The days which followed were pretty much the same. Ben would steal them from Shari to plan out their attack on Revick, and Shari would steal them from Ben to get them training more. They still ran into nothing but dead ends in planning how to get rid of Revick's army, but their training went well. Soon Shari had them pitted against each other with staves and neither one of them could hit the other. Shari had Jaina take them on one at a time and they didn't do too badly, and when Shari had them BOTH take on Jaina, they managed to knock her over once, but they still got knocked about fairly badly. Shari was pleased though because she said Jaina was only second to herself in the village, even slightly better than Trini, and they did well against her. Their marksmanship with the bows also improved dramatically, and on every hunting trip Shari took them on, they got faster and quieter at tracking. They also took spare time to help Shari and Trini with English. Both of them could now speak English almost as fluently as Jaina. They still occasionally stumbled over a big word however.
"Now! This is very important training." Shari explains, holding out her staff. "You two rely on your eyes too much. Not good. A good staff user is one who can FEEL where the enemy is going next, not just look for it. Put on the blindfolds."
"I'll be gentle I promise." Shari says, laughing as they look uncertainly at each other.
"Lucca first." she says, and Lucca blindfolds herself, then gropes around for her staff and edges carefully out to somewhere in front of Shari.
"Try to block me." Shari says.
She swings the staff in toward Lucca, but not hard enough to hurt her if she hit.
Lucca uncertainly moves her staff, but misses the block completely. The staff hits her in the arm.
"No. Hold the staff like this. It's the best defense position." Shari says, positioning the staff in front of Lucca.
"Now. You can't use your eyes... but you are far far from helpless. Try to block me."
She swings the staff again, and Lucca moves to block her arm, but Shari's staff comes in from the opposite and hits her in the side.
"No. That was just assuming I would do the same again! Try again."
Lucca repositions her staff, and waits.
Shari sweeps in low trying to take Lucca off her feet. Lucca listens carefully.
At the last moment, Lucca gasps and jumps, but the staff hits her foot anyway, knocking her over.
"Ah! Good! You just need to realize it faster and react quicker." Shari says. "Now Crono."
Lucca stumbles her way back over to where she started from and Crono blindfolds himself and edges his way out into the practice area as she takes off her blindfold.
Crono inhales deeply, and tries to hear over the pounding of his heart which suddenly sounds incredibly loud.
"Same thing. Try to defend yourself not using your eyes." he hears Shari say.
He tries to hold his staff the way Shari had shown Lucca.
"If Marle can kick my butt while blind, I can defend myself." he thinks to himself, then listens carefully.
He got knocked sideways by Shari's staff.
"Bah you didn't even try! Try again." she says.
Crono repositions himself and resolves to concentrate harder.
As he listens carefully, he thinks he can hear a soft swish. He moves the staff to block.
Impact! He blocked it successfully.
"And block this!" she says.
Crono is taken by surprise, not expecting a second attack.
He tries to get himself into defense position and concentration as fast as he possibly can, however, not only was the attack a surprise, it was unexpected. Shari's staff jabs him in the stomach, knocking some of the wind out of him.
"See. Expect the unexpected and the unexpected won't surprise you." Shari says, chuckling.
"You two practice this. One of you swing the other defend with blindfold. But DON'T hurt each other. I'll come check soon." she says, and walks off toward the town center.
Crono peeks out from under his blindfold at Lucca, then shrugs and pulls it back down, getting into position.
Lucca sighs and picks up her staff.
*more time passes*
Crono flopped on the ground and wiped the sweat off his forehead before it could run into his eyes.
"Man it's way too hot to do this today." he says.
Lucca nods, leaning on her staff weakly.
Shari walks up to them.
"Hey! Don't stop! Giving up won't make you stronger. The heat will make you tough." she grins.
"Can we do longbow today instead? It's too hot for all this running around." he says.
"Bah! Wimpy man. Ok fine. As long as you practice it's ok. Back to work! Come on move!"
Lucca puts her staff on the rack and picks up a longbow, muttering "Slavedriver".
Crono takes a long drink from the container of water set nearby, then exchanges his staff for a bow as well.
Several arrows later, they took a break for lunch.
Jaina was sitting in the village square, shaving at a bone with her knife.
Crono accepted some food from one of the men and sat beside her. Riki moved to her far side as he approached.
"Whatcha making?" he says, around mouthfuls.
"Some arrowheads. I'm making sure my arrow supply is undamaged and full."
"Where do you get the fletching supplies anyway? Obviously you make the arrowheads and flights yourself... And shafts I suppose..."
"Everything is home made. Lots of arrows are made of bones... but some are made of wood. Most arrowheads are made of bone as well. Some are made from flint, but supplies of flint are limited here, so those are saved. All flights are made from feathers, and bowstrings are made from tendons of animals. The fletching glue is made from the hooves of the wild boar. Nothing is wasted. There were several alternatives made when wood supplies got low, so now the only thing which requires the wood is the staves and bows themselves, and the forest is growing back. They probably COULD make a bow out of bone or some other material but it's much harder to work with than the wood."
Crono nods some more as he eats.
Ben comes out of the meeting cabin, spots Crono and comes trotting over.
"Crono, I've decided."
Crono blinks at him.
"Decided what?" he asks.
"Decided that we need to find those hidden passages. We'll have to send a scout party to search the walls. It will have to be small and quick and silent though. We can't afford to lose anyone to Revick yet. Is there anything specific that marks the passages you know of? Maybe a miniature Guardia crest or something nearby? I know a few castles which do that."
Crono shakes his head.
"All the ones I know of were so well hidden that even if you knew it was there you couldn't find it. If there was anything marking them it was hidden too." he says.
Ben ponders for a moment.
"Jaina... who are the fastest and most silent in the village?" he asks.
"That would be Shari, Trini and myself. But you can't take all three of us. That would leave the village without a leader." she says.
"Who is next best then?"
"You'd probably have to ask Shari. She knows them better than I do... As far as I'm concerned everyone below the three of us is about the same in skill. Except the men, because they don't get the same amount of training."
"Well then it's up to Shari and who wants to volunteer. We don't want to take too many because we don't want anyone wondering where they came from if we get caught." he says.
"I think she's out in the fields somewhere right now, but when I see her I'll let her know you want to talk to her?" she says.
"Thank you Jaina."
As it was getting dark, Shari and Ben stood beside the fire pit and argued.
"No. I will not allow you to take Jaina and Trini." Shari says.
"But they're the best ones here besides you."
"The village needs them. I will let you take up to 5 of anyone who volunteer to come. The rest stay."
"Ok so who do you recommend?"
Shari looks back over the small gathering of women, and says something in the other language.
A few women raise their hands and a couple stand up.
"Those are the ones who volunteer. You choose 5 of them." Shari says.
Ben motions for the volunteers to move forward and then carefully selects 5 from among them. A couple of them Crono recognizes as ones who have a ready grin and congratulate him and Lucca all the time and try to talk to them although they know they can't understand each other. He resolves to keep them safe.
"I'll need someone to translate to them." Ben says.
"I'll go!" Jaina says.
"No!" Shari and Ben say simultaneously.
"It's too dangerous!" Ben says.
"You must stay safe!" Shari says.
Jaina pouts slightly.
Trini stands up.
"I'll go then." she says.
Shari eyes Trini critically, then nods.
"But stay safe. Finding a new second in command is too hard." she says.
"Ok then. We'll leave tomorrow morning. Unless you think we should leave now and sleep out there? We might have more daylight then." Ben says.
But as Shari opens her mouth to answer, a blinding flash cuts her off.
The entire village turns as one.
Standing to one side, is Draco. Standing with him, is Marle, who stumbles a step, shaking her head as if she were disoriented.
Crono couldn't help but stare.
She was wearing some sort of sleeveless outfit, but he wasn't sure what kind of material it was. Possibly some sort of leather. The pendant sparkled at her throat, and on her upper right arm there were some black symbols. The round scar from where the bolt had hit her shoulder was completely gone.
And her eyes were intact.
Upon a closer look though, he could see she was tired. Exhausted even. Draco was almost holding her up, and there were dark circles under her eyes.
Her beautiful, undamaged eyes.
Half the village had grabbed spears and bows when they saw the dragon, but hesitated when they saw Marle. Marle quickly says something in their language, and most of them relax.
Then Marle looks confused.
"When you said 'take me to Crono's house' I assumed you meant 'take me to Crono'. So I did." Draco says in his rumbling voice. "We can still leave and go to the house." he continues.
Marle stands there for a moment, then shakes her head and says, "No... no this is good. Thank you."
She scans the crowd, and her eyes fall upon Crono, Lucca and Ben.
"You guys look sooooo good." she says, grinning.
Riki bounds through the crowd and nearly knocks her over.
Marle laughs and hugs the excited wolf.
"Hey Riki boy! How's Riki? Good boy Riki!"
Then Jaina shoves her way through the crowd and throws her arms around Marle.
"Oh Jaina. I'm so glad you're ok." Marle says.
Something clicks in Crono's mind.
"She's your daughter isn't she?" he says, incredulous.
Marle smiles guiltily.
"And that's the wolf pup... well things make a WHOLE lot more sense now." he continues.
Ben walks over and gives her a hug too, but nearly ends up supporting her as she weaves a bit.
"Are you ok Nadia?" he asks, concern in his voice.
"She is weak." Draco answers. "I had to do extensive healing, and the resources had to come from her own body. I have been sustaining her, but she will need to 'recharge' on her own. Rest and food will be all she will need. And time."
"And... I think... I need to go to bed." Marle says, leaning on Ben.
Crono rushes over and they both help her into the hut, where she collapses on the bed between Crono and Ben's. She was asleep before she touched the mattress.
Once back outside, Crono turns to Jaina and Ben.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asks.
They both look guilty.
"I decided that the fewer people who knew the better. I'm sure it would have been ok to tell you, but I had already made up my mind and had told myself no exceptions. Besides I'm sure Jaina didn't want you hovering over her, making sure she was safe, the way you do with Nadia." Ben says.
Jaina chuckles and shakes her head.
"Argh! I've been going nuts trying to figure everything out here!" Crono says.
Jaina chuckles again.
"Well if you would stop 'sticking your nose into everything' you wouldn't have that problem, Mr. Observant." she says, grinning at him.
Draco settles himself down outside the hut.
"You're not leaving?" Lucca asks.
"Not until the Guardia throne has it's rightful owners back. My work isn't done here yet."
Several villagers creep cautiously up to him and chatter back and forth. Draco surprises them all by saying something back to them, and then they all start asking questions at once, making him chuckle again. One small girl boldly walks up and pets his neck, and another follows behind and starts to inspect one of his wings.
He lays his head on his arms and closes his eyes, occasionally peeking out and smiling at one of the girls.
Later that night, Crono and Lucca entered the hut together. Marle was still sleeping soundly and didn't stir at all.
As Crono straightens out his bed for sleeping, Lucca looks at him, at Marle sleeping in the bed between him and Ben, and at the empty bed between her and Ben.
"I feel like I'm being ostracized!" she says.
"Hey you CHOSE that corner. Don't blame us." he says.
Lucca grumbles to herself and crawls under her blankets.
Crono grins to himself as he finishes making his bed, then glances down at Marle. Unable to resist, he brushes a stray strand of hair off her face. She is so deeply asleep that she doesn't seem to notice at all. Crono smiles to himself, then makes himself stop looking and gets into his bed.
He was still awake when Ben entered quietly, not too long after.
He could see the dim form check on Marle, then crawl into bed. It doesn't take long for his soft snoring to be heard.
"They do too care about each other. But maybe Marle was right. It's more like being really really close friends. And they had a daughter! I still can't believe that. When did she do that??? Oh wait... in one of her letters Lucca said she had disappeared for almost a year not long after I left. I guess she came up here, had Jaina and then split her time between here and there. 'I'm big on insurance'. No kidding. Now I understand. Revick was all sure of himself with his massive army and gave her enough warning that she could hide her only heir before anyone even knew there was one. Unless she has MORE of them stashed around. No wonder she was so edgy. It had been over a year and Jaina had no idea what happened to her."
His thoughts began to trail into nonsense, and sleep followed shortly therafter.
Marle slept well into the next day as well. Shari didn't let them sit around and wait for her. She hustled them off to the practice yard almost as soon as they finished eating. Draco had disappeared, and some of the watch girls said he had flown off sometime during the night.
After a few hours of practice, Crono spots Marle at the village center.
"Hey she's up. Think Shari will kill us if we stop now?" he asks Lucca.
"Who cares." she says, chuckling, and she puts her bow on the rack.
Jaina is watching Marle practically shovel food into her mouth.
"How do you do that and breathe at the same time?" she asks.
Marle gives her a withering look.
"I'm REALLY hungry ok? You try getting half your body regrown by a dragon and see how you feel!"
"What did he do?" Crono asks, sitting down next to her.
"What, to heal me?" she asks.
"Don't ask me. I just woke up and everything was where it should be and working properly. I thought I had died at first, but then Draco popped out and scared me half to death and explained that he had healed me and was going to help kick Revick off my throne. I didn't think that would work! Was some old legend I only half remembered about the pendant and I was barely conscious anyway... I guess I figured 'oh well I'm dead anyway. If nothing happens at least it'll look like I cursed him or something.' I can barely remember what happened past being dragged into the square."
"So... can he bring people back from the dead?" Crono asks.
"I really have no idea. Everything went black and I know I was dead without Draco... but as to whether I died or not..."
At that moment, Draco flapped his way downward to land in the square, causing a lot of wind with his wings. He looks at Marle eating and chuckles.
"Don't worry, that's just a side effect of 'recharging'. It will go away in a day or two. Possibly tomorrow." he says.
Crono musters his courage.
"Draco... can you heal death?" he asks the dragon.
Draco looks at him sadly.
"Nadia was not dead when I healed her. I got there in time to sustain her and keep her alive. Death is beyond my powers. But I am sorry for your loss Crono."
Marle stops eating.
"What loss? Oh no! You mean your mom...?"
Crono just nods.
"Oooh that tyrant. Are you ok Crono?"
"Yeah. It's been almost a year now. At first I was too in shock to get too upset... and then Lucca kept finding things to keep me busy... and now we're up here... it was just being in that big empty house that hurt. I miss her definitely, but I'm ok now. Besides, I know lots of people have lost so much more than me, and now Mom isn't in pain anymore."
Marle gives him a hug, then goes back to eating.
"You eat like Crono!" Lucca says.
"I don't eat like that!" Crono retorts.
Marle nearly chokes laughing.
"Where did you go?" Jaina asks Draco.
"Dragons have to eat too you know. I can do my own hunting and not impose on you, especially since she will probably eat more than my share at first." he says.
Marle throws a bone to Riki, who is lying nearby watching her hopefully.
"And what is THAT?" Crono asks, pointing to the marks on Marle's upper right arm.
"Dragon's breath." Marle says, smirking.
Everyone blinks at her and Draco chuckles quietly.
"It's some kind of birthright mark thing... ask him. I'm eating." Marle says.
Everyone turns to Draco.
"It's a mark identifying her as a true Guardia. The symbols are an ancient dragon language. I had to brand it on her to mark her."
"Brand? As in... ow?" Lucca says.
"Ow. But not as bad as having your eyes burned out let me tell you. And it healed right away so it didn't hurt much. But having a dragon spit fire at you is pretty scary..." she says.
"I need to mark you too." Draco says to Jaina, who pales slightly.
"It's not as bad as that. It's made with Dragon Fire, which is magical. I need to mark it on you personally, but it won't show up until you take the throne. Any child either of you, or anyone with the mark, has, will be born with the mark which can be called forth for identification purposes with the pendant, but won't show up until they take the throne. Currently there is no way to properly identify a true Guardia. I probably should have done this ages ago."
Draco turns to Jaina.
"Just hold still a minute." he says, and stands her sideways in front of him.
Jaina inhales and squeezes her eyes shut.
Draco spits a small ball of multi-colored flame at Jaina, which almost seems to sink into her right shoulder. Jaina jumps, and then rubs at her arm, but looks none the worse for wear.
"There. Now that's done." Draco says, and settles himself down.
Jaina inspects her arm, but nothing appears to have changed.
"Weird." she says.
"I'm thinking I should try enchanting the Guardia crown too, so that it will identify as well. There should always be a back-up, and the crown is something they aren't likely to lose over time. Especially since the pendant needs to be used for other things as well." Draco continues.
"The pendant can be used for other stuff? So far we've seen it open doors in zeal palace and call you... what else is there?" Lucca asks.
Marle mumbles something, but she is too busy eating to stop and speak properly. Draco answers the question instead.
"When the Guardia family forgot me, they forgot my gift as well. I have trained Nadia to use the gift again, although she needs practice. As you may have noticed, we dragons are very magical creatures. All of us can use a certain element, be it water, air, fire, earth... you get the idea. What I did was, through my tear, the pendant, I passed this power on to them. So every member of the Guardia family can use an element IF they have the pendant with them. The power is directed through it. Typically, one element is strongest and then a second element is usable but very weak, and all other elements are too hard to control. The elements in question differ from person to person, or dragon to dragon since it's the same in both. However, with my special training and some other training she has received somewhere in the past, Nadia is strong in all of them. Not as strong as someone who has a specialty in one... but she can still use all of them. This happens rarely among dragons, and we call it having power in nature instead of power in element. This also means she has a connection to animals. She can understand them and they can understand her, and she has a limited ability to change into an animal herself."
Crono's eyebrows are creeping onto his scalp.
"You can... change... into an animal???" he asks Marle.
"It's not as useful as it may sound." she says.
"For one, I can only use the forms of animals I understand very well. Right now that means I can change into a cat, a wolf, and a horse. I've been taking care of the horses in the stable since I was really little, I helped the wolves, and your cats is why.
"For two, I have little to no control over the stupid thing so if I DO manage to change... I frequently get stuck that way..." she blushes slightly. "Draco says I'll figure it out though.
"For three, changing takes an incredible amount of energy. Say if I turn into a grizzly bear or something and simply maul Revick, which I would LOVE to do... it would take so much energy to change into and back from the form, not to mention the energy I expend while in the form, I would probably pass out from exhaustion. The smaller forms like the cat don't take as much though.
"And for FOUR, anything I can take in animal form gets transferred to my human form when I change back. So if I turn into a horse and gallop across Guardia at full speed and then turn back into me... I'd probably drop dead of a heart attack from the strain.
"Right now it's mostly useful for sneaking around in cat form and for traveling long distances in wolf or horse form, depending on the terrain. As a horse I can escape quickly too, but as I said, I'd have to wait awhile to change back after that. And changing takes so much energy that changing right in front of an enemy and expecting to dash off wouldn't be a smart idea."
