Categories > Games > Chrono Trigger > Awakening the Hero

Cry for Help

by Myshu 0 Reviews

Chapter Three

Category: Chrono Trigger - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Fantasy - Characters: Chrono, Lucca, Magus - Warnings: [!!] [V] - Published: 2005/05/12 - Updated: 2005/05/13 - 5631 words

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3. Cry for Help

Crono...

(/Aunstae bae.../)

...?

(/Taequilo.../)

Crono...

(/Maequila.../)

It was like the same voice, coming from everywhere, originating nowhere.

Help...

He thought he heard a woman--some familiar woman--in between them. He thought he was standing somewhere dark, but he could see as if it were day. He could see the black floor and sky.

It was like a clear day at the End of Time.

(/...baeya Traukee.../)

He could move, barely, and he thought to be walking towards the voice. Then at once there was someone ahead. He did not notice her nondescript figure and pallid hues, but he could clearly recall her wings. They were a blazing crimson, with gold ticks that lit the feather stalks like wicks on bloody candles. They were large, yet as light and soft in appearance as the petals of a flower, and with her back to him those wings were best impressed on his mind's eye.

The impulse arrived to ask who she was, but he did not think it through. She reiterated through his silence, swaying timidly. "Will...you...help?"

The question pushed him so that needed to take his footing again. Help what? He began, rather cautiously, to approach her.

"The beast slumbers... Will you help?"

Beast?

The lady rocked on her feet, seeming top-heavy. "It's so dark... Why does the Darkness have to be so--?"

With a gentleman's impulse he ducked forward to catch her as she fell. However, before he could reach the feathered lady she did something surprising. He recoiled from the pyre when she burst into a heap of flame. The fire consumed itself rapidly, within seconds leaving only one charred fluff. He tentatively looked around, scanning for a trace of that angel, but there was nothing but the feather in an empty plain. He knelt to pick it up.

Its gold bars were seared black. As he turned it over in his hands the dark smears appeared to grow. The darkness ran down the shaft of the feather like spilled ink, eventually staining his fingers, something to his amazement. He let the tainted feather fly from his grasp, but too late. The black snaked up his arm, filling every pore and clothing him in a heavy, cold dark. It held fast to his body, expanding until it covered every finger and toe like a hungry net. It clung to his face and wet his hair, its grip unrelenting.

He fell to his knees, screaming panic, until the repulsive ink choked him, taking his breath, and sound, and sight, and he knew a color deeper, darker, and thicker than black.

---

The world crashed, and Crono woke up. He sat up in his bed so fast his blanket couldn't keep with him and it flopped over the side of the bed to the floor. The cool air of his room then rushed him, exacerbating his shock, but as reality dawned and the dream faded his frantic panting gradually abated. He rubbed his brow, brushing away the red tufts of hair sticky with sweat, and fell back onto his pillow with a sigh.

pingk.

What the...?

Pingk.

He twisted over the sheets and spied the noise's origin: his window. He could have sworn he heard a rapping there, but that wasn't so likely, as his room was a floor above the ground.

Pingk.

Maybe it was someone really really tall.

Pingk.

No, his drowsy mind reasoned, it was someone with a good arm. He'll be damned if whoever or whatever out there breaks the glass, throwing things like so. With a low groan he rolled out of the bed and plodded over to the window, pulling back the flimsy curtains to see outside.

Still raining. He wondered when it would clear up. It had been going for... what, a day now? Some strong gusts with it, too. And lightning like blazes. But nevermind. There was that noise to take care of.

He flipped the lock, took the bottom of the pane in his fingers, slid open the window, and stuck out his neck, ferreting out the source of that nagging pingk.

Smack.

What hurt the worst was that he saw it coming but didn't have time to do anything about it. Before he could flinch the rock had flown into his eye and he was sent sprawling on his back, pawing at the offending projectile. He scooped it out of the hollow of his brow and examined it with dazed outrage. It was a small, round stone, smoothed by water and greasy with mud. He wiped its residue from his face with the back of his hand, rolled to his feet again with a grunt, and swam to the window.

