The Shadows Chapter 37

Rude Awakening

By Keith Adams

Crono downed another mug of ale. The ale was watery; tasted a bit bitter as well. Crono spun around on his barstool. He was in the meanest, dingiest, bar in Porre. The ceiling beams were full of holes, the stools had a green substance on them, the patrons of the forty odd tables were a motley collection of thieves, liars, confidence men, pirates, soldiers, marines, troll-like buinessmen, gaudily dressed people who had their hole dripped in a smooth, slimy substance, as well as the traditionals; barmaids with their blouses a bit too short, a bartender muscular enough to lift a house, to speak nothing of the bouncer, as well as a suspicious one legged cook who constantly looked around and muttered phrases, words, that Crono could not make out even while standing no more than a few feet away. It had the smell of blood intermixed with ale, of death by violence and death by stupidity. Crono loved it; more than that, he adored it. The rain was softly pitter-pattering across the wooden food, dripping brown, murky stuff along the windows, whilst lightning flashed overhead, briefly illuminating the bars contents, both the clients and the staff, to a blinding light. The roll of thunder inevitable ensued, but twas not the same to Crono; Lightning was the ultimate power, that of everything around them, compressed into one fell swoop, of death and loss and life, while thunder was merely a mark, a passing of the excitement, too late to notice.

The door to the tavern swung open. A female in a hooded brown cloak, with a leather jacket underneath, tight fitting. Her hands were long, slender, graceful; strands of wet blond hair, curled a bit, fell across her face during those flickers of moments when the torchlight cast its' gaze upon her. She was quick, graceful, mysterious. Every eye was cast towards her, the women as well as the mens, the young and the old. She proceeded to the bar, briskly, with precisely measured steps; none overextended nor underutilized her legs. She seemed transfixed upon one person in the tavern; she did not move her head from the slightly tilted position she had even as she approached the bar.

She slunked across the barstool next to Crono, moving her legs under the bar, and putting her pointing finger up to the bartender quickly, for no more than a barest handful of seconds, and noddings, putting some coins on the counter.

The bartender stood agape at the sight; his eyes widened a little, those eyes that had grown so accustomed to an almost squint; his cruel, overextended smile lessened, becoming a look of befuddlement; his arms, one of which was previously constantly up and flexed, were relaxed; his unshaven face slackened.

"Crono, you need to come with me," said the woman in a light, melodious voice "I trust you have a room somewhere for us to talk. The inn, such as is, where you are staying."

Crono squinted his eyes, trying to recognize the woman, but he could not, though she seemed familair, naggingly so, even while the ale buzzed into his ear. The women gave off a clear sounding, crystal-like laugh.

"Can you not guess who I am? You must be more addled brained than Lucca so often says you are," observed the woman merrily, putting the ale the barkeep had set on the counter up to her lips for a second before continuing "Here, put your arm across my shoulder; perhaps you shall not fall in too many puddles on the way to the inn"

Crono, being a honorable, young hothead, did the only thing possible under such a situation. He stuck out his tongue, got up, and skipped in a straight line towards the door. He thought he heard a faintly amused, yet reserved, chuckle from the woman. She followed him, gracefully, onto the street, her legs flashing quickly from underneath her cloak as she stepped onto the cobblestone streets of Porre, where Crono was merrily skipping over puddles, splashing innocent and not quite so innocent passerby alike, none daring to challenge him for fear of the cavalierly slung sword across his belt, despite their similair offerings.

The woman, smiled at the way none would approach Crono, even if they were outfitted with a sword; they feared something. Then it clicked. Being exposed as a fraud. None of those who were splashed wore the sword out of ability; they wore it so they had the protection of the ability with a sword without actually having it. Crono was a good deal brighter than I previously believed, noted the woman.

The lamposts in the area were more accurately sticks held up by melted roks with fire at the top, but they served well enough in illuminating Porre; perhaps a bit too well, thought the woman as she noticed the garbage literring the streets sides and far worse articles in the gutters, where an inky black substance had apparently taken hold of the water, and was permeating it.

The moon was shining brightly; it illuminated the clouds, making them pale baside its' radiance. The moon cast pale shadows over the street, shadows of short buildings on the apparent verge of falling apart. A cool breeze flung the small raindrops in the womans face, but she hardly let it perturb her.

Crono stopped at a four way intersection, right in front of a looming, almost mansion like building, with three stories and five outward jutting windows on every story save the first, where the central window was replaced by an ornate door engraved with flowers and the like. There was a small garden of black roses in the front, and Crono strolled through the door, barely pausing to open it, letting the woman hold it open and enter by herself.

The woman followed Crono, who went up a long, diagnol staircase to the second floor, made a quick right, and opened a large oak door. The room on the other side of the door was not paticulairly large, having only a bed twice the size as the usual and a small dresser. A sachel lay inert on one side, on the other Crono's few books were scattered about. Crono promptly collasped on the bed's white sheets, closing his eyes.

"Have you forgotten about me already? I'm hurt," said the woman, pulling back her hood.

It was Janice. Crono reeled; Janice did not look like that. Her skin seemed softer, almost glowing, with a faint aura of white. Her blonde hair was curled, and cascaded gently down to her shoulders. She raised an eyebrow at Crono.

"You look very nice," said Crono, retaining his composure rather well in his own opinion.

"Do you think so?" asked Janice, rather insecurely, but she waved her hand and changed the subject "Crono, it's time to take responsibility."

"For what, precisely?" asked Crono dryly.

"For the world. People need you. You are one of the few who can stop the Shadows," it was almost a plea.

"I am not the world's keeper," replied Crono.

"That's right," Janice took a short breath "You are not. You are too much of a coward to be the world's keeper." Crono gasped, but Janice continued "You turned to drinking and partying after you beat Lavos - do you know why? You had beaten you're greatest challenge. There was nothing left. So instead of trying your hand at a new challenge, you decided to run away, to say there's nothing left. But you are the challenge seeker only when it suits you, only when you hold the upper hand." Janice continued, methodically "When something you can't beat, can't comprehend, comes along, do you try to understand it or find a new way of besting it? No - you run away. You're always running Crono. You couldn't face the possibility of not getting retribution for the attack at the docks, so you let a thousand year old tradition die. You couldn't face Marle after that, and you're running away fom her too." Janice narrowed her eyes slightly "Do you run because you tihnk she's immature, not really attached to you, or do you run because she does love you, because she is attached to you, and you can't accept that maybe you're attached to her? You're running away from whether or not you are, whether or not you can face it. So turn arond Crono, go back to Truce, and face the music. You are one of the few people who can pilot an Epoch. You are one of the few Marle cares about.So go to Truce and take responsibility."

"Your premises are wrong," retorted Crono "I do seek a foe worthy of myself, but not one that is myself. I shall not raise my hand, when I could be killing myself." Crono gulped "I cannot."

"Are you unwilling to face yourself? Are you telling me one of those Shadows are you, and that you're afraid to face that possibility. You are running away. Stop and face everything - the Shadows, Marle, yourself even."

"For someone who prides himself on severing ties and running away, I do a remarkably bad if I let someone guilt me into taking responsibility."

"Yes you are. No go dunk yourself in a cold bath. The ferry leaves at six am."


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