Stream Continuum

[02.02.00] » by Benjamin S. Avner

[TOMA'S NOTE: The following story contains mild violence, language, and nudity. Readers' discretion is advised.]


Crono stood alone at the edge of the town of Truce, staring off into the distance as if in a daze. He unconsciously ran his hand through the top of his spiked, fire-red hair. His light brown eyes riveted on nothing in particular - an action which also described his state of mind. He was trying to concentrate on piecing together some coherent thoughts or explanations, but there was nothing to concentrate on.

Back at home, this had seemed so natural. To just go to Fiona's Forest for a walk. Now, he was beginning to wonder what the hell he was doing. He'd gotten a few stares along the way which cast further doubt in his mind about his own rationality.

He trudged on again, all too slowly leaving Truce behind him. The grass under his feet grew thicker as he walked. Looking down the ground ahead, he saw that the rich green stalks would soon give way to plain dirt. Crono stopped again, continuing to mull over in his head what he was doing. No answers came. He walked on another few steps, then stopped yet again.

Guardia Forest loomed off to his right. Even at this distance, Crono could make out the leafy tops of a few of the individual trees, and the general line where the green separated from the dark brown hue of the thick trunks. Why wasn't he going there for his walk in the forest, rather than making the long trek to Fiona's Forest? No answer. The midday summer sun beating down was starting to get to him, and he squinted, bringing his right hand up to rest his forehead against.

"Hey Crono!"

Crono spun around, his hand instinctively flashing to the sword at his belt. Then he relaxed as he saw who it was walking up to him. "How're you doing, Lucca?"

"Okay, I guess." Crono's childhood friend jogged over the remaining few paces separating them. Lucca wasn't wearing her usual dorky-looking helmet, Crono noticed, leaving her short-cropped purple hair to drop down to the top of her thick glasses. They stood there for a moment while Lucca caught her breath.

"So, what're you so uptight about?" Lucca finally broke the silence.

Crono shrugged. "Wish I knew."

"Is anything wrong?" Lucca looked concerned.

"No, nothing in particular. It's just that... I don't know. I find myself doing things without knowing why." He paused to stretch for a second. "Like now, I feel like walking to Fiona's Forest. Don't ask me why."

Lucca scratched her head. "That's kinda weird. I don't really know what to tell you. Um, why don't you just follow your instincts? Maybe there's a reason."

He nodded. "Yeah, I guess maybe I will. Thanks." He started to turn away, but stopped when Lucca put a hand on his shoulder.

"What're you doing being so serious about everything, Crono? Lighten up a little!" It was a little unusual, Crono had to admit to himself. Usually, on a day like this, he would either be feeling enthusiastic about life, or joking about everything. Or sleeping, of course. Lucca continued to appraise him.

"You know, I think I'd like to come along. Do you mind?"

Crono thought about that for a minute. One of his main reasons for taking this little trip, he suddenly realized, had been to get away from people. But the prospect of having a friend with him was appealing now. "Sure. No problem."

"Good." Lucca abruptly grinned. "You know, I have the best ideas sometimes. Maybe everyone could use a little of my intellect; the rest of the world doesn't have much to go around."

Crono cracked something of a smile for the first time all day. "Lucca, when we told you to quit with the false modesty, we didn't mean that false arrogance would be any better."

"Hey, I'm not arrogant. I'm just good. You want to take the ferry?"

"No, we'll walk." To Lucca's interrogative glance, he told her that he was just following his instincts.

"It's more than just the weird desires, I think," Crono was saying, referring to the mild depression that had first set in a few days ago. It had been about an hour since he'd met up with Lucca. "I don't feel comfortable any more. Life isn't an adventure. I really don't know why I feel so different suddenly."

"Since Marle left? She'll be back by the end of the week; you know that."

Crono had to smile at the though of his blonde tomboy princess. It gradually turned into a sigh. She'd left a void in his life when she'd left for Medina two weeks ago. Damn governmental functions. This was the longest they'd ever been apart since their first meeting. "Don't think for a minute that I'm not counting the seconds 'till she gets back. But it's more than that."

He paused for a second to re-tie his boot, then ran his hand through his hair, thinking. He'd never tried to articulate this mood before. "I feel… empty. I guess that's the best way to put it. I want some kind of challenge. Maybe a good sword-fight or something."

Lucca shrugged. "Sounds like just post-world-saving letdown. I'd think it'd be normal for warriors to feel restless after they've finished their quests or whatever."

"Well, do you feel anything like that?"

"Not really," Lucca admitted. She thought for a second. "Maybe it's because I have my inventions, so I can always challenge myself. Maybe you need to find someone else who's really good with a sword; competition is supposed to help with stuff like that."

Crono grunted non-committally. He didn't feel like talking any more.

They reached Fiona's Forest. They'd seen the woods before they were halfway across Zenan bridge, so there was no danger that Crono would ever expect to see the wasteland that had been there before he and his friends had changed history.

Crono wasn't looking at the scenery much at all - he hadn't since leaving Truce. He and Lucca had been talking the whole way, until just now. It had been their first real conversation since their victory over Lavos some two months earlier, and Crono was rediscovering how much friendship could help him with his emotions. He'd opened up to her without really realizing it, until any privacy he'd his emotions possessed had slipped away, with no regrets.

"Well?" asked Lucca, staring into the green-ceilinged maze ahead. "What does your instinct tell you now?"

Crono looked up. "Give me a second. You're supposed to be the patient one, remember?" He started looking around among the deep-rooted trees, their color of their cracked brown bark matching well with the smoother and slightly darker brown of the dirt floor below.

Slowly, he moved into the forest, not really paying attention to where he was going, trying to let his instincts guide him. Lucca followed curiously. Putting his hand out, he felt at the neck-high bushes between two oak trees. The dark green leaves compressed about his hand, blocking his tentative efforts to push them aside. There was nothing unusual. But he felt...

"Here," he announced.

Lucca's eyes widened. "How'd you know about that?!"

Now it was Crono's turn to stare at the other curiously. "Know about what?" Lucca didn't respond, carefully averting her eyes. "What are you not telling me, Lucca?"

"Er..." Lucca adjusted her glasses. "Nothing special, really. Just that, well..."

She looked so damn funny when she tried to play innocent. But Crono felt an unexplained surge of impatience. "C'mon, Lucca. What's this about?"

"I stowed the Epoch here."

"The Epoch? You said that you dismantled it!" Lucca shook her head wordlessly. Though he didn't know quite why, Crono was upset about it. "It was your idea, remember?" She gave a helpless kind of shrug.

Now that he thought about it, Crono remembered that towards the end, Lucca had started getting reluctant to go through with their plan to dismantle the Epoch. "You promised us you'd do it, Lucca! And we trusted you!" Now he understood how he felt. Betrayed.

"Look, I'm sorry, Crono. Really, I am. I couldn't bear... it's just such a work of genius, like art or something. I should have told you, but I was afraid you'd insist... I'm sorry, all right?"

Crono grimaced inwardly. He didn't feel better about it, but there was no reason to hurt Lucca by holding a grudge. "Forget about it. Let's just look here, okay?"

"Sure." She started to move towards the bush, then paused a second. "You think maybe something about the Epoch is what's drawing you here?"

"I don't know. All I know is that my instincts tell me to search this damn bush. You're the genius; you figure it out."

"You're getting uptight again, Crono. Relax."

Crono started pushing his way through the leaves, fighting them as they tried to spring back into place. "I'll relax when we find out why I'm here."

It took them a few minutes to fight their way to the strange little ship. There was a decline a few meters in, leading to a pit. The Epoch was there, in a small clearing. Completely surrounded by towering bushes on all sides and low-hanging pine branches above, Crono wondered how Lucca could have possibly found this spot in the first place.

Upon approaching the Epoch, Crono felt nothing. He didn't really know what he'd been expecting - nostalgia, memories, a sense of adventure, or what. He felt none of those things, nothing but the continued urging of his instincts, now telling him to enter the ship.

Lucca had stayed back a few steps and was taking out some kind of sensor device, which she pointed at the Epoch. "Crono? This is weird. Epoch is emitting some strange kind of energy. I've never seen this pattern before; it might be dangerous. What do your instincts say?"

"Inside," answered Crono shortly.

He stepped into the small lift that Belthasar had installed. Lucca joined him on the platform, muttering to herself, "Why do I know I'm going to regret this?"

The two friends entered and sat down within the clear dome of the ship's cockpit. Crono confidently eased into the pilot's chair, ready to fly the ship to wherever or whenever they needed to go. Lucca took her place in the seat beside him, and immediately got to work reading the various displays in the panel that took up the entire side wall.

"Okay, we're safe now," she announced. "The ship should be able to protect us. Energy levels are rising outside, though. I can't tell if this stuff is coming from the ship, or if Epoch is being bombarded with it."

Lucca reached into one of the narrow cabinets, and began mixing herself a coffee drink. That particular drink machine had not been part of Belthasar's original design for the ship, but had been added by a certain bored teen inventor when Crono had chosen not to include her in the search for the Rainbow Shell. Crono sat back in his chair. Now the memories were starting to return. He'd been in that chair many times, leading a little group of seven heroes against enemies from throughout time and space, with the fate of the world at stake. Crono at their head. And him only sixteen.

He returned to the present as Lucca finished making her drink. Returning to her panel, she took a sip, then stared at a gauge in surprise. "The energy outside is building way too fast! We're at dangerous levels. The ship's starting to..."

The rest of her sentence was lost in a flash of light and sound. Crono was pressed back hard against his seat by sudden acceleration. The mug hit the floor, scattering some of its scalding contents over Lucca. Fighting to keep his head raised, Crono could see the familiar pale pink and light blue swirls of energy that usually accompanied a time-warp. But this was different. The colors gradually gave way to a slower-moving swirl of penetrating green glow. The tunnel effect was still there, but the now-green light began to drift away from the outside, and gather in front of the ship. Then Crono's head was forced back into his chair, and he saw no more.

The Epoch came to a sudden stop. Crono felt himself propelled forward out of the chair, and quickly grabbed the sides, his powerful biceps the only thing keeping him from smashing through the front of the cockpit.

Lucca, not being as stong or as lucky was thrown forward. Crono reached out with his right arm to catch her, still gripping the chair with his left. She flew into him. The collision broke most of her momentum, but there was enough left over to make him lose his grip on the chair and send both teens flying forward into the front screen.

The next thing Crono knew, he was slumped on the floor and seeing

stars. He gritted his teeth and tried to assess his injuries. He'd gotten the wind knocked out of him, but nothing permanent, he decided. Lucca was already on her feet, staggering a little bit; his body had cushioned hers from most of the worst. He raised himself to a seated position, fighting back his pain and trying to breathe more deeply and evenly.

