Author Topic: Shadows of Schala (Part Four posted)  (Read 405 times)

Kitt

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Shadows of Schala (Part Four posted)
« on: September 29, 2020, 02:54:37 pm »
Author's notes -

First of all, please be aware that this story is filled with * SPOILERS * for Chrono Trigger.  Posting it here, I suspect everyone has already played the game, but just in case.  I have not played Chrono Cross, therefore, I do not know the events or characters of that game or how the two games are tied together.  Having just discovered and joined this archive, I haven't played or read about the interquel game(s) either.  At this point, my sum total of knowledge about the CT Universe is what is contained in the first game.

I'm sure there's nothing unique about the basic question at the heart of this story – what happened to Schala?  What I hope might be interesting is the roundabout way this story answers it, and the adventures the characters experience along the way.

I prefer the game ending where Glenn, Robo and Ayla appear and chase after Gaspar through a Time Gate alerting Marle and Lucca that they may yet be able to rescue Crono; so I usually kill Magus and don't revive Crono when I play.  This story however, would be one where Magus was slain and Crono revived.  If you are a Magus fan, don't worry!  Of course he's in this story!  ^_^

In fact, everyone except for Ayla is here (my apologies, she just doesn't work in this story).  Chrono Trigger gives you the option of renaming all the characters, an option I almost always use.  So...

Crono = Orion
Marle = Ariel
Lucca = Elora
Frog = Alpha
Ayla = Arvia
Robo = Prime
and
Epoch = Ark

...since I didn't want "Frog" and "Robo" to be lame names in my story.  (Some might recognize the names for their Transformers origin particularly when I admit that Lucca was 'Gears' and Ayla 'Brawn' during that game playthrough.  I changed them to be more feminine when I first started posting this story on a fanfic archive.)   Magus, Schala and all other named characters retain the names the game gave them. Glenn/Frog spoke in something of an archaic manner in the game.  I've tried to duplicate that in my story.  Please forgive what that does to the grammar.  (My spell check program hates it!)

Shadows of Schala

      Schala's cell was sumptuously appointed, every physical comfort satisfied.  Even though she was surrounded by objects of rare and astounding beauty, she never forgot she was a prisoner, held against her will, by one who had become a Dark Lord.

      She shuddered and hugged herself against an involuntary chill when she thought of her inhuman guards.  They knew better than to lay a hand upon her, for their Master's retribution would be terrible, but their very nature was alien, dark, and evil.  Even Lavos' evil had been born of an understandable instinct to survive;  these creatures and their Dark Master thrived on evil, craving it and creating it for their own twisted pleasure.

      She sank into a chair from sheer weariness.  Her strength was dimming, soon the Dark One would have all the secrets of her special power.  Once he did he would be able to spill pure evil into her world across its already troubled time-lines.

      Schala risked opening a tiny Time Gate, crafting it small enough to escape detection by one who was just learning the intricacies of Time.  It was so small in fact that all she could send was her desperate plea, like a message in the bottle of Time, and hope to alert someone to the danger their world was in.

      She dared not open it large enough to even determine who or when was receiving her warning.  From all she knew of Time from her studies with Gaspar, the Guru of Time, her plea should reach most strongly to one who had traveled across Time.

      Unable with so small a Gate to reach to the End of Time directly, she used the utmost of her skill to direct her plea to Magus, the mage her own time-lost brother had become.  She hoped he understood that she was asking him to seek Gaspar's aid so that they could find and rescue her before her stubborn strength gave out and the Dark Master gained all her powers.  Only they could save her and their world in all its Times from...

*****

      Glenn awoke shaking off the threads of dreams that tried vainly to tie him to sleep.  He stretched, luxuriating in the feel of the sinews and muscles of his swordsman's body.  He marveled anew at the recovery of his human form.  Slightly more than a year returned to normal had not diminished the horror of ten years awakening as a bipedal frog; a fate he would not wish on even Magus, the dark sorcerer who had so cursed him.

      Strange that he would think of Magus.  He lay still for a moment and closed his eyes, quieting his mind to recapture the sense of his dreams.

      "Schala?"  he murmured.  "I wonder what became of her.  She was so selfless giving all her strength to hie us to safety once Orion was slain..."  His thoughts carried him back to the Magic Land of Zeal in the Dark Ages and the people he had met there.  His memory skipped through the ages and their distinct friends and enemies as easily as he had traversed across time when he had helped defeat Lavos.

      "Poor Janus warped so early in his life by Lavos' power...  and Cyrus, dear Cyrus, so foully murdered because Lavos displaced him and Ozzie embittered the boy to become Magus.  My ten years as a frog, long and painful as they were, I could forgive, but Cyrus' death, never!  Oh, mine enemy, if not for that, if not for the twisting of thy very soul;  the strength and goodness I saw shining in Schala could have been thine and Janus... No, Magus... We could have been friends."

      Glenn turned to gaze to the legendary sword, Masamune, where it hung on his wall.  Deep regret thickened his voice as he continued,  "Instead thou lie dead and buried by mine own hand, ironically interred in thine own time and I am restored in form and time to my place, but lonely...  Grieving the friend thou took from me and the friends that Time washed back to their own shores..."

      "But what of thy noble lady-sister?  What of Schala?  Why doth she haunt my dreams?"
      He arose, garbed himself for the day, carefully arranged his cloak to conceal the Masamune and reported to Queen Leene.

*****

      "Cyril?  Cyril?"  the queen addressed him later.

      He was on guard duty in her chambers, lost in thought as he gazed unseeingly upon a tapestry.  The other servants and attendants looked askance at his inattention to the queen.
 
      Leene assessed his handsome profile, reached a decision and firmed her jaw.  She dismissed her other attendants and guards with a soft word.  After seating herself and clasping her hands in her lap she spoke again,  "Cy... Alpha!"

      He wheeled about sharply.  "Why dost thee address me in the name of the Hero?  I am not a frog!"

      "No.  Even though, when you were a frog, I trusted you, I admit I am happy with your more comely human form.  Furthermore I know that you, Alpha, are also, Glenn,"  Leene spoke calmly and quietly.  Glenn found himself drawing near to hear her soft words and her demeanor soothed his racing heart.  Part of him admired her technique for calming people even as he recognized it:  he'd seen her use it on the king countless times when the king's passionate nature would get the best of him. His astonishment was not erased by the calm that Leene imparted to him.  He gaped at the gentle, perceptive queen.

      She smiled slightly at his expression as she explained,  "I visited Cyrus' grave and saw the inscription on his tombstone.  I heard the story of the Frog Hero who wielded the Masamune and comforted Cyrus' restless ghost.  You carved 'Cyrus sleeps here avenged by his friend Glenn' on the headstone.  Also my overly modest friend, even as my frog retainer your ease moving about the castle was uncanny from the start, as if you already knew its paths.  Further, as endearing as your 'thees', 'thous' and 'thys' are;  they are outmoded words and only you have used them these past ten and more years.  Finally, though you try mightily to hide it, the discerning eye can spy the Masamune under your cloak.  Oh, don't look so stricken!  I'm not upset at you!"  Leene cried when she saw the forlorn look on Glenn's face.  "I know you, and I know your charades are not meant to hurt anyone, rather they spare you hurt.  I can only think your ruse as Alpha, who eventually became the Frog Hero, was some way of hiding your shame at Cyrus' death.  That blame was never yours to take!  Your current ruse as 'Cyril' is to avoid the adulation you would receive as the Hero.  Am I right?"

      "Thou know'est it, milady.  But what am I to do?  Cyrus' death cut me to my core and the change Magus wrought in me reminds me every day of dear Cyrus and how I let him down.  In a way, 'Glenn' died that day as truly as Cyrus did."  He paced toward the window and looked out over the forest surrounding the castle before crossing back to Leene's side.  "I never thought any would trust me again as their companion in arms and yet, e'en though Elora did not want to at first, Orion did.  'Alpha' became'th not a badge of shame and regret but the name of the Frog Hero.  I was respected by honorable friends and I did not let them down.  King Guardia and thou, my queen, were also most kind to the frog I was.  I shall thank thee that kindness all my days."  Glenn stood at his full height, opened his arms wide and threw back his head.  His shoulder length hair flowed about his face as he lowered his gaze to search out the queen's eyes.  "Now my true form restored to me close'th that chapter of my life as well."

      He paced by the queen again, turned, and paced back.  Leene admired the unconscious grace and balance that Glenn displayed in every move he made.  She remembered the frog he had been and realized this strange grace came from the years he had spent in that form.

      "Know'est thou, there are some aspects of my frog self that I miss."  Leene threw a startled glance Glenn's way, his thoughts so eerily paralleled her own.  "The Leap Slash and the Slurp Healing amongst them."

      A private smile crept onto Glenn's face as his queen regarded him.  Leene recalled the time when Alpha had rescued her from Yakra.  He had fought to save her with skills only an expert swordsman would use.  Yet...

      "Leap Slash?"  Leene queried.

      "Oh a – technique I would use in battle.  I could jump several times mine own height and slash down with my sword in a rather devastating attack.  Not many creatures could survive it!"

      Leene considered his response and the slightly uncomfortable look on Glenn's face.

      "Slurp Healing?"  she asked, unable to resist.

      "Oh, milady, it sound'eth so gross, but no one truly seem'eth to mind..."  Glenn flushed.

      "Now I am really intrigued!  Tell me!"  Leene demanded.

      "Well, if someone sustain'eth an injury, I could flick my frog tongue at them, touch them with it and heal them of their wounds somewhat."  Glenn studied one of the tapestries intently to avoid looking at her.

      "Startling at first, to be sure, but I think I would not have minded if it eased pain,"  Leene replied.

      "I remember Orion would call out in the middle of a fight  'Alpha, Slurp me!'  I would, he'd fight on, and eventually victory wouldst be ours.  Orion name'th that skill for me.  I lost it when I became human again, so it is good that it is no longer needed."

      Leene heard the sadness under the light tone and realized for the first time how much Glenn had lost over the course of his life;  Cyrus, his own humanity, his friends of past and future, the frog form he had come to terms with and even his own name.  She wondered if his return to humanity made up for all he had given up.

      "There were benefits to being a frog,"  she observed quietly.

      "Aye, but I much prefer being a man and as a man I much prefer being anonymous."

      "Someday, Glenn, you are going to have to accept the honor due you, but I won't force you.  So you wish to remain 'Cyril'?"  the queen asked.

      "My liege-lady, 'twould comfort me if thee would call'est me 'Glenn' when no other could hear.  It would help me feel I'd not let Cyrus down too much,"  Glenn asked quietly.

      "Gladly, even though you are as stubborn in your unassuming way as is my beloved king.  Cyrus' death was not your fault!  However, I am happy things are finally working out for you."

      "I wonder, dear Leene, if they've work'eth out to their ultimate end.  I've been haunted by thoughts of Schala lately..."  Glenn mused.

      "Schala?  Now that you know that I know you are, or were, Alpha;  you can finally tell me what happened, not just the part I know."

      "As thou command'est, my queen, but we should break for mid-meal and I've responsibilities to King Guardia this afternoon.  Canst I relate to thee my tale on the morrow?"  Glenn begged.

      "Of course, but be sure that you do or I shall be quite disappointed.  Perhaps we can visit your, Alpha's, old home in the Cursed Woods from when you were a frog?  I'd be interested in seeing it,"  Leene asked.

      "My lady, 'tis no place for thee.  How dost thou know of it?"  Glenn asked in amazement.
 
      "That sweet girl, Ariel, told me of it and how you had evidently spent years there in loneliness regretting Cyrus' death.  I am glad those youngsters were able to bring you back from that despair to us."

      "Indeed.  What else did Ariel speak of that perhaps she ought not?"  Glenn mused.

      "Glenn, she was concerned that you would return to brooding once the adventure was over.  She knew that you had been my retainer and thought that I could find some way to help you.  We know how much Cyrus meant to you and how deeply it hurt you when he was murdered.  Ariel spoke, but all your friends felt the same, that you might spend your life regretting something you could not change and deny yourself the happiness you deserve.  Keep your sadness, Glenn, that is a fitting and proper tribute to a great knight and a great friend, but do not live there.  Now, you spoke of lunch?"

      "Aye, your majesty, I did.  Can I escort my queen to her repast?"  Glenn queried as he offered a crooked arm.  Leene placed her hand on his arm, gathered her train on her other arm and glided through the chamber door as Glenn opened it.  "Now what dost thou mean by saying that my mode of courtly speech is out-dated?  Surely thou jest!  Such high language as I am wont to use is only to show my highest regard for thee and for thy husband, our king..."  Glenn teased in mock displeasure as they passed down the hall.  The two guards flanking Leene's door stared at him.

      Leene smiled serenely at them to show she was not upset and even loosed a few low giggles.  Glenn winked at them over Leene's head and continued down the hall.

      "Surely, just because some know not the proper forms when addressing those of royal birth, does not mean that those of us who do should offer insult to thee and thy lord..."  he continued in mock amazement as he opened the door to the staircase.  The guards overheard and chuckled, somehow relaxing even as they snapped to attention.  The heavy door blocked Glenn's bantering tones and Leene's bell-like laugh.

      "She favors him too much,"  the younger guard complained.

      "No.  He is a more skilled swordsman than you in your youth, and I in my experience put together.  He is also a friend of hers.  Look at the queen's life.  She is guarded against all harm, but also all fun.  You and I can leave, go home to families, into town or the tavern.  Her life is here and it is boring.  Once, long ago, the queen's guards had a special duty she was completely unaware of.  Perhaps it is time to start that duty again,"  the older guard mused.
 
      "A special duty?"  the young one asked.
 
      "Sir Cyrus and one other started it.  Come to think of it...  no, never mind that...  One day, when the queen seemed especially sad, they started to act up and be silly.  I won't go into specifics, but suffice it to say they lightened her mood.  For a very long time, until the war with Magus became so desperate, we of the queen's guard made it our duty to try to get the queen to laugh at least once a day.  Perhaps...we should start that duty again."

      "Perhaps you are right, old man,"  the young guard acknowledged as he reset the angle of his spear.  "Make her laugh, huh?"

*****

      "You know, Cyril, this kingdom needs a Hero,"  King Guardia said conversationally a few hours later.  He was walking the battlements with Glenn by his side reviewing Guardia's troops as the Knight Captain mustered them out.  "A king's duties are state craft, law-making, fostering the land and the like.  It's rather boring and not easy for the people to romanticize about.  A Hero, on the other hand, fires their imagination, commands loyalty, adds a zest to their lives making some of the more routine things bearable.  A True Hero brings out the best in people, they are kinder with each other and more apt to lend a hand if someone needs it because 'that's what so-and-so would do'.  Cyrus was a True Hero.  Alpha, frog though he may be, could be a True Hero.  I find it strange that no one has seen or heard of Alpha since he and I parted ways at the castle gates."  The king sent a piercing look at Glenn.  "Don't you – Cyril?"

      King Guardia crossed to the battlement edge and watched his knights at work.  They practiced crossbow, spear and sword, shooting targets, thrusting and setting spears and the intricacies of swordplay.

      "You are quite impressive even with practice swords,"  the king commented.

      "I thank thee, my liege,"  Glenn responded quietly.

      "May I see your sword?  The one you hide under your cloak?"  King Guardia asked, fixing Glenn with an unreadable look.

      Swallowing hard, Glenn cleared the sword from his cloak and handed it hilt-first to the king.

      "The Masamune!"  the king whispered intently as he took it.  He admired the sheer beauty of the weapon as well as its heft and balance as he continued,  "My father had me train with the guards when I was a lad.  He wanted me to be tough;  it was almost as if he knew somehow that my reign would be more troubled than his...  An unintended result was that I no longer wanted to be just the king, I wanted to be out there, slaying evil, saving my people directly with my sword and skill.  A king has a certain distance imposed by his kingship, a passivity that helps him be objective.  Part of me rejoiced that Magus had advanced so close at Zenan Bridge.  I could go out and do, not simply send others to do for me.  Thank the Hero my folly did not hurt the people of this kingdom."

      "Sire, thy desire to save thy people is no folly, any who would so label it are wrong.  There is a certain romance about thy kingship, the king who would fight with his people, not hide in his castle as they wert o'errun.  Guardia may'eth not require a Hero as much as thee think,"  Glenn offered.

      "You speak as Alpha did;  you have his same quietness, you possess the Masamune.  Are you he?"  the king demanded.

