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

8. Silent Rain

I never ran that hard in my life.

It was still raining like the end of the world, little blurry drops kept sticking to my glasses, and I nearly took a dive off the slick sidewalk five or six times, but I didn't even think about slowing down until I was out of town. My feet hammered the puddles and skipped across the boards of the wooden bridge leading to my home island, and by the time I reached the other side it hit me: Operation \b Tri\b0 toch. I was such an idiot.

So, they were after Dreamstone, the Rainbow Shell and the Sun Stone. How did the Mystics know where to find it? It wasn't an advertised fact that my dad was keeping the Sun Stone. The only people from my time that would have known, really, were Crono, Marle, Melchior and a few castle authorities, including the king. Then again, that's a lot of people to squeeze information from, and I hated to imagine the process.

My mind wasn't exactly full of positive mental images at the moment, anyway. I thought about the dead of night, when my parents would be tucked in bed--maybe my mom with a lamp burning late over a good book--taken utterly off guard by monsters pounding down the door or crashing through the windows. I thought about the rifle my dad kept in the corner of their bedroom, behind the dresser--the one he shot the dog with. I wondered if he would have even made it to the bottom of the stairs with it before they reached him first. I wondered if he would have had time to get off more than one shot before...

Or maybe the Mystics went straight for the attic. My mom would ask my dad to go see what the strange thumping noises were, and then...

When I paused to catch my breath, leaning on my knees even as they shook with exertion, I spotted the others closing in, not too far behind. Good, I thought, I could use the support. If there were any Mystics around, I might need some backup. Then again, I thought with a flush of rage, if I found any Mystics still mucking around my house, they were the ones going to need backup, not me.

I was standing where the gravel path bottlenecked through some tall grass--this was where that snake bit me three years ago, I recalled, apropos of nothing. I almost mistook him for the black voice, but I actually heard Magus remark as he drew closer, "As if they'll be any less dead if she runs faster."

Fucking asshole.

I glimpsed a scolding look from Marle, but didn't wait to hear whatever she dealt him; I just kept running. I thought I heard laughter, but it was too close and quiet to be anything but another trick of my mind. I rounded the corner of my house and flew up the front steps.

There were things I should have noticed right away--the door was hanging open, it was too dark inside, and there was a damp stench not unlike the one in the Magic Cave--but the first thing to strike me was the silence. Thick, uncompromising silence, the kind you could drown in. I couldn't even hear the rain.

It was like stepping into a dark theater; I hung around the threshold of the den for a minute, gathering my senses. I then waded through the sleeping bedlam, past books and tools that hadn't rested on their proper shelves for years. My mother's voice played through my head like a phantom phonograph, yelling for me and Dad to, "turn off that contraption and clean up this forsaken mess!" I entered the hallway and fixated on a shattered picture frame on the floor--it was my late Aunt Marcy's. I don't know what possessed me to hang it back up. There was a lifeless normalcy about the place that made me think someone had dropped a Time Egg, but then a spot of lightning touched the wall, and I saw everything.

Splattered, smeared, scuffed, blotted, tracked in exotic footprints up and down the stairs, through the kitchen and across the hall--mud and blood, lots of it. There was a thick smudge running out through the den, as if something heavy was dragged that way. Then I noticed a broken step leading up to my room. I sped upstairs and found a wreck, every single drawer pulled out and every flask smashed. One of them contained enough nitric acid to leave a shoe-sized, smoldering stain on the hardwood floor. There was a lump of coal on my desk next to Alfador's upturned cage. It was fuzzy and scorched black.

The sick sons of bitches killed my hamster. I was too shocked to wonder why. I raced back the other way, down my stairs and up towards my parents' room, although I never made it three feet past the door.

There isn't a way to share what it's truly like to find your parents murdered--it's just one of those things you hope to never experience for yourself. There are old accounts from the Mystic War that describe such events in gruesome detail, with whole families getting chopped into pieces over the dinner table by henches' axes, but it's always one thing to read about a casualty of war and another to see it in person. I should have been repulsed, outraged or... something, but all I could do was stop and survey the scene with an eerie sense of detachment that not even the thunder could dispel.

I almost had to hand it to the culprits--their work was quick, yet creative. My mother was hoisted off the bed and run through the middle with a pitchfork I didn't know we owned. She was left stapled to the wall like a game trophy, legs dangling uselessly to the floor, eyes glassy and bulging. I couldn't even see my dad's face; he was hunched over a puddle of gore, his shoulders wedged between the bed and the table as if his head had fallen through the gap, although the head-shaped mound planted in the flower pot across the room spoke otherwise. I found his rifle in the middle of the floor, but I'd never be able to determine how many shots it fired before something snapped it into three pieces, as if the cast iron barrel were as brittle as a candy bar.

