Categories > Games > Chrono Trigger > Awakening the Hero

Sleeping Beast

by Myshu 0 Reviews

Chapter Five

Category: Chrono Trigger - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Fantasy - Characters: Chrono, Frog, Lucca, Magus - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2005/05/12 - Updated: 2005/05/13 - 5865 words

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5. Sleeping Beast

Magus's lair wasn't any more inviting on the inside than it was on the outside. It was richly, if darkly, furnished, with stone beasts and golden demons escorting the wandering trio up the foyer's grand staircase and into one of many branching corridors.

An enchanted pall was draped over the brick slabs that chilled the air without a draft and lit the lamps and candelabra without fuel for flame or smoke for waste. The scarlet carpet nibbled on their soggy footsteps. The windows were cased in black iron webs that drew wicked shadows across the floor. The tapestries captured monsters with bitter, twisted masks that leered from their woven cages at passers-by.

It was beautiful in a ghastly way that made it difficult for Lucca to relate the mystic stronghold she read about in textbooks to the architecture she was presently immersed in. Her personal experiences--her memories--tied the little inconsistencies together. Circa 600 AD, this was the lair from which the king of the mystics--the Magus--conducted his armies of terror. Four hundred and three years ago, Magus called Lavos here in a botched attempt to slay the monster. Three years ago, this was the place Lucca and her friends--history's little band of crusaders--stormed in a quest to defeat the Magus and interrupt the summoning. And, somehow, all these times and circumstances were one.

Marle was right; time travel was confusing.

The halls were sickeningly quiet. Magus crossed the still void three years later as if he had only walked out the door yesterday, but that could not expiate the wizard's negligence in the castle's eyes, and there was the ring of a curse in each step unheard--that, or the residue of some arcane trappings the wizard had installed to give the lair a "magic touch."

Lucca staggered out of her wandering thoughts. She had better things to do than dream of ghosts again, just as there was more to hear than the silence of the wizard's derelict lair. It was a chore to guide her friend's faltering feet along the sporadic rises and steppings of the magic labyrinth. Wherever Magus was leading them, Lucca wasn't sure Crono would make it. With one of his arms threaded around her shoulders, she practically carried the languid boy along the passageways, some stiff, muffled grunts and labored breathing his only complaint.

He wouldn't complain, would he? That's just not his style. If she were in his shoes, she'd probably be whining and wailing. From what was known of the heckrans' venom, it was one of the most potent non-fatal (to humans, anyway) toxins on the planet. Crono was actually quite lucky to be standing, even with assistance.

/Just wait until the rest of the poison sets in/, a pessimistic--and nearly sadistic--tone muttered in her head. Lucca bit her lip and shut it out.

That happened, sometimes... a very dark, insidious voice, suggesting things... unpleasant things... She didn't want to be crazy--she didn't remember that voice, before Lavos--maybe it was something else to condemn that beast for--if indirectly his..../its/ fault. Maybe just a psychological device, to handle the trauma--saving the world is stressful business, you know--or just some latent personality waiting to be tapped--there's crazy again! Not crazy--/not crazy like that snake in the grass/ damn that snake it never went away the bite mark no no no god this castle is creepy stop letting your thoughts wander but if only someone'd say something it's too damn quiet

Lucca snapped to the present with a swallowed gasp when a side room's door flew open and crashed unimpeded against the hidden side of the wall with a petrified clamor. Magus stood out of the door's reach, his hand nevertheless extended as if he had shoved the gate ajar with his will.

He nodded to the chamber so abruptly exposed. "You can rest in there."

If she didn't know better--and maybe she didn't--Lucca would've called the room a holding cell. Its austere furnishings and close dimensions, if not the dingy brick walls and sternly grated aperture, induced a sense of imprisonment. There was a single, plain bunk in the corner. By its side and beneath the high-vaulted window was a wooden stand. Its top was bare excepting dust and a candle set in a small skull.

She didn't waste time thanking Magus for the hospitality. With the wizard's motives in mind, she wasn't sure how much she could be grateful for--and he wouldn't have cared for it anyway. She helped Crono limp to the bed, where the boy duly collapsed, burying his face in the soft spread. Lucca straightened with a huff, relieved of the burden, and then looked to her ailing friend.