"Ug... thanks," murmured Lucca, her voice sounding groggy. "You all right?"

"Yeah. Remind me to strap myself in the next time an energy surge unexpectedly sends us careening through space and time." Lucca helped him up and to his chair before sitting down herself. "So, where are we?" he inquired. "Or when? Or whatever?"

For an answer, Lucca started punching computations into a panel. Breathing more steadily, he looked out the front window. There was a lot of dust. Other than that, he could make out dirty, jagged rock walls with a low ceiling. A cave, or maybe a mine.

He heard a gasp from behind him. "What's wrong?" he asked.

Lucca turned to face him, her eyes wide. "Crono! We're in another world!"



Sliding out of the Epoch's confines onto the gray and dusty ground of the mine, Crono had no idea what to expect. Everything here seemed to be made out of the light gray rock. It was definitely a mine, they'd determined, though no one seemed to have used it for awhile. There were assorted picks and shovels scattered near a one of the walls, discarded and beginning to rust, but no other evidence of human life. Actually, Crono corrected himself, he didn't even know whether the inhabitants of this world

were human or not.

A few meters away, Lucca was conducting her own survey of the area. She had found no damage to the Epoch, per se. But, for reasons that Lucca hadn't been able to figure out, the time-travel circuits were inoperative. So they wouldn't be able to travel through time, but as she had assured Crono, Epoch could still fly and take them around this new world. Assuming they could find a way to get the ship out of the mine, Crono reflected.

Turning around, Lucca asked him "You find anything interesting?"

"Not much. I take it you didn't either?"

Lucca shook her head. "Nope. Still no idea why we were sent here. Random accident, I guess."

"Maybe." Crono ran his hand through his hair. "Either that, or we were drawn here for a reason."

She snorted at that. "Great and Mighty Heroes summoned by a Higher Power to fulfill a Noble Task? I don't think so."

"Well, whatever," responded Crono a bit defensively. "Weirder things have happened. So let's check this place out!" He realized how much that sounded like something the old, adventurous Crono might say. He still felt vaguely disturbed, but most of his unease had fallen away. He pumped his fist in front of him, feeling rejuvenated. "Whatever there is to do, I'm ready!"

Lucca smiled, presumably at the change, and punched him playfully on the arm. "Well, remember, Hero, it was _your_ impulses that got us into this, so anything that goes wrong is your fault."

"My fault?!" Crono assumed an expression of exaggerated shock and outrage. "Speak for yourself, Little Miss 'follow your instincts.'"

Lucca smiled while trying to think of a comeback. Crono saw her eyes suddenly move to stare behind him, to his left. "Hey, who's that?"

Crono turned, following her gaze to see a man entering the area through a natural rock doorway. He looked human. Crono sighed with some relief; it seemed he and Lucca wouldn't be too out of place here. As the man approached, Crono could see that he was fairly tall, with a muscular build. His head was shaved, and he wore a dark blue casual business suit. He held a strange round thing in his mouth which emitted a steady stream of smoke.

"Excuse me?" called Crono. The man didn't even slow down. Crono shrugged and called more loudly, "Excuse me, sir!"

This time, there was no way the bald man could have avoided hearing

Crono, but he continued walking, completely ignoring the youth. His gaze passed over where Crono was standing without a second glance. Crono stepped forward. "Hey! Why are you ignoring me? You're starting to piss me off." Still, the man didn't even bother to acknowledge his presence.

Crono's hand went to his sword, his eyes flashing with anger. Lucca lifted a hand to restrain him, but he brushed her off. With the return of his sense of adventure, he'd also rediscovered his lightning-quick temper. This bastard wouldn't just insult him like that and get away with it.

He decided not to draw his sword yet, but positioned himself directly in front of the approaching blue-garbed man. "Rude asshole! I'm talking to you!"

The man walked through Crono.

Crono stood for a moment, his mind registering what had just happened. The man had just walked straight through Crono as if there had been nothing there. Neither had felt a thing. He turned to Lucca, and saw shock in her eyes that probably mirrored his own.

"Did... did you see, I mean...?"

Lucca nodded. "What in Gehenom's name...?" She trailed off as well. Crono shrugged, still bewildered.

Taking a deep breath and trying to slow his heart rate down to something lover than the speed of sound, Crono took another look around the room. Now he noticed something else. Despite all the dust that was swirling around him, there was none on his clothes. He stamped his foot on the ground, but no additional dust flew, and his boot left no footprint.

He and Lucca exchanged meaningful glances. Crono extended his arm to strike at the wall of the mine. His hand slid through the wall as if there was nothing there.

"I knew there had to be a catch somewhere," he muttered. "Why couldn't we get a normal alien planet?"

The noise was faint at first, but the very fact of a new, distinct sound caught Crono's attention right away. It was a semi-steady pounding from the direction the bald man had gone, through a short tunnel. Lucca was already starting to move in that direction, so he followed.

Their short path wound through a series of fairly unspectacular cavelike areas similar to the one they'd landed in. The sound grew more distinct as they moved; it was the footsteps of a group of people, coming their way. As Crono and the makers of the noise approached each other, he could also distinguish the murmur of voices, though he couldn't make out what they were saying.

Crono had decided that he would at least try to talk to them, though he seriously doubted they would even know he was there. According to Lucca's best guess, the two of them were "out of phase" with this world. Nothing they did would affect anything in the world, and vice versa. Crono wasn't willing to just accept that. Something inside told him - maybe because he wanted so badly for it to be true - that there was a reason for their being here. There had to be something that they could do.

As they approached yet another of the natural arches that separated one section from another, they did see something different. A fairly short and lightly-built figure stood beside the arch, facing away from them. This person was dressed in a gray robe, light in both color and texture. The figure would have been camouflaged easily by the mine were it not for its black hair, curled at the bottom, cascading down to the middle of the figure's back.

The figure's gaze was riveted on the top of the arch. As he approached, Crono could see both from the face and from the amply-shaped chest that this person was a woman. She seemed fairly young. Still staring at the top of the arch, she was muttering something under her breath, and Crono sensed the familiar feel of a spell being cast. The woman stepped back, satisfied.

She turned, her pale blue, almost green eyes sweeping over Lucca and Crono. To Crono's surprise, she didn't ignore them as the bald man had done, but seemed to see them, and froze in place. Then the woman was running. Through the solid rock wall of the mine.

Crono was about to follow her, but held up as people began to step through the arch. One of them was a young man, maybe in his early twenties. He seemed to be leading, and he had the look of a warrior. Crono was mildly amused to see that this man's blond hair was arranged in spikes like his own, though in the strangest pattern Crono had ever seen. He was a fairly large man, and very muscular. His blue eyes were penetrating, almost seeming to glow, but like the bald man earlier, his gaze swept across Crono without seeing him. Across his back was strapped the hugest sword Crono had ever seen.

Next to him walked a green-eyed young woman with light brown hair, about the same age, wearing a long pink dress. She moved more easily, and seemed to have an air of suppressed girlish mirth, which came to the surface as she smiled at something the blond man said. There were others behind these two, but Crono never had a chance to see them, as a shuddering sound the had been building for a few moments caught his attention.

From the place that the mysterious robed woman had been staring at when she cast her spell, a large flat rock, about three meters in diameter, suddenly worked itself free from the arch and plummeted towards the two strangers below.

A female voice from behind the two yelled "Look out!" but the blond warrior was already moving, grabbing the young woman's hand and diving back, just in time to escape being crushed.

Even after other rocks that had been jarred loose had fallen, and the echoes of the crashing had stopped ringing in Crono's ears, he hesitated for a second. The arch was now blocked, but the company on the other side would easily be able to clear out the heap of mostly-small rocks. Crono looked back and forth in indecision between the arch and the wall that the robed woman had walked through a few minutes ago.

Lucca, who had been adjusting her glasses and staring at nothing in particular now snapped back to reality and turned to Crono. "What do we do now?"

Crono came to a sudden decision. "Epoch," he announced. Lucca nodded her acknowledgment. Moving quickly, but not exactly running, the two teens returned the way they'd come, towards their ship.

Ignoring the part of his mind that was telling him to take in everything he could about this alien world, Crono ignored the scenery and tried once again to sort everything out in his mind. The mine made a pretty boring view anyway.

He and Lucca were "out of phase" with this world. It was as if they didn't exist; they were only observers. The blue-eyed young woman in the gray robe was apparently in the same boat they were; she had seen them, and she could walk through walls too. But Crono thought maybe she could somehow manipulate things in this world; her spell seemed to be the reason that rock had fallen when it did, almost crushing the blond warrior with the big sword and the green-eyed woman.

It was probably premature to be making judgments, but Crono felt inexplicably certain that if it came down to a fight, he and Lucca would be on the warrior's side. Not really knowing why, Crono felt a kind of empathy for him. He sensed that they were alike; would-be heroes leading a small band in a seemingly-hopeless quest. And now someone from another world, who this warrior wouldn't even be able to see, let alone fight, was trying to drop rocks on his head.

As he silently slid into the pilot's chair of the Epoch, Crono felt determination welling up inside him. He would figure out who this mysterious woman was. Who the warrior and his friends were. And why she was trying to kill them.

The Epoch ascended, sliding through the rock and stalactites of the mine ceiling without a shudder.



Tensed over the controls, Crono waited. The Epoch hovered, waiting to streak across the sky of the alien world at his command. But, Lucca needed to finish her scan so they could figure out which way to go. They figured that all they really needed to do was look for life-signs; since they were out of phase with the world, the only life-form that registered would be the magician in gray. Restlessly, Crono kicked at the bottom of his console, the hollow thunk providing a nice harmonic counterpoint to the steady beeping of the keys Lucca was tapping.

Without any kind of warning, a flash of light and sound rocked the ship. Alarmed, Crono gripped the arms of his chair tightly, remembering what had happened the last time. This time, though, there was no physical acceleration, just a familiar swirl of equally brilliant reds and blues. They were traveling through time. As before, a green glow gradually appeared, but it seemed content to stay on the outside of the tunnel of

light this time. The viewscreen went black.

Slowly, the world began to fade in. Everything was the same. The slate of the peaks that housed the mine rose up beneath them, bridging a wide, shallow swamp on one side and rolling, grassy plains of a thousand shades of green on the other. It had apparently been a normal time-warp, other than the green glow. And other than the fact that the Epoch's time circuits were supposed to be broken.

