Until the End of Time Part 1, Chapter 4
Janus and the Frog
By Demon-Fighter Ash
May, 1005 AD
"Sire," the knight-captain said as Crono stepped into the forest-clearing and looked at the crumbling stone walls and moss-covered wooden beams of the ancient cathedral, a troop of knights standing at attention around the edge of the forest, guarding the excavation against any Porre attack, "this is where we've found it."
"Right," Crono answered slowly, questioningly, then turned as the chancellor broke away from a group of knights gathered around the shadowy doorway and jogged through the overgrown clearing.
"King Crono," the chancellor panted as he reached the young king, "you know of the restoration project on the cathedral. While the carpenters were replacing the floorboards, they found a secret stairwell hidden beneath the altar. There's a carving on the doorway at the bottom of the stairs, and when the knights told me about it I thought you should be the first to see what's beyond it."
"It's in here," Crono asked as he stepped through over the threshold into the moldy church. Beams of faint sunlight pierced the otherwise shadow-drenched old church. A few rotted wooden pews lay on the floor and Crono looked up from them to the front of the sanctuary. The stone altar had been moved to one wall and the floorboards carefully piled in a corner to leave a large rectangular gap in the floor. A few of the knights stood at attention around the opening and he waved his hand for them to relax as he walked carefully down the aisle.
"Yes, your highness," one of the knights flanking the opening said, "we haven't opened the inner chamber. The chancellor thought it better if you were the first to see it."
"He told me that too," he answered as he looked down the hole at a flight of small stone steps leading into a dank underground chamber beneath the church sanctuary, "can I borrow your electric torch?"
"Of course," the knight answered, fumbling through his pockets and pulling out a small box with an electric bulb and switch on one end, "if I may ask sire, what does it mean? How could anyone have known..."
"Wait here," Crono interrupted and, flipping on the torch, he began climbing down the moss-covered stairs, small beams of sunlight giving way to darkness he made his way into the secret vault beneath the weed-choked old cathedral. The staircase twisted slowly as he climbed downward, and he rounded a corner to find the brass door that the chancellor's messengers had first told him about this morning at the castle.
The door had been ornately carved by a master of metallurgy--probably a royal blacksmith--and decorated with images of the Knights of the Square Table in battle, led by a knight wielding a powerful sword. Splotches and mildew covered most of the ancient doorway, and he wiped away a patch of grime with one hand. As he cleaned off the thick layer of dust and mold, he began to make out panels carved along the side of the door, reflecting the whole history of Guardia. The panels formed a boundary around the edge of the door, telling the story of the founding of Guardia more than a thousand years ago, all the way to the war with the mystics.
He shined the electric torch at the wiped-clean door and then he saw what had startled the knights and the chancellor so much. He looked down at the stone bricks beneath his feet and shook his head, trying to figure it out himself, then looked back up, at the legend emblazoned in runic letters across the solid brass surface.
"What rests in here must not be disturbed until the Millennial Fair, when it shall be presented to Crono."
* * *
Magus finished a glass of wine, left over from their wedding anniversary party for Crono and Marle last week, and walked around the softly-lit kitchen. The tables and walls gleamed with a dark pine-wood varnish and he lifted the plates from the table, the house silent; Crono and Marle had offered to give Sarah and Jacky a tour of the castle, and Magus and Lucca a night to themselves, and Kid had long been tucked into her living-room crib.
He glanced out into the starless night beyond the window, the empty wine-glass in one hand as he listened to the crickets and the distant roar of the surf crashing against the shore, then walked back to the sink for the evening ritual that he'd come to accept after several months in Lucca's house--she washed and he rinsed the dishes.
"I can't believe they didn't have a festival," Magus shook his head, "they're the rulers of this realm."
"We're at war," Lucca shrugged, "and they didn't want to seem extravagant, not after the townspeople have made so many sacrifices. At least they did get a surprise anniversary party here, though."
"That was devious of you," Magus nodded admiringly.
"Hey, it was for a good cause," she elbowed him, then grew serious as she wiped down a plate and handed it to him to rinse off, "alright, there's one thing I have to know and this is very important--and you can't lie or try to bluster your way out of answering this, alright?"
"Fine," he sighed, frowning at the tone in her voice, "what is it?"
"What exactly was Flea," she suddenly giggled, "that has been bugging me for five years now!"