"Um, you gonna be alright?" she asked with as much aim towards filling the conversational vacuum than serious analysis. An idiot could see that Crono was not all right, and it felt like a formality to even ask.

He actually tried to answer, giving some shallow groan that impressed her to worry. She sat on the edge of the bed and pried into his personal space, tugging on the sleeve of his shirt. "Okay, ya big dope," she tested a casual snub to keep the mood light, "Let's get a better look at that wound."

Crono kneaded the sheets into his balled fists with a gritted hiss, grudging such a glimpse. He offered her half a glance, the other half clothed in the concealing covers. Weakness was something he didn't want to betray, even to a friend, and he knew it was with one look that she would read everything from him. She stooped into his sight, staring carefully, until a long moment passed, one seeing into the other.

She was too smart to that--to... him. He couldn't hold blame over her methods, though. It was all anyone could do with someone who wouldn't reply with words. Lucca had to learn to see instead of listen. Nowadays it seemed an ironic trade of hands when considered how, once upon a time, she was the reticent one and he was "reading" /her/.

She did feel somewhat guilty, being so invasive, but the fact that he even had something to guard put her on edge, and concern far outweighed privacy. Lucca smirked at his futile attempt to hide his symptoms and tried to roll him over by force, pushing on his shoulder. "Com'on, don't be stubborn..."

The boy responded violently when her rough treatment inflamed the toxin's grip and stitched his side with burning pain. He cracked a holler and grappled with her briefly before Lucca backed off. "Okay, okay! I'm sorry. I know it hurts, alright? I'm just trying to help." She brushed some overgrown bangs out of her glasses and retired her hands to her lap. "Stubborn jackass," she sighed, flustered.

Crono dropped the defensive and apparently relaxed, shifting gingerly back onto the only provided pillow with a strained shudder. Lucca examined him, hands-off: a sweaty gloss pasted some of his wild crimson locks to his bleached skin. Every breath was markedly stressful, as it seemed his whole body tensed with the effort.

It was then that she noticed, remarkably for the first time that day, that he had a black eye. Flashing back to its source, her hand subconsciously slipped over the pocket where a certain prized rock was stashed away. She smirked and left that memory buried there for now, figuring that dredging it up wouldn't be of much help to Crono.

Returning her lingering stare was one with a tenuous focus, phasing uneasily between bleary numbness and acute pain. It captured the girl's breath and, for a moment, softened her to the boy's plight.

"Um." Lucca blinked, her face suddenly warm, and diverted her concentration to more practical matters. She again noticed the blood tingeing the tatters of Crono's tunic and was inspired to act.

"We need to do something about those cuts, or they'll get worse. They might be infected already."

Of course, "we" weren't going to do much at all--it was up to her to handle this. Lucca stood up and reviewed some options. This creepy old castle had to have some kind of medicine, or at least some bandages, stashed somewhere. She would ask Magus. Any assistance that way might be worth thanking him for. She had almost forgotten the wizard's presence, which was rather rude besides, and this way she might redress that, regardless of whether or not the stuffy mage anticipated courtesy.

The girl turned and took some purposeful strides out into the hall, that very enquiry on the tip of her tongue. "Hey Ma--" She stopped, struck by her question's fatal flaw. "--gus..."

He was gone.

---
Names could be poignant deterrents.

The Western Woods were just as obvious and note less as dubbed. The Cursed Woods, however, were alive with all the ostensible dangers of its namesake. Who would dare trod the apparently perilous paths of a cursed thicket, as opposed to the pleasant trails of a westerly course? It was a tribute to human integrity that detours were accomplished to this end by merely painting one word over another and leaving the signpost to flaunt its haunting rumors.

Solitude was an easy feat after that. The woods were a sanctuary fitted for the slimy, sticky, green and leafy, hardly trespassed by man or his likes.

One likeness expecting. He was an adaptable sort, however, and well settled in the deep of the forest, where none would find his cove. It was an earthen hole warmly tinted by candlelight over ruddy soil, adobe clay, and tanned timber. Baked pots and bowls huddled in shelves carved out of rock and root. A certain lack of corners in the dugout hovel constricted furnishings to an elementary oak table, a straw mattress, a bucket of water, a stretch of clothesline laden with wet suits and dried meats, some woven baskets covered with cloth, and a ladder shooting up into the sky lit exit. Wads of burning wax mingled in the shadows the sun would never reach.