He turned to Lucca. "I don't understand it either," she said, before Crono even had a chance to open his mouth. He opened it to ask another question, and again Lucca cut him off. "To answer your question, we're five days ahead now. Same position in space." He stared at her as if she'd lost her mind, and she flashed him a quick smile of triumph. "You're kinda predictable sometimes, Crono. I already know which questions you're going to ask, so sit tight and leave the thinking to me.'

Turning back around, Crono drummed his fingers on the console. "Hey, do you


"No, Crono, I haven't searched for life-signs yet."

"Bzzzt!" He startled Lucca with an annoying buzzer-like sound. "Wrong! I was going to ask if you had any idea why were thrown through time like that."

"I've got a theory about that, actually." Lucca had abruptly turned serious again. "The energy that built up just now was the same kind that got us here in the first place. Maybe there's just a residue on the engine, and it kicked in."

"So, is this going to happen every time we start the engine?"

Lucca shrugged. "No, I think it'll pass. Eventually the residue will be spread out too thin to make a difference." She paused, then changed the subject. "Anyway, I'm looking for life-signs again. It'll take a few minutes."

Crono settled back, trying to get a little more comfortable. He started to fly in a slow circle, more from lack of anything else to do than for the view it offered. The plains below would have made a pretty picture, but Crono found that he didn't care. Maybe if Marle could be there to see it with him... A sudden flood of longing swept through him.

'Stop it,' he told himself with a bit of annoyance. The sooner they figured out a way back, the sooner he'd be able to see her again. No use just brooding. With renewed determination, he looked around again, getting his bearings. A little meter on the screen told him which way was north.

"Got it!" Lucca's voice announced. "One humanoid life-form to the west, not mov..." She broke off. "Hey! It's gone!"

"Gone? Just blinked out?"

"Yep." Lucca scratched her head. "I assume that was our magician, but why... maybe something happened to her?"

Crono thought for a second. "Maybe. No, wait. Simpler than that. Maybe she sensed our scan, so she used her magic to block it."

"Hey, that makes sense. Good thinking, Crono!"

Crono adjusted an imaginary pair of glasses. "Well, with my intellect, all my ideas are good," he said, in a fair imitation of his friend's voice. He reassumed his normal voice as he turned the ship westward. "Just tell me to where we last picked her up, then."

"Yeah, all right. Straight west for now." Lucca knelt and started to mix another hot drink as the ride stabilized.

After a few moments, Crono asked her, "What do you think of our magician?"

Lucca reemerged with her coffee. "I don't know. She has to be pretty strong if her spells can affect this world while she's out of phase."

"Stronger than us?"

"Well, we couldn't do it."

Crono sighed. "In other words, she's stronger than us."

"Maybe. Maybe not. Her talents might just be directed in different directions than ours." But her face was grim.

There was some smog in the air. As he flew through it, Crono realized this might not be a very clean planet compared to his own. There were a few small forests below, rich dark green islands of life dotting the sea of fields, but the plains didn't look quite so vast or wild anymore.

"Hey. This is interesting." Crono glanced back at Lucca as she looked up from a panel next to his. "I'm almost sure the energy that's been throwing us through time is spiritual energy."

Crono wasn't surprised. "Our magician?"

"Probably. Or maybe she had some help." Lucca sat back a little, taking a sip from her mug. "In any case, this field is definitely man-made. Some parts of this 'out of phase' thing are too convenient to be accidents. I mean, if we were totally out of phase, how would we breathe? Or stand on the ground without slipping through it?"

"Never really thought about it."

"Well, someone did. Someone knew what they were doing."

Crono tried to digest that for a few minutes. He usually tried to ignore complex science, unless it affected him personally. This affected him personally, but he was tempted to ignore it anyway.

He did have another question. "So where do we fit into all this? How did we get here?"

Lucca smiled mirthlessly. "We got lucky. My guess is it took a lot of spiritual energy to bring our magician to this place. Some of it might've scattered throughout the universe, including our world, and gotten drawn in by the Epoch's engine."

"So why was I drawn to the Epoch just in time to be brought here with it?"

"We got lucky. Spiritual energy can have all kinds of side effects."

"So how do we get home?" Crono knew the answer before he asked.

Lucca turned to face him, and they shared similarly unoptimistic glances. "Let's hope we stay lucky."

The next few hours weren't much fun. After crossing the ocean, they'd swept back and forth across the continent to the west, looking for any sign of their quarry. This planet was huge compared to their own. In the vast expanses between cities, they saw surprisingly little sentient life. There was plenty of other life, though. Crono didn't know why it bothered him so much, but he couldn't get used to the idea that a person just walking across the fields would be regularly ambushed by monsters. He wasn't used to constant outdoor battles, except in forests and swamps and places.

The cities tended to be crowded, bustling. Crono wasn't used to this kind of thing either, even after all his touring back home. As people hurried through the streets, going about their lives, they didn't even seem to notice each other, except as obstacles. The only place where Crono has ever seen this kind of introvertedness before was the lazy Kingdom of Zeal.

He missed home. But still, he would have liked the chance to explore this new world at a more leisurely pace.

Steering slightly rightward, Crono caught sight of what looked like a vehicle of some kind moving northward into a valley. Flying the Epoch lower, he gave pursuit. As he flew, the sky reddened, as did the rock walls the formed the valley he was entering. The grass of the plains abruptly died away into a solid rock floor.

As the red glow washed over the valley, including the Epoch, Crono thought for a second that the entire valley was made of Dreamstone. A quick look at the cracked and crumbling edges of the rock convinced him otherwise. It seemed strangely clean here, despite the tight-packed rust-colored dirt that made up the valley's many inclines and declines.

Lucca reached forward to tap a panel to Crono's right, and the image on the screen zoomed in on the vehicle. It was a buggy, a darker shade of red, the sun glittering off its smooth surface. A cloud of dirt and dust kicked up behind it as its long black wheels churned up earth, easily passing through the foothills here.

The car descended, and hills sprung up around it, forming a nice-sized canyon. Now shadowed, the buggy continued its journey, its narrow pointed back veering slowly as it turned a bit to the left. Suddenly the canyon was lit up as the car fired a spark of electricity into the air. Brilliant white-hot lines crept across the top of the car, and then with a pop, the buggy was still.

"More magnification!" ordered Crono, unconsciously taking command.

"Aye aye, sir!" Lucca's acknowledgment was tinged with sarcasm, but she did as he said.

Under the increased magnification, Crono could make out the car's door sliding open. The spiky blond-haired warrior that they'd seen before stepped out of the buggy, staring at the inert vehicle for a few seconds. Then, giving a slow shrug, he motioned to those inside to follow him.

As the two watched from the Epoch, the warrior helped the brown-haired woman in the pink dress out of the car to stand beside him. Right behind her, refusing the warrior's offer of similar assistance, came another young woman, with straight, midnight-black

hair reaching down to below her waist, where it was tied together loosely. Even at this distance, Crono couldn't help but notice that her outfit, a white tank top and a short leather skirt, did little to hide her curvaceous figure.

There were others within, but Crono abruptly remembered the urgency of the situation. "Normal view, Lucca. We've found somewhere to go." She complied, not commenting this time on his giving orders, and he accelerated the ship to its maximum speed.

After a few minutes, they were there. Without hesitation, Crono flew the ship into the largish town in the center of the canyon. Where else would anyone go if their car broke down?

The warrior and his companions were climbing the tallest of the town's several staircases and ladders as they arrived. This particular staircase was naturally carved out of the rock. The gray-robed magician stood at its foot.

She seemed absorbed in the spell she was casting, not even noticing the Epoch's arrival. Crono coasted the ship to a hasty landing, but by then, the magician had finished her spell. The blond warrior was abruptly thrown sideways off the edge of the stairs, thirty meters above the canyon floor. Knowing he was too late, Crono leaped out of the Epoch, nailing the magician in the back of the head with a blast of lightning. Even as he

attacked, the dark-haired woman on the stairs sprang forward and grabbed the warrior's hand.

Crono and Lucca both watched for a moment as the young man hung suspended

in the air, the dark-haired woman keeping him from falling any further with surprising strength. The young woman in the pink dress ran over to seize his other hand.

The magician leaped nimbly back to her feet, having recovered from Crono's surprise attack. Both Crono and Lucca attacked again, lightning and fire leaping from their respective fingertips. With none of the delay present in her trans-phase spells, a pale black spherical barrier flashed into existence around the magician. The teens' attacks diffused harmlessly into it. The robed figure raised a slender arm, and the barrier shattered, dark shards flying into her foes. Lucca was thrown off her feet, but Crono remained standing, shaking off the attack and pulling Lucca back up.

Moving quickly, Crono struck again with the lightning, and again the magician parried. Her sea-blue eyes flashed as she counterattacked with a wave a glowing ice. Lucca was able to burn away about half of it in midair with a burst of flame; the rest struck Crono, and he endured it with effort.

Trying hard to ignore the increasing pain coursing through his body, Crono drew his Rainbow sword and launched himself through the air at his opponent. With a speed to rival his, she drew a similar-looking katana and raised it to block his Spincut. The blades collided, colors pulsating along the edges of both Crono's silver blade and the stranger's black one.

Then Lucca struck, throwing one of her two remaining Mega Bombs into the fray. A sphere of firey glow quickly expanded towards them from below; Crono was ready and jumped out of the way just in time. The magician wasn't quite as fast. She flinched back as the red swept over her, leaving a trail of explosions in its wake.

As Crono landed, he immediately unleashed his most powerful spell, Luminaire. Intense beams of white light formed a sphere even larger than that of the Mega Bomb. The magician was stunned. Fighting mental fatigue as well as physical, Crono cast the spell again. As he was finally forced to let up his attack for a second, Lucca blasted their enemy with a Flare spell. The magician staggered and disappeared under the energy of yet another Lumainaire from Crono, and two more Flares from Lucca.

Just about any magician they'd met - maybe even Magus - would have

been beaten by now. Amazingly, this one was still on one knee, though she was obviously hurting. Suddenly she raised a hand and vanished.

His head spinning, Crono looked around in every direction. Stepping forward, he felt around the area where the magician had been, thinking she'd cast an invisibility spell. Then he saw the figure in the distance, little more than a gray speck disappearing into the red-tinged horizon. Teleportation, then.

Raising his head to check on the blond man above, Crono saw that the two young women had managed to pull him back to safety. The three were talking quietly, but loud enough for him to hear. He noted that both women's expressions betrayed feelings deeper than just concern for a friend. This was Crono's first chance to get a good look at the dark-haired one. With an effort, he kept his gaze focused on her face, and was struck by the mixture of youthfulness and maturity, innocence and harsh experience, mingling about her features.

