Dad, arent you ever going to get a real place to live?
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Amber looked around her fathers small room with the same cynical eye she always had. It was a single bed room in the Truce Inn, with one bathroom, one chair, one table, and one resident.
Crono was used to Ambers thoughts of his living conditions by now. Its not so bad, he told her. You get free AC, room service, its only 300 gold a month. She looked at him with a bit of a frown. Crono looked for an escape out of this conversation. Well, Id better call and have them bring the cot up.
Amber rolled her eyes as Crono left the room. She sat on the bed and sighed heavily. Youd think someone as famous as her dad could afford a bit more than this. She looked over to the Neobox and turned it on. They only had 5 channels (all black and white) in Truce, but soon theyd have to have more, just like Porre.
There was another thing. Dad, she thought to herself, was best friends with Lucca Ashcroft, THE Lucca Ashcroft, not only the greatest mind of modern times, but the inventor of the Neobox!
The Neobox was a small black box with a screen on it, which picked up radio signals and turned them into moving pictures on the glass screen. It first started in Porre, and was used for communication during the war, but afterwards, it was introduced as a means for entertainment. After being a huge success there, it finally made it to Truce and Median in the last few years. She even heard they had color neo in Porre. Shed love to see that! Dom had promised to show her...
Oh, Dominic, she longingly whispered. She fell back onto the bed spread with a soft thud, letting her arms fall above her head and her lovely red hair spread out under her. Dominic was so perfect, she thought. So smart, so worldly, so confidant, so strong, yet so gentle. She closed her eyes. The thought of the young Porre solider made her want to laugh and cry at the same time. Why had her mom made such a big deal out of it? They were just hanging out, was that so terrible? She had ruined one of those rare golden moments when anything can happen. And now Dominic probably hated her. Amber sighed once more. She had to see him again.
Amber sat up finally to turn the knobs on the neo to see what was on. Nothing on the first station. She tried the next. Nothing. Mabye... nope. She really wasnt watching anyway. Her mind was wandering with the same set of questions that always came back to plague whenever she watched this thing.
Why hadnt Lucca left anything to her dad? Why hadnt he known of the neobox before it was made public, and why had Porre used it in the war instead of Guardia? If they had had it, mabye they could have won! Was Lucca really a traitor to her country, and if she had all that money and influence, whyd she spend her last days running a tiny orphanage? None of it made sense. She tried to ask her father about, but everytime she did-
Room service! Crono said in a mocking high voice as he opened the door and wheeled the spare bed in. Hey, he continued, I just found out I have a few errands to run, so Ill be gone for awhile. Dont stay up to late, kay?
Amber looked out the window. It was dark by now. Okay. she huskily answered.
Crono now had a somewhat concerned look. You doing alright, sweetie?
Amber smiled, she thought it was so cute the way he still called her that. She cleared her throat. Yeah, Im fine Dad, Im okay.
Okay. Crono pushed the cot into a corner and turned to the door. I love you, he called back over his shoulder.
Love you, too. With that the door closed, Amber was by herself again. She looked at flashing images on the screen. And for some reason she couldnt quite explain, she felt like crying.
* * *
Like a giant black metallic mountain, the nation of Porre rose above and dominated the southern lands of the South Zenan continent. By night its many lights burned bright and gave it the welcoming look of a promised city of wonder from afar. But once inside, it gave the impression of a dismal frightening prison, one full of buildings, smoke, and busy busy people.
It was by far the grandest human achievement in the known world. In less than two decades this once small port side town had grown into the worlds leading super powers. Replacing wood and stone for iron and steel, the city now stretched for what seemed like miles in all directions. It held more than half the population of the continent, towers and buildings stretching to a phenomenal 40 stories high, most advanced military in history, the island nation of El Nido under its control, and its many citizens found themselves learning to live in the whirling world of technology and steel. And most of all, change. And next year, thered be even more. And more the next year.
Yes, it did add a few ripples to the usual smooth flow of international harmony in the world, and it did tend to overlook common human needs in order to expand, but it was progress. And sacrifices must be made. Thats just what President Strongman always told himself.
Porre was leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the world, and everyone knew it. The rest of world just sat and watched and waited for Porre to make all the advances so they could all benefit off it. They were all so weak, Strongman thought. To afraid to move forward, too slow to even know how. But they were moving forward, faster than ever, and if a few weaker rift raft are trampled in the process, it was all for the greater good.
