Spectres Of The Past - Chapter III: Revelation

[01.09.02] » by Jason Connor

Chapter III: Revelation

          Edgar blinked and yawned sleepily, shifting around uncomfortably in his throne and trying hard not to think about how good a nice cold raktajino would be right now. Commander Markiss had sent word previously expressing a desire to hold the conference this morning, which had been fine with Edgar, at least until he'd seen what Setzer had brought in last night. Not one of the few people who'd seen it--even himself, with his mechanical inclination--could make heads or tails of it, but the object had so piqued his interest that it had been well past midnight before Edgar finally turned in dejectedly, having given up on unlocking the object's mysteries.
          Being woken early this morning and notified of the sandstorm raging just east of the castle hadn't helped his disposition much either. The sentries had spotted the whirlwind while out patrolling on chocobo, and while he couldn't fault them for their concern, there wasn't exactly a lot he could do about it either. Fortunately, the sandstorm was moving away from the castle and beginning to burn itself out, and wasn't likely to interfere with either the Imperial delegation's arrival or the conference, which meant Edgar could turn his attention to other, more interesting matters.
          Like the enigmatic book that now rested in his lap.
          It was old, very old; that much was obvious from the texture of its heckran-hide binding, how dry and stiff it felt. The pages also bore their age: crisp and brittle, likely to fall apart if he didn't handle them gently, and made from a type of paper that had not been used for several millenia, probably longer. The writing was equally antiquate, weathered black ink sculpting letters in a language that was completely unfamiliar to Edgar but no less intriguing for it.
          "It's remarkable," he murmured approvingly as he ran his fingertips over it. He closed the book and held it up, the stylized strap and clasp that held it shut reflecting the sunlight streaming down from the arched windows above the throne. "The craftsmanship is marvelous. But this has to be ancient." He lowered the book and looked at the person standing before him. "Do you have any idea how old it is?"
          Gogo clasped his hands in front of him. "As near as can be determined, somewhere around thirteen millenia, give or take a century," he replied.
          Edgar cocked his head. "Then that would mean--"
          The mimic nodded in confirmation. "We found it buried in the ruins of the Imperial Palace, close to where the Emperor's private chambers would have been. Unless I'm mistaken, it is the diary of the princess of Zeal."
          "Amazing..." Edgar breathed, shaking his head in awe and disbelief. "I always believed that the ancient dynasty was just a myth, a fairytale. But to hold proof that it actually existed... And to think that this belonged to the heiress to that kingdom." He looked back at Gogo, a fascinated glitter in his eye. "You know, she was rumored to be a prophetess, able to foresee the future."
          "Yes..." Gogo replied, but this time Edgar detected an odd note in the other's voice. "I was going to wait until later to show it to you, considering the current circumstances. But...in light of last night, I didn't think this should wait."
          Edgar sat up straighter, a look of concern now on his face. "Gogo, what is it?"
          The other seemed to brace himself, as though preparing for some undesirable task. "I have somewhat of a working knowledge of the written language. An inheritance from my predecessor, if you will. If you will allow me, Your Highness, I will translate some of the more....relevant passages."
          Intrigued as well now, Edgar nodded and gladly handed the book back to Gogo, who opened the diary and began to read:

          The Great Fire... Long ago, when the earth was young, a red star appeared, a crisis from the sky. The star fell to the earth, staining the world with crimson flames, destroying much life and bringing about a new age, a time of snow and ice, a world of hopelessness and despair. But with it came a new hope, a chance for life to once again flourish, and it was called the red rock.
          A kingdom of magic, risen to heights undreamt of by the power of the child of the red star, but at the price of a life; a city of gold, floating in the sky like a dream become real. Her downfall will come about, not by someone from without, but one within; and in a single day and night of misfortune, the kingdom of magic will disappear into the depths of the sea. The red star shall disappear, summoned to the future by a mighty wizard.
          A child, the chosen one, shall return to his home an adult, and begin his final destiny, guided by the goddesses from the future, come to begin their final role in his story. His father shall light the path to the house of the child of the red star. The child will be awakened by the father of the chosen one, who will fight himself, and die yet live, and time will stand still. The child of the red star will fall asleep once more, and the house will remain untouched for thirteen thousand years.
