Chapter 2: Water Under the Bridge
The morning crept through the window and into the small, modest room attached to the doctor's house. The scent of the fresh dew wafted in on a gentle breeze. Birds landed on a tree branch nearby and began a happy melody. A solitary ray of sunlight traveled slowly along the floor, then up the side of the small, wooden bedframe, and finally stopped on the closed eyes of the slumbering gardener.
Lou groaned with irritation and rolled over onto his face, hoping to get another hour of sleep before he began his day off. He had been tossing and turning all night; the memories of Lucca's conversation, the mysterious man named Lynx, and the vanishing fire haunted him. His rest had been dreamless and uneasy. He hoped that another hour or two of rest might ease his tension.
His hopes were dashed when the wooden door that led outside resounded with three loud bangs; somebody wanted to see him. Crossly, he rolled off of his bed and ambled over, yanking the door open quickly to demonstrate his crankiness. "Yeah? What?" he asked.
His answer was a wry chuckle. "Too early, huh?" Lucca's voice asked. "Sorry about that."
Lou rubbed his eyes and looked again. Sure enough, Lucca stood in front of him, a small pack on her back and a gun in her belt. He scratched at his five o' clock shadow. "...Are you going somewhere?" he asked.
"Yeah, I am," she answered, producing another backpack and shoving it at him, "...and you're coming, too!"
Lou blinked a few times, then gave her a puzzled look. "Why?" he asked.
Lucca huffed crossly. "Why does everyone always ask that?" she grumbled. "I can never get anyone to do anything without being asked why!"
"Well, I thought that was common courtesy..." Lou replied.
Lucca sighed and shook her head. "Oh, fine," she surrendered. "I've been called to Guardia Castle, and I want you to come with me."
Lou's eyes widened. "Guardia Castle? The King's castle!" he repeated. "Wow... That's pretty neat!..."
"Well, I, uh, know some people," Lucca replied, scratching her head. "Anyway, I'd like you to come along so we can tell them about what happened."
"...About Lynx and the fire?" Lou asked.
Lucca nodded."I was up a while last night, and I started wondering about it..." she said. "...Anyway, my friends at the castle need to know, and you should come."
Lou hesitated, still puzzled. "But why?" he asked. "Why would they be interested in me? I'm just a gardener."
"Yeah, a gardener that kicks some serious arse!" Lucca retorted cheerfully. "Since you helped get rid of Lynx, I thought you should talk to them, too. Besides, it'll be fun to make some new friends!"
Lou scratched his chin again. Guardia Castle! What an honor for a simple, amnesiac gardener to receive! He certainly could not turn it down... and he was also curious about what Lucca might have thought about the previous night's events.
"All right..." he finally replied. "Just let me shave and I'll be right out."
Lou turned to go into his little washroom when Lucca chuckled again. "...What is it?" he asked, turning around.
Lucca laughed again and pointed. "You might wanna comb, too, bedhead," she snickered.
Lou reached up and felt a high-rising wad of hair in the center of his scalp. He reddened and walked into the washroom, muttering crossly.
When everything was in order, Lou and Lucca set out for the immense Guardia Castle. Lou had never been in that direction, but he knew where it was; it sat atop a high hill just west of Truce, surrounded by a large, lush forest. Every day when he stepped out of his abode, he would see its bright blue turrets shining in the morning sun, and the bold Guardia flag flapping in the morning breeze.
"It's huge," he commented as they walked, planting his shovel's blade in the dirt every few steps like a walking stick. "What's the inside like?"
"It's very nice," Lucca answered. "The floors have the brightest red carpets I've ever seen, and the torches on the walls are always burning bright... It's not a stuffy, defense-minded castle; it's a real amazing piece of architecture! And..." she paused and looked at him oddly. "...Why did you bring your shovel?"
Lou paused, seemingly confused. Just then, he noticed the wooden tool. "Oh..." he said, chuckling embarrassedly. "I guess it was just a habit. Whenever I leave the house, I'm going to garden. Funny, huh?"
Lucca chuckled again. "Yeah, I guess... Ah, well. Maybe Lynx left some hair or blood or something on there that we can use to learn more."
They were passing through the shady cover of Guardia Forest by this time. Lou adjusted the backpack that Lucca had saddled him with. "What's in here, anyway?" he asked.
"Lunch," Lucca replied. "When you meet my friends, maybe we'll all go on a picnic or something! Gotta be prepared, right?"
