"Crono was strong! Marle, too! Ayla have fun!"
"Long farewells ne'er were necessary."
Their parting words were said. The bond of friendship that fought back the threat of Lavos was stretched across time. Fireworks shattered into lights of red and green against the night sky; this was the final hurrah to the heroes of time. The Gate gave sputtered, gave a great, last moan, and shrunk out of existance.
The millennium fair had ended. The adventure was finished.
"...and don't forget about the shower! It only comes around once every hundred years-- you have to go see it. Maybe take that girlfriend of yours, eh?"
Crono grunted his reply, stretching across the table for a plate of eggs. His mother went on, and the faint sound of splashing water and clinking dishes followed her voice as she spoke. "And would you mind getting some more cat food today? Honestly, Crono, I think that cat of yours is going to up and run away sometimes, with how little you feed it. I've left some money by the door, dear."
He mumbled back, nodding and chewing. "You're going to the square today, right?" his mother asked.
Crono swallowed. "Uh-huh. Lucca's showing me her new invention."
She stopped for a moment and scratched her head with a soapy finger. "Well, be careful. We know what happened the last time she showed off an invention in the square."
"Huh? Oh, right. That."
As he took the last long sip from his glass of sour juice, it occurred to Crono just how strange an answer that was. "Huh?" The greatest adventure of his life, nearly the end of his life, and his answer had been "Huh". He asked himself how long it had been since he thought about what Lucca called the "Old Days". How long since he had thought about Frog, and Robo, and Ayla? About a year, he decided after some consideration. It was at a feast held in Guardia Castle. Lucca had drank too much of the King's wine, and started rambling about Robo, and how "Maybe we don't has t'wait for the future." He wondered now, as he did then, about how often Lucca thought about their old friend since the Millennium Fair. Marle too, for that matter. Crono nearly never thought of him, or the rest of them for that matter. Why wasn't he worrying about Robo, like Lucca was? Or Marle, if she did too. Did that make him a bad person? Would Lucca and Marle have answered "Huh?"
"Crono, are you listening to me, young man?"
His head perked up. "Eh?"
His mother sighed. " 'Eh'? " she said. "Honestly, Crono, you'd think you didn't know English with all that grunting. I asked when you had to be at Lucca's... exhibit."
Crono turned to look at his flashing wrist-clock--one of Lucca's inventions, and something he couldn't resist showing off to anyone who would look--and tapped its glossy face. "Right now."
He shovelled up his plate and fork, and hurried them into the sink. "See you later, mom."
With a quick peck on the cheek, Crono was gone; hurrying out the door and to the town square beyond. Thoughts of the Old Days had eluded him.
When he got to Truce square, a crowd of people were gathering in front of the short stairway leading to Lucca's exhibit. Taban stood before them on the highest step, chatting with a very round man in a velvet suit. The rest of the tight-packed masses were mumbling and joking amongst themselves; Crono heard bits and pieces of conversation drift to him from his place at the crowd's back. "...she'll screw this one up too, I'd bet my..."
"...like the last time, she... I heard she killed some girl on one of those fangled..."
"All I know is: I won't be volunteering to try it."
"...nd remember that electric wind-blower? Almost cut her damn arm off!"
Crono grinned at that. The 'fan', as Lucca had called it, did almost break her arm when it fell onto her; apparently it got too much power from the generator she had brought. Or something. He never really listened when she went into her explanations, he just stayed quiet and nodded every so often. She didn't seemed to notice.
"Crono!" a voice squealed from behind him.
He turned around just in time to see the squealer leap up towards him. Bare arms locked around his neck in a hug. "Marle!" he shouted, hugging back.
When a few moments, and more than one brief kiss, passed, Crono pulled away from her and took a glance at their surroundings. "Shouldn't Sir Iddick be moping around?" he asked.
"I must have lost him somehow. A pity," she replied with a wry smile, leaning up for a deeper kiss.
Taban's voice boomed up over the crowd-- an excited, jolly voice. "Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to the event of the century! You have come here today to witness an invention which will change the very face of this fair world! It's the masterwork of my beautiful daughter, Lucca!"
"He says that every bloody time," a man muttered somewhere in the crowd.
Taban frowned, as if his train of thought had come off its tracks, but his smile burst back onto his lips a moment later. "Come, come!" he shouted. "Come inside and bear witness!"
The crowd poured in, streaming up the steps and into the small stone square where Marle had once been transported through time. When she and Crono reached the top step, Taban stopped them with a smile. "I think you two will like what you see today," he said. He waved them through.
Crono, as always, was amazed at how many people were there. It must have been nearly a hundred, maybe more. And yet when the day was over, how many of these people would roll their eyes and say "Well, another disappointment. Last time I come to see one of these things!" Marle once told him, when he shared this thought with her, that people sometimes preferred seeing failure to success. He supposed the showing off of Lucca's inventions was a safe bet either way. He cast a look at his wrist-clock.
As they squirmed their way through the audience, he and Marle heard Lucca saying something from the showing square's centre. It must of been something funny, because the front of the crowd broke out in hysterics. "Looks like Lucca's working on her showmanship," Marle said through a wide smile.
They saw the edge of a sheet whip over the heads of the crowd; Lucca had unveiled her invention. And it appeared that she had a winner-- excited gasps and awed whispers ran through the crowd like current. The front row began to clap and laugh.
Marle and Crono hurried their pace. It was always nice when Lucca's talents were applauded, and the curiosity of what she had made was running rampant. It was odd that the inventor hadn't shown her invention to them already. Usually if they didn't help her put it all together they were at least present during its creation. But this time when they asked, their only reply from the Lucca was a wink and a crooked smile. Occasionally she would say "Oh, you'll see."
Marle slipped to the front of the crowd before Crono did-- she slipped through lookers-on like a snake through grass. Crono, from bulkier hair to bulkier boots, was having a bit more trouble. More than once he tripped over people in his mad dash to catch up to his princess. When he was a few haphazard rows from the front, he caught a glimpse of her at last. She appeared to be dumbstruck, her hands were covering her mouth and eyes were wide and shocked. Crono grinned.
As he parted the last few people between Marle and himself, he heard a familiar noise from right next to her. Lucca's invention, no doubt; though he couldn't place the sound to any machine he had ever heard her use. Mentally, he didn't really even connect the noise to her. It reminded him of something else... someone else. Just before he passed the foremost crowdsman, and got next to Marle in the doing, it dawned on him who he was thinking of.
"Hello, Princess Nadia. It is a pleasure to meet you," an electric voice chirped out from in front of Marle.
Robo. There he was, standing in front of him: Robo. Crono's jaw went slack. Robo... or, at least, something that looked like Robo. As the shock gradually released him from its grip, he began to see that there were differences between this robot and his old metal friend. This thing had Robo's frame, right down to the cooling pack on his back, but it was small and blue. Its head and eyes were spot-on, but its voice was high and whining. It sounded like a kettle whistling.
No, not Robo. Still, the resemblance was uncanny.
"Andy, what did I say about titles?" Lucca piped up from behind the little metal man.
The robot buzzed out an unintelligible shout, and twirled on a leg. "Understood, Madame Lucca," it clacked.
The inventor sighed, resigned. The robot looked away from her, and found Crono.
"And you, Mister Crono," said Andy. "It is a pleasure to meet you."
Andy whirled the top half of his body around and marched back to the other side of the crowd.
Lucca came over to her astounded friends, fiddling with her glasses all the way. "He's great, eh? I mean-- he won't stop calling me 'Madame', and he doesn't have much of a personality, but--"
"Lucca! H... Who-- what is this?" Marle stuttered.
A grin crept across the inventor's face, crooked and beaming. Her fidgeting hands steadied, and she casually adjusted her frames. "This, Marle, is A-33B: Andy the Android." She flashed with pride. "What do you think?"
"It's, I mean, he's... Robo," Marle stammered out.
Lucca turned away to look at Andy before she replied. Her left hand had gone back to piddling unconsciously with her glasses. "Well... not quite," she replied.
"Robo was gold," Crono said. His eyes were locked on the robot, who spun his upper half for the crowd.
"Uh... yeah. One of many differences, I'm afraid," Lucca replied, scratching her violet head beneath her cap.
Andy came back to them, spinning on every third step, and huffed out a cloud of steam. "Robo, model R-66Y, created by the machines of the future. I am to be his predecessor; although there are still several flaws and glitches in my system, which will need to be--" he spun around again, buzzing. "--overcome."
"Is this what you've been working on the last few months?" Marle asked.
Andy interrupted the reply. "I have been added to and worked on for precisely twelve months, thirteen days and am only the most recent production in the line of artificial intelligence and robotics Madame Lucca has been--"
"You won't stop calling people 'Madame' and 'mister', but you'll cut off your creator mid-word?! You--"
"My apologies, Madame Lucca. I only meant--"
"Andy, go over to my dad. I have to talk to Marle and Crono," Lucca said, sighing.