He leaned outside once more, hunting for the culprit, and found on the ground below a source of mischief that was the first thing this morning to not surprise him.

The girl, one arm securing a yellow parka about her, waved shortly at him with the other in an apology.

"Opps! Sorry!"

He growled and armed the rock as if to throw it back at its caster. Watching her start to squirm away from the site of the crime was enough, but he carried out his threat anyway, sending the stone her way with twice the force. She yelped and bounced out of its path lest it strike her foot.

"Hey! I said I was sorry! Com'on, Crono, that's what you get when you don't answer the door! Are you gonna let me in or what?"

Door? He could swear he never heard it. Maybe the storm's fault. He blinked, a feat which now drew a wince, considered her with teasing wariness, and then acquiesced, disappearing into his house again to open the front door.

---

Lucca ran around to the sheltered front step and squirmed out of her glossy parka. She deposited the dripping yellow bag off the edge of the porch, dried her glasses on the scruff of her shirt, and waited to be allowed into the house. The knob twisted in a jerk and its door popped ajar, creakingly revealing a dark corner at the foot of a stairwell. The girl poked through the open crack and looked for her friend, who was muttering something better not heard as he stamped up the steps back to his room.

The quaint little home was painted in eerie twilight. None had bothered a light switch and through the windows only the dim radiance of a rainy sky drew bleary shadows across the room. Lucca ventured inside, turned around, and carefully pressed the door close to the latch, mindful not to shut it entirely. While she awaited Crono's return another member of the house greeted her with cheerful contrast.

"Meow."

"Aww, Cyrus! Here kitty," Lucca beckoned the orange tabby, and Cyrus brightly responded, hopping down the stairs and twining his malleable shape around her legs. She bent down to scratch his ears and the cat purred.

At length Crono came back, somehow sooner than expected. He paused near the girl and cat, gruffly took the girl's hand, without remark gave her a small dense object, and then plodded into the kitchen like a grumpy sloth.

Lucca's initial inspection of the gift made it to be a rock. She began to laugh ruefully when she imagined his bitterness, but after a second look she realized that she was not presented a random piece from the yard--it was the rock, and accordingly Crono's message was different--but still amusing, never-the-less. She chuckled complacently as she pocketed the stone.

As she followed Crono to the dining table she found the boy as appropriately dressed as ever, clad only in a pair of trousers. Lucca wondered if his only mind to keep them from falling was to occasionally scratch the cloth at his hip. Oblivious to the girl's visit, he plucked a suspicious paper note from the table, walked to the sink to flip on a small light over it, and began to silently read what was left him, ironically clearing his throat to do so.

She waited for him to finish before asking, "Your mom gone?"

He nodded without glancing back and pointed to the refrigerator with his thumb. Mom went into town to get groceries. It wasn't unusual for her to go shopping in the morning, before her late-rising son had the sense to shovel himself out of bed and notice her absence. Lucca found it strange to want to head out for anywhere in weather like such, but then again... Crono's mother was pretty strange.

Lucca was eager to get to what was the matter, but it was a careful lesson she had picked up to not even try Crono in the morning before something was in his stomach. The girl dropped her purse onto the table and patiently waited while he slopped some jam onto a piece of bread for a makeshift breakfast. In the cloudy dawn that filled the kitchen she could spot three prominent, parallel scars streaking across his bare back. Recalling the injury's source, she winced on her friend's behalf. They had learned that day that the great beasts to the east, heckran, bore claws tipped with poison that was slow to catch up with its victim. Once it did, he was put down for the rest of the day.

Crono took the pain like a real solider. He was always tough. He wasn't always so quiet, though. Lucca had watched him grow up, just as he had always watched over her. His voice evolved with his build, in some ways inversely. She, like most adolescents, became more loquacious as her vocabulary grew and sophisticated; he, if anything, became increasingly reticent with age. When there ever was the need to communicate across the room he often did so nonverbally, with expressions or gestures. This could have easily become complicated and troublesome, but evidently he was not a difficult person to read and a conflict rarely arose.