This was home for years, yet. He had nothing to leave it for. He sat at the table--or slouched onto it, even--his head heavy with a full meal and the soporific quiet of his dwelling. The polished bowl of grits before him dimmed even in the candlelight as a foggy nap overtook him.

This was home...

It was perfect for him, wasn't it? A forest of frogs. It was good to be here, a frog among frogs. He had tried the men, once a time, but frogs couldn't live up to men--as far as men were concerned. He could be better than them, stronger than them, swifter and braver than them... but he'd never be with them. Not one of them. Never again.

If only he were a man again... Was he ever a man? He had no time to know. No time before the Magus cut down the great knight, his mentor, Cyrus, and rained down his curse on the squire left behind. Forevermore he'll be something better than beast yet lesser than man--or, for so long as the wizard's touch clung to his mortal being.

At least in these parts he was a superior frog.

After the Magus and his armies were dispatched and the future rid of Lavos, the Queen had beseeched him stay--stay in the castle, protect her as before... The queen and her loyal knight, the frog. No, that does not work. He had taken his fill of the men's jeering looks, their cries of mystic. The knights would look down on him, their appalled grimaces speaking enough. "This is our savior? A beast??"

A beast indeed! No matter. His righteous grasp of chivalry numbed him to their haughty barbs. It was not for his own sense of self that he abandoned his charge. It was the sake of the Queen at stake. So sorry, dear Leene. It would not work. It was too much to bear, to have such slander affiliated with her grace--better to fulfill his duties from afar, watching always, never intruding...

I'll always protect you, my liege...

"These're a little gamy."

Frog, the once knight errant, started from his dozing. The casual baritone of a single intruder was a klaxon to the hermit's ears. His bulbous eyes drank of the perimeter of his abode, thirsting after his bearings.

There was a figure standing in his deep blue cloak, nibbling on a scrap of jerky sampled from the clothesline. The what and how of him was answered with the who. Recognition arrived in a wild croak as the frogman hopped onto the table, acquiring a sense of enhanced height.

"Magus!!"

"You should try more salt," the wizard continued, entirely oblivious to the vitriolic greeting. He devoured his pilfered snack while waiting through the standard cataleptic shock. At length, the frog's wide-brimmed jaw quit gnawing on the muggy air like a beached fish and pressed into a stern scowl. His glassy yellow eyes kindled with rage's oil.

"Magus!!" he started again. "What cause--nay, what means bring thine sorry carcass hither--to my abode!? With the gates vanished, I dare thought thee banished from this world and time! What cause gives ye trespass here!?"

The Magus ducked around a dripping shirt and plucked a red apple from a basket nested in a root's claw. He leaned against the near wall, grimaced, recoiled from the filthy plaster, and brushed some dirt sprinkles off his shoulder before taking a bite from the fruit. He chewed on Frog's question for a deliberately itching while.

"Some business," he replied around another bite.

Pinched by the cryptic answer, one side of Frog's face twitched to digest it. He stepped down from the table, stomped across the room and took up the weapon resting once innocuously in what more closely resembled a corner than any other part of the dugout. He slid the broadsword from its sheath with a blatant swipe that commanded attention.

"If thou shall not make thine drift clear, that morsel shall be thy last!"

The look Magus cast Frog would have successfully defined "apathetic contempt." The wizard stepped forward to appraise the freshly armed amphibious knight.

"You still have that rusty old thing?" He nodded at the blade pointed at him even as he spoke, the acid of his remark not staining one spot on the immaculate broadsword.

"The Masamune hath not yet failed me," Frog returned with a dangerous growl. As if to concur, the sword buzzed with a luminous sheen.

The wizard took a final bite from his apple before tossing the mangled fruit aside. "Too bad Cyrus couldn't say the same thing."

The Frog bristled, firing quickly, "Any mercy I hath shown thee once shall make hasty abandon if ye dare slander--aye, even mention that name ag--!"