"Uh... Right," Lou said, opening the bag and looking inside; there were a few sandwiches and a thermos, but there were also several glass bottles of strange-looking blue and green syrupy liquids. "What are these?" he asked, holding one up.
"Those? Tonics and Ethers," Lucca answered. "We'll use them if any monsters attack us."
Lou stopped dead in his tracks. "Monsters!" he repeated crossly.
"Yeah, the forest has a lot of monsters," Lucca said. "Didn't you know that?"
Suddenly, there was a loud growl behind them. They turned around just in time to leap out of the way as three four-legged creatures dashed past them and stopped. They had large mushrooms growing from their backs, and they looked mean. They were Hetake, fungus-like beings that roamed the woods in large numbers.
Lou gritted his teeth and clutched his shovel tightly. "I do NOW..." he grumbled.
Lucca gave a sheepish laugh and pulled out her gun. "Well, just take 'em out like you did with Lynx!" she replied.
"That was a freak accident..." Lou groaned.
With a nasty roar, the first Hetake ran up and landed on Lou, knocking him to the ground. The gardener panted with fear as he tried to force the drooling menace off of him. It snarled and bellowed, furiously trying to get at his throat with its surprisingly sharp-looking teeth.
"Don't worry about killing 'em!" Lucca advised, aiming at another Hetake and firing. The creature exploded, sending slimy fungus spattering across the grass. "More of 'em grow back anyway!"
After the slightly gorey reassurance, Lou strained and jerked hard to the right. The monster rolled off of him and landed belly-up and helpless. Lou swung his shovel and knocked it into a tree, where it splattered into nothingness.
"Yeah, that's the way!" Lucca chuckled, firing at the last monster.
Suddenly, the Hetake rolled away, dodged the shot and flung itself at Lucca. Totally surprised, she gave a yelp as it knocked her onto the ground. With a fierce growl, its tongue lashed in her face, trying to see just what the bespectacled girl tasted like.
"Hey, you, leave her alone!" Lou huffed, running up and kicking at the monster. It angrily fell off and skittered into the bushes.
Lucca sat up and wiped her face off with her sleeve. "Ugh..." she groaned. "That's not something I'd want to repeat... Thanks."
Lou grinned a bit. "Heh... I guess I'm not so unskilled after all," he admitted.
With a loud yell, the remaining Hetake dropped out of a tree and onto his head. He screamed and ran around frantically, trying to knock it off with his shovel but instead hitting himself in the face. "GET IT OFF!" he yelled.
Lucca sighed, raised her gun and blasted it without another thought. Lou stood motionless, staring at the smoking barrel almost at point blank range, the gunk that had been the monster dripping off of his hat.
"...OK, enough of that," she said, holstering her gun and walking on. "Come on!"
Lou stood in shock for a few moments more, then slowly started after her, wiping the goo off of his hat.
A few moments later, the path opened up and they left the forest. Before them was an immense set of stone steps leading up a high hill to the immense Guardia Castle. It towered above the woods, casting its shadow over the two adventurers. The Guardia flag seemed to glow even more brightly in the sunlight.
Lou stood gazing at the structure in awe. "Wow... and I thought it looked big from my place," he commented.
"Yeah, it's a real beaut," Lucca replied, starting up the stairs. "Come on, we're expected."
Not sure what to make of it, Lou just nodded and started up after her. As they climbed the steep stairway, his mind raced with questions: Why had Lucca been called here? What important did she have to the King? And why did she want him to come? Once again, he sighed and shrugged them off. It was probably beyond him; after all, he was just that gardener. Well, the gardener who had gone one-on-one with a mysterious demi-human and lived, anyway.
Lou looked up and noticed that several men in blue uniforms were headed their way. They weren't armed, but they strode with an authoritative step, and their looks of suspicion made him nervous. "Uh, Lucca..." he started, "aren't those guards?"
Lucca looked. "Yeah, they are," she said, stopping and grinning. "Don't worry; once they see you're with Lucca The Great, there won't be a problem!"
"Lucca the...?" Lou started.
"Halt," a soldier said as they came into speaking range. "Who goes there?"
Lucca gave a mock salute. "Just Lucca, fellas," she said. "The King sent for me."
One soldier, apparently the leader, looked at her for a moment, then nodded. "Ah, yes," he said. "The King is waiting in the audience chamber, Miss Ashtear."