For his own part, the warrior was fighting his way back to his feet. "Seriously, are you all right?" the dark-haired woman was asking.

"Of course," he responded with a cocky kind of grin. The other two looked relieved. From personal experience, Crono could tell that the warrior was trying to reassure the others before he dealt with his own feelings.

'Reminds me of me,' thought Crono.

He slumped slowly to the canyon floor, seeing that Lucca had done the same. With the adrenaline of the battle gone, Crono was feeling drained; physically, from the magician's attacks, and mentally, from using too much magic too quickly. His gaze swept over the other members of the little company on the steps - a huge dark-skinned man, a red wolf-like animal, a black cat standing on a huge white... something, a girl his own age or younger- without really seeing them.

Suddenly the mood was broken. Crono shot up to a seated position. "What're we waiting for? Let's find her!"

Lucca didn't have to ask who 'her' was. Crono turned as she tried to sit up, failed, and collapsed again. "Forget it, Crono. If she has teleportation spells, there's only one way we can catch her now."

"Epoch." With another abrupt move, he leapt to his feet, grimacing with the effort. For a few seconds, his concentration was fully devoted to staying on his feet. "Well, if we're going to be losing time anyway, every second counts!" He stumbled over and picked up Lucca in his arms. Ignoring her weak protests, he carried her the short distance to the Epoch.

Setting Lucca down on her chair, Crono collapsed into the pilot's seat, and, bracing himself, started the engine. The green-tinged time-warp began almost immediately.

"Here we go again..." muttered Crono.


"I want to go inside!"

That was the green-eyed young woman in the pink dress talking. She stood at the top of a flight of stairs facing what looked like a large sand-brick pyramid. With her were the other two, the blond warrior and the dark-haired woman. Her request might have sounded petty or childish under other circumstances, but she said it with an earnestness and conviction that made the others take notice.

"Okay." The warrior reached back and drew his sword from his back. "Get ready. We'll probably have some company in there."

"Well, I'll ask." She closed her eyes, smooth brow furrowing in concentration.

The temple before the three seemed to glow with a faint ethereal light, distinct enough from the regular midmorning light to be noticeable, but faint enough that Crono couldn't be sure that he wasn't just imagining things. The two teens had only been thrown forward three days this time, and Lucca was fairly sure that this would be the last time that would happen. By luck, they'd seen a small plane cruising the seas as soon as they'd re-emerged from their time-warp, and they'd followed it here. Like Crono, the warrior leading this group apparently recognized the strategic value of traveling in threes; he and the two women were the only ones Crono and Lucca had seen this time.

The brown-haired woman nodded out of whatever mental contact she'd made. "At least one other person is here too. The Temple usually seals itself when someone enters, but it… they've been waiting, I think… For me?" Crono was a bit thrown - she was speaking of this temple as if it were a living thing. Several, actually. "But once we're in, it won't open again, from either side, for a full day."

"Everyone ready, then? I've got a feeling it'll be a busy day. It all ends here." The warrior stepped forward towards the temple, sword still in hand, his face a mask of focus and determination.

The dark-haired woman, who had been silent thus far, stepped forward to join the others, adjusting the spiked glove she wore on her right hand. She flashed the others a quick reassuring smile and stretched, incidentally giving Crono a view far more breathtaking than anything else he'd seen on this planet. "Right. We can handle anything."

The three warriors moved on, entering the temple. A barrier shimmered into view behind them, orange-red and uninviting. Crono tentatively followed and placed his hand against the transparent wall of light. It was solid. He threw his body against it. Nothing. As they'd suspected, the barrier was magical as well as physical. Neither they nor anyone else who was out of phase with the world - not even gray-robed magicians - would be getting inside the temple for 24 hours. Satisfied, he turned away.

To Crono's unending delight, the Epoch did not suddenly throw the two youths from Guardia through time. It figured. Now that the energy residue was no longer causing them to waste time, they had a whole day to kill.

Crono began looking at the map that Lucca had been able to call up on her monitor. After a few moments, he found an area that he liked. "There," he pointed. "Around there should be good."

Lucca, who had been checking something else, turned around and gave him a strange look. "What, in the middle of nowhere? What are we doing?"

"We're taking a break."

"A break?"

"Yeah." Crono ran his hand through his hair. "There's no reason to sit around the ship all day. Nothing's going to happen. So let's go somewhere and relax for a little while."

Lucca turned to look at him, and seemed surprised to see that he was serious. "Are you crazy? What if our magician decides to attack us then?"

"She won't," answered Crono, surprising himself with his confidence in that statement. "First of all, she won't know where we are. And secondly, she's hurt worse than we are. She'll also need some rest before she's ready to fight again."

"We don't know that! We don't know anything about her!"

Lucca was gripping Crono's shirt by now. He gently pried her hand away. "Look, Lucca, you're right. We don't know for sure. But what I do know for sure is that I need to recover. Physically, and mentally. And you do too." He cut her off as she started to shake her head. "Don't try to deny it. We've both gotten to the point where if we don't take some time to recuperate, it'll hurt us. Badly. We're only human."

That was the turning point. Though the argument went on for another few minutes, Crono could tell that Lucca was starting to just grab at excuses. By the time she'd reluctantly agreed to his idea, Crono had found the perfect spot on the map - a mountain-surrounded lake at the source of a series of waterfalls.

It was nice here. The lake glimmered a brilliant, eye-appealing clear blue that gradually merged along the edges with the lighter green color of the narrow strip of land that surrounded it. A small but still impressive waterfall poured into the lake from the mountains above, the falling water splashing into the lake below and leaving a light spray of mist in its wake. In the distance, the other end of the lake emptied into a larger waterfall as the water continued its descent through the valley.

Lucca still looked slightly troubled with the whole idea, but her unease seemed to be fading. For his own part, Crono felt great. He was walking barefoot to get some circulation back into his feet, and imagined that he could feel the light touch of the grass he was now walking through, leaving no trace of his passing.

Stepping forward to edge of the water, Crono reached out and ran his hand through it. Crono felt its cool, wet touch for a few moments before he realized the implications. "Lucca! Take a look at this!" He held up his dripping hand for her to see.

Lucca stepped forward, and dipped her own hand in the pool, also seeming confused that they didn't seem to be out of phase with the water the way they were with everything else. Taking a handful of water, she drank. Crono stamped his foot in the mud at the edge of the lake. Nothing. He stamped in the water, and it splashed in all directions, getting both of their legs wet.

"Want to explain this one?" he finally asked.

Lucca shrugged. "I'm not sure." She began to play with her glasses, thinking. "Maybe since water's such a poor conductor, it's not affected much by energy fields."

Crono looked at her doubtfully. "You really think that's it?"

"No," she admitted. "Actually, I have no idea. Maybe… damn, you're right. I do need a rest. I'm too tired to think."

Crono decided then and there that it really didn't matter why they could interact with the water. Immediately, he felt more relaxed.

"Well, a swim sounds pretty nice right now, actually." He pulled off his shirt. "I kinda wish I'd thought to bring a swimsuit for a walk to Fiona's Forest." Removing the rest of his clothing, Crono waded into the lake. The water was a little bit on the cool side, but refreshing, and easy enough to get used to. The bottom of the lake dropped off quickly as he walked. He waded for a little before turning back to Lucca. "Not too bad. Colder than I might have liked, but it's great!"

Lucca had averted her eyes, and didn't respond for a few moments. Then she seemed to snap back to life. "Oh. Enjoy yourself."

"Don't you want to swim?"

"Not really. I'm not in the mood." Lucca responded, with a striking lack of conviction. Crono sensed the lie right away and stopped walking, the crystal-clear water settling neck-deep around him.

"What is it? Something wrong?" She only shrugged in response, still not facing him. "Lucca! You okay?!"

Lucca began to shrug again, then seemed to think better of it, and cautiously, almost gingerly turned around to face Crono. "I don't know. I guess, I'm just, well… uncomfortable. Yeah, uncomfortable is the right word."

"Huh? Uncomfortable with what?" Crono turned his full attention to her, genuinely confused.

"With all this!" Seeing his blank stare, Lucca continued, growing more forceful as she went along. "Maybe you don't see any problem with us just taking off our clothes and swimming naked together, but I do!"

Crono gave her another look of confusion, a feeling which was reinforced by her defiant stare in return. She was serious. "What in Gehenom is wrong with you? We've known each other for what, our whole lives? And you suddenly have a problem with us being nude in the same body of water for five minutes? It's a pretty big lake."

"I just don't like it." She had grown vague again, and seemed hurt by his dismissal of her sensitivity. "It bothers me, and I just… I don't want any part of this."

Crono opened his mouth to try to reason with her, but suddenly realized that her point of view could make sense, and what came out was, "I understand. Well, I guess I don't, actually. I mean, I don't see why it's such a big deal." Seeing her eyes starting to narrow, he hurried on. "But, uh, I'm sorry for being a jerk about it. I just thought it would be more fun if you were with me, but if it bothers you, it's no problem."

He started to wade again, then called back to her. "If you really want to wait, you can go somewhere else. I'll call you when I'm done."

"Crono?" He looked over his shoulder to see Lucca chuckling, and slipping on the water-resistant glasses covering she'd invented. "What you just said convinced me that's it's okay."

A bit self-consciously, she started to remove her own clothes. Crono had never really figured out why Lucca seemed ashamed of how she looked; ever since he'd begun to notice girls, Crono had found her attractive, in a girl-next-door kind of way.

"If I ever understand women, remind me to stab myself," muttered Crono to no one in particular. Shrugging at the whole thing, he resumed making his way deeper into the lake. A few meters back, Lucca followed.

Their projected five minutes together in the lake had ended up being closer to an hour. Even Crono hadn't imagined that this would let off so much steam when he'd suggested it. The two swimmers had alternated between serious swimming and just enjoying the feel of the water. At first, Lucca had seemed reluctant about any kind of physical contact, and Crono had respected that, but eventually she'd been caught up in the infectious nature of it all. Now, they were finally making their way out of the lake. The water was shallow enough by this point for Crono to stand upright, and for Lucca to lean against his shoulder and pull herself up to breathe.

"I don't know," he said, as the water level quickly dropped to below Lucca's chin. "I feel so much better now. But looking back on it, doesn't all the splashing around and trying to touch the bottom of the lake seem childish or anything?"

Lucca thought about that for a second. "I wouldn't really say that," she responded finally. "If it helps you relax, what do you care what someone who isn't here would think? I thought it was fun, myself."