"--Yes, yes, whatever. I said I'm here on business. I don't care to quarrel with you."

Although the knight's stance relaxed slightly, the sword was no less wary, its persisting glow captured in the frog's narrowed eyes. "Speak what thy mean, and explain thineself now, if that is thy business."

Magus cleared his throat and began to stroll about the homely quarters. "As you can guess, I found a gate. Or, you might say, a gate found me."

"How--?"

"--I'm looking for the one..." He dropped his voice. "...or ones, be it as it may..." He paused to stamp on a hapless cockroach or two, as if it were sport. "...responsible for these gates. I was going to ask if you had anything relevant to share with me. Information, perhaps...?"

"And ye accosted me for this end? Thou must be in error. As one may plainly see, I dwell here in isolation. I know little--"

"--Not even from your little excursions to the castle?"

A subtle, leery squint. "I know not what thou'rt insinuating."

"Oh, come now, old friend," said the wizard, his tone's bitter irony milking the frog's denial. "I think we've been through too much together to keep up some of these old charades. It's not as if I blame you. That queen of yours is quite the catch."

A satisfied smirk crossed the Magus's features as the frog received the implications like a cuff to the chin. The flash of alarm cleared as swiftly as a bolt of lightning when the amphibian's wits regrouped with an indignant croak.

"If thou think ye knowst me, thou shouldst think again. If thou wouldst suggest anything... unchivalrous to my name, thou wouldst find thyself mistaken further! Who dost thou think ye are, coming hither, intruding on my good home, slandering my dear friends and my queen!? If ye think I won't be incited to defend either's honor on these grounds, thou must verily be mad!"

That said, the Masamune was ready and bared yet again.

"Ah, aha, ahahaha." It was a hollow, mocking laugh, void of mirth. Magus leisurely rolled his shoulders and headed for the ladder's exit. "You haven't changed a bit. You're too easy, as always. Thanks for the food and show, but if you don't have anything useful to tell me, I'm gone."

Magus had nearly cleared the bushes capping the hideout when a guttural rattle harkened him back.

"Halt! Wizard!"

He shuffled out of the brush and yielded the way to the frog, who stumbled out of his lair, the Masamune in his grasp, if sheathed now. Frog's gaze bounced through the foliage, uneasy either from a bout of indecision or the abrupt daylight. He readied a breath and pinned the wizard with a determined expression.

"Thou'rt questing? I shall accompany thee."

An awkward silence ensued in which the wizard was finally nonplussed by the entreaty. He scrutinized the earnest frog with a squished mask that he had not employed since, since... well, since Lucca.

"You're joking."

"I jest not. If there be gates anew, there must be some scheme at work! If thou are not responsible, as thine visit hither evidenced, some other must be accounted! I am compelled to seek the truth, as ye are."

Magus groaned into his glove. "No. You're not. I'm not taking on any more baggage."

"A hindrance, thou thinks me?!"

"Were you ever not?"

"Say that much to the Masamune, fiend! Unless thine memory is loose-footed..."

Magus scowled. "Look, you insolent little toad, just because you got lucky that one fight--"

"One fight? The nerve!"
"Totally bogus."


Both frog and wizard shrank from the detached voices squeaking in couplets.

"Not just that one time, o' most omnipotent pain-in-the-ass."
"Yeah, we kicked your ass plenty after that little fiasco in the Ocean Palace, too."


A familiar ring to them clued Frog to their source. "Ah! The Masamune speaks!"

This would have been a striking revelation if it was not already known to both parties that the Masamune's mystical power was owed to its twin possessing sprites, respectively Masa and Mune.

Masa and Mune were anomalies, even in a world that sported flying magic kingdoms and time warps. Although they lived with humans, they were suspiciously otherworldly--of another age, even. They made no effort to disguise their alien ways, but rather assimilated themselves into their cultural habitat, and made their identities after their acquaintances. Apparently their collection of acquaintances stretched broadly across history, for they were, via such, a compilation of human habits over the scattered epochs. They were a discrete function of society that mimicked and admired mankind, yet refused to adhere to all of man's ways or restrict their manners to the mortal trappings of vanity and selfishness. They reasoned and figured collectively, or generally, with reference to the history of the entire world, not just a fleeting sect or passing dynasty.