Spinning, Andy trudged over to Taban; clattering with electric gibberish as he went. Lucca turned back to her friends. "Well?" she asked, looking from Marle to Crono.
"Lucca... are you trying to remake Robo?" Marle asked.
"Remake? No, Marle. I'm trying to make him. 'Re' would imply he's already existed," she paused for a moment, then shrugged. "...although I suppose technically he has."
"Are you sure that's a good idea? Won't that unmake him in the, you know... future?" Crono asked.
"Don't let the inventions fool you, Crono-- I'm not as dumb as I seem," she replied. "I've thought this through, guys. The future is set in stone, right? Unless we, or somebody else, changes it: that's it. Checkmate, game over. It doesn't matter what we do, things will turn out as they're supposed to-- as time wants them to. Ergo, the only way Robo will exist in the future is if, at some point in history, he's made. Right?"
Crono looked at Marle and shrugged. "Well... I, uh, I guess so," Marle said.
"Ah. Then all we have to do is make sure he gets made. So--"
A screaming whistle cut through both the air and her explanation. Crono and Marle jumped. Lucca whirled on her feet, eyes scrambling for Andy; Andy, who was now spewing flames from a hole in his back. "ERROR. ERROR. MALFUNCTION IN ENERGY CORE. MALFUNCTION IN ENERGY CORE." his electric voice boomed out.
Panic fuelled the crowd, turning it to a mob. Men and women of all ages ran for the exit, their screams drowning out Andy's. Feet pounded against stone, hands slapped backs, screams, cries, and shouts were flung against the echoing stone walls. The robot flamed in the middle of it all, tumbling around frantically as its electric brain fizzed out its last mad commands. Lucca was on the move the moment she grasped the situation in its entirety. She ran with desperate fervour against the crowd, pushing and shoving her way through as the mob pushed and shoved her back. "Pl-- ah! I ha--" her voice squalled against the screams.
The inventor scrambled out of the way of one throng of people only to stumble into another. She slid and hopped her way through the panic in the square, but with every leap forward she took three halting steps back. People swarmed all around her, knocking shoulders and stomping to their freedom with no care for what was underfoot. Halfway through another of Andy's wailing announcements, "MALFUNCTION IN ENERGY--", Lucca tired, and slowed down. The mob only ran faster.
A red-clad woman, screaming in dramatics with eyes shut, slammed into Lucca's left. The inventor went down, crashing to the stone floor helmet-first. She felt three of her fingers bend beneath someone's passing boot.
The crowd surged forward, eyes locked on the exit and seeing nothing else. Lucca sat on the ground, looking up at the tide of her patrons running towards her, with a half-dazed look of alarm. She threw her arms up. There was no time for anything else.
Glenn croaked deep in his throat. He sat, now, at the top of a stair case; the only metal on his amphibious frame the Masamune and the Hero Medal. His face was solemn in forlorn, long lips drawn tightly to his jaw. The three men around him--Captain of the Knights, always clad in shining gold; the Chancellor in his silk splendour; and a single, silver-armoured guard--wore the same faces. They stood outside the door to the Queen's chambers in an hour-long silence; nobody seemed to notice, or dare break it if they did. Not a word had graced the air since they had received the call to come.
Glenn had been set to depart for Porre scarcely two hours earlier. He had only just hopped aboard the carriage, smile on his large white mouth, when an errand boy ran up to him from the main gate. "It's the Queen milord!" he had cried. "Queen Leene's fallen ill! She wish--" Glenn needed not another word. He had leapt from his seat and bounded off towards the castle without so much as a glance at the rest of his party.
When he had arrived, the other three men were already there, and King Guardia as well. The King had gone into the Queen's chambers to check on her, and the doctor within, and left his three subjects in a fretting quiet for the last long hour.
And so they stood, and sat, in their desperate trepidation; hoping against hope that Leene would recover and be well again.
The door to Leene's chambers slowly creaked open, squealing against the stone floor. Knight, Chancellor, and guardsman all turned to look with equal expressions. Glenn hopped from his spot on the bannister to join his comrades in wait-- they did not wait long. The answer to the question of Leene was given without a word. The King's drawn face, topped with a crown that seemed all the duller this day, told her fate. Every creased wrinkle on his sagging flesh hung defeated and plaintive.
"What news, my lord?" the chancellor asked, bushy white eyebrows twisting into each other.
"My Queen, old friend... is not long for this world," he droned out, his voice tired; weak.
The chancellor bowed his head, as did the guardsman. "What cursed fate is this?" the Knight Captain cried out, slamming his metal fist into the wall. "That we should defeat the Wizard yet lose our Queen?"
The King seemed not to notice the knight's outburst.
"Sir Glenn," he said quietly.
Glenn's face had kept, unmoving, since he had entered the hallway of the Queen. He wore the face of desolation. "My Lord?" he replied.
"My Queen bids speak with you before you leave for Porre."
The frog gave an unwillful croak of bafflement. "Yes, Glenn," said the King. "Your venture to Porre awaits you still. It is my will... and that of the Queen's."
He walked past the frog, pausing to place an arid hand on Glenn's shoulder before leaving back to his throne room. The Chancellor followed him.
"You must hurry, my friend. The sooner you leave, the sooner you'll return," the Knight Captain said.
He spoke with a thick voice, and his eyes were cast to the floor.
The frog nodded. "Aye."
With but one thing left to do, Glenn went forward-- each footfall a blow to his heart. He had never felt such an overwhelming dread, not even when he had taken those last chilling paces into the core of Lavos's shell. A mad urge to draw the Masamune flew through him. "Settle, Glenn. Thou can'st not battle this foe. Not this foe."
He went inside Leene's chambers.
The first thing he noticed, when the doctor shut the door behind him, was the overwhelming scent of disease clinging to the air. Perhaps a man could not smell it, taste it; but Glenn could. His skin tightened around his body when he first felt the stench wash through his throat. "Glenn..." a voice croaked out from the shadows of a canopied bed.
Glenn nearly ran to her. "My Queen?" he asked, kneeling at the bed's side.
"Glenn... don't we know each other better than that? Please... call me Leene."
"As you wish, Leene."
She laughed, weak and cracked. "Glenn..." she sighed. "Let me... let me see your face, Glenn. Come closer."
He pushed open the canopy and leaned inside. The stench was worse within, and he choked back the urge to gag. "Leene?"
"Glenn... no need for tears, Glenn."
He fought back a grimace. His eyes were indeed wet, but it was the smell that brought them on. He dare not, would not, contradict her. "They can'st not be helped, my lady. You art..."
"Dying, Sir Glenn," she let out a chuckle. It was the bitterest of sweet sounds that Glenn had ever heard.
"Say it not, Leene. Ailments come and go-- I hath seen children afflicted with plague recover. This is but a trifle-- you shall sneeze it out in short order."
She laughed again, pure and strong. "Oh, my dear Glenn. I am past sneezing, good knight. I fear I am past all help. Yes, Glenn, I fear it is so-- and no stories of sneezing out the plague will convince me otherwise."
He kept quiet. It wasn't often that he knew not what to say, not since he had grown past childhood. He felt like that, now. Like a child. Helpless and crying, unable to do a thing to help. His sorrow held his acerbity in check. "Glenn, would you... do something for me?"
"I would'st do anything you ask of me, Leene. Without a moment's hesitation."
"Yes... I imagine so," she let out another short laugh. "The doctors... they say I need the heat. To sweat the illness from my body. Frankly, I'd trust sneezing to sweating."
She laughed again. "Glenn... Open my windows, would you please? I fear the smell of death has given me a headache."
He might have hesitated, he later realised. Might have followed the orders of the medic; given his Queen a chance at life. At the time, though, he would not have refused her had she asked for an arm.
He opened the windows, and tied open the canopy-- wind rushed through them both. The fresh air poured into Leene's bed, bringing bright rays of light with it. The Queen shone like an angel, lying in her thin white night gown. The sun wreathed her blonde locks in a golden fire and lit her, head to toe, with a divine glow.
With a contented sigh, she smiled at him. "Thank you, Glenn. I would not wish to depart in the darkness."
He croaked. "Would'st you like anything else? Food, perhaps? Or--"
She waved him closer. "No, Glenn... I've no appetite left to speak of. Come here, would you?"
"Leene?" he asked, kneeling at her side.
"I hear you are off to Porre..."
"My lady. If you wish me to stay, I shall not move from this spot."
She smiled. "I don't doubt it. But you must... go. They need you, in Porre."
"Another can go in mine place. A better knight-- Sir Iddik, perhaps. Or Reiland."
"There are... no greater knights than you, Glenn. I doubt there are even greater men."
"You flatter me, lady."
"The truth can be flattering, on brief occasion. But I have asked my King to give you his command. You are needed, and I will... will not burden this kingdom with the wishes of a dying woman."