          There will be one, born of a dragon, hoisting both the light and the dark, who will usher in a new era, and the beginning of the end of peace. Three creatures of great power, banished from their own world, will arrive. In time they will begin quarreling, and after they meet the one, a great War, unlike any other, will sweep across the face of the earth. Great beasts of magic will be created: humans caught between sides, transformed into living war machines; battles will be fought, conflict will breed conflict, new hatreds will arise. The world will be reduced to a scorched wasteland, and magic will cease to exist.
          In a rare moment of mutual clarity, the goddesses will know the mocking laughter of those who banished them here. Ashamed at what they have brought about, the goddesses will release the beasts of war, giving them back their free will, and then seal themselves away from the world, casting their bodies in stone. The beasts will create three golden statues, as a symbol of their vow to prevent the goddesses' powers from ever being abused again.
          An empire of technology will rule the world with an iron fist, silencing all who would move against it. The entrance to the home of the beasts of the War will be rediscovered, in a faraway cavern, on an island that is a mountain. The empire will take the beasts, take the power that is not for mankind, and magic will be reborn. But the empire that rises and lives by this power will also fall and die by this power; the great War will be born anew, and balance will be replaced with ruin.
          The Liberi Fatali: the children of fate, chosen before their births to be the guardians of time itself. Riding the wings of time, they will travel the eras of history to face the challenge of the red star. The gates of time will be unlocked, thrown open, and history will be rewritten. A future will be born, and a future will pass away.
          A flame, frozen in time, will be awakened, and time itself will be split in two. The red star will return to life, seeking its child, the flame. The last Child of Fate will answer the red star's challenge and face the one who devours time; he will travel to the darkness beyond time, and will sound the melody of life, healing the scars of time and bringing to an end the threat of the red star.

          "Some of that," Edgar murmured quietly, staring off into space, when Gogo had finished reading, "sounds very familiar. Disturbingly familiar. The kingdom of Zeal, King Cecil, the goddesses, the War of the Magi, and our own war against the Empire and Kefka. The ones after that are unfamiliar, but... Gogo, this must be what Gestahl meant when he mentioned ancient texts; that was how he found the entrance to Espera."
          He looked up at the mimic, suddenly feeling very awake. "These are prophecies. And they've all come true..."
          "I know," the other replied quietly, meeting Edgar's gaze, "which is the only reason I'm lending any credence to the assumption that these passages are indeed prophecies. And also because there's one more, after the passage about the Children of Fate. It's fragmented, incomplete; the page it's on is partially damaged. But there's enough: on a day of peace, a winged chimera will betray a white dragon, and that which the dragon cherishes most shall be taken away."
          Suddenly the room seemed noticeably colder than it had been a moment ago.
          The crest of Figaro is a white dragon... the thought stood out in Edgar's mind, a horrible feeling twisting like a knife through his gut. There was only one emblem in the entire world that bore the image of a winged chimera.
          The crest of Doma.
          It was a long, silent moment before Edgar looked back up at Gogo.
          "You do realize," he murmured at last, "the seriousness of what you're suggesting."
          "I do, Your Highness," Gogo replied gravely. "I fully understand the implications, and I do not make the suggestion lightly. But if this is indeed a prophecy, if it has even a chance of being correct..."
          He didn't have to finish the sentence. They both knew they couldn't take the chance of disregarding the warning. The other prophecies had come true; there was no reason to believe this one wouldn't as well.
          Across the room, the twin yakra-wood doors swung open. "Your Highness, please forgive the intrusion," the captain of the royal guard apologized as he stepped inside.
          Edgar blinked, startled. "Yes, what is it? Has the Imperial delegation arrived?"
          "Not as of yet, sir, although we are expecting them within the hour. But we have a situation that requires attention."
          Edgar nodded absently. "Gogo, would you--"
          "Certainly, Your Highness," the mimic replied immediately. He walked over to the captain, followed him out of the room.
          Leaving Edgar alone to ponder the meaning of the diary's ominous revelation; to consider the possibility that one of his closest friends was not who he'd thought them to be.
