The Crooked Portrait on the Wall
Chapter I: A Day in the Life of Schala Zeal
A few you should probably be aware of before reading this terrible fic. First of all, while it is primarily concerned with events taking place at the time of Crono & Crew's original adventure, it incorporates a number of ideas introduced by Chrono Cross. If you haven't played both games, something is seriously wrong with you and you should go out and do so, NOW. I mean it. Anyway, this fic involves another timeline very similar to the one revealed in Chrono Trigger - so don't wet your pants if a particular event here is different from the game. By the time I finish this, everything should make sense, so bear with it. While individual events may differ, I believe the mechanics introduced here are consistent with those from both Trigger and Cross. If you think something doesn't quite gel, by all means please feel free to message me sometime and tell me how bad I suck. Just be gentle. This is my first attempt at writing something non-academic of this length. I've rambled long enough here, so please - enjoy. ^^
Chapter One, or, A Day in the Life of Schala Zeal.
Something that happened today brought to mind one of the more interesting conversations I had years ago with the three Gurus. I can't remember precisely how the topic arose, but Belthasar began to speak of other worlds outside our own. He was convinced that somewhere, in a place beyond our reach, dwelled another Zeal, another Kajar and Enhasa, and even another me. The idea seemed silly at first and I dismissed it as the ramblings of an aging scientist, but the more he discussed these distant worlds, the more I began to question my initial impulses.
Belthasar claimed that for every action we make, there exists another world where we took a different course of action. As strange as it seems, his theory has some merit. Or at least, the mechanics of it seemed straight when he explained it to me all that time ago. I'm afraid I can't explain in great detail why it makes sense because I really don't understand it myself! Alas, I admit that I had a penchant for simply accepting whatever those three told me was the truth. But honestly, if you were going to believe someone - if you were to hold them as being virtually free of error - would not the Gurus of Reason, Time, and Life be the ones to trust?
It is a curious thought that there exists another Schala pondering these same ideas at this very moment. Perhaps she ultimately chooses to reject Belthasar's theory and go about dealing with more important issues. Or maybe she will consider these very thoughts tomorrow, or perhaps she has already arrived at her conclusion! A curious state of affairs, indeed!
In spite of all this, I wonder if there is something that transcends these worlds. I know in his lifetime, Belthasar discovered far greater things than he ever revealed to anyone outside his fellow Gurus. I have this nagging feeling that Belthasar had even managed to transcend the very boundaries of space-time! Perhaps it is not at all out of the question for someone to visit another one of these mirrored worlds; or better yet, perhaps there is a force - an entity - that is capable of viewing these realities from some hidden vantage point.
There are so many things I could consider right now. Even with all of these choices creating new and independent worlds, I wonder if destiny forces some people to come to the same conclusions? Maybe a child will be born today or the day after, the precise details of when may not matter - but is there something inescapable about our lives? Is that child doomed in some way or another to meet a particular demise or fated to fulfill a certain purpose?
At times I wish I had been born one of the Gurus. Undoubtedly the world would be much clearer if I had their understanding. For now, all I can do is attempt to ponder the mysteries of the universe from my dreams.
Schala took a few deep breaths before opening her eyes and throwing aside her covers. As she sat up in bed, she rubbed her face, trying to make the transition from the world of dreams to reality easier on the eyes; yet as her vision became clearer, her thoughts became more clouded.
Such is the nature of dreaming! For thousands of years humanity thought we slept to rest up for another day's activities. What a strange concept! Now we realize that we do not rest to prepare our bodies for another day, but rather we remain active so that we may gain more knowledge to dream with! For only in dreams is our mind clear of all distractions from the world around us... It is in sleep where we reason without error, in the darkness of night where we see most clearly!
Schala stepped out of bed and did her morning stretches, the same stretches that became more difficult with the passing of each day. There was no doubt about it, she was getting old, as the gray strands in her hair and the deepening creases in her face revealed. At the age of fifty, she had reigned over Zeal for nearly thirty-five years. Just as she did every morning, Schala drew aside the curtains and opened up the doors that lead to the balcony outside. As she stepped outdoors into the open air - which was now making its presence in her bedroom known as it lifted the Queen's linens onto the floor, finishing the job her arousal failed to do - she waved her hand in the direction of a small, precious music box, filling the air with a soft melody that Janus had composed for her many years ago. Leaning against the balcony's guardrails, Schala looked upon her realm and felt the same joy that she had felt every morning when gazing at the Eternal Kingdom of Zeal.
Below her, a teacher was guiding his class into the corridors of Zeal Palace. Schala smiled, for the children seemed to burst with anxiety at their first opportunity to see firsthand the wonders contained within the palace halls. Being of royal blood, she never had the opportunity to go on such a tour and experience that initial anxiety, but she remembered seeing schoolchildren shuffle through the palace long ago as a child.
