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

5. The Mysterious Masamune

When I woke up, I saw red, everywhere.

I also woke up with a serious case of morning daze, in which I couldn't recall where in the world I was or how I got there. All I had to go by was a bare, blurry brick room washed in crimson twilight, and for a delirious second I thought I had boarded some kind of ferry to hell. In the next second, before I could focus my eyes enough to wonder where the heck my glasses went, I realized that the warmth pooled next to me belonged to another body.

My heart fluttered with blind, stupid panic, though I kept enough of my wits to lie still until my memories caught up with me. At last I remembered to breathe, and then Crono gave a sigh of his own, stirring back to sleep. My head was resting on his shoulder, and I could discern the placid rise and fall of his chest. My left arm was buried under him--I'd lost all feeling to it--and his right arm was hooked behind me. It tingled a little where his fingertips brushed the small of my back--something strange, almost like the pins-and-needles of bad circulation, only less painful and more... warm.

I didn't dwell on our awkward position any longer than I had to, though I didn't want to move around and wake Crono up, either. He was finally sleeping peacefully, which was a good sign. Without rolling over, I skimmed the bunk for my glasses, and found them over my head, on the corner of the bed table. I couldn't even remember taking them off.

When I tried to lift my right arm to grab them, that's when I found something really freaking strange. There was a lot more weight to it than there should have been, and the sudden movement stirred up a wave of that odd, tingling sensation, all the way from my fingers to my elbow. I blinked and strained to look, realizing there was something tied to my wrist, and that something was Crono's arm. We were bound at the wrists by some strap of purple cloth I had never seen before, and though I couldn't see clearly, I could swear there were bloody patterns all over it.

"What the hell...?!" I whispered, and that was enough commotion to rouse my bunkmate. He started with a lazy snort, stretched shakily and reached as if to scratch his side, though when his hand dug into my ribs instead he started again, eyes fluttering open. He panned a bemused look across the ceiling and back down to the present, where he stared at me groggily for several moments before cracking an uncertain grin. Good morning?

I glanced back to my right arm, which was still tied to his wrist. Crono followed my look, and his eyebrows disappeared into his headband. The hell?

"...I didn't do that," I said lamely.

He must have believed me, because we stared at it like morons for another minute before one of us finally got the gumption to take the wrap off. Crono sat up and puzzled over the thing while I took my moment of freedom to reclaim my glasses. My left arm stung like crazy as the blood rushed back through it.

"What is that thing supposed to be? Give it here," I demanded, snatching the wrist wrap out of his dumb fingers. Crono looked suitably put out while I examined the evidence.

It was a strip of smooth, plum-dyed linen, frayed at the ends as if ripped off a larger piece. There were crudely drawn designs all the way around, like dark stains. Again I got that inkling of familiarity, the same one I had while inspecting the rings around that gate, although I still had no idea what in the world I was looking at. "Geez, what is this stuff, blood?" I wondered aloud, half afraid that I was correct, because the only thing left to assume was that somebody snuck into the room while Crono and I were asleep and tied our wrists together with some kind of hex-cloth. Written in blood. The look of muted horror on Crono's face mirrored my sentiment.

I put the thing down, rubbed the lingering, prickly-warm feeling out of my wrist and threw my feet over the side of the bunk, looking for my bearings. That was so crazy, I didn't even want to think about it. I decided to focus on the day ahead... whatever was going to happen. Crono tapped my shoulder and asked for a drink with a snap of his fingers, and I passed him a bottle filled with well water. He seemed much healthier, so the poison must have passed. We were fit to travel again, but where were we going, especially without Magus? He was supposed to be in charge of... something.

I hated being lost, and abandoned, and hungry. My stomach growled again, though the embarrassing noise was obscured by a warbling flutter at the window. I looked up and saw a pigeon, of all things, its white plumage bathed red and gold in the eerie sunrise. My musings knocked about some old rhyme I'd heard from the sailors around Truce--a mnemonic about predicting the weather. 'Red sky at night... red sky at night...' ...something-something. I couldn't quite recall. Some mnemonic aid, that was. 'Red sky at morning...'

Right then Magus appeared without any warning, excuse or introduction at all. He looked like a grim portrait in the frame of the door, a hand propped on his hip and his hawkish gaze staring dead at us. '...sailor's warning.'

"Huh. You're still alive," he said blandly, as if he hadn't cared to take bets either way.