          A friend he'd known for a very long time, whom he had fought alongside. A friend who was like a brother to him, whom he had trusted implicitly and without question.
          A friend who was going to betray him.

*   *   *

          "So where are we?"
          Crono turned from the window and his view of the desert, wincing slightly as a pulled muscle in his necked twinged. It could have been worse, he reminded himself. A lot worse. He was certain they'd used up a lifetime's worth of luck crashing near the castle, close enough to be spotted by the patrolling sentries. They'd been taken to the infirmary, but miraculously they had suffered no injuries worse than a few bumps and bruises. Afterwards the three of them were taken to this room, where they'd been waiting for the last half hour.
          Apparently for some higher-up to make a decision; the door was locked, and the second-story window offered no hope of escape. Despite the circumstances and whatever the inhabitants here thought of their arrival, they certainly weren't taking any chances.
          Given Janus's vampirish appearance, Crono personally couldn't blame them.
          "Far as I can tell, the middle of nowhere," he answered Lucca, his tone indicating his frustration at the whole situation.
          Sitting on the edge of the bed across from the window, chin propped on one fist, she frowned in thought. "Could we be in San Dorino?"
          "Can't be," Crono replied as he turned to regard the sand-laden vista once more. "That entire area's forest now, thanks to Robo. Not to mention that there's never been a castle there, or the fact that it's on a different continent altogether."
          "Which the Epoch couldn't have gotten to simply by time-traveling. And I don't remember Truce ever being a desert. Not the immediate past, then," Lucca murmured. "Probably not further back either. The only significant civilizations before Guardia and Medina were Zeal, Ayla's people, and the Reptites." Then she cocked her head as another possibility occurred to her. "The future?"
          "The one we saved? Could be," Crono speculated, glancing back over his shoulder at her. Certainly a possibility; with more than thirteen centuries spanning the two eras, there was no way of telling how different the new future might have become. Although he was hard-pressed to understand how a castle could fit into a technological future.
          Or perhaps the future had changed more than they'd thought it would...
          Brow furrowing, he turned back to her. "I glanced at the chronometer before we went down." The chronometer was the C-shaped device in the Epoch that indicated--with, appropriately enough, a pair of clockhands--the ship's present temporal location. "I thought I was reading it wrong, but...it said we were still in the year 1000."
          "It did?" Lucca replied, an eyebrow lifting in disbelief. "But that's not possible. There's not a desert anywhere near the island, and we certainly didn't travel far enough to reach one."
          "Does it really matter?" Janus's sullen voice spoke up abruptly. Light poured in from the open window, dividing the room almost equally into light and dark halves; appropriately enough, Janus occupied the dark corner by himself, idly fingering his sister's pendant, the chain dangling from his grasp.
          He tucked the pendant into a pocket and leaned against the stone wall to the window's right, arms crossed and expression equally cross, seeming to blend in with the shadows that filled that corner of the small room. "Whether this is the past, the present, or the future, it doesn't change a thing. The Magus still has my sister, and we're sitting here twiddling our collective thumbs."
          Crono felt the corners of his mouth tugging back. The wizard had vehemently objected to Crono's suggestion to not use their magic and break out of here. Only very reluctantly had he given in when Crono had patiently explained that, first of all, they didn't know what was waiting for them outside, and two, the people here could have just left them out in the desert. But they hadn't, and the least they could do to repay their kindness was to humor whatever was going on. If it turned out that remaining here was a bad idea, Crono had pointed out, they could always fall back on their magic. And if they had to do that, keeping their ability to use magic a secret for the time being would work to their advantage later.
          Besides, he'd added, they had no idea where the Magus had gone, not to mention where their own ship was at the moment.
          "Janus, I understand how you're feel--" Crono started.
          "Like hades you do," the other spat. "You know, I remember getting so much more accomplished back when you were still dead."
          Crono felt his teeth grinding, feeling a twinge of memory at the reminder of his short-lived excursion into the after-life. "And who again is responsible for changing that? Considering how many times you felt the need to point that out to us, you've got no one to blame but yourself."