I didn't know what to do. I was feeling a little woozy; I'm surprised I didn't throw up or pass out. Instead I turned and walked back downstairs. Marle was the first one there, waiting for me. She got a whiff of the murky air and then covered her mouth with a gasp. "Oh my God... What happened?" She looked at me, eyes wide with concern. "Is everything okay?"

I can't remember answering her. Maybe I shook my head. She began looking around just as Crono and Ayla barged in and started to do the same. I simply wilted against the doorpost, completely drained. My mind was sublimely blank--I could see and hear everything around me with crystal clarity; I just couldn't move or think.

Ayla scrambled with her nose to the ground like a bloodhound. "Bad smell! Mystics!" she barked. Frog sidled past me, treading cautiously through the den, and Magus followed. I watched him glide straight through the air and up through the open hatch of the attic. There were muffled footsteps all around and above, and then Marle's shriek of horror. "Oh my God...!!"

She fled back downstairs and into Crono's embrace, babbling softly into his shoulder. Frog shook his head with a low croak, standing back and refusing to snoop. Magus shortly reappeared on my balcony to announce the obvious. "The Sun Stone is gone."

At that, Crono broke away and punched the kitchen door so hard a piece of the frame splintered off and the dishes in the kitchen rattled. The whole house was jarred to silence. I think everyone stopped and stared at him, because then he grew self-conscious and stormed out. As he brushed by me I shivered--he carried an aura of rage that was palpably cold.

Marle padded closer, her tone ever soft and sympathetic. It looked like she was fighting back tears. "Lucca, I'm sorry..."

I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want to hear any of it. I didn't want to think. I ducked and ran out too, like an animal flushed from its burrow. The rain couldn't touch me. I ran east until I hit the coast and hit it hard, my knees scraping the pebble-strewn sand. My kidneys still ached from the eat-and-run and my leg was on fire and I didn't give a damn. I needed a minute to... to something. I sat like a zombie on the beach, watching the bleak grey clouds and gale-tossed waves and praying to the god of schadenfreude that the sea serpent Magus was chasing would rise up out of the abyss like a tidal wave and wipe it all out--my house, the dead bodies in the bedroom and everything. Then I wouldn't have to think about anything.

I thought about red gates, despite myself. A great playwright once said that every hero needs a defining moment of tragedy in their life. I tried to be a hero once, three and thirteen years before. I tried to save my family from tragedy--to redeem myself and give my parents a chance at a normal life--and for a time, I succeeded. But I'm no hero--I know better, now. That stuff's for kids and dreamers. All good deeds must come to an end.

I wondered if, given the chance again, I would have even bothered...

I don't remember how long I was out there, but inevitably someone found me--I just didn't expect that someone to be Ayla. I stared dead ahead and refused to acknowledge her, hoping she might lose interest in whatever friendly gesture she devised and walk away. I wasn't in the mood for condolences.

She rather sauntered up beside me and stood with her gaze cast out over the water, arms crossed and hips canted in her typically relaxed-yet-confident manner. To my surprise, she didn't have any greeting or comment at hand. She didn't seem particularly moved one way or the other, and I was lulled into the comfort of her steadfast (if unusual) silence.

Then, suddenly yet solemnly, she broke it. "Ayla know death like this. Ayla have friends, strong men, Reptites take. Have daughters of strong men, Reptites take. Men ask, 'Chief, why no save?' Ayla no can save. Everyone hurt, want to blame Reptites and Ayla."

I stared at the rugged stones embedded in the sand around me. It looked like a pile of rubble. How grim, how appropriate.

"...Ayla wishes could save, bring daughters back. Save everyone. But Ayla know, no can save everyone. Ioka knows. Ioka strong because Ioka knows."

Why was Ayla telling me this? I peered up at her, looking for an explanation, yet all I found was an expression lost at sea. She then looked down, catching me with her trenchant eyes and firm, determined grin as she said in a tone that didn't need to persuade, "Lucca strong. Lucca strong because fight, even when no can save. Lucca know?"

It was funny, but I did know what she meant. Ayla always had this down-to-earth wisdom that shone through no matter how many prepositions she left out. It must have made her a great chief. "Y-Yeah..." I hiccupped. Perfect, I had to start crying in front of Ayla, of all people, when the woman just gave me a compliment. At least I had the rain for a cover. "Yeah, I know."

