Author Topic: Gaspar Collection III. Echo of the Flame  (Read 1371 times)

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Gaspar Collection III. Echo of the Flame
« on: January 08, 2005, 12:05:05 am »
Softly, but deeply, the thunder rolled across the plains of the central continent, ushered in part by the longest night of nights, and a drifting rain that aimlessly wandered in search of a realm it had forgotten. The stars, though covered by the dreary, but tender mists, were nonetheless present, overseeing from regions faraway; strikes of lightning emanated a power -- though not malicious, it was a declaration of strength -- strength with beauty; strength with kindness; strength that demanded respect, and caressed those who gave it. It was currently set about creating a nocturnal symphony of showers and rumbles -- a serenading duet between the land's patter and refreshment from the azure drops, and the heavy, weeping sky. How might something so simple and natural to the inhabitants of the land feel so eternal? As when one gazes at the stars, to hear the gentle storms had an effect on the soul -- one of familiarization with the unknown; a sense of completion, and wholeness with the world. It was indeed a mild tempest that granted godly repose, for since its oncoming and hiding the crimson sunset, it had forced the laborers inside to contemplate their place among the world; it had driven couples inside, to ponder their relationships; it had provoked scholars to crack books of deeper resonations; it had doused knights, whose fortitude lavished in its proud standing in the rain; and lastly, it had caused a drifter -- a noble vagabond, carrying a name etched upon the hearts of many -- to cease his midnight walk, and return to his humble, but warm abode -- to feel the weakness of his aging body, and the crystallization of his antique mind -- to sit in his armchair, polish his sword, and mildly marvel at the inherent beauty of nature outside.

The winds from paradise brushed across his window, as they brushed across his mind; he could not rest, but neither was he content to simply watch the subtle symphony of thunder beyond the walls; with each drop of rain, and the sound of it washing across the landscape, he remembered another memory -- ones small, ones meaningful, and those most poignant of all. It seemed to him that, in the reflection on each azure drop of pale light filtering through the murky clouds and the instantaneous flashes of lightning, he could see the face of each acquaintance he had met, and the expression mutually retained from the relationship. Clear was the anguished, fading smile of the paladin -- the trustful glance of the hero, and the accepting glee of the heroine -- and finally, the sneer of the contemptible one, and his later gaze of respect. Every memory had surfaced, and now lay at his fingertips, summoned by the drones of the falling rain; his spirit had metaphorically become the epicenter of the storms around, as each recollection and reminiscence whirled in representation. The grip of his hilt awakened yet more -- as did the somber reflection of a lone candlelight upon his sword's blade. What could he want, he wondered, in a moment such as this? He felt as if he would enjoy being absorbed by every memory; living each one through once more, but this time, living it fuller than before -- spending no second half-awake. Yet, these memories were as dreams to him now; the powers of time which had strengthened him had also cut him off from younger days -- for he could feel the dirt of planting season of the last few years, but yet his initiation into the Knights of the Squaretable was distant -- far beyond the mists that hovered behind his village view port; aloof, completely unreachable, remaining only as images -- perhaps, someone else's.

He recalled such images plainly; there he stood, before going home forever, in the expansive forest; the requiem for the green revolution that took place over four hundred years sung defiantly against the march of time, as leaves swirled in majestic triumph -- nurtured by the soil, rather than undone by it. There, he had found Elysium -- a small moment of peace; the rarest thing -- for even his greatest supposed memories were tainted; the face of the Paladin had forever warped to one twisted in pain; the stance of the hero seemed permanently crucified against the blinding light of the death god; the touch of the wizard was frigid eterne. Yet, amongst those grassy waves, sheltered by verdurous trees that stretched ever upward to bind with heaven in leafy union, he was content -- content to simply observe the dancing of the branches, the busywork of the insects, who had multiplied to augment the wondrous life cycle of the forest, and the clouds above, barely visible through the brush. He could lie there forever -- buried, perhaps, in a grave beneath the greatest oaks, pines, and spruces. He would watch forever -- time would be nothing; the trees would court his lifeless eyes, and the birds would daily provide melody that spelled a never ending veneration -- not for the knight himself, but to his recognition of beauty -- for few in this world truly pause to examine the world around them, and become caught within it -- allured by the overwhelming spectacle of mere nature.

But was this not contradictory? The bones in his body were rapidly micro fracturing; his muscles took daily increase of wear, while his mind slowly succumbed to the deep haze of deterioration -- but the forest still lived! He had captured its beauty, as it had uplifted his heart; why then, must he die, and lose the day forever? Was there no justice, even in those with such perspicacity and appreciation of the gift of life? The answer was the same each time, for the rain continued to fall, unrelenting in its descent onto the meadows and trees, just as his sword could not be held forever -- just as his tired eyes would, saggy, close and reopen, albeit the oncoming blurriness of vision -- just as his head would fall into the pillow; alone, cold, and lifeless, for he had no celestial woman to cry to, and reveal his vulnerability for healing -- even in old age. Like the rain, his tears would wet the cloth of no lover's bosom, but be wasted on heartless ground. And though this would plant the seeds of food in both regards, man cannot live on bread alone.

But it continued. The rain fell.

As the sage once said, to what doth this portend?

What did it mean, that the rain would fall regardless of its receiver? That the old philosophy of man living as he dreamed -- alone, were true? Nay; it could not be, for verily, he had shared the dreams of many, and confided in several a noble breast. Was it that -- like the rain, he would lie awake many sleepless nights, gazing upwards aimlessly, ready at any time to succumb to the night, and be forever enshrined within that viridian Elysium, but the sunset refused to come? That even on the most difficult days of his retired life, he could not lay down his heart, but would remain breathing, even unto sleep? For the rain had no mind of the ground it fell upon, cherishing only its beauteous freefall from the aura-filled atmosphere through the wind driven air; priding in its spiraling ever downward, with crystal gleam on its clear form. Even the rain met its end of its journey, splashing on the cooled ground, but it kept on, traveling region to region, and forming anew in the seas of the coast. This was beauty, indeed -- a beauty with limitless fortitude; a beauty that marched on regardless of its spectators and obstacles, fully believing in itself, and meeting its end with a valor that no night or bony fingers might ever enwrap.

Beauty in death -- the fight for the eternal -- this was the meaning of the rain! The knight's eyes flickered at this realization, as a chorus of thunderclaps outside congratulated his progress in confronting his own mortality. It is indeed difficult to convey simplicity; even Cyrus met a gruesome end as the rain, left to rot beneath a ruthless sun, but he met it with bravery and complacency. He knew his place among the world; a hero, a beacon to all of righteousness and gallantry, but more importantly, he knew himself best of all -- the limits of his strength, the number of his days, and the strength of his will, which would be everlastingly carried in the tongues and blades of all noble warriors and lovers to follow him. Was Cyrus thus immortal, even in charging to his death?

The images of his friend's pale face moments before being set aflame by the wizard darkened and stirred his heart, but more predominantly in his mind was Cyrus's pride -- his empowering glances to admiring children, his reverential and serving bows to ladies of any upbringing, and his cherished smile given only to his closest acquaintances -- one of true friendship, confidence, and mighty love; an appreciation of life, and acknowledgments of its hardships. Yea, Cyrus stood to his last moment, even calling out to his friend as blood seeped from his rent body. The knight once more allowed his eyes to gaze into his sword's reflection; in his own eyes, there stood these values -- there stood his friend.