          Janus bared his fangs. "You ungrateful--"
          "Quiet, both of you!" Lucca hissed, her distracted look getting their attention. "There's someone coming."
          For a wonder, they both fell obediently silent. Crono turned around, away from Janus, in time to hear footsteps stop just outside the door. The lock clicked and the door swung outward, revealing a tall figure draped in a rainbow swirl of robes that looked like an amalgamation of a dozen different outfits meshed together at random. Completing the odd ensemble were red spats over tan boots, thick battle-worn gloves, a feathered bandanna that covered his head, and a mustard-yellow shawl that served to conceal his entire face, save for a section that left his eyes visible.
          Eyes that were the exact same color as Crono's.
          An odd feeling suddenly rippled through Crono, as though his subconscious had just discovered something that his consciousness couldn't yet comprehend or even detect.
          "My name is Gogo," the person identified himself, his eyes boring hypnotically into Crono's. There was also something about his voice... "I'm a special advisor to King Edgar. I was told that your...ship crashed. Are all of you okay?"
          "Forget that, we're fine," Janus spoke up frostily from behind Crono. "Why don't you explain why you've kept us locked up? And where's the ship?"
          "Considering the circumstances," Gogo answered him, his tone equally icy, "I don't believe you're in much of a position to be demanding anything."
          He held Janus's defiant gaze warningly for a moment longer, then looked at Crono and Lucca. "But he does have a valid point. You deserve to know why you were kept in here. As for your ship... If it's what I think it is, then you might be staying for a while longer."
          "And what exactly," Crono asked carefully, "do you think it is?"
          Again, those eyes, staring into his own, as though searching for something...
          Lucca inhaled sharply. "Don't tell him anything," she said, frowning suspiciously at Gogo. "We don't know these people. We have no idea what they'll use it for."
          The other shook his head. "I apologize, I didn't mean for it to sound that way. No, what I meant was, I'm afraid the situation is much simpler--and possibly worse--than that."
          "What do you mean?" Crono asked.
          "I think it will be better if I show you rather than try to explain," Gogo answered, looking back at him before turning to the door. "Something was brought in late last night, the likes of which none of us has ever seen before. If you'll follow me, I'll take you to it. And perhaps then all our questions will be answered."

          The engine room was the single largest enclosed area in the entire castle, spanning two stories and enough floor space to house the giant turbines that powered Figaro. Only a third of them remained active, filling the chamber with the tart smell of hot metal and lubricants and a low, steady hum as they tirelessly channelled water and cool air throughout the castle; the engines that had ferried the once-mobile kingdom beneath the desert lay silent and inert, unused since the castle had become a permanent fixture in East Figaro Desert.
          Gogo led them in through a pair of locked doors that opened out onto a balcony overlooking the lower level. A stairway that split the railing before them led down to an area near the abandoned machinery that had been cleared away, revealing the flagstones beneath.
          The path they'd taken to get here had been long and circuitous, obviously meant to discourage curiosity in those who didn't belong down here. But when Lucca saw what awaited them near the foot of the stairs, she finally understood the need for secrecy, as well as the tension in their guide's voice.
          There, resting to the left of the stairway, illuminated by wall sconces that circled the windowless room and lamps that hung from the underside of the balcony, was the Epoch, its cockpit bubble and metal skin pockmarked from its encounter with the sandstorm.
          And sitting opposite their ship on the other side of the room, equally lit and looking for all the world like an impossible mirror image save for the unmolested canopy and hull, was the Epoch.
          "If this is some kind of joke, I don't get it," Lucca frowned.
          "So you do recognize it," Gogo said, less a question than a confirmation of what he'd suspected. He started down the stairs; a moment later, they followed.
          "Certainly looks like our ship," Crono replied dubiously as they reached the bottom. He looked at their ship on the left, then at the one on the right. "Where did it come from?" he asked, trying to keep his voice neutral and not doing a very good job of it.
          Out of the corner of his eye he saw the other's arms cross. "It was found buried near a mining town north of here, in a cave that hasn't been touched by humans for at least several millenia."