Porres president briskly marched down the forbiddingly long hall, uniformed soldiers at attention and saluting him at every doorway, his steel tipped boots echoing against the metal walls. Pushing through gold plated double doors, he entered his office, and folding his scarlet red cape, a sign of rank, sat down behind an enormous desk, covered with more trophies than paperwork. Strongman folded his hands on his desk and looked to the presidential phone. He waited, checking the clock on the wall. A slight growl rumbled from his throat. Princess Nadias answer had better not come too late.
* * *
You want me to do what!?
Crono didnt want to get into another argument with Marle. Hed had enough of them. Years ago hed had enough. But this was too much.
Marle went on, her royal white dress ruffling as she folded her hands, a pleading look on her face. Crono, please, its only a short visit and alot is depending on it!
Im not going, Marle! Crono pointed a stern finger at the Princess of Guardia. I wont and you know why!
Shhh, she put a gloved finger to her lips and waved her other hand furiously. Would you be quiet, you want them to hear you?
Crono looked to his right. On the other side of the castles century old throne room, on its towering throne, sat King Guardia himself. Age weighed on him as heavily as the thick richly woven robes on his body and the gold ornamented crown on his head. He sat with all the distinguishment he could muster, leaning forward on his scepter-turned cane and conversing with a Porre officer standing before him. The officer was young, and his blonde hair was parted as neatly as his uniform. His solider escort, Dominic, stood at attention in a corner.
They cant hear us! Crono hissed. Besides, your dads heard us before!
I dont care, and dont call him my dad! She was getting mad now.
Your dad, what the hecks wrong with that? Hes-
He is the King of Guardia, and you darn well better show him respect!
Oh my gosh, forgive me! Crono put his hands up in mockery. He was just my father-in-law, thats all!
Was! Marle cut him off. He was your father-in-law, but not anymore!
Crono turned away, his fist clinched, trying to conceal his anger. After a few silent breaths, he slowly faced his ex. She stood, hair up, in her formal white gown, arms crossed, and expression hard. She always just has to get like this, he thought.
Maybe its hard for you to understand this, he started calmly. But Lucca... He suddenly stopped, eyes wandering, searching for the right words. Marle face softened. Crono finally went on. Lucca meant more to me than you know. She was always there for me, we knew everything about each other, she was my best friend, Marle. He then emphasized ever word. My- best- friend.
Marle bit her lip and looked to the floor. She hated to see him like this, which is why shed waited so long to ask him. But she had to, it was her duty, its what princesses do.
I understand, Crono. Marles tone was gentle now. I know how you feel about this, but try to understand. Crono put his hands in his pockets and glared at her. At least he was listening, she thought. President Strongman is having all sorts of problems down in Porre, and they all have to do with Ashcroft Electric Inc. Everything is shutting down, and it may endanger the entire city. Get that, lives are at stack!
She looked into Cronos eyes as directly as she could. He hung his head in thought. Now, she went on youre the only one who knows how Luccas techniques worked and how she harnessed that kind of power.
Crono put his hands on his hips and looked at her. Yeah, yeah I do. She told me everything. After her own country exiled her, I was the only one she trusted!
The edge in his voice set Marle aback. She worried shed lost, when Crono finally threw his hands in the air and rubbed his temples. So youll go? she smiled.
Yeah, Ill go, Ill go, he agreed. Lucca would have made me, anyway...
Marle couldnt help but giggle. Thank you, Crono. She took a step toward him, almost, then stepped back, embarrassed. Crono was going to ask what was the matter, but she walked past him to the king before he could. Well leave now and be back by tomorrow night, she mumbled back to him.
Crono understood the gesture now. Itd happened before. Itd been years since she hugged him.
Marle was across the room talking to her father now. He nodded, and gestured to the Porre officer, who walked directly toward Crono. His expression was pleasant, and the way he put out his hand made you want to take it.
Sa pleasure, Mr. Arkson, he said with a smile. My name in Norris, Ill be your escort to Porre.
* * *
Whatll ya have tonight, kiddo?
Amber swung her skirted legs around the bar stool and placed her folded hands on the counter. She twisted her lips up and looked at the ceiling thoughtfully.
I think Ill have... she smiled at the bartender. A Lerla cocktail double Aldarian wine with two scoops of ashfault suger and cream on top.
The large dark skinned man continued to clean a glass with a wet towel.
Water? he asked.