Cracking his knuckles, the aging man heaved the sword upright, and stood up, stabling himself on the wobbling blade. At last, he breathed; the winds from paradise once more swelled in his lungs, cooled his cracked face, and held him upright in the breezy cottage. At once, he sauntered to the door and gently pushed it open; the rain greeted him in faint sheets, nearly replenishing his age by virtue of soft, tender chilled moisture. Summoning the deepest reserves of his strength, he placed the Masamune into his back-sheath, and stepped out into the godly, misty darkness, his eyes twinkling upon the reflection of the lofty lightning in the benevolent clouds. He at once began to walk, starting for the Cursed Woods he had long ago adored and sought refuge in. And as Glenn entered the pantheon of the midnight shower, he thought to himself -- though he knew not the answer to the question of the eternal; the immortal -- he would stand, and proudly live, no matter how close his earthly demise lay at hand. He knew that among the drops, Cyrus and Leene were hovering near in silver vapors, lightly stroking his cheek in friendship and love, easing his mind with the gentleness of the rainfall. He would die -- this he knew -- but he would not die a decrepit, ailing man who condemned his past as futile, but would succumb to the inevitable a knight -- and ally himself with Cyrus; with the Kingdom of Guardia; with --

And the shadow faded into the dark foliage of the woods.

~ ~ ~

The campfire crackled and hissed as the deadwood met a useful end; fuel was added as the flame grew dim, sending a few sparks to scatter upon the moonlit beach. The night was brilliant; for a full moon, the ocean was unexpectedly calm, allowing one to glance for miles at its reflection of the night sky; the surf sprayed calmly, while the sand became a somniferous, shifty bed to all. No artificial light was present; Arni lay far beyond the grassy, palm-treed hills that rolled into the mainland, and patrolling ships of the Porre nation had submitted to the restful night themselves, content to ride the smooth waves of the gentle sea. Among the trio, one had long since laid his head upon a worn rug on the sand and sailed his vessel beyond the sea into the realms of vagaries; by him stood a tall, robust man, with wavy hair, who leaned upon quaint greenery; though not asleep, he had nonetheless entered into a trance, induced by the salty scent of the rolling sea, and a familiar darkness which covered the earth. Only the eldest one remained lucid, with waking eyes, focused on feeding his meager source of light to ensure it lasted the remainder of the dark. As he fed more flames into the fire, he questioned the forces growing within his own heart; since his declaration to himself and the world of his intent to save Fiona, or meet an end in fully trying, he had become somewhat apprehensive. The stars themselves took a near-hostile quality; it seemed that Gaspar was striving to disrupt the natural order -- fate, some call it -- and selfishly extract from it what he desired. He pondered this hesitation, though never did he falter -- for each doubt was reinforced with an image of Fiona; she was everything that he had left to gain and love in the world. The quests of both heroes were complete; the End of Time was dissolved. He was liberated, bound to no will but his own and that of Magus's, who shared a similar goal, and in this freedom he stumbled courageously.

Freedom -- it was a necessity; a simultaneous gift of life and death -- and yet, it felt foreign to him. He had long been bound by senses of purpose that were not of his own creation; he recalled being appointed the Guru of Time, and immersed in the sciences -- in creating the End of Time, and becoming tied to that land -- in discovering the intent of the Entity to right history. Even the smallest items of interest had once held him and demanded his attention, giving him purpose, but nonetheless binding his wrists -- for regardless of the successful application of Shadow Magic to wood gardening techniques in Zeal, for example, he would remain unchanged, retaining timeless worries and hopes. At once, a star fell on the horizon; it was barely visible amongst the moonlit waves, but Gaspar had the eyes of an eagle. He at once made a wish, as a small breeze rustled the foliage on the empty beach, and whispered in his ear. Feeling a tinge of confidence in the astrological phenomenon, the sage made his wish -- to be free, with Fiona. Despite his doubts, he would trudge on; though he did not surface this notion to lucidity, he knew that at some points in his spanning life, it was simply more interesting and positively enthralling to make a rash, courageous decision and ride the crest of the consequences; this was not necessarily because the courageous option was righteous in some form, but simply different from the normal ongoings of the world. He once had an Enhasian dream of a godly person, who imparted the words, "Under the courageous, there is nothing --" and indeed, he would hope to be as daring and brave as he could, believing in himself. What troubled him, as he looked up towards lunar auras, was the ever-present question -- he could be fearless, but could he have courage even unto death?

A cricket chirped; the sleeping, blue-haired boy turned to one side, and then sat upright. His hands reached his eyes instantaneously, brushing away particles of dust and sand. As his blurred vision sharpened, the blinding light of the fire reassured him of safety; he at once remembered the events of the previous day, and where he currently lay. He immediately noticed the static wizard leaning in repose, noted by the increase in heartbeat; second to his ken was the sagely Guru, staring upwards with a blank look upon his creased face. At once, Serge's nostrils filled with the scent of the salty sea -- the smoke of the seething fire -- and the comforting hints of beauty in the open, night air. Gaining his senses, he immediately peered high as well, content to merely locate the object of Gaspar's eye.

"See something in particular? That's Parai, a bit to the right of the moon," Serge commented.
"Nay," the Guru muttered. "I am simply floating in thought, as most men my age do."
"I know how that can be -- adrift," Serge faded.

Serge was now lost in his own continuum of thoughts and ponderings, adrift in a sea reminiscent of the water in which the dimensions were split, years ago. This much he remembered, and more; mere fragments of a dream, in which his role became more apparent with each revelation of memory. And his mind's tide was rising --

"Gaspar, you -- you told me earlier, you were a Guru of Time, in a faraway land."
"Yes? That was long ago, but I was," the sage spoke.
"Well, did you see anything -- can you tell me anything about my history? I mean, surely, you've seen--"
"Serge, no?"
"Events here and there; I keep having memories of things -- I know I did some terrible thing to the world; split it in half or something -- I remember these dragons, towering over me and seeking my life?"
"Your memories are coming back to you, Serge. I cannot interfere in their return, or the shock may be too much for you."
"But Gaspar, I feel -- I am divided; it's like I'm peering into someone's journal!"
"Indeed, your attitudes towards things might have differed then and now; soon, you will accept that you truly did these things. Your acceptance is your choice."
"No, it's just that it seems like I've lost the world -- that I lost myself, who I am; I gave it up?do you know what it's like to -- to just lose yourself? All sense of being?"

Gaspar's eyes shifted; though he indeed considered the loss of Fiona a loss of his being, as his sole purpose was now to find it -- he continued to weigh the possibility of a mental breakdown on Serge's part. If Magus was correct, and Serge would contain vital information on the fate of Schala and the occurrences at the Darkness Beyond Time, he could not risk losing the memories. However, he simply longed so deeply for a similar spirit to share his trouble with -- he would take the risk.

"I would suppose I do -- " he was reluctant to continue, and depended on Serge's further questioning.
"Please, tell me. Anything. I've got to know?"
"I lost a love. My love -- she was pulled from my grasp. Serge, if you remember, you were somewhat responsible for splitting the dimensions. My love -- she originated from another dimension, similar to ours, yet flawed -- a dimension relevant to the being Lavos, that was destroyed. I narrowly escaped it, not knowing how I arrived there."
"A love? You mean, a woman?"
"A woman I loved. Janus too; his sister, the only one he is truly able to confide in and have any shred of real love for, similarly disappeared. "
"Gaspar, what was her name?"
"Fiona -- and Janus's sister, she was Schala."

At once, Serge's eyes darted to the upper left corner of their emplacements, as his mind scoured every depth of its corridors. A hand shot to his forehead; he rested it on his knee, and began taking heavy breaths. Like bubbles erupting from a vent on the sea floor, images of memories shot through his head; a girl with outstretched hand; a flight during a full moon; a brilliant, depressing sunset beyond a stone arch -- he drowned in them. His actions pierced the serenity of the night; Gaspar now was fully attentive, his rationality returning to him in full; he had earlier finally concluded that Schala must have repressed Serge's memories for his own protection. The risk had been taken, and lost, for it seemed that deep, rooted memories had been triggered by the mention of Schala -- a keyword central to Serge's past life. Present in his mind was some essential fact that linked the many faces of the adoring and lively girl he had traveled with, and the beautiful woman linked to the beast at that dark place he feared and could not think of -- but it escaped him, hidden beyond an invisible barrier within the mind, locked only by time and healing. And if that were the prerequisite, why, Serge would calm himself, and submit to the realms of dreams in patience. It was not worth the pain of festering a wound; Gaspar knew this as well, for it seemed that all internal injuries were healed not by a majestic feat of the intellect, but the quiet passage of time; the adjustment to new circumstances under which operation could proceed. But love -- love defied all reason, and all healing. Forever, he would have an absence in his soul; a void, unable to be sated by anything, save the impossible -- and surprisingly enough, this gave his life further meaning, and provided hardy support to his will to live. He at once wished to share this reinforcement.