"What," he suddenly turned to her, still holding the dripping porcelain plate in one hand.
"It's a serious question," she shrugged, "was that a guy or a girl? He had bigger...you know, than I do!"
"Flea's a magician," Magus answered, covering his mouth with his fist to cover a silent snicker, "he had a very different sense of aesthetics than most humans."
"You said he," she said triumphantly, "so you mean he wanted to be a woman?"
"Flea thought each gender had its strengths," he said, "and that he should display the best of both."
"How did you get mixed up with those guys," she shook her head, "Ozzie, Flea, Slash..."
"I grew up with them after Ozzie found me in the forest," he answered with a shrug, "at least, I grew up with Ozzie and Flea. Slash was a few years younger than me, I only met him as a teenager."
"None of it seemed strange," she asked, "I mean, you're human. They must have noticed that."
"The Enlightened Ones are perhaps as far removed from humans as the mystics," he said, "when Ozzie first discovered me in the forest, he ordered three imps to attack me. What happened to those imps was proof enough for him that I was not human. After that, I was raised among them, groomed to lead them in a future war."
"So what was it like," Lucca asked curiously as she handed him an empty glass, "growing up like that?"
"I was worshipped as a messiah," he said blankly, "trained to see the humans of the middle ages as tyrants who would drive the mystics to extinction if we didn't destroy them first. Ozzie believed that their gods had sent me to lead them in battle, to create the new world that he'd spent his whole life dreaming about."
"Did you believe it too?"
"For a long time I did," he answered as he wiped one of the glasses with a white towel and set it onto the cloth-covered kitchen shelf beside the sink to dry, "and for a long time I thought the kingdom of Zeal was but a dream. But in the end the dreams of the mystics weren't mine."
"Wasn't there anything good about it? It couldn't have all been war and battle."
"Mostly it was precisely that," he said, but then chuckled silently, covering his mouth with his hand, "but if you must know, I did have a crush on Flea as a child."
"WHAT," she laughed out loud, "you didn't!"
"I did at the time," he nodded, "of course, I didn't know his...full nature back then."
"Get out," she slapped his arm, laughing hysterically as she gripped the side of the sink, and the wizard's eyes narrowed at her touch, his voice lowering in suspicion as he spoke.
"You're tipsy," he said in a low voice, "your aura's clouded with alcohol."
"I am not," Lucca said haughtily, hands on her hips, "I've only had three glasses of wine!"
"And how many glasses have you had in your life before this?"
"Alright, none," she admitted, then gave him a cock-eyed look, "but you are too!"
"Of course," he answered calmly, wiping one of the plates with a towel, "I'd never have mentioned any of this if I were completely sober, and I already intend to deny all of it in a few hours. So savor this moment."
"Hey," she giggled as she dumped the last few plates into the basin of clear water, "so long as we're both saying things we'll deny later, did you know you have a cute smile? It's a shame you almost never use it."
"Careful Lucca," he warned her, "I can see your aura, and you've not nearly drunk enough to deny that."
"Are you sure," she asked doubtfully, "fine then, I'll say it anyway--you have a cute smile."
"She used to say that too," he answered softly as he sat down at the square maple-carved dinner table, his left ankle resting on his right knee as he stared at his clasped hands, into the open space between his folded fingers, "when we were children."
"She probably still thinks so," Lucca said as she sat down on the opposite side, "haven't you noticed how her face lights up when she sees you? And you wouldn't believe the crying fits she gets into when you're gone."
"Do you think she remembers anything?"
"It depends," she asked, "do you remember anything, when you first met us at Enhasa as a child?"
"Sometimes I remember seeing you there," he said slowly after a few minutes, "while I was running around playing with Alfador at Enhasa. I'd never seen any of you before in my life. But mostly I remember a man in purple robes who scared me and hurt my sister. I hated him."
He paused, his elbows propped on the dinner table, and stared between his clasped fingers as he continued.
"Other times I remember seeing you in the throne room of Zeal. You were familiar to me, since I'd met you before at my castle. That's when I can remember being the prophet. I remember the child too; I hated him for being so weak, for not protecting her when she needed him. It seems the feeling was mutual."
"If I try hard enough I can remember both of them at once," he continued, "but it gives me a headache to remember both sides of history. I don't usually think about it at all."