They were advocates of human virtues, and only the purest. They were bound vassals to the wielder of their blade (aptly dubbed the Masamune by the legendary smith, Melchior) and only a "chosen one" could weather their trials and claim the sacred sword. The brothers were finicky in their choice, for a test of strength alone was never enough. It was righteous courage that the two sought in their warriors, and only to hearts that could shine in battle would they yield their services. The hero's determination, guided by their intelligence and magic, wrought awesome results.

Given that their raw power was no longer in play, perhaps of greatest interest to Frog in his most recent, secluded years was the brothers' mastery of languages, especially dialects. Between the two they composed and dispensed a score of idioms that ran the gamut of ages and was extraordinarily out of their place and time. In conversation they could be at once archaic and sophisticated, and then course and obscure. Many such discourses were as private and unfathomable as machine code; eavesdroppers were lost in the chorus before the song even began.

Their conversation had provided an entertaining distraction throughout Frog's lonely days, which was one more reason the knight was reluctant to return the sacred blade to its resting grounds, even after it had long since served its mission against Lavos.

Magus could care less for interruptions. "What did you say??" he snarled at the sword, which Frog had taken out to examine for himself. It was fiercely bright, the dreamstone alloy pulsing with the response's every syllable.

"I can't believe the nerve of this guy."
"Yeah, know your place, bitch."


"What?!" Offense aroused, Magus considered drawing his scythe.

"Soft, spirits!" Frog spoke, pacifying the scurrilous pair. "Mind not the Magus."

"Aw, but--!"
"He's right, brother."
"What?"
"Don't go spoiling our chance to have another adventure!"
"...Fine. We'll leave him alone."
"For now."
"This time!"
"Yeah! We'll bust some caps next time."
"Totally."
"Word."


The sword's radiance died, its sentience recalled. Frog sheathed it and, as if it had spoken enough on his behalf, turned to Magus with an expectant look.

Magus frowned down his nose at the diminutive knight and his talking weapon. After a condescending lull, he glanced aside and harrumphed. "You know, without that sword you're nothing."

Frog's intent was steadfast. He didn't budge to retort. The Magus ruffled his cloak, wrapping it around him like a shield, and turned away, starting down the forest trail.

"Go. Get your armor. I'm heading out. If you're coming along... that's your affair."

---
Despite the risk of never finding her way back again, Lucca combed through Magus's castle. She had a keen memory that was decidedly useful at more than reassembling dismantled house appliances and the mechanical bloopers she liked to call inventions; her mind easily mapped and tracked her progress through the meandering passageways.

There was no food. Anywhere. That dark, cynical voice told her she shouldn't have been surprised. While the rest of keep was relatively untouched and well kempt, the pantries, kitchen, and food stores she found had that lovely "ransacked and looted" look. She entertained the possible reasons for this while searching for something remotely useful.

Ozzie probably put leftover rations at the top of his grocery list when he picked up his forces and moved to a fort on an island to the east, shortly after Magus's "defeat." She and her friends only had to face the mystic general a grand total of thrice to conclude that he was an incompetent glutton. The barren storages could also (and more simply) be imputed to later raids on the abandoned castle by disenfranchised mystics or rouge thieves. Then again, the suspicious pellets she discovered near the emptied sacks of grain suggested rats were just as likely suspects.

She eventually stumbled into an inner courtyard, its quilted masonry lately overrun by moss and vines. Open to the sky's bathing glow, it felt like a hallowed, peaceful sanctuary amid a dungeon crawling with spectres. As tempting as repose in the garden was to the weary girl, the white sheet waving to her from a clothesline near the well reminded her that even if Magus was AWOL there was still someone waiting on her, yet.

A couple hours' scouring brought her back to the room with a bottled healing tonic, a flask of liquor, a bucket of well water and the vestiges of a bed sheet, shredded for bandages. With the nigh-paralyzing effect of the heckran's poison, Crono could do little more than grunt appreciatively while his friend took off his shirt and tunic and dressed his wounds.

The Sun crawled into its pit in the West, yielding to the legions of the night and its foreman, the Dusk. Indigo and Ivory Winds seeped from the nap of the earth and claimed the cool dark, while the Pearls and Reds retreated to the sea.