"What kind of stuff can you do with the nature power?" Lucca asks.
"Heh. Right now pretty much nothing. I'm sooooo bad at controlling it, it isn't funny. I've spent... what? Almost a year now? Trying to learn this with Draco and I still screw up more times than not. But once I can control it I can do almost anything with it. When you get really good at it, the energy almost takes a solid form, so you can make anything you can think of. Right now I'm lucky if I can make a stone roll a few inches..."
She drops her empty plate for Riki.
"You're supposed to be out in the forest making a wolf pack you lazy wolf. Not that I mind you taking care of Jaina though." she says, scratching his ear.
"Hey, is that fruit?" she says, reaching for another bowl.
Ben comes out of the meeting hut.
"Oh good! You're finally up. I need you to tell me where some of the secret passages in the castle are. We might be able to use them." he says, bringing a small sketch of the castle over.
"To get in or to get around?" she says, eating an apple.
"That's a lot of passages."
"Any you think will help us."
"That would depend what you're planning on doing."
"Well... I don't know yet. His army is too large to do anything really."
"That's why you have to get rid of his army."
"How??? We've been trying to plan this out for months. Anything we try we'll get crushed."
Marle shakes her head.
"Men. Always thinking with muscles. Think about it. Guardia has nothing left to give. Troops don't work for free. We can either wait for them to figure that out for themselves, or we can remind them that they're supposed to be getting big paychecks for this. The only problem is not getting recognized while you do. Once they figure out that Revick isn't paying them enough, they'll either walk out on him, or kill him. We just need to get rid of Revick while there's still people alive in Guardia. He isn't leaving, and he isn't giving anyone a break. Those people are dying."
She takes the pen and marks a few circles on the map.
"You can get in there and there from the outside wall. I think the others are collapsed. This one leads to here and this one leads directly to the soldiers quarters which is where you'll wanna go if you want to start ticking off the soldiers. From the soldiers quarters you can go to here or here, but this one you need a key to get through. The key is... WAS hidden in my room, there. It's a little niche underneath my bed. There's some other stuff there too. Some more keys and some personal stuff. The niche is hidden really well but Revick may still have found it."
Ben stares at all the new circles on the map.
"And there's MORE?"
"Lots more. You can pretty much get from anywhere to anywhere in the castle using hidden passages. The exception is the treasury and the armory and several "safe" cells in the dungeon. I'm assuming they left special hidden passages so that if some usurper came and tossed you in one you could get out. Because you know which ones are safe, you can put enemies in the safe cells. The passages are impossibly hard to get into anyway unless you know how. Most of them are trapped, and easily sealable from the other side. Not to mention they're useless if they chain you to a wall, like Revick did to me."
"You still have my staff and that bow I made right Crono?" she says, turning to him.
"They should still be at the house yeah." he says.
"Ok good. Have to pick those up. I'll need arrows though."
She finishes her apple and tosses the core into the fire pit, then yawns.
"I think I need to go back to bed." she says, eyelids starting to droop already.
She stands and stretches, then heads back to the hut.
Ben scratches his head and stares at his map.
Shari sees them sitting there and comes over.
"Nadia is gone now. Get back to work or I'll make you tend the garden!" she says, shooing Crono and Lucca back to the practice area.
Several hours later, Lucca is dabbling with her bow, only half aiming at the target, and Crono is flopped out on the ground with his bow lying on his chest.
"Man why don't they build this thing inside one of the caves. It's too hot to practice staff, and my arm hurts from all this archery." he groans.
Lucca just mumbles a reply and plays with her bow some more.
"I should build an auto-fire bow or something so I don't have to pull this string back anymore." she says.
"I believe that's called a crossbow."
"Oh. Right. Maybe a fast loading crossbow or something..."
Suddenly, the sun beating down on Crono is shaded. Marle is standing over him, eating another apple.
"Working hard I see." she says.
"Hey gimme a break. I've been doing this all day, not to mention the previous how ever many months... What are you doing up? It hasn't been 12 hours yet."
"Ha ha ha. I guess I just needed a short nap that time. I'm still starving though."
"Hey I can kick your butt with a staff now. I challenge you to that rematch."
"Maybe after I finish this eating and sleeping thing. Kicking your butt will be fun." she says, shoving him with her foot.
Lucca takes aim at the target and looses.
"Hey not bad. Shari has been training the tar out of you?"
"And how." Lucca replies. "She won't let me use my Wondershot!"
"Too loud right?"
Lucca just nods.
"Let's see here." Marle says, holding her hand out in front of her, palm up.
After a few moments, a small ball of white energy forms above it. Marle concentrates intently.
Then she closes her fist around it, and directs it toward the second target.
A poof and a fizzle of white smoke which never leaves her hand.
"Oh-kay... nevermind then. I'm so bad at this."
Crono chuckles at her feet.
"Looked impressive for a few minutes though." he says. "Which element?"
"I think that was a mix of all of them. Just plain nature power."
She starts concentrating again.
A clod of dirt lifts up and lands on Crono's face.
He splutters and sits up, brushing at his face.
"That was earth." she says, giggling at him.
"Very funny. If I still had my lightning..."
"Ooo that's something else. Draco was able to partially restore my ice magic too. It's not nearly as strong as before, almost non-existant... But Lucca's babbling was right. We did lose our supply of mana. Still don't know how though, but whoever/whatever it was decided we didn't need it anymore. Draco managed to find a way for me to tap into my own supply through the elements, but it's very small. However... if I can do this right... I can transfer the supply to one of you, or maybe both of you if I'm good. Like the whoever/whatever did for all of us. It's pretty pathetic right now though."
Crono stands up.
"So try it." he says, putting his bow back on the rack.
"'Try' being the operative word..." she says, then concentrates hard.
After a few moments, she says, "Ok try now. Quick."
Crono forms the lightning spell in his mind, and directs it toward the second target.
Not quite a lightning bolt, but more of a huge electric spark shoots out and hits the target, causing a black spot.
Marle nearly collapses, but Crono holds her up.
"It worked! Are you ok?" he says.
"Oof. I think I better take it easy for the rest of today. And I need more food..." she says, leaning on Crono and finishing off the apple.
Lucca is grinning from ear to ear.
"I was right! My theories were right! Woohoo! I am the greatest! Now if only I could figure out a way to tap into that mana source..."
Marle rolls her eyes and stands herself upright, freeing herself from Crono's support.
"I'm gonna head back and make sure I didn't leave anything edible behind. You better get back to training before Shari comes and gets you." she says, chuckling.
"Nah I think we've trained enough today. She worked us harder than usual, probably to keep us from hovering around the hut waiting for you to wake up." Crono says, and starts walking back to the village center with his arm around her.
Lucca puts her bow away and trails behind, muttering 'mana-source' theories to herself.
Back at the center, they find Trini trying to light the fire pit with a worn piece of flint. The flint had seen better days and was very reluctant to give up its spark.
"Ooh, here let me try that." Marle says.
Trini looks uncertainly at her as she points at the fire pit and starts concentrating again.
"Um. You might want to stand back. Just in case." she says.
Trini backpedals several feet.
A spout of flame emerged from Marle's finger and engulfed the fire pit, starting a roaring fire.
"Woah. See how unpredictable this is? I was only trying for a big spark." she says.
"I'm glad I stood back. " Trini says. "I assume you want more food?"
Marle nods sheepishly.
Trini sets off toward one of the huts where they prepare most of the food for the village.
Marle tosses her apple core into the fire, and then sits down on one of the logs set out nearby.
Riki slinks over, making sure to leave plenty of room between himself and Crono while making his way to her far side.
"Why does he hate me so much?" Crono asks.
"You're male. He watched some man kill his family. You'd probably hate men too."
Marle snaps her finger and points to the ground in front of her and Crono.
Riki looks at her sadly.
"Come on." she says.
Riki slowly creeps into the spot she indicated, but doesn't stop watching Crono warily.
Marle grabs him and pulls him a little closer.
"There, try petting him."
"He's not going to take off my hand or anything is he?"
"The most he'll do is flinch. Once he knows you won't hurt him he won't mind you being around."
Crono carefully pets Riki, making the wolf scrunch himself as close to the ground as possible. Marle whispers some comforting words to the wolf and he seems to relax a bit.
"Now all you have to do is start feeding him and he'll be your friend for life." she says, chuckling.
"I'm glad you're back." Crono says.
"No, I mean I'm glad YOU are back. The whole time you were at my place you were completely different. I just figured that I hadn't seen you in 10 years and considering the current events... but now you're you again."
"I'm glad I can see you again. You run off for 10 years and I get ONE glimpse of you before I get blinded. How fair is that!" she says, chuckling.
She bats at her bangs which are covering her eyes.
"But I really need a haircut. I forgot how annoying these things are when you have to see through them."
Crono chuckles as Trini arrives with several bowls heaping with food.
"Let me know when you're done." Trini says, winking.
"Ahhh here we go." Marle says, digging in. Crono quickly grabs some food before she can eat it.
Chewing, Crono looks around the village.
He can see Lucca on the outskirts, tinkering with her sight scope and remote again. Shari is instructing a few younger girls in some maneuvers. Trini is preparing the village for nightfall, lighting all the fires and preparing dinner tables for people to come help themselves. Men run around and help with everything, and a few more girls set about packing up the weapons on the rack for night time storage. Jaina is a little ways off, tending to her bow and arrows again. She appeared to be tying arrowheads onto completed shafts.
Looking back at Marle, he sees her chewing absently and looking at something. Following her gaze, he discovers that the something is Jaina.
"I can't believe you made that." he says, nudging her.
"Neither can I. And I never ever ever want to do it again." she replies.
"No way! You try being the size of a whale for about 6 months solid and then shove a watermelon out your..."
"Uhhh no thank you." he says quickly.
"Not to mention being sick every morning. And I gained so much weight. It took forever to get back into shape! But I suppose it was worth it. I just wish I could have been around more for her growing up. Another reason to hate Revick, as if I need more. I knew the tribe would take good care of her and teach her everything I would want her to learn. No spoiled little princesses in my family. She has missed out on some vital royal nonsense training which I hated to learn but which proved to be very useful later though. It's going to kill me to lock her up in the castle with a bunch of books after all this freedom."
"How on earth did you manage to hide the fact that you were pregnant???"
"I waited until the last possible day to leave. It isn't visible for a few months, unless one of the maids happened to find me retching in the morning. I 'had the flu' for a loooonnnggg time. Then I snuck up here, Ben knew where I was, and spent the last 6 months or so. They actually have a lot of herbal stuff to help with the labor and all that, and lots of experienced older women to work as midwives. I stayed here as much as possible while weaning her, but I did have to go back occasionally. Star is so fast though that it only takes her a couple of hours to get to and from the castle and here. I just brought a bunch of the paperwork with me, and Trini had just lost a child of her own, so not only was she willing to take care of her, she could even feed her if she had to. Eventually she was weaned and I had to spend more time at the castle, but I tried to come up as much as possible. Which wasn't all that often really... I missed lots of her childhood. But given the choice between that and having Revick torture her like he did to me... Not to mention if he had killed Ben and I she would be the only heir to Guardia."
Marle trails off and goes back to eating.
Crono offers a bone to Riki, who looks at it, then hesitantly takes it from him.
"Good boy Riki!" Crono says.
"Now he won't leave you alone when you have food." Marle chuckles.
Ben came charging out of the meeting house with some papers in hand, looked around, spotted Marle and Crono and rushed over.
"I think I've got it! Someone needs to dress up like a guard and sneak into the quarters here and then give some big speech about how he wants to charge up to Revick and demand more money. You can get back out quick enough through this passage here which leads directly to the outer wall! You just have to get in and out of the soldiers quarters without being seen."
"He's probably got soldiers all over the castle, because those quarters aren't big enough for that army. But it's a good start." Marle says.
"Now, where am I going to get one of his soldiers uniforms..." Ben says, pondering.
Early the next morning, Crono woke up. He could see that everyone was still in bed, except for Marle. Her bed was empty.
He gets out of bed and decides to go look for her.
He didn't have to go far. She was sitting on the step right outside of the hut, petting Riki.
"Hey. What are you doing up so early." he asks her.
"Just woke up early. Was too dark in there."
Crono sits beside her.
"You still having nightmares?"
"Occasionally. They don't bother me now though. I can open my eyes again."
"Want breakfast?" Crono says, seeing some of the men moving around in the kitchen hut.
"Nah I'm not hungry."
"Yeah I know. I don't believe it either. I must be 'charged' now. I'm not tired anymore either."
"Where's Draco anyway? I didn't see him much yesterday."
"He's probably out hunting or watching everything. It's pretty crowded here for him. He's used to being alone, and all these people paying attention to him is probably making him nervous. He doesn't seem to mind the kids though."
Crono scratches at the stubble on his chin.
"Yeah. Go shave. Looks terrible." Marle says.
"Oh I don't know. I think a beard would look good on me! Don't you?"
"Then go for it. I'll never look at you again, but by all means go for it."
"Ok fine. I'll go shave." he says, getting up and going for his bag inside the hut.
He comes out a few minutes later with a small package in his hands.
"Care to accompany me to the cave? I need warm water."
Marle concentrates and waves her hand at Crono. A small cloud starts forming above his head, and in a few minutes, rain drops start falling from it.
"Hehe! I didn't think that would work!" she says.
"Yeah well get rid of it before it starts zapping me with lightning or something."
"Oh.. I haven't learned how to do that yet."
Marle stares at the cloud and it slowly dissipates.
"Whew. I really need to practice this. That wore me out."
"You can control weather??"
"Hardly. Apparently I can create weather and control THAT... but I didn't think it would work. And that tiny little cloud took an enormous amount of energy. I still don't know a fraction of what I can do. Most of these parlor tricks are using combined nature energy, and Draco doesn't know much about that. He knows the most about fire and earth since those are his elements. The animal part I can do. I have no problems at all with that, but I still don't know exactly what all I can do with it. Draco said I already had some power in that area which is why animals seemed to respond so well to me. I also don't appear to need the pendant for them to understand me to some degree... I just can't understand them without it."
"So you communicate with them how? Growling or what?"
"No they can understand me perfectly just talking to them. In any language. And I somehow know what they mean when they come and yap at me, which is something I couldn't do before, really, but apparently they could understand me already. But I guess I can growl at them if I want... Listen."
Marle cups her hands around her mouth and howls like a wolf. Answering yips and howls echo all through the valley. Riki's head shoots up and he looks at her curiously.
"That was just a greeting. All the packs are announcing their locations in case I wanted to go join them."
"Neato. Now you can tell me what my cats want when they're all sitting at my feet yowling at me and I've already fed them. Coming to the cave?"
"Sure why not. Have nothing else to do since I'm not eating anymore." she says, chuckling.
They walk over to the hot spring cave and Crono enters the mouth of it to use the trough of warm water run-off from the waterfall. But Marle doesn't enter the cave, she climbs up the outside of it. Riki, who had followed them, watches her for a moment then circles around to an easier access for him and goes up after her.
"Hey... where you going?" Crono yells.
"Up. Just carry on, I won't be far." comes the answer.
After he had finished shaving, Crono climbs up the wall after her.
He found her sitting on a point on the top of the crater wall at the end of a trail worn into the rock. It was obvious why the trail was there. This point looked out over all of the north continent. Everything could be seen as far as the eye reaches. The sun could be seen rising up over the water.
"Wow. Nice view." he says, sitting beside her. Riki doesn't get up and leave like usual when Crono approaches.
"I used to love coming here and watching the sunrise. Or sunset. This is one of the only places you can watch the sun rise on the water over there and see it set on the water over there." Marle says.
Crono just nods.
"Is this better?" he says, rubbing his now smooth chin.
"Much." Marle says, grinning.
They sit for a few moments in silence, watching the orange ball lift itself out of the sparkling water of the sea.
"So why did you leave for Choras anyway?" Marle says, finally.
Crono is silent for a minute.
"Do you have any idea what it's like... to want something with all your heart... and to have it right in front of you. You can see it. You can touch it... her.......... you can kiss her.... but you know you'll never have her no matter what?" he finally says.
"Actually... I think I do." Marle answers quietly.
"Yeah... I guess you do."
"But you leaving did NOT help anything. For me anyway. All that happened was I wanted you more because you weren't here! And then I had to survive being on my own in the castle with a husband I barely knew! Augh!"
Crono chuckles quietly.
"Didn't help me either."
"So why didn't you come back??"
A moment of silence.
"I was scared." he says quietly.
"Of what?" she asks, equally quiet.
"I don't know... I guess I thought you had a husband and kingdom and were so busy and everything and you would forget about me. As long as I didn't know for sure I could convince myself that everything was exactly as I had left it. I was selfish I guess. I wanted to get away for awhile... but I wanted everything and everyone to just stop and wait for me. And I knew that wouldn't happen, so I simply denied it. If I didn't know about it... It didn't exist. But the more I denied... The more I knew had changed. Without me. So the harder it was to say 'ok lets go back and see what changed'."
Marle rubs his back, and he pulls her into a big hug.
"You sure you're ok about your mom? We already know you like to ignore reality... and I know how easy it is to try and ignore it. I just lost my dad remember. I ended up convincing myself that they were wrong and he was alive somewhere... but I knew. And it built up inside and I just kept feeling worse. And angrier. And more confused. And when I finally tried to admit to myself that I was wrong... it was hard. I would have been much better off just letting it all out to begin with. I'm still dealing with it." Marle says.
Crono nods slowly.
"I know. I probably didn't do myself any favors... and I still haven't convinced myself that she's really gone yet. It'll hurt like hell later... but I'm too busy helping you now. I'll face reality when things are back to semi-normal again. But only if you'll help me." he says, snuggling her.
"Sometimes I just can't help but think how alone I am." Marle says. "My mom is gone... my dad is gone... and I'm all that's left. Just me."
"Not alone. Not with me around." Crono says.
Marle just smiles and hugs him tighter.
They sat there for a little while longer, until Lucca's machine found them.
It hovered it's way around until it was floating in front of them, and they could see the tube moving around trying to focus on both of them.
Marle thumbs her nose at it.
"Well come on. This obviously means that Lucca is up." Crono says.
They worked their way down the cliff wall, and headed back to the village, still tailed closely by Riki, who warily watches the humming machine following them.
Back at the village, they find breakfast waiting for them, and Lucca.
"Hey no sneaking off alone together!" she admonishes, shaking her finger at both of them.
"I'll do whatever I want to so there. Nyahh." Marle says.
"Not around here you won't!" Lucca says.
"I can behead you ya know..."
"Just try it. Hah!"
