Categories > Games > Chrono Trigger

Silk Shackle

by JadeDixon 0 reviews

After the Ocean Palace disaster, Schala is thrown into a strange land. The healing process is slow however, and she must find the strength to survive on her own. (Original CT canon only.)

Category: Chrono Trigger - Rating: PG - Genres: Angst,Drama - Characters: Schala - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2010-09-01 - Updated: 2010-09-01 - 12530 words - Complete

Disclaimer: I don't own Chrono Trigger, nor do I pretend that I do. Even if I did, the army of lawyers that would come after me would make me change my mind. Chrono Trigger is the property of SquareEnix.

Note: This draws solely from the original Chrono Trigger canon. Radical Dreamers and Chrono Cross are not taken into consideration. Nor is the new DS ending.

Silk Shackle
A Chrono Trigger Fanfiction
By Jade Dixon

Last Revised: June 2004

She collapsed to her knees and sobbed into her hands. Never before had Schala Zeal felt so utterly alone. Her heart still ached from the loss of Crono; a red-haired boy she had hardly known. Yet he had sacrificed his life to save her's, and his those of his friends; a rare act of kindness in a world she had learned to be full of cruelty.

The floor shook violently in reaction to Lavos' presence, and magic, dark and beautiful, sang through the air, disrupting the space-time continuum and opening Gates at random. In her despair, Schala never even noticed the Gate opening beneath her until it was too late.

When her passage finished, she found herself in a land strange to her eyes. The distance of the clouds indicated that she was on the Lower Lands, yet she could see the blue sky, and there wasn't any snow to be seen. Green grass grew all around her, a vast mixture of vegetation as far as she could see, just like it had in Zeal. She felt lost and bewildered, unsure of what had happened. She looked around, turning in circles, until at last her eyes caught sight of a village in the distance. Destination set in mind, she began to walk.

It was early evening when she finally arrived at the town, and her eyes took in these strange people. Men, women, and children, all going about their business, and not a drop of magic in any of them. Part of her heart felt joy, for obviously if these people could get by without magic, then so could the Earthbound. Yet another part of her heart was worried; did the lack of anybody with magic indicate that people with it were unwelcome? Or was it simply that magic was unknown in this land?

If Schala thought that these people were strange, then they thought she was even stranger. Their eyes took in this young girl with blue hair (uncommon, but not unheard of), in a expensive looking lavender gown, with an copper silk scarf keeping her long hair up in a high pony-tail, and a pendant made of a strange stone adorning her neck; walking into their town at the end of the day without an escort, looking like her entire world had come crashing down around her. Perhaps she was a Lady from the Guardian Court who had been ambushed while travelling?

An old man, with a thick white moustache approached her, leaning on his cane heavily. "Are you quite alright, m'dear?" he asked her with genuine concern in his voice, squinting a little as his aged eyes tried to focus.

Schala looked at the man, a bit startled. How long had it been since someone had asked after her condition? Most likely since Melchior had been banished to Mount Woe. She noticed that many of the nearby villagers seemed to be taking an interest in the exchange, and realized that she hadn't answered the man yet.

"I... I am not quite sure, sir," she stuttered. "I... believe that I might be a little lost..." she trailed off, looking towards the ground, her shoulders hunching over in exhaustion.

"Tha's a right shame, m'dear," the old man consoled. "Terrible thing teh happen to a nice girl, such as yerself," he went on."This 'ere's the town of San Dorino, southeast of Zenan Bridge."Taking in her confused stare, he decided the girl needed some rest before she could find her bearings. "If yeh don't have aplace to stay yet, me an' meh wife would be only too happy to let ya spend the night," he offered.

Schala, who had looked up so as not to be rude while he was talking, looked down at the ground again, clasping her hands at her waist and wringing them together. "I would not want to impose upon your hospitality," she murmured quietly, still unused to such kindness. A part of her kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Nonsense!" the old man chuckled, "We'd be only too pleased ta have yeh stay. 'Sides, the missus would have me head if she knew I'd let a lost young lady wander around without a place teh stay."

"If you are certain it would not be a burden..." Schala trailed off, looking towards the side. Her hands stopped wringing themselves together, though.

"Let's be off, then!" he assured her, and began leading her through the town. As they walked, he would point out places of interest, such as the bakery, city hall, the shoe repair shop, and all the other sorts of locations that a person would need to know about if they were staying somewhere for a while. She listened attentively out of respect, and although part of her was glad to have met such a kind gentleman, she was tired, and would have liked nothing better than to have had a chance to think quietly.

Eventually they reached the man's house, and he led her in, calling out, "Mara! Mara, we have a guest!"

An elderly woman stepped out of the kitchen and into the main room of the house. "A guest, did you say, Nat?" taking in the rich-looking girl behind her husband, she raised an eyebrow.

"The poor girl's lost, and in need o' a place to stay the night'til she can get 'er bearings. Seein' as how we gots nobody in the guest bedroom at the moment, I offered 'er the night's lodging."

Schala had expected by this point that 'Nat's' wife would tell her she was unwelcome, and so she was surprised when the woman merely nodded and said, "S'only proper." She then proceeded to put her hands on her hips and glare at her husband. "Aren't ya gonna make any introductions, Nat? And step out of the doorway, for the Omen's sake. Ya'll be makin' her think she's unwelcome!"She pushed her husband further into the house, and put a motherly arm around Schala's bent shoulders. "You come inside now, and we'll get somethin' warm in ya; then we can look into gettin' ya cleaned up."

She led Schala into the next room in the small house, the kitchen, and sat her down at the table. "My name's Mara, and in case my husband forgot to introduce himself, as I suspect he has, his name's Naten. We're the Lobar's." Mara started to putter around the kitchen, determined to give their guest a good meal.

"My... my name is..." she hesitated. Would they recognize her name? Or had they never heard of Zeal in this strange land?Should she try to use an alias? 'No,' she thought to herself.'If my family and my kingdom has done wrong by these people, then I will take whatever punishment they see fit. It will be my atonement for not being able to stop Mother.' She took a deep breath and finished her introduction, "Schala. Schala Zeal."She waited for their reaction.

Nat, who had followed the two women into the kitchen, cocked his head to the side thoughtfully. "Zeal, huh? Sounds foreign."

Mara sent a scolding glare at her husband. "I think it's alovely name, dear. 'Schala'..." she trailed off, then giggled abit. "An exotic name for an exotic look." She gave the princess an appraising look. "Yes, we're just going to have teh beat the boys off ya once we get yeh cleaned up a bit." She plopped abowl of stew and some bread in from of the blue-haired girl."Eat up now. You look like yeh haven't had a decent meal in some time."

Schala, meanwhile, was quite flustered. 'Beat the boys off?' she thought to herself, blushing. Yes, in Zeal, many had compared her favourably to her mother, but Mother had always kept her busy with the Mammon Machine project, so there had never been time for anything else. None had approached her anyways, so she was a bit startled by the assessment. 'Wait, does this mean they believe Iwill be around for a while?' she wondered, unsure of what her place was here.