"Maybe you're right." Crono ran his hand through his once-spiked hair, now hopelessly entangled, as they plowed on through the water, the going getting easier with every step closer to the shore. Lucca was squeezing some water out of her own hair. Years ago, Crono remembered with a smile, he had refused to believe that that light purple color was natural.

"Well, we don't have towels either," Lucca changed the subject as they reached dry land, which stayed dry wherever they passed. "It probably won't take too long to dry off, though… whaddaya grinning at?"

Crono (who had still been smiling at his memory) made a show of leering at her. "No problem; I know I'll enjoy looking at you until then."

He winced as she slapped him across the posterior - lightly enough to be considered 'playful' but hard enough to sting. "You've got a pretty dirty mind for someone who's practically engaged," she commented.

By this point, they'd reached the area where they'd left their things. Lucca flopped down on her back immediately, and smiled as she checked to confirm that the 'out of phase' dirt and grass didn't touch her. Crono made as if to lie down on top of her, and she flinched away. Laughing, Crono settled down a respectful distance away and quickly became lost in thought.

Lucca's overt mention of Marle had stirred anew his feelings of homesickness. No matter how great he felt here, it just didn't seem complete without her. And how would she feel, with him gone for so long? He could feel his playful mood fading, replaced by a kind of bittersweet nostalgia. If she were here, she'd be laughing, he was sure. Lucca had joked in the past about how no one could so cheerful as consistently as Marle without chemical assistance, but he knew that she could always make him feel right.

"What're you looking so upset about?" asked Lucca quietly.

Her voice gently weaved into his thoughts, so it took a few seconds for Crono to realize that an answer was expected. "Just thinking. About Marle, mostly. I wish I could share all this with her…" Lucca didn't respond, but seemed attentive. After a moment he elaborated. "I don't know how to describe it - it's like she's a part of me. So many of my thoughts are connected to her… even when I'm happy, I don't feel whole. I think it's been in the back of my mind ever since we left."

Lucca smiled faintly. "I kinda know what you're talking about. Actually…" She trailed off indecisively for a second before finishing her thought with more conviction. "Actually, I used to feel like that about you."

"You serious?"

"Yeah." Lucca nodded. "I'm surprised you didn't notice. I was really obsessed with you for awhile. You were just… well, everything. I got over it, but most of memories from that time have you involved, somehow."

Unconsciously moving a few centimeters closer to her, Crono looked at Lucca as if seeing her for the first time. Somehow he felt like a new layer had been added to his past. "I guess you didn't want to tell me?" He took her silence as an affirmative. "I wonder how things would have turned out. You could have told me, you know."

Lucca nodded. "I know that now. Sometimes I wish I had, but then everything might have been different. Or it might have been the same."

Crono nodded back, and gazed into the distance. They lapsed into a short silence that neither of them really wanted to break. Finally, Crono turned back towards her, moving a bit closer. "So, what made you lose interest?"

She thought for a second, then smiled. "I'm not sure if I really did. But I remember one day I was thinking. I just realized that all this time that I'd been infatuated with you, I'd been, well, pissing away the chance to make a great friend." She shrugged. "I decided I wasn't going to let that happen anymore. It was keeping us apart."

Mulling that over for a second, he realized with a flash of insight just how much Lucca meant to him. "Well, since then, I guess it hasn't kept us apart. You're about the closest friend I could have. You're tied in with a lot of my memories, too." He paused, trying to put what he was saying into words. Language was limiting him. "I don't quite know how to describe it. It's kind of like how I feel about Marle, except that I don't love you. Well, that's not right either. I do love you, but not the way… damn, I have no idea what I'm talking about." He shrugged helplessly.

Lucca nodded as she answered. "Yeah. It's been different for me too, since I made that decision. You know, I like having you as a friend. Now I don't think I'd want us to love each other, or whatever you call… look, we need a word or a phrase to describe this."

"Yeah." Crono paused again; they were used to the pausing by now. "Okay, how about this- 'I love you in the most non-sexual way possible.' How does that sound?"

A bit unexpectedly, Lucca flashed him a wicked smirk. "I don't know if you can call it totally non-sexual. Too bad for you that you're a guy; when we were swimming, you couldn't hide it when you had, um, impure thoughts about me."


She laughed, her smile turning friendly again. "But I know what you're talking about. Whatever the we call it, I care about you the same way."

Somehow they'd ended up lying next to each other, almost touching. One of Crono's favorite fantasies a year or so ago had involved lying naked with a girl in the grass by a lake, and what they would do together. Thoughts like that seemed so immature now.

The two friends stayed there in silence for a little longer, before drifting to sleep under the gentle golden touch of this out-of-phase world's sun.


That evening, as Crono and Lucca were re-loading the Epoch, they received an unexpected visitor. It had been an uneventful afternoon. Physically and magically Crono was in good enough shape to fight, if necessary, but still far from ideal; Lucca was the same way. They still had quite a few hours until the Temple opened again, but they wanted to be prepared. They had been fully clothed for awhile, and were thinking about food. It was almost time to start moving again.

"Look, Crono," Lucca was saying. "You got your damn break. So would you please stop complaining about everything?"

"I'm not," replied Crono, his voice staying calm. All I said was that it would be nice to have some real food. That hardly qualifies as 'complaining about everything.'"

"Okay, whatever." Lucca finally gave up. "Well, what we have is freeze-dried stuff and pretty good drinks. What time is… you know, we really shouldn't have fallen asleep!" That was the third time she'd said that.

Crono refused to be baited, and offered a wry smile in return. "I'm so glad you're here to tell me these things. In any case, we fell asleep, and got a few hours of rest. Something bad could have happened while we slept, but it didn't."

He stepped back and stretched, and was amazed to see a human-shaped figure approaching. A gray-clad figure. "Lucca!" he called in alarm.

The magician was still a short distance away, but close enough for Crono to berate himself for not noticing her sooner. Or maybe she'd teleported in. She drew closer and spoke for the first time, as if it were nothing unusual, her voice friendly. "Hello, swordsman. Finally found you. You're good at picking out-of-the-way places."

Crono couldn't really think of anything to say, but moved his hand towards his sword, and settled into a combat stance. His prospective foe did the same, but she called out "I need to talk to you. Will you listen?"

"What do you want?" responded Crono guardedly.

"I think I should tell you why I'm here, and what I'm doing. We don't have to be enemies, swordsman."

"What's your story?" This was Lucca, looking upset at being ignored.

The magician shifted her stance to a slightly more relaxed posture, her near-black hair looking a little lighter in the sun. "Listen, then, both of you." Her voice sounded more youthful than Crono had expected, which would match what he remembered from his brief look at her face. It was impossible to tell for sure from this distance, but she looked young too. He also hadn't really remembered that she was so short.

"As you've probably guessed," the magician began, "I'm from another world, as are you. I'm also from another time- about 100 of my 'years' in the future, I don't know how that would translate into your terms. Our technology might be fairly primitive compared to yours, if your vehicle is any indication, but our magic is probably far superior. My homeworld isn't too far away… Well, none of that matters now. The point is that my planet is decaying. Badly. All its energy is gone. Within a few years, nothing will be able to live. We've tried every solution imaginable, but even with our magics, there's nothing we can do on our own.

"This world is the answer. We've been monitoring it and its history for a long time. A war for the fate of the planet is about to take place. A man, if you can call him that, will try to mortally wound this planet, and absorb its Spiritual Energy. That which he cannot absorb will diffuse, and by my time, enough will have reached my planet to save it. With access to that energy, we'll be able to heal our planet, and live on for millennia to come. However…"

"Wait a minute!" Lucca cut in. "How do you know that? There's no way to predict that any amount of energy can make it through space!

The magician shrugged. "I doubt you'd be able to understand. Like I said, magic is advanced on my world. We can use it to determine the exact movements of Spiritual Energy. If this man can free that much energy, enough will reach us to save our world; that is a fact, not a guess."

"But the man seeking to release this Spiritual Energy will fail. He'll be defeated by the warrior that you have seen, and his allies. These 'heroes' will be able to save their world… and doom mine. Our best magicians used all their strength to send me here. The only way my world can be saved is if I kill this warrior."

"So that's why you're here," murmured Crono. "And you'd condemn everyone on this planet to death." It was not a question.

The magician seemed a bit defensive as she answered. "It's the only way we can live. Our planet's life is at stake."

"So's this planet's!" Crono was growing angry, more and more upset with what he was hearing. "You'd murder everyone on this world, for a chance to save yourselves without a second thought! And let a guy who you admit is a madman have that much power! Who in Gehenom are you to play at being gods?! Why is your planet's future any more important than this one's?"

The sea-blue eyes reflected fierce determination. "I'm here because there's no other choice. Our civilization must survive."

"But to let it survive, you'd wipe out a world of innocents?" Lucca joined in the attack.

The magician's voice was cool and steady. "If I have to."

"And we'll stop you at any price." Crono's hand went to his sword once again. "So I guess we'll have to be enemies."

His gray-robed enemy took a step back. "I guess I was expecting something like that. It was worth a try." Despite what had just been said, her voice was still almost good-natured. "I get the feeling that none of us are up for a fight right now. So I'll leave you two for now. But remember, swordsman, once we've both recovered, this fight is to the death. It won't end until one or both of us is gone."

Crono nodded. "I'll be ready, magician."

On this night, something would happen.

That was the feeling that Crono and Lucca had as night fell, more than a day after their last meeting with the magician. They'd been monitoring their warrior from the air for the last few hours as he and seven of his allies swept back and forth in groups across the uninhabited city. Most of them, Crono recognized from his brief glimpse at the canyon. Surprisingly, the brown-haired woman in the pink dress was not among them. Maybe they'd left her behind for some reason… or maybe something had happened to her. The warrior and the two who were with him at the moment (the dark-haired woman and a huge one-armed man with black skin and short hair) had finally grown frustrated and settled down for a brief nap. As far as Crono knew, the others were still halfheartedly searching the same piece of land for the seventeenth time.

Once night had fallen, though, both teens felt unexplainably anxious. Something very important was about to happen. They didn't know if it would pertain to them, or to the warrior and his companions, or both. Actually, they didn't know anything, except that they had this distant feeling. But it persisted, eating away at the corners of their minds, too quick to let them catch hold of it, but occasionally rearing its head, just to let them know that it was still there..

Crono felt himself drawn towards the tall building that stood alone by a pool of water. Letting his instincts guide his fingers, he flew the Epoch in the general direction. By day, this city was a mix of sights, filled with the bright flash of the sun sparkling off the white-gray marble of the spiral buildings and the brilliant blue of the water in the pools. By night, it was just a collection of looming dark masses, seeming themselves to twitch with anticipation. Something was about to happen.