A quiet part of her that lingered from her earlier years understood some of the reasons for his silence, but she never would have figured out his little secret if she were not such an observant child, and saw that the decline in his speech was proportional to the ridicule his peers directed at his eastern accent. He was born on some outback island near the continent that way, and it was something of a social stigma in the West to have any relations, even out of proximity, with the mystic colonies to the East. Of course it wasn't in Crono's character, much less his reputation, to let something so silly embarrass him--ergo she never whispered a word about it, even after years of silence had practically rubbed out any dialectal quirks he had to begin with.

This was not to mean that he never spoke at all--in fact he had a deep, smooth tone that he used sparingly, mostly within confidence; it was never overheard by anyone he wasn't speaking to. Lucca was one of the very few who was such a familiar to him that she could catch his many subtle utterances. She never made it obvious, especially to him, but it did make her happy to think that she was privy to thoughts others would never hear.

Crono's taciturn deportment was not to be confused with shyness, which he was never guilty of--that was her old, bad habit. He epitomized the "strong, silent type." Where he lacked in his words he spoke with his strength, both in body and character. His opinion was reserved on most matters, but there were some few ideals he stood firmly for and would resort to force to defend, if necessary. When this force came into play, he was indomitable. A cursory appraisal of his stature was enough to discourage most belligerents. He was not exceptionally tall or large, but thick enough with muscle to inspire intimidation. He was composed like a body-builder, which showed in the sculpted meat of his arms and broad shoulders. If appearance of strength was not enough, anyone who'd watched him with a sword knew better than to pick a fight with the athletic youth; he could chop a block of wood in twain with a broomstick.

He was passionate about his swordsmanship in ways that many men take pride in their craft. Captivated by the legends of knights of olden days, he would practice in his back yard for hours at a time, aspiring to match their prowess with a blade. He had his chance, three years ago, to make a legend for himself in the slaying of Lavos. Although he and his friends were victorious against the planet's mutual enemy, history and present days would ironically forget them.

It was easy for him to accept this. Not being acclimated to fame or recognition, he was content to merely have the job done and his adventure worthwhile spent. He continued to train as much as before, more out of routine these days than any pressing necessity or high-reaching dreams. She would once in a while poke at his nonchalance, calling him an "uninspired country boy," but he would merely roll his eyes in return.

All in all, their relationship was rather deep-rooted and complicated, but like the laws of physics, it seemed to work without either putting too much analysis behind it.

Cyrus, not to be ignored, sprang onto the tabletop and begged for affection. Lucca playfully caressed its tawny fur. When she peripherally glimpsed the dark wall near the door flaring with an intrusive light, she knew Crono would soon see for himself what she had arrived to explain.

"Um, listen Crono, there's somethin' we gotta talk about..."

He had a second slice of bread prepared when he turned to her with an asking expression. Then, beside the girl, he saw a second visitor--a very large, wet, brooding one. Lucca was sure her friend was going to have a heart attack. The morsel of bread struck the floor with a flat plop and Crono pedaled backwards until he collided with the rim of the sink, which he blindly clutched to steady himself as he alternated between looks of shock, confusion, and alarm. The question on him was loud and clear. What the hell?!

The Magus studied the flabbergasted boy with a disdainful huff, but otherwise reserved his words. Crono recovered with what Lucca perceived as rage as he stepped into a guarded stance that was surely a precursor to a brawl. The girl readily mediated by jumping between the two.

"Whoa, wait, okay?? I know this is weird but just calm down a second. He's with me--really."

Crono didn't seem wholly convinced, even as Magus faced away, pretending to ignore him. The boy wouldn't relax until Lucca reached for his arm. "I can explain, I promise. Just listen for a second. Please," she softly entreated.