          An odd feeling began to roll around in Crono's stomach. He'd seen the Magus disappear into a Gate before the sandstorm had overwhelmed them. Wherever the other had gone, it hadn't been here, which meant that this Epoch was not--immediately, at least--the one they'd been chasing earlier.
          Which left an obvious--and very ominous--implication. One that Crono did not like in the least.
          Next to him, Lucca suppressed a shudder; even Janus was looking bewildered, or at least as close to that as he ever allowed.
          Crono approached the time machine cautiously. Cosmetically it appeared identical, although something was odd about how the lamplight played over it. He placed his hand against the wingtip--
          And stopped, a confused look on his face.
          Lucca came up next to him. "What is it?"
          "Something's not right," he responded, frowning. He pulled back, his gaze moving between his hand and the ship, then reached out and touched it again. "My hand is on it, but it's as if..."
          "As if you can't touch it? Or as though it weren't really there?" Gogo supplied helpfully.
          "Exactly," Crono agreed. It was the oddest sensation, akin to touching something with a hand that had fallen asleep, or trying to push against a wall of solid air.
          Frowning, Lucca reached out for herself, only to realize Gogo was right. "That's freaky..." she muttered, shaking her head in bewilderment. She moved past Crono, around the ship's port side, stopping in front where the light was better to peer in the canopy--
          And felt her breath freeze in her throat.
          There, alone and strapped in the pilot's seat, eyes closed in an expression of grief, was Schala.
          "Oh, Janus..." Lucca whispered, covering her mouth with her fingers. She looked up as he appeared at her side, a quiet, smoldering anger tightening his eyes, but he said nothing.
          "What happened to her?" Crono breathed as he and Gogo joined them.
          "Apparently she was found like this," Gogo explained. "We thought she was frozen from the cold; obviously we were wrong..."
          Frozen was the word for it, all right, Lucca decided. Schala's body was angled forward, the restraining strap pulled taut against her motionless form. Her arms were poised halfway to the console before her, as though bracing for some impending impact--or reacting to one? Her hair, blown forward into tendrilled wings that framed her face, and her robes, reaching out from around her sides, seemed to indicate the latter. There was something disturbingly familiar about this, though, tickling at some long-forgotten memory like an echo of the past.
          Like a snapshot of reality, ripped from the grasp of time and frozen in place.
          Abruptly the memory clicked: that one eternal moment in the undersea palace, a world of black and white and grey, opened to them through the chrono trigger.
          "It's like she's frozen in time," Lucca speculated, her curiosity piqued despite the seriousness of the situation.
          "You're right," Crono realized. "But what would have caused that?"
          "A chrono trigger, for one thing," she replied, crossing her arms and tapping a finger idly against her sleeve. "But the one Gaspar gave us carried us to a frozen moment in the past. It didn't bring the past to the present, or just freeze part of it."
          "Well, since Gaspar's not likely to be anywhere nearby, I think we can rule that out for the moment. What's another possibility?"
          "A quantum singularity," she replied after a moment, a trace of excitement in her tone as she looked up at him. "If they were within a tremendous, highly localized gravitational well, time dilation would take place, possibly at a high enough rate that they would appear to be literally frozen in time."
          Crono felt his shoulders drop at the same time as his eyebrows. "Layman's terms, Lucca," he reminded her.
          "It's like the passage of time for Schala and the Epoch has been brought to a near complete stop," she clarified, her hands gesticulating before her, more out of habit than any real need for emphasis. "Time dilation is the slowing of the--relative--passage of time. Relativity dictates that as an object's velocity in space approaches the speed of light, time dilation occurs: the faster you go through space, the slower you go through time. In other words, the passage of time for the object would seem to dilate--to grow bigger, or take longer--relative to an observer. The object would appear to be frozen in time."
          Lucca turned back to the ship, unconsciously slipping into what Crono had once jokingly dubbed her 'lecture mode.' "Obviously, they aren't traveling anywhere near the speed of light. The only other way I know of for this kind of time dilation to take place is within the gravitational field produced by a quantum singularity; within the event horizon of a black hole. That's the point furthest from the hole itself at which the gravity produced by the singularity is just strong enough to prevent light from escaping--and it's where the greatest observable time dilation begins. Time passes noticeably slower for an object near the horizon; within the horizon, it would be at an infinitesimally low rate. So low that, to an observer outside the horizon, the object is essentially frozen in time. Which is what Schala and the Epoch appear to be."