She waved him silent. "You will go, my dear Glenn. And... you will return to me. My doctors say I will not last... long, but I will endeavour to look upon your face one last time. Before the end."
"If you will it, Leene, then it shall be so."
She smiled. "Perhaps, I might even live to see the star-rain. My stargazers say it is bound for us, soon. It happens... only... only when great sorrow is afoo..."
Her eyes slid shut. Glenn, eyes very wide, leapt to his feet, tearing off his glove and putting a bare green hand to her throat. A pulse pushed against his blocky fingers, weak and faded. He calmed himself. "Sleep well, my lady Leene. I shall see you before too long. And then..."
He croaked, putting his glove back over his hand. "Farewell, my Queen," he whispered, creeping slowly back to the hall.
He paused at the doorway, and looked over the velvet room before him. His eyes froze on the bed, with the golden-haired angel resting on its feather-filled softness. Taking one final look at his lady, the Queen, he shut the door and left.
The young inventor had no time to protect herself. The shove she had received, and the jolt her spine got as her backside hit stone, had dizzied her. But even as bright green-blue flashes bubbled up into her vision she could see the end result of this madness. The crowd surging around her, towards her, would soon run over her; all the while her greatest invention was screaming to its death in the background. Her skin broke out in goosebumps.
As she got her arms half-way to her head, and the fleshy tide of the crowd was nearly crashing down upon her, it happened. A man--she might have realised it was Crono had she not been otherwise fuddled, God knew no one else would have that hair--leapt in front of her, shoulder first. The crowd broke around his lean frame, flooding past himself and the downed inventor alike. Lucca felt arms slip under her shoulders, pulling up. She managed some half-hearted groan of thanks, but her head spun worse on the way up than it had while she was on the ground. "You okay?" she heard her rescuer, Marle, ask.
"Andy..." she mumbled back.
The crowd was mostly gone, now. As she was dragged towards a wall, Lucca could see her father attempting to shut the robot down, but his hand kept missing the right spot and hitting metal; hot metal. "Hold on, Lucca," Marle said.
"Taban, need help?" Crono shouted, hopping through the last few remnants of the audience.
Taban cursed, jumping back from a jet of heated oil. "Hit his chest, lad! Hit his chest!" he roared in reply.
Crono leapt forward, ducking under a wisp of flame and rolling to Andy's front. His fist shot out, slamming dead-centre into the round half-sphere that lay in the robot's steel belly. Andy's whistling scream died down, his voice sank to an electric monotone. "Power systems shutting down. Entering mode: Stasis Lock."
With a mechanical sigh, the robot sank into his legs; his bright eyes died into darkness with a quiet click; a minute cloud of steam huffed out from under his collar, mingling with the smoke rising from the hole in his back. The robot sat in a still silence, tiny flames licking his plating from inside his torso.
As Taban fought the last remainders of fire from the robot's body, Crono returned to Lucca. She had regained most of her composure.
"Are you all right?" he asked her.
"Yeah. I think so, anyway. Andy?"
"Lucca, you're bleeding!" Marle gasped from her side.
A small gash was cut into the inventor's left cheek; she later thought it was from the red woman's earring. "Here, let me see if I can't fix that," Marle said, getting to Lucca's side.
"I'm fine. It's just a scratch." Lucca replied, pulling herself to her feet.
"Sit still!" Marle ordered, pushing the inventor back onto the bench.
The princess's finger moved slowly over the cut; her eyes were closed in concentration. With a sparking blue-white glow, the wound fell inward, stitching itself closed with an invisible needle. "Jeez, Marle-- that finger's ice-cold! I'm fine!" Lucca stood up, rubbing her cheek.
Marle stared at the cut, now only a red stripe across the inventor's face. It hadn't healed all the way. The princess' eyes stayed on it, even as the inventor marched away from her and back towards Andy.
Lucca examined the smoking body of her android, frowning. Her friends joined her. "Can you fix him?" Crono asked, smoothing his knuckles.
"Probably. Maybe." Her face was set in irritation. "If he didn't burn out his whole system."
"I'm sure you can do it, dear," Taban said between long gulps of tonic. His fingers were burned red. "I'll go get Gato to drag him home. Be right back."
"It'll take me weeks to get him out of stasis lock!" Lucca grumbled when her father had left.
"Don't worry about it, Lucca. It's not like you're short on time," Crono said.
Her left eye twitched briefly. The irritated expression on her face held for a moment, then melted into a depressed acceptance. "You're right, you're right. All the time in the world," she said. "Thanks, by the way. I would of been trampled if it weren't for you. You too, Marle."
"Don't mention it," Crono replied, smiling.
Marle joined him, but her smile was uneasy and nervous. "You want to go do something, then?" Crono said, looking at his wrist-clock for the time.
"Thanks but no thanks. I'm gonna head home, try to figure out what went wrong with Andy." she replied.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"Maybe we'll go with you, then. Give you a hand," he said.
"Actually," Marle answered him. "I've got to get back to the castle. Sir Iddick will be hunting through all of Truce to find me."
"Are you s--"
The sound of Gato, singing loudly as he clanged up stone steps on iron feet, cut him off. Music blared through the robot's metal chest. Taban, fingers in his ears, came walking up behind him. "Go pick up the robot, there, Gato," he said, pointing at Andy. "We're bringing him with us."
Yes indeed I do.
Pick up the robot,
He's coming, too." the robot blared back jovially.
The group parted ways. Of the three of them, only Crono would rest well that night-- unburdened by worries and fears. Lucca would fall asleep on her workshop floor; Marle would drift into an uneasy sleep, turning and kicking her blanket until the morning. But Crono, he would all but pass out the moment he fell backwards into bed. The only thing that troubled his shut-eye was a brief dream about Old Days, old friends and forgetfulness. By morning, he remembered it not at all.
65, 000, 002 B.C.
She flew down the wooden vine, screaming her battle cry as she flung herself to the jungle floor. "Kino cut cat off!" Kino shouted from her side.
He disappeared into the trees.
Ayla bolted forward; her hands dug for purchase in the mud. A smile was planted on her lips; sweat trickled through the lines of her mouth. She roared again and leapt ahead with arms stretched out. The cat leapt farther still, hind quarters slipping through her muddy grasp.
"Bad cat!" she shouted, scrambling back into a run. "Ayla catch you!"
She ripped forward again, turf flying up behind her. Blonde curls beat against her shoulders as she ran. "Ayla catch you!" she called out, roaring another battle cry.
The cat yawled a reply, long and vicious, and it echoed back to Ayla. She hurried her pace, smiling wider. The cat hurried its.
They had been racing through the forest since sun-down; Ayla had spotted the cat from the tree tops, and sounded for Kino to follow her. To his credit, he had managed to keep up all this way despite his huffing and puffing for the last leg of the hunt. And this was the last leg of the hunt. They were herding the cat, a giant thing with two long tusks peeking out from under its cheeks, towards a cliff. If it didn't turn to fight, they would collect it at the bottom. And if it did fight... "Ayla catch you!" the huntress screamed out again.
Here it was: the narrow, beaten path that grew rougher and steeper with each passing step. Kino would jump out from the trees to the cat's left, either taking it out or driving it to the rocky edge of the crag. Ayla's eyes burned with the thrill of the hunt-- her hand would have slipped around the handle of her club, had it not been knuckle-deep in mud and grass. She hurried herself.
The cat was nearly there; Kino's bushy tangle of forest to its left rustled quietly as the caveman prepared himself. The cat noticed. It bucked away from his hiding place and bolted straight towards the cliff edge. "Kino smash!" Kino roared, jumping out from the trees and swinging his club through empty air.
"Kino miss!" Ayla laughed as she shot past him, hot in pursuit of her prey.
Now the two combatants, cat in lead and Ayla close behind, were past the treeline-- out from the green of the jungle. All that remained was thick brown mud and wet rock sloping ever-higher towards the precipice. "Ayla catch you!" the cavewoman roared.
Her hand grasped her club. Rain drenched her furs, weighing her down. Still she smiled, both rain and sweat rolling off her chin. They were nearing the top now, and that meant the cat's end. It's bulky framed heaved itself upwards to the cliff's peak; Ayla hopped after it, both hands on her club. "Ayla catch you," she whispered, eyes bright.
Ayla never did. The cat, casting one final glance backwards at its pursuer, leapt off the cliff without a moment's hesitation. It dipped beneath the rocky edge, and out of the cavewoman's field of vision. She slowed her pace, sighing. "Bad cat," she muttered, walking the last few steps to the where the cat had jumped. "Ayla wanted..."
Her words failed, killed and replaced by mixed feelings of shock and rage. Looking down at the forest far beneath her, just a little ways away from the cliff's base, Ayla could see her prey, the cat. Her prey, the cat, alive. She had gotten to the precipice just in time to see the beast cutting deftly through the trees below her; not a scratch on its tan hide. She watched in silent disbelief as it paused to look up at her, smiling a toothy grin. "Bad cat!" she roared, slamming her club into the ground.
