Crono and his companions challenged everything in order to save the future. Still, they were only one group of adventurers to travel the sea of time. Now a new group of heroes have their own challe...
Flare dropped his silverware onto the table and sighed with contentment. "Wow Lara, your cooking never fails to impress."
"Why thank you, Flare. It's always nice to have your cooking complimented," Taban's wife said smiling.
"Yes, thanks for the meal, Lara," Tai added as he too finished.
Gina who had finished some time before was mildly impressed with the amount of food that her two friends could eat. It was a good thing that Lara had cooked a surplus amount of food. While Taban had also gone for seconds, Flare and Tai had finished up six helpings between the two of them.
"How can you two eat that much without getting sick?" Gina asked in amazement.
Taban gave a hearty laugh and slapped Flare on the shoulder. "Growing boys!" he announced, "I remember when I was their age, not that it was too long ago, I could eat my parents out of house and home."
"Well, at least you guys shouldn't be hungry again until sometime next week," Gina said with a laugh.
"Or at least until dinner," Flare compromised.
After the meal Flare and Tai insisted that Lara let them do the dishes. After a bit of resisting she agreed to let them help her out. Taban had already gone back to work on the camera and Gina wrapped the remaining leftovers in foil and sat them inside the fridge.
"Taban, I almost forgot. Do you have any of that shampoo left? My mother was wanting to buy a couple bottles of it from you." Gina said as she sat the last foil covered plate into the fridge.
Taban, who was just as good with inventing formulas and chemicals as he was at inventing machines, thought for a moment and then pointed to a large bookshelf that was full of various bottles and cans, "Yeah, there should be a bottle or two left on that shelf."
"Thanks," she replied rummaging through the various containers in search of the right one.
"Wait, not that one, Gina," he said as she picked up a small red bottle. "That stuff is designed to kill hair at the roots. It makes you go bald and stay bald. Wouldn't want to give a bottle of that to your mom."
"That would be bad," she agreed, finally picking a green bottle that had the words 'Vitamin Shampoo' written on it. "Is this it?" she asked showing him the bottle.
He glanced up from the camera just long enough to check out the bottle, "Yep, that looks like the right one."
Flare who had been listening to the conversation turned his head so he could look at the red bottle of hair killing solution. "What on earth would possess you to make something that makes you go bald permanently," he asked, "Who would even want to use something like that?"
"Well, your friend and mentor Refla for one," Taban replied, "Sometimes people just like the 'no hair' hair style. And sometimes shaving your head everyday can be a real pain."
"You'll never catch me using that stuff," said Flare returning to the dishes.
Tai nodded his head in agreement then said with a chuckle, "But I can't really imagine old Refla with hair. Can you Flare?"
Flare laughed too. He had the fleeting mental image of their fierce teacher with a head full of curly blond locks. Come to think of it, neither Flare nor Tai had ever seen Refla with hair. From the first time they met the grizzly looking man he had been completely bald. He didn't even have hair on his eyebrows. When his students had asked him about it he told them it was to add to the fierceness of his appearance.
Not that he needed to look any fiercer. The man was covered from head to toe with battle scars. The first time that the two boys had seen him with his shirt off they had gasped in shock. He had nearly a hundred crisscrossing scars covering his upper body. The fact that he had sustained so many injuries and survived was evidence of the man's toughness.
After all the dish washing was finished Flare and Tai bid their friends goodbye. It was early afternoon and Refla had been training them harder than ever in the recent months.
"I think I'll stay and visit a while longer," Gina decided.
"Okay, see you later Gin," Flare said giving her a quick kiss goodbye. Then he and Tai started the journey back to Truce.
The man sat beside a small grove of old elms, using their shade to keep cool in the midsummer sun. He watched the two boys leave the house. One of them had wild and messy red hair; the other had short brown hair. These two had accompanied the girl into the house earlier that very day. In fact they seemed to accompany her almost everywhere she went.
It mattered not. Nothing that they could do would be able to stop him if he chose to kill the both of them, but for the time being he had no desire for either of their deaths. All that he wanted was the girl. She was the Key. A shiver of excitement ran down his spine as he thought of how far he had come. How very close he was! All of his planning and studying would pay off very soon.
The two boys passed in front of him, not twenty feet away. He didn't hide though. There was no need to hide when one could make oneself invisible.
Blankets of sweat dropped from Flare's brow. Despite their efforts to show up for practice on time he and Tai had been late, and showing up late for training meant only one thing to old Refla. It meant that you must feel guilty about not being able to tell time. So guilty that you would want to train especially hard to make up for your guilt.
Flare's whole body began to shake as he forced it to do another sit up. All of his muscles were resisting, but Flare had long since learned that you can make your muscles listen. You could go past the point of exhaustion, and past your physical limit, once you've learned to command your muscles and make them listen.
His body continued to shake as his weary muscles lifted him into a sitting position yet again. How many sit ups had he done already? He had stopped counting around one hundred. Was he at a hundred and fifty? Two hundred? And all of this was preceded by the pushups, the pull-ups, leg squats, knee bends, jumping jacks, and all the other exercises that Refla could dream up. He was now regretting the large lunch that had seemed so good earlier.
"That's enough! Stop!" boomed the voice of their mentor, trainer, and most recently, tormentor.
Flare gave a huge sigh of relief as his body thudded unceremoniously back to the ground. His muscles burned. Not just some of his muscles, but all of his muscles. His arms burned, his legs burned, his lungs burned, and everything in between seemed to burn. A glance to his right conformed that Tai was just as burnt out as he was.
"The two of ye can stand up now. I think ye're over yer guilt," Refla said.
"Yes sir," both Flare and Tai chanted weakly as they struggled to their feet.
The stern and scarred warrior looked over his two students as they stood, wobbly legged, before him. "Now why'd ye have to go and forget how to tell time?"
This was the usual question. He always asked it after one of his 'Guilt-be-Gone' training sessions. It meant 'Why were you late'.
"We were...we were at...," Flare started to say through his labored breathing.
"At where?" Refla asked as his student tried to catch his breath.
"...At Taban's house," Flare finished.
"Doing?" prompted the curious trainer.
"He was...sh-showing us...his new invention," stammered Tai, who was breathing just as hard has his friend's was.
"Calls it...a...a camera," put in Flare.
A strange emotion briefly flashed through Refla's face at the mention of the camera before saying, "Showed me the damn thing too. Flash nearly blinded me."
Despite their current state of exhaustion both Flare and Tai managed a good laugh at that. "Us too," said Flare.
Refla glanced up at the sun, gauging its position and deciding that it was about five o'clock. "Might as well come in for a bit. I'll cook dinner and we'll have a bite to eat." With that the rough and tough sword master walked into his house.
There was roughly an hour of good daylight left when the girl finally left the inventor's house and started the walk back to Truce. The man in the small grove of elms was once again taken by shivers of excitement. The day had arrived! The hour had arrived! Now he would start his quest, a quest that would begin with this girl. This girl who was the Key.
His face broke into a wide lunatic's smile as she continued to approach him. As she continued to approach her fate.