"Serge, are you all right now? I didn't mean to provoke your memory," Gaspar moved.
"No, it's fine -- it's just, so much of my memory is attached with all these emotions that -- that I've never experienced so fully in my normal, boring life. It's -- overwhelming -- "
"Serge, you might possibly have the most eventful life of anyone on this planet. Just let it come to you."
"I am -- but I think of my life in Arni. How could it ever compare?"
"A lucky life! You are able to fish, build your dreams, and live freely. I know several men who would die for that opportunity."
"It isn't enough. I've caught every fish in the sea. It feels so empty -- "
"Reconciling differences is another process you must permit to take place. Until then, put forth your best effort not to worry. Disowning a part of your life -- it is disastrous, and rash."

Gaspar thought back to the End of Time, which had been reduced to nothing but mere mists and fog, as it was when he found it. His own lack of content had destroyed it, for he refused to accept his conditions. Though such an act of defiance in the face of fate was to be admired as a courageous act and a viable means to alter one's destiny, it should not lead to such a severe destruction of the past -- as put by the magician Sneff, he thought, when he gazed into the Flame -- "I didn't know back then what I know now, so I have no regrets!" Indeed, he could not turn on himself, or evoke regret for things beyond his control.

Unfortunately, the glimmer remained constant -- the feeling of freedom, and the increased ability and identity he gained by burning all his previously crossed bridges, and marching toward the horizon without a glance behind. Since leaving the End of Time to travel with the ill-contented Magus, Gaspar had found himself very much alive; the scent of ordinary flora delighted him once more, and he could nary go a day without gazing upwards to the sky to study the wide array of clouds and hues. Rather than lay a dreamer and sculpt vagrant wishes to fulfill distant, inherent goals, he had risen, and now quested directly for his desires and purpose. Now, he lay, a contradictory being -- for he reasoned that he would gladly deconstruct the End of Time again, given the choice to fulfill his own journey, and search evermore. His scientific expertise implored him that Fiona was a lost cause; that he should retire, and concern himself with safekeeping time and, perhaps, passing on his knowledge to new gatekeepers -- yet even if he failed in his quest, the mere fact that he tried -- with all his being -- fulfilled his purpose, gave him value, and allowed him to fulfill his goal regardless. Reality may linger coldly, but his efforts in establishing his personal paradise were an act of perfection themselves. Indeed, he would have his own Zeal, whether he tangibly grasped it or grasped at it in his lifetime.

Desiring to sleep in total peace, Gaspar wished to reinforce his vows a final time; he fumbled in his jacket for a few lines he had written on Fiona. Though never formally a poet, he found that love's inspiration wrote in his stead; he merely had to be its vehicle. The slip was found --

O, in what rose doth crimson so intensely dare
To deeply radiate, than in thine silken hair?
And were lie gleaming emeralds as richly bright
As thine precious stare; thine viridian-glowed eyes?
Can be found smoother outlines in clouds risen
Than the gentle softness of thine tender visage?
For thine pallor is sweet, more creamily white
Than sea pearls, crafted by Neptune in godly might?

And here, it ended, for Gaspar did not know the various poetic structures he might further arrange his piece in, and neither had the drive of an artist to supplement and complete his inspiration with conjured devices. His eight lines were quite enough; an honest expression of himself -- no more was required to express his love, and neither would artifice maintain the beauty these few lines created. To this end, he was perfectly content with himself; he was a fighting dreamer, full of vigor and vision of the future, and was ready to succumb to a night's sleep which too played a part in his quest. He glanced once more at Magus, and wondered; could a more torn, dashing, interesting, and unimaginably strong person be found across the timelines and dimensions? Images of other Maguses searching for Schalas and, perhaps, other siblings came to him; the altruism experienced earlier in the day had finally become manifest as a friendship. As a generally arcane, esoteric person belonging to a civilization long silenced by the years recounted by the sea, Gaspar admitted that he had little confidants and trusted friends in his life -- and now, a warm feeling entered his heart as he recognized the value of Magus.

The wizard himself remained upright against the palm tree, his arms crossed and his head resting with his chin on his chest. As Gaspar contemplated relationships and values, Magus too was without his regular mental defenses, which ushered him toward Schala -- he lay almost enticed in fantasies he was shaping in a semi-conscious state; he dreamt of new planes of existence, and life after finding Schala -- a concept utterly foreign to him, as it had dominated his thoughts for the last thirty years. Never had he been this close to achieving his goal -- never had the dream that his dream itself desired been reached -- that of realization. The wall of pure determination erected long ago stood so thick that he could naught see beyond it; in this manner, freeing Schala -- the only person he had ever truly loved; the one who valued him most as a human being; the girl who so innocently and protestingly fulfilled the wishes of evil in the name of family obedience -- was death -- death for his purpose, his actions, and his normal behavior. He had always been ready to die for Schala, and let her name escape his last breath into cold air -- but was he ready to live? Yet, the Magus, long accustomed to impossible situations surmounted by pure fearlessness with a smile, entertained the concept of bravery. Whatever lay beyond that door, he would plunge into it, and perhaps evolve into a greater being.

Belthasar's journal lay heavy in his pocket; the Guru might be able to assist him in these thoughts, as he often visited and counseled Janus in Zeal. Whether he did it out of a kind spirit, or perhaps knowledge that Janus would one day, assuredly, become a mighty individual, could not be known -- and neither could anything else be, in this state. He flashed his trademark grin at the notion, though the moon clearly reflected on his face that, for the first time, hints of doubt and uncertainty were present. Caressing his face, it also observed him drift into pure slumber -- away from Schala, from Zeal, from that woman -- and into regions far and close, entirely new and enchanting. Gaspar too joined him in this reverie, his declaration of autonomy hours ago at last silencing his nightmares. Only Serge remained turbulent in sleep, but even he was freely drifting in the quietly rolling blue, stretching and soothing ‘till the end of time.

*    *    *    *    *

The dream world had been particularly benevolent to the party, for each awoke with full reserves of energy when the sun peaked beyond the horizon; Magus's eyes twitched, though he remained upright to observe the others, while Gaspar and Serge groggily stood up and peered at the sunrise. A strange look of reunion and depth lay in Serge's piercing eyes, while Gaspar too reflected his own recognizing the day and his obligations to his dream. Drawing a sizable breath, he let the ocean-blessed air permeate him, and realized the vast feeling of power given to him by the night. He silently unpacked a satchel from Termina, not wishing to disturb the peaceful morning air, and produced three sandwiches and beverages. Softly eating, he was startled when Magus, noticing the lack of an invitation, moved from his sleeping position to Gaspar swiftly and grabbed food. Serge, hearing the resulting, also took his meal, but returned to a seating position and continued to stare into the sky in all directions.

Upon finishing his snack, Magus began to prepare Serge's small fishing boat. Gaspar motioned to grasp his poem once more, but decided against it, wanting to face the day anew without the presence of too many anchoring memories. Serge similarly noticed the readying of his vessel, but could only care somewhat; dreams had given him the pleasure of staring the last Hydra in the eye, chasing a strange boy upon Sky Dragon Isle, and -- the most profound -- sailing into the night sky towards a giant, floating palace, with utter excitement on his face. Though a part of him wanted to continually dismiss these impossibilities (either stemming from Schala's lasting repression or his quiet life in Arni speaking), suggesting that he could have never transcended the sky his eyes were gazing upon. Yet, the air itself -- timeless and eternal -- told him that he flew, and this was enough.

Gaspar spoke.