Ayla grabbed my arm and yanked me vigorously to my feet, popping my shoulder (I don't think she knew her own strength, half the time.) "Good! Ayla know, be okay. We go back? Scary man no wait much longer."

Screw Magus, I wanted to say, but courtesy prevailed. "Sure, yeah..." I wavered, rubbing my eyes on my sleeve, and then faced her with a bit more resolve. "Yeah, let's go."

Magus was just the one waiting for me when I got back to the house. He was perched on the edge of the roof like a gargoyle, his stony glare fixing me to the ground. "Are we ready to go yet?"

Ayla pouted while I fumed, "Geez, could you put being a jerk on hold for like a few more minutes? I need time to sort this out."

He snorted. "Fine. But remember, the dead have all the time in the world. We don't."

I left him and his gall to stew in the rain and walked inside. Then there was that inevitably awkward moment where we wondered what to do with the bodies. I would have to report the deaths in town later, but for the moment Frog and Ayla helped me bury my parents behind the house, while Marle went to look for Crono. I don't know what she said to him, but he was notably calmer once she brought him back. Frog, bless him, never said a thing--he just lent a hand with the dirty work. I think I appreciated that the most.

I tried not to let it get to me, because I knew this whole ordeal hit him almost as hard as it did me, but Crono hadn't looked at me the whole time. I wasn't sure what he was thinking, but I was a little afraid to ask. I knew one thing for sure without even looking: he was pissed. I'd seen him enraged in battle before, his sword cutting a righteous swath through whole bands of monsters that threatened his friends, but this was different. It was dangerous because it lingered, like the kind of black vengeance Magus practiced--and it was good, I thought absurdly, because one of us had to be angry. I was still too numb.

'The rage comes later. Let it smolder,' the black voice whispered.

Eventually we were all standing around a pair of fresh graves with a morbid lack of purpose. "Should one of us say something...?" Marle asked with trepidation. Suddenly several eyes were on me.

The ground was the most fascinating thing in my line of sight. I shook my head. I didn't mean to be callous or avoidant; there just wasn't anything more to say. "No... no. Let's just go."

It was when we were finally leaving that Crono made a gesture, setting one hand on my shoulder, though his gaze remained focused somewhere distant. I got a chill, a small shock that festered under the skin even after he pulled his hand away and walked ahead. That was getting weird, and I wasn't just imagining it. I wondered if he felt it too, but I wasn't brave enough to ask. Maybe later, when that bloodstained rag on the floor of Magus's Castle wasn't the furthest thing from our minds.

Marle approached me next, prying confidentially, "Are you going to be okay?"

"Yeah," I answered dully, not too quickly or too slowly. "I'll be fine. Just don't ask anymore."

"Okay. If you're sure..." she said with a lack of faith that was almost irritating. I wasn't weak. I wasn't about to break down and cry, like some baby. I was going to be strong, like Ayla said. I still wanted to find out what was going on, now more than ever, and the last thing I wanted to do was get left behind or slow the group down with my moping. I wasn't sure if I was putting it all behind me or just postponing it for later, but either would have to do for now.

Believe it or not, it was Magus who helped put my mind back on track, thanks to his typical, arrogant insensitivity. He rejoined our group at the bridge, the very picture of impatience. "Are we going now? I'm tired of waiting."

"Yeah, thanks for being a consistent dick." The weird part is I kind of meant it.

"No problem," he shrugged it off. "So, where to, next?"

To hunt down Lord Heckran and the Mystics that did this, of course. What other course was logical? After what that one did to Crono, and then Captain Alsten, and now my family, I was starting to really despise heckrans. Then there was Ramezia... I didn't like that name. I didn't like how little the diablos told us about him. I was perversely looking forward to finding him--all of them, and then... And then I could burn that bridge when I got to it.

"That Mystic Ayla caught said the Heckran Caves were their base. We could see what's going on there," I suggested.

"He also said that's not where the source of power for the gates is being kept," Magus rebutted.

"Sure, but we might find someone there who does know."

"Or we could find the source of the gates faster by actually using the gates."

"What are you saying, you want to go back and try another time with the gate? We already know the Mystic attacks came from this era!"

"But we still don't know where the gates came from. The Mystics didn't put them up--they even admitted it. If we want to get to the bottom of this, we should be looking for Ramezia, not Heckran."

"And that's what I'm saying--we can best get to Ramezia through Heckran!"