Still no sign of Magus.

Lucca sat on the floor, trying to find a comfortable spot against the side of the bed while watching the better part of daylight recede from the room's only window. She was knackered. There was nothing particularly arduous about the past day (that she hadn't dealt with or beat up before, that is), but waiting for hours in anxiety could do as much to whittle down one's stamina as a full-fledged brawl.

The floor was solid and undesirably clammy. She wished the room Magus had selected for them had another bed. Perhaps some of the adjacent rooms did, but those doors were locked, she learned, and even if they weren't... she didn't want to be apart from her friend any more than she had to be, especially in his enfeebled state.

She tried to relax, falling back against the edge of the mattress, which neatly cushioned her neck. With a tired sigh she listlessly observed the dawning stars from her jailbird vantage point, her mind for once entirely wiped clear.

Pouncing on the opportune lapse of thought, her stomach loudly announced its own emptiness. "Ahh..." she moaned and rubbed her eyes, exasperated. Nothing, nothing, no food anywhere, Ozzie and rats be damned. She couldn't remember the last time she was this hungry--actually, wait--the future could.

That was another adventure. The future had gone up in smoke, so-to-speak. That was where and when they learned of Lavos--Crono, and Marle, and she. That was when and where they decided that it was--by virtue of finding and knowing the timegates--/their/ destiny to make right of things. To fix history. To kill Lavos.

That wasn't so long ago, was it? Three years can feel like a long time. It did to Lucca. And now, here was something else. More gates. More adventure? Would it be like last time?

She might know, if Magus ever came back. He was always a royal pain-in-the-ass, taking off whenever he wished. Even during their old quest his alliance to Crono's party was threadbare, at best. As long as there was a mutual interest, the wizard was there. Lavos was the object of their contract last time, but now? The Gate Key was her only link to the deal. She had it with her, still, which was something else amazing about the wizard, considering he had the will and means to take it anytime, despite her bluffs. Lucca was beginning to strongly suspect that he wasn't interested in the key at all, but she had yet no supporting theories to explain his appearance in her room, just this morning.

Her belly growled again. Seeking distraction from hunger, her gaze fell from the lofty window to the small table beneath and its gruesome candle. She didn't remember finding any matches during her walk-through, although she scolded herself for not keeping an eye out for some. It would be nice if she could...

She broke into a quiet, ironic chuckle and slapped her own forehead. Right! It would be nice to have some matches, because then she could light the candle! It's not like she knows fire magic or anything--what else can a girl do??

She then heard her own laughter return to her and cringed. The haunted silence of Magus's castle was starting to wear on her nerves. Getting a grip on some stable thoughts, she pulled herself to her knees and hobbled over to the table, eager to test a spell. It had been a while since she had practiced her magic; she wouldn't lie and say she wasn't rusty. This considered, she had trepidations about experimenting here and /now/; if she failed, it'd either be too much or too little, and she wasn't interested in reducing the whole damn stand to ashes.

Lucca set her elbows on the tabletop, held out her hands, squared the candle's wick in her sights, and focused.

'fire fire fire fire fire Fire Fire...'

To her startled delight a puff of flame issued from her fingers that swept the target with a tiny, hollow whoosh and razed some wax clean from the wick, painting the wall beyond with melted red sprinkles. She recoiled from her success with a yelp that, coupled with the magic's flash, brought Crono back from sleep with a likewise outburst. He bolted upright and scanned the room wildly, panting to catch his breath as if he had been jarred from an engaging nightmare.

Lucca felt immediately guilty. She had given him the potion she found to drink hours ago, and thereafter determined it was a sleeping draught. It would have been the perfect panacea, had she not just been an idiot and ruined it. "Sorry! Sorry. Oh, geez. I didn't mean to wake you, I mean..."

She glanced aside and noticed her pet project, neatly aflame. "Um, look! Magic," she sheepishly gestured to the lit candle, as if this change of subject could rectify her folly.

Crono, put at some ease by the reality of it, returned a bemused grimace. That's nice.

That was the best he could respond before his eyes glazed once more and he doubled over, turning away with a loud cry.