Lucca nodded and she started past the guards. Lou began to follow when suddenly they all reached out and grabbed him. With a yell his head hit the pavement as they pinned him to the stairs.
"And what business do YOU have in the castle!" one soldier huffed. "Get lost, kid!"
"Hey, come on!" Lou panted, trying not to struggle for fear of even worse. "I'm just a gardener!"
Lucca, suddenly turned around in a panic. "Woah, woah!" she called to the soldiers. "Lay off! He's with me!"
The soldiers hesitated, and looked at her. "Oh?" the leader asked.
"Yes," Lucca said. "I'm sorry, I forgot to tell you! His name is Lou Soffer; he's a friend of mine."
"Lou Soffer?" the leader asked, then turned to the others. "Let him go," he ordered.
The guards' grips eased and Lou heaved a relieved sigh. He scrambled to his feet, picked up his fedora and ran to Lucca's side.
"I'm terribly sorry, sir... and Miss Lucca," the leader apologized. "We have to be extra careful nowadays, what with Porre growing unpredictable and all..."
"D-don't worry about it," Lou stammered, still rattled.
"We'll be going after we talk to the King," Lucca said. "See you guys later!"
They walked up the rest of the stairs and into the massive castle's opening hallway. It was just as Lucca had described; the floors were coated with velvet red carpeting, and every piece of wooden upholstry shined in the candlelight. Lucca pointed towards another guarded door and they kept walking.
"That was a mess... Are you OK?" she asked.
"Yeah, I guess... aside from my blood pressure, anyway," Lou replied, trying to make a joke. Lucca smiled faintly and then pushed the next door open.
They walked into the large reception hall. The entrance had been ritzy, but Lou thought that this room had to be the physical manifestation of royalty. The walls were hung with beautiful oil paintings of past rulers and pretty nature scenes, and the floor's red carpets were perfectly symmetrical.
Sitting atop one of two golden thrones at the far end of the room was the aged monarch, King Guardia XXXIII, his white, frizzy hair spouting out from under his jewel-encrusted crown. Beside him stood a young man about Lou's age with red, spikey hair and fierce eyes. He wore a blue tunic with a long katana hilt attached to his belt. The two seemed to be conversing about something, but they were so quiet that neither Lou nor Lucca could hear.
Lucca stepped forward and bowed, motioning for Lou to do the same. "Your Highness!" she announced.
The two men turned and looked. King Guardia seemed to be smiling warmly, but Lou couldn't exactly tell because of his massive, drooping moustache. The red-haired man also smiled, his fierce eyes becoming kind and welcoming. Neither of them seemed as rigid as the guards outside, and that put Lou at ease.
"Lucca!" the red-haired boy said happily.
"Ah, Miss Lucca," King Guardia said cheerfully. "How nice to see you again."
"The feeling's mutual, your Highness," Lucca replied. "I understand you sent for me?"
"Yes, I..." King Guardia began, but then noticed Lou, who hadn't moved from his bowed stance. "...Oh, have you brought company?" he asked.
Lucca glanced behind her, chuckled nervously and tapped Lou on the back. "This is Lou Soffer," she explained. "He's my dad's gardener, and a friend of mine. He's one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you..."
"Soffer...?" the King asked. "Ah, he's the boy from a year ago, the one without any memories..."
"Err, yes, sir," Lou replied, not knowing what else to say.
"You don't have to be so stiff, Mister Soffer," the King said as the man and he approached. "Any friend of Lucca's is welcome in this castle... Oh, I should introduce you..." He motioned to the red-haired boy. "This is Crono, the captain of the guard and my son-in-law."
"Oh... Hello," Lou ventured, extending his hand.
Crono took it and shook it warmly. "Great to meet you," he said, then turned and gave Lucca a big hug. "Lucca! I haven't seen you in a year! What've you been doing all this time!" he asked.
Lucca went red, scratched the back of her head and looked at the ceiling, then turned back to him with a wry grin. "Oh, the same old," she replied. "Building stuff, breaking other stuff... Nothing new, really..."
Lou glanced between Crono and Lucca; judging by that hug, they were definitely friends. Still, there was an awkwardness that he couldn't quite put his finger on. "Err..." he started. "So, Lucca was called here...?"
"Oh! Oh, yes," King Guardia said with a sigh, then turned and looked at one of the paintings. "Miss Lucca, you know we have a troubling situation on our hands..."