"If that's the case, then she might remember something from the original timeline too," Lucca said, suddenly feeling a twinge of compassion for him, but knowing him well enough to not mention it.
"She'll have to learn to talk," she continued, "and we'll probably have to help her make sense of her memories, but once she's a little older she may help us figure out what brought her to this time. But she has to stay here for that," she pointed her finger across the table at his chest, "so no sneaking off with her, got it?"
"Lucca," his voice lowered into a low snarl, then he sighed, "I really do want to help her."
"I know you do," she answered softly, "but you need to let other people help her too. And the same goes for you. There are a lot people who want to help you, if you'd just let them."
"I don't need their help," he growled defensively.
"But maybe they need to help," she offered, "because they care. There's something you should know, that Crono told us about while you were away. You know the old cathedral in the western neck of Guardia Forest, the one we've been trying to restore? A team of carpenters found a hidden chamber beneath the sanctuary."
"There are countless hidden chambers in that cathedral," Magus answered, bored, "Yakron dug most of them during the middle ages. You explored them yourself from what I've heard."
"Yeah, but this was a different chamber, beneath the altar. It was built on the orders of Sir Glenn."
Magus glanced up at the mention of his old adversary with silent curiosity.
"There were letters in the vault for all of us: the four of us, and Robo and Ayla. They were written by Frog decades after he returned to the middle ages, meant to be given to us during the millennium fair five years ago, just before everyone stepped through the gate to go back to their own time."
"Why didn't we see those letters then," Magus asked.
"We're still not sure," she shrugged, "the paperwork got lost somehow over the centuries and eventually they just forgot about the chamber. It's blind luck that we found it now."
"Then burn the letters," Magus said quickly, rising from the chair and stepping to look out the kitchen window into the darkness, "they mean nothing anymore."
"Not so fast," she said sternly, "he wrote one for you too. I haven't read it, nobody has, but Crono wanted me to give it to you whenever I thought you might be ready for it. In my letter, Frog mentioned that he might have found a way to help you. I don't know what he meant by that."
"How could that frog help," he asked over his shoulder, "especially now?"
"I don't know. But just try reading his letter. Even if you don't need his help, I think it would've meant a lot to him to known that you'd accepted it."
"He's been gone for centuries," Magus said grimly, "nothing matters to him anymore."
"Well then, it would mean a lot to me if you'd read it."
Magus simply snorted in response and stared out the window.
"Where is this letter," he asked after a long silence.
* * *
Magus lay in his upstairs bedroom, his cape draped over the foot of the bed and bronze armor lying in a corner, but otherwise still fully clothed--he only took off his leather tunic and trousers when he showered. He rarely even slept lying down; a lifetime among the sleepless mystics had taught him to sleep standing up, and he had long since taught himself to sleep only a few hours each night, to never let his guard down.
He lifted the sealed yellowed envelope between his eyes and the glowing electric bulb overhead, staring at the shadow of folded paper within it, a letter that hadn't seen the light of day in nearly four centuries. He could burn the letter just by thinking about it; he could send a surge of flame through his fingertips and burn the paper to ashes without even breathing a word. He wanted to burn the letter, to leave the past in its grave.
He didn't want to believe in the past--he couldn't afford to believe in it. Nothing could change history and so none of it really mattered. You could avenge the past, you could change the future, but you could never save the past, never return to it. Everything died. The man who wrote the letter died centuries ago. Whatever message he wanted to convey had died with him--they were voiceless, meaningless words.
He closed his eyes and focused on the letter. A rush of heat swept up his arm and through his fingertips, burning the paper into ashes. He opened his ruby eyes and glanced down at the folded letter lying on his tunic, the envelope burnt into ash by his magic to leave the letter itself exposed and intact.
The letter didn't matter anymore, but Lucca thought it did. Had it been his choice, he would have burnt the letter and sent the ashes flying through the wind into oblivion. But it wasn't really his choice--no matter how much he wanted to be rid of it, he had to read the letter. Lucca's words had somehow made certain of that.
He sighed, cursing her name, and sat upright in bed to unfold and read the crumbling letter.
"It hath been two score and three years since we last traveled the breadth of time together, though my younger self may still be with you--I am writing this letter many years after our adventures together. 'Tis nary a day that passes when I think not of thee and thy quest, thine oath to Lavos and Schala. I had sworn to slay thee and restore honor to the kingdom of Guardia, to avenge the death of Sir Cyrus, the noblest of our knights. It would be a lie to say that I have not sometimes regretted not fulfilling that oath and repaying Cyrus's death.