She absentmindedly picked at the soup, eating little. Mara was right, it had been a long while since she had had a decent meal, and so she didn't have much of an appetite. In the Queen's demented mindset during the last few weeks, as the completion of that Ocean Palace drew near, breaks for food and rest were weaknesses that were only occasionally tolerated. In fact, she found that she could eat no more after only half the soup and afew bites of the bread had made their way to her stomach.

Mara, who had been watching the girl closely promptly took away the half-finished dish and ushered to girl upstairs to their spare bedroom. "You can rest 'ere fer a bit while I gets a bath drawn up fer ya. Then we'll get ya in teh some fresh clothes and ya can get a bit of rest. Shouldn't be too long now. Back in abit." And then Mara bustled out to get things ready.

Schala surveyed the room. It was small, a bed in the corner, anightstand with a candle lit to fend off the darkness, and a tiny armoire for clothes. It was obviously not in regular use from the lack of personal markers. She wondered if it had once belonged to Mara and Naten's children, if they had any. Their house was small, but cozy, with only the kitchen and family room downstairs, and the two bedrooms and a small room for washing upstairs. She sat down on the bed to wait for Mara to return, and tried not to think about what had happened; it was just too confusing. Before she knew it, she had laid back on the bed, and then pulled her legs up and curled her arms and head around the pillow. Her eyes began to drift closed, 'Just for a small rest,'she told herself.

Mara woke her up when she returned, smiling kindly at her. "'M so sorry to wake yeh up, little one," she spoke gently,"'Specially since ya looks like you could use the rest, but you'll feel much better for a clean-up, mark my words."

Schala was confused by this woman, her manner incomprehensible at that moment. Why was she not being scolded? She did not have time for something as luxurious as a bath; Mother would be upset enough that she had slacked in her duties and fallen asleep. Then memory returned with a rush, and she sat up quickly, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. Mother would never be upset with her again. This was Mara, who was letting her stay at her house, and whom she had been rude towards by falling asleep while waiting for her to finish getting her a bath.

"I am very sorry I fell asleep, Mara," Schala began thickly. Her throat felt like it had been stuffed with cotton, and she thought she might be on the verge of tears. No, no, not allowed to cry, must not disappoint Mother by being weak... The thought was borderline hysterical and obsolete; she pushed it down harshly, as she did with her tears. By Zurvan, her thoughts were muddled, and when was the last time she had been able to sleep? And it had felt so wonderful for those few brief minutes... "That was very rude, when you were doing me a favour..." she trailed off, without enough energy to keep up a conversation.

Mara looked a bit worried, but she still had the kind smile on her face, like she was trying to sooth a wounded animal that might flee at any moment. "S'alright, m'dear," she assured, putting her arm around Schala to help her stand. "Yeh obviously needed it, and ya can sleep teh yer heart's content once ya get yerself cleaned up. I'll have some clothes ready fer ya once ya get out."

As she talked she manoeuvred the tired girl out of the room, down the short hall, and into the washing room, chattering about adress she had from her youth that would fit Schala to a tee. The small room was dominated by the tub that was filled with steaming water. There was a chair next to the tub that seemed to be used for a table to place clothes and towels and a hook from which alantern hung to provide light. There was only a small window high on the wall over the bath.

Mara stepped away from Schala to let the girl get undressed. She removed her pendant first, and then her earrings. She pulled her ruined dress over her head carelessly as there was little hope for mending it now. Her underclothes were dealt with quickly, and finally her hand drifted up to the scarf holding her hair in place. It was the symbol of the Princess of Zeal, like the Crown was the symbol of the Queen. Had the Heir to the throne been aprince, he would have worn a copper headband around his forehead. Zeal was, if not destroyed, then far, far away, but she still removed it reverently, giving it the respect she had always been taught it deserved.

Cautiously she stepped into the bath and sighed with pleasure as felt it begin to take away her pains. Mara quickly bundled up her clothes. "I'll have that dress fer ya in a moment, little one," she informed the princess. "I'll put yer undamaged things in yer room, and try teh mend the rest." She swept out of the room. Schala sunk deeper into the water, and let her muscles relax. Her mind was a whirlwind, always revolving around what happened in the Ocean Palace. Mara returned with clothes and towels and placed them on the chair.

"The dirt won't come off itself, y'know," she said with a grin."You should try the soap, does wonders." Schala blinked tiredly before realizing she had just been sitting there instead of trying to get the dirt off. She blushed.

"Please, stay," she whispered. "I... I could use the company, if it is not a bother..." Her plea was insecure. Schala, what are you doing? I need your help here! She pushed the memory away. She didn't want to think of that now. What she needed now was Mara's kindness. She needed the concern she had seen in the woman's eyes when she had seen the burns on her skin, when she had noticed that the edges of all the tears in the dress were charred, when she had observed how little she had eaten, and how weary she was. She needed that like she needed air to breathe and water to drink. She feared that it would come at a cost too high for her to bear. But Mara just gave her another of her kind grandmotherly smiles and sat down on the chair, moving its contents to her lap. As Schala washed off the dirt on her body, Mara chatted on about events in the town from the past few years.

"The town was lucky enough teh be spared during most o' the war against Magus, but Nat served in the Guardian Army for the last few years 'til the war ended. It was a nice start to the century fer it to end when it did."

A historical reference point for this land! "When did the war start?" she asked quietly. Mara paused a moment before answering.

"I guess yeh was pretty young then. It started in the year 590, when Magus killed Sir Cyrus, though that wasn't discovered 'til much later. It's been three years since the war finished, but memory doesn't fade so quickly." She sighed. "Nat's knee still acts up from the injury he received." She shook her head sadly.

Schala ran this through her head. So this must be the year... 603? Obviously their calendar wasn't counted by the lives of their rulers. Nobody could live for six hundred years. 13,000 years in the future, war shall be waged between humans and monsters led by a human mage. It was one of the Prophet's prophecies, though deemed inconsequential at the time. Could she possibly be so far in the future? She wet her lips and asked hesitantly, "Is it true that Magus' army was made up of monsters?"

"Bloody Mystics," Mara grumbled. "Couldn't leave us well enough alone, now could they? As intelligent as humans, they claim. Some o' the more powerful ones could even make themselves look human. Nearly killed Queen Leene, so I've heard. Though they can't all be bad," she gave reluctantly. "Apparently the Queen's protector's a Mystic."

Sensing this was a bad topic, Schala searched for something else to talk about. "That doesn't look like the dress you were describing earlier..." It was pathetic, but Mara gratefully accepted the change in topic.

"The dress is hanging in yer room, but I decided ye'd like somethin' a bit more comfortable fer sleeping, eh? This is anightdress o' mine. It might be a bit big on yeh, but it'll keep ya decent for wandering the house if ya gets restless in the night, or somethin'. The outhouse is out back if the call of nature comes fer ya. Door out back is in the kitchen." Schala blushed a bit when she realized what Mara was talking about, but was grateful for the information. She finished cleaning herself and quickly got dressed in the nightdress. It was a bit big on her, but it had that comfortable feeling of something worn and well used. The comfort began to lull her into a half-doze, even as Mara led her back to her room so that she could get some real rest.