"Well, Janus, where to?"
"To Zeal -- " Magus responded, correcting himself. "We're going to the Sea of Eden."
"Very well," Gaspar answered, noticing Magus's detachment from his normal character and pessimistic behavior. "Is there a plan behind this action, or are we simply going hunting?"
"It has told me that our greatest asset lies there."
"What? What exactly informed you, and what are we looking for?"
"Yeah," Serge piped in. "Some travelers complain of weird lights there. Never heard of anything tangible to be found, though."
"Gaspar, you of all people should know. Take one of your creations -- how might we control time with it?"

Gaspar immediately knew that he was referring to the Frozen Flame. The legend had been created in Zeal, perhaps by his hand; it was theorized that the Frozen Flame, coupled with a device such as his Time Eggs, would grant the user control over time. Chuckling, Gaspar remembered the Time Crash, albeit it was planned to purposely fail by the Prophet of Time.

"The Frozen Flame? You really think --"
"Agh -- what?" Serge's eyes immediately closed as the mention of this artifact exploded within his mind, further opening neural pathways.
"Come on, Gaspar. That's why the Sea of Eden was picked for Chronopolis; the Flame resided there until it was extracted."
"I suppose that's fine, but what effect will it have? Its owner is dead," Gaspar quoted, referring to Lavos.
"Lavos may have been vanquished, but we have yet to see if the Flame retains its own power and vitality. Let us depart -- that is, if you're ready?"
"Eh, up to it Serge?" the Guru commented.
"Yeah, I'll be fine. We need to get started -- ouch. The seas -- the flow will be a bit unfavorable, but we can get there easily enough."

The eagerness and happy furor that accompanies any start of a journey was not denied presence among the trio, as the heart leapt in each -- Magus continually becoming more persistent in mind with each falling grain of sand of the hourglass. With a great heave, the ship was launched -- a chariot of zealous dreamers, sailing to fulfill life and affirm their existence. Magus might have easily floated to the destination, but the ship offered him a degree of peace likened to the night before. Gaspar too wished to exploit this time of sailing, drawing from within his ornate robes a pen and the slip of paper on which his poem was contained. He stared at it -- in what would become a process of meditation, rather than writing, he pondered his thoughts for Fiona and the possibility of having her back -- for he had always been in a depressive state, wishing only for her, but now that the opportunity was readily available, he was somewhat unsettled and shakily expectant, perhaps believing the possibility was a lie, or merely not ready to abandon his state of sadness and wistful days. This always posed a problem to him; when the original heroes stood poised to depart the End of Time forever, he felt a tinge of sadness -- perhaps wishing that the quest would be eternal; that he might always confide and assist Crono, whose journey in overcoming the adversary would be never-ending. It was ironic to wish to extend a project such as that -- but, Gaspar supposed, finishing dreams and reaching closure just might demand as much effort as launching them with burning eye.

The waves sauntered past the prow of Serge's wooden vessel, lazily relaxing and upholding the craft in the groggy, morning light. The owner of the ship continued to stare into the sea as he directed the ship, undoubtedly accessing and dealing with new memories of his past life as a savior of the world. Gaspar could not fathom the experience Serge was undergoing, or compare his own strength in dealing with emotional turmoil -- for could he have dealt with the news that his entire life had been masked, or be baked beneath the guilt and horror at the resurgence of memories and regret? Nay, it would cause him deep affliction and sorrow, as if time itself were destroying potential by revealing an unknown, weighty past. He recognized that Serge would have sleepless nights, and perhaps reflect the light of the stars on passionate tears -- but he would be stronger. The past alone could not kill Serge, or steal any of his current glory; it was ultimately his courageous choice how to live -- and even whether to live. Almost in response to the Guru's thoughts, Serge raised his head upward and began to stare at Magus, who, despite his strangely uplifted spirits, remained stony during most of the voyage -- whose status now lay midway between the main continent and the Sea of Eden.

Magus had long had the ability to detect a pair of eyes trained in his direction, but the interested stare of the Swallow-wielder did not upset him mildly. It was a rare time in the wizard's life -- not unique, though only experienced a handful of other instances. Trepidation hardly visited Magus, only shaking him when cosmic forces were at work or stake; he recalled trembling as the Mammon Machine's power was raised -- shaking with delight as he began to chant the last few syllables in his Lair -- and uneasily anxious as he awaited Lavos in the Ocean Palace once more, dressed in a prophet's regalia. Reluctant to be honest, his mind hinted that even now, it came as surprise that his quest for Schala may be so soon completed; the excitement disrupted his composure, and irked him slightly, but he could readily agree within that no feeling could compare with that of expectant dreams. The majesty of the sea and the sky evoked images of Zeal, and playing happily with his sister without a true care in that enlightened kingdom. Even the blue hair of the hero peering at him reminded him of brighter days -- and it thus lightly jolted him when its keeper spoke his name.

"Magus -- " Serge uttered, receiving no acknowledgment. "I do not know why, and please forgive me -- but these memories -- some of them feature you."
"Ah," the Magus lightly spoke.
"Can you tell me why -- that's what I mean to ask," Serge continued.
"I'm sorry, but I was never part of your band."
"What? No, I clearly remember?"
"He's speaking of Guile, Janus," Gaspar chimed.

Magus softly bit his lip, and focused his eyes on the horizon.

"Guile?" Serge inquired.
"Oh, don't look to me for answers, hah! I know as little about him as you do, Serge," the Guru continued. "And I don't believe Janus here is going to tell us anytime soon."
"Oh! You do know about him!" Serge cried. "Please, tell me!"

Gaspar sighed, knowing the effort was in vain, while Magus's chest heaved as he drew in the scented air.

"Guile." Magus spoke, chuckling to himself; Gaspar soon realized his good attitude afforded conversation. "Serge, you wouldn't understand. Yet."
"Tell me anyway! It might help me understand just to -- hear," Serge replied.
"Heh. Good luck. Gaspar," Magus said, turning to the Guru. "Do you not recall Guile knowing of old man Belthasar's project?"
"Ah, yes! That was particularly puzzling. Did Guile fi?"
"No, Guile was not with Serge. It wouldn't have worked otherwise."
"Well, go on," Gaspar ushered. "You won't appear any less fearsome to us if you actually have a chat, you know."

Magus gave a cold glance at Gaspar, and then returned to his normal senses.

"Two days ago, you wanted to know how I knew of the Chrono Cross; of the Project Kid. As you could tell from your vantage atop the hourglass, I did not travel with this kid here. You could not see me at all -- for when I departed to search for Schala for the first time, I examined the ruins of the Undersea Palace -- and found the dwelling of Lavos. It had been rendered empty since that red-haired idiot aided me in destroying the creature, but I had never come to fully appreciate the home of Lavos, which essentially is a pocket dimension. And as I turned from my entrance and gazed into the auras, the history of the world lay sprawled before me -- including the axis on which changes occur --"
"Time Error," Gaspar noted.
"Yes. I saw Belthasar enter the future, and discover where my sister -- was being held. I could not interfere with his plans, however; they were too intricately designed, almost stupidly complex. He would have instantly recognized me when he traveled to the modern era to locate potentials for helping Serge. Bekkler -- I sought the wizard Norstein Bekkler out, the exile from Zeal who came to haunt celebrations. I had him clone me; this was not a play doll, as the clones of times past, but an actual person -- imbued with my power. He was to be named Guile, and sent to observe the Project Kid, relaying his data ultimately to me at the end. And when this task was complete, I made a pact with Guile that he would be properly taken to the Darkness Beyond Time and cast into the chaos, so that his meaningless existence could be erased."
"Obviously not the case. Go on," Gaspar ushered.
"Yes. Guile's place in this world was a fabrication and with a limited purpose; he requested to me that he be erased from this life after his job was done. Accordingly, he was assigned to help Serge as would be required; on the eve of Serge's journey to the Darkness Beyond Time, he would steal away to Viper Manor, and magically duplicate his journal. He would then deliver it to Lavos's Pocket Dimension, where I awaited and did receive it. However, he did not come himself; I simply surmised that he had found another way to end his life, and did not seek to go to the Darkness Beyond. However -- "
"Yes," Gaspar spoke. "He said he was at the Manor, and was there again?"
"I remember. Apparently he circumvented the entire issue of being disposed, and used the Neo-Epoch to remove himself -- "
"I know what you're getting at. If Guile activated the Neo-Epoch, he could extrapolate himself from the timeline, allowing Serge ample time to defeat the Time Devourer and merge the dimensions. At that point, he would return?"
"Yeah, it seems that way. Guile didn't want to die, so he preserved himself in time -- "

At once, Magus turned away to a view of a distant island; he observed seagulls heading for it above.