"Yeah well... do it somewhere else. I wanna eat." Crono says, vacating Marle's side for the food table.
"What, you aren't going to help him finish off the buffet?" Lucca asks.
"Nah. I'm done the eating and sleeping thing it seems."
"Thank goodness for small blessings..."
"Hey I heard that."
Marle and Lucca wander over to the table and each pick up a small plate of everything, then join Crono on one of the logs to eat.
They are all too busy eating to talk much.
A small group of young amazon girls approach the trio and chatter something in their native tongue. Marle looks at them and then answers something back, looking highly amused. Several of the girls sigh disappointedly and the group walks away, some of them glancing over their shoulders at Crono.
"What was that about?" Crono asks, taking a long drink from his water container.
"Um... the customs here are different of course..." Marle says. "You may have noticed the men have a minor role compared to what we are used to. Basically... those girls have reached their age of right and are looking for 'mates'. They were asking if you were available." She answers, barely stifling the snickering.
Crono chokes on the water and ends up spitting half of it out.
"Mates???? Me??? Woah!!! Wait!!! What did you tell them Marle!!!!!" he says, giving Marle a dangerous look.
Marle can't speak for laughing.
"Oh don't worry..." she is finally able to say, wiping tears from her eyes. "I told them you were already taken. By me. And if they wanted to challenge my claim they were welcome to. They aren't that stupid. They know I could take them all on at once if I wanted to."
"CLAIM???" Crono says.
"Yup. As far as they're concerned, you're MY property now mister."
"Hey! I didn't agree to this!"
"Well... I guess it could be worse. A lot worse. Definitely a lot worse. But don't you already have a 'claim' on Ben?"
"Yup he's mine too! They don't bother with monogamy here."
"Forget it. We still have to live with the laws of Guardia." she says, nudging him. "Technically... here I'm 'married' to both of you. But we will eventually have to go back and then all those annoying laws are back and everything we do here still applies. Here I can 'claim' as many men as I want to... but if I 'do' anything with more than the one I'm married to back home... I'm still busted. Sorry."
"Nice try though."
"I'm not going to give up! I swear I'll find a loophole somewhere..."
"I'll lend you the 50 pound law book and YOU can sift through it then."
"Basically all I just did was safeguard you against advances or duels over the right to 'mate' you. Unless of course they want to challenge ME. But if you WANT to date some of the girls then I can renounce it..."
"Uhhhh... no I think that's ok. Thank you."
Ben wanders over from the food table with a plate of his own.
"What's everyone laughing at?" he asks, causing another ripple of laughter from the trio.
But before anyone can gather themselves together enough to answer him, Draco enters the scene.
He flaps his massive wings and lands nearby.
"The town isn't looking too good." he rumbles. "Most of the remaining villagers are starting to starve to death... all over the country. Hunting is poor and all the animals have been killed out or have moved away, and seeds and gardens are few and far between. In Truce they are planning a foolhardy attack on the castle. They won't survive it I guarantee you. The prisoners in the dungeon aren't doing well either. A couple have died and some are getting close. Revick still has lots of supplies though, but he won't share them."
Marle looks stricken. Ben looks mad.
"That's it! We have to do this now. Tomorrow... today even! We have to get him out of there while there's still a country to save!" Ben says.
Draco nods solemnly.
Shari had been listening from a distance ever since Draco appeared. She approaches them now.
"I heard what he said." she says. "I am willing to risk the safety of our village to help you. I trust you enough that even if we are discovered... you will keep us safe. I will not let my friends be hurt if there was something I may have been able to do. I'm sure the others will agree."
Marle smiles gratefully at Shari, then gets serious.
"I swear to you Shari that I will keep your village safe with all the power I have. I just hope we win so your sacrifice won't be for nothing. I already owe you a lot."
"No. No one here owes anyone anything. We help each other because we want to." Shari says, grinning.
Marle smiles and nods.
Lucca pulls her machine over and fills up the fuel tank. Then she sends it off and pulls her sight scope down. The machine rises up over the walls of the crater and floats out of sight.
"So now what we need is one of Revick's soldier uniforms... where can we get one of those?" Ben says.
Crono ponders for a moment.
"You know..." he says. "I don't think that's such a good idea. Even in a big army someone is going to realize that 'this soldier isn't a part of us'. What we need to find is any OTHER soldier uniform. I think I can do this. If we get some unknown soldier uniform I can no doubt find some soldiers in one of the taverns. They've probably taken all the taverns over anyway. Then I'll just talk to them like I'm gossiping or something... they'll probably be drunk... and mention that there's no way I would work for Revick for so little. If I do it right they'll get all mad and spread the word. We may have to get to a bunch of different soldiers to get it all through the army though."
"Hmm. I think he's right. That does make more sense. Might be less dangerous too." Ben says.
"And I have a lot of old uniforms from empires which no longer exist. As long as you don't run into a historian..." Draco rumbles.
"I'll need my stuff from Crono's house." Marle says, standing. "I guess we should start walking now."
"Just move everyone there." Draco says.
Crono's eyebrows raise and he looks at Marle. Marle looks nervous.
"Um... I can't do that yet."
"Yes you can."
"What if I dump us in the middle of the ocean or something????"
"What if I DO? Are you going to come save us?"
Draco rolls his eyes and nods.
"Ok... get ready to leave Crono."
Crono runs and gets his bag of supplies along with the Rainbow. He quickly rejoins the group outside.
"Um... ok... just put your hand on my shoulder or something Crono. Lucca?"
Lucca jumps when she hears her name and takes her attention from her sight scope.
"To Crono's house. I'm going to attempt to NOT kill us transporting us there."
"Oh.. Uh... sure."
"If you have everything you need... just put your hand on my shoulder."
Lucca pats the holster containing the Wondershot at her belt, nods absently and complies.
"No... I think I'll stay here and organize everything. Let me know how things go." he says.
"Ho-boy... here we go..." Marle says, and closes her eyes to concentrate. The pendant around her neck begins to glow brightly, and a drop of sweat rolls down her temple.
Crono notices the world around them begin to look as though a thick fog had rolled in. Everything faded to grey... and then a blinding flash made him blink. When his vision came back, he was looking at his front door.
Marle opens one eye slowly.
"Woohoo! I did it! We aren't lost somewhere! Um.. what year is it?"
"I don't think you need to worry. Which Element was THAT?" he says, and opens his door, brushing some cobwebs away.
"I'm not sure actually. I can use any element or all of them to do it, just some of them have different ranges or brighter flashes or other weird effects. I just let whichever one I stumbled into first take us." she says.
Lucca wanders a few feet away and continues to play with her remote. Crono looks at her and shrugs then beckons Marle to come inside.
He heads straight for the weapons cabinet and pulls out Marle's bow and staff, but when he turns around, Marle isn't there.
"Hey Mar? Where are you?"
Laughter greets him.
"This cat is attacking me! Oh it's the fuzz ball no wonder. Hello there sweetie! Yes I missed you too!"
He finds Marle in the doorway, attempting to keep an extremely happy furry cat from climbing all over her.
"That cat sure does like you. She spent the whole time staring out the window waiting for you. It gave me hope that you were still alive somewhere. So I named her Hope."
"Now you're a fuzzy cliché!" Marle says, holding the squirming ball of fur out in front of her.
"Well you can name her whatever you want. She doesn't have a clue that she's been christened yet." Crono says, chuckling.
"Nah. That's a nice name. I can't think of a better one right now anyway." she says, putting the cat down. Hope immediately tried to climb back up to her arms though. Marle compromises and sets her on her shoulder, where she starts purring happily and balances while walking back and forth.
"And here you go." Crono says, handing her the bow and staff.
"Woah... I made this?" Marle says, examining the bow. "Not bad for not being able to see what I was doing..."
She slings the bow over her shoulder, being careful not to knock Hope from her perch.
Then she examines the staff.
"Bah. The armor of those soldiers put some dents in my staff. Oh well it's still functional."
Crono goes back and rummages in his weapons cabinet for some of his old armor, while Marle wanders around the house, Hope balancing on her shoulder.
"Wow! Is this my housecoat?" Crono hears from the bathroom.
"If it's blue and hanging on the bathroom door it is." he calls back.
"It's beautiful! Thank you!"
"You already did!"
"Yeah but I couldn't SEE it before."
"Well then you're welcome AGAIN." he says, chuckling.
Marle wanders out of the bathroom and stands next to him. At about the same time, what appeared to be a large red fly flew in through the open door. With a flash of light, the red fly turns into Draco, but small enough that he can fit inside the house.
Crono blinks at him.
"You can change size too??"
"How do you think I managed to stay alive all these years? Aside from the fact that everyone thinks I'm extinct... Here I brought you a uniform from an old kingdom. It should fit." he says, handing an oddly colored uniform to Crono.
"Just try not to wreck it. I have a collection of these." Draco says, winking.
Crono takes the uniform and inspects it.
"Wow... I think it will fit perfectly too. Should I wear armor with it or will it provide enough protection?"
"That's up to you. It will provide limited protection, but not much hindrance. You decide how much danger you will be in."
"Hmm. Let me go try this on."
A few minutes later, Crono emerges from the bathroom decked out in his new uniform.
Marle holds her chin in her hand and contemplates him.
"Looks good. Bringing back ancient memories just looking at you." he says.
"It's... different. Interesting color scheme." Marle says.
"I think I can move in this pretty well." Crono says, moving around a bit in the armor. "More armor would probably just slow me down. Be better to dodge than to have enough protection to take a hit I would say."
"Even better to not have to do either." she says, giving him a warning look. "You be careful. I didn't come back from the dead with working eyes just to see you killed you know."
"I don't particularly want to see that either." he says.
Crono puts the Rainbow in the scabbard at his belt and they all head back outside.
Outside, Lucca was still messing around with her machine, oblivious to her surroundings.
"What are you doing anyway Lucca?" Marle asks.
"What? Oh. Hi. I'm attempting to get my machine in around the castle. It should have enough fuel for quite a few hours. If you had TOLD me you could just zap me here I could have saved some... but oh well. It's approaching the castle now. Where should I spy from? I can even go inside the windows if I want... but that's risky."
"See if you can find where most of the soldiers are going! If they have a favorite tavern anywhere. Follow some of them leaving or something." Crono says.
"I'll have to wait for some of them to leave then... I'll let you know." she says, fiddling with the remote a bit. She finally takes the time to glance at Crono.
"Mmph!... what IS that you're wearing?" she says, stifling the snicker.
"It's some ancient extinct empires uniform."
"No wonder they're extinct..."
"Hey! This uniform is going to save our kingdom here!"
Lucca snickers uncontrollably.
Marle joins in.
Crono rolls his eyes... then can't help but join in too.
Draco shakes his head and chuckles.
"Ooh! Ooh! Soldiers exiting castle! Pursuing them now." Lucca says, suddenly intent on her sight scope again.
Marle pulled Hope off her shoulder and cuddled her while Crono squirmed around in his uniform, trying to get more comfortable as Lucca tracked the unsuspecting soldiers.
"Hah! There they go. They just entered The Flying Arrow... and they met another soldier who was on his way out. Looks like a hot spot."
"Ok then... wish me luck." Crono says, straightening the head covering of the uniform which didn't seem to agree with his hair.
Marle kisses him.
"Be careful." she says worriedly.
"When am I not?" he says.
Marle just smirks.
"Don't answer that." he says, chuckling.
"I can't go running off to Gaspar to get another Chrono Trigger you know." she says.
Crono inhales deeply.
"Ok. Here goes. Can you monitor the place with that thing Lucca?"
"Good. I'll be back later. Watch that I don't get in a bar fight or something and get kicked out the door for my funny clothes." he says, chuckling.
He sets off in the direction of the tavern.
"I hope he's ok." Marle says, petting Hope.
Crono approaches the door to the tavern. Checking to make sure Lucca's machine is in place above, he musters his courage and enters, trying to look like a big and tough. Once inside, he looks around for some soldiers. He doesn't have far to look, since the only customers there are soldiers. The tavern is packed with them. None of them appear to be paying for their drinks either, they simply demand them or threaten the harried bartender with their weapons.
Crono swaggers over to the bar, trying to look sure of himself. He didn't think before now that he might be the ONLY oddball in the tavern. He was already getting looks like he was intruding on someone's turf, and he probably was.
He sits down on a stool, next to a soldier who glares at him through slightly glazed eyes. The bartenders eyes widen as he recognizes the face underneath the odd uniform head covering, but he says nothing. Only hands Crono a mug of ale. Crono notices that he is down to his last couple of kegs, and with the way the soldiers were slamming them down, those wouldn't last long. He pitied the barkeeper for what he would have to go through when the soldiers found out he ran out of booze.
"What's with the clown suit." the soldier says through a smirk, only slightly slurring his words.
"I like to stand out." Crono says, trying to sound arrogant.
"I could shoot you dead from 400 yards in that thing." the soldier says.
"You're welcome to try."
"Uh oh... this is NOT going the direction I want it to go." he thinks to himself.
"So you work for big man Revick?" he says, trying to get the conversation off of killing him.
The soldier chuckles evilly.
"Yeah. I've been in his army for years. Ever since I was just a young lad with a bloodthirsty blade. I've helped him take over 20 countries."
"Wow. You must be really valuable to him then."
The soldier preens a bit.
"Yup. I'm his best man I am!"
"Get paid lots?"
The soldier falters a bit.
"Yeah. After taking 20 countries of course I get paid lots."
"More than the rest of them since you're more valuable right? That's what the lord of the country I used to work in did."
The soldier thinks hard for a minute.
"Actually... no. My buddy has only been with him half the time I have an he gets paid the same. We all get paid the same."
"Boy that's not very fair. You've worked a lot harder for a lot longer and some upstart new kid gets the same pay you do?" Crono says, sounding dismayed. "And on top of that... I heard a rumor. I heard that Revick is running out of valuables to pay you with. He's going to cut back on your pay AND your rations to save it for himself."
"What!!! I'll just see about that!" the soldier says, staggering off his barstool. "Thanks pal. I'll set this straight." he says, and staggers toward the door.
Crono chuckles quietly to himself and contemplates the untouched mug of beer in front of him. "Funny what alcohol does to you. He hated me and now I'm his 'pal'. If he had been sober he wouldn't have believed a word of that. Not that quickly anyway. And he probably would have killed me for talking to him."
Another soldier slides onto the vacated barstool.
"Now why don't you just tell me what you said that got Grisham so distraught hmm?" he says to Crono.
Crono grins and repeats his story about wages being cut. Soldier after drunken soldier become enraged and run off to tell their friends. Crono can't believe how well it is going.
Then a new soldier sits down next to Crono and pierces him with a glaring eye.
"Uh oh. He doesn't look like he's been drinking at all." Crono thinks.
"What's all this commotion you're spreading around." he snarls at Crono.
"Merely passing on the knowledge. The same situation happened to me. That's why I'm a wanderer now. I hate to see fellow soldiers suffer."
The soldier eyes him dubiously.
"Oh really. And what pearls of wisdom do you have to toss before us swine." he says, not without a touch of heavy sarcasm.
"Revick doesn't need you anymore." Crono whispers conspiratorially to him. "He's got this kingdom and he's happy here. He thinks you are too expensive to keep around for no reason. What have you done since you got here hmm? Nothing. He's planning on cutting your wages and firing a bunch of you."
"Lies!" the soldier yells.
"Not so! How long do you usually stay in a conquered kingdom?"
"A year or more. Sometimes as much as 5!"
"Sometimes. How often?"
"Not that often for 5... but this kingdom is rich! Of course we are staying here longer."
Crono shakes his head.
"This kingdom isn't rich. Revick has been telling you that to cover up the fact that he wants to stay here. If he stays... he doesn't need you anymore. No more storming through the world taking countries as he pleases. All he will need is a few soldiers to defend! You'll be out of a job my friend. It happened to me."
"Ridiculous. He needs us to control his secret weapons. He spent a long time training us to make them!"
Crono's interest is piqued.
"Oh really? What 'secret weapon' does he have that requires so much training? I'm sure he could get by with lesser trained men. No weapon is that complicated." he says, trying to sound smug.
"Complicated no. Dangerous yes! We blew away the entire pathetic defense line for this kingdom in one shot with it! And the castle walls crumbled before it! You have to know how to handle it or you'll be killed!"
Crono recalled the ruined palisade lines and the description Lucca had given of the front door of the castle being totally gone. And he recalled the large booming noises they had heard from both areas. He also remembered all of Revick's men lying dead beside the Guardia soldiers.
"Maybe our side DIDN'T kill them. Marle said she tried to keep as many soldiers away from there as possible because it was suicide... but that Ben insisted. Maybe they killed themselves..."
"Oh really..." Crono says... trying to sound unimpressed. It was difficult though.
"It's highly explosive. While he was trying to perfect it he killed off a lot of his men by accident. We call it 'backfire' because it has a tendency to take out as many on our side as where we were aiming it. It's usually in a liquid form that's highly unstable. If you bang it hard you go boom. Revick has been trying to get men to make a more stable form of it, but they've only been able to come up with a solid form that requires manual igniting which isn't as good for long range attacks."
Crono recalled the black stuff Lucca had used in one of her gun models to make it fire. She had called it gunpowder since it was powder and she was using it in her gun... But the Wondershot was completely energy based using components from the future. He didn't have a CLUE how it worked... but he knew that Lucca didn't end up coughing amid a cloud of smoke while using it.
Crono tries to look indifferent.
"Yeah... so maybe he won't fire the special handlers. But he still doesn't need ALL of you just to defend this place. And he's still going to cut your wages. Trust me."
The soldier looks at him.
"Trust you... why should I trust you... I've already told you far too much. Where are you from?"
"Uh oh. He looks suspicious."
"I told you. I'm a wanderer. I was kicked out of service for my kingdom and I've been traveling ever since. I'm not from anywhere... I'm from everywhere. I only want to help."
The soldier smirks.
"Oh you can help. You can help a lot. You can help by not causing dissension among the ranks! You're under arrest!"
The soldier leaps up and grabs Crono. Crono attempts to fight him off, but several of the other soldiers help and he is pinned and tied up before he can draw the Rainbow to defend himself.
Lucca gasps as she looks through her sight scope.
Marle whirls around.
"What is it?"
"A bunch of soldiers are dragging Crono out... Looks like he's tied up. Uh oh..."
"Bah and he was doing so well too! A whole bunch of soldiers came storming out of there looking ticked off. I wonder what happened. I think they're taking him to the castle..." Lucca says.
"Oh no... Oh no oh no oh no." Marle says. "Now what? We can't wait for the word to spread through the soldiers if Crono is going to get executed or something! Come on... leave your machine hanging there."
