Lucca's Choice

I sit alone in a room. It’s winter; outside I can see the snow that covers the ground and the trees. The sun is hidden behind an expanse of featureless gray cloud. The room around me is small and sparsely furnished. There is a rug on the ground, red with a bold blue pattern. The walls are wooden, mahogany, but dull and uninteresting.

The rocking chair is comfortable, but not astonishingly so. I glance down at the book in my lap, and even now, I feel a little pride when I see, in dark letters on the cream cover, "The Humanoid Robot: A Challenge and a Benefit," followed by the byline, which reads, "Dr. Lucca Ashtear." Oh yes, I have a degree. Have had a degree for many years now. After Crono and Princess Nadia and I returned from our adventure, I completed my doctorate in physics and engineering at Leene’s University in just under two years.

Queen Nadia—she prefers to be called Marle, even now, but I prefer to stick with formalities. She married my best friend, but we never really hit it off, and now we’re not even cordial acquaintances. Maybe that’s why I’m so lonely.

I’m just sixty, and I’ve been President of Leene’s for fifteen years now. I love my students, but too often I’m seen as a martinet, and they fear getting close to me. Only one has ever become anything like a child to me.

A boy. Queen Nadia’s younger brother, actually. Or rather, her illegitimate half-brother whom her father refused to acknowledge as his son. His name is Alwyn. He is now thirty-four years old—his birth was certainly no youthful indiscretion on the king’s part, which, perhaps, is one reason he refuses to acknowledge Alwyn. He has no excuse for the boy.

I remember fourteen years ago, just after I had become president, when Alwyn entered the class. I looked up and saw a tall, slim boy, with chin-length blue hair and a determined chin. Blue hair is not very common around here anymore, as you might imagine. I wrote a paper once on the results of the sudden genetic interbreeding between the Enlightened Ones and the Earthbound Ones, where, among other things, I speculated that most of the genes of the Enlightened Ones were recessive. It was not well-received. I was accused of having made up the data which I could not possibly know. Crono and then-Princess Nadia knew the truth, of course, and Crono was very interested in it at the time, but Nadia pretended to be snooty about it, though I think at least ninety percent of it must have been far over her head.

That’s beyond the point, however. It was the blue hair which first made me notice Alwyn, but I would have thought of him as nothing more than a genetic accident had had not done anything else to bring himself to my attention. First, he showed me that he was an exceptional student in my regular physics class, and then he startled me by asking permission to join my advanced history seminar.

The number of students who want to join that class varies—two, or three if I’m lucky, all of whom are usually students working for their doctorate in history. The only reason I’m allowed to keep holding the seminar is because I’m the President, and that certainly brings along with it a few perks.

Alwyn was a keen, interested student. He began to seek my aid after hours, and soon we started have long discussions about the past, especially about the fall of Zeal, which he was surprisingly interested in. Most people nowadays see the fall of Zeal as a semi-mythical warning against accumulating too much power, but Alwyn always treated it like the history it is.

Three months after Alwyn joined my class, I invited him to dinner at my house, an honor never before bestowed upon any pupil, no matter how promising. I didn’t really see it as an honor, and neither did he, which is one reason I invited him, though not the main one. I remember being very nervous, and I suppose he was, too…

"Alwyn!" his mother called.

"Yes, mother?" he answered, as he frantically dragged a comb through his blue hair.

"Are you almost ready? It’s time for you to go!"

"Yes, almost there!"

He took a quick look in the mirror to make sure that the midnight-blue robes he was wearing were unwrinkled and hanging properly. They were, and he raced for the door, gave his mother a quick kiss on the cheek and ran out.

His heart was pounding as he arrived at Dr. Ashtear’s house after half-walking, half-running through the chill April evening air. It was surprisingly small for a President’s house, an unimposing white building of two stories, with a grubby red welcome mat in front of the door. Alwyn took a deep breath, stamped his feet on the welcome mat to rid them of the slight powdering of snow they’d acquired on the way over, and knocked gingerly on the door.