"I know of a few, your Highness," Lucca replied, "but I'm guessing you mean Porre?"
"Yeah," Crono replied, frowning and nodding. "First the country suddenly became militaristic, and now it's even becoming violent... They captured a Medina-bound ferry the other day, saying that it was harboring suspected criminals..."
"I do not know what has come over them!" King Guardia sighed. "Ever since their new leader, Lord Cromwell, came to power, they have become a possible threat to our own kingdom..."
Lucca shook her head. "I wish I knew why they became so powerful..." she admitted.
"I've been wondering that, too," Crono said, "but right now we have to worry about what it's going to do."
"As a gesture of good faith, my daughter, Princess Nadia, went to Porre to meet with Lord Cromwell," Guardia went on. "However, that was three days ago, and we haven't heard from her..."
"It only takes a day on foot to get to the border, Zenan Bridge, and another to reach Porre's city," Crono said with a frown. "Usually when she reaches her destination, she sends us a carrier pigeon... but so far, nothing..."
Lucca looked concerned. "You don't think something happened, do you?" she asked.
"That's where you come in," King Guardia said. "We need you to travel to Porre and confirm her whereabouts... and rescue her if need be."
Lou's eyes widened. The King and Crono wanted to send Lucca into a place that they had just said was practically a war zone! She could be hurt... or worse.
Lucca frowned and scratched her head, obviously thinking the same thing. "Why me?" she asked. "Couldn't you send some soldiers, or another diplomat?"
"Porre prides itself on its high-tech weapons," Crono explained. "Maybe if Guardia's most prominent young engineer went to speak with them, they would listen..."
Lucca, not giving in to the flattery, shook her head. "That's a pretty long shot, even for you," she grumbled. "Why don't YOU go? She's YOUR wife, isn't she?"
Crono sighed. "I want to, but the King wants me here to plan a defense force in case Porre decides to add Guardia to its territory," he said. "I'm sorry... We called you because we had no one else to turn to."
Lucca gave a cross sigh. "You don't see me for a year, and this is the first thing you want me to do?" she grumbled. "Yeah, that's really nice..."
She frowned and stared at the ground for a while, an uncomfortable silence filling the room. Finally, Lou could not bear it any more. "Lucca..." he started, "is she a friend of yours?"
Lucca looked at him strangely. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"The King's daughter," Lou said. "You said you had friends here... If she's one of them, I think you should go and help her. That's what friends do, after all... right?"
Lucca blinked a few times, taking in his words. Her mind drifted back to the night before, when she had almost lost her life to that Lynx character... Lou had heard her scream and had come charging in without any regard for his own safety. She chewed this over with a thoughtful murmuring noise for a few moments.
"If you don't want to, that's OK, too," Crono admitted, sheepishly putting his hands in his pockets. "I guess it was a long shot... We'll just-"
"No," Lucca cut him off, looking at the King and nodding, "I'll go and look into it."
King Guardia looked surprised, but pleased. "You will!" he asked. "Oh, thank you, Miss Lucca!"
Lucca shook her head and gave a wry smile. "What can I say? I like you guys. Still, I have two conditions..."
Crono raised an eyebrow. "Conditions? What?" he asked.
Lucca slapped Lou on the back, making him jump forward. "Firstly, he's coming with me," she said. "He'll need a passport or something, since he's never been out of the country."
"Wait, WHAT!" Lou exclaimed, reeling around.
"Of course," King Guardia said. "I'll have one made up right away."
"Secondly," Lucca went on, still motioning to Lou, "when we get back, he has some important stuff to tell you, so you have to listen."
"OK," Crono agreed. "Thanks a million, Lucca! I knew you'd help us out!"
Lucca gave a mischevious laugh. "Don't I always?" she asked. "OK, we'll just wait outside until that passport's done! C'mon, Lou."
Flabbergasted by what had just happened, Lou simply let Lucca grab his arm and lead him out of the chamber. They walked to the entrance and Lucca leaned against the wall. "Well, nothing to do now but wait," she said.
Lou, finally able to form words again, turned on her angrily. "Me! Go THERE!" he exploded.
"Sure!" Lucca said, grinning widely. "Why not?"
"Why NOT!" Lou objected, cringing furiously. "I... I can't go on a rescue mission! I'm just a gardener! I don't fight; I tend plants and fix old sheds! You need soldiers or people who can fight, not a freaking GARDENER!"