At her touch his tension eased, although his jaw was still set tight against the wizard. He watched the blue-haired man wander to the front door and peer outside, and then directed his focus to Lucca. Start explaining.

---

Lucca shared as much as she knew, starting from the moment Magus appeared in her bedroom, with the magician interjecting some monosyllabic corrections where applicable. Between the two, the full story poured out: ...undersea palace....giant serpent....sent to the future....Gate Key....three conditions.

Crono absorbed it all with a steady, if dazed, expression, as if he were participating in a dream. When Lucca at last arrived at the point, he reluctantly pulled himself back into reality.

"So... you gonna come along? Things could get really interesting from here."

He blinked slowly, drinking in the sharp, somber features of the Magus. The notion of sharing another quest with the dreaded king of the mystics was not among his brightest prospects. Still, at the risk of being called a lazy bum, he couldn't turn down an adventure, much less a chance to get in some real practice with his sword. Besides, if there really was a timegate around, it might mean trouble. He couldn't sit back and watch if things came to that. But was this the kind of journey he was prepared for? Maybe it wasn't something he could help with. Maybe it would be worse to meddle. Then again, if they hadn't meddled with Lavos...

His lips pressed into a thin line as he mulled over his options. If Lucca, the ever logical of the pair, was crazy enough to ask, then he was enough so to agree. Crono looked to the waiting girl and nodded.

"Alright! I knew you'd be a good sport." She threw one arm in the air in an exuberant gesture, as if she foresaw some fun in what lie ahead instead of a dangerous chore. Funny, he hadn't seen her that excited since--

sssqqquueeeeeeeaaaaak!!!

All eyes turned to the table, from where a pitched scream suggested Cyrus was into some foul business. What caught everyone's attention right away was that the wail wasn't a... cat... scream. The tabby's head was treacherously buried in Lucca's purse; when the commotion arose, he shrugged out of the cloth sack and tossed guilty glances around the room, his squealing quarry snared squarely in his jaws.

"Alfador!!" the girl yelped, and chaos broke.

A cat with an idea of prey was tough to crack. Crono and Lucca were immediately after him, each circling the table in an attempt to bar the cat's escape. Cyrus evaded their fumbling grasp and nimbly dove to the floor, the hapless hamster in tow. The kids scrambled out of the kitchen and into the fore of the house, where the cat hesitated before dashing between a pair of idle legs and ducking under a loveseat.

What ensued was a long, clumsy pursuit that overturned several chairs and tidbits of furniture. Magus hardly reacted as this activity exploded around him (and under him), or even mind as he was carelessly shoved aside in the heat of the chase, which culminated at the peak of the stairway, just outside Crono's room. The drumming of rising footsteps finished with a heavy thud when the boy tripped and fell on the cat in a tackle. It was a wrestling match from there, and after a couple of rough pats Cyrus relinquished his catch.

The cat sulked away into the boy's room, and Crono took the limp furball named Alfador into his palms. He turned the hamster over and poked it, to no response. Lucca frantically crawled up to him and snatched the rodent away. "Oh, oh, Alfador!" she whimpered, petting the matted violet fur. "Oh..." She stood up and gently shook the hamster, striving desperately to rouse it, but her care was in vain.

Feeling rather sorry over events, Crono climbed to his feet and tried to console her, but before he could step near the girl turned on him in an outburst.

"Crono!! Your evil cat killed my hamster!"

The boy surrendered his hands to the air, taken aback as if a policeman landed a torch on him. Before he could say anything in his defense (or his cat's), they were interrupted by another strange sound. It dawned on their ears gradually, and was so foreign that they were automatically compelled to look downstairs and find out why... Why they were hearing what they'd never imagined to hear before.

Magus was laughing.

---
Travel was tiring. Since the night before they had made tracks from the Heckran Caves west of Medina to their "new" base off the coast of some human metropolis... Traven. Of course, it was a simple trip with transportation already provided for.

Ramezia...