As the Epoch slipped through the wall of the building, Crono saw a pale trail of light. Its source was soon apparent. An alcove on the winding stairwell housed a figure of a large fish; Crono had seen it before. But now it was becoming translucent, and topaz-colored light glittered from beneath. For the first time, Crono was sure they were on to something. Lucca leaned forward to get a better view as he piloted the ship through the floor, where he saw a giant spiral stairway of light descending through the sealed-off chamber, which grew exponentially as they descended.

The room below was filled with light, and Crono realized that he had been seeing the light from here all along, with the stairway serving as a color filter. The steps seemed solid - barely. As he spun the ship around the huge chamber, he noticed an altar at about ground level. It had a smoothed stone floor, and was about the size of his living room. with a figure kneeling on it. He brought the ship closer. It was the brown-haired young woman. Without further hesitation, he landed the Epoch across the altar from her and disembarked, Lucca following closely.

The praying woman had her eyes closed, and held her hands clenched in front of her. The front curls of her hair had slipped down almost over her face. Though she had to be five years Crono's senior at the very least, she suddenly seemed like a young girl.

His attention was diverted from her by the arrival of the blond warrior and his companions as they reached the bottom of the stairway. All three seemed prepared for battle, and Crono noticed with some surprise that the metal thing attached to what was left of the big dark-skinned man's right arm appeared to be a machine-gun.

As the three reached the edge of the pool that separated them from the altar, a blast of pain suddenly swept through Crono's body. It bombarded the top of his head first, before sweeping down through his body. As he looked up, he felt another similar jolt of agony that almost sent him to his knees. Balanced on the edge of one of the towering crystal formations nearby was a figure garbed in light gray.

The pain struck again, and this time it was a steady pressure. With his limited magic arsenal, Crono had no idea how to defend against a spell like this. He lashed out blindly with magical attacks of his own, but he couldn't tell if they were doing anything. The world began to distort, and everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. Only with all of his spiritual strength and determination was he able to stay conscious.

"Nuclear attack!" He seemed to hear Lucca's voice, but it was distant and faint. "The Epoch can protect…"

The rest was drowned out by yet another attack. But at that point Crono saw something that made even the pain of the magician's attack fade into the background.

Something dark flashed in the air above them all, and then a large black-cloaked figure was plummeting down directly above the brown-haired girl, long silver hair whipping through the air, with a gleaming blade pointed straight down.

Crying out, Crono dashed forward towards them, his limbs feeling leaden. Lucca yelled something and her hand tried to hold him back, but he brushed it away and ran on, himself and the world around him seeming to move even slower. The girl was beginning to look up, but she'd never be able to move away in time. Crono began to put on another burst of speed, but his vision was blocked suddenly by Lucca's fist slamming into his face.

Trying to shaking the stars out of his face, Crono screamed in dismay as the black-cloaked man's sword struck home, cutting through the girl's body like butter, and sliding cleanly through her heart. Her mouth opened slightly in surprise as she stared down at the blade protruding through her midsection.

As his own body crumpled downwards, Crono was again aware of the excruciating pain lacing through him. He was vaguely aware that Lucca was dragging him back towards the ship, but he was too numbed by pain and shock to resist. Managing to fight back unconsciousness for another few moments, he was amazed to see a faint smile of satisfaction cross the young woman's face, before her head slumped lifelessly forward.

Something fell from her hair. The last sound Crono was aware of was the sound of something striking the smooth floor of the altar. It sounded like something indescribably delicate and precious, shattered forever.

A few tears escaped his eyes as darkness overtook him.

When Crono came to, he was slumped in one of the Epoch's chairs, feeling better physically, much less so mentally. He felt like dropping back into oblivion, but urgency won out, and he struggled to a seated position and forced his eyes fully open to see Lucca watching him, concerned.

"Are you all right?"

"Why did you stop me?" he managed to mumble.

That didn't seem to be a response that she was expecting. "Stop you?"

"The girl… you hit me when I tried… she…" he trailed off into incoherency.

Lucca stood up and moved over to half-kneel to eye level in front of him. "Are you all right? Um, about stopping you, I was trying to get you into the ship. I was afraid that magic attack was killing you." Her words called to him, whispers of sanity. He tried to comprehend them. "We're out of phase. There was nothing you could have done for her, Crono." She seemed to be trying to comfort and reason with him at the same time. He fought to understand.

Finally, he nodded. Lucca half-sighed with relief. "So, are you all right?" she asked again.

He didn't know, so he didn't answer. Instead, he asked "How long was I out?"

"Only a few minutes. Don't try to move just yet."

Scrubbing a hand through his hair, Crono cut to the chase. "Well? What did I miss?"

Lucca's story, as it turned out, was brief and to the point. She too had felt the magician's nuclear attack, but the brunt of the attack had been directed at him. She had been unhurt enough to get him back to the Epoch, and take the controls. Upon seeing the Epoch rising towards her, their enemy had teleported away, either unable or unwilling to fight a ship.

Crono hadn't taken long to recover. "It was a pretty nasty attack," Lucca admitted. "If we'd stayed outside for too much longer, we would've been fried. But it protected us pretty well."

"Actually," she went on a bit sheepishly after a moment, "I think I interfered with your concentration when I hit you. Otherwise, you might not have been knocked out at all." Lucca shrugged apologetically. "I'm really sorry, Crono."

Crono gingerly felt at the bruise forming on his cheekbone. "Well, I can't complain. You probably still saved my life."

Lucca shook her head. "Maybe. But only because we were lucky."

"Quit it," he said firmly as he reached forward to grip her arm. "Don't blame yourself. Maybe we were lucky, but you still saved us both. Thanks."

"No. I should've thought of another way… I'm sorry…"

"All right," Crono sighed. "Then by way of an apology, would you please shut up about it?" Leaning forward out of the chair, he kissed her lightly on the forehead. "You did fine, Lucca."


Crono didn't know how quickly their foe could move with teleportation, but he was hoping that the Epoch could keep up with her. They'd caught a glimpse of her heading southward, and were trying to follow, but the nuclear attack had damaged the ship more than they'd expected. Interfered with the circuitry somehow. Crono kept the ship near the ground, since the engine seemed liable to fail any second.

He barely felt the effects of the nuclear blasts anymore. He could usually impress himself with his ability to shrug off injuries, and this was no exception. Still, the attack had indeed been nasty. It had been different from the other magic he'd been faced with; as far as he could tell, his magic offered him no protection whatsoever against an attack like that.

They entered a forest, much lusher than the others they'd seen in this world. The unusually large and thick-trunked trees grew freely across the grassy floor of the area, and an occasional sunbeam brightened the already-rich colors. A light, almost delicate mist blanketed the distance. Per usual, he barely noticed the beauty surrounding him. Their foe had found a weakness. Crono hoped that she wasn't strong enough to use the nuclear spell too often; even the Epoch might not hold up against another barrage like that. For the first time since the beginning of this journey, he was consciously afraid. But the thought of turning around never even began to cross his mind.

Finally, he heard a small explosion, and the display confirmed what he'd been dreading - an engine breakdown. Swearing liberally, Crono coasted the Epoch to as gentle a landing as he could manage, and shut off everything.

He began to turn to Lucca for her analysis, but before he could get it, he suddenly made out the gray-tinged outline of someone in the distance, not quite blending in with the fog that surrounded her. He threw the door and virtually leaped out of the ship. Why hadn't he seen the fleeing woman sooner? To his disbelief, he soon saw why - she wasn't fleeing, she was heading towards them!

She didn't seem to be in a hurry, either. The magician casually strolled towards them through the mist, her features starting to take shape as she drew nearer. Lucca stepped out beside Crono as he unsheathed his Rainbow sword and waited in a ready-but-relaxed stance.

The magician stopped about fifteen meters away, and drew her own black-tinged katana. "Swordsman!" she called.

"Right here," he responded. "What do you want?"

The other shrugged. "I was thinking. And I have a suggestion. I think we're wasting time here. We can keep chasing each other back and forth across the world, but do either of us really want to? I think we're alike, swordsman."

Crono was basically expecting another peace offer by this point, so he was a bit surprised by her actual suggestion. "How about we settle it here and now? No ships and no magic; just one-on-one, with swords. To the death."

"Interesting idea," he managed guardedly, trying to keep his poise.

The magician shrugged again. "It'll be easier than what we've been doing, and we'll have a fair fight. So, no magic. I'll give my word; give me yours."

Crono held up a hand, involuntarily taking a step back. "Wait." He was trying to buy time to think about this without looking indecisive. "Explain to me why exactly I should trust you."

He thought he could see her smile mirthlessly in return. "I could ask you the same question. Remember that I'm trusting a total stranger with my life too. Somehow, I can feel that you're a man of your word. Honor and all that. So, what do you think."

Crono unwittingly took a deep breath. He forced himself to exhale. "All right. Single combat, no magic."

The magician drew a little bit closer and stood there, sword held at the ready now. Her weapon seemed to be about the same size as Crono's, and she wielded it as easily, despite her slight build. "Glad we see things the same way. But you'll have to tie up the girl first."

Yet again, she received two mildly startled looks in response. "Oh, nothing personal or anything," she added quickly to Lucca. "It's just easier for me to trust one mortal enemy than two."

Crono turned to Lucca. They just stared at each other for a second. "She's crazy," Lucca murmured at a barely-audible volume. "Well, not really. More paranoid than crazy, but I guess…" She stared at him for a second, her eyes narrowing as she read his face. "You actually want to do this?"

"Yeah," he admitted. "This may be the best chance we get to end this thing. It feels right to do it this way - a fair fight." Crono steeled himself for Lucca's reaction. "And I don't know why, but I think I trust her."

"You are out of your mind, you know that? Both of you."

"Well, what do you want me to do?" snapped Crono. Realizing that he was getting louder, he stole a glance in their waiting enemy's direction, then quickly dropped his voice back to a soft whisper. "This is our best chance, if she fights without her magic. A world is depending on this."

Lucca grimaced, seemingly frustrated with something. "And your honor, right? This isn't about logic, Crono, it's about you. Don't try to deny it. You're obsessed with proving something to yourself."

"You know me better than that, Lucca! Yeah, there's something personal involved, but you can be damned sure I'd say the same thing even if there weren't." He scrubbed his hand through his hair, hoping he was getting his point across. "It's our best chance," he repeated.

After another awkward pause, she sighed. "And I can't think of any better ideas. But don't die on me here."