"You fought pretty well last night," she countered.
"I was trying to protect you guys!" he huffed. "I can't do that automatically! Look at those Hetakes in the forest! They creamed me!"
"One landed on your stomach, and you killed it. The other landed on your face and I killed it," she replied. "That's hardly getting creamed."
"I... Ugh... Well, why did you volunteer me for this!" he asked.
"Easy," Lucca said. "Because you're my friend."
Lou paused, but was still irked. "What does that have to do with anything?" he asked.
"You said that if someone was a friend, you should help 'em," Lucca said. "Sooo... I'm your friend, and I'm going to Porre, so you should help me. See? I'm just going by what you said. It's perfectly logical."
Lou opened his mouth to retort, but found that he did not have one; she was absolutely right. He didn't want to see her get hurt; like it or not, he was going along. He didn't pretend to enjoy it, though. He grumbled and folded his arms. "Ugh... I hate logic," he muttered.
Lucca laughed. "Yep. That's why I use it!" she replied.
With all of their equipment ready and with passports from the King, Lou and Lucca left the castle for Porre. They passed through Guardia Forest again, but this time the Hetake knew to give them a wide berth; contrary to popular belief, monsters do not run into adventurers looking to be reduced to lumps of carbon.
Once out of the woods, the two friends met the road leading back to Truce. "So, which way do we go?" Lou asked, adjusting his backpack.
"I told you, we're going south," Lucca replied, pointing towards a long stretch of green with water on both sides. "This peninsula is what Zenan Bridge is connected to. Once we're over that bridge, we keep going south until we reach the city of Porre."
Lou nodded slowly, and they started walking. "Well, you lead the way," he sighed. "I get all mixed up on the road..."
Lucca raised an eyebrow. "You've never been outside of town," she corrected him.
"That isn't true!" Lou objected. "I found my way INTO town... I didn't just appear there!"
"You didn't?" she asked. "Then where were you before?"
Lou sighed and scratched his head. "I don't remember, exactly..." he admitted. "All I remember is walking through a dark place... and then I came out, and there was water everywhere... Then I must have found a boat or swam or something, because the next thing I knew, I was in the middle of town."
Lucca adjusted her glasses. "Huh... You've never mentioned that before," she remarked.
Lou shrugged. "I didn't think it was important," he replied.
"Of course it's important!" Lucca said. "It could be what we need to figure out where you came from!"
"But I told you, I don't really care about that," he answered. "I'd rather think about what I'm doing right here and now... That's what's important." He shot a cross glance at her. "...For example, I'd rather think about how I'm going to get through this and live."
"Hey, I said I was sorry for volunteering you," Lucca groused. "Anyway, what's done is done. Let's focus on finding the princess. That way you can tell her about what happened."
Lou was confused. "How does the princess of Guardia relate to that Lynx guy?" he asked.
"Well..." Lucca hemmed, trying to find an easy way to explain how, five years before, Crono, the princess and she had traveled across aeons and aeons of history to stop a gigantic, parasitic alien from destroying the future. She sighed and shook her head. "Let's just say that we went back a ways..." she said. "Anyway, she'll be interested in hearing about it. So will Crono."
"Aha..." Lou said, not seeming to need any other explanation. "Yeah, that Crono fellow seemed like a nice guy. You two are pretty chummy, huh?"
"Errr..." Lucca mumbled, fumbling with her glasses. "We grew up together. That's all... You know how that is."
Lou gave her an annoyed look.
"OK, fine, you don't," she quickly said. "The point is that he'll know what to do about it. Now let's hurry up and get to Porre!" She adjusted her backpack and marched ahead down the road, Lou following quickly behind.
With only resting every so often, they continued down the road until the sun floated blood-red on the surface of the western sea. They had come to the end of Guardia's land. The grass slowly gave way to sand and dived beneath a clean, blue ocean. Across the waves, stretching on seemlingly forever was a wide, sturdy-looking wooden bridge. The Guardia flag flapped gently from its left edge. It looked friendly and inviting, even in the fading evening light.
"Zenan Bridge?" Lou asked.
"Yep," Lucca replied. "The gateway to Porre. Guardia controls the bridge, though, so we can cross it without any problems. We'll have to give them our passports when we reach the other side, though."
Lou peered past the bridge, but he could not make out anything. "How long will it take to cross?" he asked.