"I guess -- he found a reason to live."
"I would not wish to die either, Janus."

Gaspar paused at this quote, as it had slipped from his mind upon a blank thought. Truly, staring upon those azure waves, he knew that the mere sight of the morning dew -- of flowers budding in a cooled breeze -- would keep him grounded in this mortal coil, for even beauty was enough to charm a man and evoke his appreciation for the world, regardless of his nature and condition. The guru lay content at this thought, not wishing to wonder why Guile had chosen life -- but merely entertaining the thought of being as a rose petal in the wind; free to enjoy life's pleasures, caress its softness, and fly in the world of dreams. Though initially frightened by these thoughts, as his heart knew that unless he were searching for Fiona, he would never be at peace with himself or his regrets -- he also took peace in the vision of Fiona's Forest, the namesake of his love, illuminated and full of leaves dancing in the wind beneath the whimsy clouds of majestic azure-white.

The notion equally charmed Magus, who had long arrived at the conclusion that Guile had fallen in love with the pleasantries of the world, for he had always had a special care for its enigmas and mysteries, seeking whatever was labeled unattainable, or of priceless beauty in this plane of existence. Magus was feeling a rising trepidation within him as well, as he searched the possibilities of life with Schala -- including the unthinkable concept of merely enjoying life with her, reunited and sipping a warm drink in total security and repose. He knew not what such a life would be, or whether he would be driven to madness by its boredom, or perhaps a hidden emptiness of achieving the goal; however, eons ago, a survival of the darkness ensured that he take the more courageous and interesting path, always shunting safety for a glimpse of something daring. He had stared the Black Wind, and felt its cold fingers animate his hair in many respects, such that he likened himself to a vessel being guided by it. His experiences had made him immortal in mind, and more yet may make him eternal in body, forever free to wander the world as he pleased -- a royal prince of Zeal, having endured a thousand nights, and penanced for several sins, now loosed from his bonds and able to dream.

"There," Serge remarked, pointing to an opening in a wall of rock.
"The Sea of Eden? Have the Pearly Gates ever been so wide?" Gaspar asked.
"Yeah, Porrean officials blasted it open awhile ago. Where've you been?"
"Not paying attention, apparently. Forward."

The Sea of Eden, a vessel of dreams in itself, and though retaining the Gate effect that at once passed the trio ten thousand years into the future upon their entrance within, shone invitingly; its smooth surface was calmed by its natural cradle of green, gleaming rock. The Zealian sage could not help but admire Belthasar's genius in the orchestration of Project Kid; while he relished in the glory of his peer, Magus and Serge continued to gaze forward, at once noticing a pillar jutting forth from the water at the center of the sea. The waves licked at its black base; it appeared to be a substantial spire of obsidian, reflecting the light in a paradoxical black and white sheen. And as the three came closer, a bit of gold came into view, revealing a rectangle plaque inscribed at sea level; above it, the hilt of a sword could barely be seen stuck within an angular side of the rock. What would have puzzled and confused other visitors piqued an immediate interest in Gaspar and his crew; Serge immediately tied the boat around one of the outcroppings, while Magus departed its wooden safety to float to the plaque. Kicking the boat near the gold-plated sheet of iron as well, Serge strained his eyes to make out the writing.

"Well, what does it say?" Gaspar asked.
"I can't make anything out. This is weird stuff," came Serge's reply.

Magus returned to the boat, gracefully hopping from what seemed to be an airy platform into the vessel.

"I suppose you can't read it either?" Gaspar inquired, noticing Magus's look of disgust of speaking.
"Don't go crazy on me, old man," Magus warned.
"Whatever; it can't be that important. Probably some shrine?"
"It is written in Graedian," Magus spoke, expecting a heightened response from the Guru.
"That old system of writing, eh. I have even only used it a few times."
"Yes, and Melchior inscribed lettering in it upon the sword in that rock."
"What? Do you mean to say?" Gaspar began.
"It reads, ‘To those who know -- I remember.' That is all."

Gaspar's face adopted a queer contortion as his fingers stroked his chin. He struggled to remember the creation of such a monument, or those who were capable in writing Graedian script, a form of lettering reserved for the royal family, their attendants, and the triumvirate of Gurus in Zeal. In seconds, Magus's previous statement struck his brain in full force, almost eliciting a vocal sign of realization.

"Janus, I ask you, please remove the earthen sheath of that sword."
"Ugh -- " he grumbled, though nonetheless answering the request.

At once, the air crackled with lightning as it was extracted from the base elements of the air and water around him. Forming a crude ball of energy, Magus directed a sudden bolt at the rock, blasting away in several chips the obsidian cover. A shower of sparks and black fragments disturbed the sea around the few, as Serge and Gaspar complained and took cover. After the fragmentation subsided, the Guru of Time raised his head and read the precise etchings on the bare sword.

"Melchior. So he succeeded," the old man coughed. Magus retained a steely gaze.
"What? What's this all mean?" Serge asked.
"Serge, it confirms what I had presumed for months. I say, what have the Acacia Dragoons been up to recently?"
"Hey, you know they've been under a tight ban. I guess there's Glenn; he's always causing trouble with Porre, but three days ago he disappeared. I haven't heard anything since."
"Hah! Serge, I think you have a companion in your predicament."
"Eh? What about Glenn?"
"He seems to have been in the same position as you were, but he apparently awoke from it, and escaped these trying times through the power of the Masamune. Oh, this grows more interesting by the second."

Gaspar's mind was alighted by this turn of events, for he was correct in his prior theorizing -- Glenn had indeed been the third asset to Serge, aside from Kid, at the Darkness Beyond Time in their most difficult hour. And like Serge, Glenn had been released from these tumultuous and poignant memories, a life of free choice and will enabled. The Guru knew not how, and preferred this, but suspected that Glenn, as any brave, courageous, and trouble-faring hero of time would, likened to his namesake, the greatest knight to ever carry the code of chivalry, had found the Masamune -- and it had awakened his memories, repressed by Schala out of her kindness. It had opened his eyes to the past, apparently evoking memories of a dream, or promise. Regardless, it seems Glenn, rather than stay and irritate the Porre force in a castrated order of nobility, had called upon the power of Masa and Mune themselves to seek another time. Though Gaspar's resolve could not be shaken, especially at this point in his journey, he did pleasure the thought of escape, wondering why Magus had not simply gone back to Zeal, and manipulated time to his own ends and living in perfect Elysium, and whether Glenn truly had sought out peace -- or if he were actually riding forth in loud furor against a future or past event he believed should change. These were moot points, though Gaspar felt a certain wish that his friends, too, would struggle to live without regret as he was currently.

As it always had done, Magus's voice cut through Gaspar's thoughts as the sword he looked gazed upon had ruptured the Magic Cave defending the wizard's lair.

"No Flame."
"Interesting, I wonder if the results of Cross have displaced it?" Gaspar began.
"No -- you're thinking of -- some red object, right?" Serge asked.

Magus cocked an eyebrow, and stared at the blue-haired hero.

"You are the arbiter. Do you feel something?" Magus said, as a dark aura formed around his fingertips, amplifying Serge's senses.
"Yeah -- it's getting stronger. I don't know why, but its pretty deep," Serge commented.
"Very well. It seems to be in its original place; it should be on the seafloor, partially buried. How will we descend?" Gaspar asked.
"I have been to the Ocean Palace. I will provide the means," Magus revealed, as he began further manipulation of the elements.

