Author Topic: Twilight of Fate  (Read 974 times)

Daniel Krispin

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Twilight of Fate
« on: January 21, 2005, 04:34:23 am »
Well, I just thought about it: my fanfiction wasn't up here yet, and I finished it months ago. I was going to put it up on the Compendium main site, but to be honest all that Wiki stuff looked far too complex to figure out now, and there was a note on the page from ZeaLitY saying that fanfics are coming back here, anyway. (I hope it's okay ZeaLitY if I post this here.)
Now, then. My fanfiction. Just a short little introduction, I suppose. It's done, so there won't be any posting of a chapter here and there. It's long, so I'm expecting there to be few (or maybe no-one) with the stamina to actually read the thing in digital form on the computer, which is always harder to read than books are (as far as I know, apart from the novelizations this is the second longest fanfic in the CT/CC realm. 190,000 words.) Let's see what else... don't be worried about any sort of crudeness or anything of that nature. I much admire high fantasy and, while I do speak somewhat of blood and the like (very occassionally in a more violent form as in the Iliad) it is nothing worse than, say, Lord of the Rings. The characters in this are some from both CT and CC, and in time-setting it is pretty much a sequel to both games. However, while it might seem at first to be more connected to CC, it in truth concerns Guardia and CT far more closely. In some measure it might be called a war-story, but I'm not one to quickly rush into writing just to write something cool. I try to the best of my ability to portray realism. The thing is, I am just a newbie writer, and this is my first writing project, one that I now consider to be something of a practice. So bear with me; there are a few points that even now, months later, I did pretty well. Nothing like ZeaLitY's writing (the master CT/CC writer, from what I can tell), but it's mine, so I like it, nonetheless. Beyond that... I'm not sure what else to say. I only hope that this forum allows me to post 12,000 words at a time, else I'll be in trouble for later chapters... I'll post one or two or three or four every now and again.





PROLOGUE
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THE FALLING OF EMPIRES



   Ere Rome fell a small kingdom arose far to the west, where its power did not hold. Built upon an island far to sea it was founded by a rogue centurion of Rome, disillusioned with the conquest he so blindly sought in serving his empire. This was Guardia, and for one thousand years it thrived unconquered. Rome fell, it lasted. The years of dark sorcery and mystics came upon the world. Shadows crept slowly west from forgotten realms, and ancient evils unseen for millennia stirred once more. A mighty sorcerer strove for mastery of the lands. Many were the fruitless deeds of valour done in those years as Guardia fought against his legions. But heroes came forth, and so it yet endured. Its kings never sought for power or dominion as other lords did, and so the kingdom had long years of peace and prosperity. Yet after one thousand years a mighty empire arose at last. Far to the south, while the people of northern Guardia lived yet content as they had for centuries, a power unmatched since the ancient ages of Rome arose, and the kingdoms of the world fell beneath the new born might of Porre. Yet the people of the small land of Guardia did not take kindly to the constraints of conquerors... and a prince yet lived. And yet no ordinary prince this was. For he was a hero, a mighty warrior who had defied the most ancient evils and to whom time itself had once been as an open road. He yet resisted, and strove against the conqueror’s armies. For fifteen years he worked in secret, as a sudden shadow of night, striking swiftly and ever returning whence he came, unseen to the eyes of his enemies. Yet empires do not fall by the hands of one alone. And so before those years were ended, war would once more come upon the land. And far to the west of even the westward land of Guardia, tremors of this coming doom crept...

Daniel Krispin

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Twilight of Fate
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2005, 04:35:44 am »
CHAPTER I
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ECHO OF A LOST PAST




   The vast domain of the ocean stretched as far as the eyes could see. Crimson and gold light from the setting sun danced merrily upon the surface, glittering as a sea of countless gems. Alone on this vast and tranquil expanse a lone boat swept through the water. It was a small fishing boat, in the style of a catamaran, with an offset second hull. Its single white sail fluttered in the gentle evening breeze that pushed the boat onward. At its prow stood a solitary figure, staring out aimlessly at the sea. He smiled at the world around him, and at the peace that dusk brought.
   He closed his eyes, the soft sea spray washing across his face, the wind blowing merrily through his deep blue hair. He opened his eyes again. In the distance the shore of land was just visible, floating upon the horizon. It was home, for him. He turned from the prow of the boat and grasped the tiller in the rear. The small craft was nearly full with a day’s catch of fish. Even so he was nearly sad to be returning home, for he loved the sea, not least for the solace it provided.
   The boat glided softly across the water with hardly a sound, the distant land growing swiftly larger. The boy at the tiller put his hand in the sea, allowing the cool, rushing water to flow between his fingers. Looking to the west he saw the crimson sun falling slowly into the sea.
   “Hey, Serge! You’re back!”
   The boy glanced up sharply. He had been too intent on staring out to sea that he had failed to realize he was nearly ashore. A small fishing village lay on the coast not a hundred feet ahead. Upon a pier a young girl stood waving. It seemed that she had been waiting for him. Returning the greeting, he expertly guided the boat to the moorings.
   “Did you have a good day fishing?” the girl asked merrily as the boat glided to its place.
   The boy nodded. The fishing had been very good, much better than most days. He leaped from the boat onto the solid wood of the pier, and the craft rocked backwards. Quickly grabbing a rope from inside the boat he tied it fast to the pier so that it could not return to sea of its own.
   The boy, whose name was Serge, was but a few short weeks shy of eighteen and so, by the customs of his village, was very nearly held to be a man. His stature was not exceptionally great, but about what was common in that part of the world in those days. He also looked younger than he truly was, his boyish face taking some years off his age. From atop his head locks of deep blue hair cascaded down before his eyes; their hue, even as his hair, seemed to mirror that of the sea itself. But hair is not naturally blue; it was certainly dyed, and this was not an uncommon thing in costal Arni, which was his village and home. The face below the hair was gentle seeming, though his two blue eyes were ever-alert as those of a relentless hunter or warrior, in strange opposition to his simple calling. And, though he for the most part disliked speaking at much length, he was as friendly as anybody might be to those that knew him well.
   All told he was very much like all the other youths of the village. And even so he was dressed in the customary manner for a young fisherman. On his feet were large sea boots stained through long days of use; long blue pants, traditionally embroidered, that fell down nearly to the mid of his shins; and a dark shirt with short cut sleeves. In a slight breaking of custom he wore across his chest a coat of linked iron rings that served little purpose in his daily life other than appearance sake (for in those waters, as in most, the fish were not a menace to those who hunted them, and mail has never been a fisherman’s garb). But the remainder of his clothing was all very much common: a belt of black leather fastened with a silvern clasp; worn leather gloves that would not last out the year; and a faded red cloth wrapped fast about his head that kept his hair, for the most part, from his eyes.
   The girl now standing upon the pier before him was also dressed in what was customary of the village tribe: a long and simple dress of deep blue, covered with elaborately embroidered overclothes in varying shades of maroon and black. Lengthy brown hair fell back unrestrained from a quiet, gentle face, with kind eyes.
   “Hi Leena,” Serge greeted her with a smile. “Been waiting long?”
   She smiled as she replied:
   “No, I just wandered out here a little while back. I was watching some of the neighbour’s kids, but once they went home, I supposed I’d best wait for you.”
   That was Leena; she was always helping in the village in some way. Whether doing odd errands, watching children, or any other thing, she did whatever she could to ease the life of the other people in the village.
   “I see fishing was pretty good today,” she noted, kneeling and taking a glance into the boat that rocked gently in the evening waves.
   He nodded, stealing a short look at his boat, and making doubly sure there was no chance of it coming loose in the night should there be a storm.
   “Really good,” he said with an absent voice. “The sea was perfect...”
   They strolled off the pier and continued down the sandy beachfront that ran between the village and the ocean. He spent most days so, speaking with Leena after a day of fishing. She was certainly his most dear friend, and at times, he thought, perhaps more than even a friend. Moreover, she was ever willing to listen to whatever he might say, which was always a joy to him. This especially during the past few months, ever since a disquieting experience he had had, talking to her on the beach in just such a way.
   He had been with her, albeit in the mid-day and farther down the island, talking. Then, for no reason he could remember, he had fallen unconscious. He could recall little of those few minutes, yet he seemed to remember that he had heard a voice of some sort, or someone calling his name, even as he had passed out. Leena after told him she hadn’t heard a sound but the sea.
   And his memory in this matter was not something to be trusted. When he had awoken he had been very uncertain of everything. He could only remember Leena kneeling over him, trying to revive him. Then, he couldn’t recall for what reason, he had stood up and asked Leena a puzzling question. A question about fate, and some strange thing called Terra Tower. He had no idea, neither now nor then, what it meant. However, he had the distinct impression that he had known at the instant he had uttered the question but, just as a dream fades from memory on the moment of awakening, the words ceased to have any meaning to him. He could never remember why he had spoken them. Leena had borne it with her usual grace, dismissing it as a mere dream, the product of an idle mind and too much time under the sea-sun. But Serge was not fully certain, as she seemed to be. He had tried to assure himself that Leena was, in all likelihood, correct, and had succeeded for the most part. Yet still his heart had un-quelled misgivings. To that end he had inquired about the words at far flung islands when he had had the opportunity: at Guldove and Marbule, both known for wise and learned people, and even at Termina, the capital city of the region. Yet no one had given him a sure answer. And so he had been left to discover what they might on his own, and to decide whether or not it was of importance.
   The greater part of him went with the reason of his mind that told him, as Leena did, to ignore what had happened. But somewhere in his heart a whisper seemed to hint otherwise, and it was a persistent whisper, moreover. He had often voiced this to Leena on their evening walks but, as compassionate as she was, she had no answers.
   He looked at Leena, now walking beside him on the sand. Perhaps had the incident remained only as a single thing, he would indeed have forgotten about in these months. But it had not ended.
   To his grave disquiet the event seemed to repeat itself each and every night as he slept. His unconscious mind was haunted by mysterious images he could never fully remember when he awoke. He stared out at the departing sun, watching it set in its customary red-golden glory.
   “I had another dream last night...” he muttered in a near whisper.
   Leena sighed, having known by his face from the time he had come ashore that it was so.
   “Forget about them, Serge,” she replied, stopping and turning to face him. “You can never remember them anyway. I know you say that you think they mean something, but really, how can you know that? Dreams are just that, no matter what the old stories say.”
   Serge halted also and, turning his face from the sun, looked at Leena.
   “Maybe. I know that Leena. I tell myself that every day. And I keep thinking that maybe each night will be better, but it never is. So, maybe there’s something more to it. Or maybe not, but I just don’t know. And that’s the problem: what if I’m wrong? What if it really means something important that I’m supposed to know about?”
   Leena nodded compassionately.
   “I understand that, Serge.”
   She looked from him to the sun, which was now touching the sea.
   “But what are we doing talking about this now? Whatever it is, it’s probably not about today. Let’s just forget about it for a while and enjoy this evening. If you watch the sun set, maybe you’ll feel better.”
   Leena was right. What was the use of worrying about future or past? The future brings what it will though precisely what, none can know. One can only make the best out of what it holds. And the past none can change, so to what avail should one worry about it? Truly, it was the present that was of greatest importance. For the manner in which he lived now would shape his past, and determine the form of his future. Leena understood that, and it brought him somewhat of a peace to think in those same terms. Whatever the future held, he would face it then, but live his life now.
   “You’re right Leena,” he said, hoping that she was, “I shouldn’t worry so much.”
   He smiled as the sun fell into the vast ocean and wished all days could end so.