          Crono sucked on his teeth. I thought I asked for a simpler explanation.
          "There's obviously not a black hole anywhere near us now," Lucca went on, oblivious to his expression, "but if that's what caused this, then I'd like to know just how in the world they could have encountered one, not to mention how they could have survived it. The gravity of a black hole should have crushed them instantly."
          "Let's concentrate on what we do know, then," Crono suggested diplomatically; he'd never been one for technobabble. "So, they're 'frozen' because time's slowed down for them. Would speeding time up 'unfreeze' them?"
          "I think so, if we sped them back up to the normal rate of passage," Lucca replied, nodding.
          "So how do we do that?"
          Lucca thought for a moment. "It's possible that, if we could find a white hole, it would theoretically act in a manner opposite that of a black hole, pushing outward like anti-gravity and shrinking, or compressing, time. If a black hole slows time down, then a white hole should speed time up. In other words, we'll reverse time dilation with time compression."
          Crono raised one eyebrow. "And just where are we going to get this white hole?"
          Lucca looked at him, then smiled, a familiar glint in her eyes, as though the answer should be obvious.
          And then, naturally, it clicked. "Luminaire..."
          "Yes," she confirmed, "but we'll have to contain it somehow; we only want it to affect the ship." She turned to Janus. "I think Dark Matter will do the trick. It can act as a barrier to counter Luminaire's anti-gravity and contain it to the space immediately around the Epoch."
          "Then let's do it," Crono decided.
          "There's just one problem," Lucca added.
          Crono leveled a look at her. "Of course there is. And that would be?"
          "If she was exposed to a black hole for a brief amount of time, then in order to return her to a normal flow of time, we need to expose her to a white hole of the same strength and for the same amount of time. If we don't time it exactly right, if we prolong the exposure, then time will be sped up abnormally for her, and if we're unable to stop it in time, she'll be prematurely aged: she'll die."
          She turned to Janus, concern in her eyes. "She's your sister. I think the choice should be yours."
          Janus regarded her, his expression unreadable as he turned back to the Epoch, silent for a moment as he resisted the impulse to press his glove against the canopy. He hadn't expected this, hadn't been prepared for or even conceived of the possibility that in his efforts to find and save his sister he might end up risking her life. But at the same time, he couldn't just give up on Schala, couldn't stand to have come this far only to give up just short of his goal. And that was a choice that, if made, he knew his vow would not allow him to live with.
          Besides, the realization echoed guiltily through his mind, concern for her well-being and potential endangerment had never occurred to him before, had it? Why should it now?
          "I want my sister back," he decided.

          Surprisingly enough, Gogo didn't object to the idea of unleashing two of the most powerful magic spells possible in the basement of an inhabited castle; rather, he seemed to simply accept it as something that had to be done, as though he somehow knew he could trust them implicitly and to know what they were doing. It seemed rather odd to Crono, but neither Janus nor Lucca had brought it up, and he certainly wasn't about to question their luck.
          It was the work of a tense half hour for the men to move the Epoch into position, while Lucca nervously double- and triple-checked the figures she'd calculated based on her observations of the ship and what she knew of quantum physics. And when they were done, it was with a bittersweet feeling of relief that they prepared to free Schala.
          In a matter of moments, it would be over. One way or the other.
          Gogo and Lucca stood at the foot of the stairs while Crono and Janus took their places, the former behind the ship, the latter in front of it. Crono glanced at Lucca one last time, nodded at Janus, then closed his eyes in concentration, leaned his head back, and raised his arms skyward.
          Almost immediately a light breeze began to impossibly whisper throughout the chamber, accompanied by the crackling of electricity and subsequently the distinct smell of ozone. The wind seemed to grow stronger, louder, centering on Crono as his body suddenly lifted up off the floor.
          Between him and the ship, a pinprick of greenish light unfurled into existence in midair, blinding in its brilliance as it pulsed and grew, eerily throwing shadows about the room. Narrow beams of light began to sweep outward from the singularity, describing the radius of an enlarging sphere that would momentarily become solid and opaque.
