Chapter 3: The Mad Doctor
After a night's rest, Lou and Lucca were ready to head for the city of Porre. They had not walked far from their campsite when they came upon the border crossing that Crono had mentioned. Two cross-looking soldiers with long muskets manned a long stone wall and a tall, iron gate with spikes on its top.
"Well, here we are," Lucca said, fishing around in her pocket for her passport. "Get your passport out."
"I don't get it," Lou said as he produced his. "If Guardia and Porre are on the verge of war, why do they still let us go between 'em?"
"A lot of people in one country have family in the other," Lucca explained. "Guardia pushed for this, but it was a hard-won privilege."
They came to the gate and the guards glared at them. "Passports," one said gruffly, holding his hand out.
Lou and Lucca put their IDs into his hand and he looked at them with suspicion, exchanging mutters with the other guard. Finally, though, they seemed convinced. One of them whistled, and the gate swung open with a foreboding drawn-out creak.
"Go ahead, ma'am," the first soldier said, handing back the passports. "Keep on this road, and you'll reach Porre by sunset."
Lucca grinned at the soldier, trying to look cheery in his grim presence. "Thanks," she said. "Well, c'mon, Lou."
She walked through the gate and kept going down the road. Lou took another glance at the cross guards and quickly followed.
"Whew..." he said as he caught up with her. "No love lost there, huh?"
"Porre thinks it can boss everyone around because of its massive shipping organization," Lucca explained. "I don't know how they got it... It's almost like it happened overnight..."
"They used to be peaceful?" Lou asked.
"Very much," she replied. "What could have happened...?"
They walked for most of the day through the country. To Lou, the terrain looked just like Guardia's; it had rolling hills, plenty of grass, and the sun always seemed to shine. He scratched his head in confusion; how could such a peaceful-looking place be a war-hungry nation?
As they climbed a large hill, Lou asked just that of his companion. "How can these guys be violent? Their land seems so untouched and fertile..." he said.
Lucca paused, then turned around and pointed into the distance. "See that flat place near that mountain?" she asked.
Lou turned and looked; at the base of a far-off mountain, there was a long, rolling plain full of grass. It did not look very special to him. "What about it?" he asked.
"Four hundred years ago, that's where the town of Dorino was," she said, shaking her head. "Everybody says that it was destroyed in the war against the wizard Magus, but..."
Lou glanced at her. "You think Porre wiped it out?" he asked.
Lucca shrugged, but still looked grave. "I don't know... but I do know that Dorino was active and populated when the war with Magus ended..."
Lou looked at the field again and watched the wind blow a wave through the grass. A sharp chill ran down his spine.
"Yeah..." Lucca agreed, seeing him cringe, "it's not nice to think about."
They turned and walked over the hill, and a large, lush forest came into view. There was nothing to see but trees for miles.
"Well..." Lou reasoned, trying to calm his nerves after what Lucca had said, "at least they have an appreciation for plants... You know I like that." He chuckled nervously.
Lucca cracked a smile. "Yeah... This is Fiona's Woods, a national park," she said. "Four hundred years ago, it was all a desert, until Fiona came and... well... made it a forest."
"A desert into a forest?" Lou asked with a low whistle. "That's amazing! Now THAT'S a gardener for you."
"Well..." Lucca sighed, fumbling with her glasses again, "I'm sure she didn't do it alone... a big job like that... You'd need some help, I'm sure."
Lou shrugged. "Yeah, probably," he agreed. "Well, let's keep going, huh?"
They continued on down the hill and came to the edge of the forest, where they saw a disturbing sight; several hundred acres of the woods were now dead stumps, their trunks stacked on large, metal carts. Several men equipped with large saws and axes were hacking away at other trees, knocking them down with mighty crashes. The country was preparing for war, and the tree parts would make good weapons and ammo.
Lou sighed to see such old trees knocked down on a whim. He glanced at Lucca and was surprised; she seemed even more upset than he did. She stared in horror as a tree crashed to the ground and was hauled off. "Lucca?" he asked, poking her shoulder. "Are you OK?..."
Lucca stared for a moment more, then shook herself out of it. "Ugh... Sorry, Lou," she apologized. "It's just... I went camping in those woods before..."
"Ahhh," Lou said, nodding sadly. "You like those woods..."
Lucca stared for a moment more, then frowned and looked away. "Come on," she said. "We've got a military leader to see."
Lou watched her start off and sighed. He felt like Lucca was keeping a lot of things from him, as if she knew more than what the King had told them, and he hated being kept in the dark about things. Still, it would not do to bother her about it, and at least he was around if she wanted to tell him something. He shrugged it off as he usually did, and followed after her.
The journey across the rest of the continent was uneventful. Aside from a break for a lunch of turkey sandwiches, cookies, and water that Lucca's mother had prepared for them, they kept up a steady pace on the road. Though Lou sometimes talked about things, they mostly walked in silence. From Lucca's looks, Lou started to wonder just how serious this mission was.
As the sun grew low in the west, they turned a corner and saw their destination. Silhouetted against a red ocean was the massive city of Porre. It was entirely different from Truce; its buildings were taller than they were wide, and were made of metal that glistened coldly in the sunlight. The road leading into it was no longer dirt, but paved stone. Several large boats floated in the water, armed with large cannons on their fronts. Instead of the quaint, friendly aura that Lou was used to, the whole place looked cheerless and unwelcoming.
"So... This is Porre, huh?" Lou asked.
Lucca nodded solemnly. "Yeah..." she replied quietly, "I guess it is."
There was an unpleasant silence until Lou coughed. "So, uh, where are we going?" he asked.
Lucca took a sheet of paper from her pocket and read it over. Lou glanced over her shoulder and looked; it was a list of instructions that the king had scribbled down for them. "Lord Cromwell's office," she said. "We need to ask him where the princess is."
"Aha..." Lou replied, nodding, "and where would that be, exactly?"
Lucca checked the paper again, then pointed towards the tallest structure on the horizon. "That one," she said, "Porre Tower."
Lou shook his head in amusement. "Not too create on names, are they?" he asked.
They headed into the heart of the town. Because it was almost night, there were not many people about. The only folks that could be seen were soldiers on the night watch and a few stray pedestrians coming home from work. The first thing that Lou noticed was how solemn everyone looked; there was not one smile among them, nor any conversation between them. It was not an unfriendly silence, but a tense one, as if everyone was afraid of something.
Lucca pointed him towards the massive Porre Tower and his eyes widened in amazement. The skyscraper was even more imposing when he stood directly beneath it; with its drab gray hue and dimly-lit windows, it loomed over them with the authority of a disdainful parent.