~∞~


   The night was falling upon his village by the time Serge made his way home. A cool sea breeze blew in from the ocean, and the first stars were now beginning to show. It was nights such as these that made life worth living, he thought, as he stepped lightly into the village. The calm of darkness had descended on the village like a solemn veil, only a soft light still lingering in the west as the last rays of the sun vanished from sight. He wished Leena a good night as they parted company, and she made her way home. Alone now with the darkness, Serge breathed deeply of the night air, relishing the twilight. Striding at a calm pace, he crossed the small courtyard that lay at the middle of the village. About this space were set most of the buildings of the village, a dozen or so houses built in the traditional style of the El Nido islands: tall, with their bases raised on stilts his height off the ground. The material of which they were made was plain, being constructed of native palm wood and roofed with the leaves. These made for thankful shelter from the infernal midday sun, and cover from the monsoon rains that came in torrents once or twice every year.
   His mother, a woman like to most of the others that lived in the village, stood at the door, and greeted him merrily as he strode up the tottering wooden stairs to the main floor of his house. He smiled at her, but could not fully conceal his mind, as it had become troubled with concern again. His mother frowned, seeing something amiss with his mood.
   “What is it Serge, my boy?” she asked, eyeing him carefully. “You look worried again. I know I’ve asked you before, but is something bothering you?”
   Serge did not enjoy speaking much, and did not particularly wish to mention his dreams to anyone other than Leena; she was the only one who knew.
   “I’m fine. Just had a long day fishing,” he stated. His mother sighed, yielding, but certainly unconvinced. The two strode indoors, leaving the door open to night air, as everyone in Arni customarily did. Being a small village, everyone in Arni knew and trusted everyone else as next of kin. Locks and bars were not usually necessary, except perhaps to ward off wild animals, but those seldom entered the village. And as for thieves...there was not much of great value in such a poor fishing hamlet.
   However, on this night, unseen by all eyes, a dark figure strode boldly in the front gate of the village, and silently mingled into the shadows surrounding the buildings. The darkness veiled the figure like a cloak as it glanced about with bird-like caution, seeking the village for something. Finally, fixing it’s a sharp gaze on Serge’s house for a brief moment, it turned and faded completely into the night.
   
   Serge walked into his room, exhaustion finally overcoming him. It had been a long day at sea, and the fishing had indeed been good, though more tiresome. Yet, in a way, he did not wish to sleep. His mind was troubled, and had grown ever more so as the weeks had passed, despite Leena’s enthusiastic encouragement to try for peace. The elusive dreams that haunted his sleeping mind, as a ghost felt yet unseen, gnawed at his thoughts. Indeed, as he had told Leena many times, he could never remember what they were about. But this had soon begun to disquiet him. Only vague images flitted into his mind from time to time. The dreams themselves never failed to slip from memory on the moment of awakening, as if some other power was attempting to keep them from him. A strange, and utterly ridiculous thought.
   He dropped down on his bed, removing his sea worn boots. It was odd, but he was certain the dreams were something greater, something more important than simple stray thoughts. A warning? He contemplated this for a moment, but decided for some reason that that, at least, was not the case. No, they were no warning, but something else of importance to him...
   Serge turned, nearly falling off his bed. He had heard a sudden noise at his window. A dull crash, as if someone had struck wood. He waited a moment that seemed to last forever, his senses heightened by momentary fear. The dark palm leaves swayed in the wind outside his window. And nothing happened. He shook his head, aggravated by his unfounded fear. In all reason, there was nothing of any danger to him, most especially not in Arni. It was late evening after a long day, and now his disquieted mind was playing tricks on him. In all likelihood it had been nothing more than a branch blown awry in the wind...
   “Will you hearken to me, Chrono Trigger?”
   This time Serge did indeed stumble off his bed, landing hard on the wooden floor. A voice had come from the darkness outside, whispered in unsure question. That in and of itself would have been enough to frighten him. But the words caused his mind to spin. They echoed in his head, sending images sweeping through his mind. But before he could place any meaning or importance upon them, they melted away. It was then that his momentary confusion was replaced by fear. Now he could sure something had addressed him. Summoning his courage, he stepped to the window sill and leaned out, staring out into the darkness. However, nothing but shadows and darkness met his gaze. He cursed himself for his mind, so easily fooled by the noises of the night as a little child. Perhaps he had been dwelling too much on his dreams.
   He shrugged with a sigh, unsure as what to think, and more than a little unsettled. He turned from the window and strode to his mirror. Absently unbinding his bandana, he flung it onto the dresser, letting his long deep blue hair fall down over his eyes. Serge ran his hand through his hair and sighed. He silently wished, prayed, every night that these elusive dreams would leave him in his peace, so that he could wake without questions about what he knew not. What had he done to be cursed with this torment? Nothing. That he knew full well. And such was the way with things. He turned from the mirror, hoping that this night would be better than the last.
   But before he could take but one step forward he froze, too startled to move. A dark figure stood crouched on the sill of his window. A cloak concealed his entire body, and a hood shrouded his face in darkness. It did not say a word, but simply kneeled there, as if waiting for Serge to do or say something. For long they both stood motionless. Serge did not move, uncertain as to what he should make of this dark intruder. Likewise the figure crouched frozen, with such alert stillness that Serge could feel himself being studied keenly from beneath the shadowy hood. But as the seconds passed, and nothing happened for the worse, his fear transformed into curiosity.
   He took a small step forward, unsure about what he should do. His mind told him to run, that no good ever came from such mysteries, but some part of him desired to know who, perhaps what, this visitor was. His reason still admonishing him to run, he broke the dead silence that lay between them.
   “Who are you? I’ll have you know that my window isn’t a door. And even if it was, you could be polite enough to...”
   But the stranger had raised a gloved hand and, without question, Serge stopped in the midst of his words. The cloaked phantom stood up in the sill and jumped lightly into the room, making hardly a sound as its feet hit the floor. Now in the candlelight of the room Serge could, for what it was worth, see it better. Whatever it was, it wasn’t exceptionally tall; it was no more than his own height at the most. It was robed in a dark blue cloak that shimmered slightly. But Serge’s heart chilled when he saw what could be nothing other than a sword hanging at the figure’s side. A silvered hilt gleamed as it shifted about, glancing from side to side, still not affording Serge a sight of the features that lay concealed. But now it spoke, not evil to Serge’s ears, but with a calm voice, yet deep and sure:
   “Yes, I know well who you are, Serge. Verily, I know you better than even you know yourself, you who were once the second Chrono Trigger.”
   Once again Serge had been addressed so. And, as before, a strange sort of understanding sparked through his mind, only to fade into oblivion. The figure shook its head shortly.
   “I see that you do not remember what that means. Though not unexpected, it is a pity, for it makes things difficult.”
   The figure spoke gently, almost  in a friendly manner, though with disappointment clear in its voice. Serge found himself angrily wondering at what it was that he didn’t remember about that title, for he had never heard it before.
   “Have I met you before? I mean, do I know you?” Serge questioned, hoping for some answers, at least. And hoping that they would be to his liking.
   To Serge’s discomfort, the figure laughed. A strange laugh, as if slightly amused by the question.
   “No, never, my friend. But I know much of you, and of what you did.”
   Serge frowned, much confused.
   What had he ever done to merit attention? Surely this stranger wasn’t interested in his fishing.
   “You do not understand,” the figure acknowledged. “Do not worry yourself.  It may return to you, in the due course of time.”
   It paused for a moment. If Serge had seen its features, he would surely have seen a light of a sudden thought spring up in its eyes.
   “Maybe it already has?” It continued. “Perhaps you simply cannot understand it for what it is...”
   Serge’s mind was struck dumb by this. Could it be possible that this mysterious visitor was referring to his dreams? No, that was beyond reason. He attempted to banish the thought, but the figure seemed discern his very thoughts as he had them.
   “You are having dreams, then? And you cannot recall them? She said it might be so.”
   Serge didn’t answer, but the stranger seemed to read the truth in his eyes.
   “She was right then. It is returning to you after all. But you do not know it yet, and you fear it. Yes, the unknown is most always frightening, even to the boldest of men.”
   And mystifying, Serge added bitterly in his mind. What was this phantom talking about? These cryptic hints and suggestions of some secret were beginning to bother Serge. But the figure continued, heedless of Serge’s uneasiness.
   “For now all I will say is that those dreams hold the echo to a past that you have forgotten.”
   More cryptic hints, and his mood was hardly for riddles.
   “My past? Now that I really don’t understand,” Serge replied, more uncertain now than ever, and with a slight anger coming over him as well. The figure laughed lightly, not easing Serge’s temper in the least.
   “Of course not! How could you be expected to? But you must be wondering who I am, to so boldly come to you like this...”
   The figure lifted his hands and threw back his hood. For a moment Serge was prepared for the something terrible. But his fears were not founded. The figure was indeed human, and neither monster nor Mystic. Serge could but guess, but it seemed that he was some thirty years old. His features were sharp and somewhat scarred, and his eyes were keen as a hawk’s. From his head fell long unkempt hair, remarkably and almost unnaturally red, kept in submission by a tattered white band that held his hair from his eyes. There seemed to be an air of adventure and valour about him. And it seemed his face showed one who had seen much of the world, but had not nearly yet tired of life. He smiled kindly at Serge, as if he had long awaited this meeting.
   “So, we meet at long last. Long have the threads of our fate intertwined, our stories but two chapters of a single tale, and yet have never met. This will mean nothing to you as of yet, but I am called Crono, and was, on a time, the first Chrono Trigger.”
   How true, thought Serge bitterly. It was meaningless to his ears, save for those two words that he had heard before: chrono trigger.
   “Chrono Trigger?” questioned Serge, yearning to know the reason as to why those words seemed to harbour so much meaning. The second was plain enough, and the first seemed to be of some old language, maybe Greek. The man who called himself Crono nodded, with a reminiscing smile.
   “Yes, Chrono Trigger, as some might say it, though there are other names as well. For we have both played a part in forging the history of this world that we know, challenged fate and defied ancient powers; yet in the end, we have persevered. But that all is a tale for a different time, and there is only one who can tell it to you fully, and as you should hear it.”
   This didn’t answer his question, much to Serge’s vexation. But the man continued heedless of this, saying:
   “But that is not why I’ve come. To come in by windows is not the habit of skalds and tale-tellers. If you must know, I’ve come to you seeking your help...”
   “Me? But why? All right, you’ve had your say. Who are you then? Are you some mercenary swordsman?” Serge asked, taking into account both the ragged, travel worn appearance of the man, and the sword that was fastened at his side. Then, thinking on the last words that had been said, a new question dawned upon him: “How could I help you?” Serge demanded, his impatience growing apace.
   But the man shook his head, casting out all chance of answers.
   “I think this is well nigh enough for our first meeting. But mark this: it won’t be our last. I’ll meet with you again. Farewell till then, Serge Chrono Trigger, defender of time and the world.”
   Serge was about to beg him to stay, but with a short bow the man darted for the window. Serge followed after, both grateful and angered by this sudden departure. But the man was too quick. In one swift movement he had leaped onto the sill and slipped out the window, blending like a shadow into the darkness before Serge’s eyes. From the night a few last words reached him, saying:
   “And remember the Chrono Cross!”
   Now what was this? The Chrono Cross? Images swept Serge’s mind, almost as of a long forgotten memory or a dream come to play on the its surface: there was a shining light, and then the face young woman arrayed in crimson. But it all too quickly they faded, leaving Serge clutching once again only at questions. His mind was uncertain and rang with disquiet, but his heart was astir: something was rising, and when it did, his questions would be answered.
   Yet at that time the mystery was still heavily upon him, and it took him long to find sleep that night.