"Crono?!" She sprang onto the side of the bed, reaching hesitantly for him. "Are you okay??"

There's that stupid question again. Why don't you ask him how that poison's feeling? It should be setting in deep by now...

He threw his head back with a miserable howl, the painful pitch knotting Lucca's stomach and setting off hysteria. She pressed her stricken friend for a response, gingerly brushing his shoulder. "Hey, hey! Let me help! What can I do??"

Nothing, really. Just watch him suffer.

'Shut up!' It was detrimental to her sanity to entertain the voice by replying to it, but more urgent concerns were at hand. The boy was convulsing with agony, the poison's brutal lashes being dealt to his sore body with every breath. He kicked the near wall and then slumped against it, growling and whimpering like something feral.

"Crono...!" she tried again, her voice strained. Was she going to cry? No, no way, crying's for little girls she was grown up now and this was no time to cry it wouldn't help--

It was sudden, but then so smooth and easy, like falling, which was precisely what she thought he had done. It took a second to realize that he had leaned over and grabbed her, holding her closely. She stiffened, alarmed, and didn't venture to move for a long minute, feeling and hearing only his strong arms wrapped snugly around her, the furious pounding of his heart, the short, tight gasps of his breath... Though his skin felt hot and damp, his entire being trembled as with chills, or a great strife repressed... or both.

Lucca felt terrible about the whole mess, as if she were the very heckran to strike him, even though that other voice told her better. Logic dictated that she had no reason to feel responsible, but for once in her life she couldn't listen. She swallowed the lump that had lodged in her throat, allowing awkward feelings to dissolve with it and a peculiar relief to wash through her. She loosed the air caged in her lungs and melted into his hold, looping her hands around his back and resting her head on his good shoulder.

"It's okay," she murmured. "I know it hurts... I'm sorry."

Then, in a desperate, pale rasp, nearly inaudible:

"Stay with me... don't go."

One of these days, when she wasn't on the spot like so, Lucca wanted to tell Crono that she loved the sound of his voice, but she feared that doing so would invite him to use it more often, thereby ruining its special effect.

"I... I won't." She took a shaky breath and wrung the tail of his white bandana between her fingers. Why was she fidgeting? Why did she feel so strange? "I won't."

It was on that vow that she stayed up with him, for however long it was, until the poison's grip began to ebb, Crono's fever broke, and both kids succumbed to exhaustion.

---
Midnight. The time was now. He answered her call.

"Heckran?"

"Yes, my lady!"

"Are all your forces in position? Is everything ready?"

"Of course! Everything is according to plan. Operation Tritoch is ready when you are, my lady."

"Good... Proceed."

---
Lucca's last conscious moments were disputably foggy. A glimpse of the candle proved only that enough time had passed to drain the better half of the wax into the skull's eye sockets.

Although sleep beckoned, she couldn't help but feel particularly uncomfortable--not that she wasn't in a cozy spot (for she certainly was), but some nagging taboo wouldn't have her sharing a bed with Crono, no matter how innocent the pretext.

What was this modesty, all of a sudden? She never had any reservations before. They used to take naps together all the time, as far ago as primary school.

There was an element of self-preservation back then, though. The more she hid behind him the farther back the bullies stayed. From the day they first met he was always chivalrous towards her that way, and never complained. Though she was at first wary of boring him with her company, in time she dared to think that he enjoyed spending time with her, especially in rest.

Through the weary night in the castle she never mustered the heart to throw him off. He was in such pain, he clung to her like a life preserver. Even when the toxin's torment began to dissipate and he could relax to lie down, he didn't release his dear friend, still. She wasn't sure what he was thinking (or if he was thinking, given the delirium), but if "teddy bear" was her role for the night, so be it. Somehow, resting in his arms, feeling the warmth of his breath in her hair... it brought back something. Something about her childhood she didn't even realize she missed.

...lazy afternoons... singing jaybirds... lying under the birch tree, sleeping... together...

what's that sound?

He...was...always...so...strong... he...protected...me... makes...me... feel...

footsteps...? very quiet... too quiet...

safe...

getting closer...

...it feels so good to be watched over....by an angel...

If Lucca had stayed awake a moment longer, she would have seen the demon.
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