"Not very long," Lucca replied. "Half an hour at a steady pace." She turned and looked at Lou. "We can set up camp after we cross it."
"OK, that's a good idea," Lou said, looking at the bridge. "Shall we get going, then?"
Lou had only put one foot on the first wooden plank when suddenly he felt something strange. He could not describe it, but he knew it was not good. He looked down at the bridge and his eyes widened; it seemed to be fading away! "What the!" he asked, jumping back onto the firm ground.
Lucca noticed it, too. "What's going on!" she exclaimed.
The friendly, wooden structure vanished altogether. Suddenly, in its place appeared a massive, metallic new bridge, complete with tall, imposing arches and spikes on the edges. To make matters worse, four nonhuman shapes were prowling around beneath the structures. It did not look at all friendly.
"Wha... What happened to the bridge!" Lou asked.
Lucca looked up and her eyes widened. "Look at that!" she exclaimed, pointing at the first arch.
Lou looked up. There was a flag flying on the bridge, but it was not the familiar dragon flag of Guardia; this flag was yellow and orange, with a ferocious, black lion in its center. "What the...?" he asked.
"That's Porre's flag!" Lucca said. "What happened!"
"The old bridge just vanished, and this popped up..." Lou said with a frown.
"OK, now I KNOW something's going wrong!" Lucca growled. "Lou, we HAVE to get to Porre, pronto!"
"What?" Lou asked. "Go across THIS!"
"Something's not right, and I need to find out what," Lucca growled, grabbing his arm and starting across. "Come on!"
Lou tried to object, but he realized that it would be useless with Lucca acting as she was. He sighed, pulled out his shovel and followed her.
They ran onto the metallic beams and started across the bridge, approaching the shapes that Lou had seen from the edge. Those shapes were in reality large men dressed in dark armor and holding maces. Their faces were covered by black helmets save for one central hole, where a single eye glowed.
"No Guardians're gettin' across THIS bridge!" one shouted in a deep, breathy voice. "Get 'em!"
"What the...?" Lou asked. "Are those soldiers?"
"No," Lucca growled. "They're monsters called Omnicrones! Look out; they have nasty swings!"
The four Omnicrones roared and charged at the duo, swinging their weapons violently. With a yell, Lucca pulled her gun and fired, hitting one in the chest and knocking it to its knees. Another came at Lou and swung. Lou hopped away and the mace embedded itself in the metal floor, leaving a small crater.
"Woah..." Lou panted as he saw the hole and tightened his grip on his shovel. "Lucca wasn't kidding!"
The monster roared again and came at him. Lou swung his shovel and deflected the next blow, then drove the Omnicrone back with a jab from the handle. He swung again, but the monster moved away and sent a powerful punch into his stomach. Wheezing for breath, Lou collapsed to the ground.
"Come on, Lou!" Lucca yelled, raising her gun and shooting a second Omnicrone in the arm. "You can do it!"
The Omnicrone laughed haughtily and raised its mace for the final blow. Lou looked up, gasped, and rolled away just as another crater appeared on the bridge. While the monster tried to dig his weapon out, Lou deperately raised his shovel and thrust its blade into its lone eye. The Omnicrone roared furiously, tumbled to the floor and vanished.
Lou stood there panting for a moment, then realized that there were three more to take care of. He looked over at Lucca, who was desperately fending off two of the beasts.
"Lucca!" he shouted. "The eyes! Hit the eyes!"
Lucca heard him and nodded. When the first Omnicrone charged at her, she jumped over its swing and fired right into its peeper, killing it instantly. The second roared furiously, ran in quickly and caught her in a bear hug. She gasped in pain as it squeezed her tightly.
Lou, horrified, grabbed his shovel and ran at the monster. "Let her go!" he yelled, raising the weapon.
Suddenly, the monster exploded into flames. Screaming, it dropped Lucca and tore across the bridge in blind panic, finally tumbling over the side and into the water below. Lucca got up and dusted herself off, not looking panicked in the least.
Lou stared at her dumbfoundedly. "What the...?" he asked.
"There's one left!" Lucca yelled, pointing further up the bridge. Lou gripped his shovel and turned.
The remaining Omnicrone took one look at the adventurers and ran in the other direction screaming.
Lucca lowered her gun and smiled. "Yeah, I thought not!" she cheered.