      Glenn paced to the battlements himself.  He looked down on the knights, guards, and the guards-in-training and the swordsman in him assessed their skills.  He squinted a little to make out one face clearly and was not too surprised to recognized Tata among the new recruits.  He turned his gaze back to the king who waited patiently for an answer.

      "Yes, I am he, restored to my normal form upon Magus' death.  I beg thee, my liege..."  Glenn began.

      "Not to reveal that you are Alpha the Hero?"  the king smiled a sad, tight little grin.  "Why is it you always want what the other has?  To be a Hero...an unfulfilled, unfulfillable dream of mine.  You want your peace, yet you are here where Leene or I could find you out..."  the king wondered aloud.

      "My skills are needed here.  Thou and my lady Leene have both discovered me.  I can only beg that thou allow'est me to serve thee as I am now, not as a Hero who can not mis-step and who is known everywhere he may have to go.  Things are quiet now, my liege, but they may'eth not remain so.  If I must take on another such as Magus, would it not be better if my skills were not common knowledge and my approach not heralded by everyone?  I desire to serve thee quietly doing whate'er needs doing, be it high, be it low."  Glenn sank to his knees and grasped the King's hand which still held the Masamune.  "Please, honor Cyrus, he who was a True Hero and a true friend.  If thou must, honor Alpha, the Frog Hero.  Do not make'st of me a Hero to be celebrated 'cross the land, I wish to remain here as thy guard and the queen's, ensuring thy safety from all who would threaten thee,"  Glenn pleaded intently.

      "It took me a year to get Cyrus to accept the mantle of 'Hero'.  Something tells me you would prevail if I were to engage in a battle of wills with you.  You win, Alpha.  You may serve me as you see fit, probably better than if I directed you."  The king grinned ruefully.  "But I will have my way in one thing.  Sunrise tomorrow meet me in the Cathedral."  King Guardia's steely grey eyes bored into Glenn's.  "Do not fail to be there!  This is the finest weapon I have ever had the pleasure of holding, however I can sense that it was made for you, as you were born for it."

      Guardia handed the Masamune to Glenn with a small smile of regret.  Glenn stared at the king who had startled him with his sensitivity and felt a slight tug from the sword.

      "Do something nice for him,"  a tiny voice spoke in his mind.

      Glenn was surprised by the voice but knew it had to be from the Masamune.  Keeping the sword out he walked away from the battlement and began some simple swordplay exercises.  The child-like gleam in the king's eyes rewarded him.  He began to work in more complicated moves and to increase the speed of the sword's arcs.  Completely enthralled the king's eyes followed every move.  Glenn paused the sword's motion, collected his will and performed a Nirvana Strike.  King Guardia's eyes widened as he imagined the three foes Glenn's move would have destroyed.  Glenn wished he could show the king Leap Slash or some of the dual attacks Orion and he had worked out.  Spire came easily to mind.  Glenn slowed the arcs and oscillations of his sword and returned it in a swift, practiced motion to its scabbard.

      "Wow!"  King Guardia exclaimed.

      "Majesty, dost thou step'est away from the edge!"  Glenn appealed holding out his arm.  "If thou were to slip...!"

      The king stepped calmly away from the battlement's edge and walked sedately toward the door.

      "Sunrise tomorrow, 'Cyril',"  he called over his shoulder.  Glenn shivered as he followed the king.

      "What doth my king plan for me on the morrow?  Can it be worse than being found out twice in one day?  Can it be worse than the strange dreams I fear I shall have this night?"  Glenn mused just under his breath.

*****

      Later, in his room, Glenn unbuckled the sword sheath from his back and hung it on his wall in its spot.  He drew the Masamune and ran his hand softly down its blade carefully avoiding the keen edge.

      "Thou surprised me by speaking in my mind today;  though I know not why I was surprised, knowing who thou art.  Masa and Mune, brothers, bound in a red knife of dreamstone, using the power of Lavos to become a sword, at the direction of the Guru of Life.  Thou hast grown as I have, accepting my destiny to defeat Magus, avenging Cyrus and releasing his spirit and learning how to use the magic of my friends to increase thine attacks.  Art thou showing more growth for me;  changing yet again as I change?"

*****

      Glenn woke well before dawn and made his way to a clearing overlooking the Cathedral.  He wrapped his green cloak tighter about him, warding off the pre-dawn chill and watched the moon set.  As dawn touched the sky with its first fingers of light he noted a party of five make their way to the Cathedral.  He recognized the king and queen, the Chancellor, the Knight Captain and the Cook.

      "The Cook?  What dost thou plan, my lord?"  he whispered.  Briefly he considered fleeing but acknowledged the lawful command laid upon him by the king to show up.

      As he entered the Cathedral the Cook and the Knight Captain finished lighting the tapers on the altar and returned to where the queen and the Chancellor stood.  King Guardia stood in front of the altar.

      "Thank you,"  the king noticed as Glenn came into the light.  "Our principle has arrived.  Approach us!"

      Glenn had no memory of the king ever having been quite so commanding or imperious.  Not only was this was a king to respect and to admire, but also to watch carefully for there was a dangerous edge to him as well.  He straightened his stance, threw his cloak over his shoulders and neared the altar.

      "Stop!"  Glenn instantly froze, waiting for the next command.  "Give'st over the Masamune!"

      Four jaws dropped open.  The Chancellor, Cook and Knight Captain narrowed their eyes as they regarded Glenn and he simply gaped at the King.

      "Alpha?"  the Knight Captain asked in wonder.

      "Alpha!"  Queen Leene confirmed.  "Now, shh!"

      "High ceremony requires high language, Leene insisted,"  the king responded to Glenn's expression.  "Now hand the sword over."

      Glenn did as he was commanded.  The king took the hilt, walked back to the altar and lifted the Masamune up.  It glowed in the candlelight.  All eyes were upon the king, mesmerized as he became more than a man, more even than a king.  For this moment it was as if he were the will of Guardia itself.

      "Guardia and her people have thrived for centuries and shall for many more to come.  Many have been her Heroes;  noble in spirit, will and deed.  The last Hero was my own knight, Cyrus."  The king's eyes lost focus and sorrow suffused his face.  He gathered his thoughts and continued.  "Many have been the weapons of these mighty Heroes who have defended Guardia;  blades and bows, axes and spears of renown abilities."

      King Guardia lowered the sword and gazed at it with shining eyes.  "This sword is the most famous, 'older than Guardia itself and yet younger than the newborn day'.  None have ever matched its peerless power, none have equaled its legendary deeds.  I am proud that its power serves Guardia in my lifetime, elated to have a chance to hold it, and humbled by all it has done."

      "Matchless as the Masamune is, it is also the Hero who wields it who accomplishes great deeds.  Not everyone is made to be a Hero.  Sometimes the Hero's path is hard, full of pain and sorrow.  I know not why Alpha was a frog at the time when we most needed a Hero's might, I can only imagine his Hero's path was stranger than most.  He wielded the Masamune and defeated Magus during Guardia's darkest hour and further helped to save this planet from an even greater evil.  It is fitting that a Legendary Blade have such a one as he as its Hero.  Approach us, Alpha, and swear again your vow of fealty."

      Glenn felt he was in a dream he could not wake from as he knelt, took the king's free hand between his own and the ancient vow slipped readily from his lips.  His heart was full of foreboding that the king was preparing one of his grand celebrations and Glenn, shy by nature, would from this day forward be thronged whenever he ventured outside the castle.

      "Now, the Queen's Vow,"  Guardia directed.  Queen Leene walked to her husband's side.

      Glenn took her hands in his.  Easier still these words flowed from his tongue, to guard and protect Leene, even above the King, for she was the true future of Guardia.

      "Only I know you are Glenn,"  the queen whispered in his ear after accepting his vow and raising him to his feet.  Serenely she took her place at the king's left hand.

      "You have vowed to serve, honor and protect Guardia, myself and the queen.  Now, kneel!"

      Glenn knelt and felt as he did so that the noose was tightening about his neck.  "This is not the life I choose!"  his heart cried within him.  "Mine only desire was to be Cyrus' squire, I never willed him to die, for me to become a frog, or to become a Hero!  Why can I never be what I want to be?"

      He dropped his head, waiting for the light sword strokes that would knight him and shatter the shadow of a life that he had made from the ruins of his old one.  They came.

      "By my will, before these witnesses, on this day I knight thee, Guardia's First Knight, peerless before all.  Arise, Sir Alpha!"  The king held up one hand to stay Glenn's obedience to his command.  "But I am mindful of what you said to me yesterday upon the battlements, and also mindful of your will.  Only those now here shall know of your Honor, to keep it to themselves until you release them or you are no more.  I too am held to this promise.  But I am the king and I shall have my will in one thing!"  Again the light sword strokes of knighting fell to Glenn's shoulders.  "Arise, Sir Cyril!"

      The king and queen helped Glenn to his feet.  He was slightly dazed by the king's actions.  Twice knighted?  Twice Named?

      "And now we celebrate the Kingdom of Guardia's newest knight.  I have my way and you, Alpha, have yours.  Work as you wish for Guardia's good as First Knight, work as I desire, Cyril, as a simple, ordinary knight.  You'll be celebrated, loved by the people for...  When's the next court knighting, Captain?"

      "The end of next week,"  the Knight Captain replied.

      "...Until the end of next week.  What?!"  the Masamune tugged from the king's hand to float above Glenn's head.  It twirled lazily in the air, glowed very brightly and split into two nearly identical, slightly demonic appearing, beings.

      "We do seem to witness many cool moments with this one, brother,"  Mune noted.

      "Yeah, well he is the Hero we were made for.  Each time he grows as a Hero, we grow as a sword,"  Masa answered.  "How about the king?  That was a very clever way to Honor without ruining Alpha's life.  The king has his knight and his celebration, Guardia has its First Knight and Alpha has the freedom he wants to live a – relatively – quiet life."

      "Relatively, Masa?"

      "Well, we're here.  How quiet do you think it can stay, Mune?  Especially now that we can sometimes speak to him in his thoughts?"

      The two, Masa and Mune, rushed one another, glowed and merged into the sword again.  It floated down into Glenn's outstretched hand.

      "Wow!  So the Masamune..."  the Knight Captain began.

      "Is Masa and Mune, brothers fuse'th magically into a sword.  They seem'eth to enjoy it.  They're right.  Each time I gain in..."

      "Heroship,"  Leene supplied.

      Glenn bowed to the queen.  "...they gain in power and skill as well."

      "Enough!  You are Honored, Alpha, Cyril, whoever you are, and I have a kingdom to run,"  the king declared.

      "Just one thing confuses me, my liege,"  Glenn began.

      "Just one?  You're more on top of it than I!"  the Chancellor interjected.

      "No offense, but why was the Cook here?"  Glenn asked.

      "Oh!"  Leene smiled.  "You know that if the Knight Captain knew, sooner or later his brother,  the Cook, would too.  We figured to invite him so he could see for himself for once.  We have his promise, along with the Chancellor and Knight Captain, to keep your secret."

      "Sire!  If you had sworn me to utmost secrecy I'd not have told even my brother..."  the Knight Captain began.

      "Oh, that's not true!  You've never been able to keep a secret from me!"  the Cook retorted as he dashed out of the Cathedral.

      "Why you!"  the Knight Captain yelled as he raced to the Cathedral door.  "By your leave, majesties, Sir Chancellor, and Sir Cyril,"  the Knight Captain bowed to each in turn.  "I've got to box my brother's ears!"

*****

      Glenn made his way later across Zenan Bridge, tossed a jaunty wave toward Prime, who only flashed his photoreceptors back  (Prime was currently being a scarecrow to give Fiona's newly planted forest a break from the birds), and made his way to the Cursed Woods he had for too long called home.  When he had been a frog the denizens of the woods had left him alone but now that he was human he threaded the path to his pad carefully to avoid upsetting them into attacking him.

      He had just stepped to the first rung of the ladder down to his place when he heard a commotion just out of sight.  He drew the Masamune and raced to confront what he feared he would find.

      Leene watched in utter amazement as Glenn rushed the six monsters threatening her.  The Masamune became a twinkling blur and three mutant tadpoles fell over dead.  Glenn sidestepped one claw-handed attack, circled back bringing his sword up into a guard position and snapped a gust of wind from it at one of the standing tadpoles.

      Leene felt a searing pain strike her hand as a seventh unnoticed monster, some weird cross between frog and snake, bit her severely.  As she screamed in surprise and pain the creature leaped to her shoulder and vaulted off of her right at Glenn's head.  He snapped the Masamune up just in time to cleave the hideous creature mid-leap.  He slashed across a gnawer behind him, ripping its torso open as he ducked another leaping attack.  The two remaining monsters fell to another Nirvana Strike.  Glenn pivoted, scanning the woods swiftly, sword held poised between guard and attack.  Once he was sure no creatures remained he turned to his queen.

      Leene twisted her injured hand deeper in the folds of her skirt trying to hide her injury from this cool, deadly new Glenn.  More than anything she wished she had not followed him;  more than anything she wished to be far away from his level, unnerving and emotionless gaze.
 
      "I..I'm sorry, Glenn..."  she whispered as she dropped her eyes to stare at the leaves and loam at her feet.

      She glanced up just in time to see the grim warrior visage fall away and her faithful retainer return to his face.

      "Oh, milady!  Why dost thou follow'est me?  Thou art injured!"  he cried as he raced to her side.

      "It's only a scratch..."  Leene began as she fell over in a dead faint.

      Glenn ignored her bitten hand as he caught her; he was far more concerned with the blood pouring alarmingly fast from her seriously wounded shoulder.

*****

      Leene opened her eyes to see hard-packed earth riddled through with roots above her.  Her head was cradled by a soft downy pillow and she was laying on a small wooden bed.  On a rough-hewn table next to the bed bloody cloths and a basin of red-tinged water bore mute testimony to the dressing of her wounds.  The stinging bite in her hand was overwhelmed by the searing agony in her shoulder.  Wordlessly she cried out in fear and pain and sat up.

      The earthen room swooped and spun about her.  Leene looked down at herself and gasped.  The whole right side of her dress showed slickly red with blood.  Even as she watched the white bandages on her shoulder slowly became red as blood seeped into them.

      "Shh, Queen Leene.  Be thou still for one more moment and I shall heal thee,"  Glenn whispered as he gently yet firmly pushed her back down upon the pillow.

      Weakly she nodded her head, biting back the nausea rising in her throat.  A change in the air made her look up.

      Glenn had backed up a few feet from the bed and thrown his arms out wide.  Leene watched in wonder as Glenn levitated a few inches off the floor and gathered the light of the room to himself.  He began to glow and blue light sparkled about his hands.  The light coalesced and, under Glenn's direction, shot forth and suffused Leene.

      A feeling of comforting warmth and peace flowed through her, washing away her pain.  She focused on Glenn who had closed his eyes in concentration to send as much of the healing energy to Leene as he could.  Sweat stood out on his forehead and his whole frame trembled.

      Leene felt that incredible energy flow through her, seeking out the damage the monster had done to her.  The rents in her shoulder closed and, lowering her eyes, she watched as a blue glow knit together the bite wound in her hand.

      Unable to do any more, Glenn let his spell fall and stumbled to his knees from his tremendous effort.

      "My lady, thou art..."  he whispered.

      "Completely healed,"  Leene reassured him as she rose from the bed and assisted him to his feet.  "Although this gown is going to be hard to explain!"

      Glenn rummaged about in a chest and came up with a tunic and cloak.  "These can serve 'til I return thee to the castle 'though they may be somewhat short.  They were crafted for my frog form.  I shall be above 'til thou call'est out, milady,"  he said as he climbed up the ladder.

      Once above he retrieved the Masamune from the bush where he had hidden it and cleaned its edge carefully.  After sheathing it he collected the monster carcasses and tossed them out of sight into the woods.  When he returned from the last trip he heard Leene calling him.

      "I am here, my queen,"  he announced as he descended the ladder.

      He marveled upon seeing her that she could still look so regal even while garbed in a tunic and cloak that were too short by six or seven inches.

      "I should return thee to the castle..."  Glenn began.

      "Nonsense!  You do what you came here for and after perhaps you can relate to me your adventures as you promised yesterday?"  Leene insisted.  "You made me think there might be something troubling you, something about Schala."

      "Yes Schala.  Mine adventure began in the Cathedral.  Thou hast been kidnapped by Yakra and Ariel taken in thy place at the castle.  I knew she was not thee and that the search had been called off when she was found.  Orion and Elora had come searching for thee as well.  A Naga-ette threaten'eth them and so I leaped in to rescue them..."     Glenn began.
 