Darwin skipped around the fetid pools that had amassed in light of recent plumbing--that is to say, trying to reinstall a functional network of running water through pipes that might have seen the fall of Guardia was not extremely expedient. The halls of the mystic headquarters reeked of mildew, but at least that much complemented the rust that peppered the walls and cramped the hinges and runners of every door. The waterworks besides, the arriving tenants had made quick work in "de-industrializing" the warehouse. Straw was toted in and poured into bunks, and the so-called electric lamps that marked every corner had their bowls smashed and filled with burning oil in a backwards renovation.

In light of this, Darwin had asked after the need for such luxuries as running water. Most mystics in their band wouldn't know a toilet if they were flushed down one, and their hideout was not meant to last, besides. Lord Heckran said matter-of-factly that they would need it for the rain; the base would be overrun with water without a drainage system in place. Darwin retorted that the place was overrun with water /now/, no thanks to his "preparations," and he didn't see the prudence in taking such elaborate measures for such an inconvenience of rain--which did not look to be soon coming, by the way.

"Oh, you'll see," Heckran had said cryptically, and left the conversation without answering a thing.

You'll see! What, a secret? Lord Heckran used to tell him everything, but since Ramezia showed up...

That was one of many matters that had been troubling Darwin recently, and not the last he would bring to his master.

The akio turned a dank corner and encountered a flowing puddle that crossed the doormat of Lord Heckran's chamber. Cursing the obstacle, he unraveled his flight feathers from the crevasses of his vest, backed into the corner, and flitted over the indoor stream after a running start. The corridor was tragically narrow for his wingspan, and he had no room for lift before tripping across the shallow water with a graceless splash.

Oh, drats. And such pains he had taken not to get his talons wet...!

Darwin grimaced, removed his soggy feet from the muck and rattled a drip off each ankle. He then toed up to the heavy iron gate and shoved one slab open by a hair.

"I swear," Heckran's voice was discerned from within. It was distorted, as with food. "This's the only thing I'll miss about those humans. What're these called again...? Doh-nuts?" The beast gained a sudden clarity once he swallowed. "Tiki!" A metal jingle accompanied the blast of his call as Heckran's burly hand connected with an assumed platter of silverware.

"Y-Yes, my lord?" A timid, squeaky response--probably an imp.

"Find the chef--chef... whatever," the heckran failed to produce the name. "Tell him to learn how to make these, these... 'doh-nuts.' Tell 'im I don't care what he needs. We'll head into town and steal it. Should be some time enough for looting anyway, ha? Ha! Just as fun as last time--"

"Um... my lord?" cut into the mystic lord's digression.

"Eh? What?"

"I-I don't think we have a ch-chef, sir."

"What? Impossible! How don't we?"

"Um... I'm sorry, sir. We just, um, never had one. Hasn't really come up before now, sir. Everyone just takes what they want from the humans..."

"Grr, damnit!" Another cymbal crash. "Well?! Go into town and get one!"

"A-a chef, sir??" Tiki sounded thrown by the notion.

"Yes, a chef! Go bring me back one. I want donuts, Titi!"
"Tiki, sir--"
"Whatever! Just do it!"
"U-um yes sir!"

The door adjacent to Darwin propped ajar as the servile imp forced its weight against it.

"Hey, Tiki!"

The imp paused, its stumpy form halfway out the door and its mouth hardly around a "yes sir?" before--

"Take this...!"

From Darwin's limited scope, all that emerged from the obscured side of the door was a swift, unidentified flying disc. Its broad face careened into Tiki like a truck and sent both jetting into the wet hall. The akio blinked, startled, and offered one discreet glance to the imp wearing a silver tray before taking the open door and entering Heckran's room.