"Wow," he said. "They sure know how to build stuff here!"
Lucca frowned at the building. "Yeah... they do," she agreed quietly. "Well, let's go in..."
A lone guard stood before the tower doors... or rather, a child wearing the colors of the Porre Military stood before the tower doors. He stood erect, his short, blonde hair neatly combed over one of his cold, blue eyes. A gun belt too big for him was loosly draped around his waist. He noticed the two approaching and held his hand up. "Hold on, you two," he said in a voice that had not been affected by puberty yet. "Where do you think you're going?"
Lucca looked at the boy and raised an eyebrow. "A kid?" she asked. "A kid is doing guard duty? Is this for real?"
Lou smiled and moved forward. "Well, hello, there, youngun!" he said, raising his hand in a greeting. "Wow, you look like you have a big job! Are your parents OK with you standing out here at such a late-"
Lou was interrupted when he felt a cold, metal object press into him, and he heard Lucca gasp. His eyes bulged as he looked down and saw that the boy was holding a dangerous-looking pistol against his stomach. "(ULP!) Th... that's a nice... gun you have, there..." he stammered.
The boy glared at him crossly. "I am a soldier of the Porre Military!" he declared angrily, pushing Lou back a few feet. "Do well to remember that!"
"R-right!" Lou gulped, scuttling behind Lucca.
"Now..." the boy huffed, holstering his gun and glaring at both of them. "If you have no business here, I'll have you escorted off."
Lucca produced her passport again. "I'm Lucca Ashtear, from Guardia," she stated. "I'm here to see Lord Cromwell, by request of his majesty, the king."
The boy snatched the passport out of her hand and read it over, then handed it back. "Very well," he said. "The General is in his office. I shall escort you to him."
He paused and looked at Lou, who was still cowering behind her. "...Is he with you as well?" he asked.
"Yeah, he is," Lucca replied.
He frowned, but motioned for them both to follow him. He pushed the doors open and walked inside.
"Well, at least we're in," Lucca said. "Come on, Lou."
"Ugh..." Lou panted as he peeked over her shoulder. "I thought I was good with kids..."
The young soldier led the pair into the building. It looked very different on its inside than it had on its outside; the floors were tiled with ornate floral designs, and sparkling glass chandeliers hung from the high ceilings. Busts of important-looking gentlemen sat on marble pedestals at each door entrance. Soldiers stood around, looking as stiff as statues, their guns at rest on their shoulders.
"Wow..." Lou said as he looked up at the ceiling. "There's a lot of swank in here!"
"The General's office is on the top floor," The boy said, unresponsive to Lou's enthusiasm. He motioned them towards a corridor, and they kept moving. "We shall take the elevator."
"Elevator?" Lucca asked, trying to hide her surprise; she had seen and rode elevators in the far future, but she had no idea that somebody had invented them in her own time period.
The boy pointed to the end of the hall, where a long, flat, metal platform stood, with a large shaft above it and several gears and a lever in the wall. Lucca looked it over and shrugged; it was pretty primitive by what she was used to, but she guessed it could be an elevator.
The three of them stood on the platform and the young soldier grabbed the lever. He pushed it up to its highest level, and the platform began to shake. Slowly, then quicker, it rose up the wall and into the shaft.
"Woah!" Lou exclaimed, looking around. "This is awesome! Lucca, isn't this awesome!"
Lucca had to chuckle. "Yeah, it's pretty cool," she agreed. All the while, though, she looked concerned; how could Porre have developed something like an elevator and battleships so quickly?
Her thoughts were cut off by Lou. "So, uh..." he started, trying to learn the kid's name.
The boy glared at him. "...Norris," he said. "Private First Class Norris Sunstar."
"Right, Norris," Lou corrected himself. "Sorry about the crack earlier... but, uh, you do have to admit, you're kind of young for a soldier..."
"I joined the Porre Junior Militia at age 6," Norris said, not looking at him. "I worked hard, and was promoted into the full Military at age 9. Last year, I was rewarded for my S-Class sharpshooter skills, and given the honor of being the General's assistant."
Lou raised an eyebrow. "Six!" he asked. "You never went to school?"
"The military schools us while we train," Norris elaborated. "I have learned everything that you have."
This made Lou chuckle. Norris turned on him sharply. "Is there something amusing?" he asked.
Lou chuckled again and shook his head. "No, no, it's just... I lost my memory a while back, so I don't really know WHAT I learned!"
Norris raised an eyebrow. "Lost your...?" he started, then his eyes widened. "Oh... You must be that man from Guardia... the one who appeared in Truce last year. My condolences on your amnesia."
Lou laughed. "Yep, that's me!" he said. "Don't worry about it; I'm really enjoying myself!"
"Perhaps you could regain your memory if you talked to the General," Norris suggested. "I have heard that the soldiers have ways of making people remember things."
Lou grinned. "Oh, really?" he asked. "Well, maybe I will!"
Lucca, however, did not like that suggestion at all. "Uh... Maybe some other time, Norris," she said. "We're kind of in a rush today."
Norris nodded. "As you wish," he said.
Suddenly, the elevator slowed, making both Lou and Lucca jump in surprise. Norris, however, was unaffected. "The top floor," he announced as the platform came to a stop before another long corridor. He stepped onto the carpeted floor and motioned for them to follow.
Lou was still interested in talking with the boy, so he continued. "So, uh, what kind of games do you like playing?" he asked.
Norris did not look at him. "Military Officers have no time for games," he said.
Lou gave a disappointed look. "Oh, but surely you like some kind of game," he said. "What was it? Hopscotch? Tag? Gin rummy?"
Lucca gave a confused look. "Gin rummy?..." she asked.
"I am the General's assistant," Norris replied. "I have no time for such childish pursuits."
Lou was about to point our that Norris technically WAS a child when they turned a corner and came to a set of large, brass doors. "The General's office," Norris said, turning to face them.
"Cool," Lucca said. "Thanks, Norris!"
Norris knocked on the doors, and they opened with a somber groan. Norris saluted, then stepped inside. Lou and Lucca exchanged glances, then followed.
If the interior of the building was ornate, then the room they walked into was just plain wild. The floor was covered with a delicate, red carpet, and dozens of animal heads were mounted on plaques on the walls. Several long, dangerous-looking guns were also hanging there, as well as two large swords crossed over the far end of the room. At a desk beneath the swords, scribbling on a piece of paper, sat a tall, muscular man with short, gray hair and hard, gray eyes. The blue uniform he wore boasted a neck piece with five golden emblems, signifying his ranking. A long cigar protruded from his mouth, producing a long stream of stinking, thick smoke.