She hardly realized when she had climbed into bed, and once she had curled herself around the pillow again, she fell asleep instantly.

She dreamed.

A red-haired boy was having tea with Alfador, while Janus looked on, crying because no one was paying attention to him. Mother laughed with Melchior over something, while Gaspar made an omelette, and Belthasar picked some blueberries. Dalton had taken apart the Mammon Machine, trying to see how it worked, and was now struggling to piece it all back together. A lightening storm began, while Nat and Mara fought an army of monsters. The Prophet tried to talk with her, but the only sound that came out of his mouth was the howling of the black wind.

Suddenly, the lightening struck Schala, and she screamed as electricity coursed through her body.

"Schala, what are you doing? I need your help here!" her mother screamed. She wept. Wept because she was a worthless child, wept because her mother wouldn't help her through her pain, wept because that was all she knew how to do anymore. Tears flowed freely down her face, and suddenly she was drowning in her tears, or had the walls to the palace ruptured, and the ocean was swallowing them all?

Schala shifted in her sleep, and the dream changed, and still she slumbered.

It was the sound of children playing that finally woke her up.

She sat up suddenly, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, and wondering which foolhardy children dared to play so loudly in the palace, knowing the temper of the queen. Then she panicked because she didn't know what time it was, and she was sure she had overslept, and Mother was going to get so upset with her, and why hadn't someone been sent to wake her up? She began to scramble to get out of bed when she became aware of her surroundings. Her panic faded, leaving her body feeling shaky as the adrenaline also began to fade. Then the exhaustion hit her. At first, she struggled to stay awake, after all; she had slept the entire night through, which was much better than she could say about the recent past. But the ordeal she had been involved in caught up with her again, and she fell back into the embrace of sleep.

When she woke up again, it was mercifully without the sudden wave of panic she had felt the last two times. She stretched, luxuriating in the pull of her muscles, and finally got out of bed. She cleaned up quickly in the wash room, and then clothed herself in the dress that Mara had left out for her to wear. It was a brown woollen dress that reached her ankles. The arms were long, but cuffed at the end. It would take some time to get used to; her wrists felt restrained, and her ankles felt exposed, but she was extremely pleased with how well it fit. She left out her earrings, but put her pendant back on, feeling much safer with it within easy reach, and then began to brush her hair.

She closed her eyes and relaxed while doing it, smiling contentedly to herself. Schala had always enjoyed the rhythmic strokes of having a brush go through her hair, and it calmed her in a way that only the simple pleasures can. When she was done, she quickly used her scarf to tie her hair up in its usual ponytail, deftly tying the knot as she finished her routine.

Schala walked down the hallway towards the stairs, letting her mind drift, not in the thinking sense, but in the sense that it did nothing but take in the sensory information around her. There were no pressing concerns that she wanted to deal with at the moment. She quietly descended the stairs, and found Mara and Nat sitting in front of the fireplace in the main room of the house, chatting quietly to each other.

Mara looked up as the blue-haired girl reached the bottom of the staircase, and smiled at her, indicating for her to come over to where they were. "Are you feeling better now, little one?" she asked kindly, glad to see the other girl up, finally.

Schala nodded shyly as she came to sit on a chair between Mara and Nat. "Yes, thank-you. I appreciate your hospitality. I am truly sorry for imposing on you so much," she looked a bit ashamed at the last part.

"Nonsense," Nat spoke, a bit gruffly. "Wherever you comes from can't be to good a place if ya think yeh don't deserve a roof o'er yer head and food in yer belly." Mara sent him a glare and began to open her mouth, but he sent his own glare right back at her. "Don't you shush me, Mara! This here girl's been mistreated, an' you know that jus' as well as meself."

"That don't give us no right teh be puttin' our noses in where they ain't wanted, Nat! You..." but Mara never finished her sentence, because a sob had wrenched itself from the princess'throat. She stood up suddenly, and ran for the door, exiting the building in a hurry. She ran outside without thought for where she was going, all she knew was that she had to get away. Mistreated? How could she have been mistreated? She was the heir to the throne! She was a pampered princess! How could they think she had been mistreated? She was just worthless. She couldn't help Mother, she couldn't protect the Earthbound, and she couldn't save her brother or Crono. She couldn't do anything right!

There was a fountain in the centre of the town, and she collapsed next to it, placing her arms on the rim, and crying into them. What a terrible person she was, to make complete strangers think so ill of her home.

Eventually, Mara entered the town square and spotted her charge over by the fountain. Sighing with relief that her search had proved fruitful, she made her way over to where the girl was kneeling before the edge. She sat herself down on the rim, next to where Schala had her arms resting, and began to stroke the girl's hair soothingly. Her sobs gradually calmed down to ragged gasps, and the older woman began to speak. "We're sorry for upsetting you," she spoke softly. "We shouldn't have spoken ill of yer loved ones like that."

Schala sniffled once more and raised her head, shaking it gently while rubbing the last vestige of tears away from her face."No," she murmured. "It is my fault. I... I should not have let you think so ill of..." Mara cut her off abruptly.

"Balderdash! Don't be so foolish girl! Not ev'rythin's yer fault. It was our fault to judge without proof, and don't yeh dare take that blame on teh yerself," Mara scolded briskly. 'Not that I think we were wrong,' she added silently. "Now c'mon. Apretty thing such as yerself shouldn't let herself get so worked up. Let's get you back to the house where we can get some warm food into ya." She guided the distraught princess back to her feet, and led her back to their home. And she vowed to herself that if she ever met the people who had hurt this girl so badly, they would find her a force to be reckoned with.

And so, Mara led Schala home, and got her to eat a bit. Nat apologized, and they all argued a bit over whose fault it was, until Schala began to laugh a bit as the ridiculousness of the situation dawned on her. She bit it back quickly, having been told many times how improper it was to laugh so spontaneously like that, and hoping that her hosts didn't think her rude. Things began to settle down after that. She slept long and soundly for the next few nights before her body was finally satisfied, and her appetite gradually began to be healthy again.

As her body healed, so did her mind. She became a regular fixture around the Lobar's home, and around town, doing errands for the elderly couple. She often found herself running to complete her errands, a habit she had picked up in Zeal in order to keep up with her crazed mother's whims. She tried to accustom herself to walking again, but found that the distances seemed to crawl by when she merely walked somewhere. Eventually, seeing how running decreased the amount of time spent in transit and kept her in shape, she stopped trying to slow herself down, and ran for the joy of it. Of course, seeing the young woman, normally so proper and ladylike, running around town in a dress quickly became the talk of the town, and quickly made its way back to Mara's ears.

She laughed good-naturedly when she talked to Schala about it. The princess blushed in embarrassment at what she at first perceived to be a scolding. Then Mara looked the girl up and down.

"Well," she began. "There's no doubt about it. No matter how lady-like ya act, there's a bit of a tomboy hidin' inside ya. Let's see wha' we can do about gettin' ya some clothes better suited to physical activity," she suggested to the shocked princess with a joyous grin.