Daniel Krispin

  • Guest
Twilight of Fate
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2005, 09:17:17 pm »
CHAPTER II
______________________________


A MOST PECULIAR MORNING




   A cat peered at him. Yet it was not a mere cat, for its eyes shone with understanding. It was a demi-human, a union in the likeness of an animal, but with the cunning of man. And it was of man-like stature, maybe taller, and arrayed in finely adorned robes; yet the face was that of a lynx, set with two evil eyes that burned into his mind like fire. Where, then, was he? Was this a cavern? A stone hall, perhaps? Everything seemed in a swoon about him. There was a voice at his side, but he could not mark the words. The world reeled and swam before his eyes. Images flitted before him. There was a young girl, and he wondered if he had seen her before, for she seemed to bear a certain mysterious familiarity.
   And then came dark sights: first, a knife from which newly drawn blood dripped; and then the girl again, lying still on a stone floor. Was she dead, and was that her lifeblood on the knife? Then it was even worse, for an awful premonition filled him. He saw himself. And he held the dagger, while a wicked smile crossed his lips...

   Serge awoke with a profound start. He was in his room, and the bright sunlight shimmered in through the half open window, casting merry amber light on whatever it could touch. What had frightened him so? The still beauty of morning had driven the fear from him, and he fought to remember from what he had just awoken. To his surprise he found he could remember, though vaguely. But now he wished he could not. Sitting up in bed he sighed. It was ironic that he had spent the last few months hoping that for once he could recall his dreams and, now that he at last had, he would do anything not to be able to. Even in the morning light he shivered. The dream had been dark, and still haunted the corners of his mind. What did it mean? Could it mean anything at all? He hoped that Leena was right, that his dreams were just that. But no, that could not be. Not after last night. He thought back to the previous evening. Now it seemed like to a dream also. That strange man that had visited him. What had he called himself? Something foreign he could not now remember. In memory it seemed so vague. Had he perhaps imagined it all? Or, more likely, had he dreamt it? There certainly was no other way by which to explain it. The mysterious person had known far too much about him to be anything beyond a manifestation of his overtired mind. He walked to the window where he had imagined the events occur the previous night.
   Outside the lush palm trees waved gently in the warm tropical breeze. He looked up for the horizon and saw that the sun was already high in the sky. Had he truly slept in so late? He guessed the time to be past midday. If that was so, perhaps he wouldn’t go out fishing today. Yesterday’s catch had been good enough that he could afford to forego one day or two. He could perhaps spend the day with Leena, if she wasn’t busy with other things. She’d like that, and so would he. It would be a change from the way most days went. And maybe she could help him find peace with his dreams. Before they had unnerved him because he couldn’t remember what they were. Now they disturbed him because he could. He put his elbows on the window and sighed. His simple life was going from bad to very much worse. First phantom dreams had haunted him, and now nightmares and hallucinations tormented him. He hoped Leena would be understanding when he told her of it. If she wasn’t, he knew that nobody would be. He narrowed his eyes against the glare of the sun, looking out to sea. A few small village boats were out. And, if his eyes weren’t mistaken, he could see Leena standing on the beach near the piers. He turned and slipped on his boots. He hadn’t cared to change the previous night, and was still fully dressed. He tied his band fast about the top of his head and glanced in the mirror, assuring himself that he looked no worse than he had the day before. He turned back to the window. A strange thought crossed his mind: he had half expected to see his phantom sitting there, as he had imagined or dreamt the night before. But only the distant sea and beach, wreathed in palm trees like picture frames, greeted his eyes. All the more assurance that his visitor had been but a dream.
   He stared for a moment, contemplating whether or not to bother eating before he went to see Leena. He wasn’t particularly hungry he concluded, and he had overslept enough as it was. And at the moment he was more eager to speak to Leena than to eat. His mother didn’t care when he came and left; she knew he was well nigh old enough to care for himself. With a small sideways leap he vaulted out the window and landed on the soft grassy ground beneath his window.
   The air was clear and fresh, and the smell of the sea cleared his head of the last traces of sleep as he ran lightly through the trees to the beach. The beach was near and he had reached it in but a moment.
Leena was facing towards the piers and away from Serge as he approached her.
   “Hey Leena!” he called out loudly, causing her to jump in alarm.
   But she knew his voice well enough and, with a sigh, she turned, mock anger on her face.
   “Don’t do that to me, Serge!” she said, putting her hands on her hips.
   “Sorry,” he answered with a smile. He looked about.
“Watching the neighbour’s kids again?” he noted, noticing a few small children running around, playing at mock battles a ways up the beach.
   She nodded.
   “Their parents are off to Termina till tomorrow, and they asked me if I could watch them.”
   “What we wouldn’t give to be like that again, eh?” he asked of her, seeing the children prancing about. “They don’t worry about much of anything, do they?”
   She shrugged.
   “Oh, I suppose that being a kid has good things. But I don’t think that I’d want to be quite that age again, Serge. Running around the whole day, starting pretend fights with everyone I meet. It would get frightfully boring.”
   “And real fights are better?” he asked. “Is it better to play a hero, or to actually be the one that runs around killing things and maybe getting hurt?”
   “Well, that’s why we can leave those things to other people,” she stated. “Thank goodness that Arni’s peaceful enough that we don’t need to worry ourselves about things like that.”
   Well, peaceful enough for most, Serge answered to himself. He ran his hands through his hair, wondering how he should begin to tell Leena about his dream. Leena noticed his disquiet, however, and was quick to guess what was upon his mind.
   “You had another dream, didn’t you?” she said upon seeing his expression. “What have I told you about them? If you can’t remember what they are, then it’s best to forget you ever had them.”
   “But I did remember this one,” he answered shortly.
   At first she did not reply, not having expected such a response. Then at last she ventured to say: “You actually remembered what you dreamed?”
   Serge nodded gravely, and Leena read his expression.
   “It was that bad?” she wondered, seeing how upset he truly was.
   Again Serge nodded.
   “Do you want to tell me about it?” she asked cautiously, not knowing if he wished to speak of it or not. She could see from his face that it had bothered him deeply.
   But Serge needed to tell someone, and if not Leena, whom?
   He told her of his dream. Of what he could remember, that was. He didn’t mention his phantom, however. That was something that he did not want to approach yet, unsure as to how even Leena would see such a thing as that. She sighed.
   “I don’t know Serge. I can see why it bothered you. Nobody likes to have nightmares like that. But I still think it’s just a dream. Nothing to worry about, especially now that you know what it is.”
Her tone reassured him. Child, he cursed himself. Of course Leena was right. He had been a fool to account too much to what he had dreamt.
   “Thanks Leena. You’re right,” he paused, “again.”
   She smiled.
   “Of course I’m right, Serge! Aren’t I always?” she said with a smile.
   She had put his mind at ease as to his unsettling dream. Yet even now he was not sure what she would say if he told her about the dream he had had of the man in his window. However, he assured himself, Leena was his truest friend. She, if anybody, would understand.
   But even as he was about to tell her of it she frowned deeply, as if trying to remember something forgotten.
   “What is it Leena?” he questioned, somewhat relieved that he had a few more moments to gather his thoughts.
   “Oh, there was something I was going to tell you, that’s all,” she said, shaking her head. Suddenly she nodded, clearly remembering it.
   “Oh yes, that was it. Earlier this morning someone came down to the beach asking for you.”
   “For me? Who?” Serge asked. He had no clue who would be asking for him especial.
   “I don’t know. He wasn’t from around here, but he was polite enough. I think he was from the mainland in the east. An older person, with reddish hair. He said his name was Crono or something odd and foreign like that, and that you knew him. I naturally told him you were still in bed and, knowing you, when you sleep in...”