"Lord Cromwell..." Norris said. "Diplomats from Guardia."
Cromwell rose from his desk, showing the visitors just how tall he was. Lou stared at him in amazement; could people get that big? He noticed that Lucca looked edgy, too, but was standing her ground. He glanced back at Cromwell and did not flinch; if Lucca could do it, so would he.
"...Welcome to Porre," Cromwell said, taking a long drag from the cigar. "I'm Lord Cromwell, the ruler of this nation, and also its top General. What can I do for you?"
Lucca stepped forward and bowed. "Hello, Lord Cromwell," she said, beckoning Lou to come forward and bow, too. "I'm Lucca Ashtear. We've been sent here by the king of Guardia to ask you..."
"Lucca Ashtear?" Cromwell asked, raising an eyebrow and smiling with intrigue. "Ah, the greatest mind in the north. What a pleasure it is to finally meet you in person..." He paused and chuckled. "...I thought you would be taller."
Hoping that the General was cracking a joke, she continued. "We've been sent to ask you about the whereabouts of the king's daughter, Princess Nadia," she said. "We were told that she came here to speak with you, but we haven't heard from her in three days."
Cromwell nodded in understanding as he paced about behind his desk, taking even deeper cigar drags. "Yes, yes..." he said. "Princess Nadia arrived here yesterday and met with me about our situation. I did my best to convince her that we are still a nation of peace, and that all of our technology will be used for the common good." He paused and looked out the window. "After our discussion, I offered her a tour of our science labs to show her our sincerity... She must still be there."
"A tour?" Lou asked. "Does a tour take a day to complete?"
Cromwell glanced at him with a frown. "Eh? Who're you?" he asked.
Lou gulped, and bowed again. "Oh, sorry!" he apologized. "I'm Lou Soffer... sir. I came along with Lucca, sir."
"Lou...?" Cromwell said slowly, inhaling the name with his cigar, as if he had heard it before. He grew silent, and stared out the window again.
"...Sir?" Lou asked.
The General visibly jumped at his voice. "Oh! Oh, yes," Cromwell said, turning to face them. "If you go to the science labs yourself, perhaps you will find her."
"Oh," Lou replied. "...OK, we can do that, sir."
Lucca gave Lou a worried look; why had the General been so startled by Lou's name? He was just a simple gardener... wasn't he? And why did he have to volunteer them to go to this science lab? Weren't they just supposed to find the princess and go home?... Ah, well. Cromwell seemed a bit odd, but perhaps he was making a good gesture. Besides, she had always loved science; she could not resist the chance to see some new projects, even if they were suspicious.
Cromwell chuckled and nodded. "Very well. I'll have you escorted there."
Norris saluted. "Yes, sir!" he said. "I'll... uh..." He paused, then grew silent.
Lucca glanced at him. "What's wrong, Norris?" she asked.
Norris scratched the back of his head, trying to look stern. "...I just realized that I have never been to the labs," he said. "I am... not sure of where they are."
Cromwell laughed whole-heartedly. "Ah, Norris, always the eager beaver, eh?" he said. "That's why you're my assistant, after all... Don't worry; I'll have another soldier come with you and show you the route."
Norris saluted. "Thank you, sir!" he said.
Cromwell walked to his desk and pushed a small, black button. "Sergeant Rhein? Come into my office, please," he said.
The doors opened, and another blue-armored soldier walked in. He was tall, but not as tall as Cromwell, and he had a large stomach. His grubby face was coated with five-o-clock shadow, and he had awful, yellowed teeth; Lou suddenly wondered how good the dental plan was in the military. "Lord Cromwell, sir!" he said as he saluted.
"Take Norris and our guests to the science lab," Cromwell said. "Make sure the diplomats get the full tour."
Rhein gave an unpleasant laugh and saluted. "Of course, General," he said. "Come with me, you three."
Lucca grinned and bowed to Cromwell again. "Thank you, sir," she said.
"Of course," Cromwell replied. "I would never want to harm relations with your wonderful country."
Rhein pulled the doors open and showed them all out, then shut it. Cromwell sat back in his chair and took another puff. "Soffer, eh?..." he asked himself. "Well, well..."
The sun had set by the time the elevator touched base at the first floor of the General's headquarters, and Sergeant Rhein led Lou, Lucca and Norris out onto the street. "The lab is a block away... There," he said, pointing towards a large, white building with few other features.
"All right," Lou nodded. "I sure hope we find the princess in there."
They started across the empty road toward the building. Lucca glanced at Norris, who was walking along with a stiff gait. "Norris," she said, "When did Porre become so advanced?"
Norris looked at her oddly. "When?" he asked. "Why do you ask?"
Lucca shrugged. "Just curious," she said. "I've... been abroad for a while."
Norris thought for a moment, then shook his head. "I must admit, I do not know," he said. "It has been like this since I was born."
Lou scratched his head. "They don't teach you history in school?" he asked.
"The General says that to make a better future, we must let go of the past, for its trivialities hold us back," Norris replied. "History isn't taught."
Lucca frowned. "...Hold us back? I can't say I agree with that..." she muttered.
"The General has never misled us before," Norris said. "The Porre nation would not be the same if it weren't for him."
"Well, I guess," Lou said, "but aren't you curious? Don't you want to know what happened before you were born?"
"We live in the present," Norris answered. "The past is irrelevant."
Lucca sighed and shook her head. "Oh, boy..." she groaned. If this was how the children of today were being raised, she dreaded the future that awaited them.
They arrived at the building and Sergeant Rhein opened the door. "Inside, please," he simply said.
Lou, Lucca and Norris walked into the building and stopped. They had expected to see a long, tall factory, from the size of the building; instead, they were in a small, whitewashed room with a gigantic, metal door on the other side, with only a glowing set of buttons next to it to decorate.
"...Uh...?" Lou asked, expressing the confusion.
"This is the sterilization room," Rhein stated. "We have to be cleaned off before we can enter."
Lucca paused, then shrugged. "Well, that sounds reasonable..." she agreed.
Rhein pointed to a gray tile in front of the door. "Stand there," he said. "Only two can go at a time, so Norris and I will wait."
Lou stood on the tile with Lucca. In his mind, he was beginning to wonder what the princess of Guardia was like. He had never seen her before; was she nice? Cheerful? Cute? He winced and tried to put that idea out of his head; she was married. Besides, what could she like in a simple gardener, anyway? Heck, what could anyone like?