          An instant after Crono began, Janus moved his hands in a series of arcane gestures, and a growling rumble echoed throughout the chamber, followed by the stench of brimstone. The light of Luminaire abruptly died away, swallowed up into star-filled darkness as the rotating pyramid called Dark Matter faded into existence. Its base was perpendicular to the floor, facing Janus, swallowing the Epoch completely, the other end aimed at Crono, the tip just barely containing the white hole.
          The singularity pulsed and flashed angrily at the restriction, trapped by the wizard's spell and channelled towards the time machine instead of radiating outward freely. They held the spells for the briefest of moments, creating the necessary conditions for time compression that Lucca's calculations had called for to reverse the time dilation.
          And as abruptly as it had begun, in less time than it took to blink, it was over, the white hole collapsing in on itself, followed a moment later by the disappearance of Janus's spell, and the room was peaceful and silent once more save for the steady hum of the engines.
          It remained that way for exactly one nanosecond.
          Without warning, the Epoch rose into the air in a sudden burst of motion, dust scattering away from it, a high-pitched whine suddenly filling the air as the ship's repulsors realized they were once more an active part of the timestream.
          To Crono it was eerily akin to seeing a video that had been paused suddenly start playing again. He cried out and backed away, dimly aware of Gogo calling out his name in alarm.
          At the same moment the ship lifted up, it began to move forward, its previously halted momentum coming back with a vengeance, forcing Janus to throw himself out of its path as it surged towards him. He hit the floor and rolled, coming up in time to see the ship slam into one of the turbines, the shriek of metal on metal clawing at his ears.
          The ship continued to hover like that for another few seconds, bobbing from side to side as it tried to grind its front end into the turbine. Abruptly the navi-comp kicked in, realized that the ship wasn't getting anywhere, and forced the auto-pilot offline. The whine of the repulsors decrescendoed as they were shut down, and a moment later the ship settled quietly to the floor with a gentle thump.
          Janus was there immediately, manually releasing the catches that secured the canopy and raising it up, exposing the interior of the cockpit. Schala's unconscious form slumped in the seat, held up only by the restraints. As the others came up, Janus vaulted up into the backseat, released the restraints, and, easing his arms gently under her shoulders and legs, lifted his sister up out of the pilot's chair.
          Crono and Gogo reached up to take her, but Janus ignored their offer, opting instead to retain her as he jumped down and carried her away from the time machine. He set her down near their own Epoch, his eyes tensely looking her over for injuries. A thin line of blood trailed across her forehead from where she'd hit the console when the ship's inertia had returned, but it appeared to be superficial.
          "I should have thought of this," Lucca muttered self-deprecatingly, biting off a word that she'd learned in her father's workshop. "I'm sorry, Janus. Is she--?"
          "She's fine," he said quietly, not looking up.
          "What happened?" Gogo wanted to know, turning to Lucca.
          "The ship must have been in mid-flight," she replied, glancing back over her shoulder at it. "When it got frozen, so did its momentum; when we unfroze it, the ship kept moving as though it had never been frozen."
          "Well, it's back to normal now, and Schala's safe," Crono exhaled in relief. "Maybe now we can try and figure out exactly where we are, and see about going home."
          "There's just one problem with that," Janus spoke up, standing and turning to face them.
          "Not again," Crono grumbled.
          "Where's the Magus?"
          Crono held his hands out, palms up. "I don't know. Maybe she got away from him somehow and took the ship."
          "Hardly," Janus retorted. "Not with his strength, not when all he had to do was keep her under a sleep spell."
          "So what do you want?" the boy returned, raising his eyebrows. "To go after him? We don't even know where or when he is. We need to figure out how to get back home, take Schala here with us, and wait for her to wake up and let us in on what's happened."
          "He's right, Janus," Lucca put in gently. "We need to know more before we do anything. Besides, we should be grateful that Schala's okay. This could have turned out a lot worse than it did."
          He turned his stare on her, but it was a wasted effort. The children were right, and he knew it.
