chapter 1 | chapter 2 | chapter 3 | chapter 4 | chapter 5 | chapter 6 | chapter 7 | chapter 8 | chapter 9
chapter 10 | chapter 11 | chapter 12 | chapter 13 | chapter 14 | chapter 15 | chapter 16 | chapter 17 | chapter 18
chapter 19 | chapter 20 | chapter 21 | chapter 22 | chapter 23 | chapter 24 | chapter 25 | chapter 26

2. The New Gate

I asked Magus to magic-teleport his butt out of my house while I changed clothes and finished packing (couldn't go gallivanting across the ages in my nightshirt, after all.) I couldn't be certain how long I would be out, so I told my parents I was going to stay at Crono's house for a while. They always explicitly trusted Crono, and never denied us time together. When we were little kids, we stayed at each other's houses all the time (although between his wooden sword and my toy inventions, we always managed to inflict property damage. I'm surprised we weren't banned from playing together ages ago.)

It wasn't a total lie, anyway; our next stop was Crono's house.

By the time I caught up with Magus outside, I realized the one thing I hadn't prepared for was the obvious: it was pouring rain. I shrugged and walked on through it--if Magus didn't mind getting a little wet, neither did I. It wasn't like the time Marle, Crono and I were hiking up the Denadoro Mountains and the princess's flimsy (and very revealing) white top got soaked to the skin by the waterfalls. Crono was so transfixed by the free show, he nearly walked off a cliff. Would've served him right.

On the way I tried to glean as much from Magus as I could about his situation, but after five or six monosyllabic grunts I gave up. The man was as conversational as an ogre.

It was late morning by the time we walked into town. I skipped across the stepping-stones on Crono's overgrown lawn and knocked on his front door. I couldn't see any lights on inside, and couldn't hear much better for the rain. I knocked again, and waited another minute... until nothing answered.

I banged a fist on the door, knocking loose a few more chips of ugly green paint. "Crono! You lazy oaf, answer the door!"

Magus edged closer, looming behind me with an aura of impatience. "Is something the matter?"

"Dang it! I know he's home." I didn't really know if Crono was home. He could have gone out grocery shopping with his mom, or stayed over at the castle with Marle again, or taken a long walk off Truce Pier for all I knew. But Magus didn't need to know that. "Can't you just magic teleport us inside?"

The wizard snorted, haughty this time. "I can't be bothered to remember what his stupid house looks like." That's right, I remembered; teleportation requires an exact mental image of the destination. I couldn't have expected even Magus to recall a house he barely visited three years ago, except...

I whirled to him. "Hey! You apparently remembered what my stupid house looks like!"

"No one could forget how stupid your house looks."

I screwed up my lip, trying to look insulted, but judging by his smirk he only got satisfaction out of it. "Well, you could still help!"

"I could," he said neutrally.

We stewed in the rain for another ten seconds while I stared at him expectantly. Eventually his point sank in. "But you won't."

"No."

I huffed. What a stuck-up bastard. "Fine. I'll handle this!" Taking matters into my own hands, I ran around to the backside of the house, where I could see the second-story window of Crono's room. I looked over the spread of weeds, clay and pebbles at my feet, fished out a tiny rock and lobbed it right at the glass. I was trying to make a racket, not break the thing; I figured the pebble was small enough to bounce off.

What I didn't figure was that someone would open the window just as the fifth pebble left my hand. It sailed right through--and into Crono's eye. I watched him fall back into his room with a blind flail, though I was almost too relieved to see he was home to feel contrite. "Ack! Sorry!"

In a minute he reappeared at his window, rubbing his brow with one hand while clenching the offending rock in the other. He narrowed a one-eyed glare at me and raised his arm threateningly, and I cringed and danced in circles, vying not to get hit. "I said I was sorry!! Don't--"

He threw the rock as hard as he could, skimming my ankle and striking a puddle--luckily his depth perception was impaired. I bounced away from the splash and waved back. "Oh com'on, Crono, that's what you get for not answering the door! Are you gonna let me in or what?"

He blinked--winced, rather--at me, puzzled, as if he hadn't heard the door in the first place. I wouldn't doubt it; the guy could sleep through earthquakes. Then he rolled his eyes and turned back inside. Fine, I guess.