      Much later he concluded.  "...and King Guardia and I return'eth here.  The portal closed behind us and the rest thou know'est."

      "Not all.  How did you regain your human form?  What did you do between returning here and joining the castle guards a few months ago as 'Cyril'?"

      "My Queen, there are some things I will keep my counsel on and those are amongst them,"  Glenn replied quietly.

      "You are right, Glenn, forgive my curiosity,"  Leene rolled the papers in her lap into a scroll.  Early on in Glenn's narrative she had asked for paper and pen and taken a record of his tale. "So you and your friends saved us from more than Magus.  The king mentioned saving past and future, but I had no idea it took so much out of all of you.  When Lavos killed Orion..."

      "I thought my heart would break anew...  But we were able to rescue him."

      "Dead is dead, usually.  How?"  Leene asked simply.

      "Lavos was not of our planet and Orion was not meant to perish in the Dark Ages.  His demise at that point was an aberration in the flow of time.  We must need rescue him, not just for himself, but also to mend the rifts in time that it caused.  Oh, my queen, sometimes I have nightmares of what could have happened if we miss-stepped along the way...  The Reptites could hath killed humanity's ancestors...  Magus could hath succeeded in summoning Lavos to this time – but, Leene,"  Glenn threw himself to his knees and grasped her hand.  "I fear we did miss-step, I fear the thread of time unravel'eth...  I fear some peril Schala faces threaten'eth thee and Ariel and all of thy descendants, but I've no way...  I don't know where to start..."

      "I'm touched by your concern as always, my knight, but your dilemma is not unsolvable.  Start at the end,"  Leene stated calmly.

      "The end...?  Oh, the End of Time.  Aye, that doth make sense, but..."

      "How to get there?  Leave that to me.  Write a letter to Ariel and I shall see it delivered,"  Leene promised.  "Perhaps we should return to the castle now."

      "Let me escort thee back to the castle.  Thou should rest and the king should know that thou hath been injured..."

      "...and healed.  Thank you, Glenn."

*****

      Ariel tossed in her sleep.  The comfort of her royal bed, the tasteful decor of her tower room, her safety guaranteed by her royal knights;  none of these saved her from the tempest of nightmares that assaulted her this night.

      "What?  ...Alpha, I can't hear you...  Find it?  What?  ...the Masamune...  Okay..."  Ariel slipped into a deeper, dreamless sleep.

      Outside her chamber door her guards changed shifts;  quietly trading places as alert, rested knights replaced those whom sleep courted with ever-increasing allure.  Inside her room the moonlight slowly flowed across the floor.  Ariel's soft, downy bed could not prevent her restless dreaming.

      "Oh, Alpha...  It is you isn't it?  What?  ...tapestry...  Frog?  ...Schala?"

      Again the dream lost its powerful hold and Guardia's princess found deep, restful sleep.

      Ariel awoke, rubbed her eyes and sat up in her bed.  "Such strange dreams!  So shadowy and yet so real.  Is Alpha trying to tell me something?"

      She arose prepared herself for the day and went into the town of Truce.  Politely she knocked on the door of Orion's house.

      "Oh, hello, Ariel,"  Orion's mother greeted her.  "I've just put breakfast on the table.  Will you eat with us?"

      "Blueberry pancakes?"  Ariel asked knowing blueberries were in season.

      "What else?  Come in,"  Orion's mother threw the door wide and embraced Ariel warmly as she encouraged her in.

      Ariel appreciated the warmth that the motherly hug brought even as she regretted that it was not her own mother who showed it.  Ariel's mother had died when she was quite young and as yet her relationship with her father did not allow many hugs.  Yet.

      She found Orion at the table, bright morning sunlight streaming through the window to make the highly appetizing pancakes even more appealing.  Ariel's stomach growled.

      Orion laughed.  "Good morning to you, too!"

      "Oh, stop it, I haven't eaten yet today!"

      "A fate worse than death, to miss breakfast!"  Orion teased.

      "Only when it is your mother's cooking.  Especially pancakes!"  Ariel retorted.

      "Dig in, dear,"  Orion's mother commanded as she placed a plate stacked high with pancakes in front of the princess.

      "Oh, yum!"  Ariel lavished syrup over the stack and fell to with gusto.

      "Princess, I'm so glad you can enjoy such simple pleasures.  I don't believe there is a spoiled bone in your body,"  Orion's mother observed.

      "You know I prefer the nickname Orion gave me!"  Ariel smiled.  "We agreed that in this house I am not a princess!"

      "Do you see us bowing and curtsying?  Calm down, Ariel.  In other words, deal with it, 'princess',"  Orion teased.

      "You...you..."

      "No fighting at the table,"  Orion's mother said serenely.  "Seconds, anyone?"

      "No thank you, ma'am.  Done, Orion?  Let's go visit Elora!  Oh, can I help you with the clean up?"  Ariel asked belatedly.

      "No, dear,"  Orion's mom chuckled.  "I've got it.  Have fun on whatever adventures you find today!"

*****

      "Okay, spill it, yer highness.  What's got yer royal britches in a bunch?"  Elora demanded.
 
      Ariel stuck her tongue out at Elora while making a nasty face.  Elora reached out to tug on her hair.

      "Girls!"  Orion roared.  "Must I separate you?  Ariel, you apologize for being impolite and Elora you apologize for being...polite?"

      The girls giggled at Orion's confusion.

      Ariel settled herself on a tree stump as Orion scurried up a tree behind her to an obligingly low-hanging branch and Elora perched on a nearby stone wall.

      "Well last night I dreamed Alpha was trying to tell me something.  I – thought it was Alpha anyway.  I couldn't see him clearly and it sounded as if her were speaking to me over a great distance.  He kept telling me to look for the Masamune and the frog;  and that we had to find Schala before it was too late.  I could feel that it was urgent...  That it was important and that he was frightened.  I don't remember anything else."

      "I hope nothing horrible happened to old Froggy.  I know he is dead by now to us in our time, but I hope he lived, lives a good, full life in his time.  Time travel makes even my head spin!"  Elora said.

      "Is there any mention of Alpha in the Royal Records?  Any clue as to why he might be trying to contact us now?"  Orion asked sensibly.

      "No, I've looked.  He's mentioned as the Frog Hero, Slayer of Magus and Rescuer of Queen Leene and Guardia, but no mention of him as part of the Realm after that.  Queen Leene's favorite guard was named 'Cyril'.  I figure he must be Cyrus' brother or something.  It could be Alpha left Leene once the danger was past and returned to the Cursed Woods to live out his life quietly.  It'd be just like him,"  Ariel mused.

      "How sad!  He'd be lonely..."  Elora noted.

      "Well, it seems he's trying to contact us now.  Have you ever looked to see if the Masamune was in the treasure room?  Surely that sword would have survived a couple of centuries.  Maybe Masa and Mune can tell us why Alpha is trying to reach us now, and what happened to him after the Gates were closed,"  Orion figured.

      "I'm not entirely sure that makes scientific sense..."  Elora began.

      "But it's a magic sword!  Besides, it's something to do.  I hate feeling helpless!"  Ariel urged.  "C'mon!"

      Once at the castle they descended the steps to the basement treasury room.  Elora promptly located the master inventory, Orion made for the weapon racks and Ariel drifted about just trying to feel what she was searching for.  Orion carefully replaced the swords, lances and spears that he moved trying to see what was under them.

      "No mention of the Masamune or a sword of that description here,"  Elora sighed, adjusting her eyeglasses.

      "It's not stored with the weapons,"  Orion confirmed.

      "I'm not sure it's here at all, but look!"  Ariel said pointing to a giant tapestry.

     "Great Guardia!"  Elora breathed.

      The tapestry reached from the floor to the vaulted ceiling.  Upon the green field the Masamune, hilt up, glowed in silver and gold thread.

      "How did we never notice that before?"  Orion wondered.

      "It wasn't here before.  Oh, I'm sure the people here know of it, but we were traveling hither and thither through time while such changes were occurring, so our memories are a little out of step with what reality ended up becoming.  Kinda like how only we remember the Black Omen in the sky of our time, even though everyone mentioned it.  When we destroyed Lavos, the Black Omen never rose in any sky but the Dark Ages,"  Elora explained.

      "I'm glad you understand it because I sure don't!"  Ariel commented.

      "I only sort of understand it.  It makes me realize how very fragile Time is,"  Elora admitted.  "Well, now that we found the Masamune, or what we can of it, what do we do?"

      "While you two have been chatting, I've been looking about.  Come back here,"  Orion commanded from behind some furniture.

      "He's gotten really bossy, hasn't he?"  Ariel noted.

      "Yeah, but he has his uses.  Let's see what he found,"  Elora responded as she climbed around a huge armoire.

      "Oh!"

      Ariel climbed right behind her and they saw Orion, a huge smile on his face, resting his elbow on the head of a life-size version of Alpha carved in marble.

      "Some clue!"  Elora said.

      "I can't find any secret holes behind the tapestry or anything in Alpha's pockets.  I figure Alpha may be trying to leave us a message the way Queen Leene did for Ariel in the Rainbow Shell,"  Orion stated.

      "I still have that letter.  I keep it in my mother's jewelry box with Queen Leene's Coral Pin.  The Pendant I'll always wear,"  Ariel said quietly.

      Elora circled the small statue.  "Not exactly a pretty or heroic pose,"  she noted.  "What do you suppose he's doing?"

      Orion looked at the statue of his friend again.  "Why, that's his pose when he's about to Slurp someone.  I'd recognize that with how often he had to Slurp me!"

      He regarded Alpha's statue and looked more closely at the construction of the head.  He reached out and opened the subtly hinged jaw.  In the cleverly carved mouth of the statue, where Alpha's tongue would be, there was a scroll.

      "And Alpha speaks!"  Ariel crowed.  "Okay, but someone had to say it!"  she said to the sour looks Orion and Elora cast her way.

      Orion unrolled the scroll, read the heading and handed it to Ariel.  "It's addressed to you."
 
  'Dear Ariel,

  Not a day goes by that I do not think of and miss thee, Elora, Orion, Prime, and Arvia.  Thou art as precious to me as are my memories of Cyrus and mine own Queen Leene.

  Lately I have had forebodings regarding Schala.  We ne'er did ascertain her fate after the Ocean Palace disaster.  For her own self I would help her to the limits of my strength, for she was most good and fair of deed.  But I am also mindful that she is thine ancestor and her fate could affect thee, thy line, and also my beloved Queen Leene.

  I crave a favor from thee, my princess.  Please, use the Wings of Time to aid me in finding Gaspar and asking him to read this tangle of Time lines.  My heart is sore affrighted within me and I would do anything to safeguard Schala, Queen Leene, thee and thy descendants.

  There is a lone tree that o'erlooks the water in a clearing near where Orion's house will be.  He must know of it.  Please, bring Ark and look for me there.

I remain, faithfully thine,
Alpha'

      "Wow, even his letters sound like him with all the 'thees' and 'thous',"  Elora noted.

      "Elora, what state is the Wings of Time in?"  Orion asked after a moment of thought.

      "It's at Melchior's.  As usual Ark is ready to fly or Time trip, but we have to be careful.  We can't risk changing something,"  Elora cautioned.

      "Alpha's note is pretty clear.  He's concerned and he knows about Ark and Time travel.  If we get him and go directly to Gaspar at the End of Time, there's no way we would hurt anything..."  Ariel said.

      Elora paced a little.  "Well, no...  And I don't want to let Alpha down.  It would be super to see him again, but we can't just rip through Time to visit friends."

      "We aren't.  Alpha feels there's some trouble in the Time stream.  I feel kinda edgy too.  This isn't a simple visit.  If we changed something that shouldn't have been changed, it's our responsibility to set it right again.  Elora, go home, get your gear.  We'll meet you there,"  Orion decided.

      Ariel returned to her room and retrieved her adventuring gear.  She donned her Prism Dress, grasped her crossbow Valkyre, took up her backpack full of various tonics, ethers and other such stuff and met Orion in front of the castle.  They stashed her bow and gear in a tree near Orion's house.  They went up to Orion's room where a Clone of him stood in a corner holding Orion's best adventuring gear.  Orion unbuckled the sword belt and handed it to Ariel.

      "How creepy!  Why do you keep it here?"  Ariel asked.

      "Oh, I got it to remind me of all you guys did to save me,"  Orion admitted.

      "Well that's a little less weird, but doesn't it bother you at night?  Sleeping with it staring at you?"

      "No...it's kinda like you, Elora, Alpha, Prime and Arvia are watching over me, protecting me.  It's actually comforting.  I mean, you guys broke Time and space to bring me back...  Well prevent me dying.  I couldn't ask for better friends.  The Clone reminds me of that,"  Orion told her.

      "Seen that way it's not too creepy," Ariel replied.

      "Anyway that's one reason why we have to see what Alpha needs.  He wouldn't reach across hundreds of years just because he's lonely.  There is a reason.  He's our friend and he's asking our help.  It's a no-brainer really,"  Orion offered.

      "Lead on!  To Elora's house we go!"  Ariel sang out.

      From Elora's they used the Magic Waterspout to Heckran's cave and from there walked to Melchior's hut.

      "What brings you over today?"  Melchior asked.

      They told the Guru of Life all they knew and showed him Alpha's letter.

      "I've felt no ripples in Time, but my specialty is Life, so perhaps I wouldn't.  I know my memories are mixed, sometimes I remember the Black Omen hanging over my hut, but other times it is as if it never existed,"  Melchior said.  "If you are cautious, collect Alpha and go immediately to Gaspar at the End of Time, I can see no harm.  Do not let anyone see you!  Keep Ark low to the ground and away from where you know people are,"  Melchior further cautioned.

      "We will, Melchior.  Thanks!"  Orion promised.

      "Is it just me or does Ark seem happy to see us?"  Ariel asked.

      "Gaspar did say that Ark had a mind and soul of its own.  It did follow us when Orion was – lost,"  Elora reminded her.

      "Now the tree Alpha mentioned should be over here,"  Orion muttered as he carefully piloted the ship just above the trees to a spot near his house.

      Orion set the compass and Ark sailed through Time to come to rest in the same place in the Middle Ages.

      Glenn watched as the Wings of Time materialized just above the treetops, the chrono-distortion sending a ripple through the air that quickly vanished.  He approved of the way the Ark landed swiftly to minimize its impact in this Time.  He gathered his gear and strode through the forest to where the Time ship landed.

      Ariel was on the ground scanning the woods on the other side and Orion was helping Elora down.  Seeing his friends again caused a lump to rise in Glenn's throat.

      Orion turned from assisting Elora and caught sight of Glenn.

      "Oh, no!  We're in the wrong place!  Board again, quickly!"  Orion said in dismay as he advanced rapidly toward Glenn.  The girls jumped to obey his order.

      "Good sir, we are so sorry to have caused trouble for you..."  he began.

      "Thou idiot.  It's me, Alpha, er, Glenn,"  Glenn said with a lopsided smile.

      Orion's eyes widened as he stared at Glenn's human form.  He staggered back a step, tripped and sat down hard on the ground.  Elora and Ariel reversed and descended to the ground again.  Glenn reached a strong arm down to assist Orion back to his feet.  Once he was upright again Orion noticed that he had to look up into his friend's laughing green eyes.  He had always been taller than Alpha.

      "What happened?"  he asked in a daze as a delighted smile crept over his face.

      "What are you doing, Orion?  Where's Froggy?"  Elora demanded as Ariel and she walked up.

      "Here, right here.  Alpha...  Glenn has somehow been restored to his natural form!"  Orion grinned.

      "Ooh, you handsome guy!  You never told us you were a total hunk!"  Elora chided.

      "You are utterly gorgeous,"  Ariel added quietly.

      "So, Glenn,"  Orion turned from watching the girls swallow their amazement.  "Just how did you return to human form?"

      "After Lavos' defeat, after King Guardia and I return'eth here from the Gate in Leene Square,"  Glenn began as he swept his hair out of his face with a graceful gesture.  "I begged his leave and traversed about trying to come to terms with all our travels had accomplished.  I visited some of the people who assisted us, Tata's going to be a fine guardsman, by the way, and tried to decide what I should do with the rest of my life.  I returned to my pad,"  everyone groaned and Glenn smiled broadly at his own pun.  "Which showed me that I could ne'er again be content with only that solitary existence.  Setting Cyrus to rest and saving Orion has lifted much of the sorrow from my soul,”  Glenn's eyes unfocused and his gaze lifted over their heads recalling the powerful memories.