"(If thou art reading this letter and I have not returned yet to mine own time, then rest assured that I shall not carry out the oath, though the fact that thou art reading this would seem to prove that already. Aye, travel through the past and future can be a convoluted affair!)"
"But through these years I have also gained an insight I lacked before. Through the death of my sire, Cyrus, perhaps I have been made to understand what hath driven thee throughout the eons. When I awoke that morning to find my only friend gone and mine own life forever lost to me, I despaired, and cared nothing for the world, for good or evil, nor anything at all. I wanted only vengeance. In time, though, I returned to Guardia and gained a new role as the protector of the queen. I was pulled back from that brink by concern for those I cared most about, for those who were still here, who needed my protection.
"Thou didst not have the advantage I did. When Lavos took thy sister and cast thee out of thine own time, thou had not thine friends or family, nor even thine world to give you comfort. Lost in a world not thine own, thou fought despair and sought to avenge not only the loss of thy sister, but the loss of thine own world and childhood. And though thine deeds can never be excused, I find in these advancing years that I can understand them, and even admire the bravery and determination that led thee through them.
"I would not say that I have forgiven thee the death of Cyrus nor the war with the mystics, for mine heart hath not achieved such wisdom yet. But perhaps, had the threads of our lives been woven differently, I might have been the one raising an army of monsters, and thou might have been the one seeking to stop me, for we both have known the pain of loss and the taste of vengeance.
"Though it may never reach thee, I have created an archive, a compendium of all the knowledge about the age of Zeal that hath survived to my day. It will be left here, with the Masamune and the rest of these letters, to be opened upon the moonlight parade and, when thou find it, shall represent a lifetime of work. Some of the tales art but legends, while others art more substantial--with my guidance, our knights have found the Sun Palace and even the ruins of the city once called Kajar buried deep beneath Mount Denadaro.
"I know not whether these papers will help thee find what thou seeks, but I hope also for the reunion that thou searcheth for, and that the efforts of Guardia in helping thee to find her will not be in vain. Whatever may come of these efforts, I hope they will at least remind thee that thou searcheth not alone, that friends throughout the whole of human history have allied themselves with thine quest...and that thou shalt one day see her again.
Sir Glenn, of the Knights of the Square Table,
also known as Sir Froggy"
Magus shook his head with confusion and let the letter flutter to the floor as he rose from his bed and scowled out the window at the distant war-weary village of Truce. The frog had been his mortal enemy, an unsettled score from a dusty old era four centuries in the past. The curse had never been lifted--the squire known as Glenn had died as much an amphibian as he had lived. Yet the frog had spent the greater part of his life trying to help him.
He closed his eyes, holding the sides of the window in both hands, and tried to imagine what it must have been like for the frog to lead expeditions into the mountains of that mist-shrouded, forest-drenched world, to find the long-lost city of Kajar hidden within the crags of Denadaro. He imagined the amphibian standing atop a ledge, looking down into the valley with pride as the knights swept away the rubble to reveal the crests of Zeal and golden chambers, decades of research and exploration finally rewarded by the discovery. Yet the frog had nothing to gain from it.
Magus suddenly realized that some part of his mind had been working on something else, sorting through magical formulas and piecing together different spells and charms. It didn't seem to matter--just a distraction, a game to play while he pondered the letter and its meaning. The research had been in vain; he had no need for whatever the frog had found. He'd found Schala and would die without ever laying eyes on that ruined world again. None of the legends about the dead kingdom of Zeal mattered anymore. The frog had wasted his life.
He turned away from the window and grabbed a pen from a writing desk pressed against a wall, yanking out a few sheets of paper and sketching a few symbols, testing out different magic circles and different spells. Of course it didn't really matter--the past had died and the frog along with it. Still, it posed an interesting problem and Magus suddenly felt challenged by it, determined to figure out the puzzle the letter had inspired.
"I created this riddle," he thought to himself, "and I can solve it."
The solution suddenly seemed to leap out of the jumbled equations he'd scribbled across the page, and he smiled in triumph. Magic was simply the focused energy of Lavos and that energy could pierce time itself and create gates. No magic would ever truly create gates, of course, but it might be able to ripple through time, casting shadows into the past as well as the future. He began drawing a magic circle into the wooden bedroom floor.