Which was how Schala found herself wearing a tunic and pants for the first time in her life. She revelled in the freedom it gave her, and Mara and Nat smiled at her childlike joy as she twisted to and fro, checking how it fit. Schala quickly adjusted to the different feel of them, and as she became more comfortable with her clothes, she also became more comfortable with herself. For the first time in her life, she didn't have the responsibilities of the heir to the throne, and it felt as if she were getting her first breath of fresh air after being smothered by a blanket. The princess was allowed to be herself for once, and she finally began to truly open up. Her laugh, while still rare, was no longer embarrassedly suppressed, and she would chat briefly with the other townsfolk while on errands for the Lobar's. Every now and again, she would even go out for the day, just to enjoy herself.

Several months after she had arrived, she placed her pendant in awooden box for storage. She didn't need it anymore, and it was really too fancy to wear casually. She put the box into the drawer of her nightstand, determined that she would cut this last link to her old life.

"Goin' out fer a walk again, dear?" Mara called absently from the kitchen as she stirred the stew she was making for supper.

Schala had walked sedately down the stairs, and was beginning to put on her boots. "Yes, Mara," she called back. She finished lacing them, and walked into the kitchen. "I'm feeling a bit restless this afternoon," she explained, "And I'd like to work it out of my system before the light fades." She walked over to the stove, and took a whiff of the air. "Mmm, that smells delicious. I'm not sure if I'll be back before it's ready though, could you save me some?"

Mara smiled motherly at the blue-haired girl, pleased at the request. When Schala had first arrived, she wouldn't have bothered asking, assuming it to be rude, or perhaps even just stayed home and suffered sleeplessly when night fell. After assuring the girl that there'd be some stew left for her when she got home, and seeing her out the door, Mara reflected at just how far the girl had come.

Meanwhile, Schala began a brisk walk to the outskirts of town, before slowing down to enjoy the scenery as she entered the fields. She was to the south of the town, and knew that farther down was Fiona's budding forest, and even farther was Porre, although she'd been to neither. Her destination was a small hill not too far away, where she could close her eyes and pretend she was still in Zeal.

She had promised herself that she wouldn't do this anymore. Every time that she came, she promised it would be the last. But then she'd begin to feel guilty, who was she to enjoy herself, when she had responsibilities she was neglecting? She should be trying to find a way home, not playing at being normal. Her mind knew that such thoughts were foolish, if she had no idea how she had arrived here, how could she have any idea how to get back?But her heart would begin to feel heavy, and she knew that if she didn't do something then she would just get depressed again.

So she always came back.

Eventually Schala reached her destination.

She stood on the highest point of the grassy field, on the slight rise in the ground. The wind swept gently around her, and she closed her eyes as her heart led her back to her home. Stray locks of her blue hair danced across her face. Absently, she tucked them behind her ear as she opened her eyes and tilted her face up to the sky in order to gaze at the clouds above her, clouds that were always too far away. Slowly, from behind her ear, her hand strayed to the copper scarf tied in her hair, the only thing she had kept wearing from her life in Zeal. Almost of its own volition, her hand deftly undid the knot keeping it in place. Grasping it lightly she brought it down to look at it blankly. It was the symbol of her obligation, of her slavery. A much more potent reminder of her life in Zeal than her pendant had ever been. She couldn't fathom why she hadn't found something else to keep her hair back. So many memories tied up in so simple an object.

She remembered: taking her vows as a child, trying to help the Earthbound, the Ocean Palace disaster...

...the fear on Janus' face as he was sucked into the dark vortex that had opened beneath him.

Still grasping the scarf lightly, she moved her arm until it was completely outstretched to her side. Tilting her head back towards the clouds again, she let go.

Perhaps she had unconsciously used her magic, or perhaps it was coincidence, but at exactly that moment the wind gained strength and carried it up and away. Her eyes snapped open in a momentary panic at its loss, until it set in.

It was over.

It should have been over the moment she had arrived in this new time period, or at least when she had put her pendant away, but by continuing to wear her scarf she had refused to let go. Only now was she was free from the chains that had bound her. Elation rose through her, and for one of those rare moments, she felt alaugh bubbling to her lips. A laugh of joy and happiness. She shielded her eyes from the glare of the setting sun with her hand as she followed the progress of the copper piece of material.

And yet, a mere moment later, tears began to stream from her eyes as her knees gave out and she slowly lowered herself to the ground. She may be free now, but at what cost? Her family, her home...

That brave boy Crono.

And suddenly she was lost again, as lost as when she had first arrived in this time period.

She may be free now, but she had also been set adrift.

It was late when she finally arrived back at the Lobar's, back/home/ her mind reminded her bittersweetly. All of her joy was tinged with bitterness now. She had given up her sense of responsibility that had caused her such grief, only to replace it with that bitter pill of loss. She hadn't been able to stop the tears once they had started, and eventually the silent stream had become muffled sobs, and then hysterical shrieks, until finally her tears dried, and her heart calmed, and she had watched the sun set with unseeing eyes. It was dark when she finally reached San Dorino again, and she had silently made her way back to her sanctuary.

She entered the house and began to take off her boots, before finding the effort involved in bending over was far too much, and simply sat down with a quiet thump in the entryway. She stared accusingly at her boots, as if they were at fault, and eventually decided that it wasn't worth it trying to get them off. 'In fact,' she thought distantly as she allowed herself to collapse the rest of the way onto her back, 'It isn't even worth it trying to get up.' Schala's mind finally shut down, exhausted. That's where Nat and Mara found her the next morning.

The bowl of stew, left in the kitchen, was forgotten.

Nat was worried.

Mara was upset.

Schala was feeling rather apathetic.

She ate when Mara brought her food, she bathed when Mara brought her to the bath room, she sat in front of the fire if Mara brought her down, but she didn't do anything without being prompted. She wouldn't have done anything at all, but it was easier to do what she was asked than to fight against it. She kept remembering her mother, Janus, Crono, the Mammon Machine; it all just kept cycling in her head, and she couldn't figure out what she wanted to do about it.

Mara tried desperately to get her to talk about what had happened, but Schala wasn't having any of it. She just sat and stared at the wall.

"Were yeh mugged?" she had asked when Schala had woken up the next day. "I noticed yer hair scarf's missing..." But Schala had just shaken her head, and refused to answer any questions. This left the older couple frustrated, but they didn't want to press her, hoping she would open up to them if given enough time.

After a week of waiting, they finally decided it was time to take a different tack. When Schala had first arrived, they had speculated endlessly about where she had come from. From the way she carried herself, they decided she was either nobility or raised to marry into nobility. They also gathered that her family had mistreated her, if not outright abused her. They were scared that if her family found out where she was, they would take her back and hurt her again, so they hadn't tried to find them. Now, they feared that, if they couldn't find out more about this girl they had taken in, they would lose her by her own hand. When the end of the week came, and they still hadn't been able to find out anything from Schala herself, Nat started on ajourney to Truce.