The three soon descended, climbing down the spire beneath the surface of the water, for Magus had harnessed a technique also used by the famous Starchild during Serge's quest -- that of emplacing an air pocket around a seeker, allowing breathing and keeping one dry. Gaspar's eyes were wide with wonder, as he had never had the chance to explore the deep; these reinforced his earlier thoughts -- that natural beauty alone could ground a man in this world -- and added zeal to his step. Serge, with each drop down the spire that Glenn had conveniently provided in accidence, grew more perturbed as he neared the floor; he could not deny that the ruby, crimson gem lay beneath him, and his wayward memories seemed to cry out in danger and fear as the tremors grew in magnitude. Magus too felt the waves of energy as they evoked within memories of standing too close to the Mammon Machine; he knew the Flame had been locked at its core, though never dared to touch it directly. At once, thoughts of his mother trickled through the cracks of his determination and forward thinking in this quest, and for the first time, he was able to stifle them without undergoing a serious bout of meditation. The alarm of this feat threw off his composure further, but he too began eagerly descending the jagged monolith amidst curious fish.

It indeed lay there, beneath the waves; Serge and Magus instinctively leapt downward to the exact spot from the spire, as Gaspar continued to safely make his way. The dirty they kicked by landing was enough to uncover a pale, eerie light that seemed to pervade the entire sea. It was the color of red staining -- crimson, the red star of old, the eye of Lavos, and the essence of the Mammon Machine -- and it drove the natural wildlife to the far corners of the sea. Magus's eyes alighted, nearly mystified by the artifact; Serge recoiled. It was Gaspar, however, who first approached the unearthed Frozen Flame, and set it upon a platform jutting from the base of the spire. Gurgled voices followed, Magus still intently gazing and Serge's head continuing to bother him.

"What -- in the hell!!" Serge cried.
"Janus, you're the most magically capable here. What's your plan?" Gaspar asked.
"I'm -- not sure," Came the response.
"Well, you brought us here. I suppose we can use the Flame's power alone and inquire ourselves of finding Schala and -- yes. I believe attempting a Time Egg fusion would not only be stupidly dangerous, but unnecessary."
"Move. I'm the strongest one here. I should be able to deal with the Flame," Magus coldly commanded, as Gaspar at last recognized the power of his resolve.
"Do not forget, Janus. It may be voiceless, as its master has been twice defeated."
"Don't bother me."
"Bah. Serge, are you all right?" Gaspar asked.
"It's becoming clearer. I am going to rest for awhile," he said, lying on the shifty seafloor.
"Quiet!" Magus yelled.

The palms of Magus's hands once again grew black with nightly auras, as he outstretched them on either side of the Frozen Flame. An occasional flicker of electric arc contacted his fingers from the Flame, and in one swift motion, Magus brought his arms together in a clapping motion and grasped the Flame with an wrapping, iron grip. The gem grew to a startling luminosity, nearly shining through the wizard himself, who powerfully struggled to retain his hold. Gaspar drew as near as he dared, wondering if the Flame truly did possess its own conscience and power, or was drawing it from a version of Lavos somewhere beyond the normal scope of time. After a minute of struggling, Magus uttered words; Serge, though lying on his side, maintained a clear focus on the exploding light.

"Where is Schala? I command you to answer me," Magus whispered.
"Janus -- Janus -- Zeal," A chilling response came, resonating darkly within the ears of all. "Janus -- see -- " it continued.
"You! You! You uuuuurgh!"

The disturbed water immediately reverberated with a rising yell of pure hatred from the shaking Magus, who now began unleashing torrents of elements in a maelstrom around the Frozen Flame, sinking into loathing and fear as he arranged the most destructive elements in a magnum opus of annihilation. Gaspar immediately withdrew his extending cane from Zeal, and smashed Magus over the head; the wizard fell to the seafloor in pain, rubbing the point of impact. The elements he had been gathering dissolved into steam and bursts of light around the Frozen Flame; his frightening display of power ceased. Gaspar feared cold, piercing eyes predating a retaliation, but instead Magus merely crawled near the spire grimaced with closed eyes. Gaspar maintained a defensive position, while Serge shifted his reeling head and dared to speak.

"What -- just happened -- " he asked.
"I'm sorry. I cannot do this."
"Janus, what has transpired?" Gaspar further inquired.
"It hates me. He hates me; he will not answer me. He will merely show me what I fear the most; the carnage and vile abuse of my sister?"
"Quite enough, but are you saying?" Gaspar was likewise interrupted.
"He's there. I saw a rotting pile of flesh in the Darkness," Magus continued, holding back words expressing his desire to murder this half-sentient, decomposing being.
"This can't be! The Time Devourer still exists in some form?" Gaspar asked.
"Yeah, didn't I -- destroy it?" Serge compounded.
"There was no Schala; merely a shell of a Lavos, lying in ruin upon the platform of its own construction. It is there, and it can speak -- "
"Interesting. If it really is a Lavos, then it is no small wonder it refused to talk to you. I am going to try," Gaspar asserted.
"What makes you think the bastard will speak to you?" Magus asked.
"Unlike you, Lavos can speak to me rationally. He will not instantly put me off and anger me, but will probably try to trick me somehow. At least we can make some prog?"
"Do it."

Gaspar nearly insisted on finishing his words, but understood the importance of this event. With a rising feeling of uneasiness in his stomach, he approached the Flame. Its glow reminded him of Fiona's hair, triggering all sorts of visions of both Elysium and pain; wishing for either, he continued to walk unabashed, and pressed his hands to the shell of the Flame. An answer came immediately.

"Gaspar -- Gaspar?"
"Skip it. I care not for seeing the fall of Zeal, or the rent bodies. I have something to ask of you."
" -- " a perturbation came.
"Vile creature, tell me at once where Schala went, and how -- "
"Ahh -- Fiona -- "
"No. I do not care for your illusions. Where are they? How might we reach them?"
"You -- " the Flame spoke, flooding Gaspar's face with such light that he squinted his eyes closed.
"What?"
"Schala -- is far beyond a di -- mensional veil -- Fiona -- is suspended there -- " at these words, Magus jerked upright.
"Yes, how may we procure them?"
"No -- trace -- can reach Schala -- forced release. Fiona -- your hand -- "
"What is this? You are tracing Schala, and extracting her somehow? My hand?"
"I need -- your hand. I will -- give Schala. Bring Janus -- "

Magus immediately lurched at the Flame and slammed it with a fist to rival a steel piston, cracking its outer shell and splintering his knuckles with searing fragments.

"My name is Magus!"
"Calm! We almost have what we need! J?Magus, just hold on!" Gaspar begged.
"Yes -- bring him."
"What about Fiona?"
"Need -- mind. You will -- " the light shone, increasing in intensity.
"Continue!"
"You will bring -- your intellect -- reduction -- to baby."
"What? Bring my intellect?"
"You will -- have mind of baby."
"What? Reduction of my mind to a baby's?"
"You -- will have Fiona."

Gaspar's frustration at the slow, stumbling pace of the Time Devourer's disjointed speech was cast away instantly at comprehension of Lavos's demands; apparently, Magus was required to attend, most likely to be killed on the spot by a clever guile, while Gaspar, if he heard correctly, was to receive Fiona -- at the price of losing his entire intellect, and becoming a mental baby. The pleasure and fulfillment of rescuing Fiona would thus be entirely lost, along with his purposefulness in life. Concepts and fantasies began to alter; what was the dream of lavishing in her freedom from the jaded dimension he was thrown to became a fragile ship, tested in the waters of magnanimity. The resolution that he would sacrifice his mind for her came immediately, but only a few are ever freed from the bonds of natural, instinctual denial. He was told by his body to abort the cause, and retreat; that she would not be worth losing his own cognizance, and that the Time Devourer would most likely have a crueler trap set for both of them, as Gaspar had led Crono and his band against Lavos in times passed.