She drops Hope on the ground with a word of reassurance to the cat, and puts her hand on Lucca's shoulder and concentrates hard.
One bright flash later, they were back at the amazon village.
Ben blinks at them, and then at Draco as he pops in a second later.
"What happened?" he asks.
"Big trouble. Looks like Crono got arrested. We can't wait now..." Marle says.
Ben growls something at the piece of paper in his hand.
"Well so much for this plan... now what?"
"I don't know... we either have to save Crono... or speed up the process so that he doesn't get executed before his soldiers decide to desert. He got a bunch of them mad before someone got suspicious..."
"Hmmmm..." Ben says.
Jaina approaches, followed by Riki.
"I heard." she says. "So... instead of sneaking in as a soldier... why doesn't someone sneak in as a maid? Castles usually have so many of them that they never even look at anyway... and from what Mom has said... Guardia castle is a great place for gossiping."
Marle ponders a moment... then beams at Jaina.
"That's perfect! Bah why didn't you come up with that before we sent Crono into a tavern?"
Jaina shrugs and smiles sheepishly.
"Oh well... everything helps I guess. Who can we set up as a servant? I can't for obvious reasons... I think he knows you Lucca..."
"I will!" Jaina says.
"No!" Marle and Ben say simultaneously.
"Absolutely not! I didn't spend an eternity in labor and sacrifice watching you grow up to safeguard you just to let you get yourself killed!" Marle says.
"Besides I think you're too young." Ben says. "They might get suspicious. And if any of the previous staff notices the likeness between you and Nadia..."
"OK ok I get it." Jaina says. "But you still need a fairly young girl who can speak English."
The group stands there and thinks for a bit.
"Is there someone in town who would help?" Lucca says finally. "I think that's our only option."
"Maybe... I have a few friends... but they all think I'm dead!"
"So what else is new... lets go find them!" Lucca says.
"Well we have nothing to lose... we'll come tell you if we have anything ok Ben?"
Ben nods and Marle grabs Lucca, flashing them away, followed closely by Draco.
Lucca blinks and opens her eyes to find herself back at Crono's house.
"I'm going to see if I can help in any way." Draco rumbles. "I can find you. Don't worry."
With that he disappears again.
"Ok now... who would be the best to try first..." Marle says to herself.
Then she whistles piercingly, making Lucca wince and rub her ear.
"Hmm.. Lets try this farmer family I know. They have a really tough young girl who would be about the right age. She's good at thinking on her feet." she says finally.
"Ok where to?"
As she is asking her question, she notices a white horse galloping toward them. It's Morning Star answering Marle's call.
"How did you know she was there?" Lucca asks.
"Oh please. How else do you think I got to and from the village so fast when I was blind? She knows the way on her own. I just let her know where I wanted to go and she took me. She has been hiding in the forest all this time."
Star finally approached them. She wasn't even breathing hard even though she had galloped most of the way. She wasn't wearing any tack though.
"Um... I know you can ride bareback... but how do you control her without any reins?" Lucca asks.
Marle vaults up onto Star.
"I don't need them anymore. She understands me. She always did actually. Come on I'll help you up."
Star snorts at Lucca but stands patiently and waits for her to climb on. She doesn't seem too impressed about it though.
Lucca manages to clamber on behind Marle.
"What do I hang on to?? There's no handles!" she says.
"Hang onto me. I'll hang onto her." Marle says, grinning.
Star leaps into a gallop and Lucca frantically clutches at Marle.
Lucca slides off Star. When she hits the ground, her legs buckle and she ends up sitting.
"Ugh. Give me something motorized any day. Walking calmly around a corral is totally different. Why couldn't you just zap us here?"
Marle jumps off and lands lightly beside Lucca, patting and talking softly to Star.
"I haven't been here in ages. I don't know the area well enough to attempt to move us to it. Besides, if they can't help us we'll have to wander around until we find someone who can and we'll need Star anyway."
Lucca manages to stand and brush herself off, then she looks around.
Peeking nervously at them from behind the farmhouse front door was a woman.
Marle grins and waves when she sees her. The woman uncertainly waves back.
They walk up to the door, and the woman opens it a little wider. Not very much wider though.
"Your... majesty?" she says, staring at Marle.
Marle sighs resignedly.
"Yes I suppose so. I DO wish you wouldn't use any of those fancy titles."
"But... I thought..."
Marle nods impatiently.
"Yes I know what you thought. Let's just say that dragon wasn't an illusion ok? I'm fine. We need your help. Is your daughter still here?"
The woman nods slowly.
After they had explained the whole situation to the woman and her daughter, the daughter volunteered to help. Much to the horror of her mother.
"But Kris... it's so dangerous!"
"But moooom I can help! I won't be in any trouble I promise. I'm 16 now! They had already saved the world at 16! I can handle being a maid!"
Kris turns to Marle and Lucca.
"When do we start?" she says.
She snuck up the cobweb filled passage and carefully peeked out the entrance at the far end. No one there.
Quickly, she steps out and closes the entrance. Then, brushing the cobwebs and dust off her disguise and straightening her apron, she walks through the room into the hall as if she had always been there.
It didn't take long for someone to notice her.
"Here. The king wants his laundry done. Take this." says a weary looking maid, dropping a huge bag of laundry onto Kris. Then she rushes past.
"Uh oh now what. Where's the laundry room?" thinks Kris.
She wanders down the hallway a little more until she sees another maid. Thinking fast, she dumps the pile of laundry on the unlucky maid giving almost the exact same speech the first maid gave to her. The maid heads down the hallway carrying the laundry and grumbling to herself.
"Ok the servants quarters are down there, and the soldiers quarters are over there." she thinks. "Why didn't they just let me walk right into them using the passages. Bah."
But when she finally manages to get to the soldiers quarters, not without a few more close calls with busy maids, she sees why. The room is packed with soldiers. A lot of them were drunk too. More than one empty bottle of wine lay on the floor.
Gulping, Kris gathers her courage and walks into the room.
A few soldiers leer at her and some try to grab her or pinch her.
"Bah. Dirty men! Uh oh... I don't have a legit reason for being here! 'Oh I just came to turn down your bed!' I don't THINK so. Ummm...."
She sidles closer to one of the soldiers which all but ignored her up until this point. She certainly wasn't going to try getting closer to one of the leering ones.
"I just wanted to let you know." she whispers to him, getting his attention. "The talk all over the castle is that Revick is letting a bunch of you go. He wants to keep all the riches for himself you see." she says, nodding sagely.
The soldier blinks at her. She almost feels her heart stop beating.
"Are you sure?" he finally says, sounding very interested.
She nearly melted to the floor with relief. Then she nodded.
"He can see that he can't suck much more out of this kingdom, but he doesn't want to give up his treasury. So he has to drop expenses. You are expenses. I'd start looking for a new job."
"What! He can't do that! I've been with him for half my life!" the soldier yells.
Several other soldiers become interested at the outburst. Questions were asked and Kris and the soldier repeated the story several times.
By the time everyone in the room had heard it at least once, there were angry grumbles. Some soldiers tried to talk reason and say it was just a bunch of gossiping lies, but then more soldiers chimed in saying they had heard the same thing at a tavern. Kris smiles to herself at hearing that.
"I'm leaving now! If he doesn't appreciate me I'm not going to stick around that's for sure!" one drunken soldier says, and starts to gather up his stuff. More than a couple soldiers joined in.
Kris had to stop herself from beaming. This was great! It was working already! The alcohol fuzzed their brains. Now for the finale.
"He was actually considering making some of you maids too. He had some of his clerks asking us which positions would be best for male maids. You already know he doesn't pay us a cent for doing all this for him, just threatens us if we don't. And since you guys aren't doing anything right now anyway he wants to 'get some good use out of you'. He said that I swear! I heard it myself."
The soldiers nearly rioted.
"Me a maid in some <bleep> frilly apron! No <bleep> way! If he wants some <bleep> maid he can <bleep> well go get one himself! I'm a hardened <bleep> fighting machine not some serving girl! <bleep>." said one, drowning out the others with his impressive soldiers vocabulary.
"And not even get paid for it?? If I wanted to be a <bleep> maid I'd go work in some tavern and get paid for it AND sneak the ale when the boss wasn't lookin!" roars another.
One calm looking soldier stands up. He obviously hadn't been drinking much.
"Now now people." he says, calling attention from the angry mob. "These are all just rumors. Let us wait and see if they are true before we get our apron strings tied in a knot!"
"Rats. There always has to be a voice of reason to spoil everything." Kris thinks.
However... just at that moment, a messenger enters the room, looking very nervous and holding a scroll.
"Um.. Attention please!" he calls, until the entire room of soldiers turns and glares at him. He smiles nervously and then opens his scroll. "I hearby announce by the decree of the king Revick that all soldiers will have to take a pay cut of 25% to show our sympathy for the troubles of the people of the kingdom. Please understand that this is necessary and pass the word onto your fellow soldiers. That is all. Thank you."
He swiftly rolls up the scroll and flees the room, just barely missing being pelted with empty wine bottles that are tossed at him, smashing all around him on the doorframe.
A horrendous roar rises from the room.
"Ya see! Ya see! It's just like ah tol ya!" yells one very inebriated soldier, completely ignoring that fact that he hadn't told anyone anything.
Angry agreements rise up.
Kris can barely control the glee.
"I couldn't have planned that better if he was working for me! This is great!"
"AH'M LEAVIN!" yells another soldier, stuffing all his things into a bag.
Several others follow suit.
Kris decides to get out before the seething crowd decides to start tearing the room apart.
"Next up: find Crono for Marle... err... Nadia. The maids should have all the gossip."
Gingerly avoiding the broken bottle shards, she exits the room and ducks down the passage leading to the servants quarters.
Unfortunately she runs head-first into maid carrying a big box.
"Oh good! Here can you take this to the kitchen?" the maid says.
"Uh... no sorry I can't. I'm off duty." Kris says.
"Off duty? How did you manage that? None of us are allowed time off!"
"I sprained my ankle." Kris says, improvising quickly. "They said I could take it easy as long as Revick doesn't find out I've been sluffing off. I'm afraid he'll shoot me like a lame horse!"
The other maid chuckles.
"He probably would at that, the tyrant. Well you take it easy then and good luck. Heal quickly or you'll be in trouble."
Kris nods and waves then limps down the hall until the maid is out of sight.
"Whew. That was too close. No time off??? Ugh! Maybe I'll keep this sprained ankle story though. Give me a good reason to be hanging around the servants quarters instead of working."
With that thought, she continues limping down the hall.
Arriving in the maids quarters, she finds several maids grumbling about their schedules. All of them look up nervously when she enters the room. Seeing that she isn't Revick or one of his men coming to check on them, they relax and go back to chatting.
"And I have to BATHE him later! Giving a sponge bath is NOT enjoyable when you hate his guts." says one.
"I have to CLIP HIS TOENAILS after the bath. I'll trade you for sponging him down any day." says another.
"I practically have to hand feed him peeled grapes. It's so demeaning!" says a third.
Kris hobbles over to one of the vacant chairs and sits down.
"I heard he tried to force Myrna into bed with him! Can you imagine!" says another.
The rest of them gasp.
"Well I know he was leering at me earlier."
"He pinched me once!"
"He tried to kiss me!"
"He called me 'darling' once too!"
"Oh this is horrible! What if he starts preying on us? We can't even leave the castle to see our families. What if he starts USING us too!"
"At least he's only ONE man. Have you ever had to go in to sweep the soldiers quarters? It's pure torture!"
Kris takes the opportunity to jump in.
"Speaking of soldiers... have you heard the latest?" she says.
The maids turn their attention to her.
"Revick has cut the soldiers pay by 25%. Looks like things are going to get ugly. They nearly killed me in the riot down there. Broken wine bottles everywhere."
The maids chatter back and forth.
"Oh no. I hope they leave us out of this."
"Those soldiers get ugly even when they aren't mad!"
"What if they burn the castle down!"
"You know I think I heard something about this already..."
"Didn't they arrest some poor guy for spreading that rumor?"
Kris perks up.
"Yeah they did!" she says. "What happened to him? What are they going to do? Apparently it wasn't a rumor after all. I was there when the messenger announced it."
"Oh that poor fellow..."
"And so handsome too..."
"I think they tossed him in the dungeon but I haven't heard anything further."
"Maybe they won't execute him now that it's not a rumor."
"He'll probably just rot down there like all the others anyway."
"Yeah they won't just let him out whether it was a rumor or not. Poor guy."
"Ugh... I have to go bathe his majesty now." one maid says, rolling her eyes and pretending to gag as she stands up.
"Let me know when you're done so I can clip his toenails then." says the other, sighing.
"And I need to go... help in the kitchen. Chopping vegetables..." Kris says, standing. "I hurt my ankle so I managed to get some of the easier jobs." she says.
The maids grumble at her and say how lucky she is while she hobbles her way out of the room.
"Whew. Ok... they will spread the story like wildfire. Now for Crono. The dungeon."
Kris trots off toward the dungeon, explaining to anyone who questioned her that she had to help in the kitchen. Except when she gets to the stairs leading to the kitchen, she ducks down the second passage leading to the dungeon stairs.
"Halt! No one may enter without proper permission!" says the guard at the entrance to the dungeon.
"I've been sentenced to scrub the dungeon stairs." Kris says, trying to look unhappy and guilty.
"Give me your permission to enter certificate." the guard says, unblinkingly.
Kris just stands there, trying to think quickly. The guard eyes her suspiciously.
"And where is your equipment to do the job. Or were you supposed to do it with your tongue. Actually I wouldn't be too surprised."
Kris just stands there.
"Crap... I can't bluff out of this one!"
"Um... I must have forgot both of them... excuse me..." she says, and turns to leave.
"Stop!" says the guard, and she hears him approaching her from behind.
Cursing, she breaks into a run. She hears the guard behind her do the same.
She rounds the corner into the main room with the cut off to the kitchen, and runs headfirst into another guard.
"Hey! What the..."
She shoves him into the dungeon passage and keeps going. Behind her she hears a collision an cursing as the first guard runs into the second, then clanging footsteps as they both take off after her.
Ducking into another passage, she tries to remember where some of those passages on the map Marle had drawn were. Hearing the running footsteps grow louder, she tries to disappear into an alcove which probably once held a statue.
"Where is she?" she hears the guards voice say.
"She can't be far... you go that way." says the other.
Kris stops breathing as one guard walks down the passage right in front of her. Thankfully he doesn't look into the alcove, but heads straight to the other end before looking around, then turning off one direction.
Once the beating of her heart stops pounding in her ears, she listens carefully, but can't hear any footsteps.
"Damn damn damn. There has to be a passage here somewhere!"
She bangs her head back against the wall behind her.
"Now what. They'll have half the castle out looking for me now. What am I going to do!"
Clenching her hand into a fist, she hits the wall behind her with frustration.
To her surprise, she feels something give a little and hears a click.
"What did I do? Break a finger?" she thinks, holding her now throbbing hand. But before she can think much more, the entire wall rotates! She finds herself in a completely black passage.
"Well... that was a stroke of luck, something which seems to be working in my favor today. Unfortunately I can't see a thing... I hope this passage isn't trapped like the first one was."
Braving whatever unpleasant things she may find, she gropes around a bit in the darkness, encountering more than one spider web before stumbling onto a shelf of some sort. Lying on the shelf is what feels like a torch.
Grinning with relief, she pulls out the flint she had used to light the torch for the first passage and manages to get it started with little trouble. Then she takes a look around.
Like the passage she had used to enter the castle, it was just barely high enough for her to stand in. There was a niche with a pile of torches lying in it, and a small shelf protruded for easy access. Kris replaces the torch she had taken from the shelf with one from the pile, so that whoever may use it next wouldn't have any trouble finding one.
That didn't seem like it would be too much of a problem though. The entire passage was choked with spider webs, several of them housing spiders. Kris shudders, but notes with relief that they skitter away from the light, leaving her only their webs to cut through.
Inhaling deeply, she heads down the passage, brushing away the webs.
She doesn't go far until she runs into a crossroads. Uncertain which leads where, she picks one at random and hopes her luck leads her back outdoors.
Her first choice runs into a dead end, or so it seemed. After careful searching she located the switch to open the door, but listened carefully at the wall first.
Low muttering which sounded like people talking quietly greeted her ears. Then a loud guffaw and what sounded like someone clapping someone else on the back. Clinking of glasses and a bottle shattering.
"I don't think so. Backtrack..."
Once back at the crossroads, she takes the second path. She concluded that this must be the main passage since she saw a couple other side roads as she traveled, but didn't take them.
"Oooh I wish I had that map. Where am I?"
After awhile, she realizes the ground is beginning to slope upwards.
"Do I want to go up? Oh dear..."
Deciding that she doesn't want to go up after all, she backtracks again to one of the passages she had passed. It swiftly leads to a dead end as well, but knowing better now, she searches for the trigger to open it while listening carefully for sound from the other side.
While she didn't hear any sounds, she couldn't find the trigger either. She finally did find a small triangular hole but she couldn't make it open the wall.
"Bah! I bet this is one of those walls Marle said you need a key to open. Back I go again. I'm going to run out of options soon..."
Going back to the next passage, she reaches the wall at the end of it and listens carefully.
"Did you find her yet?" she hears one of the guards yell.
"No not yet. You go check the kitchen she could have gone down there. I'll go check the forest outside just in case." she hears the other answer. Then two sets of running footsteps fade away.
"Oh man. This is not good. Well... if they were just here they won't be returning anytime soon right?"
Finding a trigger to open the wall, she peeks out carefully.
The front entrance! But there were guards there, as always.
"Do they know I'm the one being searched for? And how far is that guard outside! Ooooh... this is so bad. I've got to get out of here."
Deciding it's now or never, she snuffs the torch and creeps carefully out of the wall. Shutting it without anyone noticing her. Then she walks boldly out into the front hallway, trying to look like a maid with stuff to do.
But as she goes to exit the front doors, the guard stops her.
"Hey! What are you doing? Maids aren't allowed to leave the castle!"
"Gah! Think fast."
"The water supply isn't pure enough for king Revick sir. He has instructed that I go to one of the springs outside the castle and fetch some better water for him." she says, trying to look innocent.
"Well then you'll have a permission certificate. Give it to me."
"Crap... the permission again."
"He must have forgotten to give it to me... what's it look like? I've never had permission for anything before..."
The guard raises his eyebrow, then smirks at her a bit.
"You're the one aren't you. I think you'd better come with me." he says, stepping toward her.
Kris flung herself through the front door and started running for her life. She could hear the guards give pursuit.