Lou was still amazed at what had happened to the third monster. "Lucca, that thing just... FOOM!..." he said, motioning with his hands. "How... What WAS that!"
Lucca blinked, then realized that Lou did not know what she had done. "Oh! I guess I should have said earlier..." she closed her eyes, then pointed at the Porre flag on one of the arches. "FIRE!" she shouted.
A burst of hot flame shot out of her hand and engulfed the flag, reducing it to ashes in seconds. Lou repeated his open-mouthed gape.
"I can use fire magic," Lucca explained. "It's a little trick I picked up a while ago."
Lou shook his head and laughed. "A... Amazing!" he managed. "Where did you learn that!"
Lucca did not hear his question; she was looking further down the bridge. "I'll explain later," she said. "Let's keep going. I want to get off of this bridge as quick as I can."
Lucca raced down the metal floor in the direction the Omnicrone had gone. Lou grabbed his backpack and ran after her. "Hey, quit leaving me behind!" he yelled after her.
The lone Omnicrone collapsed at the end of the bridge, panting and wheezing. "Those... Those kids... They're tough!..." it panted, getting to its feet and looking around for the road back to Porre. "Gotta... Gotta warn the General!"
Suddenly, a hot wind blew across the monster. A shadowy figure appeared on the path. The Omnicrone could not see much detail; the person had long, spikey hair and wore a flowing cloak.
"Perhaps you should deal with them now, before they reach this side," the figure said in a cold, masculine, impersonal voice.
"Wh... What!" the Omnicrone asked, growing nervous of this new person. "Who ARE you!"
"Relax," the figure said, raising an arm. "I come bearing a gift. Receive it now!"
Sparks started to shoot out of the Omnicrone's body and it began to transform. Its muscles grew tenfold and its armor shattered. Its helmet fell away to reveal a pulsing, veined eye and a mouth full of razor-sharp fangs. Its mace grew into a long, thorny club. Its agonized scream became a furious roar.
Lou and Lucca just happened to arrive on that side of the bridge at that moment. "Woah!" Lou gasped upon seeing the new creature. "What is THAT!"
Lucca's eyes narrowed. "That's a Troll," she growled. "I didn't know they were real..."
The shadowy figure gave a quiet laugh. "Finish them..." he said, then faded into the darkness.
"What! Who was that!" Lou asked, looking past the Troll.
Lucca shook her head. "There was someone there?" she asked. "I didn't see him!"
The Troll roared at them fusiously, effectively getting their attention. "Well, we can't worry about it now!" Lucca admitted, raising her gun.
"Right. First things first..." Lou gulped. "Even if the first thing's a 500-pound mutant monster!"
The Troll gave an angry roar and slammed its club on the bridge. The impact on the bridge was so strong that it knocked them both on their backs. When they sat up, there was a hole straight through the metal; the ocean water sloshed below.
"Woah!" Lou gulped. "This guy means business!"
"Yeah..." Lucca growled, loading her gun, "but so do we!"
The Troll advanced on Lou and raised its weapon for another strike. Lou jumped away as the club came down and struck the monster's arm with his shovel blade. Its skin was far stronger than it had been as an Omnicrone's, however, and only made the Troll angrier.
"Hey, ugly!" Lucca yelled, firing round after round into the Troll's neck. None of the bullets hurt it much; it just turned and went at Lucca with a swift kick. She took the blow in the shoulder and spun into the side of the bridge, almost falling off.
"Lucca!" Lou cried.
Lucca held onto the metal wall, wincing. "I'm OK!" she called back. "Get him!"
Lou frowned and looked back at the Troll. It snarled at him and swung its club again. Hoping to knock that weapon away from its owner, Lou stabbed his shovel at it; his blade stuck into the material and stayed there. The Troll swung the club around furiously, with Lou's shovel jutting from its edge, and Lou on the end of it, hanging on for dear life.
"Hold on, Lou!" Lucca yelled, pushing off of the bridge ledge and readying her gun again. She fired a shot into the Troll's arm to get his attention, and when he turned and roared at her, she fired at the tip of the shovel, dislodging it. Lou crashed to the floor with a yelp.
"Ohhh..." he groaned, rubbing his buttocks. "In hindsight, that wasn't a good idea..."
The Troll now was focused entirely on Lucca, stomping towards her with murder in its eye. She backed up, fishing a small, round object out of her pack. "Lou, get away from him!" she instructed. "This is gonna get hot!"