       He continued,  “I know it may'eth sound silly, but I visited Cyrus' tomb and talked to him.  No, he didst not show up and answer me but I felt as if he were endeavoring to tell me something.  Finally, after more traveling, I felt strong enough to go to where it happened;  where Cyrus was slain and I transformed.  When I went to the waterfall near where I first woke as a frog under, I felt – strange.  As I stood under the cascade of water, I could feel magic gathering about me.  It enter into me and I changed;  not back into the gangly youth I had been, but well – this.  The man I would have been had I ne'er been made into a frog.  Magus claim'eth his death would break my curse, perhaps I had to go back to where it happened to let the reversal take place."

      "Hmph!  I think it was my kiss!"  Ariel said, remembering the surprise Alpha had shown when she kissed him before he left Leene Square.

      "Well, then ne'er kiss me again, fair damsel, for I desire not a return to being a frog!"  Glenn laughed as he gently teased her.

      "We'd better make sure,"  Ariel teased in return.  She stood on her tiptoes and kissed Glenn's cheek.  "See?  No change!"

      "Oh, I don't know..."  Elora said.  She too kissed Glenn on his other cheek.  "I think he's blushing.  That's a significant physiological change!"

      Orion snorted.  "Are you two quite finished?"  he demanded, glaring at the two girls.  Ariel looked into Orion's eyes, giggled, nodded and turned away. 

   Elora cupped her chin, regarded the humoring expression on Glenn's face, gently kissed his cheek again and said,  "For now."  Glenn laughed at Orion's consternation.

      "Seriously, what's the trouble?"    Orion asked.

      "My dreams have been troubled of late and a sense of dark foreboding fills the quiet part of my days.  I fear Schala, and through her, Leene, thou, Ariel, and the entire future of the Guardia line is in danger.  Also, a few days a-gone the Masamune gain'eth in power again when I was knighted,"  Glenn responded turning a troubled gaze upon Ariel.

      "You were knighted?  Way to go, Froggy – er, Glenn!"  Elora cheered.

      "Twice knighted actually.  Once as Alpha and then again as 'Cyril',"  Glenn admitted.

      "Cyril?"  Ariel asked.

      "The name I took when I was transformed back.  'Alpha' is a great Hero an' I have no desire to be treated – well, famous.  'Glenn', in a way, is dead since I can ne'er return to who I was and, well, 'Cyril' is close enough to 'Cyrus' for me to honor him.  I think of him as I honor my vow to watch o'er Queen Leene,"  Glenn explained.

      "Of course!  Sir Cyril!  There's mention of him all through the castle records...  I assumed it was Cyrus' brother.  Now it makes sense!"  Ariel said.  "We were concerned, we scanned the royal archives and could find no exploits of Alpha's.  We thought you had gone back to the Cursed Woods, we'd no idea you'd returned to human.  Oh, the adventures you...  Oh!  I better not say anything more!"  Ariel covered her mouth with both hands and looked at Glenn with stars in her eyes.  Glenn wondered just what adventures were in store for him and whether the reality would match up with the history Ariel had read.

      "You said the Masamune powered up again?"  Orion prompted Glenn quickly.

      Glenn hid his smile at his friend's slight jealousy as he responded.  "They can now speak to me in my mind.  'Tis rather disconcerting.  But it seems every time my sword gain'eth in power we are called upon to do more.  I think the Masamune's gain in ability is connected to the peril I fear Schala may be in.  I ask of thee to convey me to the End of Time.  I must converse with Gaspar regarding these strange forebodings for I canst not see them clearly or be certain I am reading them aright.  I am glad to see all of you again, e'en though we may be once again called into danger;  I could ask for no better friends to be by my side.  Now, let us board and be off,"  Glenn urged.

      Orion reached for Glenn's pack and went around the back of Ark to stow it.  Glenn bowed slightly to Ariel as he offered.  "Dost thou care for mine assistance, my princess?"

      Ariel giggled as she accepted Glenn's help up to Ark's seats.  After he seated her he leaped lightly to the ground again.

      "And thou, my Wonder Worker?"  Glenn asked Elora as he landed next to her.

      "Wonder Worker?"  Ariel teased as Glenn settled Elora into the seat next to her.

      "I notice you let him call you 'princess',"  Elora replied archly as Glenn leaped down.

      "Yeah, well, he has such dreamy green eyes.  I'm sure it'll get just as tedious as when you and Orion say it soon enough.  More's the pity.  'My princess.'  My ancestress had all the luck,"  Ariel mused.  The two girls were still giggling when Orion vaulted into the driver's seat.  Glenn followed directly after, turning a somersault in the air before landing lightly on the wing next to Orion.  Orion gaped at him.

      Glenn smiled gently.  "I have a few, very slight abilities from my ten years as a frog.  I am an expert tumbler, not quite enough for me to have retained Leap Slash, and I am afraid I can no longer work with thee to perform Spire.  Is there enough room for me to sit next to thee?  With four of us traveling the Time stream together, the ride should prove rather bumpy."

        Orion shifted and they found there was indeed enough room.  He set the time compass and called out.  "Next stop, the End of Time!"

      The white ship lifted gently into the air, rose to just above the tree tops and silently slipped into the time stream.  Just as Glenn had predicted the ride was more exciting than usual.

~TBC~
« Last Edit: October 19, 2020, 03:21:56 pm by Kitt »

Kitt

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Re: Shadows of Schala (Part One)
« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2020, 01:42:13 pm »
Shadows of Schala - Chapter Two

The Timeship drifted slowly as Orion eased it into its berth. He leaped out and turned to offer a hand to Ariel, who bounded past him, her golden hair flying. Elora giggled at the hurt puppy expression on his face as she too, disembarked without assistance.

"You're welcome!" Orion muttered under his breath.

"Worry not," Glenn advised. "I'm sure she appreciate'th the gesture. She simply know'eth not how to tell thee."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Orion responded, a devilish grin washing over his face. "But I can think of other appropriate gestures..."

"Of that, my friend, I hold no doubts!" Glenn laughed as he clapped Orion on the back.

"What are you boys whispering about back there?" Ariel called over her shoulder.

"Nothing!"

They walked down a corridor, leading to a now-familiar lamp post, located in the center of the odd brick structure they knew as the "End of Time". An old man leaned on a cane next to the lamp post and dozed on, oblivious to the arrival of his visitors.

"Wake up, Gaspar," Orion said as he shook the old man's shoulder. "We might have a problem."

The old man, Gaspar, jumped slightly as he came to full awareness. He was dressed in an impeccable suit and a bowler hat rested lightly on his head. He pulled out a pocket watch, flipped it open, consulted the time, closed it with a snap and smiled benignly at them.

"Somehow," he began. "I expected to see you. You've actually arrived sooner than I thought. It's not nice to throw off the timetables of the Guru of Time."

"What are you talking about?" Ariel asked. "How did you know we were coming?"

Just them a heavy footfall sounded from beyond the corridor on the other side of Gaspar's post. The corridor's gate swung open and a metal boot stepped through the opening, heralding the arrival of another old friend. An imposing, massive, gleaming gold robot came through the door, closing it softly behind him.

"Prime!" Elora exclaimed as she rushed to greet her favorite out-time friend. She liked Alpha or Glenn, and Arvia, the girl from Prehistoric times well enough, but Prime was special. Many were the times she had to repair him and she poured all of her mechanical skills into "healing" him unstintingly. Prime had begun to develop emotions and his first was an affection for Elora.

Prime caught Elora as she jumped the last few feet to him and swung her about. They circled three times before Elora put her hands on his arms and begged him to stop.

"I'm getting dizzy!" Elora laughed. "But what are you doing here?"

"Hello, Elora," Prime said as he set her on her feet and hugged her carefully with only a fraction of his great strength. "All of you?" he bowed to Orion and Ariel in turn as a greeting. "But who is...  Wait. I know you," he continued as his photoelectric gaze fell on Glenn. "Several people would wave to me as I tended Fiona's Forest, but it always seemed to be more meaningful to you. Who are you?"

"'Tis me," Glenn replied with a courtly bow. "Alpha. The curse Magus place'th on me hath been broken."

"It does my processors good to hear that, Alpha," Prime said.

"Please," Glenn began. "My days as 'Alpha' art behind me. Thou may'est call me by mine own name, 'Glenn'."

"Very well," Prime acquiesced with a flash of his photoreceptors. "'Alpha' has been purged: you are now 'Glenn'."

"'Alpha has been purged'," Ariel repeated. "Why does that sound bad?"

"Just updating my memory codes," Prime responded. "Nothing to worry about. Tell me, how did you get here? I did not think you had contacted Melchior yet, Mr. Gaspar," Prime looked toward the Guru.

"It wasn't my doing," Gaspar said. "They showed up on their own."

"We used Ark," Orion explained. "Glenn contacted us..."

"Thy pardon, Orion," Glenn interrupted. "About that, I fear we may have a problem, one that span'eth thousands of years of Time. Of late, I have had particularly compelling dreams, revolving around Magus' sister, Schala. I know not what to make of them."

"Well, ever since I received a message from Belthasar that Prime noticed an anomaly, I've been scanning the time-stream. The overall fabric of Time has been unraveling, all leading back to a single event. That event is the rising of the Black Omen," Gaspar paused to let the significance of that last revelation sink in. "I've searched the length of Time and made a discovery. Ariel," Gaspar turned to address the princess. "Schala is your direct ancestress. Your line is starting to disappear from Time, starting from the Future, where Doan has vanished and reaching back to when Schala disappeared following the Ocean Palace disaster. The one that created the Black Omen."

"Wait a second," Orion interrupted. "You're telling us that Ariel is going to – to disappear because we destroyed the Black Omen and defeated Lavos? And there is nothing we can do?"

"Actually, there is one thing," Gaspar noted mildly.

"WHAT?!" five voices demanded in unison.

"Rescue Schala," The Guru of Time stated simply, adjusting his hat. "All you need to do is prevent her from vanishing when the Black Omen rises."

"But how?" Elora asked. "We destroyed it!"

"Duh, Elora. I thought you were the brains," Orion scoffed. "We have a time ship and we're close personal friends with the legendary Guru of Time!"

"It's not quite that easy, I'm afraid," Gaspar warned. "My visions regarding Schala have been shrouded in darkness."

"My dreams, too, have been vague," Glenn said. "and rather enigmatic."

"Yeah, those odd dreams that made me think of Alpha were that way, too,”  Ariel added.

"What be the thread that connect'eth us?" Glenn asked.

No one had an answer at first. Elora glancing from Gaspar to Glenn and then to Ariel, found her attention drawn to Ariel's pendant. It glowed softly as Schala's did.

"Could it be – Schala herself?" Elora ventured.

After a pause Orion spoke out, "No. I can see why Schala might try to reach Gaspar, since he lived in the same time, or even Ariel since she's descended from Schala, but what is Glenn's connection to her?"

“I hath somewhat recently been – touched by the magic of Schala's brother. My dreams did not begin 'til Magus' curse had been broken," Glenn observed softly.

"Yes, but we've all been touched by Magus' magic..."

"Glenn was changed completely by that magic, down to the cellular level," Prime observed. "Unless you have been keeping something from me, no one else has been turned into another species."

Mune spoke in Glenn's mind. “You also carry us. We are another strong connection to Magus. We are from his time, we are specially enchanted to weaken him and we enabled Hero and weapon to slay him."

Glenn pondered that for a moment, then added, "I carry the brothers Masa and Mune. They art from Schala's time, they art enchanted to weaken Magus. I use that enchantment to slay her brother. Perhaps these connections attracted Schala's attention?"

Elora shook her head.  "It's possible Schala's not trying to reach you, any of you. I think she might be trying to reach her brother."

"If that's the case, why would anyone but Magus get her message?" Orion argued.

"For the very reasons we've just stated. We three have the strongest connections to both Schala and Janus." Gaspar said.

"Too bad Janus, uh, Magus, is dead," Orion spoke into the following silence. "Otherwise, we could just ask him."

"Perhaps – you still can," the Guru noted.

"What?" Orion scoffed. "You have a way to bring the dead back – to – life," he trailed off.

The Guru reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like a simple egg. "Actually, yes! You would know that better than anyone!" He smiled at the young man.

"But we have not a copy of Magus.  Need we not one for the Chrono Trigger to work?" Glenn asked.

"I will contact Melchior and have him convey our need to the magician, Norstein Bekkler," Gaspar decided. "But it will take some time and I need to make sure that Janus' death was not a necessary step in the defeat of Lavos. Since the time stream is – clouded it will take me longer than usual. Rather than stand out here twiddling your thumbs, why not pay Spekkio a visit? It's been awhile since he's had company and he does get cranky."

"A cranky god of war? Wonderful!" Orion muttered. Gaspar chuckled and waved them off.

"Very well," Glenn said striding over and opening the door. He bowed Elora through with a tasteful flourish of his cloak. "Milady."

Elora blushed as she entered the room followed by Glenn and Prime. Ariel reached to catch the door, but Orion beat her to it, gallantly holding the door open for her.

"Humph!" Ariel humphed as she passed Orion tossing her chin in the air. Stung he let the door close after her.

"What am I doing wrong?" he beseeched Gaspar. "Glenn does stuff like that and it's charming."

"Yes, well, that is Glenn," Gaspar replied a small smile creeping across his features. "Believe me, young hero, I have spent much time here and unraveled many mysteries, and have yet to figure out women. Don't worry though," He patted Orion's shoulder. "Your future looks to be bright enough that I'd hang on to the Sun Shades that Taban made if I were you."

He smiled at Orion's confusion and shooed him. "Now get out of here! Your friends are waiting and I need to concentrate on my work."

Orion shook his head, tossed a last look over his shoulder at the mysterious old man, opened the door to Spekkio's pocket dimension and stepped through. Gaspar smiled warmly as he began the somewhat difficult task of contacting Melchior.

Orion stepped through the door, a puzzled look furrowing his brow. The first thing he noticed was a Nu – pink, rather than blue, but otherwise appearing like a Nu in every way. Nus are curious creatures, standing nearly two meters tall and the same wide. They appear to be all face with arms and legs attached oddly, almost as an afterthought. They spend most of their time sleeping and appear at all times to be utterly harmless. They don't speak much, and what they do say is rather cryptic, and no one has ever seen them eat. If one was observant enough, one could find a Nu in every time period. It is almost as if they were monitoring the advancement of the human race. True to form, this one was sleeping and Orion's friends were standing about it afraid to wake it.

"What's going on?" Orion asked. "Where's Spekkio?"

"Shh!" his friends admonished him, all at once.

"We are afeared to disturb its slumber," Glenn explained quietly. "We know not what it shall do."

"Oh, for crying out loud! It's a Nu!" Orion exclaimed, striding over to the bright pink creature. "HEY! WAKEY, WAKEY!"

The Nu jumped, startled at the sudden noise. Everyone else jumped, reaching for their weapons.

"Sorry, I just dozed off for a few millenia...  Oh, hey," it said. "Punk-head! And you brought everybody!"

Doubly shocked by the Nu's abundant use of language and its obvious recognition of the party, Orion asked, "Spekkio? Is that you?"

Spekkio looked radically different from the last time Orion had seen him. He changed in appearance the more skilled the group became with magic and the last time Orion had seen him, he looked like – well like a demon. Now, he looked like a pink Nu. Orion wasn't sure if this counted as an improvement or not. Spekkio was certainly friendlier looking, but it must be hard to gain respect as the self-proclaimed 'god of war' when you slept most of the day.

"In the psuedo-flesh.  Are you looking for some practice?"  Spekkio asked.

"Actually, Gaspar told us to come see you because you haven't had many visitors for a while. Some practice wouldn't hurt either."  Ariel supplied.

"Hmmm," Spekkio regarded them, "Wait just a sec, okay?"

Spekkio glowed a bright white. The room filled with intense light. The light shrank back to the center of the room and coalesced into a rough Nu shape. Abruptly, it split in two and faded. Two Nus now stood where before there had been only one.

The Nu on the right spoke up, "I need a little help, since there are so many of you. Meet my alter ego, Nu."

"I'm not the alter ego," the left side Nu argued. "You are my alter ego."

"That is not true," Nu-right said. "I am Spekkio!"

"Uh-uh," Nu-left retorted. "I am the god of war!"

"It does not matter," Prime interrupted. "You are both duplicates of the same being. Neither of you is more or less Spekkio than the other...  other...  other..." Prime's head began to spin like an out of control top as he kept repeating his last word.

Elora walked over, opened a panel on his back, hit a few buttons and scowled.

"What ail'eth our clockwork ally?" Glenn asked.