There was cold sweat manifesting on the palms of his hands. I’m nervous, he realized with a start. Dr. Ashtear is nice in class, but she’s so aloof—I’m the only kid she’s ever invited for dinner. I wonder why me? I’m nothing special, well, except for being the bastard son of royalty, I suppose, but the kids at the college say she’s friends with Prince Crono who’s to be crowned next year when King Guardia abdicates so it can’t be that—

The door opened. Dr. Lucca Ashtear was standing inside, wearing lavender robes that complemented her pale lavender hair, which was in a braid on the top of her head. She smiled at Alwyn, a little stiffly, and said in a voice only one notch softer than her usual prim tones, "Good evening, Alwyn. Do come in."

"Thanks, Dr. Ashtear. And, um, thanks for inviting me to dinner."

"It was—my pleasure."

…I don’t remember what we talked about that first evening. Nothing important, that’s for certain. But gradually, our friendship developed, until I almost thought of him as a surrogate son. I knew, of course, that his mother was alive, but I also hoped that he thought of me as an aunt, at least.

I didn’t meet his mother for many years. There was no reason to, since we had developed a pattern of meeting in class and at my house for dinner. I guess neither of us really thought of his inviting me to dinner. In fact, it wasn’t until two years ago that he did. The funny thing is, there wasn’t any special occasion. That seems to be the way things are with me. There have been several turning points in my life, and none of them on the face of it, looked like auspicious moments for turning points. One was the night I was able to rescue my mother from my own inadequacy at age four. It looked like a perfectly normal night until I found the Gate. Then the day Alwyn walked into my class—it was a Wednesday, I think, a completely normal Wednesday which resulted in the banishment of loneliness from my life. And the day Alwyn invited me to dinner.

I was a bit surprised, but I agreed readily enough. He had become a historian, employed by King Crono and Queen Nadia at that point to research the Guardian family history. I think Crono’s curiosity was aroused by our brief (and it was brief, surprisingly so) sojourn through time. I sometimes aided Alwyn—informally, of course, but there were a few memorable occasions I managed to slip him through a Gate, though Queen Nadia had outlawed them when she took the throne. I’m not sure if that decision was motivated by a certain wariness over her experience with not existing or by spite of myself, who at the time went through the Gates with regularity, but whatever the reason, it certainly annoyed me no end, and it by no means stopped me entirely.

At any rate, I went to dinner at Alwyn’s house. He had happened to mention offhandedly that his mother was interested in meeting me…

…Lucca knocked gently on the door. It was answered a moment later by a tall, stately woman of Lucca’s age, dressed in blue robes, with her blue hair falling freely down her shoulders. There were seams of care in her face and streaks of silver in her hair, but there was a surprising air of youth and gentleness about her, which was painful for Lucca to see.

At age fifty-eight, Lucca’s lonely cynicism and disillusionment were rooted deep, though she had been somewhat softened through her long relationship with Alwyn. The air of quiet hope and dignity radiated by Alwyn’s mother reminded her of the idealistic teenager whose ideals she had discarded years ago.

"Dr. Ashtear, I presume?" Alwyn’s mother asked.

"Yes, that’s, that’s me," Lucca stammered, flushing and feeling her usual natural poise leave her. She collected herself enough to shake Alwyn’s mother’s hand.

"I’m afraid Alwyn’s not home quite yet," the woman continued. "Actually, Dr. Ashtear, truth be told I-I wanted to speak to you alone first."

Puzzled, Lucca nodded. "That’s certainly all right," she said.

"Well, do come in, I shouldn’t like you to catch cold standing on my doorstep," Alwyn’s mother laughed graciously, ushering her guest inside.

Lucca followed her into a cozy living room, furnished with blue floral armchairs and couch and a piano which sat a little lopsidedly in a corner of the room.

"Have a seat, please, Dr. Ashtear," said Alwyn’s mother.

Lucca sat down immediately, suddenly realizing that somehow she recognized this woman—it wasn’t only her obvious resemblance to Alwyn.

"Dr. Ashtear, I’ll be blunt." The voice was musical, touched with a deep-rooted sorrow that even Lucca could recognize, though she was not particularly good at recognizing feelings.