I forgot to act surprised and bolted up, every vow from last night about killing the man boiling to the surface. "No thanks to you! Where were you?? I crawled all over this miserable place and couldn't find you anywhere, much less a decent bite to eat! You have any idea how starved we are?"

Magus cocked a peculiar look at me that I couldn't interpret. What, did he not expect me to be justifiably angry? Meanwhile, at the first mention of food, Crono sat up straight and nodded furiously. Yep, he was definitely better.

Suddenly--and before Magus got the bright idea to reply--I had a radical thought. I whirled around, scooped the piece of hex-cloth off the edge of the bunk and wagged it at the warlock. "By the way, what the hell is this?? Is this some kind of joke? Because I sure as hell don't get it."

To his credit, Magus managed to look confused and indifferent at the same time. He shifted on his feet to look around the room, as if for a culprit--anyone to blame but himself.

"Whatever," I spat, giving up. I threw the cursed thing to the floor. "I don't care, as long as you have an idea about breakfast. I'm not even kidding."

Then, to my true astonishment, someone else appeared at the door. Someone stocky, clad in simple bronze armor and distinctly green. The pupils of his large, wide-set, bulbous eyes narrowed to hairs at the sight of us. "So, 'tis true," he uttered with a high-pitched croak.

"Frog!!" I can't lie. As miserable and grouchy as I was, I was really, really happy to see him. It's kind of ironic, considering I used to abhor frogs. I practically threw myself on the poor guy, though he accepted the welcome as gracefully as ever. "Ah, er..." When I stepped back and let him breathe, he finished his sentence, bowing slightly. "Lucca, Crono, it is a surprise and honor to see thee both."

Crono threw up a friendly (and duly surprised) wave, and I nodded in accord. "The feeling's mutual! But I don't understand; what are you doing here? How did you find us?"

Frog spared the wizard a shifty glance. "Believe it or not, I wast summoned." Funnily enough, a frog's mug could be very expressive, and he then assumed an abashed smile. "Ah... Frankly, I must apologize. When Magus told me he was in the company of 'that boy with the sword and that loud-mouthed girl,' I had presumed the latter to be Marle."

I started to laugh, but caught myself before I got it. "H...eeey," I said slowly, not sure at which point to take offense.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Crono flick his wrists and shrug. "Oh yeah," I piped in for him. "What do you mean, summoned?"

"I wasn't asking for you," Magus elucidated, pointing a glare down at Frog. "I was asking for your damn sword."

Frog set a hand on the hilt of the sword in question and stood back defensively. "The Masamune stays by my side at all times, scourge!"

"Tch, you're worse than the girl..." Magus grumbled, rolling his eyes. The expression looked almost absurd coming from Magus, and if he weren't talking about me I would have been amused.

"What do you need the Masamune for?" I asked, besides and straight to the point.

For a change, the man didn't equivocate. "Those spirits can read what's on that gate."

Frog relaxed, blinking up at Magus with genuine--if cautious--interest. "The spirits of the Masamune?"

I knew them, of course. At one point, we even had to fight the little guys (it was a "test," supposedly.) They were strange by all accounts, particularly for the way they imbued the Dreamstone alloy of that legendary sword with their own souls. I wasn't too sure about communicating with them, but if that was Magus's plan, it really wasn't such a bad one.

"Really? How do you know?" I enquired, although it was already starting to make sense. Masa and Mune once lived in the glory days of Zeal, and if the script on the gate was as archaic as the Dark Ages, where Magus came from in the first place...

Magus shrugged flatly. "Does it matter? I know."

I stamped a foot. "It kinda does matter! Anything we can find out about these gates would be a huge help."

"If it matters, they'll tell us." At that, Magus turned on his heel and marched out. "Now let's go."

Frog hesitated at the door before bowing to us again. "That Fiendlord waits for no man, I'rt afraid." He then chased after Magus.

"But...!" I was still hungry. I hated that bastard. I hurried and gathered my satchel while Crono pulled on his (unfortunately shredded) shirt and found his sword. I offered him a hand up out of bed. "You gonna be okay?" I asked, just to be sure.

He stood without my help, wobbled one step, stretched his arms and then nodded soundly. His eyes were clear and steady, just like always. Yep.

I turned to go, then, but a hand on my shoulder held me back. Despite the annoying lack of speech, Crono was usually a pretty straightforward guy, so I could tell by the curiously reserved look on his face that he had something to say. "Yeah?" I prompted, trying not to sound hurried (though we were.)

That's when he pulled me into a hug. It wasn't like his death grip from last night, but something snug and simple. "Thanks," he murmured, and then let me go.