"His diagnostic readout says his logic chip has overloaded. Undoubtedly caused by two Nu-Spekkios arguing with each other." She cast a severely reproachful glance their way, as each one pointed to the other. "I was working on an illogic chip to give him if I ever saw him again, but I left it at home."

She thought for a moment, scratched her head and pulled a tool from her belt. She walked around the robot, frowning as he continued to say "...other..." oblivious to the world. When she stood behind him, she wound her arm back, watched the timing of the oscillations and hit him sharply square in the back of the head with a mallet. His head stopped spinning and he finally ceased repeating himself.

"Thank you, Elora," Prime said. "I needed that." In a much softer tone he added, "I think!"

"Are you done playing with your toys?" Nu-right said.

"Yeah, we're getting bored," Nu-left agreed.

"Yes Spekkio," Elora replied as she hung her hammer back on her belt. "I'm through."

"Good," the two Nus said in unison. "Then we can begin."

With that, the two Nus began a cooperative spell know as Antipode, a combination of fire and ice, and the magical combat began.

Gaspar turned to look as the door to Spekkio's lair opened. He grinned as he saw Glenn's and Orion's clothes smoking, Ariel's hair severely, for lack of a better word, frizzed, and the robot dripping wet. Elora seemed untouched by magic as she used a cloth to dry Prime.

"Did you win?" Gaspar asked, unable to resist.

"Yeah," Orion replied with a twisted half-smile as he tried vainly to restore the 'punk' style to his hair. "We won an all expense paid trip for four to 'Spell Town', courtesy of the Nu express. 'Spell Town' has severe and rather unusual weather patterns. It rains fire, lightning and ice all the time. Elora got to see a black hole real close, otherwise it would have been a trip for five. Elora was the lucky one!"

Orion suddenly grinned his wide, sunny smile. "Good ol' Spekkio!"

Gaspar chuckled. "Well, do not worry overmuch about it. I found out some interesting news."

"Please, share it with us," Glenn asked politely.

"First things first." Gaspar responded, bringing his arm around in a gesture that included all of them. Their hair, clothes and armor returned to what passed for normal as he muttered, "Spekkio should have done this. He must have fallen asleep, irresponsible Nu. Now then," Gaspar continued, retrieving his cane from the side of the lamp post. "The time stream is still – twisted, not irreparably so, but you must move fast. I can't be sure, but I think Doan's grandparents have disappeared, so the 'Chronal Eraser' is working its way back through Time. We need to decipher Schala's messages and we need Janus to do it. He can be restored, without altering the feats you have already accomplished, but there will be a price." Gaspar paused and looked at Glenn. Glenn regarded the Guru, a questioning look in his eyes.

"I fear, my friend," Gaspar said slowly. "That if you use the Chrono Trigger to restore Janus, it will also restore your curse."

"What mean'est thou," Glenn demanded. "I have broken the curse by slaying Magus!" Glenn blinked as the truth occurred to him. "Oh. I see."

"I don't," Ariel stated flatly. "Why would Glenn turn into a frog again?"

"It is an unfortunate, but unavoidable side effect. When you restore Janus, it will be as if he never died," the Guru explained softly as Glenn walked to a nearby corner. "With Janus alive the curse remains unbroken."

"So why can't we go back and prevent Glenn from ever getting cursed? And save Cyrus, too!" Ariel demanded, despair creeping into her voice.

"If we do that," Prime noted. "Then Glenn as a frog would not be able to assist us in our defeat of Lavos. His abilities were necessary toward that end. Also I do not believe even the Guru of Time has the power to make all lives flow as we would wish them to." Gaspar nodded silently.

"We can, have to, save a mean, evil person like Magus and we cannot do anything as our friend bears up under a terrible curse again! It's not fair!" Ariel raged helplessly.

"The Chrono Trigger can only be used to restore events to their proper sequence in a broken timeline," Gaspar explained regretfully. "The Trigger's spell does have limits. It can't work miracles."

"Gaspar, can't you do anything?" Ariel asked, anguished.

"Child, my power is over Time. I have no abilities over frogs or curses."

"...the only way to save Schala, Leene, Doan and me is to..." Ariel halted.

"Is for Glenn to take up the burden of his curse once more," Gaspar responded.

Ariel mouthed "No!" as her voice failed and she turned away crying. Orion held her while she sobbed softly.

"Ultimately," Gaspar continued after a moment's pause. "The choice is Glenn's."

At this Glenn turned from his silent contemplation of the swirling mists of Time and regarded the Guru.

"If you choose to, you may return to your time, and live out your life as you are. You, and you alone, would have knowledge of a queen named Leene. Since Ariel will not be born in the future, her absence in the time stream will allow Lavos to rise from the depths of Oblivion and destroy the world as you know it in the year 1999," Gaspar paused to let the words have their impact, then continued, "or, you can accept the curse of an altered form, and maybe one day, find a way to reverse the spell. Either way, you have a responsibility to do what is right in your heart."

There was a long moment of silence before Glenn asked, "Gaspar, please open'est a portal to mine own time."

"WHAT?!" Elora screeched as she raced toward the knight, her fist clenched. "You can't just..."

Prime caught her as she dashed by and restrained her gently.

"Elora, please," Gaspar held up one hand. "He has made his choice."

A beautiful pillar of light formed and Glenn fixed his gaze on it. The only sound was Ariel's crying.

Glenn contemplated the portal for a long moment before turning to Gaspar and saying, "close'st it again."

He walked over to Orion who released Ariel and stood aside. He took Ariel's shoulders in his hands and she looked up into his face, the tears streaming down her cheeks. A tear rolled down his face as he explained, "I canst not leave Leene to the unforgiving Void or cast'est thee into it. Whilst it may cause'th me pain and hardship to be a frog again, I willing take that burden, so that others shall have more than just memories of thee."

Overcome by his sacrifice, Ariel simply hugged Glenn tight. After a moment Orion cleared his throat and Ariel took a step away from Glenn.

"Enow," Glenn locked gazes with each pair of anguished eyes in turn. "I hath said that I wouldst do anything to save Schala. It is sufficient that you, my friends, hath known me, e'en if briefly, in my true form. Despise'st not – Alpha the frog overmuch," much lower he added. "I only wish that a damsel could hath come to love me as Cyril, perhaps love'th me enow to – love also Alpha."

"Do not despair of love just yet, my friend," Gaspar advised cryptically.

"We have a task before us. What need we to restore Magus?" Glenn asked as he squared his shoulders.

"Well, you have the Chrono Trigger. I've keyed it to Rainbow. All you need is to go to Norstein Bekkler's lab and get a Clone of him. Melchior has it all arranged."

"Let us be off then," Glenn said heavily. "We need stop in mine own time so that I may retrieve the garments I used as a frog and I need to obtain another sword."

"Will... Will not the Masamune suffice?" Gaspar asked, shocked that Glenn would leave that sword behind.

"I believe not the brothers shall recognize'th me in frog guise," Glenn replied simply.

"Glenn," Orion began. "Didn't they tell you it was the heart of the Hero they recognized and not the outward form? I remember them saying something like that."

"When... Oh, yes," Glenn said, the memory returning. "At Cyrus' grave. I remember now."

"How could you forget?" Masa's voice rang in his head. "He doesn't want us, Mune!"

"Yeah," Mune's mental voice agreed loudly. "He probably has a sword of gold he's been hiding! Didn't even ask what we wanted him to do!"

"Not as if he doesn't need us," Masa went on. "He couldn't be the Hero without us..."

"Had to be reminded by 'Spikey' over there..."

"He just doesn't love us anymore..."

"Stop'est it, the two of thee!" Glenn demanded, his hands over his ears. Everyone blinked at him blankly.

"The Masamune wast speaking to me," Glenn explained. "I managed to offend the brothers."

"Ohhh..." the other five said.

"Prime, could you get Ark ready for departure?" Orion asked.

"Of course, Orion," the robot said as he went down the corridor.

"Elora, Ariel, you will have to stay her with Gaspar. We'll bring Magus back, then figure out what to do," Orion said.

A look crossed Ariel's face, she grabbed Elora aside and the two of them began whispering and giggling, looking back to Orion and Glenn.

"I'm not so sure I like this," Orion pointed with his thumb over his shoulder at the girls as he and Glenn started down the corridor to the Timeship.

"Remember, how the Trigger works. You can activate it with Rainbow. I would have keyed it to the Masamune, but Glenn will have his hands full," Gaspar explained. "I'll send the Chrono-wave from here when Ark materializes so you will not have long. If you should fail, return here and we'll figure out a new plan."

Orion stopped. "What about us? If you stop Time, won't we be stopped, too?"

"No," Gaspar explained. "The Timeship will protect you and the Chrono-wave will only cover the Cape where Janus was killed. You will need to hover close to it but remain out of sight. You can't risk changing Glenn's memories."

Orion still looked confused and was about to ask another question when Glenn said, "we understand." He pulled Orion along. "Let us go and thou canst have Prime explain'eth it to thee later."

When they were out of earshot of the Guru, Orion said, "Glenn, can I ask you something?"

"Certes," Glenn responded.

"Back there, when you had Gaspar open the portal back to the 6th Century – were you actually going to do it? Were you going to go through it and forget about...  Well, everything?"

Glenn paused before answering, choosing his words carefully. "I don't believe so. I gave myself a test. Wouldst I chose the path that would mean I lead a normal life and destroy a future I wouldst ne'er know, being none the wiser? Or wouldst I have the strength to suffer a curse and save my queen, my friend and her children's children? In the end I made my final choice."

"You made the right choice," Orion said, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder.

"Nay," Glenn replied with a wry smile as he gently shrugged off his friend's hand and walked toward the Ark.

Orion paused for a second before he realized what Glenn had said. "'Nay'?" he repeated, jogging to catch up to Glenn. "What do you mean 'Nay'? How could you have lived with yourself?"

"It wast not a matter of the right choice or the wrong choice," Glenn answered, grinning at his friend's shocked reaction. "In the end, it wast the only choice I could make."

With that, Glenn leapt onto the Ark, as Orion stood shaking his head at his friend. He chuckled and joined his friends on the Timeship. As he strapped in, Orion saw Prime cycle up the engines and pull away from the berth. He noted the Time-gyro stabilize and his world became a flashing white light.

~TBC~

Boo the Gentleman Caller

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Re: Shadows of Schala (Part One)
« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2020, 07:53:18 pm »
I'm a couple of days late, as I have been out of pocket mostly for work.

This is a really fun read, though! I did have to look at the top to remind me of the names, though, haha...

Keep up the good work! I love seeing other's interpretations of Schala's rescue; this was something I was obsessed with before we had Chrono Cross giving an answer. :)

Kitt

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Shadows of Schala (Part Three)
« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2020, 12:51:32 am »
Crono = Orion * Marle = Ariel * Lucca = Elora * Frog = Alpha * Robo = Prime * Ayla = Arvia

Shadows of Schala - Chapter Three

An unnoticed chrono-distortion washed just under the lip of the North Cape as Prime expertly piloted the Wings of Time to a rocky out-cropping just out of sight.

"Nice job," Orion said. "This is the perfect spot."

"I merely accessed my records of the topography of the Cape. I will remain here, ready to return to the End of Time once you have Magus," Prime offered.

"Okay, Prime. I've got the Chrono Trigger. Have you got the Clone?" Orion asked Glenn.

"It's heavy, but I can manage. Where to?"

Orion jumped lightly down from the wing of the Ark and waited as Glenn struggled slightly with Magus' Clone. They trekked cautiously up to the trees and stayed just out of sight of those already on the Cape and outside the zone to be affected by Gaspar's Chrono-wave. The past versions of Ariel and Prime suddenly nodded and stepped away from Magus and Alpha. Orion and Glenn watched in horror as Magus and Alpha began to fight.

"We miss-timed it! Your past self and Magus are already going at it." Orion winced as Magus took a particularly vicious cut from the enraged frog. "Gaspar is going to send the Chrono-wave. Do we have enough time to return to him and stop it?"

Glenn watched sadly as Alpha, his own past self, Leap Slashed his enemy. Oozing blood from a dozen cuts and gashes Magus still fought on, summoning the light to himself and unleashing a bolt of Lightning at the berserk frog. A flash at the horizon made him look away from the melee.

"Nay, the wave come'th!" Glenn pointed.

Some awareness of great magic caused Magus' guard to slip a little. He stared open-mouthed at the scintillating wave of energy as it engulfed Alpha, Ariel, Prime and himself. Once the Chrono-wave had spent itself across the Cape, Glenn and Orion approached the time-frozen tableau.

Glenn examined his past frog self in dismay, noting the short, squat stature, the wide set eyes, broad mouth and the odd non-human angles of the joints of his limbs. He then crossed to where Magus stood frozen and gazed searchingly into his adversary's face. The wonder and fear of the encroaching Chrono-wave had stamped a curiously vulnerable look in Magus' eyes.

"Alas!" Glenn said as he glanced again at the frog. "Did I truly appear so – repulsive?"

"Never, not to me. Your nobility of heart always showed through your form and together, because of that form, you and I did some incredible things," Orion responded softly. "Why did you challenge Magus?"

"We had just seen thee disintegrated by Lavos. Magus was insulting thee, acting as if thy – death was thine own fault. I couldst not stand by and allow him to insult thee any longer," Glenn answered. "So I challenged him and in slaying him ended the curse he hath placed upon me," Glenn paused and bowed his head for a moment. "'Tis the bitterest irony that now I must save him and accept back my curse to rescue'eth his sister, Leene, Ariel and all the rest. I couldst not bear it if Leene and Ariel wert to be – rent out of Time as Doan hath already been. Please – once I am again – transformed – call me 'Alpha'. Now, Orion, Magus' twin."

They placed the Clone in position and Glenn grasped the true Magus by his right arm. He maneuvered Magus' inert weight to the end of the Cape just over where Prime hovered the Wings of Time and waited, poised to leap.

Orion placed the Chrono Trigger between the two combatants, the Time-stopped Alpha and the Clone of Magus, and brought his sword, Rainbow, whistling down on it, cleaving it in two. A pure, white flash dazzled all as Time rushed back into the Cape. Under cover of the light, Orion raced to the edge, grabbed hold of Magus' left arm, paused to let the flow of restored Time wash over them to release Magus from stasis, and jumped with Glenn into the waiting Ark, carrying Magus between them.

"I know not what foul sorcery thou weave'st, Magus, but I have thee now!" they heard from the direction of the North Cape followed by the unmistakable sound of the Masamune slashing through the air and then into something solid. A mortal scream reverberated across the Cape, and at that moment, Glenn crashed to the floor of the Timeship as dark magic twisted his form and features.

He curled into a tight ball and rocked soundlessly with the violent force of the magic that brutally reshaped him. When it had passed he remained curled up until Orion touched his shoulder.

"'Tis done?" he asked. Hearing the thickening croak he uttered, he knew it to be so. He leaped to his feet tossing his head back in despair as a single tear rolled down his broad frog-like face.

"Gl... Alpha." Orion sighed sorrowfully. He reached forward and embraced his friend, awkwardly patting his now more than humanly wide back. "We'll find some way to break this curse for you. It isn't fair!"

"Warning!" Prime called from where he was piloting Ark. "Magus' life signs are failing!"

"He mustn't die now! We need him to save Schala and the others!" Alpha cried out in dismay as he looked at the unconscious mage.

Abruptly his tongue whipped out and touched Magus softly on the cheek. The wounds Magus had suffered healed and closed. Magus' eyes snapped open as he grabbed Alpha's tongue.

"My curse has warped your mind as well as your body. First you try to kill me and now you heal me with your disgusting tongue! Give me one good reason not to twist the vile thing right out of your mouth," Magus demanded as he tightened his grip painfully.

"Ilh – canllh't talllhk. Lllehllt ghho of myllh tongulllh!" Alpha lisped.

"Un – tongue him, Magus! Let him go!" Orion demanded.

"You...  You're supposed to be dead. I saw Lavos destroy you!" Magus, in his surprise, let Alpha go.

"Much hath occurred that thou know'est not. We need'est thee to help us locate Schala. Come to the End of Time so that Gaspar canst explain all," Alpha replied.

"The Guru of Time, eh? And Schala lost and probably in danger. Okay, I'll chat with the old man. But you!" he glared at Alpha. "Never touch me with that slimy thing again!"