"I know most of the town regards me as the late King Guardia’s whore, but I’m not. I slept with him once because he told me he could give me information that he couldn’t and that was the price he put on it. I didn’t get the information, but I did get something of a consolation prize in Alwyn. Now, I wonder—" there was a catch in the woman’s beautiful voice. "—I wonder if you could help me with that information."

"Me? Why me, Mrs.—er—" Lucca floundered, realizing she didn’t know the other woman’s name.

"You can call me Schala," the woman answered quietly.

"Certainly, Schala," Lucca responded instantly—and then her mind put it all together, the name, the blue hair, the recognition—and she stood up with a gasp. "Schala?!"

A pained smile flitted onto Schala’s face. "So it is you," she said softly. "I remembered a girl with purple hair—but—I didn’t know—it was only when Alwyn brought home a picture of you a month ago that I thought perhaps—"

"Yes, I mean, I knew you in Zeal, just before—"

"Just before it came tumbling down around our ears. Dr. Ashtear—"

"You can call me Lucca," Lucca interposed.

"Lucca, then. I was wondering if—if you knew anything about Janus."


"My little brother. I’m sure you remember him—the little boy with the cat—the one who was always rude? I think he must have been pulled out of time as I was, and I’ve been trying to find him."

"Does Alwyn know?"

"He knows that we’re descended from the Enlightened Ones and that I have a little brother who was lost but who may not be dead. I didn’t tell him everything because I—didn’t want to burden him with it."

"I think perhaps you should have told him. He knows of Schala, you know, and—"

"Perhaps I should. And perhaps I will. But please—Dr. Ashtear—Lucca—do you know anything about what happened to Janus?"

Lucca stared into the pained lavender eyes. She thought of many things, many images, her knowledge—too much knowledge—

"…no…I’m sorry, I don’t."

I couldn’t tell her. How could I tell her what I knew? How could I tell her that her brother’s life had been a living hell, that he had landed in a time much harsher than the time she had landed in, so harsh it had erased the kindness from him and left only pain and anger and a burning desire for revenge?

And how could I tell her of his death? I watched him die. Up on that snowy cliff, overlooking the barren sea, I watched and did nothing to halt it as Glenn fought Janus, exhausted, barely able to defend himself, to the inevitable conclusion. At that point, I knew his sorrow, his pain, I knew enough that I should have forgiven him, but I also knew that he had killed Cyrus, and I understood Glenn’s pain more clearly than I understood Janus’s then.

It has taken me years to understand the all-encompassing power of loneliness, and I know I’ve only ever tasted a fraction of what the Magus endured. How could I tell his sister what I had witnessed? I have barely spoken to Alwyn and Schala since the night I met Schala. How can I have pretend friendship, knowing what I do?

I watched and did nothing as Glenn’s blade knocked the scythe from Janus’s hand, into the snow, as Janus knelt and stared up at Glenn and knew what was coming. The Masamune sang through the frosty air and bit deep into Janus. He fell backward, and I watched as the red blood flowed from him onto the clean white snow, I watched and stood there and made no move, not even to offer comfort. Glenn spat in his face, and I saw the single tear that squeezed itself out of Janus’s eye as he panted his last few pain-filled breaths. I watched. And did nothing.

I cannot tell her, but neither can I be friends with her or with her child. Not anymore. I know it saddens Alwyn, but I have told him that I am simply very tired, that soon I am sure things will return to normal. But I know that they can’t, not even if Schala dies and I am still alive. I did not murder Alwyn’s uncle. I did not plunge in the sword that killed him. But I watched, and I didn’t stop it, and I sympathized with Glenn.

Poor Schala. She’ll search forever and find nothing. There is nothing more to find, not even a grave. We didn’t bury him, the murderer of Cyrus, the summoner of Lavos, the Prophet who nearly had us killed. We didn’t bury the lonely, tortured soul that we did not see because we did not understand. We left him to lie upon the cold slope forever, battered by the winds and the sea and the snow, for nature to take, and we went on and fought Lavos and destroyed him and returned to our lives without a thought except perhaps, It served him right.

Who were we to judge?

All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition

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