   But Serge had stopped listening. His heart had seemingly turned to ice in his chest. Nothing in the world could have shocked him as greatly as what Leena was now telling him.
   Leena stopped talking in a moment, sensing something gravelly wrong.
   “Serge?” she demanded. “Serge, you alright?”
   He didn’t know how to answer that. No, he most certainly wasn’t all right. His mind was confused beyond imagination. Suddenly he was unsure as to what was real, and what was not. But even so he didn’t want to worry Leena.
   “Yes. Sort of,” he mumbled, not wanting to lie, but unable to tell the truth. “Leena, I just need to go check on something.”
It was not exactly the truth, but the best he could think of in that moment. But Leena certainly didn’t accept it, either.
   “Serge, something’s wrong,” she demanded. “What is it?”
   “Nothing, Leena,” Serge answered hastily, wishing to leave; he needed to think, and for that he needed to be alone.
   “Serge, don’t lie to me! You look almost pale. What is it?” She repeated, firmly standing her ground.
   Serge could see it was of no use to argue the matter. He placed his hands on her shoulders and looked at her gravely.
   “I swear I’ll tell you later Leena, but right now I just have to be by myself for a bit, alright?”
   He hoped that Leena understood this.
   “Yes, okay...” she replied. “Are you sure you don’t want to tell me what the problem is?”
   She was certainly slightly hurt that he would rather run off to be alone than speak with her, but bore it gracefully.
   “Leena, if it makes you feel any better, I’ve got no idea what’s going on either. That’s why I’ve got to go, to think about it,” Serge said, hoping thereby to balm her mood somewhat.
   Leena sighed, but tried to smile for her part.
   “All right,” she muttered in a low voice, “but don’t be long.”
   “Bye!” he yelled absently behind him as he ran toward the village, intending to continue through to somewhere in the jungle beyond. But he had little idea of where he was heading, and hardly knew what to think. After all this, his phantom had been real? It still seemed absurd. He ran past the village tavern into the courtyard, barely aware of what was about him.
   “Sleep well, Serge?”
   Serge stopped at once.
   He knew the voice. He turned and found himself face to face with the very same man who had confronted him in his room. He leaned in the shadows against the wall of the tavern, his arms folded lightly across his chest, one foot on the ground, the other set on the wall behind him. His face was slightly haggard looking and unshaven, as of one who has been out in the wilderness for some time. He wore no cloak now, and Serge could see he was dressed in a most peculiar fashion. Indeed, it reminded him not a little of the style of the Zenan mainland. His legs bore calf-length pants (such as none in Arni would even contemplate wearing in such a hot climate), and he wore a rough shirt, this being draped across by a knee-length mantle of silvan-green, kept half-open by a black embroidered belt that encircled his waist. And, just as Serge remembered from the night before, from his side hung an elaborate falchion-bladed sword. The man smiled at him.
   “I suppose that I continue to startle you, do I not? First I appear in you window in the middle of the night, and now I surprise you as you come around a corner...”
He laughed faintly. Something in the man’s friendly manner seemed to calm Serge’s initial shock. Despite the sword, Serge felt less intimidated by this man in full daylight. The man put his foot down and stepped from the wall.
   “But I know that the time has come now for a formal introduction. I already know well enough who you are, so do not trouble yourself with that. As for who I am,” he trailed off, rapping his fingers along the tavern wall. “Well, that is somewhat of a long story, if truth be told, and so I will attempt to make as brief as possible now. Doubtless you’ve heard of Guardia?”
   Serge nodded. Everyone had at some time or another. Now a legend of a sort, it had been a peaceful kingdom on the mainland continent of Zenan nearly twenty years earlier. But it had been overrun by the Porre empire around the time Serge was born. Now Guardia was a merely a sweet memory in the pages of history, and Porre commanded a vast empire that stretched from the western El Nido islands to far eastern realms Serge had never even heard of. The man continued:
   “Well, you should know that I am the exiled prince of Guardia. Or was, once upon a time. The king is long since dead and, were Guardia to ever rise again, I would be sovereign. But until that day comes, I continue to hold my title as prince. So, you can well see why I’ve been so furtive. El Nido is under the heel of Porre, and I cannot simply let them know that the heir to the throne of their enemy is here. Anyway, as for my name...as I told you before, I am known as Crono; that is Kronos to the learned, I believe. Not my true full name, but a taken one better than any others I have had. And it’s what my friends have always called me. The rest of my story, and yours too, you will learn in time. For now it must simply be said that...
   But Crono broke off in the mid of his sentence and froze, as a deer startled in the forest by an approaching hunter. In one swift movement he had swept about and was against the far wall of the tavern.
   “Curses,” he murmured. A Porre officer was wandering with a determined gait through the front gate of the village. Serge wondered absently for a moment what a soldier was doing in such a small village, for though Arni was surely under the empire’s power soldiers almost never came here unless there was some great need. However, one glance at Crono’s agitated face answered his question in full.
   “I do not have time for this. Get rid of him!” Crono whispered urgently, making himself as invisible as possible.
   Serge glanced over at Crono. He didn’t particularly wish to deal with a Porre soldier.
   “By all righteousness, don’t look this way of all ways,” Crono muttered between his teeth, his hand going at once to the hilt of his sword.
   Sighing with frustration, but wanting least of all to have a battle here in the very centre of the village, Serge stepped forward to greet the officer, who had wandered importantly to the centre of the square. His dress was typical of the soldiers Serge had seen before. He wore a pristine blue uniform, long sleeved and adorned with various belts and decorations. Even his black boots were somehow untarnished. A slender sabre and a flint musket were slung from a hip.
As Serge approached him he was glancing about the square aimlessly, stroking the dust from his hat without thought. He saw Serge and, standing straight and tall, said:
   “Greetings, child, from the empire of Porre. I am Gaheris, captain in the El Nido division of the Porre army. I am here to apprehend a dangerous criminal come lately to these islands. Have you seen any strangers about these parts, boy?”
Serge caught his breath. He was about to say that he had not, but then realized that in his slight pause in answering the soldier would see the truth. He chose instead to give only half of it, and hoped thereby to seem as truthful as possible.
   “Yes. Yes I did. A man with a sword and red hair? He was here earlier today, near the beach. He left.”
   It did not do as well as he had hoped. The officer was unconvinced, and clearly saw the lie. He looked keenly over Serge for a second.
   “Do you know the penalty for lying to an officer of Porre is death, boy?”
Serge was speechless. He didn’t know what to say now that his lie had been uncovered. He contemplated saying all that he knew, yet somehow felt that doing so would be very wrong.
But, thankfully, he was spared the choice. The man caught sight of something by the tavern. He drew out his musket and frowned. Indeed it was not Crono, who had hidden himself far too well. Perhaps it had been but in the imagination of the soldier, but whatever it might have been it gave him reason to begin walking in that direction. Serge stood frozen, feeling dread sweep over him.
   But then something happened, the likes of which Serge could never remember having seen before. So swiftly that Serge nearly missed seeing it, Crono had leaped from his hiding place behind the tavern. Before the startled Porre officer could understand what had happened, Crono’s sword was swept out and wheeling through the air as though it were a thrown knife. It narrowly missed both Serge and the officer, and embedded itself deep and quivering into the wall of another building far behind. It frightened the wits out of Serge, but the officer, as a man of battle, was quick to recover, and drawing back the flint raised his weapon at Crono. Crono, however, was too swift. He flourished a hand in the way of the officer. A sharp wind swept past, seemingly from nowhere, and, with a crack like a gunshot that pierced Serge’s ears, a bolt of white lightning lashed from Crono’s hand. Serge leaped backward a full pace, it startled him so. The officer, too, had not looked for such a thing. The branching tendrils split, then joined again in unison as they struck him full in the chest. The air trembled with the last echoes of the fading thunderclap, and then all was deathly quiet and still. The officer stood still for a second, then fell senseless to the earth. Serge, for his part, shook his head in bewilderment. His ears rung, and the flash still burned in his eyes. He could scarcely believe what he had just seen. True war magic? He had heard stories of sorcerers and magicians, but had only ever half believed them.