Down a stretch of scarlet (and curiously dry) carpet was a large desk... or at best, the remnants of one. It perhaps was once squared and sturdy, crafted from stiff rivets and sheets of steel, but in the way of "renovations" it became a bulky, dilapidated heap fitted for the rising leader of the mystic order (Heckran and Bakan had wrestled upon it until it conformed to their girths). Behind the misshapen furnishings was a console of buttons, keys and switches that controlled the back wall and its giant glass screen; the faintly flickering beacons across the board was the derelict warehouse's only sign of life.

"Ah, ha, bwahaha!" the big blue brute was still relishing his slapstick humor. He smeared some mirthful tears across his temples with the back of a claw and sighed. "Oh... ahaha. That was great."

Darwin held himself at attention until he was noticed. Heckran wiggled into a comfortable slouch in his "throne" and at last found the new visitor. "Ah! Darwin! Even better. How are you this morning, my friend?"

The akio's tongue clicked against the roof of his beak as he contemplated the best response. Heckran, in his eagerness, ran over Darwin's late reply. "Everything's nearly ready for tonight, isn't it? How are the preparations?"

Confronted with a more objective question, Darwin easily answered. "Well, my lord. The location and..." He fumbled with an abstract concept. ".../time/ of each item has successfully been ascertained, thanks to Seth's help. Everyone should be in position by this evening. I will be taking command of the Guardia horde, as per your orders. We'll be taking the present time."

Darwin's last point struck Heckran--one of his brows shifted. Before he could comment the akio boldly moved on. "If I may ask, my lord, where Lord Bakan has been stationed...? Is he not assisting with the operation?"

"Bakan?" Heckran echoed with an ill grunt. "I was going to let him get the Dreamstone, but the damn fool made a mess with the robots last night! Thought one of 'em was looking at him the wrong way..." The draconic beast muttered at his toes for a moment. "...Idiot. Tore the damn thing to pieces!
He's punished. I gave him a post at one of the shrines."

"I... see," Darwin said with slighting condolence.

"Hmm, hmm." With that, Heckran shook his head, as if to dismiss thoughts of his nephew. "Anyway, that's all good," he began, referring to Darwin's status report. He melted out of his seat and lumbered to the blinking display at back. "It should be a good romp, eh? Ha! Can't wait to get started. It's getting too dull, running around with all these 'preparations.' I want some real action!"

"All in good time, I'm sure," Darwin assured him. "Although, speaking of these 'preparations,' my lord..."

Heckran detached himself from the captivating colored buttons to glance to the akio. "Yes?"

"Well, I'll be frank. I'm a little concerned about..." He tapped a primary feather against the flank of his beak. "...Well, about Ramezia."

"Ramezia? What about 'er?"

"I'm rather astonished, my lord, by the amount of trust you've placed in her... and this grand 'scheme' of hers."

"You think it's too much," Heckran agreeably guessed.

"Yes, I do. I mean, how much do we really know about her? What about these..." He spun a glance around the chamber. "...accommodations? And the shrines? And Seth, my lord? This won't be my first time to say that I don't trust his likes, any more than I do Ramezia herself. I find her motives rather... lacking. I really can't imagine why she would be supporting our cause unless..."

The bird hesitated until Heckran prompted him. "Unless what?"

"...I really did not want to be the one to tell this to you, my lord. I did not want to test your good will in these matters; you've been a good and fair leader to us for many years, even as our faction dwindled... but I shall be direct. I think Ramezia is using you, my lord. Both you and the mystics. This entire operation seems to be under her foot. Why else would we be retrieving these stones for her? She can't do it herself--not easily, I dare say--and without her sponsorship we're nothing. We would have no strategy and not near enough weapons or magic to take the humans on our own. She must be helping us so that we will help her achieve her own ends--mind you, I have not yet figured out what those goals are--but I can only reason that we are the heel of it.

"I'm sorry, my lord, but I find it impossible to believe that Lady Ramezia's heart is in the interests of mystics. She stands no more to gain from our success than she ever did; sheer hatred of humankind should not suffice for their kind as it does for us. I fear that--I fear, if we are not careful, Ramezia might have us in a... compromising position. I--"

"--Enough, Darwin." It was a calm growl.