"Dost not worry. I've no desire to soil it upon thee. Thou tastet'st bitter anyway," Alpha turned from Magus whose face was turning purple in his fury. "Orion, leave'st me here. I've – peace to find with my form again.  Retrieve'th me later. That is...  if thou hast any use for me." Alpha took up a parcel and leaped to the wing and then off toward the now deserted Cape.

"Good riddance," Magus sneered.

Orion grabbed him by the throat. "If we did not need you to help us understand what is wrong with the time stream and find Schala; save Leene and Ariel, and all the rest; I'd gladly choke the life out of you now for all you've put Glenn through!" Orion declared in a low voice as his grasp tightened on Magus' neck. "But we do need you. If you can't respect him at least keep silent or I shall make you regret it," Orion vowed as he tossed Magus to the floor of the ship.

"You're not the push-over I took you for, boy," Magus noted, rubbing his sore neck and rising to his feet. "Good! I loathe goody-goodies. Now save me some time. How is it that you live?"

"The same way you do, Gaspar's Chrono Trigger. Both of our – deaths were not in keeping with the time stream we are now in. Since Lavos was a time-rending being, simply bringing the Chrono Trigger and a Clone of me near enough to it was sufficient to work the Trigger's magic. In your case, since Lavos is no more, Gaspar had to send a Chrono-wave from the End of Time to stop everything long enough for us to switch you with your Clone. We arrived here later than we wanted. We were going to substitute your Clone for you in your fight with Alpha and prevent you from being injured. That was why he Slurped you. After all we've been through to rescue you we couldn't let you die on us," Orion explained.

"Slurped? Is that what you call it? How gross! But...  Lavos – no more?" Magus asked.

"We destroyed it. Of course it was after Alpha killed you and they had rescued me so you wouldn't know...  Technically they are going to rescue me now, but wait first they need to..."

"Forget it. You're confusing me. I'll talk to Gaspar." Magus whirled his cloak about himself and sat down upon the seat. "Well, bolt bucket? Are you going to drive this thing to the End of Time or just sit there like some hideous piece of modern art?" Magus demanded of Prime.

"This is a most unpleasant individual," Prime commented as Orion sat next to him. Prime set the controls, Ark lifted gracefully into the air and opened the corridor of Time.

Moments later, Magus deboarded with Orion and Prime and glanced disapprovingly at the corridor.

"So this is the End of Time?" he commented. "Not much to look at!"

"Tell me, are you ever happy with anything?" Orion asked.

"I'm not happy to be here with you. If not for Schala..."

"...yeah, yeah, yeah. You wouldn't be caught dead with us. But oops! You were!" Orion finished as he stepped around Magus and down the corridor.

"Is he always so obnoxious?" Magus asked Prime conversationally.

"You seem to bring out a negative side to him. I haven't seen this before. I am still compiling data," Prime responded.

"'Still compiling data'? Oh great! The only one who's being civil is as interesting as dirt."

"Dirt is quite interesting. Its composition...  Oh, you are being sarcastic. Fortunately, my feelings are hard to hurt," Prime noted.

"Feelings? You think you have feelings? Maybe I misjudged you, robot. You may be slightly more interesting than dirt. So, where's the Guru?" Magus asked.

"Follow me." Prime bowed and walked down the hall. Magus shook his head as he followed after the robot.

Elora and Ariel rushed up with bright, welcoming expressions that visibly deflated when Magus stepped through the doorway after Prime. They could see the empty corridor behind him.

"Where's Alpha?" Ariel demanded.

"The frog is sulking on the North Cape," Magus answered.

"You... you monster!" Ariel spat out.

Elora looked as if she had tasted something sour and turned her back. Ariel tossed her head, spun around and walked away, joining Orion at the gate. After a moment Prime walked up to them as well.

"Thank you for such a warm welcome," Magus sneered. "Where's Gaspar?"

"Age has not improved your social skills any, Janus," the Guru noted from his spot next to the lamp post.

"Janus – was lost when Lavos banished me from Zeal," Magus replied as he strode to the old man's side. "I am 'Magus' now."

"Your survival is amazing, and your magic skills are quite formidable, but you fool only yourself, Janus. You are who you are; when you accept who you truly are, under all your power, under all your hurt and pain, only then can you tell me who you are. Until then, I know you as Janus," the Guru responded.

"Just wonderful! Fine, call me whatever you want, but clearly tell me what is going on. That one," Magus pointed to Orion. "tells me that Lavos is dead, that I've been dead, that Schala is in trouble and I know I saw him die!"

"How much of my lessons in Time do you remember?" Gaspar asked.

"All of them," Magus answered confidently.

"You remember the string and tapestry analogies, Janus? Good. Well, Lavos was imported from outside the tapestry of Time and what he did to affect things would therefore be an aberration.  Some temporal aberrations are of no consequence, but others require intervention in order to maintain the core time line integrity..."  Gaspar settled comfortably into lecture mode.

"This is going to be too boring for me. I'm going to talk to Spekkio," Ariel announced. "Anyone want to join me?"  She noted the head shakes, shrugged her shoulders and entered Spekkio's room.

Prime and Elora attended to Gaspar's explanation as intently and raptly as Magus did. Orion paced. He threw 'I'm sorry' looks to Elora when she glanced up in annoyance. He tried to stand still and follow the lesson, but it really was quite boring. He couldn't seem to settle down. He didn't want to talk to Spekkio and yet he felt he had to do something.

Finally he realized what was bothering him. He was worried about Glenn, no...  Alpha. He motioned his intent to Prime who flashed a 'yes' response from his photoreceptors and escaped to the Ark. He heaved a sigh as he eased the ship from the End of Time and set course for the Middle Ages.

Orion landed the Timeship at the base of the Cape and climbed toward the top. As he rounded some rocks his attention was caught by Alpha, sword out, leaping high in the air to land near a target of stones. He stumbled a little on landing and kicked into the small pile scattering the stones. Alpha sighed deeply as he set his sword down and knelt to pile the stones again. Orion approached and knelt next to him to help.

"Well met," Alpha said.

"Hi. Are you..." Orion trailed off.

"Am I okay?" Alpha smiled ruefully. "Aye. What canst not be cured must needs be endured. I am – struggling to learn how to fight in this form again," he admitted.

"Well," Orion began, looking at the stone pile. "You don't often attack rocks. Let's you and I spar a bit, let you get used to the balance of simple moves again and then...”  Orion winced.  “I can be your target."

Alpha blinked at him. "I think sparring is a good idea, but I... I have not the control I was used to. I canst cut thee, hurt thee badly if I..."

Orion grinned at him and shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't want you unsure of yourself in a fight. It won't be the first time I've been hurt; it won't even be the first time I've been hurt by the Masamune as wielded by you! Or do you not recall some of the times you've been magically confused in a fight? To be honest, you've felt Rainbow's sting too. If you hurt me, Alpha, you can always heal me. We need you... we need you to be comfortable again as..." Orion trailed off.

"...as I am now. Thou art right, Orion. I regret any pain thou may'est endure at my hands..."

"Any pain is quickly remedied by you, too, I hope! Do you even know if your Slurp Healing is completely back? I know you tagged Magus, but..."

"There's no reason for it not to be and I am certain we shall know before we are finished. Art thou sure thou wish'est to assist me thus?"

Orion grinned and drew Rainbow. He saluted Alpha cockily with the sword and assumed a sloppy ready stance. Alpha shook his head, picked up the Masamune and held it crosswise before himself.

"Once, long ago, I said thou hast potential to become a good swordsman. 'Til now I thought I possessed a good eye for such things," Alpha said.

Orion beamed as he fixed his stance and attacked his friend. He kept his speed down, to give Alpha a chance to adjust and remember what this form was supposed to feel like. Alpha brought the Masamune up and tried to counter but over-balanced and tripped into Orion's arms.

"Whoa! You're supposed to fight me not throw yourself on my sword!" Orion noted as he cleared his blade carefully from Alpha's cloak.

"'Tis hopeless!" Alpha sighed dejectedly.

"No," Orion countered. "It's just going to be somewhat difficult. Tell you what. No tricks, no special moves, no magic, just straight, full-speed fighting. I'm really going to come at you, you really come at me," Orion suggested as he set Alpha on his feet. "Somewhere in you, you remember how to fight in this form. We simply have to bypass your brain. You can't think, you must do."

"Aye, let us attempt that," Alpha agreed as he raised his sword to guard position again.

Orion came at him full-speed. Alpha's sword whipped up and around knocking Rainbow aside and opening a small cut on Orion's sword arm.

"Ouch! Great! That was great!" Orion called out.

"I have cut thee!" Alpha said in dismay.

"It's only a scratch. What's more important is you blocked and countered without thinking about it. You just did it. Your skills are all there just..."

"Altered, e'en as I am. I take thy meaning. Let us continue."

"I'll yield when you really hurt me. Until I do..." Orion grinned. "Keep fighting, 'cause I'm comin' at ya, Sir Froggy!"

Orion came in with a powerful sideways slash. Alpha countered but Orion reversed the direction of his quick, curved sword and came in again low. Alpha snapped his weapon down to cover. Orion's hands stung from the clash of his sword on Alpha's heavier blade.

Alpha lowered his head and Orion felt relief and dread. Relief, this was the fighting style he remembered and expected from Alpha; dread, because he knew he was going to hurt, a lot.

A deceptively fast cut whipped toward him, he blocked early and Orion felt the point of the Masamune sink into his thigh. He stepped back and received a slice on his left arm. He darted forward with a diagonal down crossing slash and scored a light hit on Alpha's sword arm. Alpha threw a rising cut and opened a gash over his left eye.

From that point on Orion lost any advantage he might have had and all track of how the fight progressed. He felt light hits everywhere as his strength drained slowly from him. His wrists ached from the crashing of his sword into Alpha's blade. Finally he dropped to one knee.

"I yield!"

Orion did not recognize the look on his friend's face. Alpha's eyes slowly cleared and warmth washed into them as he focused and recognized Orion.

"Thou art hurt. I tried to hold back the force of the strikes but..." Alpha began.

"You did. Please, don't feel bad. I knew what I was in for. To be honest, I lasted longer than I thought I could,"  Orion replied.

"This is all wrong! To recover what I was I must hurt mine own friend..." Alpha shook his head. He reached down and lifted Orion to his feet as he Slurped him on his arm.

Orion felt a familiar warmth as the full power of the healing filled him and eased his pain. He felt vigor flow back to him as the cuts and slashes Alpha inflicted upon him mended. Within moments he was as good as new.

Orion grinned at Alpha as he flexed his healed sword arm. "Thanks. I guess we can say that Slurp still works as well as it used to."

"I am sorry I had to harm thee..."

"I'm sorry you had to return to being a frog," Orion stated flatly.

"...there are some advantages," Alpha replied.

"Really? Do tell!"

"My more compact stature allows me to defend myself better. I always liked Slurp Healing and Leap Slash. Our combined attacks are brutally effective. I canst sleep anywhere. It is amazing to jump several times mine own height and I am a powerful swimmer," Alpha admitted.

"Since we met you I've often wondered what it would be like to be a frog, or really anything different," Orion said.

"Part horror, part joy. As a curse, it is most horrible. I wouldst not wish it on anyone...  But if it were reversible...  Well, it can be – fun. It is the looks and comments, the distances people keep, the horror and pity and hatred in their eyes; these are what hurt and make of the curse an evil thing. Thou and Elora and all the rest brought'est me out of the worst of it. There are some in mine own time who won't care how I appear, but they are few and precious. I – dread being this again."

Orion looked uncommonly solemn for a moment, this was the most Alpha had ever spoken of his condition and how it made him feel.

"Let's see if Leap Slash still works," he suggested quietly.

"Art thou certain? I've never Leap Slashed thee, but I can assure thee, it is quite painful."

"You need to know if you remember it before you are in a fight where you are relying on it. Or do you just like to hear me say, 'Alpha, attack me, please'?" Orion demanded.

Alpha laughed. "Thou hast convinced me."

Orion walked a few paces away, sheathing his sword as he did so. He knew his reflexes would cause him to try to block the painful attack and he could hurt Alpha if he did. He tried to convince his racing heart to slow down and his overactive brain to calm down. The Leap Slash was going to hurt, intensely, but Alpha needed the confidence that executing the move correctly would bring. Orion hoped it would not end up executing him.

He schooled his face into a slightly bored smile and looked up. Alpha saw past his facade as he looked into his friend's eyes. He saluted Orion with his sword.

"Close'st thine eyes," Alpha suggested softly.

Orion nodded and did. He heard the Masamune whipping through the air and sensed the menace of Alpha's strike overhead. He tried not to flinch as the sword screamed down, slashing open his chest. The agony made him gasp and reel back. He felt the gathering of power and then the soothing relief of Alpha's strongest healing magic flowed over him in the split second before Alpha's arms closed around his shoulders, supporting his weight.

"Orion! Art thou..." Alpha began frantically.

Orion opened his eyes and smiled. "I'm fine, Alpha. That was fast! I didn't even have time to fall."

"I am so sorry thou hadst to endure..."

"Yeah, that hurts! I pity the monsters you attack with that, but not as much as the ones we decide to Spire."

Alpha laughed. He walked over and picked up the Masamune from where he had thrown it after slashing Orion and Leap Slashed his stone pile again. Orion noted the easy assurance of the move and nodded when Alpha looked up.

"Someday, you might become a passable swordsman," Orion remarked mischievously.

Alpha laughed. "Watch it, Tadpole!"

"'Tadpole'?! I kinda like that!" Orion responded. "C'mon. We've got to find out what Gaspar's discovered. Do you remember how to pilot the Ark?"

"Aye but..."

"I had better change or the girls are going to ask questions," Orion noted as he parted the rent in his tunic.

"I see what thou mean'est," Alpha agreed.

"Are you going to be okay?"

"At least I can fight again. Thank thee. Not many hath the courage to accept'eth such pain."

"You know you would have done the same for me. But answer me: are you okay?"

"...Nay. I thought I left this agony behind me. Now to be cast back into it, without hope of ending it..."

"I know, Magus..."

"Once I struck him down in anger to avenge thee. Now...  I canst not bring myself to slay him in cold blood, simply to end my curse. So I must be again as I was before, accepting the curse of this frog form until I leave this mortal coil. I miss being human already," Alpha lowered his head.

"...I... I wish I could do something,”  Orion said with a quiet intensity.

"As do I, but we canst not and so I shall take one step, or leap, at a time. For now, I canst fight again. Shall we find out who's going to receive my Leap Slashes and our Spires, Tadpole?"

"Tadpole, Punk Head, Sparky, I sure am picking up a lot of unusual nicknames!" Orion mock-complained.

"...and thou know'est not all of them," Alpha whispered under his breath.

"Spikey sure showed courage back there didn't he, Masa?" Mune asked in Alpha's mind where he could 'hear' it.

"Yeah, overflowing bravery, but few brains, accepting a Leap Slash on purpose," Masa agreed.

Alpha listened to his sword's banter with itself as he followed Orion to the Timeship. He set the compass to the End of Time and tried to relax as the ship made the journey. He felt apprehension about meeting the rest of his friends again, now that he was once more a frog and the misery of his curse rose up and swept him away.

~TBC~

Kitt

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Re: Shadows of Schala (Part Four)
« Reply #4 on: October 19, 2020, 03:21:29 pm »
Crono = Orion * Marle = Ariel * Lucca = Elora * Frog = Alpha * Robo = Prime * Ayla = Arvia

Shadows of Schala - Chapter Four

Orion vaulted out of the Wings of Time and waited to hear Alpha land beside him. After a moment he looked down into the Ark and felt his heart wrench. Alpha was still seated, shoulders slumped, with the most pitiful expression upon his amphibian features.

"Come, my friend," Orion said softly as he offered his hand.

Alpha looked up, squared his shoulders and leaped to Orion's side. They walked down the corridor to Gaspar's lamp post in companionable silence.

Ariel and Elora immediately raced over and began raining kisses down onto Alpha's cheeks.

"He's still cute in a froggy kinda way..." Elora noted to Ariel.

"Yeah, and his eyes are now a dreamy golden yellow," Ariel responded.

"He's a lot easier to kiss when he's this height," Elora commented before she planted another kiss on Alpha's left cheek.

"Hmph! I guess it wasn't my kiss that uncursed him before..." Ariel pouted then kissed his right cheek.

Orion stood to one side and grinned. Prime started to ask something and finished by shaking his head in his confusion. Gaspar smiled ever so slightly. Magus regarded the girls as if they had completely lost their minds. He swallowed convulsively a few times.

"Are you mad? He's a slimy, hideous frog!" he roared.