How might he truly ever confront death, and the elimination of his capacity to think? The warning of his natural being increased to a fever pitch, trembling his body as he continued to think of the repercussions -- for though he would save her, naught could he spend time with her, know that he saved her life, or even gaze upon the same natural beauty of the world and appreciate it fully. All would be changed; he would be but an infant in a sage's body, probably passing to death in due time. Would it be better for Fiona to perish, rather than endure such a cruel fate? Such was the ultimate revenge that Lavos could inflict on the aged Guru; the very force that had allowed him to reach respected heights and a position of positive, difference-making power in Zeal, and had aided him in surmounting the hourglass at the End of Time and guiding the Entity's chosen was to be taken away from him, leaving him powerless and decrepit. Magus would most likely be killed outright in the Darkness Beyond Time, inches within Schala; Gaspar fain wished to meet this end, dying in struggling lucidity, rather than pass into a time of darkness and latent misery. He would do it -- for there was no turning back on his proud declaration of living without regret, and of seeking dreams, just as he could not turn down the opportunity to sacrifice his life to rescue one held dear -- but thoughts that these actions were foolish and suicidal relentlessly mounted, shaking his composure and wounding his acting confidence. A single second of time passed.

"Let us depart, Gaspar!" Magus boomed.
"Lavos! How may we come to you?" Gaspar asked, with an oscillating voice.
"Shatter Time Egg on Flame -- " the Flame whispered, dying in intensity.
"Very well. This will work as it did in on your past journey, Serge. Everyone, gather near."
"We're going?" Serge asked.
"Yes. Magus, I must ask: are you fully prepared in every combative way?"
"That rotting bastard could not begin to conceive of my powers," Magus coldly uttered.
"All right. Before we leave, Magus, I have a magic request?"

Gaspar was interrupted, as Magus had read his mind. In order to circumvent the sleep-inducing effects of time travel that had been present of late, Magus gathered the water element, imbued with caffeinated and stimulating properties, and dispersed it to the hearts of Gaspar and Serge. Though they may feel slightly impulsive, their overall reaction time would increase, as well as their resistance to soporific energies.

"Do it. I am prepared for the void," Magus reiterated.
"To accept death is to be liberated, eh? Here we go," Gaspar confirmed.
"Wait -- does the Time Devourer have the capacity to truly do this?"
"I would say yes. Schala's quantum signature is residual in the Time Devourer; he could seemingly track which dimension she escaped to, if that is the case. As for Fiona, Lavos may retain a sort of dimensional awareness, as Fiona's world was a near-offshoot of this one. He may be able to see and find her too."
"Let us wait no more."

Gaspar withdrew his backup Time Egg from within his deeply, majestically colored robes, and with substantial force mustered in his right arm, smashed it upon the Frozen Flame. The fragments instantly turned to small orbs of light; they began rotating in unison, forming a circular portal. The Flame, reeling from the impact of temporal energies and disturbances in spacetime, retracted into itself and turned a pale, blue color as if it were shriveling. It would soon be camouflaged with the earthen spire called by Glenn in the center of the Sea of Eden, perhaps to return beneath a shallow covering on the seafloor, but this spectacle was naught to be seen by the three travelers, who now were engulfed by the distortion. Gaspar immediately recognized a Gate of this caliber; it did not merely lead to a point in time, but to the eternal repository of temporal mishaps, changes, and violations; the hell of spacetime, whose physical interface was that of a chilling platform swept by cold winds. The lives and deaths of worlds, peoples and timelines drifted by transparently; one could easily see the anguished faces of those made extinct, frozen forever in the Darkness, as they were drawn into the vortex beneath the platform to become one with forever zero. Despondency, hopelessness -- all were submerged undertones in this direct manifestation, a dreamless wasteland without escape. It had been the perfect base from which the Time Devourer would have launched the consuming of all the universe, had he been allowed to mature with the poor Schala, thrown here in the Ocean Palace disaster by a gargantuan dimensional distortion. And now, the remains -- a spiked shell of red and black crusted flesh, adorned with one functioning eyeball -- sat with broken limbs upon the platform, locked in boundless torture; for none can challenge the Darkness Beyond Time itself -- and the Time Devourer, whose mission would have invalidated its purpose, now was bonded to it for countless eons, unable to even writhe in the cold pain of having been rent by the Chrono Cross and Serge's blade.

The trio felt these waves of sorrow, tempered by the dejected qualities of the darkness, as soon as they landed upon the platform on which Serge, Kid, and Glenn challenged evil three short years ago. Nearly convulsing, Serge recoiled at the sight of the broken Devourer, the final key in unlocking a torrent of memories that flooded his mind in an endless downpour. Magus's emotions were awoken as well, a special, maximal hatred that he had not felt since accompanying the hero, Crono, to

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Gaspar Collection III. Echo of the Flame
« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2005, 12:08:14 am »
The ultimate dream of his life now lay before Magus; within feet of Lavos, he reached into the portal and touched the sleeping Schala, nearly bringing her into the Darkness Beyond Time. The beast composing the temporal extraction immediately ejected a part of its boiling shell at breakneck speed towards the reuniting couple; Magus recoiled and fell on his back as the biomass impacted the ground and erupted in blinding fire. Schala was safe, it seemed, protected by the temporal phasing of the Gate; and as Magus once again viewed her there, blocked from his access by a pile of flesh illuminated by white fire, the dreams and want began to escape him. He would not have it, however; he was prepared, and the Black Wind howled at his ears with its highest pitch and intensity. Summoning a Dark Bomb to his rear, he catapulted himself in a bullet's form through the heated air and into the airy Gate; an extension of the Time Devourer once more failed to hit him in sloth, and Magus was instantly phased within the Gate as well, shielded from further disturbance. He picked Schala up from her position, and with all his remaining strength, pushed to reverse the flow of the dimensional distortion. Her eyes opened, and Gaspar could make out the moving of Magus's lips. The two subsequently smiled; Gaspar could not begin to fathom the happiness and excitement Magus was feeling, his end achieved successfully. Though he had sacrificed his position in this world, which had served as his home, he knew that Schala was the only true ‘world' to him -- and that the one in which she was skewed to could not be much different than his own. Perhaps he truly would have the opportunity to return to Zeal, and do things right this time -- assuming his own identity in the world, having his own fun, and seeking his own dreams; he may even settle for anonymity, resting out his days -- if he did not discover immortality by then -- in peace and repose. The darkness was complete for him; the Black Wind would never rise in his ears again, but a rolling stone cannot be contained. Magus would be content, whether he were sitting in a chair upon a cape, gazing into an infinite sunset, or streaking through the air dashingly. Gaspar felt happy, his fears quelled.

"You," the Time Devourer interrupted, as the Gate near him began to fade.
"I--you have Fiona?" Gaspar asked.

Similar to Schala's appearance, a circle of spinning, azure light -- this time tainted by light, crimson tones of fire -- formed in front of the sage. The figure of Fiona soon came into view; Gaspar's heart fluttered within his chest, as the final rise of his dream symphony was about to occur. Thoughts of losing his mind were scattered; he was but of one composure -- to rescue the crimson-haired, green-eyed, flawless lover within the dimensional extraction, whatever the cost. The figures of Magus and Schala fading out of view reaffirmed his decision. He approached and stood before the eye of the Time Devourer.

"Are you ready?" it asked.
"Yes. Send Fiona to the End of Time, awaiting my arrival."
"Bastard--you will have a child's mind--"
"No!" Serge yelled.

Gaspar looked behind him, catching sight of a fiery-eyed Serge, who know stood with a dagger in his hand that had been concealed in his vest. He charged to Gaspar's side, and stared at the slow-moving eye of Lavos, fearing and hating it, yet retaining the courage to stand against it.

"I am the one you want. Let Gaspar and Fiona be. I killed you; I freed Schala. You would rather have no revenge but against me. Kill me," Serge echoed.

Gaspar stood with a slightly opened jaw.