I liked how nobody was willing to get in the way of our bantering until Marle timidly interjected, "I kinda want to see the gates you guys are talking about..."

Magus smirked wickedly. "See? We couldn't turn down a request from Her Highness, now could we?"

I scowled. "That's cheap, Magus, really cheap..."

"Hrmph, I don't care. I believe we agreed from the start that I'm deciding when and where we're going. We're going back to the gate."

I gritted my teeth. Technically, he was correct. Damn verbal contract. "You just want to get back to your own time and screw everything else, don't you? That's why you're doing this."

He whipped his cloak over his shoulders and strode off. "I don't care what you think about my motives, either. Let's go."

"Tch, fine," I relented. "Douchebag..."

We stopped by Crono's house on the way back to the gate, partly for provisions such as drinking water, spare towels and a few packs of jerky, but mostly for Crono to check in with his mom and receive the tongue-lashing he was due for lying about where he was going (not that she could stop him from going out again...)

Magus didn't bother going inside, and I didn't either, for reasons I wasn't ready to face yet. The one thing I had asked Crono not to mention was what just happened, and he was always good for his word when it came to stuff like that (even if it's by omission.) I had a practical reason, besides--we didn't exactly have the time or motivation to break any bad news, since we were running on whatever cloudy daylight we could get. The sky was just starting to darken as evening pressed in, so we needed to get going soon.

So then it was just me and Magus, hanging around the little broken picket gate and taking turns brooding in the rain (gawd, what a pathetic pair we made.) Eventually the front door opened and I heard Marle throw a loud and encouraging, "Don't worry, ma'am, I'll keep an eye on them!" over her shoulder.

Crono's mom appeared behind her, huffing with relief. "Oh Marle, you're the only one I can count on to keep these kids in line!"

Marle giggled. "Hehe, I know it!"

Thus assured, the woman turned to give her son a hug. "You're going back out again, aren't you? Please be careful."

Crono smiled and nodded, grateful to be let off the hook, and then everyone else filed into the yard, ready to move on. The only catch was Crono's mom shouting before we even reached the street, "Feed these dang cats first!"

The hour wasn't too late when we reached the cave with the gate shrine. As I expected, Marle found it all marvelous, and she was bubbling with questions we still couldn't answer. She hovered over my shoulder while I stood before the gate's silver rings and mused out loud over my notebook, "Well, we've already eliminated two: the 'fire' rune for Truce Canyon and this 'spirit' one for Ayla's time." I tapped the page with my pencil, frowning. "It's too bad we weren't paying attention when we first jumped the gate, or I could've had the Magic Cave's coordinate down, too."

"Why, would it have moved since you used it?" Marle pointed at the rune in the top notch. "Maybe that's it right there."

"Maybe..." I shook my head. "Wait no, the Mystics have probably been through here since. There's no way to tell."

"Ayla not sure, smell many different monster--old tracks, new tracks, lots been through here." Ayla paced around the pillars on the edge of the platform, looking over their engravings. "Neat paw prints! This art? Look like kilwala!"

I heard Magus cough darkly, and when I glanced back he was fixing me with the same incredulous glare he used that morning in his castle. "Who told you that other one was 'spirit'?"

"Um...?" Didn't Masa and Mune tell us? 'Sure they did,' the black voice snickered.

"I dunno," I hedged. "I've got them all written down, anyway. Doesn't exactly matter what they stand for." That was a fib. I was terribly intrigued, but what good would it do to stand around and ponder when the answers were beyond? I enjoyed a good mystery, and liked to think things through, but I enjoyed going, doing and discovering even more--maybe all that adventuring rubbed off on me. Or just Magus's impatience.

"Which shall we gamble on, next?" Frog prompted.

I shrugged. "Uh, any of the other six, really..."

Marle hopped in place, excited. "Oh, oh! Can I pick?" She reached for the inner ring and spun it, amazed by how it moved. "That's amazing..." It rolled soundlessly to a stop, and she tipped an inquisitive look at the top rune. "That's one we haven't tried, right? Which one does that symbol stand for?"

I shrugged again. It was 'wind,' but I didn't want to say so. After the way Magus was looking at me, I wasn't even sure if I was supposed to know that. I jotted it down in my notebook and avoided him. "Who knows? It's our next stop, is what it is."

"Ayla ready!" She leapt across the platform and whirled to face the gate. Crono raised his hand; he was ready, too. The Gate Key felt heavier than usual. This was becoming the longest day of my life, yet as long as there was still daylight, our sense of adventure wouldn't give out. We all made the jump, looking forward to the next answer.

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