For the record, I wasn't blushing, though that weird sensation I woke up to came back in a rush. I quickly shook it off. "Um... no problem. Let's go catch up before Lord Jackass ditches us again."

Just to show that he wasn't a completely despicable host, Magus provided breakfast--magically, no less--from the basement kitchen, to vex my hours of fruitless hunting. "It's my castle," was his only response to my heated questions, and I had to bite my tongue if I wanted to keep my place at the table. We ate some biscuits with jam and then finally headed out.

It was a good thing Magus had the way memorized, as we went straight back to the cave. Frog was much more conversational than Magus, and we were able to have a refreshing chat on the way. I learned that he had spent the past three years serving his kingdom as a knight errant, although he never moved out of his hovel in the Cursed Woods. That was where Magus picked him up.

"What about Leene? I thought she liked having you around the castle," I pried, though the question seemed to hit home a little too hard, since Frog's gaze avoided mine.

"'Twould not... 'Tis better to keep mine distance," he said at length, and I shut up about it.

We couldn't help but stop in the chamber before the gate, where we were attacked. That noisome rank was still there, although the heckran's body had completely vanished.

Frog was understandably in the dark. "Wast there a battle here? Mine nose detects blood and smoke."

I could have made a remark about frogs not having noses, but it wouldn't have helped. I adjusted my glasses. That didn't help, either. "I'm not hallucinating, right? There was a barbequed heckran right here just yesterday."

We all stared at the spot where the dragon's remains should have been, more-or-less aghast. Magus followed the dark smear on the floor all the way to the gate shrine. "There's a trail of blood."

I couldn't believe the implications. "So... what? There's no way. That thing was cooked."

Crono scratched his head, just as baffled as the rest of us. "Mayhaps something carried it off?" Frog suggested.

"Like what, the rats?" I snapped, while Magus scrutinized the scuffed marks in the blood. "I see footprints. And smell Mystics," he announced.

"I don't like this at all, guys..." I felt the need to say. If that heckran had friends, it meant we would be running into more fights in our near future.

"If Mystics are behind this, we'll catch them soon enough," Magus asserted, narrowing his eyes at the gate. "Though I doubt it. They're not smart enough to make something like this."

Frog offered a low, appreciative croak in the shrine's direction. "So this be the gate... 'tis incredible. I hath not seen such a marvel since our time in the Kingdom of Zeal. It appears to be a masterwork of the Gurus' calibre. Whoever created such a thing?"

The Gurus? That hadn't occurred to me. Those three men were also from Zeal, and were geniuses in their own right. Time was Gaspar's specialty, though last I checked, he never left his post at the End of Time. Belthasar created the Epoch. And Melchior...? It still didn't make sense. There was no apparent motive or purpose, and it didn't explain the Mystics. Not yet.

"That's what we're hoping to find out," I said. Getting to business, Magus turned to Frog. "You, sword. Now."

"If thou'rt asking for it..." Frog said scathingly, not appreciating Magus's tone--though he didn't carry out his half-threat. He unsheathed the Masamune, held it in a passive stance and cleared his throat. "Spirits! Come to mine aid. Share thy vast knowledge with us."

I'm not a sword buff, but I must say the Masamune is an impressive blade. It can look like an ordinary broadsword at first glance, but when the energy of its Dreamstone is ignited, the thing really comes to life. It seemed to shudder in Frog's hand and glow with a poker-hot pulse. I watched Magus retreat the slightest step, not daring to face it directly. He must have remembered how that sword nearly sucked his magic dry, back when he was our enemy.

The sword emitted a sonorous ring that rose and faded with a flash of the steel--and was followed by a tall, hollow voice that filled the room.

"Hwaaaaaaaa," the voice drawled, gradually tempering to a normal, almost human tone. If I didn't know any better, it sounded like a great big yawn.

"What's all this, now? We were having a fine nap," said the sword.

Frog startled, holding the sword at arm's length. "Avast! The Masamune speaks!" he exclaimed, as if he didn't expect his petition to actually work. Honestly, I didn't either.

A similar voice chimed in, "Hey Master! 'sup?"

"A...aye?" Frog stammered, at a loss. They seemed to recognize us, at least. "Masa and... Mune?" I called out.

"Yep! Name's Masa, don't wear it out. Oh hey, you're Master's friends."
"Holy crap, if it isn't the Magus, too! Nice to see ya again, ol' pal," Mune said with saccharine sarcasm.

