.
He didn't answer.
"The people are usually so nice. And they love Lucca." She looked over her shoulder at him. "Did you see the guards talking to her?"
"You mean did I see her ego inflating?"
"...yeah." She sighed and idly ran her hand along the railing, "I don't think she even knows how it affects her. When her and Robo get together here, she's...I don't know. She takes more risks. Her experiments are getting more and more dangerous. Just a few weeks ago she blew up her gazebo. She said it had something to do with a feedback error something, but it was like she didn't care she'd nearly killed herself."
Magus half-shrugged. "Probably not the first time."
"That's what scares me," she said. "She's pushing herself harder and harder and she rarely comes by anymore and this place just praises her for it. One of her experiments will kill her and they'll build a statue for it and she'd probably say it'd be worth it."
"As opposed to your bell?" Magus said. "Or the praise your subjects heap on you?"
"I know..." She turned and looked back inside at Lucca, flipping through channels now as Crono watched in awe. "It felt like we were so close a year ago, but the more I think about it, we didn't really talk. Even now, it feels like we're fighting to keep our friendship going. You shouldn't have to fight to keep a friend."
"And in a few more years I'll be queen," she whispered. "And that'll be it."
Without waiting for an answer, she walked back into the room. Magus tipped his head back against the wall and groaned.
"Why do they all keep complaining to me?"
Frog laughed and glanced at him. "P'raps because they know thou carest not for them, and so can speak freely without fear of losing standing in thy eyes."
Magus just shook his head.
"Might I ask thee a question?"
He half shrugged.
"Thou saidst to burn the dead naga. Was that particular, or is it their custom to be buried as well?"
Magus stared at the sky for a long time, the wind blowing his hair back. Frog glanced at him, wondering if he'd answer, and thought that without the cloak covering him, he didn't seem nearly as old as usual. Though of course, what was the use of reckoning the age of mystics, or even whatever Magus was.
"Burial is for humans and animals covered by sediment and time." He finished the wine in his glass and looked down at it. "Mystics burn. It's the only light they can stand."
"Ah." Frog thought about that for a minute. "Then 'tis a return to the light."
"Call it what you want."
The wizard's tone darkened, and Frog figured that was the only question he was willing to answer this night. Back to business, then. "I spoke with Lucca whilst thou cleaned up. I shall only share her bed half the night, and keep watch the rest. Thou mayest avoid the sofa if thou art willing."
Even if he wouldn't admit it, he thought keeping guard was a good idea and
didn't like the idea of sleeping in such an open space as that main room.
He nodded once. "I'll take the first watch."
There was a clatter inside, and they both looked in as Marle opened the door and received a cart full of food. "Ah, they have sent dinner. Wilt thou want any?"
"Indeed. They showed it several times on what Marle called late night news. Thou shalt wake me later?"
Frog left and closed the curtains halfway to allow him some privacy. Alone now, he watched the clouds cross the city, sometimes touching a spire's tip, and listened to the wind blow across the castle's surface. Maybe later he would float down to the street and find a new cloak. With all those lights on, there had to be a shop open somewhere, and gold was gold everywhere. He'd have to wait until it grew a little darker, though. Until then, he drowsed in the cool air, much like the cool caverns he'd inhabited as he grew up in Guardia. The water flowed clear and reflected candlelight on the walls, and mystic whispers echoed through the caves so that he was isolated but never alone.