"He's not slimy!" Ariel retorted. She ran one hand lightly over the top of Alpha's hairless head. "'Tis smooth and cool," she noted and then placed a gentle kiss there.

Alpha just stood there with his mouth open, stunned to depths of his soul.

"Girls!" Orion said, mock-severely. "How many times must I ask you? Are you quite finished?" He deliberately echoed his question from when they had greeted Glenn in his human form for the first time.

"Nope!" Ariel asserted. "He's my own dear frog-knight!" She kissed his cheek again.

"Who knows? Maybe a hundred kisses, or a thousand will break Magus' curse. Can it hurt to try?" Elora added as she too kissed Alpha.

"That does not make sense..." Prime began.

"I assure you silly girls, my curse cannot be broken by kisses, but only by my death!" Magus stated severely.

"You did this to him!" Ariel flashed in anger as she turned on him. "Don't tempt me or I will end Alpha's curse again. Now, shut up and let us greet our friend! Thank you, Glenn, for – for rescuing..." Her voice trailed off as her eyes widened in sorrow.

She leaned over and hugged Alpha. "You are not hideous to me," she whispered to him. He blinked. Elora whispered something that made him blush.

"Do not despair, Glenn. I've seen in many times and places, people who will help all of you in your quest. They help whether you are a frog or a man. There are generous hearts in your future," Gaspar notified him.

"There are enow of them right here," Alpha rasped as he subtly turned toward his friends and away from Magus.

"Indeed," Gaspar replied as he locked his gaze on Magus.

"As touching as this revolting reunion is to you, we've still got to find out what happened to Schala. Before we go gallivanting through time and space, I need to return to my castle. As the Prophet I did not wear armor or carry my best weapon. I must retrieve my magic books as well," Magus informed them.

"What a lovely way he has of asking for help," Ariel noted sarcastically to everyone else. "I've no desire to travel with him any more than necessary. Who will take him on his errand?"

*****

The Wings of Time materialized over Magus' castle. Orion and Alpha leaped down in their customary way as Magus levitated down. As soon as Magus' feet touched the ground he bellowed and fell over.

Alpha reacted a fraction quicker than Orion, lifting Magus' head and shoulders and clearing the pale blue hair from Magus' face. Orion drew Rainbow and circled, scanning desperately for Magus' attacker. Noticing nothing he sheathed his sword before coming to Alpha's side. Alpha likewise did not see anything obvious but Slurped Magus just in case.

"He's breathing," Orion said helplessly.

"'Tis almost as if he wert knocked unconscious," Alpha noted. "But he did not hit his head..." He trailed off.

"Do you think it could be – Schala? She's been trying so hard to reach him that you and Ariel were receiving some kind of overflow. Do you think maybe her message is so powerful that it could do this?" Orion asked hesitantly.

"Aye. That seem'eth quite plausible. Well, if 'tis so, Magus wilt not be o'erjoyed to waken in mine arms," Alpha jested as he carefully laid Magus on the ground. He removed his cloak, folded it into a pillow and placed it under Magus' head. "Let us withdraw somewhat, so as not to startle him when he wakes," Alpha whispered. He and Orion stepped back a few paces, half-turned from Magus and conversed together in low tones.

A quarter of an hour later, Magus woke, sat up and gazed into space for a moment. He rose, gathered up the cloak and walked over to Alpha and Orion. Without a word he handed the cloak to Alpha. He ran his fingers through his hair and brushed his shoulders off.

"It was the force of Schala's messages that – inconvenienced me, not anything your accursed 'Slurp' could have fixed. Didn't I warn you about this once?" Magus glared at Alpha. "Schala is in some terrible danger, but she fears more strongly for our world. She's concerned about some 'Dread Lord' changing the past, present and future. I don't think she means Lavos. I couldn't understand all of her messages – undoubtedly from the frog's interference, receiving what was not directed to him, but that can't be helped. Perhaps Gaspar can read the time lines more clearly now that Schala's messages aren't cluttering them. I still need to retrieve my equipment," Magus explained, then turned and walked off.

"Orion?" Alpha asked as he donned his cloak. "Ere I try to do something nice for him again," He indicated Magus' retreating back. "Dost thou slap'est me silly!"

*****

"Ah, home!" Magus said as he breathed deep.

Orion tossed a startled glance to Alpha who only lifted his shoulders in a 'I know not' expression. Magus did honestly seem to be comfortable in the dark, moody, brooding edifice.

"Well then," Magus said sourly. "Follow me. I guess it doesn't matter much now if you see some of the secret passages."

He walked over to one of the hideous paintings on the wall, it looked like it was painted by a talented, but insane, artist who had set his easel on a hill in hell, and pushed a concealed switch. Part of the wall swung open.

Magus lead them through a maze of concealed passages. Occasionally, Orion and Alpha would recognize part of some of the corridors they passed through, but most of the journey was through new territory.

"Stop!" Magus held up a hand to halt their progress. "Do you hear something?"

"Aye. It seem'eth to be coming from here," Alpha agreed pointing toward a side passage.

Magus brusquely pushed pass him and down the passageway. He pushed another hidden switch and the wall opened. Orion and Alpha followed Magus out into the room, blinking in the stronger light.

Magus strode over to a curious lump on the floor. The lump was groaning and writhing about. Magus pushed at it with the toe of one boot.

"Ozzie," He spat out in explanation. "What a waste of time! Come, we have a fair amount of distance to go yet." He swirled his cloak as he wheeled sharply and re-entered the secret corridor.

Orion and Alpha looked up and took note of the rectangular hole in the ceiling some fifty feet above them.

"He'll live," Orion said, noting the vigorous movements Ozzie made in his pain. "We better follow Magus before he loses us."

The secret panel swung softly after them and closed with a tiny click.

"T... traitor!" Ozzie lifted his head and called weakly after Magus before slumping again to the floor.

"I guess I don't need the books on Lavos anymore," Magus remarked later in his library. "'Advanced Theory of Magic', 'Mystic Uses for Practical Objects', 'The Grim Reaper's Grimoire', 'Curse Me Once, Curse Me Twice, Do Not Ever Curse Me Thrice'...  Yes, I think I shall need these again," Magus muttered as he tossed the books in his pack.

"This one," He held up the slim book of curses. "Alpha would find interesting reading. It is, after all, how he became the frog he is today!" Magus sneered. Orion smashed him up against the wall, the bared length of Rainbow threatening Magus' neck.

"I spoke with you once about respecting Alpha or holding your tongue. I shall not warn you a third time," Orion promised in a low tone. He pulled his sword from Magus' throat and slammed the mage into the workbench. He turned to wipe his blade on a piece of parchment before putting it away.

Magus touched his throat and drew back gloved fingertips tinted with blood. His eyes promised mayhem as he dabbed his neck with a fold of his cloak. He reached down and retrieved the book of curses. He regarded Orion for a long moment from under veiled eyes, smiled tightly and flipped through the book.

"Magus..." Alpha warned. "Think'est it not!"

Orion turned to see what was going on behind him.

"Very well," Magus grumbled returning the book to his pack. "Another time, boy!" he promised under his breath.  "I am finished here," Magus said a few moments later. "My armor and scythe are in the next room. I should not need to warn you, most of the flasks contain poison, acid and other such pleasant fluids. Touch them at your own risk." He swept from the room.

"I don't think I even want to know what he would have cursed me into," Orion jested weakly.

"'Tis no laughing matter!" Alpha remonstrated.

"I know...  Part of me is shaking pretty badly. I think...  I hope Magus was only kidding...  I don't think I could bear up as you have," Orion admitted softly.

Alpha blinked at Orion's candor and cleared his throat. "Yes, well, hmmm. What is taking him so long?"

Alpha walked across the room and opened the chamber door. Magus stood in the center of the room holding his pack, scythe and armor. It looked as though he had been walking toward the door when something on the wall caught his eye. Alpha walked up to his side, noted his gaze and followed its line to see what had so thoroughly captivated Magus' attention.

"Schala!" he said in wonder.

A life-size portrait of Schala graced Magus' wall. It showed her in exquisite detail, her quiet beauty, the tilt of her head, the concern in her eyes. She appeared to be looking just over the viewer's shoulder, almost as if at any moment she would refocus her gaze and smile warmly at him. Orion stood next to Alpha and studied the realistic portrait also. He noticed how a cat he recognized as Alfador rubbed against her right ankle.

Orion looked side-long at Magus' face and saw the longing of a little boy for his older sister as well as a thoroughly adult resolve. The resolve was nothing new, but the vulnerability made him realize that Magus probably had been teasing about cursing him in the other room. He hoped.  "We...  We should go...  Gaspar might have some news..." he began.

"Yes," Magus shook himself as if he was waking from a dream. "We've dawdled here long enough. I must find Schala!" He turned to leave the room.

"Magus?" Alpha asked softly. "Who paint'eth this likeness?"

"I... I did, years ago. Why?" Magus asked defensively. "Do not dare to insult..."

"You have remarkable talent," Alpha commented as he stepped out of the room.

"She does look real," Orion agreed as he too left the room.

Magus turned back for one last look. "If only she were..."

*****

“The time lines have cleared dramatically. I dare say Schala does not realize her own power! She never emerged from the Ocean Palace and yet the thread that is her life was not cut, indicating her death. Forgive me, but it is hard to explain the intricacies of Time in everyday terms," Gaspar admitted as he shifted the bowler on his head.

"Thou dost quite well, we can follow thy meaning," Alpha assured him.

"When Orion was killed out of time by Lavos, it was as if the thread that is his life was cut out of the fabric of Time. The threads touching his began to fall apart from the pattern, like cloth unraveling. I cannot track an individual thread, or life, but I can sense gross disturbances in the whole of the fabric and track them to their source. Restoring the thread of Orion's life restored the weave of the fabric. By this I knew Orion's death was out of its normal time and my Chrono Trigger might work," Gaspar paused and look at each face in turn to make certain he hadn't lost anyone. He resumed talking. "Janus' death took longer to similarly affect the fabric, Schala's need for him is all that is untimely in his death. Schala is crucial for the time line we are in to continue at all. Her descendants are critical forces throughout the weave of the fabric of this time stream. If her thread is not restored, this reality will collapse. Not only her descendants, but the whole of this time line will disappear," Gaspar finished.

"So Magus doesn't matter for himself, but merely for his sister," Ariel said.

Magus simply stared at her expressionlessly.

"The death of anyone affects us all. Usually not in a good way," Gaspar noted quietly. Ariel had the grace to look ashamed at her nasty comment.

"At least, princess, my entire existence does not rely on my sister. I promise to remember all your lovely comments fondly if we should fail. I would be one of the very few who remembers the fact you existed at all," Magus sneered. "Bah! If not for my sister I'd not waste my time. A spoiled, vapid princess such as you is entirely beneath my notice."

"You!" Ariel sputtered as she launched herself physically at Magus.

He reacted instinctively as Ariel reached him. She crashed into his stiffened arm and fell heavily to the ground, hitting her head on the pavement. Immediately Orion grabbed Magus and slammed him up against the lamp post hard enough to shake it.

"Hey," Gaspar complained. Alpha rushed to Ariel's side. She was sobbing a little from pain and a little from the hurtful insults Magus had hurled her way. Alpha brushed her tears away from her face gently and noticed the black eye that was already beginning to show. Softly, he reached out and Slurped her cheek. She smiled wanly at him as her pain left. He helped her to her feet.

"Princess, thou brought'est that upon thyself. Insults beget insults," Alpha pointed out.

"I – know. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Magus," Ariel sniffled. "Orion, let him go. It was my fault."

"But he... He hit you!" Orion protested.

"Actually, I kinda ran into his arm. I shouldn't have rushed him," Ariel admitted.

Orion let Magus go. He stepped away from the lamp post, edged warily around Orion while rubbing his throat and stared at Ariel. She smiled weakly at him.

"Accountability," he noted. "I wouldn't have thought that you, princess..."

"Magus, Ariel offered you an apology. No more insults, okay?" Elora asked.

"Until the next time she needs to be let down a peg or two," Magus agreed.

Orion walked over and put his arm around Ariel's shoulders. She sniffled again and put her head on his shoulder. He half embraced her, offering her comfort.

"Just peachy. There's a Janus-shaped dent in my lamp post! Do you know how hard it is to get a new lamp post delivered when your address is the End of Time?" Gaspar complained.

Everyone laughed and the tension eased.

"Magus, can I ask a favor?" Ariel ventured a moment later. Truth be told the dark mage frightened her more than she wanted to admit. She knew he had killed Cyrus, cursed Glenn, summoned Lavos, tried to kill them all in his castle as well as Zeal Palace...  His dark, grim and foreboding manner didn't help either.

He lifted an eyebrow sardonically and nodded.

"Please...  Please don't call me 'princess' okay? It makes me crazy. Call me Ariel," she requested in a small voice.

Both eyebrows rose in surprise. "You don't like being a princess?" he asked.

"No! My father would never let me out of his sight, if he could stop me. He's so afraid I will get hurt and then the kingdom would have no heir...  I'm so tired of titles and names and formality, I could just scream!" Ariel finished.

"Ariel...  Alfador and Janus would have agreed with you," Magus nodded. "So be it."

Gaspar had fallen asleep at the lamp post. They were so used to his snores they only served as background noise. He woke with a start.

"I've just looked into the time stream. You must return to Guardia Castle in Ariel's time. Something important has just taken place. It's almost clear enough for me to see, but I need you to confirm what I think may be true," Gaspar said.

"My home? Daddy? Oh, Orion, let's hurry. C'mon, Elora!" Ariel danced in place so anxious did the Guru's words make her, before racing off down the corridor.

"We'll wait for you here," Prime called after them. "I've gotten good at waiting. Poker, anyone?" he offered producing a deck of cards from somewhere.

"You want me to play cards with a robot and a frog? How does one play against two natural poker faces?" Magus complained. "Okay, deal, you two-armed bandit."

Prime laughed at Magus' reference which brought a slight smile to Magus' face. Alpha watched in amazement as Magus relaxed a little and joked with the robot. He lost the first five hands.

*****

Orion materialized the Ark over Melchior's hut and piloted it to the castle. Ariel bounded down over the edge as soon as the ship touched down and took the castle steps by twos in her haste. Orion and Elora chased right after her.

"What's happened?" Ariel asked the first guard. "Where's father?"

"Father? I don't understand, my queen," the guard shook his head.

"Queen? I'm Princess Nadia and my father is the king. Where is he?" Ariel was becoming frantic.

"Too much sun," Elora commented as she turned Ariel from the guard. He nodded. Elora led Ariel to her room, chased out her attendants and sat Ariel down on her bed.

"Ariel, the Chronal Eraser must have reached him," Elora noted. "Don't panic, we can still find out..."

Ariel began to cry softly. Orion immediately went to her side to offer her comfort. She clung to him and sobbed against his chest.

"I still have nightmares of when I was erased out of time. So cold...  So dark...  So lonely...  Daddy, well Daddy's been lonely for so long, I hate to think of him suffering that... I never did hug him before I left..." Ariel's misery overwhelmed her and Orion merely held her and rocked her as he stroked her hair. Elora looked on, concern in her eyes under her thick glasses.

Ariel's sobs subsided. "Okay. We need to figure out what to do next. There has to be some way to retrieve Daddy. Maybe the time stream cleared up a little more with him gone..." Her eyes welled up again but she refused to let the tears fall.

"I think we have a more pressing problem. King Guardia's disappearance is from the Chronal Eraser ripping back through time to Schala. Once it reaches her...  Well I'm not sure what will happen but it's not good. It has to come through you and as it nears Schala's time it accelerates. Ariel, you're next. I think if we get you to the End of Time and keep you there, you'll be safe from it, but I'm not sure..." Elora explained.

Orion stood and grasped Ariel's hands. "Let's not wait then! We should return to Ark now and..."

Just then an eerie black Gate opened into Ariel's room. Two man-shaped black creatures stepped through. There was no sign of any features and no texture, no cloth or hair, skin or fur. Light seemed to simply fall into their forms and give up trying to show any detail. Orion jumped to his feet and drew his sword. He placed himself between these intruders and his friends. One of them struck Orion with a fist. He slashed Rainbow at him in a beautiful over-under two hit strike. It hit, but seemed not to trouble the creature at all. Ariel noticing Orion's failure to harm their foes with his powerful sword, cast a strong Ice spell. The creature shrugged the spell off.