Magus pointedly turned aside. "Hrmph. Stupid sword."

"Ohhh yeah, he remembers us."

"I can break you again, you little bastards," Magus snarled. Frog swept the blade to one side, holding it at the ready, and I stepped in before some kind of magical catfight broke out.

"Whoa! Cool it just a second. Listen, Masa and Mune, we need your help. Can you read the writing on that gate?"

"Gate? Where?" The sword pulsed again. "Oh, that thing. Wow. Get a look'er there, brother."
"Huh. It's been a long time since we've seen one of these, eh?"
"I'll say."

"Ye've seen this before?" Frog queried.

"Oh yeah. Been a long time. Loooooong time."
"Don't go telling them everything, Mune."
"I'm not! Just sayin'."

I was too excited over the prospect of deciphering the gate rings to drill them on whatever past they were keeping from us. "So you do recognize this? What do all those symbols mean?"

"What?" Mune barked. "You think we're supposed to be able to read it? You know what they say about assuming..."

My heart sank, although suddenly I had an idea of where Magus picked up that idiom.

"Now now, let's humor them," Masa chided his brother.
"Oh, all right... It's an old alphabet!"
"Really old."
"Yeah, way outside the stuff you guys can read. Not even those old cats in Zeal knew everything about it."
"Should we try to read it?"
"I guess... Bring us a lil' closer, Master."

Frog warily complied, stepping up to the shrine and holding the sword over the gate's pedestal like a torch.

"Hmmm..." Masa mulled over it. "Not much really, is it?"
"Yeah, nothing special."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well see, it's just a bunch of characters. I could tell you what they all mean, but it's not arranged in any way that makes sense. Y'know, like normal sentences. It's just markers."

"Markers? As in... coordinates?" I guessed.

"Bingo! I like you--you're the smart one."
"Huh, do you see that?" Masa started on a tangent. "I don't remember there being a fourth ring, do you?"

"Nope. Ain't that somethin'!"

"Where have you seen a gate like this before?" Magus finally asked, though I butted in at the same time, "What do the symbols on the fourth ring say?"

Magus's question was conveniently ignored.

"We told you, nothin' special!"
"Yeah, they're just elemental keys."
"Yep, for the eight elements."

"Eight? Spekkio told us of but four..." Frog mentioned.

"Nah, nah, that old coot's talking about--well it's different. Magic is different."
"Yeah, don't you know? Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Spirit, Shadow, Holy... I'm forgettin' one, bro..."
"Right, right."

"Time is an element?" I interjected, incredulous.

"Sorta! It's not easy to explain. Anyway, I don't know why that fourth ring is there. They're not normally on these things."
"This gate is special."
"Yeah, I guess so." Mune sniggered. "Heh! Time! I get it."

I stepped onto the gate's platform with Frog and started to piece it together. "Okay, so... These rings set the coordinates to the gate. If we move this..." I nudged the inner ring like I had before, and it spun clockwise a notch. "It'll set our destination."

"Pretty much," Masa confirmed.
"Don't the other rings move, too?"
"They should..."

Frog tested their thought, though the outer rings didn't budge, despite the knight's muscle. "'Tis no use," he conceded.

"Is that all?" Magus sounded disappointed.

"I guess..." I looked closely at the gate. There was a notch at the top of the setting that looked like an indicator, pointing to one of the runes. "Is there a good way to figure out which one of these coordinates will take us back to Magus's time?"

"Uh..." Mune stalled.
"Heh. Nope! Looks like you're going to have to play guessing games."
"If there's eight keys, that could mean there's seven more gates out there."
"Yep. Good luck!"

"Great..." I sighed. We didn't learn much, but it was a start.

"So we're just going to shoot in the dark until we find where we're going? This is useless..." Magus grumbled.

"Well hey, not necessarily..." I spoke up, trying to be the optimist, for a change. I pulled out my notepad and pen, flipped to a blank page and started recording the gate's configuration as best as I could read it. "Like Mune just said, there's only eight possibilities. If we keep track of which coordinate goes where, we'll map our way through these things in no time."

The look Magus was aiming at me looked more like resignation than approval, though it certainly didn't look like he had a better idea. "Okay!" I chirped once I had finished writing. "That about does it. Are we ready to try this out?"

Crono took a bold step forward. Magus gave a disgruntled sigh and looked at the floor. Frog replaced the Masamune in its sheath and nodded.

"Aye. Let us not delay this adventure."


Back to Esper Junction