"Where's Nat?" Schala asked dully as she dried a plate. Mara nearly dropped the pot she was scrubbing at the unexpected sound, but answered quickly while she still had the girl's attention.

"He's gone teh visit his nephew Banta up in Truce," she lied smoothly. She tried to comfort herself with the fact that Nat would visit the boy if he had to stay long in the town. "He shouldn't be too long. Maybe a week or so."

"Oh," was all her charge said before falling silent again.

'Please,' Mara prayed silently. 'Let him return soon with good news.'

As Nat bent on one knee, he could hardly believe his own nerve, asking for an audience with the King and Queen. But he was afraid that general questioning around town would allow the girl's family to locate her, and he didn't want Schala to suffer anymore than she already made herself. The only solution he could think of was to hope that she was indeed nobility and that the rulers would recognize her name or description. By all the miracles of the Omen, his request he had been granted, and now he knelt before them nervously.

"Rise, Master Lobar," the King intoned, so Nat carefully got to his feet. "What business brings you all the way from San Dorino?" he inquired politely.

"A girl my wife and myself took in, your majesty," Nat began politely. "She wandered into our town some months ago, very much worse for the wear. Yet her clothes were obviously of rich quality, although her spirit was broken. We believed she had been set upon by bandits or some such riffraff, yet as she recovered she never expressed a desire to get in contact with anyone, or to try and locate her family. We began to fear that her family had mistreated her and she had run away. We let her stay with us, and gradually she began to open up, and seemed to be happy." Nat paused for a moment to take a breath. "Two weeks ago, she suddenly withdrew into herself. She refuses to speak, and she does nothing unless prompted first. My wife and myself are besides ourselves with worry. Despite our fears about her family, we now hope to locate someone who knows her to find a way to help her."

"The poor girl," the Queen murmured to herself.

"From the way she carried herself, and the original quality of her clothes, we thought that she might be nobility, and that Your Majesties might be able to help identify her, and protect her from her family if it becomes necessary." Nat didn't stutter, or start rambling about how unworthy his request was, although he felt the urge to do both. He knew that he had to make the best impression possible if he was to gain their aid.

The King and Queen looked at each other briefly, before the king addressed Nat again. "We understand your concerns, and will gladly try and help you, if it is within our power to do so. If you would provide us a description of the girl, we will endeavour to discover her identity and any information that may help you without igniting the curiosity of her family."

Nat almost sighed with relief before remembering where he was. He bowed, "Thank you, Your Majesties. If I may?" At the King's nod, he began his description. "I do not know her exact age, but she is in her mid to late teenage years. She has gained some colour now, but when she came to us she was extremely pale. She is slender, and slightly on the short side. Her eyes are green, and her hair is a pale blue. I cannot remember her family name, as she only gave it to us once, but her given name is Schala."

"I'm afraid that I don't immediately recall that name, Master Lobar, but I'm sure that given some time we will be able to discover something about her," Queen Leene assured.

For the first time since Nat entered the throne room, the Queen's Mystic guardian spoke up from her side. "By your leave, Your Majesties, I may know the lady's identity," the frog began. When Leene nodded encouragingly to him, he turned towards the man from San Dorino. "By any chance, was her family's name 'Zeal'?" he inquired.

Nat thought for a moment, before nodding. "Yes, I believe it was. It sounds familiar. Does this mean ya know who she is?"Nat ended excitedly, not realizing he'd slipped back into informal speech in the process.

"Aye, and if she is the lady I believe her to be, then thou art correct that she hath been mistreated by her family. However, thou need not fear them finding her again. If she is truly in San Dorino, then she is far beyond their reach."

The queen, catching on to his careful speech made a query. "Then she is someone you met during your travels three years ago, Frog?"

"Indeed, Your Majesty, albeit briefly. Until now, I did not know what became of her."

"Begging your pardon, Your Majesty, Sir, but do you have any notion why she's like this now?" Nat interrupted, shifting a bit as his nervousness began to show.

Frog shook his head sadly. "As I mentioned, I did not get achance to spend any appreciable amount of time with her before we were separated. Had thou not mentioned that she had achieved some measure of peace with herself earlier, I would have attributed her current disposition to the situation with her family, yet now I am at a loss."

There was silence for a moment as Nat fumed with frustration at the dead-end his one lead had brought him to, Frog pondered what little he remembered of the gentle princess, and the rulers thought about the newest dilemma their transformed subject found himself in.

"Then you must go to her in person," the Queen finally commanded. Both Frog and Nat looked sharply at her in surprise. She smiled kindly at them both. "She obviously means a great deal to the both of you, and if there is even the chance that you can help her, you must." The last was directed at her guardian. "I'm sure that you can find someone from the Royal Guard to take your place for the time you are gone." And after that, no matter the protests the two men gave, she would not be budged.

Two days later, Frog and Nat left Guardia Castle on their way towards San Dorino.

"Mara! I'm back!" Nat called into the house as he entered his home two and a half weeks after he had left. He heard movement upstairs, and shortly after saw his wife come down them.

"Thank goodness, Nat! I've been worried sick. Did ya manage to discover anythin'? Yeh weren't there fer very long..." She trailed off, noticing Frog for the first time, and staring a bit.

Frog shifted a bit uncomfortably under her gaze until Nat noticed. He cleared his throat and introduced his companion.

"Oh!" Mara began, startled. "I'm sorry, Sir Frog! I didn't mean to be so rude. Please, do come in," she murmured as she led them a bit farther into the house. Nat saw the question in her eyes.

"He knows Schala. The Queen hoped that he might be able to find out what was wrong with her," he explained.

"I see," she replied non-committaly. "Can I get you anything, Sir Frog?" she queried politely.

"I assure you that I am fine, Mistress Lobar," Frog told her politely. "However, I would greatly appreciate it if one of thee would accompany myself to see thine charge."

"Of course. I'm afraid she's not very responsive right now,"Mara informed the men as they made their way up the stairs. "But perhaps seeing some different faces will help her some." She knocked lightly on the door when they reached it, but after receiving no response, she opened the door and entered anyways. She motioned the men to follow her.

"Schala? Nat's home from Truce." The woman paused for a moment, but when there was no response, she ploughed ahead. "He's brought back a visitor fer ya. Sir Frog, from Guardia Castle..."She trailed off, hoping for a reaction. The blue-haired girl was sitting on a chair by the window, staring blankly outside at the street below. At the second silence, she slowly turned her head. Frog took in a sharp breath. It was indeed the Zealot princess, although he couldn't even begin to think about the ramifications of this discovery.

"You were one of the strangers."

The knight was a bit startled at the sound of her voice, but managed to respond. "Aye. I am honoured that thou remembered me."

"I am sorry, I never had a chance to properly thank you for all that you did for me. You have my sincerest gratitude." She smiled at him.

Frog began to see what had disturbed the Lobar's so. He voice was distant, her eyes blank, and her smile empty. It was if she had died, and her body was only half-heartedly going through the motions of life. It sent a chill down his spine to hear her like this. Even in Zeal, when she was pushed beyond her limits, she had never lost hold of herself. Even as she had teleported them away from the Ocean Palace with the last of her power, she had still held on to a measure of strength. Now she had shut herself down.