He smiled to her, and she returned it, her nose crinkling cutely. At the Truce Inn they got lots of drunks, foreigners, and bums. But the beautiful young daughter of the retired hero who lived upstairs in room 306; she was a bright spot in the late night hours. Everyone knew her there and enjoyed her weekends with them. She did too, she had to admit.
The bartender trickled water out of a faucet into a fresh glass and handed it to Amber. She took a few sips and set it down, staring down at nothing in particular.
Whats the story, sweet heart? he asked. You look like you got something on your mind.
Amber ticked her fingers on her glass and looked up to her friend. They never spent much time together except for moments like this, where she needed a listening ear.
Nothing... its just that, I dont know, she fumbled through words and thoughts and finally decide to start over. Okay...um, theres this guy...
Oh-oh. The bartenders smile made the ends of his full beard turn up. So its boy trouble, is that it?
No! Amber shoot out instinctively. I mean, yeah, there is a problem, but not like that! He grinned again, but he was listening. She went on, Like, okay, yesterday at the castle these guys from Porre showed up. And one of them was this solider guy, and we kinda met, and we just really hit it off, and he was just so sweet to me, and...
The bartender watched as Ambers gaze trailed off to some unknown place where her imaginations lay.
Is it lawful, if you dont mind me asking dear, the bartender asked knowing she didnt, Is it lawful for a princess to get involved with whomever she pleases?
Of course it is! My parents... well, my mother wouldnt have it any other way... Of course Amber knew the law had been changed by her grandfather and the chancellor 20 years ago, to allow the legendary wedlock of Crono Arkson to Nadia Guardia. Lotta good that did, she thought.
So, does this solider have a name, a rank, a serial number? he asked.
Oh, yes. She paused as if the name she was about to say was a divine revelation. Dominic.
Yeah... isnt that just the greatest name?
The bartender hide the humor he found in that rather well and asked on. And, so whats the problem?
Amber told the entire story, her voice outraged and her hands flying with every word. By the end of her tragic story, it didnt sound all that bad to her anymore. That usually happened when she talked with the man behind the counter.
Where is he now? the bartender asked.
I dont know, still in the castle I guess.
Why dont you go see him?
I cant! Hes got all this important stuff he needs to do, and my mom would kill me if she found out-
Your not listening to me. He leaned in closer, and she did the same until their foreheads almost touched over the counter. Go and see him, he whispered. Dont argue with your mother, dont sneak around,... youve tried that and it doesnt work. Just go and see him, and be honest with your folks. He leaned back and became to clean another glass. Youd be surprised how much straight talkin can work out.
Well, yeah, maybe... Amber thought for a moment. But-
Both Loe and Amber spun around at the voice of behind them. They couldnt tell why, but suddenly the entire tavern had come to a dead halt. It was full of people, but Amber recognized the voice. It was the piano player, and beckoned them to look at the door, along with everyone else. Amber turned her head, and what she saw made her knock over her glass.
Ducking under the door was nothing short of a giant. Its massive body was clothed in a suit, stretched so tight it seemed ready to fly off at any moment. It moved along on undersized tree trunk legs and supported itself in front with enormous fist at the end of thick arms, bigger than some of the customers there. Its face was hard to see, but its large jowls and small horns made him obviously to be a Mystic.
It wasnt an odd thing, Mystics had lived freely on the Zenan continent for decades now, and there were even a few in the tavern. But this monster had never been seen around there before, and no one had ever seen one so massive. The giant reached down and with one finger unhitched the locked of the double doors and managed its way in. The staring crowd backed up as far as they could, keeping a good ten feet from the creature.
Its tiny yellow eyes went from one end of the room to the other, looking over everyone of the stunned faces. Finally, with a slight grunt, it moved to the left, using his fist like a giant ape. It found a place beside a table that quickly cleared of customers, and what was right behind the giant gave a completely different reaction then the tension that had hung in the air since its entrance.
Amber suddenly realized she hadnt breathed since her glass shattered on the floor. She craned her neck and looked toward the new point of interest. Standing in the doorway was every mans dream come true. She stood lightly on high heels, a shimmering sight even in her dark dress. One of her delicate gloved hands was on a hip, and the other held a white fur stole around her smooth neck. Her hair framed her gorgeous face and fell over her bare shoulders in soft brown locks. It was as gleaming and becoming as her flowing figure, which effortlessly drew every male eye to it as she slowly moved toward the bar counter. Those men stealing a eye to her rear as it walked by where in for another surprise. She had a tail, reptilian in nature, green and pointed at the end. They now noticed two tiny horns under her body of hair as well. The gorgeous women was a mystic.