   “Serge, are you alright?”
   It was Crono, who had now run up beside him. Serge blinked. The shadow of the light was fading from his eyes and his ears no longer rung, and he nodded. Crono sighed, looking down at the man, saying to Serge:
   “I apologize for that, but I couldn’t well let him shoot me, as I am sure you understand. If this was my homeland, he’d have taken my sword through his heart; but to do so here would bring the wrath of the Empire down upon your village: a thing I would be loath to do.”
   Serge looked down at the stricken soldier. A chill swept through him, for the man appeared to be dead.
   Crono knelt down and put his hand on the officer’s chest.
   “No, he isn’t dead. His heart is beating, at least. I did not truly wish to kill him, as I’ve said, though maybe I was a trifle harsh; he will feel the pain of this for some time.”
   But despite whatever this Crono professed, Serge knew that it was still trouble. Dead or not, an officer of the Empire had been attacked, and the Porre military did not take kindly to such things.
   He took a step backward as Crono stood again, trying in some way at least to distance himself from the event. Crono looked urgently about, then glanced at Serge with a hasty eye.
   “Come, Serge! We must depart before more arrive. His absence will not go unnoticed for long!”
   He grabbed Serge’s arm.
   “Serge, we must go, at once!”
   Serge pulled his arm from Crono’s grasp, and took another step backward, looking at Crono in disbelief.
   “You did this! You go...leave! I’m not going anywhere.”
   Serge retreated a few more paces. Villagers were now gathering at their windows, curious as to the cause of the commotion. Serge was relieved that no one else had been in the courtyard to witness the event.
   “Do you truly think that Porre will leave you alone now Serge, even if I leave? You lied to him,” he pointed at the unconscious soldier, “he knows that. He knows you were helping me. Unless you want to kill him. I advise it, but I hardly think you would do so.”
   Serge narrowed his eyes at Crono, menace and hatred building in the gaze. Crono had brought this trouble upon his village, and upon Serge. It wasn’t Serge’s fault. Then why did he feel guilty and responsible? He had followed his heart, and had tried to help Crono. Yet it had betrayed him and led only to this. Now he would follow his reason, and no longer his feelings.
   “I’ll tell them the truth then. Leave, because next time I won’t lie for you,” Serge said calmly, yet with vehemence and anger barely masked.
   “All right, if that is how you want it,” Crono answered coldly.
   He walked over to the far side of the square to where his sword still stuck in the wall of the building it had struck. Drawing it from the wood, he looked over his shoulder at Serge.
   “You can try to forget but, mark my words, your heart will never let you.”
   He sheathed his blade and turned to Serge. Serge stood quiet, making certain his anger showed.
   “Your past will overtake you,” Crono said in reply, “whatever you may do to run from it.”
   Despite the malice plain in Serge’s face, which he clearly saw, Crono smiled.
   “Farewell... friend.”
   And, turning, he walked out the gate as boldly as he had entered the night before. Serge watched him leave, glad to be finally rid of that phantasm.
   But by now a large crowd, likely half the village, had gathered in the square. Some were standing about the officer, trying to help him rise. The rest milled about, talking excitedly about what could possibly have happened.
   “Serge, are you all right?”
   It was Leena, who had rushed up from the beach.
   “Yeah, I am...now,” he said, glancing pointedly at the gate, where he had last seen Crono.
   He was gone now.
   Leena gasped shortly, seeing the soldier lying on the ground.
   “What happened?”
   “I’ll tell you, when we’re alone.” Serge said quickly, praying that the officer would not awaken. Moreover, Serge didn’t want anyone else knowing that he had any part in this, as gossip spread like fire in a village as Arni.
   “Let’s get out of here,” he said to Leena, wanting nothing more than to leave the crowded square.
   He took Leena’s hand, and together they walked back towards the beach. But before they had moved more than a few steps, a harsh voice called out to him:
   “Hey, boy! Where do you think you’re going? Stop, or you’ll have musket-shot through your heart.”
   Serge turned with a falling heart. The officer was rising weakly, aided by some few of the village-folk. His uniform that had been spotless before was now tattered and dirty, and a great blackened spot marked where the lightning had struck him. His formal hat was nowhere to be seen now, and his tossed hair hung in disarray from his head. From wherever it had fallen he had retrieved his musket and was now pointing it at Serge’s chest, flint cocked menacingly. The villagers all took several steps backward to be well out of the way of the weapon. Serge, for his part, did not fear the weapon so much become angry at what was occurring. That idiot Crono had begun a dire problem.
   “You’re under arrest, boy. I’m taking you to Termina.”
   The villagers were aghast. A few attempted to argue on Serge’s behalf, but to no avail. In the midst of all the confusion the village chief, an elder named Radius, stepped forward, and he, too, argued to Serge’s defence, albeit with more vehemence and skill.
   But Serge saw from where he stood that such struggling merely made matters worse. The officer’s anger was rising by the minute, and he would likely have set the whole of the Porre army upon the village if he had been able. Serge knew what he needed do.
He looked over at Leena.
   “Leena, I’ve got to go and straighten things out. Otherwise Porre will never leave Arni alone...”
   Leena sighed. She knew the truth of this, but hardly wanted him to submit to arrest.
   “Don’t worry for me Leena, I’ll be okay.”
   As he said it he didn’t exactly know it to be the truth, however. Only a hope. He smiled at her, attempting to make their parting more pleasant. She weakly returned it.
   “All right, but be careful,” she admonished him, whispering in his ear: “Don’t get them angry, and I’m sure they’ll let you go. But I wouldn’t trust them.”
   Maybe, Serge thought to himself, but there were others to trust less; perhaps here Porre was the lesser evil. Leena whispered him a fond farewell and stepped back.
   By this time the entirety of village was in an uproar, from child to elder. In the very middle the officer still debated angrily with the chief, who was attempting now to explain the political results of such an arrest, in a vain attempt to help free Serge from his predicament.
   Even as Serge strode forward to the two the chief was saying, in a darkening voice:
   “Let us not forget that the people of El Nido outnumber your armies twelve-fold. I would warn you against such thoughtless actions.”
   Certainly the officer was about to reply in kind with an even graver threat, and warn in his turn about the mighty warriors of Porre. Likely he would have tried to cow the irate chief through the memory of the myriad of weapons by which the Empire had subdued the peoples of the islands in conquest nearly two years before. But Serge spoke before he could, saying:
   “I’m not hiding anything. I’ll come along and tell you whatever you want to know.”
    The chief looked at Serge in bewilderment.
   “Serge, they cannot do this to you! By the laws of their empire, they cannot arrest you without proof of treason. This officer himself concedes you did not harm him in any way. You have not done a thing meriting arrest,” he said, casting an angry glance at the officer.
   Certainly the chief knew the politics well, but such things are fickle at best, and even more so on colonies that lie at the far fringes of an empire. That Serge knew, and understood that the law of the Empire could be easily overlooked by those soldiers who manned the colonial garrisons. Such a small province as El Nido did not warrant any representation in the Senate, and in practice the governor and his occupation troops could do as they pleased, harrying the villages of the islands if they so wished it. The people would be powerless to stop it, and so the fragile peace that existed between El Nido and the Empire’s troops was a dangerous thing to endanger.
   “I haven’t, I know. But...”
   The chief nodded, understanding.
   “This is very noble of you, Serge.”
   He looked around at the gathered people.
   “We’ll be praying for you.”
And at those words the officer gripped roughly at Serge’s arm and walked him out the gate. Glancing back, Serge saw Leena looking after him, waving farewell; but there was caring worry in her eyes, as might be well imagined.
   What a cursed day, thought Serge as the soldier led him onwards. Dark dreams and dangerous brigands were no enjoyable thing to endure. Curse that fool Crono, he added in his mind. At least he had seen the last of him now.