Invariably, thoughts of her childhood lead Schala to thoughts of her mother. She never had the opportunity to know her mother very well outside of a paternal relationship, for she was murdered by a coalition of malcontented Zealian and Earthbound citizens when she was twelve years old - or at least, that was what the Council of Justice claimed. Although she had personally condemned the accused to eternal imprisonment on the Mountain of Woe, Schala always felt as if she had merely provided a punishment to serve as a veneer for an otherwise unsolved mystery. Of course, she had never admitted these feelings to anyone, save Janus.
Janus! I nearly forgot! How could I..!
Schala ran back inside and quickly undressed herself, bathed, and donned one of the simple gowns she always wore. Unlike her mother, she was a fairly modest dresser and was not given to wearing elaborate costumes and extensive amounts of makeup. She had even abolished the practice of dying the royal family's hair blue, for she found the process more of hassle than anything. Only Janus still continued to do so, which struck Schala as being odd, for Janus had no great love of his status as a member of the royal family. After exiting her room and questioning the guards as to whether or not they had seen her brother nearby, Schala began making her way downstairs towards the main hall when she found who she was looking for.
"Janus! I'm terribly sorry I forgot about your request last night. I got too carried away in my dreams and failed to meet you as planned! Please forgive me, dear brother!"
Janus bowed his head in acknowledgement and replied slowly. "No need to ask forgiveness, sister. The Queen of Zeal is bound to no schedule but her own. My thoughts can wait for another time."
Schala sighed. "Perhaps you are right. However, I still regret making you wait without good cause."
"You said you were dreaming, correct? What better cause could there be?"
"It wasn't anything profound, I assure you. I was merely considering something I had discussed with Belthasar several years ago."
Janus took a deep breath and rubbed his chin. "Belthasar - now there's a person I haven't heard of in some time; or for that matter, any of the Gurus." A smile ran across the azure-haired Zealian's face.
Schala bowed her head, slightly confused why her brother was smiling. "Yes.... their disappearance still makes little sense. I still wonder what became of them. I wonder if one of Belthasar's experiments got the best of them. All I know is that I sorely miss their advice."
"I doubt it. Melchior always was the cautious one. He'd never have joined Belthasar and Gaspar on some far-fetched adventure. I don't believe we'll ever know what became of them." Janus' voice trailed off and his tone assumed a more matter-of-factly one. "I suspect that they simply found somewhere away from the ongoings of Zeal and spent the last of their days enjoying a slower-paced life."
"Gaspar never did seem to enjoy the public eye always being upon him." Schala nodded her head slowly for a moment and then let out a tiny burst of laughter. "Come on, tell me where they went! I know you know what has become of the Gurus!"
Janus denied his sister's plea. "Sorry, dear sister. I swore an oath, one I plan to uphold. Their request was clear - they do not wish to be disturbed by anyone, even the Queen of Zeal herself."
Content to leave the issue as it stood, the two continued walking down the spiral staircase that led down from the royal bedrooms to the palace's main hall. Just before Janus reached to open the door for his sister, Schala gently touched his hand and looked into his eyes.
"What is it, sister?"
Schala took a few deep breaths before beginning, looking her brother over. Before her stood one of the most majestic figures Zeal had ever known. Although he had been shunned by the enlightened society, even the staunchest adherent to the ways of magic could not deny that the virtually powerless progeny of the prior Queen was a handsome man indeed. Janus was tall and broad-shouldered, his neck gracefully holding high the angular face from which his long locks extended from. Although his hair was naturally black in colour, Janus kept it dyed sky blue as royal custom dictated. However, what amazed many was the fact that the azure colour of his hair was the exact same colour found when they gazed into his eyes. The number of young women who had been tempted upon staring into them to forget their fathers' advice that a man powerful in the ways of magic made for the best husband was beyond human capacity to count. On top of his superior physical demeanor, Janus was also a superb dresser. Unlike Schala, he was not afraid for his choice of clothing to reveal his status in the kingdom. On any given day, one could expect to the see the prince wandering about the palace halls arrayed in a simple, immaculate white shirt, over which he wore a navy vest fastened together by gold buttons. Rounding out his costume was a pair of matching navy pants and a plum-coloured cape that curled around his shoulders and extended just past his knees. Janus was a truly impressive sight to behold.
"Dear brother, do you ever fear that you will not be prepared when your time comes?"
"I will know when my time is at hand. The Black Wind shall tell me, and that will be all the time I need to prepare."
Schala turned away and took several steps towards a window. She had just run into what had repulsed most Zealians about her brother, in spite of his handsome appearance. Janus closed his eyes and began to continue, even though he knew his sister was not pleased with his response. Schala did not allow him to continue onward.