Lou, not knowing what else to do, scampered out from under the Troll's feet. As the monster lifted its weapon to strike, Lucca pitched the ball at it. It flashed, then engulfed the beast in a loud explosion and a thick coating of black smoke.
"Woah!" Lou exclaimed as Lucca ran over to him. "Was that fire magic?"
"No," Lucca replied with a grin. "Just your standard grenade. Blows any and all freakish mutant things to kingdom come."
Suddenly, the Troll's club came slamming down next to them, blowing them to the other side of the bridge. The Troll emerged without a scratch, even angrier than before.
"...You might want to get a refund on those..." Lou gulped.
"What! Impossible!" Lucca gasped. "I hit him dead on!"
Lou watched the Troll advance on them, his cyclopic eye boiling with rage. Just then, he thought of something he had not before: the monster only had one eye. The Omnicrones had only had one eye apiece, and that had been their weak points. Maybe it was the same for this monster?
The Troll was even closer now, his club raised to send them flying off of the bridge; anything was worth a shot. "The eye," he said to Lucca. "Hit him there!"
Lucca blinked a few times, then nodded. She raised her gun and fired straight at its eye. At the last minute, though, the Troll shut it and the bullet bounced off harmlessly.
"Dammit!" Lucca gulped.
"That's his weak point, all right," Lou growled, lifting his shovel. "Get ready to use some fire magic!"
Before Lucca could stop him, he rushed at the monster. The Troll snarled and grabbed him with his free hand, lifting him into the air. Lou strained, then freed his hand and his shovel.
"I'm not afraid of you!" he yelled, lifting the tool and hurling it at the Troll's eye. Sure enough, its massive eyelid snapped shut and the shovel was deflected. The Troll opened the eye again and laughed mockingly.
Lou grinned. "I wouldn't laugh," he said. "NOW!"
Lucca pointed at the Troll's eye. "FIRE!" she cried. A surge of flame flew up and dove straight into the monster's vision.
The beast howled, dropped Lou and staggered around the bridge, trying to re-open its eye, but it could not. Lou grabbed his shovel and grinned at Lucca. "Great!" he said. "You blinded him!"
The Troll heard Lou's voice and turned on him, the eyelid flying open to reveal the gruesome, melted remnants of what had once been an eyeball. With a cry, it ran at him.
"Leave us alone!" Lou shouted, throwing his shovel again. This time, the blade tore right into the beast's eye socket and burst out the other side. The Troll screamed, fell to its knees and then collapsed altogether, fading away to nothing.
Lucca holstered her gun and pumped her fist. "All RIGHT!" she laughed. "We did it!"
Lou picked his shovel off of the ground and smiled faintly. "Yeah... We did, didn't we...?" he asked.
Suddenly, the whole bridge began to shake, just as it had before. "Uh-oh..." Lucca gulped. "Let's beat it!"
Without further delay, both of them raced onto solid ground. The bridge fazed in and out, then vanished altogether. Suddenly, the familiar, wooden bridge that had been there before reappeared, the flag of Guardia flapping proudly in the night sky.
"Woah..." Lou gaped.
"A Porre bridge appeared, and when we defeated those guys, the Guardia bridge came back..." Lucca said, scratching her chin again. "This is getting really interesting..."
"Whew..." Lou panted, wiping the sweat off of his brow. "Well, we're safe; that's what's important. Should we set up camp for the night?"
Lucca nodded. "Yeah... I guess that's the important part, isn't it? Let's set up by those bushes over there."
Lou walked over and started emptying out his bag to find the tent. Lucca went to work starting a fire. "Hey, Lou?" she asked as she arranged the wood.
"Yeah?" he responded.
"I'm sorry for dragging you into this... but you did really good today," she went on. "You fought well, and you figured out how to beat that Troll... If you hadn't come, I would have been in the deep stuff." She turned around and smiled. "Thanks."
Lou looked up from the collapsed mess that should have been the tent. "Ugh... We don't have any pegs," he remarked.
Lucca paused, then scratched her head embarrassedly. "Ooh... I KNEW I forgot something..." she groaned.
Despite the situation, they laughed. Little did they know, however, that they were being watched from a distance.
"So, you're here..." the shadowy figure said, his cloak rustling gently in the night breeze. "Well... This is about to get much more interesting... We'll cross paths again, Lou Soffer... You can be sure of that."
He turned and disappeared into the night.