"--but my lord, I might be put at ease if I at least knew for what purpose she wants us to procure--"

"I said /enough/!"

The listless whining of a ventilation fan was the only speaker in the subsequent quiet. Darwin took the pause to subdue his stewing anxieties and smooth his feathers. He reassumed his composure at the foot of the throne, behind which Heckran tended to the computer. His back to the akio, the giant mystic consoled his subordinate, his tone quiet and careful.

"Don't worry about Ramezia, my friend. Whether or not she wants to accept it, she is a mystic--like us. Although it doesn't seem like it from where you are, her goal and ours are really the same. The reason we're following her plan is precisely as you said: we need her powers. If you think I haven't thought about any of the things you said, you're wrong. I am very aware of our position, and what we can and can't do, and what Ramezia can do--and can't do. If I'm right, she's thought about the same things, and wouldn't dare move against us without facing the entire mystic army. We have more control here than you think, Darwin."

The akio cast a sullen look to the floor. "I hope you're right, my lord."

---
They had arrived at the gate without blinking. Crono and Lucca were still in a whirl of shock; they had never witnessed Magus's teleportation magic firsthand, despite their traveling with him for some weeks, once upon some times. It would have helped to at least have been forewarned.

Alfador was afforded a burial at sky before Crono shut the window and shooed his visitors out of his room so that he might get dressed in peace. As soon as he was adequately prepared for the journey ahead he reappeared downstairs; the wizard took that for a cue.

As the spell wore off Lucca was first to chastise the magician for his lack of tact. After exhausting some colorful maledictions she moved on to ask why they had not teleported like so to Crono's house. Magus curtly explained that he had to have an "immediate sense" of the place, and refused to expound upon the technique further.

Crono had spent the entire conversation in a dreamlike stupor; he was so transfixed with the focus of their new locale.

It was... a temple? A shrine? It bore a classical touch, with marble columns and pleasant geometry. At its core was a brilliant sapphire... globe?

No, it was a... a...

Lucca, giving up the rhetoric, fell away from Magus and caught the boy's vacant stare. She aimed a glance to where he was looking and lost her own voice. For a minute the girl stumbled over some dry words before asking, "Magus? Is this--the gate?"

The wizard merely nodded. Crono wasn't surprised to watch his friend step up the short platform and crouch near the arrayed silver rings, opting for a closer look. She always had to examine things for herself--part of that "scientific curiosity" she sported. A snake had taken her up on that once, if he recalled...

"Why do these look familiar...?" he overheard her musings.

"I don't know. Why do they?" Magus's patronizing sting called her back.

The girl started and stood up. "Oh. Um... I don't know. I can't believe what I'm seeing, really. Are you sure this is a gate?"

The wizard's glare could have been classified as a magical attack. She shrugged submissively. "Okay, fine. Stupid question."

Lucca retreated from the mystifying enclosure and checked with her companions. Magus was teeming with impatience. Crono appeared to have lost contact with this world. When she nudged him, he returned to Earth to offer her a lost smile.

"We ready?" she enquired as she withdrew the Gate Key from her bag. "I don't even know if this'll work."

Magus didn't need to be asked. Crono nodded haltingly. Lucca tested one deep breath, pointed the bejeweled rod at the shrine, and activated the key. The gate seemed to jump and shudder with a spark, and then explode to embrace the chalky pillars. Those without Magus's hardy nerves reflexively shrank away from the outburst that stirred the cave's tranquil winds.

With the gate open before them, Magus undramatically walked into it, his vanishing form tearing a white flash into the swirling blue vortex.

The remaining two exchanged mixed glances. "Here goes nothing!" Lucca remarked somewhat sarcastically in the wizard's wake, and approached the gate. Crono, not to be left behind, followed the others through the fourth dimension.

Flash. Flash. ....Flash, and the portal closed in on itself, resuming its quiet, dormant existence amid silver runes.
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