"Brother, you're so cold. I often wonder why, but I never can seem to figure out that mystery. Even though I feel a special bond with you, I never have been able to comprehend your thought process. You seem to care little for what the rest of Zeal thinks of you, as if you cared only for yourself."
Janus began to speak up, but forced down what he wanted to initially say, returning to the issue at hand. "Why do you ask such a question?"
Schala continued to stare out the window into the clear skies beyond. "I thought of mother and father... No one could have foreseen the tragedies that befell them."
"There is nothing you can do to change the past. There is no reason to mourn what cannot be changed. If you continue..."
"Oh stop it! You speak so matter-of-factly, yet I know even you continue to hold onto the past as if you could change it. I do not think that is what you truly believe."
Janus turned away so that both their backs were facing each other. "Come Schala, there are important matters that you must attend to."
"Its not just the past that troubles me, but the future as well. I fear that in my efforts to ease the woes of Zeal, I have neglected the well-being of my children."
Janus looked back over his shoulder. "Perhaps this is best saved for another time."
Schala turned around to face her brother. "You are right. There are important matters I must attend to. Let us be on our way."
The duo's destination was the throne room of Zeal Palace. Shaped in a giant arc, the room was built in the same fashion virtually all public buildings in the kingdom were. The walls of the royal chamber were coated in a gold varnish and its floor was crafted out of the same obsidian-coloured marble with cream-coloured swirls that all Zealians were familiar with. What set the throne room apart from all other public structures were its two most striking features. The first was the parabola-shaped set of windows that consumed most of the room's wall space. The throne room was constructed in the shape of a semi-circle and the centre hundred and twenty degrees of it provided for one of the most spectacular views in all of Zeal. Separating the windows every twenty degrees was a column coated in the same gold varnish the solid walls were. Attached to these columns were enormous cherry-coloured drapes that took several men to raise back once they were lowered. The second feature, unquestionably the most marvelous one of the two, was the throne of Zeal itself. Appearing more like an altar than a chair, the throne was elevated several feet by three statues of winged goddesses. Each of the goddesses had several pairs of wings which curved out and around the seat they held up, much like how a flower's petals blossom out from around its stem. A narrow set of stairs led up to the royal seat, which was shaped like a papasan and furnished with pillows woven from the softest silks and cloth Zeal had to offer. The throne itself was crafted entirely out of gold and was adorned by countless numbers of precious gems and dreamstones.
The two siblings entered the main hall and made their way to the throne room where several Zealian dignitaries were waiting. Unlike many others with positions of power, Schala preferred to do away with what she saw as unnecessary gestures and grandiose displays of flattery. No one bowed or dropped to their knees when she passed by; a simple nod of the head was ample respect. Once Schala had seated herself on the throne, one of the dignitaries approached her. Before recognizing the elderly man, she took one last glance at Janus, who had assumed his position nearby against of the chamber's columns. While he held no official rank in the Kingdom outside of being a member of the royal family, Schala insisted that he remain present at all official meetings, for she treasured Janus' advice over all others.
"Your majesty, many of your subjects have petitioned to meet with you. We have selected those whose issues are most pressing to speak in front of you today. We apologize in advance if you find our selections unworthy of your time."
"Very well. I will hear those whom you have chosen."
The elderly man bowed his head and returned to his post while motioning for one of his attendees to bring in the first citizen on the agenda. Into the throne room walked a young man dressed in the white and blue robes that only Zeal's brightest scholars wore. The orange scarf he wore around his neck indicated that he had overseen and conducted research that had been deemed noteworthy by the Council of Metaphysics.
The elderly dignitary spoke up in a deep voice that one observing at him would not have thought he would have possessed. "Queen Schala! Your humble subject Methuselah wishes to address you!"
Methuselah approached the throne and dropped to one knee. Schala motioned for him to rise and the young scholar began to speak. "I understand your time is short and you have many other subjects you wish to hear, many other matters you surely find more pressing. But I ask that you please consider what I have to say, for it is an issue that concerns us all!"
The Queen snuck a glance at her brother, curious as to what extent he was paying attention, before nodding at the young man. "Go on."
"Thank you, your majesty." Methuselah blushed and turned aside to the throne room's windows, which spanned the entire height of the wall. The room presented those inside with a magnificent view of Zeal, a view only outclassed by the one from the balcony outside Schala's bedroom. "You must forgive me, your majesty. I do not mean to flatter you, but to find a woman of your years in possession of such beauty is a rare discovery."
Schala grinned. "As you were saying... My appearance is hardly an issue that the entire kingdom needs to be concerned about."