It seemed that in all the storms and rain of the past while, the former dead-end drop of the cliff had now become a slide. One made of mud, that eased, slanting, gently to the ground. Even through the downpour, Ayla could see where the cat had landed after its leap, and slid-hopped its way to safety. "Ayla catch?" Kino called out, puffing on three limbs as he came to join her.
She grunted. "Ayla miss. Cliff now hill."
"How-- oh. Kino see. Cat gone?"
"Cat gone. Food gone. Tribe hungry longer." she replied, sitting on the tip of what was once the crag. She set her club down and sighed.
Kino followed suit, plopping on the ground beside her. "Ayla not worry-- Doo say he see bull herd last sun. We search for bull next sun."
"Ayla not worried about bull. Ayla not worried about food. Tribe strong. Tribe survive." she looked down into the forest, looking at where the cat had smiled at her.
"Ayla... Ayla tired."
"Ayla tired?" Kino asked. "Ayla chase tooth-cat through forest. Kino tired, too."
"Ayla not that kind of tired," she replied. "Ayla and Kino come to forest every sun for many suns, hunting. Clubs useless. Clubs never used. Tooth-cats and horn-bulls and fast-legs never fight. They run and die. And run and live. Never fight."
"Kino no understand Ayla. Food run and die, we get food. Food run and live, we find more food and it run and die. We get food. Tribe gets food."
"Ayla not care about food! Kino dummy," she whacked him on the shoulder. "Ayla... tired."
Kino cocked his head to a side. "...Ayla want sleep?"
She whacked him again. "Not that kind of tired!"
Kino looked up at the night sky; rain poured down onto his upturned face. He grabbed his club. "Kino and Ayla get dry, or get sick."
She grabbed her club and forced herself to stand. "Kino right. We hunt bull-herd at light."
They walked back down the cliff, towards the shelter of the jungle. As Ayla put an arm around Kino, and they walked back to Ioka, Ayla thought she saw a glimpse of something blue in the trees from which Kino had leapt during the hunt. Something blue and round. "Nu," she whispered, the word blunt on her tongue.
That brought up memories. She knew an old man, once-- he had become a Nu, somehow. That Nu was sleeping now; Lucca had turned it off. Lucca... she remembered Lucca. And Crono. And Marle, and the Frog, and the stone-man, Robo. She remembered the blue one, Magus. She had never spoken that name quite right-- it ended strangely, and she always ended up calling him "Makoos". She missed them, her friends. Even more, she missed... she missed the adventure. The hunt.
But it didn't matter. She would think about it later. For now, she had to return to the hunting camp and take some rest. As it turned out, she slept like a log. She snored and dreamed about the days gone by.
Glenn sat in the back of the carriage, bouncing off the wooden floor as the cart hit bumps in the road. Outside, he could hear gales of wind and rivers of rain screaming and rattling against the oak walls around him. He could hear the wheels whining as they slid through the mud; the horses whinnying as they were urged on through the muck. He heard the driver grumble, on more than one occasion, about being outside in the storm. His ears took it all in, but Glenn wasn't listening.
It had been over a week since he had departed from the slumbering Queen, and he had been cross from the moment he woke up each morning to the moment he drifted into a troubled sleep each night. Every problem that arose in Porre was solved in a bitter haste, and every moment between problems had been spent in silent, solemn reflection. He was reflecting now, sitting on rotted wood while nature heaved against his conveyance. The urge he had had at the castle, to pull the Masamune and cut into that which poisoned his Queen, had yet to dissipate. Every time he drew his blade to quarrel with whatever Mystic or beast beset Porre, he drew it with abandon; with rage. His fury on the battlefield of late had been something terrible to behold. Every dark thing he cut asunder was, in his slick amber eyes, just a whipping boy for his real enemy; the one that sat, furlongs away from him, in the Queen's chambers.
Contemplating his anger, now in the carriage that carried him back to Castle Guardia, he croaked quietly. He missed the old days. He missed the days when his enemy was a wizard-- dark, evil, and tangible. His blade could, and had, sink into his foe's flesh and sever him from the world. But now, what had he come to? A foe darker than the azure Magus, and harder to vanquish. Impossible, he corrected himself. His sword, with all its magic and power, could not save the woman he would give his life to protect. How awful had the times become?
Awful enough to justify his escape into times past. These last few days, in Porre, he had thought often on his friends of old. Of Crono, and his thin curved blade. Of Marle, who looked so like Leene herself. Of Lucca, with her brilliant mind. Of Ayla, the warrior woman. Of Robo, the man of steel who had more heart than most men Frog had ever known. And of Magus-- his one-time, all-time, nemesis. The man who had turned him into a toad, and killed Cyrus. Oh, how he wished it was the wizard attempting to kill the Queen, not this plague eating her from within.
"How long hath it been, since I idled in the fields of memory?" he whispered to himself, leaning back against the wall.
It must have been a while. He could not recall thinking of Crono and his lot since he had expunged the last band of Mystics from the remains of Magus's castle. On that day, destroying those dark vagrants, memories came flooding back to him-- thoughts of he and his allies' long-ago battles with Flea, and Slash, and the great oaf, Ozzie. Though perhaps he was only thinking of those battles now, bumping along over Zenan Bridge.
He missed the old days. He missed having a foe to defeat, and a path on which to reach them. All of those adventures, with his old friends, crossing time and earth with such passion... "Little sense shedding tears, Glenn," he said to himself, shutting his eyes. "That door is closed forever. It shan't open again."
It had been three days since Crono had seen his friends. Every time he tried to visit Lucca, she brushed him off and locked herself in her workshop. And Marle had sent him notes, hand-delivered by an errand boy, saying that she needed some time alone. He tried to go see her anyway, but she was either hiding or had left the castle grounds. It had been a frustrating three days.
This morning another note came. This one, written in Marle's graceful hand writing, finally asked him to come to her. He had bolted out his door after reading the last line of the message, needing no more words, and set off for the castle. Half-way between Truce and Guardia forest, Crono decided that today would be his last day of solitude. He would find out what was wrong with Marle, then swing by Lucca's and break her damned door down if need be. A clean sweep.
When he got to Marle's door at the top of the keep, Crono was sweating and red-faced. Running all the way up, past the castle's countless stairs and hallways, was a bad idea. He would have been angry with himself for trying something so stupid, but his worry blinded him. It was all he could do to keep himself from smashing through the door and running to her right then and there. But he needed to catch his breath, so he forced himself to wait a little longer. It was a brutal stretch of time; a minute passed and it felt like an hour. When finally his short-lived patience was at its end, he slid open the door and stepped inside.
The usual silk interior of Marle's room greeted him, shining salutations through vivid pastels. The princess herself was sitting at a couch before the before the balcony. Sunlight curled around her slender form, shimmering as it glanced off her pearl-coloured clothes. Her brow was furrowed and her eyes were staring at nothing. It was the face of deep thought.
"Marle?" Crono asked, shutting the door.
"Hm?" she turned to see him. "Crono."
As he walked to the couch he thought about how she had said his name. She said it happily, but detached. He figured she was still thinking about whatever it was that bothered her. He sat down.
A quiet blossomed between them, then. Crono hated starting conversations, and Marle still seemed too lost in thought for words. Neither seemed to mind, although Crono's curiosity gnawed at him, and so they sat in silence. The sun crept slowly past its apex, succumbing to afternoon dim. The birdchirps that floated in from below the balcony died down, leaving only the wind and the ticking of a clock to echo off the stone walls. When Crono had stared into Marle's unseeing eyes for an hour without word from her, his own eyes began to wander. They drifted over the tapestries and the drapes and the rugs. He saw a block of stone just beside his foot with a thin, deep hole in it. It looked to go down past the block itself, perhaps entering a second as it went along. He wondered what had caused it. "Crono," Marle said, breaking the quiet.
He turned back to her, and slid closer; he nodded. Marle let out a long, quiet laugh, shaking her head all the while. "Oh, Crono."
A smile formed on his face, but it faltered when she grew quiet again. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"I've been thinking, these last few days," she said. "About, well... look, it all started at Lucca's exhibit. She got cut, remember? Well, I tried to heal her, but she didn't-- the cut didn't heal. But it should have! I've healed worse than that; remember when Ayla got her leg..."
Her head drooped, but she pulled it back up a moment later. "And that just got me thinking," she said. "About Ayla, and the rest. Frog, Robo, all of them. Doan, Kino, Gaspar, Spekkio... they're, they're all gone."
"Gaspar and Spekkio: they're still at the End of Time, aren't they? Just waiting there, forever."