Magus and I reconvened on the front porch, waiting to be let in. At last the lock clicked, the door creaked open, and we stepped out of the rain. It was dreary inside, with all the lights out and a grey sky seeping through the curtains. Crono plodded straight to the kitchen--shirtless, shoeless and fresh out of bed, I noticed--flicked on the lamp over the sink and began rummaging for a bowl of cereal like a sloth with a hangover.

"So..." I stoked a conversation. "Where's your mom?"

Crono paused and scratched his head, mulling it over. He then threw open the refrigerator, absorbed its lack of contents, shut it and snapped his thumb over his shoulder. Went to get groceries.

There was a recent (if fallacious) study from a school in Porre that has attached itself to the public mindset like a bad urban legend, and it claims that over seventy percent of all human communication is nonverbal. Although the subject of the study itself is so vast and ambiguous as to make any attempt to bring it into the context of percentages utterly meaningless, if we assumed that to be true, I'd have to say for Crono it would be more like ninety-nine percent.

To put it mildly, has a very... subtle method of communication. Not to say he's shy; Crono's never been guilty of that. I'd almost say he's honestly too lazy to use his own vocal cords. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing--if "strong, silent type" was the image he liked to project, that was fine by me--it just made it easy for other people to misread his little vocabulary of hand gestures and eye-rolls. I was a master, of course, through years of experience, and sometimes that made me the room's translator. I could pick up things Crono was trying to say that not even his own mother could figure out (then again, his mother is kind of... no comment.)

Not to say he never talked, either; it's just, when he did...

One of the cats, Cyrus, rushed down the stairs at the sound of its master opening a cereal box and pouring a bowl, though it immediately forgot about getting fed once it noticed Magus. The cat parked right on his toes and murmured curiously, yet all Magus did was stare down his nose at it with a bland mix of annoyance and apprehension. I could have laughed at the image: the great wizard Magus, at odds with a common housecat. I looked back at Crono, yet he wouldn't turn around, much less notice anything past his breakfast.

Admittedly, I started to stare... My eyes caught the three dragging scars across his bare back, where a heckran--a breed of huge, vicious water dragon--once nearly shredded him to death. As it turned out, the heckran's worst attack wasn't with its claws, but with its venom: a neurotoxin capable of paralyzing a man and killing lesser creatures. It took a while to set in, but once it did, Crono was down the rest of the day.

I was waiting for him to acknowledge the sodding, pasty, grouchy behemoth I'd dragged in with me, but sometimes, I swear, Crono was Master of the Oblivious. He carried his bowl of dry cereal back to the refrigerator, re-opened the door and stared dumbly into its void for a almost a minute before I snipped, "Yeah, there's no milk, genius. You just looked in there."

Not to be daunted, Crono reached for the next available liquid: an already opened can of Muff Beer. (Crono didn't even drink beer, and neither did his mom, as far as I knew--which made me wonder all kinds of crazy things about the both of them.) I watched with an appropriately horrified expression as he sat down at the table, poured the stale brew into his corn flakes and shoveled it down.

"That's disgusting!"

He lifted one drowsy eyebrow and shook the can lightly in my direction. Want some?

I threw up my hands. "No! Are you crazy, or did you lose all your taste buds in a freak accident?? You can't put beer on cereal!"

Crono chewed thoughtfully over his bowl and then twirled his spoon like a magic wand. You can now.

From the shadow of the staircase, Magus cleared his throat. "I don't have all day, children."

Amusingly enough, Crono reacted just the same way I did (minus the screaming.) He knocked his chair out from beneath him so fast it nearly killed the cat, and then whipped around with the most bewildered look I'd ever seen him wear, sharp and wild. He was definitely awake, now.

I steadied a hand on his arm before someone got gutted with a spoon, although the look Crono shot me suggested I was next on that list. Explain. NOW.

Not wasting a second, I explained everything I knew, which unfortunately wasn't much, but once I got to the part about a gate being nearby I didn't have to do any more convincing. Crono was as interested in the venture as I was, even if it meant following Magus. He got ready to go in a heartbeat, sprinting upstairs to look for his old travel gear. He came back down minutes later--faded blue tunic, white headband, Rainbow sword and all--with a small piece of paper, which on closer inspection was a hand-written note: Going to see Marle. Back later.

Crono started to leave it on the kitchen table when I asked, "That's for your mom?"

He nodded, but then flashed the note towards me with an inquiring, almost hopeful expression. Marle coming, too?