He moved over to where she was sitting. Nat began to guide Mara out of the room after seeing that Frog was telling the truth when he said he knew her. He was still worried, but felt that it would be best if the coming conversation was held in private. Frog waited until the door had shut before speaking again.

"Princess Schala," he began, but got no further as she interrupted him.

"Princess?" she queried softly, looking down into her lap where her hands were clasped. It was a dangerous voice. "And what, pray tell, am I a princess of?" She sighed softly. "No, that is unfair of me. I apologize, but please, do not call me princess."She looked up at him. "So this is your homeland then? You are from the future?"

Frog relaxed slightly. There was a bit more life in her eyes now, not much, but a spark. "The present, actually, and thou art correct. This time period and land are my home."

"...And Crono's as well? I feel I should pay my condolences to his family. It is the least I could do..."

"Nay, Crono comes from this land of the future," Frog paused amoment. Replaying her words, something struck him. Of course!She wouldn't know! "My lady, I fear it is my turn to offer my apologies."

She blinked a few times, the only outward sign of how he had taken her aback. "Apologize?" she questioned. "Whatever for?"she asked bewildered.

"I should have mentioned this earlier, but..." Frog took abracing breath not knowing what reaction his news would bring.

"Crono lives."

Schala had been lost in thought when they had entered her room. She no longer thought about Crono, she could do nothing for him now. She no longer thought about her mother, the good memories were always tainted by the bad. It was Janus who was always in her thoughts now. What had become of him after falling into that vortex?

She heard Mara enter the room again, but didn't really pay attention when the woman began to speak. It wasn't until she mentioned a visitor that her mind caught on that there were others in the room. She finally turned from the window to look at them.

Nat was home. That was good. She had missed him. It was the other person that really caught her attention. One of the strangers; one of Crono's companions. He spoke of honour, but she didn't see what honour a wretched girl like herself could bestow.

"Schala what are you doing?! I need your help here!"

Inwardly she flinched. It was at that moment that she had truly realized her worth in the eyes of others. No, she could bestow no honour to this kind creature. Yet she could at least offer her gratitude for his aid.

Nat and Mara left the room, and the knight, 'Frog' her mind supplied from Mara's introduction, took this opportunity to address her. Perhaps she had responded a bit too sharply, but she had given up any last vestiges of being a princess when she had let her hair down that afternoon so many weeks ago. And the reminder of that night refreshed her sense of loss and loneliness.

Eventually she had managed to work up the courage to ask about Crono's family. If he was from this time period, then she felt she should apologize to them for getting their son killed. It wouldn't change anything, but she would feel better about herself if she knew that she had been judged by those she had hurt worst.

Which was when Frog had dropped his bombshell on her. She stared blankly at him for a moment.

Then she began to get angry.

"Do you think I'm a fool?" she hissed, some of the assertiveness she had gained while living with the Lobar's beginning to show itself again. She stood up rapidly and stalked forward, forcing the knight to back up or be trampled. "Even /I/, wretched girl that I am, know that one cannot survive after being/disintegrated/!" The room wasn't big, and she stopped advancing before he ran into a wall. She never once raised her voice, but Frog began to sweat at the tone of voice. It held too many qualities of the girl's mother in it.

"If thou would allow me to explain, I assure thee it will satisfy thine concerns," he protested, hands raised placatingly. She turned her back on him abruptly and walked a few steps away, taking a couple of deep calming breaths.

"Make it good."

One explanation of time travel, time eggs, and clones later found Schala sitting at the window again, blushing with embarrassment. No matter how many times Frog told her that there was no need to apologize, she felt ashamed of her behaviour.

Frog now had his own internal debate; he had no idea what he should tell the girl about the rest of her family's fate. He grimaced internally at his evasion of his true thoughts. No, if the truth be known, he only had reservations about telling her the fate of her brother. He knew he must tell her now, or risk losing her trust if she discovered that he had known and withheld it from her. He began to talk, without ever reaching a decision.

"There are two things I feel I should tell thee at this point, my lady," he began to gain her attention again. "The first concerns thine mother." Schala went pale, and her hands began to shake abit, but she nodded for him to continue. "She is dead. We had to kill her in order to reach Lavos and defeat him, for the sake of the distant future." A choked sob escaped Schala's throat, and a solitary tear made its way down her face. "I know it will be of little comfort to thee, but Guru Gaspar told us that she had found a measure of peace before she died. Most likely the beast withdrew his influence once she was of no more use to him."He paused for a few moments to allow the former princess time to regain her composure.

"And the other thing?" she whispered, her voice a bit husky from her grief.

Frog hesitated a moment, regretting his decision to just plough into this topic. Realizing he had no choice, he decided to give her the information he had and let her make her own decision.

"The second thing that I must speak to thee about concerns thine brother, and is a bit more complicated." He winced when he saw that the blue-haired girl's attention had become riveted on him. There was no turning back now. "When he was taken from Zeal, he arrived in the not so distant past of this time period. He was found by the Mystics and raised by them. He eventually became their leader and began the war against Guardia. At one point Iwas fighting against him with Crono's aid, when he tried to summon Lavos. The summoning failed because of our interference and opened a large temporal portal. He was returned to Zeal, before he had ever left." Schala's eyes widened as she grasped the implications of what he was saying.

"You mean..." she trailed off, unable to complete the thought.

"Aye, he was the Prophet. After the fall of Zeal, he joined us as he had been harshly brought to the truth that he could not gain revenge on Lavos by himself." Reluctantly, never wishing to speak well of his nemesis, he added, "It was thanks to him that we were able to revive Crono."

"And now?" Schala breathed excitedly. "Where is he now?"

"Searching for you," Frog admitted. "Presumedly looking for some sign of you in the annals of history. He should be somewhere in this time period."

A smile broke across the girl's face. Not the empty smile she had worn earlier, but one that showed how happy she was at the news. "He's alive," she whispered. Tears began to track their way down her face again, but tears of joy for once.

"He's not the same boy you remember," Frog warned. "He has become cold and bitter." Schala surprised him by laughing at this.

"Don't be silly. He's always been cold and bitter," she shot back at him with a grin. At his stunned look her face softened abit. "I know he'll be different. But I'm different too. And," she paused for a moment before continuing a bit shyly."And even if he has changed, it doesn't matter. He's my brother, and that means that I'll love him, no matter what." She was blushing a bit. In Zeal they didn't usually talk about such personal things with people who were as good as strangers.

"For his sake then, I am pleased." They both sat in silence for a while, processing the information they had received. Eventually Frog broke the silence. "Are you feeling better now, Schala?"

"Mm, much better. I... I was worried about him. A lot," she admitted. "I'm glad he's been able to take care of himself. And I was upset about Crono, too," she confessed. "I kept thinking,'I shouldn't have asked him for help. I should have done things on my own.' It all just seemed to press down on me at once, and I didn't know how to stop thinking about it."

"I'm glad thou art feeling better then, but I'm sure thine friends downstairs would be even more relieved to hear the news."