Daniel Krispin

  • Guest
Twilight of Fate
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2005, 01:32:55 am »
CHAPTER III
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OFFICERS AND WIZARDS



The trip to the harbour town of Termina was short, at least for a journey that traversed most of an entire land. Though it lay on the northwest, opposite Arni, the island was by most measures small, and they had reached the town by nightfall. The officer had kept up a swift pace throughout the day, despite the wound which, while not grievous, certainly pained him. He had not wished to pass the night in the wilderness with a prisoner to watch, and shunned the roads out of an unfounded fear of ambush. Serge, for his part, had no intent of escaping. What good would it accomplish as it was? He was turning himself in freely, in the hopes that his compliance might be of some benefit to him when the time came to defend himself.
   The sun was just dwindling below the horizon as they crossed under the arched marble gate that marked the entrance to the harbour town. Long black shadows stretched far from the buildings, shrouding the abandoned streets in darkness. Before the Porre invasion Termina had been a lively city, and even nightfall had not been the end of the day during the dry seasons. But the curfews decreed by the Empire kept most everyone indoors after nightfall in these days. So it was that Serge and the officer walked down the streets alone, and only the darkness marked their passing. Serge glanced about, his fingers nervous at his sides. He had seen Termina many times before, both in the day and night, but on this occasion it held a certain menace.
   The darkness, devoid of living things, weighed in on him as the lightless buildings stared ominously. And he was beginning to think the worse of his decision. Yet what else could he have possibly done, given the choices that he was presented with? Both ways were foolish, maybe: both that which he had done and that which he had chosen not to. Curse that fool Crono for starting this, he thought again. Wherever he was this night, Serge hoped that that self-important man was as miserable as he was.
   “No resting, now. We’re almost there,” the officer said, and gave him a faint nudge. He had stopped walking without noticing it, and the officer was very eager to reach their journey’s end.
   “Sorry,” Serge murmured, much annoyed by the man’s impatience. Serge could have chosen to make things far more difficult; the least the officer could do was show a little kindness.
   Their destination lay at the end of a long street, seemingly even darker than the rest. Blackened windows stared out at him from dark buildings to either side. The guardhouse was a large construction, but built inconspicuously in the same style as the surrounding ones out of white limestone.
   As they approached the door the officer faced Serge and looked sternly at him, pointing his musket at Serge’s chest.
   “You’ve been awfully good up till now. Don’t go trying anything at the end.”
   As bothersome as such talk was, Serge bore it calmly, in the full knowledge that there was no purpose in resisting, most especially now.
   The soldier knocked harshly on the wooden door with a sound that echoed throughout the still night air. From inside a voice replied, angered by the sudden interruption:
   “Whoever it is, go away! The guardhouse is closed for the night.”
   “You should treat your commanding officer with more respect if you don’t want a court-marshal on your record,” the officer said roughly in return, much frustrated by the rudeness shown by his subordinates. “It’s captain Gaheris, returning from the south of the island. Now open this door at once, Lieutenant!”
   The voice from inside did not respond. But moments later a click told Serge that a lock was being undone, and the door swung open.
   “Alright boy, in you go,” the officer said and pushed Serge inside.
   The interior was dimly lit and musty smelling. A few candles threw odd shadows on the walls and, by their glowing light, Serge saw he was now in a small room strewn with boxes. In one corner sat a small table ringed with some chairs. There sat several more soldiers stoically playing cards, though one seat was vacant. The one who had sat there now stood near the door, which he had just opened.
   “I’m terribly sorry, sir. I thought it was one of those cursed town children again, thinking it amusing to knock at our door and race away.”
   He paused, seeing Serge.
    “And who’s this? Don’t tell me this is that dangerous outlaw from Guardia.”
   The officer laughed heartily.
   “This child? Certainly he is not a prince. But I’ve got a fair guess that he’s a collaborator with him.”
   The lieutenant narrowed his eyes at Serge, looking him over more keenly and, in a voice that betrayed a mild disbelief, said:
   “Then if you say it’s so, sir. But he appears to be only a village child to me.”
   The lieutenant then looked back at his captain once more and said suddenly, as if a forgotten memory had returned to him:
   “But you yourself have a visitor, sir. He came in this morning asking for you, as the commander of the Termina garrison.”
   “I will see him later. I have my report to take to the governor at once,” the Captain said in reply.
   The lieutenant shook his head.
   “Actually, I wager that’s what he’s here about. He refused to tell me his name or rank, but by his dress, I think that he’s from the Imperial Guard. The Black Wind, or I’m a fool.”
   The captain frowned darkly, his face growing ashen grey.
   “The Black Wind?” he muttered. “What in heaven’s name are they doing here?”
   The lieutenant appeared about to reply, but was interrupted. The door to another room opened with a faint creak, and in the doorway stood the figure of a man.
   “To see how the emperor’s loyal troops are faring, Captain. I’ll take this boy off your hands for you. He is no longer your concern.”
   He said it with a voice that seemed to come from someone quite young, yet quite steadfast and strong willed.
   The man did not move from the shadows of the next room, and his face remained veiled in darkness. This did not cause the officer any small measure of discomfort, and it was surely against regulations to hand over a prisoner so informally; but he hardly wished to dispute the matter with an officer of the fabled Black Wind, whose very name was spoken with a sinister edge.
   “Oh, very well,” he sighed, displeased, but even more frightened. The Black Wind had the power of the Emperor, and had the repute of ordering demotions or even executions with a word. And none could gainsay them in word or action: their commands were law. They were said to be the most powerful men in the Empire, save for the emperor or those that were part of the Porre Senate (though, in truth, their power held much more sway in the far flung colonies; in practice the generals and military had greater influence on the mainland).
   Serge walked uncertainly towards the figure that stood motionless, and still partly hidden, in the doorway. And he paused, uncertain if he should so willingly surrender himself into the clutches of such a ruthless group.
   “Come on in, you mustn’t be frightened,” the man replied upon seeing Serge’s uncertainty, with a voice that showed far more friendliness than the captain had shown toward him. Serge had trouble believing the voice belonged to someone from the dreaded Black Wind.
   Nevertheless, his heart quickened a pace as the man led him into the next room and closed the door softly.
   This room was yet smaller than the other had been. It was indeed no more than four stone walls and a roof, with a lone table at the centre upon which flickered a single candle that only dimly lit the room. At this table sat only two chairs.
   “Sit down,” the man commanded.
   Serge obeyed without question, and threw himself onto the small wooden chair.
The man before him did not sit, but remained standing, studying Serge carefully.
   Serge likewise looked at the man, trying to decide what sort of person he had surrendered himself to.
   He had now stepped into the candlelight and Serge could see that he was indeed young, no more than a few years older than Serge himself. Contrary to what Serge had expected from an officer of the Imperial Guard, the man had a pleasant face and, while he didn’t smile, he was not openly aggressive either; he was merely stern. Unlike most Porre soldiers, he wore no hat on his head, and his short golden hair sat combed neatly to one side. As with the other soldiers his uniform was blue. Yet he also wore a black mantle with silver trimming, and emblazoned with a gold chimera crossed with a sword. This was the mark of the Black Wind. At his hip sat both a small musket and gold enwound sabre.
   He placed both hands on the table and stared down at Serge.
   “So, what have you to say for yourself, child? The Captain seems to believe you are a traitor and collaborator with the enemies of Porre.”
   Serge was slow to answer. He was unsure as what to say. The man frowned sensing his discomfort.
   “Perhaps we have begun wrong.”
   He stood up again and began pacing around the room, still watching Serge intently.
   “My name is Norris. I am the Captain of the Second Company of the First Century of the Imperial Guard. I have come here to El Nido from the mainland on an errand of great importance to the security of our Empire. And it is just this: a dangerous traitor recently arrived here from the mainland. But, from what I have heard, you may have already had the unfortunate experience of meeting him. However, perhaps we should begin in somewhat different of a way. What is your name?”
   “Serge,” Serge replied, seeing only now how dangerous the situation was. He had no wish to cross the Black Wind.
   “Very well, Serge. Will you now tell me what you know of this?”
   Serge thought for a moment. He no longer had any misgivings about telling of that fool who called himself a prince.
   “Yes,” Serge said.
   “Good.” Norris replied, finally smiling a little for the first time.
