Web of Illusion Chapter 1

By Soothseeker

It was one of the hottest days Guardia had seen in a long time. The sun, a pale disc of searing gold, seemed to have frozen at the highest point of its arc. It hung in the parched blue sky, scorching the land below with its glowering gaze as the midday ringing of Nadia’s Bell rolled out across the hills.

In the muffled gloom of Guardia Forest, everything was still and silent. The trees did an appreciable job of absorbing the sun’s merciless rays, but the heat of the day still pulsed like a living thing. It lurked even in the deepest shade, crouching like a panther to shower anything that moved with deep breaths of heated furnace laughter.

Crono trudged down the wide path. His face and exposed arms were shiny with a film of clinging perspiration; beneath the sweat his muscles were strong and taught, still warm and aroused from the quick warm-up he’d done before he left the house. He stopped to readjust the scabbard that hung from his belt, making sure the hilt of his sword was in easy reach in case he had unexpected company.

Crono straightened and ran a hand through his hair. His long spikes snapped upright as soon as his hand cleared them, showering his face with sweat. As he looked down the path, his face passed through a sunbeam that had somehow clawed its way through the dense forest canopy. His features were sharp and clear in the sunlight. While still round with youth, they were beginning to narrow into the finely chiseled features of young adulthood.

And before their time, too, Crono thought silently. He shielded his eyes from the sun as he peered into the gloom. Unlike the rest of his face, his eyes held no trace of youth. They were sharp and quick, the eyes of a hunter, eyes from which the selfish dreams of childhood had been driven long ago.

Those eyes narrowed as Crono took in his surroundings. The forest was awfully quiet today.

When Crono and his friends returned from their adventures, he had hung his sword up on the wall with the intent to leave it there awhile. He had used it more times than he could count, more times than he wished to remember, on his quest to defeat Lavos. He was ready to give the weapon a rest. Still, he missed the feel of the thing in his hands after only a few days. Before he knew it he was venturing back into Guardia Forest, looking for something to practice on.

So where were all the monsters?

He’d been walking through the forest for almost fifteen minutes now, and still no sign of a challenge.

“That’s gotta be some kind of record,” Crono muttered. The woods were usually crawling with the things. He shook his head, finding nothing to hold his interest on the winding path, and started walking. He grinned. “If they don’t come to me, then I’ll go to them.”

He hadn’t gone more than a few steps before he heard a rustling sound in the underbrush. Apparently something had decided to step up after all. Crono drew the sword he had named Rainbow, and its unique ringing sound echoed through the trees like the voice of a plucked harp string. The sword’s silvery edge swirled with faint colors as he looked it up and down. Crono twirled it in his hands, listening to it bite the air with a hiss.

Whatever was coming, it was more than welcome to test its claws against Rainbow’s fury.

Crono pulled into a ready stance. His eyes narrowed, making swift jumps to every possible place of concealment: the wide trunk of that tree, this clump of bushes, the rock on the other side of the clearing.

The attack came not from before him, but from above.

His brain took a second to identify the direction of the sound. Crono glanced up just as the thing dropped through the leaves, and dove out of the way in the nick of time. He heard the creature hit the ground with a heavy thud, then the forest turned to a blurry smudge as he hit the ground. He pushed off automatically with his hands and knees, coming to his feet in a neat roll with his blade pointing at his attacker.

The dark creature was on one knee in the leaves. It wrenched its clawed hands back and forth on the hilt of its own blade, which had become lodged in the damp earth when it fell from the treetops. Crono identified oily black skin and a pair of red eyes before, with a yell, he lunged toward the creature.

A spray of dark soil flew as the monster freed its blade from the ground, raising it to block Crono’s swing. The blade that the Rainbow connected with was as black as a winter midnight; sparks flew as the two weapons collided and leapt away with a deafening ring. Crono went for a slash that should have opened the monster’s stomach, but the creature’s blade had already come around to deflect the attack. Quick as lightning, it turned its upward sweep into a sharp thrust. Crono only escaped by dancing backward on his toes, the dark blade coming within inches of his chest. The creature uttered a low, sharp grunt and backed off, the crimson eyes burning like boiling blood.

Crono, chest heaving, raised his sword and waited for the next attack. The creature leapt backward; Crono could only watch, aghast, as its sinewy legs propelled it so high its bald scaly head brushed the treetops. The monster chittered, landing a full thirty feet down the forest path. It brandished its weapon, shaking it in a clawed fist. The chittering sounds intensified, and it became a blur of motion as it raced toward Crono.

He was horrified by the speed with which it reached him, a vicious blur of screeching blades and malevolent darkness. He thrusted and parried with a strength born of pure, frantic terror, driven steadily backward by the monster’s attacks. Crono knocked one of its slashes wide, and managed to get in a quick jab beneath the whirling black arc of its blade. The creature’s pain-filled shriek was a hollow, primordial sound that made his hackles rise.

Growling in agony, the monster stumbled. Crono brought his blade around as the creature fell past him. The colors shimmered on the Rainbow as it passed through the monster’s thin neck. The monster’s body fell first, falling to its scaly knees before it dropped to the leaves with a sickening crunch. The head spun into the air like a firework, spurting black blood in a thin stream before it rolled to the ground.

Drenched in sweat, Crono let the Rainbow fall from his shaking hands and doubled over. He braced his hands on his knees, gulping the stale forest air, jaw slack in an exhausted scowl. He stood like this for a long moment, blood pounding in his ears. His chest tingled where the monster’s blade had swept near it. Too close, Crono thought while he tried to calm his fluttering heart. Wiping the sweat from his eyes, he turned to look at the monster.

It had already begun to disappear. As the body faded to nothing, he caught a glimpse of dark, scarred armor covering the black scales. He shivered as the dead eyes gazed up at him from the head in a glassy stare. As Crono watched, the head slowly grew thinner, turned transparent, and vanished.

The creature’s sword still remained, sticking point-down into the ground. Crono eyed the dark blade as he stood there, panting. The autumn leaves whisked up by the battle were just beginning to settle; it seemed that the monster’s weapon stole their flashing colors as they flitted by, absorbing them into its cold face of black metal.

Finally Crono found the strength to move. He bent and picked up his sword, looking it up and down to make sure everything was in order. There was no blood; monsters never left it behind. Crono gasped as his eyes came across several small chips in the blade. They were certainly nothing to fret over from a warrior’s standpoint; Crono always had Melchior if the sword needed repairing. But the tiny ridges sent a shiver down his spine.

The creature’s scales were hard enough to put dents in the Rainbow.

An idea came to him as he thought about Melchior. The old man was a swordsmith; maybe he would recognize the make of the creature’s blade. Maybe he’d be able to tell Crono something about it.

“I hope so,” Crono muttered with a wry smile. He sheathed the Rainbow, then moved forward and gripped the hilt of the monster’s weapon. After a bit of tugging, he managed to yank it out of the ground. He reached up to flick a chunk of dirt from the sword’s tip. When his finger touched the blade, it sent a shock of cold through his entire arm. Crono cried out, staring wide-eyed at the weapon he held. The tingling pain began to fade after a moment, leaving a numbness behind that burrowed deep into his bones. “I’d better get you to Melchior,” he whispered softly, shaking his arm in an effort to restore feeling to it.

Crono took one last look at the place where the monster’s body had fallen. The hand that gripped the dark sword was tingling; Crono shuddered, turned away, and began to walk.

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