He hadn't thought about it before; and he felt worse about that than whatever fate Gaspar and Spekkio were living out at the End. So what did that make him? Terrible for not thinking about them and selfish when he did?
Crono flinched, and tried to hide it from Marle.
"We're never going to see them again," Marle said. "Not any one of them. And that's... it's..."
She shook her head.
So Marle was thinking about the Old Days, too, Crono's mind sneered at him. Lucca was thinking about them, Marle was thinking about them, and here he was: the one who got a second life was the one who chose to forget it all. And he was forgetting, wasn't he? "Huh?", he had said. In the face of all those old friends and old times, his only answer had been "Huh?"
The sun was setting on the Old Days.
"We're forgetting them," Crono whispered. "We're forgetting them."
65, 000, 002 B.C.
Red light poured over the horizon, licking the jade tree tops with the final light of the day. Ayla sat atop a dusty boulder, staring into those fading tones of sunset. She thought she had seen something streaking across the sky earlier, red and thin. Like a tail without a body. She might have seen a second one, but her bad mood ended any speculation on the subject.
The bull-herd she and Kino had been hunting turned out to be nothing more than five or six short-horns and a few calves. They ran. The tribe went hungry. Ayla's club sat unused in its leather strap. She missed the days when that strap was almost always empty-- club in hand or flung into a Reptite's head. She thought she might be getting weak; she had barely swung the club in this last season, and prey was getting scarcer. No warring tribes had come against her, and there weren't any more dinosaurs to fight with; all that was left of them were a few dactyls in the nest at the cliffs. It was getting colder, too. Ayla didn't like that. Cold was bad, hard. Cold meant the return of the white-- there had been white last season. The white had killed Doo's father Dat. Lucca had warned her about the cold, but she hadn't mentioned the white. "Lucca talk fast, Ayla not hear," she mumbled to herself.
She was still caught up in remembering her friends; ever since that night she saw the Nu. That was good. She liked to remember them, she told her stories to the tribe when she did. She told stories about smashing her club into Nizbel, and Azala's pet rex; she told stories about racing through the Black Omen, beating past everything that stood in the way; she told stories about a floating island and a village below the waves. But when the white came, and cold with the white, people didn't want to hear stories. Well, the white was coming. And Ayla sat alone in silence, watching for tails in the sky.
"Ayla never use club again," she muttered, grabbing the slab of wood from her back. "You hear Ayla? You hit last prey when hit Lavos. Ayla hit last prey when hit Lavos. Ayla never fight again! Ayla's blood never hot again. Cold as white!"
She wished Crono and the others were there. They would find prey, they would find a fight. She missed them.
The warrior jumped to her feet, club held high above her head. "Ayla tired! Want fight! Lavos, Azala, Zeal-- Ayla not care! Fight! Come to Ayla!" she bellowed, shaking the club.
She got her answer.
A loud, brittle snap rose up from behind her. She whirled around, and there it was. Massive paw pressed between two broken bits of twig, long curving teeth glaring at her from its mouth, was a tooth-cat. Snarling. The cat leapt forward, claws outstretched and a battle cry burning in its throat.
Ayla smiled, and leapt out to meet it-- club-first.
Glenn burst through the Castle doors. His armour, shining darkly from the rain, still clung to him. But even as he passed through the first stairwell's doorway he was stripping himself of it, letting it clang to the stone floor as he bounded forward. By the time he reached the first hall, he was wearing only the thick wool, now drenched, he always clad himself in, and the Masamune. He raced down the hallway. And another. And another. His mouth dry and his body crying for rest, the next stairwell he fell upon was taken a little slower. Knights all around him urged him--"Make haste, Glenn!"--and he rushed onward, leaping over sets of three and four steps at a time. Another hallway, another stairwell, hallway, stairwell, halls, stairs-- damn his legs, he cursed as he ran.
When he reached the last stairway, the one on which he sat that terrible day he had last seen the Queen, his breath was ragged and his chest heaving. His side was on fire, cramping from thigh to shoulder. Now the guardsmen urged him; "Sir Glenn, you must hurry!" And he did. His eyes moistening from the pain, Glenn charged up the staircase, each pounding step sending jolts up his back. He felt the Masamune pushing him on.
The Knight Captain awaited him at the top step. When Glenn was in reach, he grabbed the frog's arm and pulled him along the final hallway; the one which lead to Leene. "Quickly, Sir Glenn! The Queen fades even now. She asks for you. Go, go!" he barked.
Glenn was dragged to the Queen's chamber door and it was shoved open. Plodding inside, Glenn saw his King through the gloomy night light. "Majesty," Glenn said, bowing.
The King pulled him to his feet. "Sir Glenn..." his weary, rasping voice whispered. "I and my daughter have... said our farewells. She means to speak with you before the angels sing her away."
He turned his sagging face to his Queen, who sat before a curtained balcony with her daughter by her side. The King turned back to Glenn. "She..."
Glenn nodded. "Aye, my lord," he said solemnly, forcing his face to stay flat and unemotional. "I shall find you when she is gone."
The King grimaced. His eyes glistened in their sunken orbits. "Sophie," he called out. "Come along, now, Sophie. Your mother needs to speak with Sir Glenn."
Glenn heard Leene mumble something to her daughter before kissing her head and sending her off. The child came galloping towards him with a great smile. "Sir Glenn!" she cried, curtseying in her small silk dress. "Isn't the star-rain beautiful?"
Glenn smiled softly. "Not as beautiful as you, Princess."
She blushed in reply. "Have you said goodbye to your mother, Sophie?" the King asked.
His voice wavered, but the child's ears seemed not to take note. "Well... yes," she replied, brow furrowed in confusion.
The King forced a smile. "Good. Then we shall take our leave," he pulled the child softly towards him. "Sir Glenn... I would appreciate your seeing me when your talk is ended."
Glenn nodded. "As I hath said, my lord."
The King took a final, desperate look at his Queen in her deathseat. Dark blue light painted her blonde head; it was a darkness broken only by the slightest flash of red every few moments. Leaving no more chance for tears, King Guardia turned and left with his daughter.
The door shut behind him with a soft click.
"Sir... Glenn," the Queen whispered.
Her voice was no longer plagued by cracks and croaks-- for, having no sound, there was nothing left to plague. Her whispering voice was a ghost of noise; a soft breeze that spoke quiet words.
"My Lady Leene," Glenn replied, walking quickly towards her.
The scent was not so awful as it had been the last time, Glenn noted with a touch of guilt. What washed against his throat now was not the pungent throws of an internal war with disease, but the last weak moments of a dying host after the sickness had won the battle. It was a sweet, musty smell.
Glenn kneeled at her side. Leene was barely able to slide her hand on his, so feeble was she from illness. Her face was sunken and tight, every bone jutting clearly into view. Her arm was nearly as thin as a single of Glenn's fingers, and her neck was a thick strip of pumping cords, writhing like snakes for all to see. It hurt Glenn very dearly to see her this way-- he had left her an angel and come back to a corpse. "Glenn," she wheezed, smiling with shrunken lips. "It looks as if both my wishes have come to pass."
There were tears in her eyes.
"I am glad, Leene."
She nodded with what strength she could muster, and Glenn noticed how blushed her cheeks were. "As... am I," she said. "Did things go well at Porre?"
Glenn was taken aback. "Porre... is well, my lady. Though I would'st have rathered been at your side these last days."
The Queen didn't seem to hear him.
"Glenn, isn't it beautiful?" she asked.
"What do you mean, Leene?"
Glenn turned, looking through the window. Bright red streaks sailed through the air, weaving between each other against the blue-black sky. He croaked. "Yes, my lady. It is quite beautiful."
"My grandfather... he used to tell me about the star-rain he saw. From Mount Denadoro, he said. The most... beautiful thing he had ever seen."
Glenn turned back to his Queen. Her eyes were milky, glazed and half-shut. He clenched his teeth. "My Sophie... she was quite happy to see it," Leene said, tears spilling down her cheeks.
"I saw, my lady," Glenn replied. His voice was thick and growing thicker.
"Maybe she will tell her ch... children," she said, voice breaking off.
Glenn put a hand on her bare shoulder. "I am sorry, my lady."
The Queen sniffled weakly, blinking away her tears. "I know, Glenn... there is no one... that is not, I think."
"Not a soul in Zenan, Leene," he said. His eyes were very moist.
"I..." she shut her eyes, restraining a sob. "I do not wish to die."
Glenn spoke not a word. He had none to speak. All he could do was rub her shoulder, and grasp her hand in his. He bowed his head. "Glenn..." she whispered. "Cyrus... where is Cyrus?"
The frog jerked upright. "My... my lady, Cyrus... he--"
"He went to retrieve the Hero Medal, did he not? Perhaps you should have accompanied him... he might need you-- Magus and his ilk are very crafty."
For the first time since he had taken up the Masamune, shard or no, Glenn let himself weep. Tears flowed from his eyes, running silently to his mouth. "My lady... I do not believe Cyrus will... require my assistance."