She made it down the steps and through the perimeter wall in less than a minute flat which had to be a record somewhere, but as she cleared the perimeter gate, she was knocked to the ground!
Trying to roll over to see what had hit her, she is horrified to see one of the first two guards! The one who had gone out to check the forest!
"You're a slippery little thing aren't you. You're done for now!" he says, snarling at her.
He wrestles her into a standing position, crunching her tight to his chest and pinning her arms to her sides, and tries to drag her back through the perimeter gate.
Kris wasn't having any of that. She had broken wild broncos before, what was one guard?
Using his grip on her as leverage, she swung her legs out and then brought all her strength and momentum into one solid backwards kick... right to his groin.
The soldier immediately lost his grip on her and fell to his knees in pain. But the other guards were closing in fast. Kris took off running again.
She managed to get some distance between herself and the guards, but there were lots of them and only one of her. She was in good shape and they were in armor, but they had done heavy training and wore that armor like a second skin, and the unfamiliar apron kept tangling around her legs and threatening to trip her, wearing her out faster.
She realized the crashing of the guards behind her was getting closer, and she tried to put on more speed, but she couldn't! She simply couldn't go any faster, and by using up energy trying to do so, she actually ended up going slower!
"Oh no... this is it! I'm dead. I'm sorry mom." she thinks to herself.
Her thoughts appear to be validated as a pair of hands shoot out from behind a tree and grab her, covering her mouth and eyes and stifling her shriek!
But suddenly, Kris can't hear the guards crashing through the woods anymore. She hears what seems to be the normal buzz of a village, but that seems to slow down and stop too.
Then the hands release her, and she can look around.
She isn't in the woods anymore! She is standing in the middle of some village where several leather clad women are staring at her!
"Boy you sure know how to get yourself into trouble." comes a familiar voice from behind her.
Kris collapses to the ground with relief, and exhaustion.
Shari looks quizzically at Marle, then at the new girl she had just flashed herself in with.
"I'm sorry Shari but she'll have to stay here. Looks like the entire castle is after her head. Don't worry she has no idea where she is. If you're careful you can keep it that way." Marle says.
"Where... am I?" Kris asks.
"Somewhere safe. These people are my friends. Revick doesn't know this place exists." Marle tells her, helping her to her feet.
"Kris, meet Shari. Shari, meet Kris. Shari is the leader here." Marle explains, introducing the two.
Kris looks around bewilderedly. She spots Ben among the crowd.
"And the king is here too? Oh will you tell my mom I'm ok? She'll go insane, especially if they start searching for me."
"What happened first." Marle says. "Where's Crono?"
"Oh... I got the soldiers mega upset... oh! And get this! Just as I was explaining the story to them... a messenger came in and announced a 25% pay cut! Couldn't ask for better timing."
Marle looks thoughtful.
"He really is running out of resources then... But what about Crono?"
"And then I got the maids all gossiping about it... that story is going to spread like crazy now... And the maids told me that 'some guy' had been spreading the rumor before and got tossed into the dungeon. I assumed that was Crono. But I couldn't get in there to check on him. Maids have NO access to ANYTHING... and they don't even get time off! That's when the soldiers started after me... they got suspicious and it took a lot to escape. How did you get me here anyway?"
Marle is deep in thought.
"I'll explain later... the dungeon... damn. Well at least he's still alive, I hope. He's survived the dungeon before."
"Kris from the Towneshead family correct? How many soldiers do you think will leave?" Ben asks, approaching.
"Some were already packing up! But then they were pretty drunk... I hope lots do anyway."
"We'll have to start moving our force down. If we harass them enough we can get rid of his forces quickly and then move in. Are you ready Shari?" he says.
Shari nods and repeats it to the warriors behind her, who all yell encouragement.
"We can all meet west of Guardia. There some ruins there of an old cathedral. No one goes there anymore." she says.
Shari nods to show she knows where it is.
"Ok... I'll see you there. Good luck." Marle says, then flashes herself back out.
"Woah! How did she do that?" Kris says, stunned.
Marle appears back at Crono's house where she had left Lucca. Star was nowhere to be seen, but she knew she wasn't far. Draco wasn't present either.
Lucca was peering through her sight scope again.
"That you Marle?" she asks, not looking up to check.
"Who else would appear out of thin air?"
"Draco... but anyway... looks like someone stirred the hornets nest at the castle. There's a LOT of soldiers leaving the gates with bags slung over their shoulders and there's several fistfights on the ground. Probably a few more inside too. Hehe! Those messengers are running around frantic. Revick is probably telling them to stop this or he'll chop off their heads."
"Yeah and he probably will too..."
"Did Kris get out safe?"
"Barely. I snagged her from about 20 soldiers chasing her through the woods. She's up at the village now."
"Well she did something! Any news on Crono?"
"She just heard gossip that he's in the dungeon, nothing on what they plan to do."
"Wheee! Some guy just came flying out the door. What a brawl! They're still streaming out the gates. Looks like some are heading to Porre. Some are heading this way, to the ferry I guess..."
"Uh oh... what happens when they find out they can't leave??"
Lucca looks at Marle. Marle looks at Lucca.
"Where's that ferry owner... I can order him to ship the soldiers out if I get to him in time!" Marle exclaims.
They both run to the dock, but the ferry was nowhere in sight.
"Why isn't he on THIS side of the ocean! Damn!"
"Can't you zap yourself there?" Lucca asks.
"No... I don't know the area there well enough. I told you that. About the only place I can do that right now is to the village and Crono's house... and maybe Leene Square if I try hard. I'm still learning this remember!"
"Great... so now what?"
Marle thinks hard, looking perplexed.
"Draco! I need you!" she yells.
A flash of light announces Draco's arrival.
"I don't know... it looks like you're doing fine so far. About an 8th of the soldiers have left already and they aren't slowing down yet." he rumbles.
"Yeah but where are they going to GO? I need to get to the ferry owner right now! And he's not HERE!"
Draco ponders the empty dock.
"Good point. Ok hold on. Coming Lucca?"
"Uhh.. Uh... no... I'll stay here and tell them to wait for the ferry. Unless you can zap it back here without anyone seeing."
Draco nods, and then both him and Marle are gone with another flash.
Lucca looks around the now deserted dock.
"Oh boy... I hope they don't decide to maul me for not having the ferry here for them. They're already ticked off... And I'm a weak helpless female as far as they're concerned... Gah! Wait come back! I wanna come too! Oh crap..."
She sees the first disgruntled soldiers arriving from the west. The one in the lead scowls at her and the empty dock.
"Uh... hi guys!" she says.
"No the king said no trade. I'm not allowed to go to Truce for anything." says the ferry owner.
"But I'm the QUEEN you imbecile! Look see these marks?"
"The queen is dead. Those could mean anything."
"I JUST <bleep> ARRIVED WITH A <bleep> DRAGON AND YOU STILL WON'T BELIEVE ME???"
The ferry owner looks uncertainly at Draco and then at the extremely irritated Marle.
"A lady of quality would never use such language." he says finally.
Marle goes for his throat but Draco pulls her back.
Seething, Marle tries to keep from trying to throttle him as she explains.
"What do you EXPECT from someone who grew up around hundreds of soldiers? This is a <bleep> emergency! Now get your ass in that boat and GO DAMMIT!"
The ferry owner stubbornly shakes his head.
Marle clenches her hands into fists, grits her teeth, and the pendant begins to glow softly.
The ferry man's jaw drops open as he is lifted up off the dock and placed into the boat by something unseen.
"Move as many soldiers as possible OUT of this country. Do it RIGHT and I'll reward you later. Whether you think I'm the queen or not! Move him Draco before he gets out!" Marle shouts.
One flash of light later, she found herself and Draco standing a ways from the dock, far enough away to see but not be seen.
"I placed the ferry a little ways off so it wouldn't just appear. I'm currently directing it so he doesn't just turn around." Draco says.
"Remind me to behead him or something later. Oooh he made me so mad." Marle says, finally starting to calm down but still in a temper. Then she looks over at the dock.
Lucca was trying to reason with a crowd of angry soldiers. Marle could see her put her hands up as if to ward them off and try to take a step backward, but she was at the end of the dock already.
"Uh oh. Lucca's got her hands full. What should I do..."
But it turned out she didn't have to do anything, because the ferry came into sight on the horizon and some of the soldiers spotted it and left Lucca alone. Lucca manages to edge her way back through the crowd and off the dock. She heads off away from the dock, and as soon as she is out of sight of the soldiers, Draco moves her to their location.
Lucca appears, blinking and looking around nervously.
"Oh it was you two. I was wondering what was going on! Everything just changed... You got the ferry I see. Good." she says.
"One ferry won't be enough... look at all those soldiers!" Marle says, watching the crowd on the dock grow as it is fed steadily but a line stretching back to the castle.
"Come on Draco... we have to go get more ferries running." she says to the dragon. "Anywhere particular you want to be before we leave Lucca?"
"No I don't think so. I'll wander around town and spread the story a bit more. The more leaving the better." Lucca says.
"Good luck then." she says, before she and Draco disappear in a flash of light.
Lucca turns and starts walking toward Leene Square.
Shari stood and counted the warriors lining up to volunteer for the mission, all of them readying their bows and quivers or straightening their staves for easier reach. She hoped she was doing the right thing. She was coming close to throwing away her tribe. It would be impossible to deny that they existed after this. Millennia of being alone and living their own life... all gone.
But then... if the positions were reversed and some tribe leader had taken over her tribe and booted her out... wouldn't Nadia help her?
Shari smiled to herself. She was making the right choice. Nadia would work to keep the tribe safe even if people knew they existed. And Jaina would too, after her. There just had to be a tribe left at the end of this.
She glanced over at the King Benjamin who was grumbling over some pieces of what he called paper and making marks on them. He rested his chin on the end of the pointy stick he was using to make the marks and looked to be in deep thought.
Shari wanders over to him.
"What's wrong?" she asks.
"Hmm? Oh... nothing. Just trying to decide which is the safest way of attacking that castle. Assuming they can get enough soldiers out, we still have to get in and get the rest of them with nothing but a majority of bows and staves. The bows we have to keep at a distance or we'll lose them all... and the staves we have to move in without getting in the way of the bows..." he says.
"The archers can use staves also." Shari says.
"Yes I know... but if I can get the archers into a good position they won't have to. Can they climb a rock wall?"
Shari nods proudly.
"My warriors can climb anything even with heavy equipment." she says.
"Ok good. See this wall here?" he says, pointing to the diagram on the map. "We need the archers to climb up the wall on both sides and shoot down from there. They'll also have to climb the cliff from the rise that Guardia sits on. The staves can use this passage here and enter directly into the courtyard. Or even directly inside if you want, but then they won't have the archer backup."
Shari studies the map and then nods.
"Easy to do." she says.
Ben looks out over the crowd of volunteers.
"I hope that's enough. We have no idea how many soldiers are left." he says.
Kris giggled as Riki licked her hand. Jaina smiled at them.
"He's so pretty! I know my dad HATED wolves. Blamed them when we lost sheep or anything. He used to shoot them." Kris says.
Jaina nods sadly.
"A farmer shot his mother and father. Mom took him in and raised him and he stays with me to protect me now, even though he's supposed to be out making a pack." she says. "He seems to like you."
Kris grins at the wolf as he rubs himself up against her and tries to lick her some more, begging to be scratched.
"Ok. Everybody ready?" Ben yells after Shari finished explaining everything to the group. Trini walked around it making sure everyone was set. After a few moments and a few words in the other language, she nods to Ben.
Ben signals for everyone to follow him and heads for the entrance to the canyon. The group starts after him, lining up neatly. Several of the women in the group talked and laughed together, while others looked back worriedly or scowled to themselves and fingered their weapons. Kris and Jaina watch them silently.
After the last of the group had disappeared through the wall, Shari looks around the now noticeably quieter village and nods, then heads off to make sure everyone gets back to work normally.
Jaina and Kris pet Riki for a few moments in silence, then Jaina says something to Riki in the other language.
"Can you watch him for me?" she says, standing and shouldering her bow. "I have a few chores to do and he's happy with you."
Kris nods and smiles at the wolf.
"Ok thanks! I'll see you later!" Jaina says, and waves as she walks away.
Riki looks after her sadly, but doesn't leave Kris.
Lucca grinned to herself. She had spread the story some more and gotten about 20 more soldiers ready to walk out on Revick. She had also been groped and kissed a few times in the process but the cost was worth the effect. She had also been formulating some plans in her head to get even more of them leaving. If only she could find another volunteer...
She stood in Leene Square and looked around for possible vict... umm.. volunteers... when she was scared out of her wits by a cat leaping onto her shoulder.
"GAH! Don't do that! Get off me you little hair ball!"
She went to grab the cat and toss it off her shoulder, when the cat spoke!
"Don't even THINK about it Lucca or you'll be bleeding out of so many lacerations..." it said in a dangerous tone.
Lucca stood there, stunned. She finally recovered.
"No I'm just a talking cat who wants to sit on your shoulder. YES it's me! I got all the ferries I could find running. How are you doing."
Lucca stammered for a few more minutes before gathering herself together.
"Uh... oh! I got a lot more soldiers who were in the taverns interested in leaving. I also have a plan to get more out but we'll need another volunteer to sneak into the castle."
"Good! Draco says he thinks about a 5th of the soldiers have left already! There's less coming now though. If we can stir them up again we could get over half gone. What's the plan? I can sneak in as a cat... maybe."
"You can get in, but you wouldn't be able to do it unless you change back into a human. And people could recognize you..."
Lucca looked around the square. People were starting to notice her talking to a cat. She smiles and waves to a few who were looking at her really funny and ducks around a corner where no one could see them.
"You're going to get me into trouble!" she admonishes the Marle-cat.
"People already think you're nuts. No harm done." the Marle-cat says.
Lucca pulls her tail.
The Marle-cat swats her, knocking her glasses off.
Lucca picks them up, making sure to make it a rough ride for the passenger on her shoulder.
"Anyway..." she says, checking her glasses for damage and putting them back on straight. "We just need someone to pose a messenger. Go announce that NO one is going to get paid anymore or something they REALLY won't like and they'll stampede out of there faster than you can say 'gimme back my throne'. Drawback is... knowing how mad drunken soldiers can get... that messenger is going to have to be REALLY quick to survive delivery."
"Hrmmm. That's awful dangerous... but it would do the trick alright." the Marle-cat says.
A little red fly zips past Lucca's nose. Except it's not a red fly... it's a tiny Draco. He lands on Lucca's opposite shoulder.
"A full 4th of them are gone now." says Draco, sounding funny because his usual rumbling voice is midgitized.
"Gah! A talking cat on one shoulder and a miniature talking dragon on the other! Please tell me I'm not cracking up..." Lucca says.
"Mrow?" says the Marle-cat looking innocent.
"Ha ha very funny." Lucca says, glaring at her.
The Draco-fly chuckles, then continues.
"The ferries are carting them out of the country as fast as possible. Some are in Porre too... and I think a few of them are trying to get passage to Choras. Revick is starting to get his men under control though and he's almost convinced all the remaining ones not to leave."
"Draco..." says the Marle-cat, "can you move people while in your smallest form?"
The Draco-fly shakes his tiny head.
"It takes too much energy. I can only pull in a limited amount in this form... barely enough to make myself bigger. I have to resize in stages to get back to normal even."
"Rats... No zipping in to save Crono... You can't go along for the ride and save the day if we send another person in there then either."
The Draco-fly shakes his tiny head.
"Takes too long to resize. If he were in a small deserted cell somewhere... but I doubt that. The guards would have us before I could get big enough to zap us out." he says.
The Marle-cat ponders.
"Who do we know that can run REAL fast?" she says.
Lucca shakes her head.
"I don't know anyone. It would have to be someone who is familiar with the castle..."
The Marle-cat is staring at her.
"No... NO! No not ME! I'm terrible at running! Really! You don't want to be responsible for the death of your BEST FRIEND do you?"
"I'll go with you. Then I can look for Crono too if things go well, and maybe move him out if I can get back into human form and have enough energy left... if the guards aren't around. I can't just move you out though because it takes time to concentrate and just disappearing would be too noticeable. If we absolutely have to I can sneak out ahead in cat form and then swap to horse and get you out. I hope... I can usually swap from cat form easily enough but I've.. Umm.. Never gone from form to form before... only back to human. Let's Go."
The Marle-cat swats her again.
"Go! Do YOU want to be responsible for the death of your best friends... plural... as well as an entire kingdom??? I didn't think so."
The Draco-fly chuckles again.
"I can wait outside too." he says. "If needed I can move both of you a limited distance in a slightly larger form. Small enough to hide in the woods but big enough for the power."
The Marle-cat nods.
"Move it Lucca! I can bite your ear from here you know."
Sighing with exasperation, Lucca moves it, heading back to her house.
Lucca strapped her boots on with apprehension.
"Uh... where are we going to get a uniform! See this was a stupid idea I had. It'll never work."
"Already taken care of." says the now much larger Draco, holding out a uniform.
"One of his messengers was killed in the brawl. They just tossed the body, so I 'borrowed' his clothing. We may have to improvise to make it fit you."
Lucca glared at the uniform.
"Now you're out of excuses." says the Marle-cat, tail twitching impatiently.
Lucca sighed and started unstrapping her boots again so she could don the uniform.
"Ouch! Stop hitting me already!" says the Marle-cat from inside a large pouch at Lucca's hip.
"Well it's not my fault that your big cat butt gets in the way of my arm's natural movement!" Lucca growls at the pouch.
Then she yelps and jumps a little as Marle pokes a claw through the pouch and into her side.
Grumbling, she continues walking toward the castle.
She was dressed in the messenger uniform, and her longish purple hair had been gathered up and hidden beneath the hat. Other precautions had been taken to make her look as far from feminine as possible, since there weren't any female messengers around. She actually looked pretty authentic, except for the nervousness.
"Where am I going again?" she asks her pouch.
"Over to the east. There's a passage there which leads to a usually fairly deserted hallway where we can slip in unnoticed. It's close to the soldiers too." came the muffled answer. One green cat-slitted eye peered out from a hole left by an undone button.
"Up there?" Lucca says, pointing.
"Tell me when I'm close." Lucca says, starting out in that direction.
"You're close." the Marle-cat says, a few minutes later. "That boulder over there."
Lucca walked up to the boulder.
"Yeah? Now what."
"See that branch above it? Pull it."
Lucca sees the branch just out of her reach and jumps to grab hold of it, causing many a complaint from her pouch.
"Bah! You didn't have to be so rough! Now just hold on to it."
Lucca holds on to it. Then starts tapping her foot impatiently.