"Indeed, I must apologize. Queen Schala, it is no secret among the learned that the Eastern Continents of Zeal have sunk two feet in relation to the rest of Zeal in the past year. There is no question what this drift is a result of. The energy of the Sun Stone is beginning to wane." Methuselah turned back toward the throne to face Schala directly once more. "For ages it has been the primary source of power for our great kingdom. As hard as we have tried, no substance, no spell, no workings of magic have come anywhere close to generating the power of the Sun Stone. And who could blame us for our failures? After all, the stone's power is not of this world, but rather from a body far away."
Methuselah stopped and took a deep breath. "My Queen, as the Sun Stone's power fades, Zeal will fade with it. Already we are seeing signs of the fate that awaits us. If we do not find a new source of power, Zeal will fall from the sky and become a kingdom of eternal slumber! And I assure you, this will not be the kind of slumber were we may dream peacefully!"
The elderly dignitaries mumbled to each other as Schala gazed intently upon the young man. "Very well, young Methuselah. I assume you are here because you believe you have found a solution to this problem?"
The scholar smiled. "Yes, your majesty. And while I have not been the first to research this new source of power, I believe I am the first who has learned to properly harness it!" Methuselah looked out upon Zeal through the windows once more. "I have little doubt that you have heard of the creature known as Lavos?"
A murmur ran through the room at the very mention of the name. Schala was slow to respond. "Yes Methuselah, I have heard of Lavos."
"And you are aware of the Mammon project begun by your mother?"
"I am indeed. I cancelled it shortly after I began my reign."
"Then your hesitance to address the subject is understandable. When humanity first laid eyes on the Sun Stone, we were fearful to touch it lest it reduce us all to ashes. But in time, our needs forced us to overcome our fear. Queen Schala, I believe our present needs are now compelling us to face the power of Lavos!"
Schala paused and began to reply when she noticed Janus adjust his position out of the corner of her eye. "Janus, do you have anything to say?"
"Then please, your counsel is always desired."
Several of the dignitaries muttered underneath their breaths, each of them secretly furious at the Queen's unparalleled level of trust in her brother. Janus stepped away from the column and stood in front of Methuselah, looking straight into his eyes. For three minutes, he said nothing.
The prince turned back to the Queen, looked back at the scholar once more, than spoke. "Perhaps this man is right. The sun has begun to set on the Kingdom of Zeal and its people. Lavos may be the power we seek, but this man is not the one who should lead the search." Methuselah tried to speak up, but Janus continued on. "I do not see the glory of Zeal in those eyes, only his own."
Janus returned to his column and said nothing more. Methuselah, stunned by the prince's statement, was searching for a suitable response, but nothing came but fragments of objections. Finally, Schala spoke. "Perhaps Janus was too hasty in his judgment of you, Methuselah. However, I must ask you to stop your research and disregard all knowledge of Lavos. I do not expect this to be easy for you, but I cannot allow the kingdom to be placed at risk. We know little of Lavos or what its intentions may be or what powers it may hold.
"This is not a judgment against your character. I hope to see more brilliant research from you and your peers in the future."
"I- You..." The scholar stammered.
"Please, Methuselah - that is all."
Methuselah signed deeply and bowed once more. "Yes, your majesty.... I will see to it that the Mammon project is destroyed. I will send a report to the Council of Metaphysics once your will has been accomplished." Frustrated, the scholar left the throne room as one of the dignitaries brought in another subject. Methuselah maintained a straight face until he had left Zeal Palace and traveled through the gateways back to the plateau on which Kajar rested. The scholar took a few steps away from the orange beam of light and then yelled as he quickly picked up a rock and threw it as hard as he could back at the gateway. The rock passed into the gateway and disappeared from sight. Methuselah found a few more rocks and kicked them about before throwing himself to the ground.
"Ridiculous.... utterly ridiculous! The potential to truly gain immortality ruined by a timid old hag! And the nerve of that Janus to soil my name like that! If I ever had the chance, I'd... I'd... I'd grab him by the throat and.- and!"
Methuselah grabbed another rock, stood back up, and threw it at the gateway once more.
"Yeeaah! I'd tear him to pieces!"
The scholar stared at the beam for a few minutes before realizing that he was breathing heavily and had broken into a mild sweat. Methuselah wiped his face with his sleeve and looked up into the mountains at Zeal Palace. "No need to worry. I refuse to let immortality pass through my fingers! Without the might of Lavos, this kingdom will fall into the sea and all our hopes and dreams will drown with it. If you do not wish to embrace immortality then I will let death claim you, Schala. One of your peers will be more than willing to rise to the occasion, and when they do, all of Zeal will see the brilliance of my work!"
A sinister grin ran across Methuselah's face as he walked away from the palace and began his trek back to his laboratory in Kajar.