"No? What if... oh, yes. Yes. You felled Magus didn't you? Retrieving the medal will be a simple task, then."
"Yes, Leene. Cyrus will return with it shortly, I imagine."
"Yes... he swore, I remember. To return."
"Then he shall. Cyrus always keeps his word."
The Queen lurched forward in her chair, head lolling to her chest. Glenn caught her easily and put her back to rest in her seat. "Glenn!" she screamed in her broken voice. "My daughter! I have to see my daughter, Glenn!"
"You have already seen her, my Queen," he said calmly. "You spoke of how greatly you loved her, and... you embraced each other. She was quite happy when she left, Leene."
A smile grew on her tight face. "Did I? Yes, yes of course. I remember. Marle, she shall grow into a Queen one day."
"A... a fine queen, my lady Leene."
"Cyrus, protect her... I..."
Her words drifted into mumbles, and her eyelids drooped shut. A moment before they closed, Glenn saw the last light of awareness go out of her eyes. Her head sagged to a side as her body slid into a limp rest. Her face settled into serene peace; it was an expression she would carry for eternity. Glenn still knelt, eyes wide and face set in shock. His tears had, briefly, ceased their flow down his cheeks.
He was shocked. He made not an inch of motion in any direction for a while. When at last he blinked back into reality, his hand went, shaking, to her wrist. Green fingers pressed against her life line, and felt nothing but cooling flesh and lifeless bones. He stared, unmoving. His mind screamed her name, calling her back, but his lips would not move. Faintly, amidst the whistling of a breeze that fluttered through the curtains, Glenn heard the Masamune hum in its sheath. And then he knew that his Queen was gone.
His eyes dried. His hand fell to his side, leaving Leene's to dangle over the arm of her velvet chair. He let his head bow to his chest. Leene was dead.
The frog sat there for a very long time; kneeling at the side of her body, her curled fingers nearly gracing his head. It got darker, blacker, and the Masamune sang on, humming sweetly through the leather at Glenn's side. When at last the knight lifted his weary head, and opened his great amphibious eyes, her last words finally hit him-- as if spoken just then. "Marle, she shall grow into a Queen one day. Cyrus, protect her, I..."
"Marle," he whispered. "Cyrus... oh, how I wish thou were here. You hath all left me, now. My friends all fallen or passed through the gate of time as sand through a glass. And now, my Queen..."
He glanced at her, and the Masamune sang louder. He looked away. "I shall miss you, my lady. I shall miss you all."
The knight leapt to his feet, and drew the Masamune. Its song blared to life, lighting the night's gloom as Glenn held it high above his head. He let its melody ring against the walls as no noise ever had, he let it shed its light and make night day. And when the room could be no brighter, Glenn planted the blade into the stone before him, and knelt beside it.
For a brief moment in time, Leene again shone like an angel. And the frog, without even a plate of steel around his shoulders, cast the great long shadow of Cyrus.
It was nearly sunset; Crono and Marle had sat on the couch in silence for a long, long while. Bronze light poured in from the sky beyond the balcony, bathing the two in an orange glow. Their faces, now painted with shadows on top of frowns, betrayed their worries. "We're forgetting them," Crono had said.
He had spent the next hour shaking his head at himself. Forgetting them-- forgetting good people who didn't deserve to be forgotten. The thought ran circles in his mind. He kept trying to remember the old guru Belthasar. He frantically tried to remember him, grasping desperately at what memories he had. Every time he couldn't picture the old man in the future, his desperation grew. He tried the same things with Gaspar, and with Spekkio, and with Toma; he met with the same results. Worry ate away at him. Forgetting them-- forgetting good people who didn't deserve to be forgotten.
And Robo... that thought hurt the most. Robo, his friend. Another person he hadn't so much as considered in the last two years. Not a thought, not a memory, not even mention of his name. He might have been erased from history itself-- maybe he only existed in memories, now. Maybe all of them existed there.
He shook his head.
Marle was fairing better. Crono fought a war of guilt, Marle fought one of confusion. Three days she had been thinking about this, and not once had the thought crossed her mind. "We're forgetting them," he had said.
Forgetting them? Forgetting them. She tried to digest it. After a very short consideration, she found that she couldn't. No, forgetting them wasn't the problem-- remembering them was. That's where the pain came from, the bitter twinge in her heart that came with every memory. Every moment of togetherness they shared, every moment of laughter, that bubbled up into her consciousness was met with a cold, harsh realization: it would never happen again. It had all ended the night of the millennium fair, and it wasn't coming back.
Yes, it hurt to remember the good times, the "Old Days", but she couldn't stop herself. She remembered Ayla the first time she came to 1000 A.D. She tried to eat a muffin, wrapper and all and ended up spitting the whole thing out Crono's window. "Taste like hair," she said, wiping her tongue.
She remembered Frog gasping at the fashions of the ages past his own-- Marle's own clothes included. "T'would seem the future hath a hate for modesty; though I mean no insult, Lady Marle," he croaked quietly.
She remembered Robo's last oil-eyed stumble around the Millennium fair.
And, maybe the worst of it all, she remembered every bleak, inappropriate, often insulting word that came from Magus's mouth. She remembered, after they had revived Crono and Lucca filled him in on the final fate of Belthasar, how Magus had interrupted the inventor to offer his own explanation. "And so Lucca shut off Belthasar's Nu. You know, come to think of it, we never did find Belthasar's original body, did we? Nor any sort of grave. Hmmm," he said. "Rather makes you wonder what Nus eat."
No one had laughed then; but right now, sitting in her apartment with Crono, Magus was the best comedian in history.
It would never happen again. She would never hear from any of them, never laugh with any of them, never touch or talk to any one of them again. And that hurt.
Forgetting them wasn't her problem, remembering them was.
"No," she said. "That's not it."
Crono turned to look at her through desolate eyes.
"Crono, do you remember the first day we met?" she asked.
He nodded. "Yeah. You ran into me the day of the fair. Very romantic," he said with a half-hearted smile.
She grinned. "Yes," she said. "Crono, do you remember the first time you met Frog?"
He nodded. "Yeah. He jumped down from a church roof."
"Very romantic," Marle said.
She surprised herself with how easy it was to smile now that she truly knew how she felt these last three days-- cold as those feelings may have been. "And, Lucca?"
He nodded. "First day of school in town. I shoved her into some sand to be popular, ended up saying sorry at the end of the day."
She nodded. "Very romantic," she said with a wide grin. "And, uh... Magus?"
He nodded. "Top of his castle, fire everywhere."
They glanced at each other, and neither needed to say it. They burst out laughing, together, and fell off the couch to the stone floor. The laughter only grew.
For the first time in days, the walls of the princess' chambers knew the echo of laughs; the floor knew the salt of joyful tears. For the first time in three days, Marle felt like herself again.
The laughter quieted down, but the smiles stayed. They looked at each other from across the floor. "And Robo?" Marle asked.
Crono's smile grew into the warm grin of a person remembering old times. "He was shut down on a factory floor. Lucca worked all night to get him running again."
Marle nodded. Her smile mimicked his. "And do you remember how we all parted?"
"Yeah," he said. "Millennium fair. We all said our goodbyes and the others left through the Gate."
"The last Gate," she corrected him. "You remember how we met, you remember how we said goodbye. Crono, are you sure you're forgetting anything?"
He scratched his head, shaking it all the while. The worry he had felt only a few moments ago was dissipating. Every time he reached for a memory, and could not find it; Marle's voice ran through his mind, and he could. When every ounce of that worry melted off him, he sighed. "Marle, you're going out with an idiot," he said.
She crawled over to him and grabbed his hand in hers. "No, just another sentimental swordsman. Why did you think we were forgetting our friends?" she asked.
He shrugged. "It's just... been a worry of mine. For while now, actually. I haven't thought about them for so long, it just sort of... twisted itself into that," he said. "I mean, you and Lucca were thinking about them; so why wasn't I, you know?"
"Crono, I'm dating an idiot."
He smiled, nodding.
"That doesn't mean you're forgetting them," she scolded. "It means you're living your life-- hard enough that you don't look back. What did you think--"
"Yes, yes," he said. "I thought we got the whole 'idiot' thing out of the way. I just didn't want to forget 'em, you know? So when I started thinking about them again, I felt..."
"Homesick? Bittersweet, right?" she said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "I've got a case of the same thing. At least you got over yours in the space of a day-- I took like four."
He cast a wry glance at her. "Maybe I'm the one dating an idiot."
"That sounds like something an idiot would say. Maybe even a fool."
It was then, as they sat laughing and smiling at each other, that Crono noticed just how late the day had gotten. He looked at his wrist-clock. "It's getting late," he said, tapping the clock's face. "You know, Marle, I was planning to go by Lucca's today; she's been ignoring me since that Andy broke. I'm... a little worried about her. Did you see how nervous she was when she was showing him off to us?"