Crono gave her a brief smile. In some limited capacity, she understood him. "Thanks. I think I have some rope in my pack." Turning towards the magician, who was still standing patiently, he called "All right, agreed. Just give me another second."

Lucca gripped his shoulder fiercely as he turned away. "I'm not kidding. If you get yourself killed, I swear I'll fucking kill you." Unable either to laugh or to think of an appropriate response, he managed a dumb nod. Then he impulsively took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Lucca didn't seem even remotely reassured, but she seemed as comfortable with the decision as she was ever going to get.

As he began to tie his friend to a nearby tree, Crono had plenty of time to think. He wished he didn't. With the adrenaline of his argument fading a bit, his decision no longer seemed quite so rational. In fact, it defied logic. He was staking everything he knew on an instinct. He tried to brush his doubts away - he should be used to surviving by instinct by now. But his fear wouldn't be defeated so easily. He paused in his tying to run both hands through his hair.

Crono was not a religious man. Gehenom; as far as he knew, Guardia didn't even have a religion. But he found himself whispering a silent prayer to whoever might be listening that he'd have a chance to see Marle's face again.

Making yet another impulsive decision, he finished tying Lucca, meticulously making the coils of rope as easily-undone as possible. Gently pushing a strand of rope into her hand, he whispered, barely moving his lips. "Here. Pull on this bit and you can free yourself in a second." Her fist clenched around the rope, and her eyes widened a bit in surprise and curiosity. "Shhh, don't answer, she's watching us." He drew his head a bit closer. "But don't do it unless she breaks her word. Otherwise, wait. Even if she's killing me, don't make me break my word unless she does first.

"This means a lot to me. Please, Lucca…"

Leaving her behind, Crono paced forward. His foe did so as well. They advanced until the tips of their twin katanas touched. Crono felt like he should say something, but he had no idea what. His opponent also seemed slightly uncertain. They stood in their battle stances for about thirty seconds before Crono broke the silence. "This is it."

"Yeah." The magician shifted her stance slightly. "Nameless foes battle to the death." She had thrown back the hood of her robe, and yet again, Crono was struck by her youthfulness and vigor. There was no way in Gehenom that she was a day over eighteen. Her hair was tied back in a loose knot now, giving him a good look at her pale complexion and her deep blue-green eyes. There was something intangibly endearing about her, the way she moved, the way she talked. He could have found her attractive - gorgeous, even - had he not been trying to kill her. If his instincts were any indication, this young woman was every bit as much his kindred spirit as was the blond-haired warrior whose death she fought for.

Lowering his sword slightly, Crono nodded to her. "Well, we can fix the 'nameless' part, anyway. I'm Crono."

"Kaitlin." She lowered her sword slowly, and slipped into a more relaxed stance, one inch at a time. She extended her left hand to Crono, and he cautiously shook it.

The two slowly shifted back to their battle stances. A hint of a smile played about Kaitlin's mouth. "I like this, Crono. No one in this world will ever know that a battle for the life of their planet took place in this forest, with only two people and their swords."

"I get a feeling that I'll be honored to have fought you, Kaitlin, however it ends."

Their blades collided, and the aforementioned battle for the fate of the world had begun.

They spent a full five minutes testing out each others' strengths and weaknesses, and demonstrating their mutual unwillingness to make the first mistake. Crono was on the attacking side more often, but didn't try to mount any serious offense. They were evenly matched, almost stroke-for-stroke. Maybe he was a tad stronger, and she just a little quicker, but even the little advantages balanced out perfectly.

Having appraised Kaitlin's skills as well as he'd ever be able to, Crono decided the time had come to start the fight in earnest. He started another mild attack, designed to look like another cautious probing, then unleashed a Cyclone. Kaitlin nimbly sidestepped, positioning her block to completely halt his attack, then counterattacking with a blow hard enough that the shock through his sword almost knocked Crono off his feet.

Crono's opponent pressed her advantage, unleashing a series of feints. Crono was hard-pressed to regain his balance and defend himself at the same time, and received a few nicks from his opponent's blade before managing to stumble out of range. Kaitlin was right after him, beginning another attack. More by sheer luck than anything else, he overpowered her with a solid riposte, and he was on the attack again. But Kaitlin was just so quick that his rather standard-style attack bogged down within half a dozen sword clashes.

They fought on, back and forth, neither securing any permanent advantages or causing any substantial injuries. The clashing of the blades as metal and spiritual energy collided had ceased to seem obtrusive, and the steady ringing seemed like a part of the forest's natural sounds. Crono found himself grinning inwardly with the exhilaration. Obviously, judging from the ease with which she'd countered the Cyclone, none of his tricks or special techniques would help him here. It would be a simple test of pure skill. His respect for his foe grew with every strike and parry. Crono had yearned for a challenge like this…

He abruptly stifled the smile creeping about the corners of his mouth. This wasn't a game. Sure, they were evenly matched… one mistake, and Crono, Lucca, and everyone on this planet would die. The momentary panic of this realization caused his next blow to be clumsy, and he was only barely able to parry the potential death-blow that came in response. Kaitlin launched her most elaborate attack pattern yet, but Crono impressed himself by meeting it, albeit taking a step backwards here and there.

He was retreating more quickly now, analyzing her attack as it came, calmly searching for a means to counterattack. As he passed the tree that his friend was tied to, Crono saw to his dismay that all Kaitlin had to do was spin slightly, and she'd be able to skewer Lucca before she could move, and still absorb most anything Crono could do. However, the penetrating blue eyes stayed focused on him. She valued her honor as much as he did.

Kaitlin feinted and attacked. Crono was too late to block. Twisting his arm, he flipped his sword towards her hand. The black katana came down on his shoulder, and dug in, but as it pulled back for another blow, the tip of Crono's Rainbow met Kaitlin's fist, and her sword dropped soundlessly to the forest floor.

In a tenth of a second, it had ended. Kaitlin's sea-colored eyes darted to her blade, lying out of reach, and then to Crono's, now pointed directly at her head.

Holding her head up high, Kaitlin stared unflinching at her executioner. Sweat coated her fresh, ivory face, and strands of black hair blew a bit in the breeze.

She was so much like him.

Crono raised his weapon and brought it home. And in his mind, he felt the agony of her physical pain a hundred times over as her lifeless body collapsed.


He had been kneeling for a little while, conscious, but not being aware of much of anything. Gradually, Crono's attention returned to the present. Lucca, presumably having untied herself, watched from beside the Epoch. Feeling a little faint from his injuries and blood loss, he took his time getting to his feet. Lucca slowly walked over, looking as if she wanted to say something, but didn't know what to say.

"Well?" he asked finally.

"Well, what?"

"Well, come on! Ask me if I'm okay."

"I can see that you're okay!" To the bloodied Crono, Lucca had looked like an angel for half a second, at most.

"Yeah, that's why I've been kneeling here in a daze for the past ten minutes!"

"Well, I did ask, at the time. Now, I don't need to." She waited for a response, but the pause quickly turned into a silence, as other thoughts filled Crono's mind. Turning serious, she moved over to stand beside him as he studied the gray-robed corpse at his feet.

The silence lasted a few more minutes before Crono broke it, quietly declaring, "It's over," not really sure who he was talking to.

"Well, you got your sword-fight, I guess," commented Lucca. She started to say something else, but fell silent again.

"Too bad it had to be this way," he responded. There was nothing else to say. She understood, at least as much as she'd ever be able to. But no one, not even Marle, would ever be able to totally understand his feelings. Crono's pain wasn't mind-numbing now - he knew he'd be able to move on - but it would always be with him. For now, it was time to move, and get back to trying to find a way home.

He wanted to at least bury Kaitlin before they left, but only intangible soil caked the forest floor. They'd have to leave her, completely forgotten, out-of-phase on an alien planet, while her own distant world withered away. She deserved better.

Regretfully, Crono finally turned away and staggered over to the ship. It wasn't over, he realized. He and Lucca still needed to find a way home. He reached into the cockpit, and hit a few buttons on the pilot's control pad before entering and collapsing into his chair. A shallow hidden drawer shot out, revealing a single Elixir vial.

"Hey!" Lucca followed him in. "You never told me that drawer was there!"

He shrugged. "You never asked." Crono drank the colorless potion, and felt the magic seep through his body, healing it completely. Only his mind remained battered and exhausted. He leaned back.

Minutes passed, with Crono leaning in his chair, and Lucca pacing through the Epoch's small confines, adjusting her glasses, neither of them thinking of any good ideas. Eventually, Crono brought the Epoch into the air and got it moving aimlessly across the world, hoping the mindless task would stimulate his tired mind. It didn't.

After a few minutes, Lucca abruptly spoke up again. "Crono, I have an idea. Get us headed forward in time."


"Just do it." She was slowly becoming excited. "Get us moving forward, right now. Not too quickly. I think this might work!"

"Why? What do you have in mind?"

Lucca gestured a bit impatiently. "Just get going, okay? I'll explain in a second, but this could get us home!" She flashed him a quick smile. "Let's just say I'm following my instincts."

Crono complied, his own instincts suggesting he play along and trust her judgment for once. It was reassuring to see the glowing time-warp tunnel the way he'd seen it so many times before, with no strange new lights. "A little slower," she instructed. Under Lucca's direction, he adjusted their temporal speed several times, until they were traveling forward at a little under two hours per second.

Crono was just starting to open his mouth to ask his friend once again for an explanation, but just then she began talking with no prompting. "Here's my idea. You know how Epoch was covered with energy residue for awhile from whatever brought us here?" She barely waited for his acknowledgment before continuing. "Well, obviously, most of it's gone, otherwise we wouldn't be able to control the ship. But if there's any energy residue left at all, even trace amounts, they might draw us to whatever power got us here in the first place."

"It's as good a chance as any." He turned to the display, reading out their position in time every few seconds, his hand poised over the button that would bring them back out of the timewarp. "Well, we're about sixteen days ahead of where we were," he reported. "Sixteen and a half." "Seventeen days." "A week and a half." "Eighteen days… hey!" The ship shuddered. Feeling the now-familiar pull, Crono immediately brought the Epoch to a stop.

An sudden explosion of colors and sights assailed them as the ship emerged back into the world. Crono flinched back for a second, but forced himself to stare ahead until his eyes adjusted. Lucca's head was almost right behind his as she stared with him.