Mara gave Schala a suffocating hug when she appeared downstairs, and Nat gave her a fatherly embrace. They didn't ask for explanations, they were just happy she was feeling better. That night they all sat down for supper together. Nat and Mara enjoyed telling Frog tales of what the girl had been doing while under their care, much to Schala's chagrin. Frog was greatly amused, comparing the tired princess he had known to these stories of an energetic child. But he was pleased with the change. At first he had envied the thought that his nemesis would be getting such a devoted companion, but now he was beginning to change his opinion. 'Yes,' he thought with a grin,'Magus will certainly have his hands full with this one.'

After they had finished, Nat and Frog moved to the main room to relax, while Mara and Schala began to clean up.

"I truly am sorry for my behaviour the last few weeks, Mara,"Schala ventured timidly.

Mara smiled kindly at her. "Don't apologize, dear. I'm sure ya have yer reasons." They continued washing the dishes in silence for a few moments before Schala spoke up again.

"I... I was brooding over what became of some people I cared about from home," she explained a bit vaguely, concentrating on drying a cup. "My brother, and a boy who helped me once," Schala clarified a bit. Then she smiled brightly and looked at the older woman. "But Frog was able to tell me that they're both okay, although he doesn't know the current location of my brother."

"I'm happy for you, then," Mara told her.

"I was thinking about going to search for him. I miss him a lot. I think Frog would be willing to accompany me for a while."Schala was biting her bottom lip a bit nervously, uncertain how the other woman would take her decision to leave after staying with them so long.

Mara did look sad, but her smile stayed, and it was still kind."Ya gotta do what ya think is best, Schala," she told her charge."And Nat and meself never truly expected ya teh stay with us forever, ya know."

A week later saw Schala and Frog standing outside of the Lobar's house, ready to depart.

Mara had her hands on Schala's shoulders, "You make sure ya visits from time teh time, ya hear?" she was saying to the slightly overwhelmed former princess. Then she moved on to the knight.

Nat also said his good-bye to Schala while his wife threatened the cursed knight with bodily harm should anything happen to the blue-haired girl. He clasped her hands in his and wished her the best of luck on her quest.

The sun was just beginning to rise above the rooftops when Schala and Frog left town.

Magus was not happy.

Three years, and no leads. Not one goddamned lead. He'd spent the first year in the Dark Age searching for any sign that Schala had lived. The only sign he had gotten was that no one had found her body. When he found a gate after a year of futile searching, he had jumped into it at the first opportunity, no matter how unstable it looked.

And it had landed him back where he had started from in the first place! And of course one of the first people he would happen to run into would be that thrice-damned knight who couldn't talk properly to save his bloody life. The only 'good' thing that had come from the encounter was the fact that apparently their'alliance' from the year previous prevented the swordsman from immediately taking his head off.

Then next two years found the grumpy warlock searching through libraries, public and otherwise, for any sign of a magic-wielding woman, but he always came up blank. This led him to be in a less than stellar mood after any failed raid. He was rapidly beginning to run out of sources. His greatest fear was that she had been sent even farther into the future, and he detested the idea of waiting until he came across another unstable gate to determine whether he'd be able to find her or not.

The fact that he was currently forced to camp out in the woods wasn't helping his disposition either.

Perhaps this could explain why he was a bit trigger-happy when he heard his name called out.

"Magus!" Frog called as he finally spotted their quarry just ahead. Schala had fallen a bit behind, but he had no doubt that she could catch up shortly.

He really wasn't surprised by the fireball that was hurled at him, after all, it was Magus he was dealing with. It was no shock that the fiend had a 'fry first, ask question later'policy. He dodged it expertly and entered the clearing Magus had stopped in. "Hold thine fire, fiend!"

Magus was standing in the middle of the open area, leaning casually on his scythe. "Damn, missed," he muttered to himself."I'm really in no mood for your presence, Sir Froggy, so I highly suggest you turn around and go back the way you came before Idecide that I want frog legs for dinner," he sneered.

"While it does not surprise me that thou would make such crude comments, I fear that I must stay as I have tidings that thou may wish to hear," Frog gritted out.

"Not interested. You have five seconds before I lose my temper."

"I will not leave until thou hath heard my message!" Frog decided he'd be damned if he told the sorcerer that his sister was only a few minutes behind him while the warlock was acting like this.

Magus grinned ferally. "Can't say I didn't warn you!" With that said, he charged at the knight.

Schala finally caught up to the men, and was surprised to find them fighting. She had gathered from what Frog had said, or hadn't said, that there was no love lost between himself and her brother, but she hadn't realized just how much they despised each other. She recognized the 'Prophet' and saw that he had his back to her as they took a breather. Either that, or he was casting aspell. She shrugged to herself, and a bit of mischief crept into her eyes.

Magus was concentrating as he prepared to cast a spell. He never heard the footsteps approaching from behind him, never even realized that he was being snuck up on from behind until a pair of hands covered his eyes, and a voice whispered in his ear.

"Guess who?"

In retrospect, Schala decided as she crossed her eyes trying to look at the point of the scythe levelled at the bridge of her nose, sneaking up on a temperamental warrior probably hadn't been the best of ideas. Especially as he had been in the middle of afight.

"Sch...Schala?" The poor boy's eyes were bulging, and it really couldn't be healthy to be that pale...

"Umm... surprise?"

Alive. She was alive. And standing right in front of him/. With his scythe millimetres away from blinding her. He quickly rectified that by putting the weapon away, Frog completely forgotten. He grabbed her shoulders and looked her over. Her hair was in a braid instead of the high pony-tail he was used to, her skin was tanned making her look much healthier than she had in Zeal, and she was wearing /pants of all things, but it was definitely his sister.

"It's really you!" His grip on her shoulders tightened momentarily before he pulled her into a hug, holding on tightly, as tears began to course down his face. Schala's arms encircled him in return, and she rubbed soothing circles on his back.

"Shh..." she soothed him. "It's alright, Janus. I'm here. Mother can't hurt us anymore..."

It took a few moments but what she said began to sink in. "It's alright, Janus." He pulled away from her slightly, eyes wide with surprise. "You knew?" Luckily Schala understood his vague question and shook her head accordingly.

"Not until your..." Here she paused to fight off a grin, and only partially succeeded. "... dear friend told me."

Frog, who had sheathed Masamune after the threat seemed to have passed, began to regret the decision when Magus turned to give him

with the evil eye. Schala latched herself onto his waist, and strained to hold him back as he tried to kill the amphibian for revealing his secrets."Janus, no!" she cried out as Frog back-pedalled.

After Schala had managed to calm her brother down, they started afire and sat around it. Schala sat with her brother's arm around her shoulders, leaning against his side. Her eyes were closed with contentment as she took in the warmth of the fire. Frog sat on the opposite side of the fire from them, not willing to sit next to his enemy of his own free will.

"So," Schala spoke up in a murmur from where she was half-asleep against an equally content warlock, "Where do we go from here?"

"In the morning I shalt depart for Guardia Castle. I have tarried from the Queen's side for far too long as it is." Frog had half expected some rude comment from Magus at that, and when the mage was silent he risked a look.