Marle nodded. Lucca only played around with her glasses when she was proud or nervous; during the unveiling she looked more the latter than the former. And she had been very concerned with her robot that day, maybe more concerned with it than her own safety. On the other hand, Lucca exhibited both those things occasionally, anyway-- maybe she was fine. Still, the fact that Robo, or his 'predecessor' was involved in any way, raised a flag. While she did accept it, she never seemed to really get over Robo's chancy future. "Yeah," Marle said. "We should give her a visit-- feel her out, sort of thing."
Crono jumped to his feet in one quick motion. "Well, daylight's wasting."
He extended a gentlemanly arm to Marle, still on the floor. "M'lady?" he said with a smile.
She took his arm and stood. "Very romantic."
When they reached Lucca's house, the sky was a dark, evening blue. Crono and Marle had nearly ran all the way from the castle, but they had still missed the last bright lights of day by at least an hour. As they crossed the long slab of lumber that connected Lucca's island to the mainland, Crono remembered something his mother had told him a few days ago. "...don't forget about the shower!" she had said.
He looked up into the sky. The meteor shower was tonight. That would explain why Truce was all but empty-- everyone was getting a seat on Glenn's field, waiting for the shower to start up. Maybe he, Marle, and Lucca would go after they had talked; it would cheer them all up a bit. Hell, even if his worries about Lucca were wrong, she still seemed to be in need of a little time away from her workshop. He and Marle could use a night out, too.
They reached her door and knocked. No one answered. They kept knocking for what seemed like an eternity-- brief knuckle-taps turning into great swinging bashes on the door's wooden frame. Crono briefly wondered if Lucca and her parents had gone to the shower. He was about to suggest just that when Marle offered up her theory first. "Maybe she's around back," she said.
They headed around the side of the house. When they reached the back yard, a veritable junkyard of parts and failed experiments, they found Lucca and her robot. The robot sat, dark-eyed, between a stack of crates and what had to have been a two-hundred pound work bench propped up against the house. Lucca sat, slumping, on the crates. Her helmet was on the other side of the yard, next to the work bench. It wasn't impossible that she'd thrown it there. "Lucca," Marle piped up, stepping closer to her.
Lucca jumped to her feet and turned to face the voice in one fast, awkward motion. "Cripes! Marle, Crono. I didn't hear you come in," she said.
Marle looked around. "In?"
"In, out-- whichever. What can I do you for?"
"We were just... in the neighbourhood. How are you?"
Lucca raised a violet eyebrow. "In the neighbourhood, eh?"
Marle looked to Crono. He nodded-- vigorously. With a sheepish smile, Marle looked back to Lucca. "You know you have to take a bridge to get here, right?" Lucca said.
"You mind if we sit down?" Crono asked, waving at the pile of crates.
"By all means," she re-took her own seat. "Watch out for the rotted ones."
They sat. And for a long while, an awkward quiet lingered over them. Finally, Crono, though he hated to do so, broke it. "So..." he said. "How's Andy going?"
"He'll be up and running," Lucca replied, hand adjusting her glasses.
It was a sign of nervousness, and when Crono saw it he wished he hadn't said a word.
"Didn't, uh... burn out?"
"Nope. You did knock a screw lose when you shut him down."
"Ah.. still got it, I guess," he replied, forcing a laugh.
Another quiet sank in. Crono rapped his fingers against his crate. "All right," Lucca said when his last finger knocked against the wood. "Why are you here?"
Marle and Crono glanced at each other. It was Marle's turn, now. "We were just talking about old times, back at the castle." she said. "Old times, and old friends."
Lucca glanced over at him, Crono nodded his agreement. "You're worried I'm taking Andy too seriously," she replied.
"Well... not... y'know, too seriously," Marle said. She hadn't expected Lucca to catch on so quickly. "But you do... seem to be pretty into it."
"Of course I am," Lucca replied. "I'm doing this for Robo. I have to be invested in it."
"Lucca, what have you been doing the last three days?"
"Working on Andy. That's nothing new, Marle. I work on lots of inventions like that. I worked night and day for a week on that old fan of mine," she said. "Not that it did any good-- damn thing almost took my arm off."
Crono managed to subdue a laugh. "Yeah," he said. "But even then you let us hang around here; and went out and did stuff with us."
"Are you saying I'm obsessed, Crono?"
"No! Not obsessed," Marle said adamantly. "We don't think you're some workaholic looney, or anything."
"I've gotta say, Marle: this sounds an awful lot like a 'You're a workaholic looney who's throwing her life away' talk," Lucca replied.
"Oh, come on, Lucca," Crono said, standing. "Are you saying you haven't been taking this a little far? We barely spoke to you before you unveiled Andy, and you've been out-right blowing me off since. As work-habits go, that's a new one for you. How long are you gonna go on like this?"
Lucca paused. The side of her mouth twitched ever-so briefly before she answered. "Until it's-- he's done."
"Who? Andy or Robo?"
The inventor's mouth twitched again and settled in a frown. "Andy. Robo won't exist until long after I'm dead."
Lucca seemed to sag after that. It looked like she had thought about it before; and had long since accepted it, however grudgingly. She stood up, wandering towards the off-line robot. "But that's the thing, Crono. He will exist. I'll make sure of it."
Marle stood to join her side. "Yeah, but... you can't just shove everything else aside. Robo will exist one way or another, he has to. You don't need to push it so hard for him."
Lucca kicked the dusty soil, sending a cloud of brown dust towards the work bench. "I know, I know," she said. "And I'm not going to spend my life pining for him-- hell, I haven't been spending my life pining for him. But, these past few months, I've just felt a... an itch. I can't bring him to life; there's no way I can create something that advanced with our current level of technology. But if I can just set the groundwork; make the pieces so someone else can put them into place. Time will have to work itself out after that."
"Haven't you already done that?" Marle asked. "I mean, look at Andy. He's the spitting image of Robo! Arms, legs, head... he even talks like him. Sorta."
"Andy's... well, he's not as good as he looks. The frame's there, yeah. But it's pretty shallow underneath. Most of his brain is just Gato's, souped up."
Lucca went over to the wall, and picked up her helmet. She put it on the work bench. "I get your point, though. You think I should ease up on the androids, eh?"
Crono joined them by the wall. "Just lose the 'one robot, all the time' attitude. Remember what you said to me when I first got my sword?"
Lucca snorted. " 'Don't be such an idiot, Crono!' "
" 'Don't be such an idiot, Crono. There's more to life than swords!' " He corrected her.
She sighed, smiling. "That takes me back."
"Seems to be going around." he replied.
Lucca looked over at Andy. He would never be Robo-- she knew by now that Robo was beyond her grasp. Short of a time machine, her old friend was long-since gone. As always, the thought was a sad one; sad, but ultimately true. Maybe she could make sure he took his rightful place in existence someday, maybe she couldn't. For now he would have to live solely in her, and her friends', memory. That would have to be enough.
"Well..." she said. "I don't think I'm getting any further on him, today. You want to go to the our good buddy's meadow? My parents went to watch that meteor shower there."
"Oh yeah! The field'll be packed by now, though," Marle replied.
"We could always watch it from the old cathedral. Nobody goes there anymore," Crono said.
"Well, let's be off, then; night-light's burning and all that. The shower only happens once a century-- it's not like we have a time machine if we miss it." Marle said as they walked towards the bridge.
"Yeah-- good job on that one, Crono," Lucca said.
"Hey, I'm not the one who wanted to crash the damn thing. Frog practically pushed me into it."
"Uh-huh. I'll bet Magus was right there with him, eh?"
"Oh yeah. Those two? Thick as thieves."
Their jokes grew into quiet echoes, washing in from a far off place. Most people would be at Glenn's field this night, sprawled out on blankets and wagons, waiting for the shower to light up the night sky. Crono, Marle, and Lucca would go into the forest, to a place forgotten by their age. They would watch the meteorites streak through the air, all the while thinking of far away friends and far away times.
Electronic clicks rattled through the air-- highlights to the humming undercurrent that sounded from the great Mother Brain computer. Robo stood before a control panel, typing on an oversized keyboard with his large bronze fingers. "Prometheus," Mother Brain whispered in her monolithic, booming voice. "Atropos returns."
Robo stopped typing and turned his spherical metal head towards the window. His eyes focused in on a pink figure in the middle of a long stretch of flat road. "Understood. Thank you, mother," he said.