"OK, then!" Rhein said, reaching out to the controls. Suddenly, he shot them a wicked smile. "Time to see the lab... up close and personal!"
Lucca recoiled at his face. "What!" she asked. She reached for her gun, but Rhein was fast. His finger slammed into a red button and the tile disappeared. Lou and Lucca tumbled screaming into inky blackness.
"What!" Norris cried, running to the hole and gazing down it. "No!..." He turned on Rhein angrily. "Why, sir! Why did you do that!"
Rhein chuckled. "They were enemies of Porre," he said. "Sometimes you've gotta trick 'em to get rid of 'em."
Norris hesitated, then stared into the hole again, confusion and horror plastered across his face. The tile reappeared and snapped shut.
"You'll understand when you're older," Rhein said, patting Norris on the back. "Now, back to your post."
Rhein walked out of the building, leaving Norris behind to stare at the tile.
"Lou... Lou, are you OK?"
Lucca's voice brought the gardener back into consciousness. He groaned and opened his eyes to see his purple-haired friend standing over him with both concern and suspicion in her eyes. He hesitated, then sat up. They were in a dark, stone tunnel with very little light, outside of several torches on the walls. He fumbled around and clutched his shovel, then got back on his feet. "Ugh... What was that all about!" he asked.
"I don't know," Lucca said, "but I know it's a trap! Dammit!" She stamped her foot and fumed.
"A trap?" Lou asked, scratching his head; he did not understand why the Porre soldiers would do that. "But why? They seemed OK to me..."
"They were just being nice until they got us down here!" Lucca huffed. "Urrgh... These guys don't want good relations at all... I bet this happened to Marle, too!"
"They were? They don't?" Lou asked, still uncertain. "But Norris seemed nice enough... Well, not 'nice,' exactly, but I don't think he would... would he?"
Lucca looked at Lou thoughtfully, then sighed and shook her head. "Ugh... OK, this isn't the time to be arguing," she reasoned. "Chances are that we're actually in the lab now, and the princess is here, too. Let's look for her and get out!" She turned and started down the tunnel.
Lou scratched his head, then ran to catch up with her. "Wait!" he said. "Get out? But they just trapped us!"
"I'm sure there's a way out," Lucca replied. "We just have to find it... It could be tough, though... I bet there are guards." She paused, then drew her gun. "Be ready to fight."
Lou stared at her weapon and hesitated; he might have been amnesiac, but he never had cared for fighting people at all. "Fight?" he asked, worry detectable in his voice.
Lucca glanced at him and frowned. "You've fought before," she reasoned. "What's the problem?"
"Those were monsters..." Lou argued, shaking his head in disbelief. "These are human beings we're talking about."
Lucca frowned. "Sometimes we have to deal with that," she replied. "If we don't act, they'll kill US. Now, come on!" She turned and hurried down the corridor, her weapon held high.
Lou watched her go, and looked at his shovel sadly. He had worked the land and planted beautiful flowers with it; he had used it to create life. Now, did he have to use it to bring death? He lingered a moment longer, then chased after her.
Lou caught up to Lucca as the tunnel spread out into a large chamber. As he looked around, he felt his stomach lurch; there was an unpleasant stench in the air, and the ground was covered in eerie, purple fog. The light was not very good, but he could make out one heavy, iron-barred door and three large cages against the walls, as well as giant, metal vats with steam rising from them. The stone floor ahead of them was littered with bones.
"...Holy..." Lou gulped as he took a step back.
Lucca had not said anything up until then; she had been staring hard at the bones. Finally, she reached down, picked one up and looked it over carefully; her brow was furrowed, and her teeth were clenched as she stared.
"...What's wrong?" Lou asked after an unpleasant silence.
Lucca was quiet for a moment more, then sighed with relief. "It's not human," she said, tossing it onto the floor. "Thank God... For a moment I thought it might've been..."
Lou cringed at what Lucca was implying; with all these cages and the eerie fog, the area certainly looked like something from a horror book. Could the princess have really met her fate down here? "...Would they...!" he managed.
Lucca frowned and shook her head. "Killing the princess when she came here as a gesture of good will... I don't think so. They want to attack Guardia, not have Guardia attack them!"
Suddenly, the air was filled with high-pitched, crazy laughter, and both Lou and Lucca jumped. "Oh ho ho ho!" a disembodied voice laughed. "You are correct! Your princess is far too important to be harmed!"
Lou looked around frantically. "What! Who're you!" he called.
The voice laughed again; whether it was male or female, neither of them could tell. "Oh, so, it is you dat asks who I am, ven you are de ones who haff intruded into my lab!" it asked. "Vat a brave one! Oh ho ho ho!"
Lucca growled and raised her gun. "Give us a break!" she shouted. "We're here to find Princess Nadia!"
"Oh, you are, are you?" the voice asked. "Vell, den! Let's play a little game! I vill let my little friends come out to meet you..."
Lucca gave an annoyed snort. "Great..." she said.
"Little friends?" Lou asked, glancing around at the cages. "I hope she means dolls or something..."
"Oh, no..." the voice cackled. "Dey are a very lively bunch!"
The cages in the room rattled and shook, then opened. Horrible, angry noises came from them, and then they emerged; the most terrifying, messed-up creatures that either of them had ever seen. One was a purple lizard with monstrous yellow teeth and spikes along its back, another was a living skeletons, and the last was a bipedal chimera; a goat-footed, rhino-bodied, bodybuilder-fisted, eagle-headed creature with a live snake for a tail. The creatures noticed the two friends and gave awful, guttural roars, then started towards them.
Lou's mouth dropped open. Lucca gave a sickened gasp.
"Have fun!" the voice laughed. "I know dey will!"
The chimera gave another snarl, took a deep breath and spewed a powerful stream of flames through the air, aiming right for Lou.
"Aggh! Look out!" Lucca yelled, grabbing the gardener and hitting the floor as the fire burned the wall behind them. She looked up at the monsters and frowned, then loaded her gun. "That does it!" she huffed, aiming at the chimera and firing. The chimera swatted the shot away with its tail and prepared another hot wheeze.
Lou was stunned for a moment from the fall, but quickly realized the danger that they were in. Without any hesitation, he drew his shovel and ran at the monster. He was just about to swing when the skeleton leaped in front of him with giddy laughter. The shovel connected, and the skeleton flew apart, its bones scattering across the floor with a rhythmic tinkling noise.
"Yeah!" Lucca laughed, charging her gun for another shot. "That's showin' 'em!"