"Marle? Uh..." A reply hitched in my throat once I spied the dangerous curl of Magus's lip. I didn't want to push my luck. It was hard enough to persuade the wizard to take us with him, and if I stalled any longer he just might lose his patience and take the Gate Key, with or without me--or my precious internal organs. It was a big enough risk to ask for Crono's company, but I had my reasons, even if they were mostly self-preservation. I didn't trust my own well-being around that mass-murderer, and Crono had always covered my back in a pinch. I knew I could count on him to be a buffer, and quite frankly, out of our whole lot I think Crono offended Magus the least.

"Maybe later," I answered cautiously. Crono flung a cursory look from Magus to me, and when our eyes locked for that half-second he seemed to understand, though the disappointment was evident. He nodded glumly and led the way out.

Magus guided us just north of town, past Leene Square and into Truce Canyon. The constant rain was starting to wear the grassy slopes into hazardous banks, and every few turns the path broke off into frothing, muddy ditches. Eventually we uncovered a small cave dug out of the clay and rocks, and when we crawled inside, what we found amazed us.

The cavern was as large as a chapel, decked in smooth, dark slate and flooded with rippling blue light, as from the bottom of a pool. At the head of the chamber was what could be best described as some sort of shrine. Four chalky white columns were set in a square beneath a canopy of pulsing, electric-blue cables that spiraled to the ground and flowed along niches in the floor. The cables converged at a marble pedestal at the center, upon which sat an array of silver rings around a familiar orb, its dancing indigo flame the main source of light in the room.

It was a gate. "Incredible..." I whispered. The entire structure was covered in engravings too obscure to name. Most notable were the silver rings encasing the gate: four in total, each set within the next in diminishing diameter. A series of ciphers were inscribed on the metal bands: eight on the innermost, twelve on the next, twenty-one on the third and over fifty on the outermost, which sat fixed on the pedestal.

"Who could have made this...?" I wondered aloud. Guessing by the sundry hand and paw-prints moulded around the columns, it could be anyone--or anything's--handiwork. There was no way a construction as intricate and mechanical as this was natural. The question was rather: which came first, the shrine or the gate? Was this built recently? Everything was in pristine shape, with the surrounding rocks cut jagged and fresh. I reached out to touch the centerpiece and Crono started half a step with a wary twinge. When I skimmed my finger over the inner ring it spun fluidly within its setting like a wheel, perhaps suspended in air by the local gravity of the gate.

I squinted at their runes, racking my brain. They were familiar, terribly familiar, but I couldn't fathom from where...

"I woke up here," Magus elucidated. We both looked to him as he stared into the gate with a grim glaze to his eyes. "I found something, under the sea. An immense building. It looked like the Ocean Palace."

Crono and I shared an alarmed blink. "That's impossible!"

He nodded. "It was. So I went below the surface to look. That's when I was attacked."

"By what?"

"A sea serpent. It was no ordinary beast; it repelled my magic. Before it could finish me, I blacked out. When I came to, here I was." His gaze flickered to the cavern's entrance. "Alone."

I shook my head. "That's it? That doesn't make any sense."

Crono shrugged and waved one arm towards the gate. I shrugged back. "I don't know... Do you think this gate will take us back there? What if that sea serpent's waiting for us?"

"It better be," Magus determined as he tightened his glove over his left hand. He was itching for a fight. Magus was generally unexpressive (unless you counted 'brooding' and 'bitchy,' his default expressions) so subtle changes in body language, particularly habitual ones, became easy to read. Perhaps all those years of "talking" to Crono gave me a sense of such things.

At any rate, that was my cue. I fished the Gate Key out of my bag and checked Crono. He passed me a lost, lopsided grin. Ready when you are?

I stepped back, squared with the gate and aimed the key at it. I had no idea what I was doing--none of us did. When it came to the gates, that was par for the course. It's not like we could consult an expert--hell, we were the experts. "Alright, here goes nothing..."

The high-pitched twang of the key unlocking a gate was a sound I thought I'd never hear again. For a second the gate shuddered and sparked, sapphire bolts licking the rim of its container, and then the portal exploded outwards, swallowing the entire pedestal and stretching to fill the space between the columns. I flinched as a blast of cold air erupted from the gate, though before I could blink twice Magus was already stepping through, as fearless as ever. He vanished into the vortex like a fish into the deep end.

I checked Crono again; he nodded haltingly and then sprinted to catch up with Magus. "Crazy..." I muttered before following suit. The last thing I saw before crossing over was the white flash of the gate closing behind us.

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