   “Now, unlike those fools out there,” he said and raised his hand at the door, “I can see that you are no traitor, at least not willingly.”
   Norris paused, letting Serge consider this for a moment.
   “So please,” he continued, “answer my questions as a loyal citizen of Porre.”
   Norris pulled up the other chair and sat down across from Serge.
   “Firstly, I wish to know precisely what happened.”
   Serge related, in brief, of his first encounter with Crono. When he had finished, Norris frowned.
   “He told you he came to you for help? Do you, perchance, know why?”
   Serge shook his head and said:
   “No. He never had the time to tell me because the captain arrived.”
   Norris sighed, disappointed.
   “Strange...then, you met him again this morning?”
   “Yes. We talked for a short while. He called himself the prince of Guardia, or something like that.”
   Serge paused, wondering what Norris would say to this.
   But Norris simply nodded.
   “Yes, good and well. Continue.”
   This was certainly not news to him, Serge realized in surprise. And he began to feel somewhat frightened again, wondering what it was that he had flung himself into, that led him into dealings with the Black Wind.
   Serge slowly recounted the events that led to his arrest, all the while feeling his heart skipping nervously in his chest.
   Norris sat silent in thought for a time. Finally he spoke again.
   “So, Serge, you lied to the captain. Why was that?”
   Serge sighed. This was the very thing, the very question, he knew must come and had dreaded from the time he had left the village.
   “I,” he began, but found words leave him. He gathered his thoughts, and resolved to say what he felt, and deal with what would come of it after.
“I don’t know. Crono didn’t seem like an evil person for one thing. And it seemed the right thing to do.”
   He clenched his fist nervously as heart pounded with apprehension. His words had been too blunt. He ought to have been more tactful. No one would find any merit in such an excuse.
   But his fears were groundless. Norris, it seemed, did not fault him greatly for what he had done, but rather rebuked kindly.
   “You are not the first to do wrong by following your feelings. You must learn to be wary of them in the future. They can deceive you if you do not keep your wits about you.”
   That he had learned all too well, Serge thought bitterly. He found himself shaking in relief now that what he deemed to be the worst was past.
   “Moreover,” Norris continued, “I doubt that even telling the Captain the truth would have made a great difference. Except, perhaps, to get you killed. This brigand Crono is not a man to be dealt with lightly. He has slain many honest soldiers of Porre, and is renowned the empire wide for his mercilessness. But something in this bothers me, and it is this: why is it that the Prince of Guardia would leave his own country and come to the west searching for you in particular? You have no idea why this might be?”
   “None,” Serge said emphatically, shaking his head.
   But then he remembered something he had tried to forget.
   What had Crono mentioned to him, on their first meeting in his room? About his dreams...some type of echo of his past? It still held no meaning to Serge. And what was it he had called him? A chrono trigger or some fool thing like that?
   Norris sighed.
   “Very well then. If that is all, by the authority of Porre I absolve you of any fault or crime. You are free to go.”
   But now Serge had ceased listening. His mind had wandered back to the evening before, and was thinking carefully on the event that he had had a mind to forget forever.
   Norris frowned.
   “Serge?”
   Serge looked up, Norris’ voice calling him out of his thoughts.
   “Oh, it’s probably nothing. Some strange talk about something or other.”
   “But this Crono is a strange man. He is a magician, and a cunning one at that. Even the slightest of his words may hold meaning. What did he tell you?”
   “Well, he mentioned something about a forgotten past. And once or twice he mentioned something about a chrono trigger. I honestly have no idea what it means. I don’t even know if it means anything at all.”
   Norris shook his head thoughtfully.
   “Chrono trigger, was it? That phrase does sound in some way familiar, but vaguely,” he said, beginning to mutter to himself.
   He looked up at Serge again.
            “Well, I do not know what he may mean about the past having been forgotten. But this other phrase strikes me as somewhat, though distantly, familiar. I believe I saw it once in the histories of Guardia: I will consult them when I return east.”
   Serge wondered somewhat at this chance that that word that he had puzzled over could have some true meaning.
   “Oh,” Serge said, remembering a something else as he shifted his thoughts. “He mentioned a chrono cross, too. I’m not sure what that means, or if it’s even connected with the other thing.”
   Norris looked up sharply and, for an instant, it seemed that recognition crossed his face. But for only a second, and it faded leaving him frowning.
   “What did you say?”
   “Chrono cross,” Serge repeated, hoping perhaps for some answers.
   Norris closed his eyes, as if striving to remember something barely out of reach. But he shook his head as it eluded him.
   “That seemed to strike nearer to my memory, but I cannot remember it now,” he shook his head wearily. “No, it must be nothing. Deja vu, in all certainty. Well Serge, perhaps you have been of some help after all. I will attempt to decipher what these riddles mean, but your part is done. You may go now. But I must ask you to come to me here immediately if you ever see this Crono again.”
   Serge nodded and stood. Norris remained seated, and Serge heard him mutter under his breath:
   “Curse that captain. If only he hadn’t gone alone. And these damned riddles. If this is merely Crono attempting to torment me with fruitless chases again, I swear I will have his head by winter.”
   Serge stepped to leave, then turned to Norris one last time.
   “Thanks...” he said cautiously edging in his words lest he disturb the man’s half voiced frustrations.
   Norris looked up at him and smiled.
   “I serve the people of Porre, and that includes you. You were innocent, a victim of circumstance. I did my duty, and you did yours. No thanks is needed.”
   Serge shook his head.
   “No, I’m really glad you understand and didn’t throw me in prison or anything like I’d expected.”
   Norris was laughing somewhat at this, and was about to reply once again, but Serge never heard what he was about to say.
   From the other room a mighty crash was heard, followed by the unmistakable sound of splintering wood. Norris leaped up in a heartbeat, throwing his chair to the ground with a dull clatter. He heard the soldiers scream in terror from the next room. All of a sudden a darkness gripped Serge, and it seemed as if all light began to fade from before his sight...
   “Stay back!” Norris whispered to Serge, and Serge’s eyes snapped open. He couldn’t remember having shut them.
   Norris reached for the door and threw it cautiously open.
   From the darkness of the next room one of the soldier stumbled, falling into Norris’ arms. His face was pale and a wild fear was in his eyes. He collapsed to the ground. And now Norris as well began to pale, for in the next room stood such a thing as Serge had never seen before, not even in his darkest dreams. Dark and terrible it stood, and the darkness flowed from it. Norris, somehow, had managed to retain his courage and tried at fighting. He drew back the flint of his weapon and fired. But even as he pulled the trigger a lance of darkness struck him, and the shot went wild. Norris flew to the far side of the room and lay still. And now Serge was alone before this demon. But from some inner part of his heart he did not know existed a wild courage crept forth. Beside him lay Norris, unconscious or maybe dead, and at his side his sabre. Serge leaped for it, and his hand closed on the cold leather even as the dark being entered the small room with slow and heavy footfalls that sounded as though the feet were shod in metal. As it came for Serge he leaped upward, drawing out the steel blade and swinging for the monstrous thing. But, for all his valour, it did not avail him. The being carried a weapon of his own, a scythe of monstrous size, and the metal blade of Norris’ sword broke asunder as it struck it, and the shattered metal tinkled to the ground. Serge’s arms ached with the jarring force of the failed stroke. His heart beat madly, and he was sure his end was upon him.
   Yet the figure paused. The darkness yielded somewhat, and Serge could now see it clearly. It was a man, or at least appeared to be. He was massive, and towered over Serge like a giant. His long dark cape billowed in some mysterious and darkly cold wind. Likewise his hair, a dark regal blue, fluttered out behind him like reeds underwater. In his gloved hands he held his weapon in an iron grip that Serge was certain could have crushed his neck without effort. But it was the face that frightened him most of all for, though it was not that of a monster, neither was it wholly human. The features were sharp, made even more so by the dark shadows that still danced about the room, and the face was slightly bearded. His pointed ears were nearly fay-like. And the eyes Serge could not meet for they burned red with a demon fire. Yet, though darkness was graven on the features, his countenance was not one of rage, nor anger. And he smiled.
   “You’re Serge, child?” the man asked.
   The voice chilled Serge’s heart. In its tongue echoed both cruelty and hate, though neither directed towards Serge. They seemed to be, as with his un-human features, merely a part of him.
   “Yes...” Serge said, fear making him reply. And again the man smiled.
   “Ah, very well, then. Let us go. We are expected.”
   Serge had seen quite enough. Neither his heart nor his mind could fathom what had transpired in the past day. And now, standing before a man that seemed for all accounts akin to the grim reaper of myth, they despaired. His eyes grew dim, and he fell heavily to the floor, drifting into forgetfulness.