The spikey lizard charged and shot its long, thorned tongue at her, trying to catch her in the face. She ducked and fired, blowing the beast's head to smithereens. What was left of it collapsed writhing to the ground.
All that remained was the chimera, who regarded its friends' deaths furiously. It stomped towards the duo with malice, its fists balled and its breath fiery.
"One to go!" Lou declared, finally feeling up to fighting. With a running start, he leaped at the monster and thrust his shovel at its head for the win.
However, the beast had other plans. Quick as a flash, Lou was caught in its massive death grip. The Chimera gave a low, snarling laugh and squeezed. Lou gave a yelp and his shovel clattered to the floor. "Agh!" he yelled. "Lucca, help!"
Lucca raised her gun, but the monster held Lou in front of him; obviously, it knew about taking hostages. No matter which way she aimed, it dragged Lou over and blocked her shot. "...Damn!" she cursed as sweat trickled down her brow. "I can't!..."
The chimera laughed and squeezed even harder. Lou winced as he felt his innards smoosh together. He had to do something about this thing, or Lucca could never get a hit in.
"Let's try something else!" Lucca huffed, pointing at the creature like Lou had seen her do before. "FIRE!"
The magical flame shot through the air, but the chimera was ready. It opened its maw and swallowed the fire in one motion. Lucca gasped at the sight, then leaped away in surprise as it spewed the blaze back at her.
Lou glanced down at his situation; he was being held around the waist, but he could still move his arms and bend a bit.
The chimera advanced on Lucca, who was frantically picking herself off the floor. Just as she got to her feet, the beast sent her flying with a powerful uppercut from its free hand. She sailed backwards and crashed into the wall, then sank to the floor.
"No!" Lou yelled, struggling for a way out of his predicament. After a split-second of thought, he took the only option he had; he grabbed the monster's highest finger, lurched down and bit hard. The chimera howled in agony, then released its grip. He toppled to the ground, grabbed his shovel and scampered over to Lucca.
"Lucca!" he huffed, shaking her. "Are you OK!"
Lucca groaned and opened her eyes. "Man..." she grumbled, "that was a wallop I'll never forget..."
Lou sighed with relief. "Whew... Thank goodness."
Just then, there was a roar behind them. The chimera was still there, and was building another fiery shot in its mouth; it hated being ignored.
"I've had enough of you!" Lucca growled, raising her gun and firing.
"Double for me!" Lou huffed, pitching his shovel like a javelin.
The shot exploded in the monster's mouth, and the shovel's blade planted itself in its chest. It staggered for a moment, then collapsed to the ground and lay still. Silence filled the room.
Lou slowly walked over to the monster and looked; it was definitely dead. He reached down and yanked his shovel from it. "Boy..." he uttered, unable to think of much else to say.
Just then, the air was filled with laughter again; the same laughter that had echoed before. "Oh ho ho ho!" the person laughed. "Excellent! Excellent! You are such fine specimens!"
"...What?" Lucca asked, raising an eyebrow in confusion. "We just killed your monsters, and you're laughing?... What kind of scientist ARE you!"
"Isn't it obvious!" the voice laughed. "Well! Let's keep dis game going, da? Come in, come into my laboratory... Your princess is waiting! Oh ho ho ho!" The metal door on the other side of the room slowly opened with an eerie, hollow creak. The darkness beyond it beckoned to them, waiting to take them goodness knows where.
Lucca sighed at the doorway, then started forward. "Woah!" Lou exclaimed behind her. "You're going in!"
"We still have a princess to find, remember?" Lucca asked, glancing back at him, then into the doorway. "Come on."
Lou nodded at the restating of their mission and followed after her into the blackness.
They wandered into the tunnel and their vision left them entirely, swallowed by darkness. Lou glanced around and grew uneasy; he could not see where they were going, or where they had even come from. The only sounds he heard were those of their footsteps.
Suddenly, Lucca grunted and swore, making him jump. "Lucca!" he exclaimed. "Are you OK!"
"Damn!..." Lucca growled off to his right. "I'm fine, I'm fine... I just hit a wall. I think my nose is bleeding..."
"Ugh..." he replied, shaking his head, "this would be a lot easier if we had some light..."
In the darkness, Lucca reddened with embarrassment; why hadn't she thought of that? Maybe she was just disoriented from all that had happened lately. "Good idea," she said. "Hang on a second..."
She reached into her back pocket, where she knew she kept a small notebook for jotting down little ideas she had on the road. She fished it out, tore out a page, rolled it up, and jammed it into her gun. She put her finger on it and glared. "Fire!" she hissed.
A small, orange flame sprang to life on the paper and spread out, turning the gun into a makeshift candle. The light filled the small, cramped tunnel, revealing its stone-brick walls. The tunnel twisted and turned on itself several times; without lights, it was as good as a labyrinth.
Lou sighed with relief. "Whew... Thanks, Lucca," he said. "I was wondering where we were-"
Suddenly, there was a horrible shriek, and another living skeleton lunged out of the darkness, heading straight for Lucca. "AHHH!" Lou cried, automatically leaping in front of her and thrusting his shovel into its ribcage. It splintered apart, but its skull bounced over him, biting Lucca's hand before it disappeared. She shrieked and dropped her gun, and the light went out.
"Oh, crap!" Lucca huffed, dropping to her knees and feeling around for her gun. "Where did it go!"
Suddenly, the eerie voice burst in their ears again. "Oh ho ho ho!" it laughed. "I forgot to mention... The creatures in DIS part of my lab hate light! Dey attack whatever makes it! You'll be in for a long, long trip if you want to see!"
"Ugh..." Lou growled at the announcement. "You sure know how to irk a guy..."
"Found it!" Lucca announced as her fingers closed around her gun's handle. "Whew... This is going to be a pain."
Lou scratched his head. "What can we do?" he asked. "It could take forever to get through here... It might even be an actual maze."
"Well, we know that we're safe as long as we don't have any lights," Lucca reasoned, "and I do know of a way to get through mazes like this." She moved ahead of him and stopped. "Put your hand on my shoulder," she instructed.
Lou wondered just what she was getting at, but decided that she must have known what she was doing; she WAS Guardia's resident genius, after all. He shrugged, reached out and put a firm grip on her.
"...I said my SHOULDER," Lucca growled, grabbing his hand and putting it there herself.
Lou blushed. "Sorry," he said. "It's dark."
She placed her hand on the wall. "If we follow along the wall, eventually we'll reach the exit," she said. "I'll check the wall. You just keep your hand on my shoulder."