His fingers returned to the keyboard, tapping on through the noise of the machines around him. And what a noise it was-- beeps, buzzes, whistles and the sounds of electricity all woven together in one robotic symphony conducted by the Mother Brain. Humans didn't like it; they said the sound had an eerie sort of life. Some, a small minority of people left on the planet, because they feared the Mother Brain. They said, constantly, that one day she would slip, and what then? Or worse: what if she willfully went against humanity? She controlled so much, how many people would suffer before they realised what was going on? Most of the populace laughed this thought off, calling the thinkers paranoid. Robo, however, remembered what this future of theirs had once been: men and women carted off, ground into fuel one by one. The human race dwindling into extinction. He remembered, all right, and he had prepared. The security protocols he installed in his mother's systems a year ago would make certain that mankind had nothing left to fear from the menace that could be Mother Brain.
The front door opened, cutting into the sound of beeps and clicks with a sighing whoosh. "Prometheus," Atropos said, clanking up towards him.
Robo turned. "Atropos," he said. "How are you?"
"Fine. The malfunction in the factory was simply a case of human error. There was mustard in the security circuit boards." she replied.
He laughed. "Shall we go?"
Atropos nodded, tipping her whole metal body forward. "Let's."
They left the R-series Factory. When the front door finished its slow roll and lock, Atropos turned to her shining bronze companion. "Robo," she said. "What is it you wanted to talk about, today?"
He shook his head. "Come. I'll tell you when we get there."
The sun was setting; had been setting, in fact, for quite some time now. Dull shades of pink powdered the underbelly of the clouds that flew around the horizon. The meteor shower would start soon, Robo thought as he and Atropos walked towards Mount Pierre-- the place where they would have their chat. Robo had been looking forward to the affair of the shower; the last time he had seen bright red flashing through the sky, the world was being set on fire. He thought this might help to soften the memory.
"We're going to the mountain, Robo?" Atropos asked.
He nodded, tipping himself over. "Yes. I thought we might watch the meteor shower from one of the cliffs."
"I must say: it strikes quite a pretty picture. Very romantic," she said, wrapping her arm around his.
They took a lift up. Robo would have preferred to walk, taking in the vast array of nature as they went, but he needed to talk to Atropos, and he wanted to do it soon. The lift hummed as it scaled the mountain side, a half-ton of metal sitting in its carriage. Robo watched their progress through the window, watching as they shot past the mountain's cliffs; he had long ago realised that Mount Pierre was, as they had called it in his future, Death Peak. Thus, he always felt compelled to study the differences between the two. It made him think of old friends and old times. It was why he picked Mount Pierre for his and Atropos's conversation today.
The lift slowed to a crawl; the door popped open and slid away a moment later. "Shall we?" Robo asked, his hand extended.
Atropos accepted, and climbed out with him. The sun was nearly gone from sight, now-- evening was upon them. "Robo, it's beautiful," Atropos said when they had reached the cliff edge.
"I thought you'd like it," he replied with a flash of his eyes. "Please, sit down."
They sat. Metal legs dangled over the rocky edge, swaying in the wind.
"Robo," Atropos said when they were settled. "This is about your trip to the past, isn't it?"
"Yes," he replied, turning to face her. "It's been troubling me again."
"You shouldn't do this to yourself," she said.
She put her metal hand on his metal shoulder.
"I can't help it. I keep the memories bottled up inside me, and they just keep resurfacing. I won't forget them, Atropos. I won't."
She fell silent for a moment; she might have sighed.
"Robo, you know I'll always believe you," she said. "But you can't talk about this; not now, anyway. Belthasar might keep them from reprogramming you, but your credibility would never recover. You have to keep this to yourself."
"I'm trying, but... every time I put away my memories of my old friends, I feel like I'm betraying them. I feel like I'm turning my back."
"You're not betraying them."
"I know that. But I don't feel it. Every day it comes back to me: I'm the only one in the world who knew them, and I'm letting their stories go untold. I want to talk about them-- share their amazing lives with the world; every moment I spent with them," Robo said.
Atropos waited. She could see when he was finished with a thought, and right then he wasn't.
The bronze robot sighed an electric sigh. "But... nobody would believe me, would they? Nobody would listen."
He looked up into the sky. "It leaves a deep longing in me. What happens when I disappear from the world? Will their stories be forgotten?" he shook his head. "But that's not all. That's not even the worst of it."
"You miss them," Atropos said.
He nodded. "I miss them. I have no closure about them, Atropos. I know their lives go on, after I've left them, but I don't know what they do. I don't know how they live, or... how they die. And I don't think I ever will. That hurts me dearly."
"And yet you won't bottle them away inside your mind? Let them, and yourself, rest?"
Robo shook his head. "No. I'd rather remember them in pain than forget them in peace. They were good days, Atropos, those old days; they helped make me what I am. And I like thinking about them-- I do. I only wish it weren't so bitter when I did."
Atropos chest rambled in beeps and clicks. "Ah. Memories you like to look back on, but it brings you pain when you do. Memories you can't help but return to, again and again. Memories that are bittersweet. You know, Robo, there's a word for what you're feeling: Nostalgia."
"Nostalgia," Robo said. "Nostalgia is indeed bitter."
"It's supposed to be sweet, too."
"Yes," Robo replied. "Fond memories of times past, of glory days and glorious people. But what is recalling those memories if they leave such a hole in your heart?"
"You needn't recall them alone. Share them-- with me and Belthasar. You'll feel better."
"It wouldn't change anything, Atropos. I love you, but in this, if nothing else, I am alone. With no one else who's experienced this... adventure, I will always be alone," he paused, and looked to the bottom of the mountain. "But if the whole world knows about my old friends and what they did? I think I could manage."
"That will have to wait. Maybe some day you can tell them; about magic and Lavos and the girl with the pendant. Just not now," she said, looking into his downcast eyes.
"But in the end, Robo," she went on. "I think your feelings will fade. I think this is just nostalgia."
Atropos turned from him to look up into the night sky. Meteorites cast red light down upon her violet body as they snaked around each other.
Robo made no reply. He joined his purple companion in her stargazing. As he stared upwards, seeing the same sight as Atropos beside him, he came to know that she was right. It was 'just' nostalgia. It all matched up, it all fell together. Nostalgia, just that. He cursed the emotion. Wasn't it enough that he could simply remember the good times without feeling that emptiness, that sense of unfulfillment? Couldn't he remember the others without asking "But how does it end?" Did it really matter, after all-- didn't he know how it ultimately turned out? Maybe he just didn't want to face the truth. Maybe if he ever faced that truth, he would feel just as he felt now. Nostalgic. Bitter thoughts from sweet memories. Robo looked away from the falling chunks of rock in the sky, and stayed silent.
His eyes moved over the ranges of Death Peak. It had changed greatly from the place he had once known, but there were remnants of the past yet remaining. That spot there was where Ayla had cut open her leg on a Spawn-shell. That grove over there was where Lucca had nearly set herself on fire. That peak up yonder was where Crono had been saved from death; where Marle embraced him so tightly she didn't let go until the Epoch had landed at the End of Time. As he remembered it all, Robo felt that sense of fond sweetness rise within him. And to his surprise, the bitterness was less than it had been. No... no it was the same as ever-- just as deep a hole, just as empty and emptiness. But it wasn't quite as painful as it was before; the memories were more sweet than bitter. He knew what is was now, this feeling he had never been able to put away-- this lone, fond sorrow. And somehow, that made it better. He turned away from Mount Pierre and back to Atropos.
"Nostalgia," he repeated.
Atropos nodded. "Just that."
Red lights flashed through the night sky. Seven heroes, spread across the spectrum of time, sat watching. In 2302 A.D., a bronze android sat upon a mountain shelf, contemplating bittersweet memories of long-lost times. Meteors burned bright overhead.
In 1002 A.D., three friends watched the black night sky light up with long ruby streaks. An inventor thought about a friend of whom she would never know what happened. A princess sat with her, musing on those she would never see again. An adventurer sat between them, his mind's eye drifting over people he would always remember.
In 602 A.D., a knight of Guardia knelt at his fallen Queen's side as the heavens fell red before him. The song of the Masamune rang through the air-- he sung with it, speaking the names of those no longer with him. He spoke of warriors both knighted and not, with whom he had drawn swords. He spoke of friends with more heart and soul than rationality. He spoke of two nemeses, and wished one was the other. He spoke of Queens, and of loss. He spoke of doors shut forever.
In 65, 000, 002 B.C., a tribe of humans stood and cheered around a bonfire, eating from a great beast that roasted over its flames. The tribe leader sat with two long fangs around her neck, telling stories with a smile. All the while, bright red tails hunted through the stars for unseen prey.
And in a land lost to time, an azure wizard looked up from his quest, a quest with no earthly end, and gazed upon a rain of scarlet across a starless black sky. He answered it with a sneer, and returned to his search.
The door between them was shut. It would never open again. What happened to each of them, what fates each had, was never known. They lead their lives, joyous and sorrowful, without each other.
But every now and again, each of the seven turned their gaze inwards, and remembered the Old Days. It was bitter and it was sweet. It was nostalgia.
All That Glitters Is Cold 2 Fanfic Competition
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