What he saw was a battle being waged. A huge chunk of rock and energy, a magic-powered meteor, was plummeting towards the planet. It was slowing by the second as a barrier of pure white magic energy gathered around it, attempting to hold the meteor and its energy back. The attack on the planet was still coming quickly, the red energy that surrounded it beginning to tear into the once-vast city below, but the meteor was slowing more and more dramatically. Crono saw that the white light had penetrated into the meteor's energy field, and was beginning to eat away at the rock. It would be close, but the white magic would win.

Crono began to breath a sigh of relief, but it quickly died in his throat as he saw to his growing alarm that although the meteor itself was being destroyed, its energy was not. In fact, the white magic had joined with the red to tear apart the city beneath with even more violence than before. Twisting columns of light smashed into buildings and living things alike, indiscriminately destroying everything they touched.

"That white light's protecting the planet," breathed Lucca, "but it'll destroy everything on it!" Sure enough, the light stopped short of eating into the earth itself, and began to slowly expand outward from the apex the destroyed city.

From the edge of the Epoch's viewscreen, a jet-powered plane hovered into view, only twenty yards away, at most, from the smaller ship. On the top deck, watching, was the sword-wielding warrior, sweat drenching his spiked hair and pale face as he stared tensely at the carnage below. Beside him, the dark-haired woman watched, in a similar state. Both had expressions that suggested that, to their frustration, they'd done all they could, and could only watch now.

Without taking his eyes off the spectacle below, the blond man reached out to put his arm loosely around the young woman's shoulders. She returned the gesture with just a brief hint of a smile, and they continued to stare together. Their faces were an open book to Crono. He watched as the two took comfort from the simple fact of each others' existence. Their connection, shared experiences, and deep feelings for each other gave both that last bit of strength they needed to go on. Heroes, both of them, he decided.

Below the couple, the destruction continued to unfold. But then Crono noticed the green glow that was building up, moving towards the destructive forces. He'd been seeing it for a few seconds without really noticing it, but it was growing stronger. From every direction, glowing green plasma flowing into the center of the destruction. There was something familiar about it, but Crono couldn't place it.

He continued watching as the glow poured in, seemingly endless, coming from the proverbial edges of the earth. Stealing a look back at the two young heroes on the other ship, Crono saw traces of sudden hope play about their features as the glow bathed their faces, and they looked into it. The green glow was forming a third layer of color, blanketing the planet from both the white and the red. The combination of spiritual energy grew even more intense, and he once again had to squint to see anything.

Focusing on the green layer, Crono realized where he'd seen it before - it was the same light he'd seen gathering around the ship in the time-warp that had first brought him and Lucca to this world! He started to turn his head a bit, so he wasn't startled when Lucca yelled "Take us into the green, now!"

"Just fly right in?"

"Yeah! Hurry!"

Crono's hands danced across the Epoch's controls as he kicked the ship into gear. Praying that Lucca knew what she was doing, he flew them straight into the heart of the glow, the green light filling his vision….


"… worked out well, didn't it?"

"Yeah," nodded Lucca. "It couldn't have worked out better if we'd planned it ourselves."

They were referring to the Epoch. After the inter-dimensional journey was completed, the Epoch had landed and anchored itself in a secluded clearing in Fiona's Forest, very similar to the spot where Lucca had originally left it.

Crono smiled. "Hey, let's just call it one last piece of good luck. We've gotten a lot of it, this time."

She nodded in agreement. Crono looked around, trying to take in the sights and sounds of his home planet again. It was difficult to absorb. The smells of the forest and the sight of dirt on his boots seemed alien, after those things being intangible for so long. If he were to meet someone, anyone, right now, they'd be able to see each other and have a two-way conversation.

Too much. He decided to absorb it all slowly, one thought at a time, rather than try to jump into it.

Their flying the Epoch into the magical glow had been more successful than he'd believed possible. They'd somehow been taken back to their own planet, and been brought to a gentle landing here. Crono thought he'd felt another consciousness during the brief journey, possibly coming from within the green plasma; that might explain how things had worked so perfectly. But that was just speculation.

Not perfectly, actually. The Epoch's internal systems had been severely damaged, finally cracking under all the strain they'd taken in recent days. Crono had been convinced that Belthasar's ship would never fly or time-travel again, but Lucca had assured him that she'd be able to fix it… eventually. For now, Epoch was unusable, but he felt surprisingly few regrets.

A question occurred to him that he hadn't thought to ask yet. An important question. "Hey Lucca, how long has it been since we left here?"

"Four, five days, maybe," she responded absently, playing with her glasses.

"For us," he corrected. "But we time-warped a few times. How long has it been for everyone else?"

Lucca spun and stared at him for a second. "Damn! You're right!" She hastily scrambled back into the Epoch's cabin. Presumably, the chronometer at least was still working, because she returned a few seconds later. "Thirty days!" she reported.

"Thirty days. Almost a whole month."

That sank in quickly. No one would know where they'd been. Gehenom, they might have been pronounced dead by now, for all he knew. Even after they straightened things up, they'd have lost a month of their lives.

He never doubted that it had been worth it, and said so. "We used the time pretty well. We saved a planet, didn't we."

Lucca emerged out of the ship again, shrugging her response. "Maybe. We don't know whether the planet survived."

"Sure, but I'd like to think it did. I mean, after everything that happened, like to the one with the green eyes… everything those people went through…"

"Yeah!" she interrupted, "were you watching the two of them on the ship?" He nodded an affirmative. It hadn't been lost on her either. "The blond guy and that woman…" she continued, a bit distantly. "The way they… well, it was just.. amazing."

"That was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen," he responded truthfully.

"Maybe now you know why I've been throwing you and Marle at each other so much," she murmured in response, not seeming to know whether or not to smile as she said it..

Crono shrugged, not really knowing how to respond either. Eventually, he turned back to the original subject. "You know, I think they survived. They must have. Did you see the way they looked… you know, hopeful, at the end."

"When the green glow started," she finished. "It's like they were reassured after they looked into it."

"Right. I wonder what they saw."

A sense of contentment filled him as more silent moments passed. A lot of things had been less than ideal, but they didn't really matter now. He'd never meet or understand the kindred spirits he'd seen - the heroes of that other world, or Kaitlin - but he'd carry a few memories of them that would always be part of him. Didn't seem like quite the same thing, really, but it was enough. He said as much to Lucca, and her answer belied the same calm. "Me too. I'm fine with the whole thing. Thinks worked out better than we could've expected. And it was great being with you all this time." A few small tears formed in her eyes. "You're the best friend I could ever hope for, Crono."

"Oh, don't get emotional on me now, Lucca."

"I'm serious!"

"Yeah, okay. I care about you too. But we're home now. Relax. I'm tired of being so damn serious."

"Sure." She hugged him tightly. "Let's go home," she whispered. "We did it, Crono!"

Despite his exhaustion, Crono insisted on returning to Truce on foot. Not because of any instincts, but purely for personal reasons; he figured it would give their trip a kind of completeness. Lucca's teasing about him being more sentimental than he admitted was the only difficulty of the journey. Again, they saw no one on the road that wound out of Fiona's Forest, through the bits of wasteland at the edges of what had once been the town of Sandorino, and across Zenan Bridge. As they had on their original journey, effectively thirty days ago, they talked easily. The friends speculated on how they'd be received by the people at home, and how they'd patch everything up. Crono didn't think the adjustment would be too hard to make, but by the time they'd reached Guardia Forest, they were still debating how much of their story to tell.

As it would happen, the first person they saw was a girl with a blonde ponytail, slender, medium height, wearing a casual white dress, and leaning against a large redwood, staring into the distance. Crono's face began to broaden in a smile as he approached. He'd play it cool. Like the blond guy from the other world. Marle saw the pair a few moments later and stared in shock.

"Lucca?! CRONO?!"

Crono nodded with seeming dispassion. "Oh, hi Marle."

"Don't give me that!" In a rush of limbs, Marle reached them in seconds, giving Lucca a quick hug before throwing herself into Crono's arms and kissing his neck. He almost stumbled under the impact, but fought to keep still as he cooly returned the embrace. No point in ruining his composure.

Marle buried her face in his chest. "My Gods! I can't believe you're here! You wouldn't believe how worried I was!… well, maybe you'd believe me, but I haven't really slept in weeks!"

"I've missed you…" he murmered, dropping the icyness as he clutched her to himself. He leaned down and kissed her. He'd already known in his mind that he was home, that everything would be okay. But now he was sure.

The next few hours passed in a rush, as Crono had to quickly explain away his absence to one villager (or parent) at a time, promising a thousand full explanations at later dates. He eventually managed to a few minutes in his house to get cleaned up and changed, before meeting Lucca again and heading to the castle to have dozens more people accosting them and asking where they'd been.

Eventually, Marle was able to get them to her chambers, where she locked the door and ordered the guards at the door to kill anyone who disturbed them. He hoped she was kidding. And that the guards knew that. Now they were settled in, with Crono sitting in Marle's bed leaning against the pillows, Lucca sitting next to him in a chair, and Marle pacing across the room restlesslly.

"Well?" Marle finally asked him, her impatience getting the better of her attempt to play along with his joking.

"Well, what?"

"Well, what have you been doing for the past month?! What else would I be asking you about?"

He pretended to think about it. "Not much, really." Marle stared in disbelief, and he grinned.

"Wait. That's not really true," Lucca interjected from her seat. "Seeing Crono nude is always fun." Now it was Lucca's turn to get a disbelieving stare from Marle. "What?" she asked with perfect mock-innocence. "Don't tell me you've never gotten that far? Anyway, I was impressed."

"Speak for yourself." Crono winked at Lucca before turning back to Marle. "Not everything went so well, though," he added with mock-confidentiality, fingering the now-fading bruise on his face. "Like, look at this. Lucca can be a bit abusive."

"Hey, you're the one who had me tied up for an hour! I remember you were sweating pretty hard by the end of that."

Marle must have decided that they were joking, because she moved over to the wall and pulled down the crossbow hanging there. She turned back and spoke to them with exaggerated casualness, occasionally pointing the crossbow at one of them for emphasis. "I'm guessing there's a story that goes along with all this. And you're just dying to tell me, aren't you? As in, right now?"

Crono's grin grew even wider as he leaned back farther into the softness of the pillows. "I thought you'd never ask…"


[Hey. Toma again. This story was written during the second half of 1998, and spent a year sitting around waiting for a final revision that never happened. I finally just decided to finish with it and submit the story as-is. I love talking about my stuff, so please let me know if you have any questions, comments about anything, or cash donations. (I actually originally had an Q+A "author's notes" section, but I thought it seemed too long and self-indulgent.) But I want to talk incessantly about my writing to anyone who'll listen, so e-mail me! If you want. I wouldn't insist or anything. Really.]

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