"Right," Lou said. "Anything else I should do?"
"If you hear anything coming behind us, take care of it," she said. "OK, we're off!"
Lucca moved down the path, her hand brushing over the cold, grainy stones. Lou followed behind her, his hand never leaving her shoulder, and his ear never listening anywhere but behind them. Lucca moved very slowly, so as not to miss any turns or crash into any walls. It was slow going, but they never hit anything again.
Lou listened as hard as he could; he could hear awful things all around them: hissing, tongue-flapping creatures that seemed to laugh as they went by; oozing, drippy monsters that were more liquid than solid, slopped against the ceiling and looking down at them; hairy, ravenous beasts that breathed heavily from cracks in the walls. He heard them all, but not one of them seemed interested in attacking the travelers. The scientist was right; they only attacked light.
"OK, we're turning right," Lucca said, starting to turn.
Lou quickly made the turn, too. "Right," he said. "Nothing's coming..."
"That's good," Lucca replied. "I hope it stays that way."
"Don't worry," Lou said, "I don't think anything's going to attack."
Lucca sighed, hoping that they would get out soon; this place was making her think about things she did not want to think about. She did not want the princess to end up dead... and, truth be told, she was starting to feel a little bad that she had dragged Lou into this mess. She was glad that he was there to keep her company, but she did not know what she would do if he got hurt... or worse.
Some divine presence must have heard her, for at that moment, a faint, gray light appeared ahead of them. "Hey!" Lou exclaimed. "Looks like we're coming to the end of it!"
"Thank God..." Lucca admitted, starting to walk faster. "Let's hope there's an exit soon..."
They ran through the tunnel and finally emerged into a larger room. Lou and Lucca at first rejoiced, but then looked around in surprise. Everything was lit the room, all right, but something about it seemed off... Everything was in a gray light, with no colors standing out at all. The stone walls were gray, the carpeted floor was gray, and even a large curtain ahead of them was gray. He looked down at himself; he, too, was now monochromatic. The only thing colored differently was a large opening in the wall, which gave way into pure black. There was no sound at all in the room. Even their breathing seemed noiseless.
"Hey, Lucca..." Lou said, turning to his friend, "do you see what I see?"
Lucca nodded. "This is pretty powerful lighting," she said, "if it can block out all colors but grayscale ones..."
The laugh echoed again. "Oh ho ho ho! How do you like my lair, friends?" the voice asked.
Lou looked around at the room again. "Well..." he said, "it's very... scary."
"Yes, yes, dese t'ings give much fear to people!" the scientist's voice rang. "Vell! I see dat you made it t'rough my maze! Very impressive! Now, come, come! One final challenge is here for you!"
The curtains lurched, then rose upwards. Lou's eyes widened, and he heard Lucca gasp in terror.
Behind the curtain was another curtain in the wall, but that was not what caught their attention. A gigantic machine with all sorts of buttons and diodes stood against the wall. On either side of it was a long, wooden plank. A small chicken was strapped down on one side, clucking calmly, its head attached to some odd, helmet-like gizmo that connected to the machine. On the other was a girl about Lucca's age with a short ponytail and harem pants, strapped to the plank by metallic bonds at her limbs and neck. Her head was also stuck in a helmet. Her eyes were closed, as if she were in an induced sleep. The machine whirred unpleasantly.
"Oh ho ho ho!" the scientist laughed. "Ve vill see how much da King likes his daughter... vhen she has da brain of a CHICKEN! Oh ho ho ho!"
"No!" Lucca cried.
Lou jumped. "Is THAT the princess!" he asked.
"T'ink you can save her?" the voice asked. "Very vell!"
There was a loud roar, and a gigantic man burst through the right-hand wall. At a closer look, Lou and Lucca recoiled in terror; it was not a man so much as a mass of human body parts stitched together. It looked at the two friends and growled menacingly. Simulated lightning flashed in the mock-window, and a loud thunderclap burst in the room.
"Woah...!" Lou exclaimed.
"This scientist is nuts!..." Lucca gulped.
"Big Frank!" the scientist's voice laughed. "See if our guests can save deir little playmate! Oh ho ho ho hoooo!"
With a howl, Big Frank lunged at the duo, swinging its massive arms like hammers. Lou and Lucca leaped away, and its two punches knocked a giant crater into the floor.
"We have to save her!" Lucca repeated, raising her gun. Big Frank whirled around and sent her crashing to the ground.
Lou jumped at the monster. It quickly turned and thrust out its chest; Lou bounced off like a beach ball and hit the ground. Big Frank was fast for something its size, he thought; it could be a tough fight if they did not find a weakness.
Suddenly, an idea came to mind; Frank was fast, but it could not possibly dodge two attacks from different directions at the same time. "Lucca!" he called. "Let's attack together!" He lifted his shovel and charged.
Lucca nodded. "FIRE!" she shouted, spinning around and then pointing at the monster.
Monochrome fire wrapped around Big Frank's legs, immobilizing him. Lou leaped up and swung his shovel, knocking one of the beast's arms clean off; it flopped to the floor helplessly.
"Yeah!" Lucca laughed, grabbing something out of her pocket. "Now, get outta the way!"
Lou leaped away and landed next to her, and she pitched a small, round object at Big Frank. As soon as it hit him, it exploded, sending the monster's parts all over the lab.
Lou was astounded and nauseated at the same time. "...What was THAT!..." he asked, clutching his stomach.
Lucca poked at her glasses and grinned mischeviously. "Not much... Just your standard grenade," she said. "I thought we might need 'em!"
"Oh, so you t'ink you're so smart!" the scientist laughed. "Well, t'ink again!"
Lou looked around in confusion, and suddenly felt even sicker. The monster's parts twitched and writhed, then started to move. They crawled and slithered around on the carpet, twitching and writhing like dying animals.
"What the...!" Lucca asked, making a face.
Suddenly, the parts all leaped towards where Big Frank had exploded. The torso rose up into the air, and the remaining pieces reassembled into the creature. It looked at them furiously, roared, and charged at them again.
Lou rolled out of the way as Big Frank's fist shattered the spot where he had been. "No way!..." he gasped.
"See, dat's the fun thing about my monsters!" the scientist snickered. "Dey're like living construction kits!"
"Son of a...!" Lucca swore, getting a good distance away and firing her gun. Her bullets stuck into the monster's back, but did not seem to hurt it at all.
Big Frank turned and pointed his knuckles at her. Much to her surprise, its arms rocketed out of their sockets and knocked her into the wall, scattering stone chips every which way. The monster cackled wickedly, and the limbs slid back into place.