   When Serge finally awoke, he saw he was no longer in the building he had been in. He could not see well, for his eyes were still clouded, yet he knew he was outside somewhere, as a chill wind swept through his clothes. He shivered in the cold, kneeling on the icy ground. Unable to see well yet in the darkness around him he groped about. At his feet was long grass, but no more could he discover. Soon however his sight cleared. It was indeed still dark out, and the moon shone like a leaf of silver in the starry sky. Its gleaming rays of soft light illuminated Serge’s surroundings with an eerie vagueness, sending monstrous shadows everywhere.
He could see he was in the midst of a clearing, round which the palm trees sat swaying in a soft nighttime breeze. He narrowed his eyes, attempting to see the area about him clearer. In the far distance the shadowed form of a fortress sat silhouetted in the moonlight. Fortress Dragonia? It was the only true castle in the El Nido islands, but only an old ruin seldom visited. In myth it was fabled to have been raised by ancient dragon lords, and from that legend had sprung its name.
   Yes, that’s were he was. Strange as it was, for the Fortress was many miles east from Termina. But there was no mistaking it, even though it was no more than a shadow in the darkness.
   Serge looked about him. He did not know how he had arrived at this place, however. There was no sign of any living creature anywhere.
   He rose, his limbs aching with pain. The past day had been far more trying than he had been used to.
   “Well...” he said to himself, “...what do you do now, Serge?”
   “Follow me.”
   Serge started, his heart nearly missing a beat as a voice spoke to him from behind. He turned, a sudden rising wind whipping past his face. And it was as he had feared. Indeed, he had not lost the demon that had stormed the guardhouse. Though now he seemed less to a monster and more as a man. Though the moonlight yet cast a ghostly hue on the grim face, and he seemed no less mighty, it seemed more the strength of a great lord than of something evil. The raiment, at least, was certainly not of shadows: he wore robes and a mantle of what appeared to be black silk embroidered with gold weaving, fastened here and there with gems or other costly adornments. In some strange, almost ancient, style he wore jewelled rings in his ears, and threads of silver were enwound within his dark locks. It did not allay Serge’s fears, but merely replaced them with another: this man was a sorcerer. But before he could think more on the matter, the man spoke.
   “Apologies for that, but you fainted on me. I suppose you are not as brave as I had been led to believe...”
Serge felt slightly angered by this, especially due to the fact that it was probably true, seeing as he had fainted.
   “...I carried you out of Termina a ways so those damned soldiers couldn’t find us. Not that I fear them, certainly, but I have been commanded not to slay any of them if it can be avoided.”
   He said this with frustration, and Serge shivered with the realization that he was lamenting not being able to kill. He was immensely glad that this man’s bloodlust was not directed towards him.
   The man folded his arms across his chest, his eyes resting on Serge intently.
   “But I would suppose that you now wish to know who I am,” the man said sharply.
   Serge scowled.
   “Yeah, that, and a lot more. Like: why in the world you’re doing this to me? I mean, why me? Can’t you just leave me be in peace?”
   The man frowned sharply.
   “You seem to have a slight grievance. You should be thankful that I aided in your rescue, child. There are many who would consider that itself a supreme honour.”
   Serge nearly choked.
   “I was fine! They let me go,” he looked anxiously about, thinking that he was perhaps the prisoner of this man, “unlike now. And what do you care about me for, anyways?”
   He was beginning to suspect this man was somehow connected to Crono. And, though he resented that, the words of Norris returned to him. The question of why he should be so sought after.
   “I care, because I owe you a debt, and so am bound by honour. If not for that, I should not worry myself with your fate.”
   Serge was starting to be less frightened by the man now. If nothing else, he did not seem to be acting maliciously towards him. And if he thought that he owed Serge a debt, that was all for the better. His only desire now was to return home to Leena.
   “Well, whatever I did, you can forget it,” he said, turning his back to the man. “Pay it back by letting me go. I’m going home now.”
   But before Serge could go far he felt an iron grip close tight on his arm.
   “Go home? To what will you return? Nights without sleep whilst your dreams haunt you without mercy? Do you not want your questions answered?”
   Serge wrestled out of the grip and turned, backing away.
   “I did once, but now, well, I frankly don’t care,” he said vehemently.
   The man’s eyes glinted darkly, and Serge could tell he had angered him. His mouth moved as if to reply, but he spoke no words. The man stared at Serge, and fear entered Serge’s heart once again seeing a darkness gathering in his face. Perhaps he had been too forceful...
   “You will care!” the man growled. And he reached forth a hand, and from it dark light lanced forth. Before Serge could comprehend what was happening it struck him in the legs. The pain burned in his knees and he fell forward onto the grass ground, his hands clutching at his injured legs. He glanced up only to see another ray strike out towards him. He gritted his teeth in agony as the magic struck his face. It felt to his mind as if he had been both scorched with fire and frozen with ice alike. But it only lasted for a short moment, and he found his lips tasting the dirt, the harsh field grass scratching his face. He struggled to stand, his legs burning with a strange cold that seemed to drain their very energy. But he could get no further than his knees; he was once again struck, this time in his chest. Tears welled up in his eyes as he lay on his back and struggled against the pain. Yet despite it he managed to painfully rise. He could see wispy mists of smoke rising from his body, hazy in the silver light of the moon.
   The man stood before him, a figure a fear once again...but now also a symbol of hate to Serge. A fury kindled in his heart. And then the man laughed, mocking him.
   “Ah, look at the worm crawl. How amusing. I had heard that you were courageous. It seems that I had heard but fairy tales.”
   Now the smouldering wrath welled up in Serge’s heart, and grew to a fury. In some unknown recesses of his mind, a locked door shattered. And something that had remained hidden from beyond the walls of time was released. In his anger he did not think about what he did, for it came to him as a flash of remembrance of something long forgotten. He stretched his hand toward his foe, his fingers outstretched. And then a point of incorrupt light welled up in Serge’s palm, flickering softly as if it were a new born star. Yet, for some strange reason that eluded him, it was neither frightening nor shocking. It simply was as it should be, as if nothing might be more natural. The light grew swiftly for a heartbeat, the wavering became steady, and then, faster than thought, it flashed forth and struck the dark man with a flash that lit the field like lightning. Serge heard the man cry out hoarsely in sudden pain, and saw him fall backwards heavily, clutching a hand to his chest where now burned a great dark spot. And then Serge acted on a sudden instinct that overwhelmed him. Though he could not fathom why, he knew what he was doing, as plainly as he knew how to walk. He leaped for his prostrate foe who now, as Serge had been attempting moments earlier, was struggling to stand. But as he got to his knees Serge swept his foot forward in a vicious kick to his face that sent the man’s massive body crashing back to the ground. And Serge was upon him in a heartbeat. Serge had no weapon of his own but in one sharp glace he saw that his foe carried at his hip a small sickle sharpened on the reverse edge. The man reached for it in alarm as he saw Serge’s eyes alight on it, but Serge was the faster. Before the man could reach it, Serge had drawn its curved blade from its sheath and gripped it tightly in his hand. He pressed the gleaming blade to the man’s neck, Serge’s eyes daring him to move.
   But the man did not move; indeed, he did not put up a struggle of any sort. He lay unmoving for a moment.
   Then, to Serge’s amazement, he smiled.
   “Now that was well done, Serge. Few there are that could have bested me so,” he said with a small laugh.
He coughed as he spoke, still suffering from the vicious blow Serge had delivered him. And blood trickled from a gash in his mouth where he had been struck.
   “And now, let me stand,” he said wearily. “I will not hurt you nor attempt to stop you any further.”
   Serge frowned, but his heart seemed to instinctively trusted the words, though his mind proclaimed them false. Divided, he chose on the side of caution.
   “Yeah, right. And then when I turn my back you kill me. Do you think I’m a fool?” he muttered angrily.
   The man scowled and attempted to shake his head, but thought the better of it with the sickle blade still pressing sharply against his throat.
   “Enough of this foolishness, Serge!” the man cried. The voice echoed menacingly in the still night. But from somewhere Serge had found a hidden courage, and even that seeming hell spawned voice did not daunt him. He shook his head.
   “I just want to go home, and have you people leave me alone...” Serge said between his teeth, angered at the man’s sudden outburst.
   The man sighed.
   “If you will not see reason, so be it.”
   In one swift movement of his arm, almost faster than Serge could comprehend, the man grabbed fast the arm in which Serge held the sickle. Serge twisted but could not shake the iron grip of that hand. The man stood again, pulling Serge up with him. Serge tried his best to strike at the man with his free hand, but it was swiftly caught before it hit. The man sighed.
   “You young fool, what are you trying to accomplish by this? I am not your enemy. It is my will to aid you.”
   Serge struggled in the grip, grinding his teeth in effort and anger. But the grip was firm, and Serge realized with a shiver that the man had been but toying with him earlier, letting him have his way for a while; whatever harm his efforts had caused, it had been less than it had appeared, and this dark man was hardly worsted by it. Serge glanced fearfully at him, but with his anger rising all the same.
   “By killing me? Is that what you want?” he said in a peculiar mingling of fear and wrath.
   With almost superhuman strength the man flung Serge to the ground at his feet.
   Serge rose at once, the sickle blade still shimmering deadly in his hand. But rather than fight, or make some try at defence, the man stepped backward a pace. And Serge , for his part, paused, seeing that perhaps this man truly did not wish to fight. The man shook his head with a frustrated sigh and wiped the blood from his mouth.
   “Do you not see it, even now, child? You are no mere fisher boy from some insignificant village.”
   “What else would I be?” Serge replied angrily. He was tired of mysterious people telling him that he was something he knew was not.
   The man laughed.
   “And I suppose it is every village fisherman on this isle that is so masterful in such sorcerous ways, then? A fine aid in the day’s work, perhaps to quell an unruly catch?”
   Serge paused half a moment, bewilderment coming into his mind. He had half forgotten about what he had seen himself do. Something that not all his reason could explain. He frowned at the man, reading his eyes.
   “You wanted me to do that, then?”
   The man nodded ever so slightly and bowed slightly with a smile on his lips.
   “But of course. To prove to you that you are something more than what you think, so that you might believe me. I did nothing there but spur you on. The light and magic was your sorcery alone. It is a skill you once possessed, but long ago forgot.”
   Could this man be speaking the truth? Once again someone was telling him that he had forgotten something. But now the answers were near. He simply needed to ask the questions. Perhaps he had been wrong in condemning his feelings.
   He had to give it a chance. It was no longer the strange words of some phantom and dreams that haunted him. He had seen himself do a thing that he could not by his own reason explain. He nodded to the man, and dropped the sickle from his grip, hoping that he was not making a grave mistake in doing so. A keen excitement welled up in his heart, now unbound from its fetters. Perhaps it knew more than he did.
   “All right,” Serge said. “All right, I’ll give you a chance to tell me. But one thing I want to know first: Was it that swordsman that sent you?”
   The man nodded.
   “You speak of Crono? Ah, in a sense. Rather, we were both sent on the same errand, if you will. That is a perhaps a more fitting way of saying it.”
   “Okay, I thought so,” Serge said with a knowing nod. “Now, well, you can probably guess what I’m going to ask: what is this with me? I’ve got strangers in my window, and I can do things that I didn’t know I could, and...”
   But the man silenced him, raising a hand.
   “She wished to tell you this herself, but I think it may be better if I tell you something of it here. You have enough right to know a little, at least, before you meet.”
   The man took a breath. The stars gleamed overhead, and in the quiet of the night the man’s voice spoke clear.
   “Very well, Serge. I will tell you why I owe you...”