* * *
Lucca awoke to the sound of chanting and looked around the darkened bedroom, suddenly seeing flashes of color beneath the crack of her bedroom door. She climbed out of bed, rubbing her eyes, her sleeping cap dangling from her head, and checked Kid's crib, the baby girl still asleep beneath her blankets. Lucca turned away and stumbled sleepily toward the bedroom door, nearly tipping over the wires and cables leading to the devices she'd set up across her writing desk, then opened the door and looked around the hallway.
The hallway flickered and shimmered with light and the bedroom door across the hall seemed to glow with energy, the chanting and faint crackling noise growing louder.
"Magus's room," she thought irritably, her head throbbing, "of course."
She walked across the hall, dressed in pink slippers and silk shorts and tank-top, and knocked on the closed door with her fist. No answer. She sighed and knocked again, then finally pushed open the unlocked door.
"I don't know what you're doing in here, but Kid's asleep, I've got a headache and..."
She suddenly stopped as she saw a magic circle surrounded by arcane symbols glowing bright purple against the bedroom floor, and Magus hovering a few inches over the center of the symbol, cape fluttering in the wind, his eyes closed as the storm outside the window flickered with rainbow-colored lightning.
Lucca had seen this once before--when Magus had summoned Lavos in 600 AD.
"Aguna anzai zieber zom," the wizard chanted, oblivious to the intruder in his room.
"Magus," Lucca shouted through a crash of thunder, "are you insane!?"
"As all things must come to dust..."
Lucca looked frantically around the room for a weapon; whatever the letter had said, it had obviously driven Magus into a frenzy. She had to stop him from finishing the spell, or else the whole house could end up in the middle ages or prehistoric past--or worse, Lavos could be summoned right into the middle of Truce village.
"So what has passed shall be no more...!"
The clouds outside exploded into a flash of scarlet light and Lucca covered her face with her elbow until the glow faded away. She looked up to see Magus panting, crouched within the now-dark circle drawn against the floor, and she ran to the window, looking frantically out at the darkness and sighing as she recognized Truce.
"You tried to summon Lavos," she said in disbelief, "what in the world were you thinking?!"
"I wasn't trying to summon Lavos," he panted, then snickered, "but I can see why you thought that."
"Then what was that all about?"
"Do you remember the book on medieval history you bought?"
"Yeah," she answered, confused, "I bought it to keep up with Frog's life."
"Go check chapter 23," he said, "you may be interested in what you find."
"Alright," she answered, too puzzled to stay angry at him, and she finally relented and stepped out the door as he threw himself atop his bed and closed his eyes, seeming to fall instantly to sleep. She shook her head with confusion and went back to her room, checking Kid's crib once more to make sure she hadn't woken up. She grabbed the History of Guardia from her bookshelf and stepped out into the hallwaym. She flipped on the hallway light and began searching through the pages, having read the book from cover to cover many times already.
"Chapter 23: The Knighting of Sir Glenn"
Lucca blinked and looked at the page for several minutes, at the illustration of the event beside the chapter. Frog had vanished from the page. She rubbed her eyes and looked again, then read the adjoining page.
"Legends say that a miracle occurred on the day before the knighting of Sir Glenn, who had been cursed with the shape of a frog during his battle with the Magus. While shopping in the markets of Truce, Glenn was struck by a bolt of lightning, despite the clear sky. The warrior was quickly felled--but then, before a crowd of villagers, his body changed in a flash of light, so that when he awoke he had the form of a handsome young man, the man that he had always been beneath the cursed shape of a frog. The next day he was knighted as a human being."
Lucca looked back at the engraving that decorated the opposite page and she realized why she hadn't seen Frog on the page; a young man with short spiky hair now knelt before the king, where Frog had been when she last read the book, just a few weeks ago. She stared at the young man and suddenly noticed a green cloak drawn over his shoulders and the Masamune slung across his waist. The young man was Frog.
And, until tonight, the picture had always shown an amphibian being knighted by the king.
"I don't care what you said," she whispered to herself with a small tender smile as she closed the history book and flipped the light off again, "there's no way I'm letting you deny this tomorrow, Janus."
Part 1, Chapter 5