"Oh, man!" Lou panicked. "This thing's unstoppable!"
"Yes, indeed!" the scientist laughed. "Now, Big Frank! Start da brain-svitching machine!"
Big Frank growled, lumbered over to the machine with the princess and the chicken, and hit a lever. The gizmo whirred to life, sending little sparks out of its frame. The chicken began clucking even more excitedly.
"No!..." Lucca gasped.
Lou looked between the gizmo and Lucca, then frowned; Lucca wanted him along for help, and he would not disappoint. "Lucca!" he said. "You stop that thing! I'll handle the monster!"
Lucca looked at him as if he had just said he was a six-foot-tall komodo dragon. "What!" she asked. "That's suicide!"
"We have to save the princess, right?" Lou reasoned. "Come on!"
Big Frank, its job completed, turned back to the intruders. With another snarl, it started forward, its fists balled.
Lucca looked at Lou, then at the monster, then at the machine, biting her lip in frustration.
Big Frank went after Lou, its fists flailing. Lou hopped out of the way and brought his shovel down on the monster's toe. The beast comically hopped around in pain, uttering monster equivalents of cuss words.
"What're you waiting for?" Lou asked. "GO!"
Lou having made his decision, she nodded and dug into her pockets. "Here!" she shouted, throwing her last three grenades to him. "Just in case!" With that, she ran to the machine and searched desperately for some kind of "off" switch.
Big Frank recovered and looked at Lou with pure hatred in its dead eyes. It roared again and tore towards him.
"OK, then, big guy!" Lou said, pulling the pin on one of the grenades. "You wanna play rough?"
Big Frank leaped at him, and Lou pitched the grenade. The two collided in mid-air with another explosion, scattering monster parts across the floor. Just like before, the torso rose into the air and the pieces stuck back to it.
"You catch on quick, no?" the scientist mocked. "Dere is not'ing you can do! Oh ho ho!"
Lou thought hard. The cyclops that they had fought on the bridge had had a weakness... It was probably the same for this thing. He racked his brain for some sort of clue; what could stop Big Frank for good?
Big Frank lunged again, and Lou almost forgot to get away. He bounded away from the menace and armed another grenade. "OK, let's try this again!" he huffed, lobbing the explosive at the lummox.
Again Big Frank exploded, and again its torso rose into the air to reconnect the parts. Lou's eyes widened with an idea: the Torso! It was the center of the beast. What if it wasn't there?...
Time seemed to slow down as Lou grabbed the last grenade and pulled its pin. The body parts seemed much more slowly as he hurled it at the torso with all his might... and the grenade slowly floated through the air. Lou suddenly recoiled in surprise; time WAS slowed down. He could move normally, but everything else was going at a snail's pace. What was going on?
With an explosion louder and fiercer than the earlier ones, time skipped back into synch, the grenade met the torso and both were blown into nothingness. Big Frank's limbs shuddered, then fell limp and evaporated into thick, black smoke.
At that moment, Lucca gave a triumphant cry and the machine powered down. "YEAH!" she said, then laughed. "Of course, what would you expect from Lucca The Great? Heh!"
Lou simply stared at the remnants, stupefied as to what had just happened.
Suddenly, a furious shriek rang in the room, jarring him from his pondering. "AAAGH!" the scientist wailed in what was now an obviously feminine pitch. "You stupid brats! You killed my best monster!"
Lou and Lucca looked around; instead of sounding onimous and all around them, this voice had come from nearby. They both looked at the curtain next to the machine, and with one swift motion, Lou pulled it away.
There was color in this small room, a stark contrast to the one before. A young girl with blue hair drawn into a ponytail sat in it, furiously banging her fists on a small machine. "Damn you! Damn you, stupid...!" she fumed. She turned and glared at them through her thick glasses, tears forming in her eyes. "Do you know how long it took me to create dat t'ing!" she raged, not losing the accent. "You bastards haff no respect for art!"
Lou was somewhat taken aback by this girl. He had thought they were being taunted and tortured by some lanky, deranged old man in a lab coat... but this girl could not have been over fourteen. "I... I, uh..." was all he could say.
Lucca stared, unable to believe her eyes. "Oh, so YOU'RE the one who put us through all that!" she huffed, her face growing red. "But... you're just a kid!"
The girl fumed. "Just a kid! JUST A KID!" she snarled, shaking her fists. "Imbeciles! I am Luccia Stanislov, da Porre Military's finest junior scientist!"
"Junior...?" Lou asked.
Lucca looked at the brain-switching machine and frowned at Luccia. "Is this what they teach you to do, or are you just having fun?" she chided. "Don't you know you should never experiment on humans? Don't you have any morals!"
"Shut up!" Luccia shouted, more tears starting to come from her eyes. "Just shut up, stupid woman!"
"No, I won't!" Lucca huffed. "Experimenting on living things, and creating monsters to attack people! This isn't science; it's torture! Shame on you!"
Luccia wailed loudly and covered her eyes, her body wracking with sobs.
Lou gave Lucca a sad look. "Lucca... Isn't that kind of harsh?"
Lucca hesitated at the remark, then gave him a cross look. "I'm a scientist, too, you know," she said. "I can't let this kind of stuff slide; she has to understand that!"
Lou looked between Lucca and the sniffling Luccia and sighed. "But... she's just a kid..." he said, "and we don't know everything... Maybe someone put her up to this. Let's at least hear her out."
Lucca wanted to counter what Lou had said, but he was looking at her with something she did not like: surprise, and even some disappointment. She quieted and looked away. She really did not have a lot of experience with children... maybe she was being a bit rough.
Luccia sniffled. "And now you're gonna kill me, just like you killed my monsters..." she mumbled. "You Guardians are horrible people!"
"Guardians?" Lucca asked, fuming again. "Horrible! Why, I oughta-"
Luccia gave another wail and clung to Lou. Surprised by the action, Lou hesitated, then patted her shoulder. "OK, calm down, now," he said awkwardly, "we're not going to kill you..." He turned and frowned at Lucca. "You're not helping, you know."
Lucca grumbled and turned away. Lou turned back to Luccia. "We just came here to find the princess," he said. "A lot of people are worried about her... We have to take her back home."
Luccia looked at him. "You... von't kill me?" she asked.
"Nope," Lou replied. "Just let the princess go, and we'll be on our way."
Luccia sniffed again. "O-OK..." she said. "I'll... I'll let her go..." She let go of Lou and walked past him towards the giant machine, where she hit several buttons. The bonds around the unconscious princess snapped open, freeing her.