Elora threw her Megabombs. Both enemies ignored the attack as they advanced. One of them grabbed Ariel's arm. Completely unnerved by their silent intent she struggled and hit him with the side of her crossbow. The invincible foe ignored that attack as it had ignored all others. Orion summoned the strongest spell he knew, levitated and sent the fury of his Luminaire attack into the creatures. Unfazed, they secured their hold on Ariel and stepped back through the Gate. It closed.

"Ariel!" Orion screamed. "Where is she? Elora..."

"A black Gate? We've got to tell Gaspar. We can't do anything here. Come on," Elora grabbed Orion's hand and led him from the room.

"It's too much, Elora. First, she's threatened with Chronal Erasure again and now – taken – I don't even know by who...  I...  I love her..." Orion admitted as Elora dragged him from the room.

"Yeah, well, duh, tell me something I don't know," Elora replied. "Come on, Orion! We gotta find out what we got to do to rescue her most serene royal pain in the..."

"Elora!" Orion laughed in spite of himself. "She'd be sitting on you, yanking your hair out by the handfuls if she heard you!"

"Good! I wouldn't even mind too much if she did! You gotta keep your hope. We'll find her. We'll rescue her. I mean, come on, we rescued you from death and the planet, the planet, mind you, from a space-born, giant, mutant planet eater. Whatever kidnapped Ariel, no way can take us on!" Elora boasted.

"I don't know," Orion said, sobering. "My sword didn't hurt it, ice, fire and lightning didn't touch it..."

"Everything has a weakness. We'll find it," Elora said as Orion gave her a leg up to Ark. "We have to."

*****

"What hast thou done with Ariel?" Alpha asked as Orion and Elora ran up to them at the End of Time.

"She...  She got kidnapped," Orion answered breathlessly. "A black Gate opened, two black goons jumped out and grabbed her!"

"Why didn't you stop them?" Magus asked.

"Prime, lock rambolts!" Orion cried as he grabbed the mage and hurled him at the robot. A small click from Prime's booted feet sounded just before Magus crashed against Prime's wall-like chest.

"Orion! Why didst...?" Alpha began.

"Understood, but why?" Prime asked.

"We're all upset, Magus didn't mean..." Elora started.

"While I am glad you did not use my lamp post again as your wall, why did you attack Janus? It was an innocent question," Gaspar noted.

"I...  I know. I'm – sorry, Magus. It's just I get so crazy when Ariel's threatened and I've gotten used to throwing you against things. I know you didn't mean anything evil..." Orion began.

"Yeah, well my shoulder has gotten used to you hurling me at various walls, too," Magus noted rubbing his left shoulder.

Alpha began working his throat.

"Don't you dare Slurp me!" Magus warned. "I'd rather have a sore shoulder!"

Prime shot a green beam that engulfed and cured Magus instead.

"Hmph. Much better, thank you," Magus said, rather curtly. "If you are quite finished smashing me about, answer my question. Why did you let them take Ariel?"

"I tried to stop them!" Orion cried out in anguish. "My sword was useless...  Luminaire didn't harm them...  They were immune to every attack. I can't stand that anything threatens Ariel..." Orion paced like a caged animal and finally pounded his fist on the door to Spekkio's room.

Spekkio poked his head out. "It's open, you don't need to knock! Waking me from a perfectly good dream, Nu..." he closed the door again.

"A black Gate?" Gaspar asked. "That does not sound like a Time Gate. Perhaps one in space. Why don't you..."

"...go play with Spekkio again?" Orion finished. "Are we always going to have to babysit the Master of War when you need to do research?"

"No, you could stay out here but I'm just going to look like I'm sleeping. It's rather boring to watch actually," the Guru offered.

"Let's fight Spekkio," Orion, Alpha, Prime and Elora said in unison as Gaspar began to snore.

"What is Spekkio?" Magus asked Prime as the others proceeded them into Spekkio's room.

"Well, he claims to be the Master of War. He is immune to all but magic attacks and he... Elora, what is the expression? 'Kicked our butt'?" Elora nodded as she entered. "He kicked our butt the last time we fought him. Of course we now have Alpha back in his frog form so some of our combined spells will work," Prime explained.

"Back in frog form? Combined spells?" Magus muttered. "You must explain this to me later."

"Certainly, right now let's see what we can manage with Spekkio," Prime agreed.

*****

Gaspar grinned as five smoking, dripping, singed, smudgy-faced individuals emerged from Spekkio's room.

"Spell Town?" he asked, waving his arm and restoring them to their normal status.

"In spades!" Orion admitted. "I think maybe Spekkio's gotten so powerful we can't beat him anymore. We did better, Alpha and I combined a few Spires on him, but that's like saying I emptied more ocean because I drained it a cup rather than a teaspoon. It sure isn't enough."

"Too bad Magus and I can't combine our fire spells," Elora noted. "We could do a lot of damage together."

"And my lasers," Prime added. "Spekkio said they sufficed as Shadow magic. What could they do if actual Shadow magic were to be channeled through them?"

"I think I shall have to test each of you for sensitivity to Time. Your suppositions are uncanny," Gaspar said rather cryptically.

Five faces turned to him with various confused expressions.

The Guru smiled gently before sobering as he turned toward Magus. "Janus, you will fall again and perhaps fail to rescue Schala unless you learn to combine your magic with the others."

"Work with them? With my magic? Impossible! It's all I have..." Magus fell silent.

"All that make'st thee unique?" Alpha ventured.

"Don't presume to understand me, frog! And don't you dare attack me again!" Magus whirled on Orion.

Orion pointed to himself with a "who me?" innocent look.

"It's the only way to find and rescue Schala. You will perish if you don't," Gaspar warned.

Magus walked to the rail overlooking the mists of Time. "To give...  to give up control of my magic..." he said softly.

"Not accurate," Prime noted as he walked up to Magus' side.

"What do you mean? Explain it to me!" Magus appealed imperiously.

Prime regarded Magus impassively. "Let's you and I talk to Spekkio. All of you, wait here."

"How is it Prime can work so easily with Magus?" Orion asked as the door closed.

No one responded for a moment.

"Perhaps because he looks under the surface meaning. He looks for why Magus says something, not what Magus says. He doesn't take offense and so he is better able to communicate than the rest of you," Gaspar pointed out.

"We do tend to fly off the handle with Magus. Me more than anyone else," Orion admitted. "I never thought how – lonely he must be."

"His life wast stunted by Lavos, but that excuse'th not Cyrus' death," Alpha stated.

"Or you. He's hurt you at least as much as Lavos hurt him. I'll work with Magus, but I can't see ever liking him," Elora admitted.

*****

"Wait, before you wake him," Magus asked as Prime reached toward Spekkio. "Please explain combining magic to me."

"Spekkio would be better able..."  Prime began.

"No," Magus' pale hair flowed as he shook his head. "I'd rather you did."

"Very well, but my knowledge is limited to what I do. I don't know how it is for humans. Orion and I combine my Shock and his Lightning equally to make Supervolt. Elora charges me with Fire Magic when I Fire Tackle something. I am the focusing element for Elora's magic, she is the one who powers it."

"So I would not be just a – magic battery for someone else..." Magus wondered.

"No. Combined magic does not have power struggles. It's cooperative."

"I might be able to cooperate with you, possibly Elora; but that punk kid and the frog..."

"Orion and Alpha are my friends. Some of the most potent magic I have seen is when they combine magic or when I cooperate with one or both of them," Prime stated simply.

"You said before we fought Spekkio that Alpha was 'back in frog form'. What did that mean?" Magus asked.

"Glenn returned to his human form when he returned home to the Middle Ages after killing you. We realized that recovering you with Gaspar's Chrono Trigger would have the undesirable effect of reinstating your curse on him. To revive you, Glenn had to become Alpha the frog again."

"That would explain the coolness and hostility toward me..."

"Yes. All of us are Glenn's, Alpha's... Alpha's... Alpha's friends. We would do almost anything to help him," Prime explained solemnly.

"Are you okay? That stutter..."

"Merely a slight overload on my logic chip. I can compensate."

"Glenn...  I haven't thought of him as that for years. It really is remarkable that he's survived. I thought I'd gotten rid of him when I cursed him. I never imagined he'd live this long," Magus mused.

"Alpha has many remarkable characteristics. Now allow me to wake Spekkio and see if we can combine our attacks," Prime said, shaking Spekkio awake.

*****

Spekkio's door opened and Prime walked out carrying Magus over one shoulder. Prime was soaking wet and yet strangely scorched. Magus' hair hung limply down the robot's side singed here and there with laser burns. A few burns blackened the pale skin of his arms as well.

"What hath happened?" Alpha cried as he leaped forward.

"He's not dead again, is he?" Orion asked.

Both were reaching toward Magus when they realized he was moving. His shoulders jerked spasmodically and as he looked up through his lank, tangled hair, Orion and Alpha realized he was helpless with laughter.

Prime set Magus down propping him against the lamp post. He promptly slid til he was sitting against it as tears streamed down his face.

"What hast thou done to our darkling ally?" Alpha asked Prime.

"I can't explain this. We had been doing so well, actually aligning our attack together when Spekkio magically Confused me. The next thing that I was aware of was rebooting at Spekkio's feet as is usual when he defeats us. Magus had also been revived. He was laughing hysterically so I brought him out here. Elora, explain this to me!" Prime demanded as he turned toward her.

"Oh! Oh! Don't! I will. Oh, Prime, it was just too funny! You have been – solicitous, helpful and with one spell Spekkio...  Oh, the look on your face...  You do have emotions...  It was priceless! Ferocious apology! I was laughing before your first laser blasts hit me. Those hurt!  But your face..." Magus dissolved into helpless laughter again.

"So, Prime befriends Magus by attacking him," Orion noted. "Should I try it?"

"Thou hast already, several times. Methinks that is Prime's method only," Alpha responded, semi-seriously.

"Oh, oh! Ouch!" Magus clutched his sides.

"I've never heard you laugh before, Janus," the Guru said thoughtfully. "Chuckle rather evilly, yes, but laugh, no."

"'Tis a pleasant sound," Alpha added.

"Well, the robot is right," Magus confirmed as he composed himself. "He and I did merge our attack for a brief moment, enough to demonstrate to me how powerful combined magic can be before, well, disaster struck. Ouch!" Magus grabbed his left shoulder. He brought a lock of his hair forward and realized that about four inches had been lazed off. The look he gave Prime made Elora and Orion laugh.

"That Nu!" Gaspar muttered as he swept his arm over Prime and Magus. Restored, Prime reached down and lifted Magus to his feet.

"Can Spekkio be a little less exuberant? I can't learn anything if he blasts us senseless every other minute," Magus asked the Guru seriously.

"No. Spekkio is – what he is. I think you need to return to Time, somewhere, and learn how to cooperate with the others. I can find you when I discover something new. Take some time, you have enough of it, to learn how to fight together. The only time you must not go is the Prehistoric Era. Arvia will not be affected by any of this and if you bring her into it..." Gaspar warned.

"...we risk changing things even more," Prime finished.

"Where, that is, when, should we go?" Magus asked.

"Well, I would like to take Prime to my workshop and fit him with the illogic chip, I really think it will help him, but there aren't too many monsters in our era," Elora began. "Besides, we can't travel in groups more than three without ending up here," she noted looking at the End of Time.

"Okay, this is what we'll do," Orion decided after a swift moment of thought. "Elora, you and Prime take Ark and go to your workshop. Do whatever you have to, take however long you need and then look for us at Alpha's pad. Alpha, Magus and I'll go to the 6th century, where there are many more monsters, and see what we can manage with combining our magic. When you and Prime rejoin us, you guys can work with Magus until Gaspar contacts us. That is if Gaspar will open a Gate for us to the 6th century?"

"By what right do you decide for us? Who made you the leader?" Magus asked pointedly.

"Actually, we did when we fought Lavos. Orion is quite skilled at deciding how to proceed. That is, when he isn't dead," Prime responded.

"You – follow him willingly?"

"Yes. I know he will listen to any suggestions I make and then decide on the best course of action. He also utilizes our skills in the best manner possible," Prime replied solemnly.

"Prime, can I talk with you privately?" Magus asked.

Prime drew open the door to Spekkio's room and followed Magus in.

"Don't...  Don't leave me with them. I don't think I can work with them without you there. I don't think they respect me at all," Magus pleaded.

"Magus, you hurt Alpha when you killed Cyrus and made his life a trial by cursing him. It will take time for him to forgive you enough to try to like you; that is if it happens at all. But, he is honorable a – f... frog of his word. He has pledged to find and rescue Schala; he was willing to accept back his curse to fulfill that promise. He will work with you and because of his example, Orion will also. As for respect, you wield the strongest single magic we've ever seen but for Lavos. Alpha has been changed entirely by your magic, he certainly respects you," Prime replied.

"That's not exactly what I mean..." Magus began.

"I know. Elora and I will be as quick as possible, but take this time to get to know them as allies, not as enemies. When we find your sister and deal with this 'dread lord' we will need to rely on each other. Like it or not, in this venture, Orion and Alpha are your allies," Prime noted.

"Thanks, Prime. I'll keep that in mind," Magus responded as he exited the room. Prime gazed after him for a moment and then followed.

Spekkio opened one eye. "Interesting. I'm starting to get a feel for your spirit, robot. I'll give you magic yet!"

*****

"What an abhorrent little hovel!" Magus exclaimed as he descended the ladder into Alpha's home.

Orion bristled in his friend's defense and glanced about the little dwelling. He noticed anew the rustic bed and wooden chest of drawers, the two small presses and the table and chairs. Orion watched as Alpha calmly walked over to the table, struck a spark, lit a taper and circled about lighting the candles and lamps placed about the room. The warm yellow light cheered the underground room immeasurably.

"Magus," Alpha requested as he knelt to start a fire in the fireplace. "we must work together to rescue thy sister. Please keep'est thine insults to thyself."

"I suppose it is difficult to find someone willing to sell a home to...  Well, it's better now that it is lit," Magus offered.

Orion calmed himself and removed his sword belt and pack as he sat down in one of the chairs. "Okay...  Alpha what can I do to help with dinner?"

"Nothing, 'tis a simple meal I prepare. Dost thou and Magus practice thy magic on the hostile creatures to be found in the Lonely Wood," Alpha suggested. "I shall have supper ready by sundown."

"Makes sense," Orion agreed taking up his sword and pack again. "Coming, Magus?"

Magus looked about the room one more time, his gaze lingering on the frog's back as Alpha tended the fire, before following Orion up the ladder in silence.

"As I recall," Orion stated as Magus followed him into a clearing a short while later. "You have both strong ice and strong fire spells."

"Yes," Magus confirmed.

"Well, Ariel has Ice and Elora Fire and they can charge my sword so that it becomes an Ice sword or a Fire sword. I'm not sure how they..."

"How do they target just your sword? I suppose I can figure it out," Magus interrupted.

Just then four gnawers and two t'poles crashed into the clearing. Orion paused, giving Magus time to invoke his Fire spell and took the full force of the spell as it targeted him alone, leaving the gnawer to his left unharmed.

"What are you doing?!" he roared in pain as he slashed the gnawer through with his sword, the whirl attack he had prepared for the Fire sword now forgotten.

"Do you have any idea how hard it is to target just a sword?" Magus snarled as he scythed down a t'pole.

"Yes, I do! I target the Masamune when Alpha and I Spire something!" Orion retorted heatedly.

"Get ready, then! Incoming!" Magus called as he sent his Fire spell Orion's way again. The spell hit mostly on the sword and Orion whirled taking out the rest of the monsters in his fire-powered attack.

He looked up balefully at Magus and held up one hand showing Magus his blistered palm.

"Your hair is on fire, too," Magus noted dryly.

Orion whispered something truly foul as he frantically patted his head to put out the flames. His mood was not helped when he saw Magus smirking at him.

"You have to give me time. I'm new to combining magic...  Although your fire sword is quite impressive," Magus admitted.

"Perhaps we should try a Luminaire scythe next?" Orion asked in a sweetly acid tone.

"No, I think I need to practice Ice and Fire some more, although for training only. I think you and I can devise some devastating Shadow attacks."

"Uh uh! I'm not taking Shadow hits until you have Fire and Ice perfected first. They hurt enough!" Orion warned.

"Yes well...  The singed hair looks virtually the same but the burn on your face looks painful. Perhaps we should return to the frog's..." Magus noted Orion's glare but continued anyway. "...hovel and see if what he concocted is palatable to humans," he finished blithely.

"Magus..." Orion said in a low tone.

"Yes?" Magus arched a challenging brow.

"Forget it," Orion stalked off toward Alpha's home. Magus followed smiling at how easy it was to bait this young man.

~TBC~