The crowd of onlookers parted on either side for her as she pasted by, then widened even more as the mystic giant followed close behind. Loe the bartender was at a loss as of what to say as the two stark contrasting strangers made there way right up to him. Amber slid off her stool, never taking her eyes off the two. She had never seen anything like this in all the years shed been here, and frankly, that alone worried her. The crowd of onlookers was starting to whisper back and forth now that the strangers backs were turned, but quickly quieted to be able to hear what was to come next. Amber found a place at the end of the counter between a regular and a mystic as she waited to she whod speak first.
It was Loe. He cleared his throat and hoarsely asked, What can I do for you? The gigantic mystic stepped to one side and allowed the lady to slip past him. She gracefully lifted her long smooth legs over a stool, first one then the other. The entire room leaned in to hear her first words. She blinked softly at Loe.
Id like a wine please. Make it crimson disiety, with a touch of lemon. She smiled at Loe, who didnt move for a moment. He finally did, however, and an awkward turn and began to make the order. He moved very carefully, feeling the lumbering mystics tiny eyes on his back. Amber didnt take her eyes off the women until she looked back at her. Quickly she turned her head, as if shed hadnt been staring. The women smiled, and finally took note of all the eyes on her. She started to laugh. Did someone die? Whys everyone so quiet in here? Cant a girl get a drink without drawing a crowd?
That seemed to break the ice a bit. Some chuckles were heard, and slowly a hum of conversations filled the tavern again. Loe handed Amber her drink, and she shot him a worried look. He gave her a reassuring face and finished his voluptuous customers drink. After a few sips of it, she looked up at him. I was wondering if you could help me find someone.
The large man smiled slightly and leaned against the counter on both hands. Be happy to, if I can. Amber rolled her eyes. Dont tell me hes taken in by her, she thought. Men suck. But who knows, she didnt know this lady. Maybe she was just rich, and always dressed like that. But why would she come in here? She looked the other way but listened intently.
Im looking for an old friend of mine, she began. Oh, by the way, my name is Myan Star, and this hulking fellow, she pointed to the beast to her right is my bodyguard Vice. I know, he looks a little scary, she giggled but hes very trust worthy.
Pleased to meet ya. Names Loe. And, uh, same to you.. Vice. Vice didnt even look at him. Myan went on.
A few years ago, I had a run in with this guy, we met aboard the ferry going between here and Median. He claimed he was from here, and told me all kinds of stories of...all these adventures hed had. He was so interesting and intriguing. It was a half days course to Median, and we talked the whole time. And he mentioned something of this friend of his, who died nearly 14 years ago. It was some fire accident or something, I dont quiet remember.
The Ashcroft Orphanage? Was it Lucca Ashcroft?
Myan eyes lit up. Yes, that was it! And he said she was involved with the Porre military somehow.
Amber didnt like the sound of that. There had been lots of talk of Luccas involvement with Porre before the take over, and it never failed to get her dad upset. She dreaded where this conversation was going.
It didnt bother me too much at first... she leaned closer and Loe raised an eyebrow. But I live in Median, Mr. Loe. Im heiress to the Elder himself, and I know of Porre involvement in the takeover. And Ive heard word of Lucca, and I need to speak with the man I met, and... she paused for a moment. I hear he lives upstairs in this Inn.
Loe picked up a glass and started cleaning it. Whats his name?
I dont remember, really, Myan laughed. Only that he had this stunning red hair.
Loe looked to Amber, who turned an eye toward him. His head turned to Myan Star. Nope, no one like that here. He put down the glass. You done with that?
She looked to her drink. A beat. Yes. Thank you it was quit good.
Loe didnt smile. Myan face dropped and she rose from he stool. Come Vice. We best get going. The giant slowly pivoted on his fist and followed his mistress. Nice to meet you Loe. And without looking back, she flung her wrap back around her and left, Vice slowly lumbering along behind her. The entire tavern breathed a sigh of relief.
The bartender looked to Amber, who was obviously worried. Even seen her before?
No. She sat there in silence a moment before she got out of her seat.
Hey, where you going? Loe called after her.
You said talk to my dad, right? And before he knew it, she was gone.
Theres no family but theres a whore or a knave of it.