"Good," the Time Devourer commented, summoning power at one of its remaining spikes.
"No. You can't do this," Gaspar spoke.
"Why not? You have a love! You have a life," Serge insisted.
"But I am old. You have--"
"I have nothing! My life is entirely over! My purpose has been fulfilled. I killed this bastard and was left a stupid, unknowing fool in a backwater village. I already had my time. I no longer need to live here. My greatest moments have already passed--"
"Are you a fool, Serge? Do you forget Leena? Do you forget the repose granted to you in Arni? Have you forgotten the glory of your act? Have you ever stopped to think that every human you set eyes on in this dimension owes his or her life to you? You may not be recognized or venerated, but by the stars you have your entire life to live! You are only 20 years old, and already able to vie for the position of the strongest, most powerful fighter on this planet. You can do so much good -- you can lead so many, or simply live a peaceful life of fishing and village harmony -- but would you so easily lose these potentials? You have years ahead of you, to be spent however you wish. I am an old man. Fiona will live either way. Do not waste yourself," Gaspar admonished.
"Is it--"
"Yes. It's all right for me to die here, even in mind. Better than you dying in body as well."

Serge backed away, as the light from the Time Devourer's spire increased in intensity. Gaspar soon questioned his own comments; how -- why was it truly okay for him to die there in the Darkness Beyond Time, surrendering himself to night forever. It was then that the realization dawned upon him, as a rising sun would upon a chaotic midnight -- that in this world, in which mortality reigned and subjugated all, immortality could in fact be achieved. Gaspar, in his questing of total lucidity and desire for Fiona, had unknowingly, until now, allied himself with full heart and mind to the ideal of pure love. This virtue -- this barely unattainable goal -- this Zeal -- now cradled him and made him timeless; for in striving for it with every ounce of his effort, and establish it in reality, he had reached a degree of perfection in itself. There was no fear to be had, nor regret; he was one with the being of love, and though he would succumb to the darkness, he could without a single thought or mind. Just as Frog had set out one last time before dying centuries before, enwrapped by the ideal of chivalry, Gaspar too could pass in total peace and acceptance -- to die and become.

Gaspar looked upward, as light erupted from the cracked shell of the Time Devourer, flooding his eyes and producing a euphoric feeling within his head. His thoughts now only turned to Fiona, and of the gift of life she would be able to live; the happiness she would know, and perhaps the tears she would cry at learning of his sacrifice. He failed to see the enclosure of Serge within an energy field as he was stunned by the light; enthralled within his visions, the Guru had reached a state of being content, even in this washing of his memories and skills. He thought not of the future, but of the closure he was receiving; and as he saw faded timelines swirl upward into the abyss over his head, he could not help but feel at peace with time itself. Love pervaded his spirit, and became him; he had at last evolved as a human being into an essence of his choice, at last freed from the rigors and aimlessness of dabbling at the End of Time, or the purposelessness of life after the quests of Crono. He bent downward, and peered at Fiona's face; it slowly accelerated from a frozen state to the flow of time present in the Darkness Beyond Time -- it was the expression he had seen when he disappeared through the dimensional distortion back to his own world. Fiona would never die, nor suffer in the crumbling, flawed dimension she came from. He met eyes with her at last, before the light emitting from Lavos overtook his visual senses entirely. Zeal, Magus, Frog -- they all slipped away, as Gaspar retreated in intellect to the one thought of love, failing to see a chained scythe emerge from the portal of Magus and Schala before it closed -- embedding itself within the Time Devourer's eye.

And the Guru fell unconscious, on an airy bed of dreams.

~ ~ ~

The swirls and mists took to him, as they had always done, and bathed his tired body in cool, breezy sensations. With closed eyes, he took in their smells, and shifted on an unknown surface. The scenery was dark, but strangely warm; a single source of light radiated the area with tender glow. Regaining his senses, the old man struggled on his feet, and rubbed his eyes; the act of simple movement felt somewhat foreign to him, but he quickly mastered it. At last, the desolate view was clear.

"Th, this is--Hey. Nothing here--This must be----the End of Time--"

Two startling sounds were heard, and three figures joined him from behind. There was a blue haired boy, strong and slender in form; with him was a beautiful, crimson-haired woman, with green eyes; lastly, a grinning Nu stood behind them in turn. The Guru turned to these three.

"Oh, sorry. So it's already occupied? I'll be on my way," he commented.
"Wait--Gaspar," Serge spoke.
"Yes, you know my name?"

Serge grinned and turned to Fiona.

"Well, yes. Does this feel like déj  vu to you, Gaspar?"
"Well--for some odd reason -- and I cannot place it -- I do feel that I have met each of you before, but this is probably a fluke of my coming here."
"What are the feelings, sage?" Spekkio asked, half smiling.
"Well, you all seem to be friends. Bah, is there a purpose to all this? Are you too from the Ocean Palace?" he asked.
"Gaspar," Fiona softly uttered, her voice as silk.

She sauntered over to him, and hugged him. With a puzzled look on his face, Gaspar returned the sign of affection.

"Eh, guys. Look's like the old bugger did zap him a bit; a coincidence that he regressed to the Ocean Palace incident," Spekkio laughed.
"Hah. It's good to see him up, though," Serge responded.
"What is this? Who are you gentleman, and you?" Gaspar asked.
"It'll come back to you, Gaspar. You have a holey memory at the moment, but we'll work on it," Serge grinned.
"Yeah, I can help with that," Spekkio complemented.

Again, Fiona gazed into Gaspar's eyes, and noticed what seemed to be a wave of fire flash over them. It was perhaps the beginning of a memory -- the unlocking of what Lavos had repressed in his attempt at revenge, an effort squelched by Magus -- or it may have been a coincidental slip of admiration for Fiona's beauty. Regardless, he had returned; though most of his passions lay buried, they would soon be granted to him once more upon the labor of his friends. None could estimate the joy he would feel upon the dawn of full remembrance; the love he would profess for Fiona, and his friends, and the care he would feel for Magus. For now, Gaspar had earned a temporary rest from his adventures, having committed all his being to a dream and reaching it. He deserved to forget his troubles and trepidation for a month, and observe the natural beauty of the world, as he had thought of it before -- for if Fiona were at his side, there would be naught to fear, or worry over; he could freely indulge in the warm and cool colors of the world. He had met death on a mere street, and brushed shoulders; however, giving fully to the ideal of perfect love, he was saved and immortalized. Serge, too would find his path, and walk on earth, water and fire to reach his goal, having finally come to terms with his immense passions and memories of his adventure. Like Serge, Gaspar could now gaze and have leisure without fearing the regret. He had radically dreamed, and had pursued his ideal with such furor and determination that heaven had been granted.

Spekkio, Serge, and Fiona all smiled warmly at the Guru, and across the dimensions, Magus too knew that his now-greatest companion in his life and dreams could rest. Perhaps Gaspar knew too -- for as he appeared befuddled, and sat upon his work chair at the End of Time, he closed his eyes and beamed. And the mists -- the little orbs of light that surrounded where Gates once shone, and the light from the lamppost he had carefully installed -- wrapped around him, and cradled him to rest.

Author's Notes

This concludes my most sincere fictional tribute to the Chrono series. I hope I've illuminated Gaspar beyond the framework Trigger set out, and also pray that I've depicted Magus true to character, and perhaps expanded him. The same goes for Serge; he can now continue his life with a full knowledge of who he is. Commentary is very much appreciated; I hope you've had a blast reading and have listened to the themes of humanism, free will, dreaming, and becoming one with your ideals. Thanks again.

By the way, music greatly aided in the writing of this piece.

The Veneration of Frog

*[http://www.vgmix.com/song_view.php?song_id=1518 Chillin' with Sonic] by Sefiros
*[http://www.chronocompendium.com/Term/Music_(Chrono_Trigger) Winds from Paradise, Version 2] by Rellik]
*[http://www.ocremix.org/detailmix.php?mixid=OCR00708 'Requiem for a Green Revolution'] by Scott Peeples

Journey to the Sea of Eden, the End of Time

*[http://www.ocremix.org/detailmix.php?mixid=OCR00883 'Green Amnesia'] by Disco Dan

Confrontation with Lavos

*[http://www.chronocompendium.com/Term/Music_(Chrono_Cross) 'Into a Time of Darkness'] by Yasunori Mitsuda