He could see the nasty thought in the pale man's eyes just itching to reach the warlock's lips, but he held silent for his sister's sake.

"I didn't think of what I'd do once I found you," Magus admitted reluctantly. "Finding you seemed like a daunting enough task as it was."

"I'll have to take you with me to visit Mara and Nat, I guess,"she murmured sleepily.

"Who?" Magus asked confused. But Schala was already asleep.

The next morning, the Zealot siblings parted ways with the cursed knight, who returned to his place at Queen Leene's side with agood report.

Schala decided that her brother was far too pale, and promptly proceeded to force him to spend more time out in the sun. After an initially painful burn, it faded to a healthy tanned colour, much like his sister's. She also decided that his outfit was far to conspicuous for the peaceful time they currently lived in, and managed to convince him to exchange his armour and richly coloured clothing for tunics, pants, and a cloak of various shades of brown. He drew the line at letting her touch his hair, however. She mock pouted at him before giving in and ruffling it a bit.

Magus just watched this whirlwind of energy and mischievousness that their mother had nearly destroyed. It took some adjusting to get used to the changes, but she was still his kind and gentle sister, just much, much happier.

She never asked him about the war with the Mystics, or about his behaviour as the Prophet, but some part of him believed that she understood. The way she'd hug him whenever they were in a town and someone mentioned the war, or the way she'd laugh as she casually mentioned how confused poor Alfador must have been with two masters walking around the kingdom.

They eventually settled into a pattern of wandering from village to village, town to town, doing odd jobs to earn their keep. It was mostly for Schala's sake, who was immensely curious about this land without magic they now lived in. She was thrilled that the Earthbound had won their freedom in the end, even if it was only because Zeal had been destroyed. Before they had started this, however, she had insisted he meet the elderly couple who had taken her in.

With the changes Schala had made in his appearance, neither recognized who he was, not even Nat who had fought in the war. She introduced him as her older brother Janus, which he found extremely amusing, considering he was technically the younger sibling, even though he was now older than her. They accepted him with open arms, and whenever the siblings were in the area, they would drop in for a visit.

They visited Guardia Castle once, by Schala's request, as she wished to thank Frog for his assistance, and the Queen for sending him to her.

Which was how Magus found himself in the Guardian throne room, kneeling politely to the rulers; only at Schala's insistence, of course. He nearly winced when he remembered her sharp words before they entered warning him to be on his best behaviour while they were presented to the King and Queen.

"Your Majesties, I would like to take this opportunity to extend to you my most heartfelt thanks for the aid you sent me, astranger, in my time of need," Schala began with sincerity. "I'm afraid that the only thing I have of value to offer you to show my gratitude is this pendant." She pulled the pendant she had worn in Zeal from her bag and presented it to Queen Leene."Please take this as a token of my appreciation."

Leene accepted the pendant graciously, but questioned the girl."Are you sure you wish to give up something of such value so easily?"

Schala smiled at the woman, and Frog, at her side, began to understand why the Earthbound had loved her so much. It was the smile of a woman who didn't see her sacrifices, big or small, as being a burden. "Thanks to your generosity, I was able to find my brother again, who is far more valuable to me than any stone. This is the least I can do to reciprocate. I will always be in your debt."

"We accept your gratitude, Mistress Schala, but we will not accept any debt," King Guardia informed her. "We merely allowed Frog the chance to help a friend. It would have been wrong of us to prevent him from taking action."

"Then you have my utmost thanks," Schala returned. She rose from her kneeling position, and turned slightly to face Frog. "And Sir Frog, I have no gift to give you, but for a few words of wisdom."

Frog bowed slightly and replied equally formally. "I would be grateful for any wisdom thou would deem to impart to myself, Mistress Schala."

She smiled again, but a slight one, full of mischief. "As you are aware, I am a sorceress of some small powers. While it is true that the curse you are under would be broken at the death of the Warlock Magus, it should also be possible for you to defeat it from within. It would be a difficult task, but I believe with time, you can achieve your goal." Her smile grew to a grin as she saw the shocked look on his face. She couldn't see her brother's, as he was slightly behind her, but she was sure his eyes would be bulging. Silly men didn't think she'd be able to piece together that Frog was really a cursed human or that it had been her brother who had cast the curse. It was easy to tell when one knew what to look for.

Schala pulled a scroll from her bag and handed it to the cursed knight. "I lied when I said I didn't have anything for you," she informed him with a wink. "This is a scroll with some techniques that may aid you in your endeavour. I wish you the best of luck!"

As they exited the castle, Magus finally asked her. "How did you know?"

"Well, I knew he was cursed from the moment I first saw him in Zeal, but he seemed rather self-conscious about it, so I didn't say anything," she told him rather matter-of-factly. "But how did I know you cast it?" Magus just nodded tersely. "Did you ever think why the curse would be broken when you died?" she scolded him playfully.

He growled self-consciously at her. "No. Could you please just finish explaining, Schala."

They were into the surrounding woods now, and she latched playfully onto his arm as the meandered there way through. The monsters had learned to stay clear of them after the slaughter the first time through. "Aww, don't be like that, Janus. I'm sorry, I'll play nice!" she mock pouted.

He couldn't help but laugh at her antics. Like Schala had opened up under the care of the Lobar's, he had opened up in turn under her care. "Alright, I get it. I'll lighten up. But could you/please/ tell me how you figured it out?"

She sighed mock-resignedly. "This is what happens when you get asub-standard magical education." She shook her head as if this saddened her. "The problem with such large-scale transformation spells is that they're unstable. Without a constant source of energy being supplied, the host's body will revolt and eventually return to its natural state. In order to maintain the curse, the caster makes a link diverting a bit of their own magic to maintain the spell. It's such a small amount that the caster rarely notices it. However, a properly trained mage, such as myself, can easily sense the link. That's how I could tell you had cast it."

"Alright, I get it! I bow to your superior magical knowledge!"

Schala frowned. "Bow lower, brat!" Then she was forced to duck in order to dodge her brother's playful swat. "Now tell me what you've learned," she lectured.

Magus sighed. "If I die, the flow of magic will stop and Frog would eventually regain his human body.

"Correct! However," she skipped ahead a bit before turning around to lecture at him face-to-face. "If Frog succeeds in cutting the link from his end, the magic flow will rebound back to you, leaving you with one hell of a migraine. Consider that your lesson for doing such a nasty thing!" Magus groaned into his hand. He had no doubt she was sincere about what would happen. Schala just laughed at him. "Come on, Janus. It'll just be a few days, and then you'll be alright again. That's apretty small price to pay." She began to walk forward again, and they exited the woods and onto the main road. "Let's see how far we can get before that happens!"

Magus allowed his sister to drag him onto the road, and soon they began to talk about other things, frogs and migraines forgotten. The temporally displaced siblings had been given a second chance, and Schala had no intention of wasting it.

She no longer heard the phantom voice of her mother disregarding her own pain. She knew she had worth. As long as she had Janus to look after, everything would be alright.

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