"For how lo...."
Suddenly a trap door opens under her feet! She disappears down into it and finds herself riding a slide downward in the darkness, coming to a sudden stop at the bottom.
"Agh!!! That was NOT fun!" complains her pouch.
"Oh I dunno... that was interesting." Lucca says, brushing herself off.
"Sure it was fun for YOU. This pouch is banged up enough as it is!"
"Ok... Umm.. I can't see a thing."
"Should be a pile of torches to your right."
"Oh! Yup there is."
Lucca pulls out her flint and lights the torch.
"It's the only way to go right?"
Lucca starts walking. The passage has twists and turns but only goes one direction with no side passages. Soon she comes to a wall.
"This wall is locked sort of... because it's an entrance to the castle. But you don't need a key for this one... just a sort of code. See the three large bricks in the middle?" says the pouch.
"Tap the first one twice... the third one once... and the second one three times. In that order. Got that?"
"Uhh... lets see. First one twice..."
Lucca taps the first brick twice.
"No! Third one once."
"Er.. Third one once..."
Lucca taps the third brick once.
"And second one three times..."
Lucca taps the second brick three times.
A loud click can be heard. Then the wall slides sideways slowly, disappearing into the walls of the passages, revealing another passage on the far side. Lucca steps through and the wall slowly reverses its motion and slides back into place with a click.
"Wow." she says, looking at the wall.
"Now be careful... this passage is trapped. If it's an entrance to the castle and you don't need the key to get through it it'll be trapped guaranteed. But.. Um... I don't remember which trap."
The Marle-cat sticks a paw out and widens the hole to see through.
"Hold up the torch."
"Oop there it is. Whatever you do... don't step forward. Yet. The floor in front of you for about 5 feet is all triggers. It'll flood this passage and disable the lock so you drown. Very unpleasant."
"So... how do I turn it off?"
"Put the torch in that holder over there. You'll need both hands."
Lucca sets the torch in the sconce and then waits for further instructions.
"There's a kind of odd shaped brick on the wall there... see it?"
Lucca searches the wall until she finds it, then nods.
"And there's a matching one on the OTHER wall."
Lucca sees it and nods.
"Press both at once."
"How! My arms aren't that long."
"Yeah they are... it's just not that comfortable... especially since you have to HOLD the damn things."
Grumbling, Lucca stretches herself as far as she can across the passage and pushes on both of the odd shaped bricks. Both of them depress a little, but nothing happens.
"Just keep holding."
Then a rumbling and scraping noise filled the passage, and the bricks popped back into place.
"That's done it. Grab the torch and lets go."
"Are you sure?" Lucca says, looking dubiously at the trigger floor while retrieving the torch.
"It's disabled for about half an hour. Go on move!"
Lucca takes a tentative step out onto the floor, and heaves a sigh of relief when nothing happens. Then she sets off down the passage again.
Coming to another wall at the end of the passage, Lucca carefully pushes it open a crack and checks the hallway for people.
Finding no one, she steps out and pushes the wall shut.
"Now where?" she whispers to her pouch.
"Soldiers quarters. Easiest is to your right."
Lucca trots down the hall, heading to the right, until she gets to a crossroads. Knowing the castle reasonably well, she started down the passage she knew would lead to the soldiers quarters.
Passing a few tired looking maids who nod to her, she finally reaches the hall outside the quarters. Loud talking, yelling, cursing and bottles breaking can be heard from within.
Pulling the mock scroll from one of her pouches, Lucca hesitates.
"Aw man... why me."
"Shut up and go!" snarls her pouch, which was struggling to get comfortable again.
"Ok stop moving. I'm going in."
The pouch lay still and Lucca steps through the doorway.
She crept carefully along, trying not to attract attention, which was difficult since the people she was trying to keep from detecting her knew all the tricks she was using to avoid detection. Some of them were already glancing over their shoulders suspiciously every now and then.
She knew she wasn't supposed to come, but dammit, it was her kingdom too and she wasn't just going to sit on her hands and hope everyone can do it without her.
"I'll stay out of sight and out of the main battle and only help if they really need me. That way I won't get hurt right?" Jaina thought to herself, trying to convince herself she wasn't making a big mistake.
Ben led the troop down the mountain path and out into the forest. He was hidden among the trees by the time the end of the line, and Jaina tagging along behind it, reached the forest.
Once into the trees, Jaina ducked off to the side so she could watch the line from a distance instead of follow along behind it. She knew where the ruins they were heading for were, but she wanted to scout around a bit before they got there.
Double checking their direction, Jaina trots off into the trees.
Lucca dashed into a deserted hallway and squished herself against the wall around the corner. Behind her there were curses and yelling and the sounds of things being smashed and thrown about.
Nope. The soldiers were definitely not happy.
"That bottle came THIS CLOSE! THIS CLOSE!" Lucca hisses at her pouch, holding her index finger and thumb a marginal distance apart.
The pouch wriggles around and some grumbling can be heard.
"Hey unbutton this thing! I'm getting out of here." it says.
But as Lucca reaches to do so, a company of angry soldiers come crashing down the hallway.
"Yikes!" Lucca yelps, and looks around for a place to hide.
But she didn't need one. The soldiers tore past her in a blind rage, heading for the exit. All of them were carrying bags which looked to have been hurriedly stuffed with belongings.
"Um... hang on. I'm getting us out of here." Lucca says, and sneaks off down the hall toward the main exit.
"Lucca! I have to go find Crono! Besides you think they'll just let you walk out the main door?"
"You there!" yells a voice from behind them. Lucca freezes, then turns around slowly.
"Yes you!" says an angry looking messenger, pointing a scroll at Lucca.
Lucca doesn't move. Neither does her pouch.
The messenger runs up to her.
"Take this scroll and call those soldiers back! Some idiot told them they weren't getting paid anymore! Move it!" he says, slapping the scroll into her stomach.
Lucca stares at the scroll in her hands, and then nods vigorously and salutes him before rushing off toward the main entrance.
Ignoring the guards who called for her to stop and identify herself, she simply waved the scroll at them and dashed out the doors. They didn't try to stop her.
Back out in the forest, Lucca leans against a tree and catches her breath. Her pouch struggles some more.
"Gah! Lemme out of here!"
Lucca unbuttons her pouch and a ruffled looking Marle-cat drops out, shaking her fur.
"I'm never doing THAT again." she says, smoothing some fur down and stretching. Then she sits and watches the soldiers charging out of the castle.
"Looks like we succeeded. As long as they depend on you to tell the soldiers it was a big mistake we're in the clear. I still want to go back and find Crono though!"
"Forget it. You'll never make it in there. You'll either get trompled over or kicked by some angry soldier... but you'll never make it." Lucca says, picking her up.
The Marle-cat grumbles and looks at the castle worriedly before clambering up onto Lucca's shoulder.
Lucca unfurls the scroll the messenger had given her.
"Nah just a message saying it's a big mistake and begging them to come back." she says, then stuffs it into her bag.
"They don't need to see that!" she says, smirking.
"Well let's head for the ruins." the Marle-cat says. "Ben and the others should be almost there now if they left right after we did."
Lucca turns and walks off toward the west.
Ben looked around as the troop trudged into the clearing. The ruins were deserted and overgrown as expected. Nothing was left of the old cathedral but some crumbling foundations and piles of building material. The ruins of an old organ were piled to one side as well.
The amazon women were chatting or finding places to rest and wait. Some were picking targets and practicing their bow, although none of them seemed to need it. A few others were going through the staff routines or staging mock battles against one another. A few industrious ones were fletching some last minute arrows to fill their quiver. Trini wandered around and made sure everyone was where they should be and that no one was missing.
Ben nods to himself and finds a comfortable spot to sit and wait, pulling out his plans to review them for the umpteenth time.
But before he can get too far into it, a bright flash interrupts him.
Standing in the center of the clearing is Draco and Lucca. Balancing on Lucca's shoulder was a little cat which looked somehow familiar, which was odd since Ben hated cats. Lucca was wearing a messengers uniform which looked somewhat ridiculous on her since it didn't fit.
"There. I saved you the trip." Draco says, looking down at a disoriented looking Lucca.
Lucca shakes her head to clear it, then looks around. The cat jumps off her shoulder.
Draco looks up and spots Ben, then nods to him.
Ben stands up.
"What happened?" he asks the bizarre trio.
"I went in as a messenger and told the soldiers they were working for free. Woo did they get mad!" Lucca says, trying to make her outlandish uniform fit better.
"About half the soldiers are gone now and more appear to be leaving. I predict that he'll have about a third left by the time he gets them under control." he rumbles.
"A third!! That's great!" Ben says, resisting a childish un-king-like urge to pump his fist into the air. "That will make this a whole lot easier."
"Um Marle... you can change back now." Lucca says, nudging the cat with her foot.
The Marle-cat glares at her.
"I've been trying. I think I almost have it now." she says.
Ben stares at the talking cat.
"Ohhhhh... ok I understand now." he says, grinning.
Trini comes closer, having listened to most of the conversation so far.
"We are ready to attack?" she asks.
"Almost. We've gotten more guards out than expected so it will be even easier." he says, opening his maps again.
"Good. Then we do this instead." she says, and points to his map.
"Archers go here like before." she says, pointing to the outside walls. "Staves come up these two passages and sneak in behind and chase soldiers out into here for archers to shoot. Attacking from here like you wanted is no good. That just pushes them back inside and they can defend. Must surprise. Archers will have less chance of hitting staves then too."
Ben stares at his map.
"But then the staves won't have the archer back up until they press the soldiers outside." he says.
"No need for back up. The soldiers use swords yes? No archers in the soldiers?"
Ben scratches his chin, then nods.
"As far as we know it's mostly swordsmen yes." he says.
"Then no problem. Staff is defensive. Sword is offensive. One of us with a staff can take up to 5 of them with a sword. Not to kill, just to beat back. The archers finish. It's simple."
Ben pondered over his map, his mind working furiously.
"Ok... I think you're right." he says finally. "We'll try that. It'll be your fault if it fails then too." he says, grinning at her.
Trini grins back and then nods, then goes to tell the troops of the change in plans.
Suddenly the Marle-cat starts to glow, and swiftly changes size until only Marle is standing there, looking dazed and mildly worn-out.
"Whew! About time... Woah... depth perception..." she says, shaking her head and rubbing at her eyes.
"No depth perception?" Lucca asks.
"No... I just got it back! Augh. Cats don't have any and BOY is it weird having everything snap back into place like that."
Everyone chuckles for a minute.
"Well... I guess we should start heading for the castle?" Ben says. "By the time we get set up in those passages the soldiers should be almost done stampeding."
Marle nods, and shouts something to Trini in her language. Trini nods and relays the message to the troops, who gather their belongings up and wait for the signal to go.
Ben takes one last look at his map, nods, then carefully folds it and puts it in a pocket in his cape.
Jaina watched the group from her position crouching behind a pile of rubble. She was far enough away to avoid detection easily enough, but she could just hear the conversation. She had to blink when the cat turned out to be her mom too.
"I wonder if I'll be able to do that too." she thinks to herself.
She snaps back to attention when she hears her mom shout some new orders at Trini, and Trini tell the troops to prepare to move.
"They'll be heading for the castle next. Should I go ahead or sneak behind? I think I'll follow behind. If there's patrols in the forest I most certainly don't want to be the first to find them. Boy I would be in SO much trouble."
The group organizes itself and Trini directs them to start marching through the woods toward the castle. None of the women were smiling or chatting now. All were grim and determined.
"Getting ready for battle. I've heard their stories about this but they haven't been in a real battle for centuries. But they are for us..." Jaina thinks, unsure whether to feel proud at having such good friends or upset because they were putting such good friends into danger.
"How many of my friends are going to die today..." she thinks.
After a few hours of creeping through the woods, the majority of the troop is gathered at a point behind the castle, a ways from the wall.
"The first passage is over there." Marle says, pointing to the east. "It's hard to find because it's a trap door underneath the earth. There should be a steel ring hidden in the grass which will lift the door and the earth on top of it, but once it's put back down it's basically invisible. It's marked by a rock that looks kind of like a bell. Like Leene's bell... or Nadia's bell..." she says, blushing slightly. "Just a few steps to the south of the bell rock you search around in the grass to find the ring. Once inside, you'll have to unlock the wall and disarm the trap. If I remember correctly... to unlock the wall you have to flip four switches in a certain order. Go north, east, south, west. Top, right, bottom, left. Got that? And to disarm the trap on the other side, you have to turn FOUR stones all at once, or the passage will fill with some kind of poison gas. It's the same pattern. North, east, south, west... one on the ceiling, one on the floor, and one on either wall. But you don't need to worry about the order. You just have to turn them all at once. I couldn't use that passage because I couldn't turn all four at once."
She turns to the second group.
"The passage you will use is over there." she says, pointing to the west. "It's a really neat door. There's a HUGE tree and it's completely hollow, but it's still alive! And the ladder is carved inside it. The door is hard to find but once you find the seams, push on it and it will open for you. Outwards. That's my favorite entrance." she says, grinning.
"To unlock the wall, push on the TOP of it, and then when you hear the click, push on the bottom. The wall will slide out of the way. To disarm the trap, you need to find the loose stones on either wall and slide both of them downward. They follow the seams between the stones in the wall. You don't even notice the tracks. Pull them both at once and it will disarm it. It's either a standard flood trap, or a crossbow bolt trap... I can't remember. But that was my favorite passage so that's definitely how to disarm it."
She looks around at the crowd.
"Everyone got that?"
The groups nod their agreement.
"Ok good. Archers, go get into position near the front walls. Those talk thingys Lucca gave you are all still working?"
The 4 groups each test a small machine given to the group leader, and find that everyone can hear everyone just fine.
"Good. When you two groups have reached the end wall of the passages, tell us. Then we'll set the archers up and storm inside. Remember! Leave the castle staff alone unless they start to pose a danger to you. Concentrate on the soldiers. Get them out!"
The four group leaders nod to Ben, Marle, Lucca and Draco, then set out in their different directions.
Draco flaps his massive wings and flies off toward the castle.
Lucca works with her remote until her machine is directly over head, surveying the entire scene.
She peers through her sight scope at the grounds around the castle.
"There aren't many guards in the grounds inside the walls. The archers shouldn't have any trouble getting into position." she reports.
Marle and Ben nod.
Trini's voice crackles through their speaking device, reporting that her group had reached their passage and were entering now. The second staves group reports a few minutes later. Not too long after that, both archer groups reported that they were in position to climb the walls.
"Still no guards outside." Lucca reports. "Just one or two stragglers leaving by the front gates. No one is bothering to look over to the sides though."
Marle nods, then looks at Ben.
"I guess this is it then. Give the signal to start?" he says.
Marle glances back at the castle, then nods.
From her hiding place, Jaina watched her mother give the silent nod. Then she watched her say something into a small black box of sorts.
"They must be starting the attack now. I wish I could see better, but to do that I'd probably have to move around to the front of the castle. I don't think so." she thought.
She couldn't see much from her position, and couldn't hear much of the conversation.
Everything looked normal for a long time. Ben just stood and stared at the castle while Marle paced nervously. Lucca peered through her sight scope and fiddled with her remote, periodically giving reports on what she could see. The only thing Jaina could see was the occasional speck flying around the castle, which she assumed was Draco.
Suddenly, Jaina felt, rather than heard, a large vibrating boom from the castle! A plume of smoke trailed its way upward from the front walls where the archers were.
The trio in front of her immediately started checking on groups with the black boxes and trying to get information. Lucca was working her remote furiously, trying to see through the smoke. Jaina could see her lips moving as she spoke to Marle and Ben, but she couldn't hear.
"Dammit! What's going on?!? I need to get closer..." she thought to herself, beginning to edge closer to them.
But she didn't get very close. Marle turned and said something to Ben, who nodded. Lucca nodded her agreement as well, and all three of them set out toward the castle, leaving Jaina scrambling to keep up but stay hidden and at a safe enough distance too.
Marle snuck through the trees, followed closely by Ben and Lucca. They were almost at the right hand forward wall of the castle, where the second archer group should be. Lucca had said this wall was the source of all the smoke. The two staves groups had reported back saying they were all fine and it was going great from their end, having driven most of the soldiers out of the castle. None of them had seen Revick yet but they also hadn't done an extensive search, being too busy fighting off the soldiers, most of whom were caught by surprise, unarmed and drunk. Most of the servants had pitched in to help with whatever utensils they could find, once they realized what was going on. Neither of the archer groups had reported though, which worried Marle.
She snuck closer to the edge of the brush, getting her first clear view of the wall.
There was a gaping hole in the wall, where a section had been reduced to nothing but rubble. Smoke still drifted lazily upward from the stones. A few Amazon women were lying around, most of them groaning and moving weakly. A couple weren't moving at all. Marle recognized one of the fallen Amazons as the group leader, still clutching Lucca's speaking box, which explained why they hadn't answered the call, but a good portion of the group was missing.
"Ouch." said Lucca, moving in beside her. "What do they have anyway? They can just blow walls away like they don't exist."
Sounds of fighting could still be heard from within the courtyard.
"Well, what do we do." Ben says, also moving in beside Marle. "We can't both go in there because if we both get killed this will have been pretty pointless."
A bleeding soldier scrambles out of the hole in the wall and takes off into the forest, staggering every couple of steps.
"We have to find out what happened to the archers. The second group isn't responding either and over half of this group is missing, unless they dissolved with the wall or something." Marle says. "One of us has to go in there and find out what happened."
"Ahhh the smoke is clearing!" Lucca says, peering intently through her sight scope.
"I can see the grounds more clearly now. I see a whole lot of staves beating up a whole lot of unarmed soldiers mwahahaha. And lots of archers still... but they're keeping their distance on the ground. The other wall looks to still be intact too. A couple of soldiers are armed and fighting back but they're sadly outnumbered. Looks like most of the guards are drunk even when they are armed. Hehe!! That soldier is naked! We caught him sleeping! A lot of them are staring at Draco buzzing around and look like they've soiled themselves! Ooo and there's the cook! Hah! With a frying pan and rolling pin!!! Oh that is so hilarious, she's kicking butt!"
"Yes, she is pretty deadly with that frying pan." she says, snickering.
"Looks like most of the soldiers are retreating now..." Lucca continues. "Scrambling for the gates hehe. Uh oh... one just came out the main entrance and he isn't running. He's throwing a ball or something..."
Another huge explosion rocked the ground. Stones and rubble rained down on them as smoke filled the air.
"That didn't sound good." Ben says, covering his head with his arm.
"Now I can't see again!" Lucca exclaims, trying to move her machine out of the smoke.