Lucca looked at Luccia, then at Lou. She sighed. "...Sorry," she apologized.
He nodded, then turned to Luccia. "Thanks, Luccia," he said.
The young teenager blushed and nodded.
Lucca looked at him again. "I guess you ARE good with kids," she acknowledged.
With a soft groan, the princess's eyelids fluttered slightly open. She found herself looking at Lucca's anxious face. "Oh..." she said. "Lu... Lucca?...?"
Lucca grinned. "Thank goodness!" she said. "You're OK!"
The princess smiled wearily, then let Lucca help her off of the plank. "Oh... I just had the weirdest dream about a barnyard, roosters, and eggs," she said, scratching her head, "and why do I have a hankering for corn?"
Lucca chuckled. "Yeah, she's normal," she said.
"Well, that's good," Lou said. "Mission accomplished!"
The princess suddenly became aware of the two others. "Oh!" she said, turning to the fedora-hatted boy and the blue-haired girl. "Hi! Are you guys Lucca's friends?"
"Yeah," Lou replied. "I'm Lou. Lou Soffer. Nice to meet you."
"Err..." Luccia stammered, bowing politely. "Dä... I... am Luccia."
The princess smiled; it was a happy smile that put both of them at ease. "Nice to meet both of you!" She curtseyed regally, though Lou could tell she was doing it with humor. "I'm Princess Nadia, daughter of King Guardia XXXIII..."
Lucca gave a cough. Princess Nadia giggled. "Oh, but you can call me Marle, too," she finished.
"Marle, huh?" Lou asked. "Well, glad to finally meet you!"
"Finally?" Marle asked, scratching her head with confusion. Just then, her eyes widened in surprise. "Oh! I forgot! I'm supposed to go and see the Porre Military's science labs! Did you all come just to wake me up?"
"Err..." Lucca mumbled embarrassedly; Marle never had the sharpest observational skills. "Actually, Marle, you're IN the science labs."
Marle looked surprised. "I am?" she asked, looking around. "Wow! They have a light that sucks away all the color? Amazing!"
"Err, dä..." Luccia nodded. "...Forgive me, Princess Nadia... I haff done awful t'ings to you."
Lou shook his head. "Don't worry about it, Luccia," he said, "but I have to ask; did someone make you do this?"
Luccia nodded. "Lord Cromvell gave me da lab basement for extra-credit science verk... den, he brought me da princess... He told me dat if I verked on her, I vould get special recognition for my science."
Lucca's eyes widened. "Did you say CROMWELL brought Marle to you?" she asked.
Luccia nodded enthusiastically. "Dä, dä!" she said. "He said 'make an example off dis Guardia slime, and I vill revard your genius.'"
Lou, Lucca and Marle showed visible shock. "Make an example...!" Lou asked.
"Grrr..." Lucca growled. "It looks like Cromwell's not so friendly after all."
"Slime?" Marle asked, looking herself over. "I'm not slimy! Hmmph! And he was so nice to me, too!... Oh, now I remember... As soon as I left his office, someone put a cloth over my face... and then I woke up here."
Lou shook his head. "Well, that settles it," he said. "We'd better get out of here, and fast."
"Crono and the King aren't gonna like this..." Lucca sighed.
Luccia looked at them, then sighed. "...Komm vith me," she said, motioning towards the room that they had found her in.
"What's up, Luccia?" Lou asked as the others joined her.
"I know a secret vay out off Porre," she said, pushing on one of the stones in the wall. "You kann use it to get back to Guardia."
"You do?" Marle asked, smiling happily. "That's fantastic!"
Lucca folded her arms and smirked. "Hmm... You sure you want to be helping us 'horrible Guardians?'" she asked.
Luccia blushed slightly. "OK... I vas just repeating vat dey tell us in school..." she said, "but now dat I know you t'ree... I don't t'ink dat anymore."
Lou smiled. "Well, good," he said.
The wall swiveled and revealed a tunnel. A light breeze ruffled the four people's hair; it was an exit.
"All RIGHT!" Lucca laughed. "Thanks a bunch, Luccia!"
"Komm," Luccia repeated, starting down the tunnel. "I vill see you off."
The foursome walked down the long, dimly-lit tunnel, Luccia leading the pack. Unlike the tunnel before, Lou did not hear any monsters in this one; it was safe.
"I can't wait to get home!" Marle said. "Daddy and Crono must be worried sick..."
"Well, it didn't end perfectly, but at least we found Marle," Lucca concluded. "That's what we had to do."
"Yeah, and we made a new friend, too," Lou replied. "Heh... Luccia's pretty mature for her age, huh?"
Lucca laughed and patted her chest. "That's what comes of being a scientist, Lou! Heh heh heh!"
Lou rolled his eyes and shook his head with a smile.
The moon was out and full when the four compatriots emerged from the side of a grassy hill. They turned and saw the lights of Porre flashing behind them. A dirt path wound up to the main road, which would lead the Guardians home.
"Here ve are," Luccia said.
"Thanks, Luccia," Lou said. "We owe you one."
Luccia blushed again and shook her head. "Dis is how I say I'm sorry about before," she said.
"Well, I guess you're OK," Lucca acknowledged with an eye roll. "Just don't play with life, OK?"
"Fine, fine..." Luccia muttered. "Now, please, off home vith you."
"The royal family of Guardia thanks you, Luccia," Marle said. "When we get home, I'll let daddy know how you helped us."
Lucca noticed that Lou was still smiling. "What's up?" she asked.
"Oh," Lou said, "I was just thinking how nice it was that there weren't any guards, so I didn't have to-"
Just then, Lou heard the click of a gun and froze. Without warning, a group of Porre soldiers appeared, their guns trained on the four of them. "Freeze, scumbags!" Sergeant Rhein's gravelly voice snarled. "Don't move!"
The four yelped and put their hands up. Rhein approached and chuckled unpleasantly. "Well, well..." he said, "look who thought they'd get back to the enemy." He looked at Luccia and shook his head. "Tisk, tisk, Luccia. Helping them escape? That's treason, you know!"
Luccia gasped, and bit her lip.
"Lay off!" Lucca growled. "She's just a kid!"
"A traitor's a traitor!" Rhein laughed, signalling his men to aim. "Sorry, but I have to put all four of you down right now!"
Lou stared crossly into the barrel of a gun, and the ruddy soldier who was pointing it in his face. Just when they had gotten a lucky break, this had to happen. How could they get out of this one?