"Trini, are you there?" Marle says, pulling out the black speaking box.
After several tense moments, a muffled reply comes back.
"What's going on?" Marle shouts into the box.
An answer came back but it was hard to understand. There was a lot of background noise drowning the voice out.
"Bah!" Marle says, throwing the box on the ground. Then she closes her eyes and concentrates.
Lucca watches with astonishment as the pendant begins to glow and Marle begins to change form. The glow eventually transfers itself to her outline as she takes the shape of a wolf.
Once she finished the transformation, she dashed off and leapt over the rubble in the opening on the wall.
"Damn you Nadia! Be careful..." Ben whispers.
Lucca picks up the speaking box.
Everything was hazy with smoke, but she could still see. She could also sense everything.
She saw a crater in the middle of the courtyard, and several stunned and bleeding Amazons. There were still more Amazons standing and fighting than there were soldiers to run from them though. Things appeared to be going well, except for the exploding stuff.
Carefully skirting the battle along the perimeter wall, she crept toward the front entrance of the castle. There were a couple battles taking place on the front steps, but the doorway appeared to be clear.
Steeling herself, she took a running leap up the stairs and through the doorway.
Finding herself on the other side, unscathed, Marle took a better look around.
The front hall appeared to be deserted. A few bodies or unconscious soldiers lay about, but none of them were Amazon. She could sense with her new wolf nose that there were people in the throne room however.
Before she could make up her mind whether to go find Revick or go find Crono first, someone entered the main entrance.
Whirling around, Marle was relieved to find that it was Trini, holding her staff and looking rather dirty and tired but unharmed.
Trini looks straight at her.
"Nadia?" she asks.
The Marle-wolf nods.
"We have chased off most of his force. They were unprepared and weak. But they have some weapon in a ball which explodes. Should we turn around and search the rest of the castle now? I'm sure the remaining soldiers will turn and run."
"Pull back and give them a chance to run. If they don't, continue fighting. If they do, move into the castle." the Marle-wolf replies.
Trini nods and yells an order out the door. The sounds of fighting were noticeably diminished directly thereafter, then some Amazon cheering.
Trini pulls her head back in and grins at the Marle-wolf.
"They ran. Should I tend to the wounded now and see if I can add them to our force or should we just enter the castle and tend to them later?" she says.
"Hmmm. Make sure none of them will die, and see if any are strong enough to join in first." the Marle-wolf says, trotting to the doorway beside Trini and peering out.
Trini nods and yells another order out the doorway.
A few moments later, several Amazons entered the doorway and took up guarding positions near the bottom of the steps. Marle could see them forming a protective ring around most of the wounded, while others walked around and ministered to them.
Marle could sense the people in the throne room start moving away. She could tell they were agitated too.
"Perhaps you should leave a few behind to tend the wounded and go in now." she says to Trini. "Revick could know another way out."
Trini glances at the throne room door, then nods to the Marle-wolf before shouting some more orders out the door.
Soon, a group of Amazons trotted through the door, some holding bows, most holding staves.
Ben and Lucca followed them in.
"Did we win?" says Lucca, still peering through her sight scope.
"The fog lifted and Lucca saw the Amazons helping the wounded so we figured it was safe to come out." Ben says at almost the same time.
"There's still people in the castle... I can sense them... and no sign of Revick yet." says the Marle-wolf.
"So lets go!" says Lucca, unholstering the Wondershot and putting the remote into a pouch on her belt.
"I'll go help the Amazons, since you no doubt will be charging in there." Ben says, grumbling at the Marle-wolf.
The Marle-wolf snorts at him and bounds up the steps leading to the throne room door, followed closely by Lucca and Trini and her group.
The group stopped at the doorway, and Trini nodded to the Marle-wolf and threw open the doors.
The throne room was empty.
The Marle-wolf immediately started sniffing around, trying to find the people she had sensed in there before, but there was too much recent information to make anything out.
Cursing, she looks at the separate directions they could have gone.
"Do we split up?" Lucca asks.
"No. This force is already weakened. I don't want to weaken it any more." the Marle-wolf says. "Choose a passage and we'll search down it."
Trini starts walking down the left passage. The group follows with no arguments.
They only found a few cowering servants who didn't know what was going on and had hidden. There were a few unconscious or dead soldiers lying about from the battle to force them into the courtyard, but nobody else. They soon find themselves back in the throne room.
"Other passage." the Marle-wolf says.
Down the right-hand passage they found a few drunken soldiers who had hidden in an attempt to escape the battle. Trini and her group quickly tied them up and secured them. There was still no sign of Revick.
"Damn! Where did he go?" the Marle-wolf says, frustrated.
"Well we still have a lot of castle to search." Lucca says helpfully.
The Marle-wolf snarls softly to herself, and dashes off through the doors again.
They never found Revick in the castle. They found more soldiers, some of whom tried to fight but were quickly subdued. They found more servants, most of whom were loyal to Guardia. But they didn't find Revick.
Not without some difficulty, Marle changed back into her normal self and she and the group were letting the unlucky dungeon prisoners out of their cells. There were several who didn't survive Revick's hospitality.
Growling to herself as the Amazons pulled yet another dead villager out of a cell, Marle stalked through to the next cell block. Doing a quick check to make sure no soldiers were hiding ready to ambush her, she started checking the cells.
Empty. Empty. Empty.
"I guess he didn't get this far." she thinks to herself, walking down the row and glancing in at all the empty cells.
Coming to a room where executions and other such unpleasant things take place, Marle stops and glances in, then smiles with relief, just barely stifling a snicker.
Crono was in the room looking VERY unhappy, which was understandable because he was naked and on his knees with his head and hands locked into the stocks. He wasn't facing the doorway and he hadn't perceived that anyone was there yet as he squirmed about uncomfortably and grumbled to himself, trying to relieve the pain in his neck and back.
Marle strolls through the doorway, smirking and still stifling the snickers.
"Well well well. What have we here." she says.
"Marle?? Get me out of this thing! What happened?"
"Oh we just stormed the castle and took it back. No thanks to you... Well.. Ok a little thanks to you since you started it." she says, sounding nonchalant.
"Get me OUT of this thing! I've been here for like two days now and my back is KILLING me!"
"Oh I don't know... this is rather enjoyable. Maybe I should mount you on my wall!" she says, leaning on the stocks beside him.
"Yeah yeah. Apparently they didn't like that uniform. Have to apologize to Draco because I have no idea what they did with it... but get me out of here!"
"Well actually... I don't have the key."
"Well go get it!!!"
"And actually... I don't know where it is."
"But I'll go look. Don't move." she says, patting him on the head as she heads for the door.
Crono snarls to himself.
Several minutes later, Marle walks back in, looking apologetic.
"I don't know what he's done with it. Sorry."
"You better not be doing this on purpose."
"I'm not! I swear!"
Marle looks at the lock on the stocks and thinks.
"Try not to move for a minute." she says, finally.
Crono holds very still, barely breathing. He can feel the hair on the arm closest to Marle start to stand on end as she does something, then the lock blows apart! Taking half the stocks with it.
"I didn't mean to do that. Are you ok?"
Crono attempts to stand up straight but ends up falling over backward with a groan.
"No... but it's not your fault." he says, gritting his teeth and trying to rub his back.
Marle helps him stand up and stretch a bit until he can move freely again.
"I suppose I have to find you some clothing." she says, smirking.
Crono glares at her out of the corner of his eye.
"Try not to enjoy this too much." he grumbles.
"Just wait a minute." she says, heading out the door again.
She came back a few minutes later with a variety of clothing.
"Here... this is all I could find in the general vicinity. See what fits you." she says, tossing the pile on the ground and then heading back out the door.
Crono rummages through it and finally finds some old soldiers uniforms which had definitely seen better days, but which fit snugly. Then he looked down the hallway for Marle.
He found her in the next cell block, checking all the cells for more prisoners.
"Nope these are all empty too." she says when he catches up to her. "He probably killed off anyone who was in here already. I gather he didn't treat his prisoners very well."
"I haven't eaten since the last time I saw you." Crono grumbles.
They came up on another small room, which Marle glanced inside, then entered.
"Here's the Rainbow." she says, picking up a scabbard and handing it to him.
"Ahhh now I feel better." he says, attaching it to his new belt.
"Whoops and here's Draco's uniform. He'll be happy." she says, gathering up the oddly colored uniform.
Crono took the uniform from her too.
"I think that's all of the dungeon. The other groups will cover the rest of it. We'd better head back upstairs and see how things are going." Marle says, glancing around.
Crono nods to her and they head for the nearest stairwell.
It didn't take them too long to reach the main entrance again. Marle walked to the front door and peered out, followed by Crono.
"Ach! My castle!" Marle says, hiding her face in her hands.
Crono just nodded as he looked at the mess that was the castle courtyard. Not only were the gardens neglected and overgrown... they were looking pretty... blown up. The one wall had a gaping hole in it and there was a huge crater in the middle of the ground. The Amazon women had neatly piled the dead soldiers in one corner, and carefully laid out the fallen Amazon warriors for proper ritualistic burial. Most of the severely wounded lay where they had fallen, with people tending to them and keeping them from injuring themselves further. The less than severely wounded were already up and trying to help. Ben was hovering around surveying damage and Draco was flitting back and forth trying to sustain the most severely wounded and keep them alive long enough to be patched up.
One of the clerks spotted them at the front door and trotted over.
"Your Majesty! I'm so glad I'm working for you again... would you like me to fetch the recent economy and supplies records and all that? Revick never even glanced at them, but I can find them all!" he says.
Marle nods absently to him and he dashes off into the castle.
Next up was an Amazon warrior, who came over and chattered something at Marle in the other language.
Marle looked distressed, but nodded, and the Amazon gave her a strange salute of sorts and went back to help.
"What was that?" Crono asks.
"Oh... she just gave me the death toll. It's not bad considering... but still..."
Trini arrived from the dungeon and gave Marle a brief report on what she had found, which consisted of more villagers, both dead and in serious need of help, and then she too went out to help in the courtyard, followed by all the members of her group which weren't busy helping the ailing villagers.
The clerk came back with a stack of paper which Marle grimaced at but accepted. Her grimacing got worse the more she read though. Lucca and her group showed up from the dungeon not long after, her Amazon followers all rushing out to help their comrades on the field.
"Just more dead villagers in our wing. He must have filled that one first." Lucca says, sighing. "What's up? You look like you swallowed a lemon."
"What a mess." Marle simply says. She drops the stack on the steps and then sits down beside it.
"No money. No food. No resources to get us back up on our feet. Ouch. I'll have to do some heavy duty diplomacy-ing to get what we need from the trade countries without trading, because we have nothing to trade! What a mess indeed..."
She riffled through the reports and glowered at them some more before getting to her feet and heading back into the castle. Crono followed her, but Lucca was surveying the area with her machine and hardly noticed their departure.
Crono followed Marle as she headed toward her room, pausing every now and then to rip one of Revick's crests off a wall. Finally reaching the top floor where her room was, she pushed her way through the door and stopped.
"Aw man! Not my room..." she lamented.
Crono peered in over her shoulder and saw what the problem was. Apparently Revick had chosen her room to stay in instead of the Kings bedroom. Or maybe he stayed in both. Anyway her room was all but gone and it was now full of Revick's junk, including several pictures of himself.
Marle snarls to herself and tosses a few pictures out the open window before she turns and crawls under her bed.
"Um... what are you doing Mar?" Crono asks.
"Just a minute." came the muffled reply.
A few minutes later, a muffled noise of triumph comes from under the bed.
"Hah! Got it."
"Now I REALLY want to know what you're doing."
"Had to open this niche thing."
Curious, Crono walks to the other side of the bed and peers under. Marle had her hand in a hole in the floor.
"I was afraid he would have found this. I keep my most precious possessions in here." she says, seeing him looking at her.
Crono crawls under the bed too, batting away a few dust bunnies.
"Like what?" he asks, trying to peer into the hole.
"Have a locket with a picture of my mom... and my dad... and all my letters from Queen Leene..." she replies, pulling out a few items and putting them on the side.
Crono reaches in and pulls out a photograph.
"And a picture of me?" he says teasingly.
"Gimme that!" she says, snatching it. "I use it for target practice anyway!"
"Boy you must really stink then. Wasn't even a crease in it."
"Oh shut up. Aha! Here's the key to the passages. I have the second one hidden somewhere else too..." she says, pulling out an odd triangle-shaped key. It was on a chain which she hung around her neck.
She rummages around in the hole some more.
"Nope I think that's it." she finally says, replacing the removed items and dragging the lid back into place.
"Great. You think you could feed me now? Because I'm starving." Crono says, rubbing his stomach.
Lucca crouched near the table, making some small adjustments to her machine. Crono was sitting at the table, swiftly reducing the remaining food supplies of the castle.
Lucca glances up at him.
"I could lose a hand in there! Watch you don't swallow the table by mistake."
Crono glares at her, but doesn't take time out from eating to make a retort.
Marle comes down the stairs into the room and glances at Crono as well.
"Well that ensures that half the country will starve anyway..." she says, then flips through the papers in her hand.
"So how bad is it?" Lucca asks.
"Ugh." was her reply, as Marle flopped into a chair across from Crono.
"I've ordered all the ferries to trade double time with our neighboring countries, and both Ben and I signed a notice to be given to all of them asking for aid... a loan of food you might say. We're going to have lots of debts to pay off after this. And we still don't know where Revick is. It's going to take forever to get this economy back on track. I have to find out how much of our revenue is still here so I can balance it out to where it was before and get everything running again. I don't know how much gold those soldiers walked off with."
"Can't you just... like... make a ton of money and pay everything off with it? All Guardia's cash is created at the castle isn't it?"
"That was one of the first things I asked when I was learning all this nonsense. I'll spare you the three hour long lecture I got. For right now... yes I probably will have to create some extra coin just to get us on our feet again and get some food back in this country... but the long term effects of that are killer. The more money you have in circulation the less it's worth. I can only hope to get the economy running smoothly and then manage to 'de-circulate' a bunch of the gold... otherwise you'll be paying 60, 000 gold for a glass of milk. That's not good. Especially since all those soldiers ALSO have a bunch of Guardia gold and could waltz back in at any time and spend it all and throw everything for a loop again! Argh!"
Marle falls to grumbling at the papers again.
"What I think I'm going to do... is create a whole new currency. That way I eliminate the threat of the soldiers dumping their gold back on us because it will be older currency and worthless. Just rebuild the whole damn economy from scratch. I'll still be in debt with the other countries for a looonnngg long time from now just rebuilding our food stores though. I could be mean and pay em off with a bunch of old currency then switch to the new one but I really doubt they would appreciate that." she snickers.
"You mean I'm gonna have your head on my coins?" Lucca says, chuckling.
"If I wanted to yeah. But I don't think so. Maybe we'll stamp Draco on them or something. Something to symbolize this whole mess and our triumph or whatever the hell..."
"I'm glad I don't have your job." Crono says, finally slowing down with the eating.
Marle just grunts and glowers at the papers.
"I've never understood why everyone wants to be king and queen. Everyone wants my kingdom but me! It's so unfair..." she grumbles.
Crono and Lucca chuckle.
Draco flits down the stairs in a smaller form, then resizes to a slightly bigger one.
"I've helped all I can there. I couldn't save them all. I'm exhausted now." he says, panting.
"Thank you Draco. You've helped more than I can express gratitude for." Marle says, smiling at him.
Draco just nods to her.
"Nadia!" comes a voice down the stairs. "Get up here!"
Marle sighs and drops the papers on the table before heading up the stairs.
"What a stiff! This does make things a lot easier... but how greedy can you be?" Marle says incredulously.
She was staring at a huge pile of gold. Nearly all of the gold that previously made up the entire economy of the kingdom of Guardia.
"What the hell was he paying the soldiers with?" she asks Ben and the clerk beside her. The clerk was doing some furious calculations.
Ben just shrugs.
"According to my calculations... we're missing about a quarter of the total gold." the clerk says finally.
"That's all? That's not even enough to skew the economy severely if we replace it all and get some back. Well this makes things easier..."
"However... the treasury room is missing several items, some of them heirlooms. And nearly all of the less valuable items are gone."
"I think I'd rather have lost the gold than the heirlooms... but oh well."
"It's not bad. Looks like he wanted to keep those for himself as well. Perhaps he was paying the soldiers with free ale or something." Ben says.
"Well... thank goodness for greed?" Marle says, chuckling. "Start that money back into circulation. I don't care how you do it just make sure everything balances out."
She turns and heads out the door again, leaving Ben discussing things with the clerk.
"Well so much for all the worrying." Crono says, grinning at Marle as she tells him what happened.
"Yeah... now I can get on with worrying about everything else." she says, before heading off in another direction. Crono follows.
"Gah! My stables!" Marle wails, looking at a building in the distance which definitely looked forlorn.
Upon reaching them, Marle does a quick check inside.
"Bah I wonder what that bastard did with my horses! Ohhhh all my tack needs tending to... it's all dried out!"
She comes out of the stable grumbling and meets up with Crono outside.
"Messing with my stable... oooh that..." she begins, but stops suddenly, staring at something.
Crono turns to see what caught her attention.
Standing a little ways off was Revick. Smirking and fingering a clear ball with some amber liquid inside.
"Well hello there. Like what I've done with the place?" he says, each word dripping like slime.
Marle snarls at him, but he only smirks some more.
"Now now. It's not wise to annoy me just yet. This little ball here won't like it. Neither will you. I see you've got new eyes. The little Dragon show was more impressive than I anticipated. Oh well... enjoy them while you're alive, which won't be long I assure you."
Crono unsheathes the Rainbow.
"Oooo a sword! I'm scared! This isn't the only ball of Backfire I have with me you know. I'll blow you both to pieces before you can scratch me."
Marle folds her arms and looks unimpressed.
"You must have it hidden down your pants then, since you have nowhere else to carry another one. Watch it doesn't explode, that would be rather painful. So... what's your purpose? To stand here and annoy us? Enjoy listening to yourself talk or what?" she says.
Revick glares at her.
"I should have cut your tongue out while I had the chance. I want my gold. You little rats managed to disband my army. I need SOME means of making a new one. Then I'll have to come back and finish the job, just because you're special."
"What gold? Did he have any gold Crono? I only have MY gold." Marle says, sounding innocent.
Revick glares at her some more as Crono smirks at him.
"Well nevermind then." he says, glaring at them both. "Since you won't co-operate I'll get it myself. Good bye."
He cackles wickedly and moves to throw the ball at them. Crono leaps into action, shoving Marle out of the way.
The explosion threw them both a few feet, raining dirt on them. Once his ears stopped ringing, Crono gets up off of Marle and shakes the dirt off himself. Marle rolls over onto her back and looks at him.
"Ouch. Thank you." she says.
"What?" Crono says, digging at his ears.
Marle chuckles, then becomes serious and looks around for Revick.
She found him. Lying several feet in the opposite direction, covered in blood. His right hand appeared to be missing, but that was all she could see from this distance.
"What happened?" she asks.
Jaina hops out from behind the stable and runs to help her up.
"Mom are you ok? I saw him go to throw that thing at you and I shot it from his hand. I didn't think it would explode like that though!"
"Jaina? JAINA! What the hell are you doing here? You're supposed to be at the village!"
"I followed dad and the Amazon troops down. I wasn't going to let you save the entire kingdom without me!"
"You could have been killed! The whole reason I stuck you up there in the FIRST place was so you would still be here if this whole mess ended up with me dead!"
"Stop yelling. If I hadn't come it probably would have." Jaina says, glaring at her and glancing at Revick pointedly.
Marle growls a bit to herself, getting to her feet.
Attracted by the explosion, several Amazons and servants appear from around the walls of the castle. The Amazons run over to Revick, and once they realize who it is, secure him so he can't get away when... if... he wakes up. Then they come and chatter questions at Marle and Jaina. Marle answers as much as she can, and instructs them to take Revick to the throne room and secure him until he wakes up.
Ben arrives from the castle wall as well.
"What... JAINA?" he says.
Jaina rolls her eyes.
"I've already been through this dad! Don't bother giving me the same lecture." she says.
Ben gives her a stern "father" look, then turns to Marle.
"Nadia, what happened?" he asks.
"Um... we found Revick." Marle says. "Or rather, he found us. He demanded 'his' gold and then tried to blow us away with his ball of whatever. Jaina shot it and made it detonate before he could actually throw it at us though. He looked pretty hurt."
Marle turns to Crono who is still shaking his head.
"Are you ok? You got kind of scraped up..." she says, brushing dirt off a few of his cuts.
Crono smiles at her.
"Nah. That's fine. I'll be sore tomorrow though."
Concentrating intently, Marle forms the cure spell in her mind. Although much weaker than it used to be, it works and the cuts slowly disappear. Marle wavers slightly, but recovers quickly.
Marle nods and pats his back.
"Thanks." she says, smiling at him. He fingers the spots where the cuts used to be and says "What do you mean thanks? I should be thanking you." he grins.
She turns toward the castle.
"Well let's get this mess straightened out." she says, marching toward it.
Draco joined them as they entered the castle. They had just reached the throne room when Revick began to regain consciousness. The first thing he did was start screaming in pain.
Marle looked him over more closely.
The damage was much worse than she had first thought. His entire right hand was gone past the wrist. There appeared to be a gaping hole in his one cheek, and his chest didn't look so good either. His face was totally mutilated. His nose was still there, but the end of it appeared to be gone. His lips were shredded with several teeth missing... and his eyes were completely ruined.
One of the Amazons asked Marle what to do with him. Several of them already had bows nocked and trained on him.
"Take him to the soldiers quarters and care for his wounds. Keep him under heavy guard, although I doubt he'll be going anywhere in this condition." she finally tells them. "I'll decide what to do with him after he is cared for."
The Amazons look slightly confused, but nod and follow her orders, lugging the still partially unconscious body off to the soldiers quarters.
Draco cocks his head at Marle.
"Would you like me to lend aid to him as well? I can probably heal him, although I am tired."
Marle shakes her head.
"Not just yet, anyway. You rest up." she says.
"So what are we gonna do? Hang him? Behead him? Draw and quarter him?" Crono asks, with Ben nodding agreement at every suggestion.
"I'm thinking." is all Marle says. Then she accepts more papers from a clerk and plops into her throne to study them.
Awhile later, the Amazons drag a bandaged and whimpering but much cleaner and healthier Revick into the throne room. He was fully conscious now, and apparently he knew exactly what happened. The first thing he did upon being released was to throw himself to his knees and beg mercy. He had no idea if there was even anyone in front of him, but beg he did.
Marle considered him impassively for several moments before beginning to speak, her eyes unsympathetic.
"You have been charged with despoiling this kingdom and robbing several innocents of their lives. What say you." she says to him.
Revick whimpers and begs for mercy.
"Your ultimate fate is resting on my final decision. I would suggest you defend yourself." she says.
"I beg for mercy!" Revick cries.
"You have shamelessly let hundreds of people starve to death in the dungeon for no reason other than your own greed, and you expect mercy? You have brought this kingdom to its knees, abused it to further yourself. You killed my father! The former king! And you plead mercy."
Revick just whimpers and lowers his head.
Marle leans back into her throne.
"I can behead him right now." Crono snarls, unsheathing the Rainbow.
Marle holds up her hand to stop him, then studies the pathetic form of Revick.
"You are being charged with stealing... well... everything in the treasury. A goodly amount of that money is still missing, however 3/4ths of it have been recovered. The final fourth of it will remain as stolen, charged against you. The charge for stealing? The loss of a hand."
Marle glances pointedly at the stump of Revick's right arm.
"Done then. The second charge. I can hardly charge you for each and every life lost... this was a war, and if I did that you would no doubt be dead many many times over, and what good is that? But the lost lives of innocents will be weighed into the final sentence. Finally. What you did to me. You tortured me and you stole my sight. That's something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. However, by some twist of fate, I have full vision... and you don't. This is sufficient enough for me. 'An eye for an eye' if you will."
Marle straightens up in the throne.
"My sentence would be to exile you from Guardia, never to return."
At hearing this, Revick straightens up hopefully.
"However... Crono. I offer you the chance to seek retribution for the death of your mother."
Revick crumples into a pathetic ball again.
Crono pauses and considers the quivering form. Marle was staring at him, waiting for an answer. But as much as he wanted to say "yes"... he couldn't. He hadn't really understood why Marle was showing this much mercy to the bastard... but he knew that if he said the word, he would be sealing Revick's death warrant.
Crono slides the Rainbow all the way back into its scabbard.
"No. Killing him wouldn't help her anyway."
Marle nods to him.
"Then my final decision stands. I will let you remain here until your wounds have healed enough to not be life threatening. At that point, you will be taken to the border of your choice and left there. After which, you may be killed on sight at any point within my borders with no fear of the law. In fact I may even reward them for dragging your rotting carcass back to me. I'll also be warning all my allies to kick your ass out of their countries before you can infest them with your presence. You will NOT be given a single coin to help you. You will NOT be given ANYTHING to help you. You're getting more help from me than you deserve. Does the king concur with my sentence?"
Ben nods solemnly.
"Done. Remove him from my sight. Throw him in cell 6H to start healing so I can be rid of him."
The Amazons drag Revick off to the dungeon.
Draco watches them leave in silence, then nods to Marle.
"I did a good thing putting your family on this throne. Not many would be so kind to his ilk. You have impressed me Nadia."
"I impressed a dragon that's lived through more ages than I've time traveled to? Wow." she chuckles.
Draco nods to Jaina.
"Learn well the lessons here today. Your mother is a wise ruler."
Jaina looks rather confused, but nods anyway.
"In fact, you have so impressed me... I think I'll help you some more." he rumbles, grinning. Then he stares at the pendant around Marle's neck. The pendant begins to glow, then throb. Finally it settles down into normalcy.
"Your family now has the ability to call on me whenever they wish. No more one shot deals. However I can remove this luxury at will. So if one of you turns out a bad apple, you could screw it up for everyone, so watch yourselves. I might also tend to get annoyed if you call me every time you break a fingernail too. But considering Guardia's track record... that shouldn't be a problem. I'll see what I can do to get you up and running again though, and I'll instruct you more in wielding that nature power." he says to Marle.
Marle blinks at him.
"That was unnecessary, but I thank you Draco. We all do. I'll try not to let everyone forget you again." she says, chuckling.
Life slowly returned to normal in Guardia. The Amazons mostly went home, but a few stayed around to explore the new world they had discovered, and Draco disappeared back to wherever he hides. The economy started rolling again and things slowly clicked back into place as trade routes were reinstated. Most of the guards who had managed to escape came back to work for the kingdom, and new guards volunteered to help until there was enough revenue for paychecks. Crono returned home to his empty house and ecstatic cats, and Lucca started on her next big idea. Ben and Marle were too busy sewing the kingdom back together to spend much time talking to either of them, but Crono occasionally saw Jaina and Riki around the market place. Jaina was almost always grumbling about all the work she had to do and all the 'useless' stuff she had to memorize. That made Crono laugh because she was Marle all over again.
After one fairly slow day, Crono decided to wander up to the castle and see who he could see.
The guards at the door recognized him and nodded, and one guard he knew fairly well steps over to him.
"The queen Nadia is still very busy, but I'm sure she won't mind you interrupting her and giving her a break. I believe she is in her study." he says, smiling at Crono.
Crono nods and thanks him and heads through the doors.
The castle looked normal. Servants skittered here and there and guards were posted in all the normal spots, looking like colorful statues. Ben was in one corner of the throne room having a conversation with the chancellor. When he saw Crono he waved and pointed at the door leading to Marle's study. Crono nodded and waved back.
Stepping through the door to the study, the first thing he sees is Marle crouched over some papers, looking apprehensively at the doorway.
"Oh good it's you. I was afraid you were someone bringing me more reports..." she says with a sigh of relief.
"Nope. I'm just bored so I thought I'd come distract you and see how much I can screw up the kingdom..."
"Oh please don't. I've almost got it fixed again."
Crono plops into the chair on the opposite side of her desk.
"So. What's up." he asks.
"Ugh. I've ALMOST got this back to normal. I've managed to get revenue back to where it was originally without decreasing value too much... I've restored funding to most everything... I've rebuilt or am rebuilding anything damaged... employment is back up... food stores are back to full... I think we're almost back to life as usual, which basically means I STILL won't have time to do anything... but at least I'll be making progress not just recovering. So how are you?"
"Very happy that I'm not you, that's for sure. I managed to get a job in one of the shops... mostly lifting stuff which is very boring, but better than nothing. Keeps me out of that big empty house. I've never actually lived alone before."
"Maybe you should get a girlfriend." Marle says, her eye twinkling.
"Well I tried but she turned out to be a princess." Crono shoots back.
Jaina enters the room, grumbling at a book in her hand with Riki following at her heels.
"Mom... I don't understand this."
"What is it."
"Some of these laws. They make no sense."
"I know they don't. It's annoying isn't it. And you know what?" she says, leaning in conspiratorially, "you'll never use them in your life." she whispers.
"So why am I learning this??"
"Because you might have to use them." Marle grumbles. "Actually they can come in handy... even if it's just to impress someone."
"And they get in the way a lot too." Crono mutters, looking at Marle.
"Hey you don't need to tell ME that!"
Jaina ponders as she looks from her mother to Crono.
"Ok... I think I get it. I just studied that law where the royalty has to marry royalty to keep the bloodline pure or whatever..."
Marle nods sullenly.
"Ahhhhh..." Jaina says.
"So now I'm all alone!" Crono says, faking a few sobs.
"Couldn't you just hand the throne to me and go live happily ever after?" Jaina asks.
Marle blinks at her.
"You're hardly ready for it! You just started all this studying nonsense! Even if you had been studying all your life like I had you're far too young to..."
"Oh bah from what I've heard you didn't listen to half those classes anyway, and you have dragons singing praises." Jaina says, cutting her off.
Marle blushes slightly.
"Besides... this kingdom is still a mess." Marle says, trying to regain parental ground.
"So wait until you un-mess it. I did mean like right this instant! You're almost done repairs anyway right?"
"Yes but still..."
"And besides I don't mean like turn the whole kingdom over to me and leave me there... we can cheat a little. I'll be the queen but you tell me what to do. See? I mean, what better way can there be for me to learn all this crud than by actually doing it? That way you'll technically not be the queen anymore and you can do whatever you please. I've already had lots of fun with the tribe. I don't mind giving up some extra time for you to be happier."
Marle looked thoughtful. Crono looked hopeful.
"Well... I suppose it would only be a few more years until you would be old enough for it anyway... and you WOULD learn faster..." Marle says.
"I'll go talk it over with dad. See ya Crono!" Jaina says, as she heads out the door.
"Can we do that?" Crono says immediately.
"... yes..." Marle says, still deep in thought.
"WILL you do that?" he says, probing deeper.
"Wait... wait... I'm still contemplating this." she says.
But she didn't have long to contemplate, because a few minutes later Ben entered the room, trailed by Jaina.
"What's this?" he asks.
"Hey don't blame me!" Marle says.
"No.. No I'm not. Are we going to do it though?"
"I'm still weighing positives and negatives..."
"Positive: you and Crono are happy and dad and his girlfriend back home are happy. Negative: I'm stuck here! But I'm ok with that. You will essentially still be running the kingdom.. You'll just be doing it as peasants. Happy peasants!" Jaina says. Ben blushes at the mention of his girlfriend. "There's no law saying I have to have a king before I take the throne right?" she continues.
"Well... no..." Marle says.
"Oh heck. Sounds fine to me." Ben says. "The kingdom is almost glued back together anyway right?"
"I'm all for it too. Told you I'd find a loophole somewhere." Crono says mischievously.
"Well I suggested it so I better be all for it." Jaina says.
Marle scratches her head and glances at the paperwork remaining on her desk.
"Well... I guess since I'll still be doing all the work anyway..."
Crono lets out a whoop and practically tackles her.
"Hey! This is no good if you kill me before we make it official!" she says, laughing.
A few months passed as the rough edges were shaved off and the kingdom ran as smoothly as before. Crono felt like he was floating around on a cloud half the time, he was so happy. Marle had finally set a date to abdicate the throne for Jaina and the day was swiftly approaching. They were still making wedding plans though. Marle said she had enough dresses and altars the first time around and wanted a small wedding, but Crono wanted to announce it to the world. Slight difference of opinion there...
He watched as Marle prepared the items.
"Are we ready?" she asks the room. Several nods answer her.
"Ok then..." she says, inhaling deeply.
"I, Nadia Guardia, Queen of Guardia, holder of the dragon throne, bearer of the star crown..."
Her titles went on for a few minutes more. Crono waited impatiently, resisting the urge to tap his foot. Finally she came to the end of them.
"Do now relinquish my claim to the throne of Guardia to my daughter, Jaina Guardia."
She ceremoniously removed the crown from her head and placed it on Jaina's. Then she removed the pendant from around her neck.
"Through these actions, I give you full reign over the kingdom of Guardia."
She closes her fist over the pendant and a small glow can be seen from between her fingers. When she releases it, the mark on her arm fades away. Then she places the pendant around her daughter's neck.
"Do you accept this position?" she asks.
"I do." Jaina replies.
With those words, the pendant begins to glow again, and the marks appear on Jaina's arm, slowly melting into existence, as if some invisible pen were writing them.
"All hail the new queen." Marle says, giving a small bow. "Jaina Guardia, Queen of Guardia, holder of the dragon throne, bearer of the star crown..."
Marle ran through the exhaustive list of titles again. Once she was finished, the ceremony was over.
"Well... now I'm all normal and boring." Marle says. "Woohoo! Oh by the way.. Don't you DARE try using any of that element magic before I start training you." she lectures Jaina.
"I won't mom!"
"Yeah that's what I would have said too." she says, glaring at her and folding her arms.
Crono sneaks up and grabs Marle from behind.
"So are you all mine now?" he asks.
"Yeah I guess I am..."
"Yes! I'll just drag you over to the church now..."
"Hey! Once ceremony per day here!" she says, laughing.
Crono stood fidgeting at the altar. It had been an all out battle but he had managed to get Marle to agree to a bigger wedding. Now he was just hoping she hadn't snuck out and left him standing here. Would be just like her too. She wasn't too impressed with having to walk down the aisle and "all that crap" as she called it.
After what seemed an eternity, Marle and Ben appeared at the end of the aisle. Ben was standing in for the father of the bride since there was no father anymore. He was technically the one giving her away anyway.
Crono knew he had a big goofy grin on his face but he didn't care. She filled him with wonder. He knew she was probably snarling to herself under that veil too. He had to stiflethe laughter as he watched her practically drag Ben up the aisle. She wasn't spending any more time there than she had to. She probably set some kind of record for "fastest walk up the aisle during a wedding" as she reached his side and discarded a snickering Ben.
The priest started into his speech and Marle muttered "I really hate this." to Crono.
"I know. Tough." he replied.
She covertly gave him a kick in the ankle, making him grunt with pain while attempting to look like he was paying attention to the priest.
"I'll make you sleep on the couch tonight." she hisses.
"Gah don't do that!" he says.
Crono suddenly realizes the priest just asked him a question.
The priest rolls his eyes.
"Paying attention yet? Time for the vows." he says, giving Crono a reproachful look.
Crono blushes and nods, hearing Marle stifle some snickering beside him.
They exchanged vows and rings and sealed it all with a kiss, causing the room to ring with cheering.
Then Marle turns to the audience and points at Lucca, who was sitting next to Jaina. Lucca shakes her head vehemently. Marle nods. Lucca shakes her head.
"Crono, go hold her down. She avoided this bouquet like the plague last time and she's not getting away this time! I'll tie her up if I have to!"
Lucca ducks down behind her seat while Crono laughs.
Later that evening, Crono and Marle were snuggled up on Crono's front porch, watching the stars wheel overhead. Marle had gotten out of the dress as soon as humanly possible and was now dressed in her usual comfy clothing. Crono had discarded his suit in favor of his usual clothing as well.
Crono sighs happily and holds her tighter.
"It's weird how things work isn't it." he says.
Marle just chuckles and nods.
"I thought this day would never come. Now you're mine. All mine!" he says, grinning.
"Life is a winding path, and you never know where the next bend will take you." Marle says. "I think I read that in some book somewhere..." she says, pondering.
"Ah who cares who said it. They were right." he says, kissing her.
"You aren't still going to make me sleep on the couch are you?" he asks.
"Hey! You're taking way too long to answer that."
"Oh I suppose not. You better behave yourself though." she says, nudging him.
"Oh... well we better hurry up and go to bed then before I screw up." he says, dragging her into a standing position.
Marle laughs as he practically carries her through the door.
"Hey! What if I count this as misbehaving?" she says.
"Whoops... can I beg for forgiveness then?" he says, trying to act apologetic, although his grin ruined it somewhat.
"Oh I suppose so." she says, grinning and pulling him into a kiss.
While still kissing her, he pulls her the rest of the way through the door and closes it behind them, as if symbolizing the end of their previous lives.
But it is only the start of the new chapter of their lives together.
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