          Still, it grated on him to take their advice. "Fine," he said shortly. "We'll do it your way." He turned back to pick Schala up--
          Only to feel the hairs on the back of his neck prickling.
          An aura of bluish light had appeared, encasing Schala's prone form completely; behind them, the other Epoch became similarly contained.
          Janus reached a hand to her, snapped it back, his breath hissing through his teeth at the almost electric jolt of pain that stabbed through his fingers.
          "What's happening to her?" he demanded, looking back at Lucca, his eyes wild.
          "They're being erased from existence..." Lucca breathed as she looked at the ship behind them, a cold knot forming in her stomach. Even as she spoke, they began to fade in and out, the floor becoming visible through Schala's transparent figure, the wall likewise through the Epoch.
          Crono felt his fists clenching; for him, this was all too familiar. "But what's causing it?"
          "Something's changed," she replied, shaking her head. "Something in her past that's preventing her from existing here and now."
          Janus turned back to his sister, his mind racing. For Schala and the Epoch to have existed, frozen in time, for that long yet only now disappear, that change had to have occurred just recently. He thought furiously back through their conversation--
          And felt his stomach curl in on itself as it hit him.
          His decision to listen to the children, to try and return to their time. To not go after the Magus.
          Somehow, in some way, the presence of Schala and the Epoch here and now had been connected to his decision to find her and the Magus. By retracting that decision, Janus had in effect changed history.
          And this was the cruel result. Once more, because of a decision he'd made, he had unknowingly and unthinkingly put his sister in danger.
          Only this time, it was apparently for good.
          They remained for a few moments longer; then, in a flash of light that flared blindingly for an instant, Schala and the other Epoch were gone.
          Just as quickly, Janus was climbing up into their own Epoch. "I'm going after them," he muttered, half to the others, half to himself, as he strapped in and began bringing the ship's systems online.
          "But we don't know when or where they went!" Lucca pointed out, unnecessarily.
          Janus locked eyes with her. "I do."
          "Wait, Janus," Crono said, coming up to the ship's wing. "We'll go with you."
          Janus turned to the boy. "No, you won't."
          And with that, he pushed the boy away and lowered the canopy, and as Crono stumbled away he could hear the catches clicking as Janus locked it from inside.
          "What are you doing?!" Crono exclaimed, backing up next to Lucca and Gogo.
          "You've done your job," Janus answered without looking up, continuing to flip switches as his voice was piped out through an external speaker. "This isn't your fight, and I don't need you."
          "Then what did you come with us for?"
          He looked up at them. "Because you were my best chance at getting her back. Just like you were my best chance at destroying Lavos. It's the same now as it was then. Nothing's changed. You allowed me to follow the Magus and find my sister. Now I'm going to finish this, and I don't need you for that." Beneath Janus, the ship began to rumble, a slight whine in his ears as the engines came to life.
          Crono felt his blood turn to ice. "What about the chrono trigger?" he tried. "Why did you tell them about that?"
          "You think I helped your friends bring you back from the dead out of the goodness of my heart?" Janus replied. "Or that I let you fight against Lavos with me out of a sense of comraderie? Did you think that I cared about you? Think again, boy. I'm not one of you. I never was. You were a means to an end, nothing more. I chose to use you; I never needed you."
          "I see," Crono replied darkly, resisting the urge to grind his teeth. Should've seen this coming... "Is that all we are to you? Tools to be used as you see fit?"
          Janus raised an eyebrow in condescension. "Should I believe otherwise?" Crono opened his mouth to reply, but Janus cut him off. "This is my fight, my sister, and I will do whatever it takes to get her back. I've searched for Schala my entire life, and the Magus is going to pay for taking her from me."
          And then there was no more talk, as the Epoch's engines rose to a crescendo, deafening in the enclosed area, the breeze generated by them whipping the others' clothes about as the ship rose into the air. Another whine bubbled up in counterpoint as Janus engaged the flux capacitor, and in a flash of blue-white light, the Epoch was gone.

          "Well," Crono said after a moment, once the light and noise had died away. He sucked on his teeth in frustration. "Looks like we're stuck here now. Thanks, Janus."
          "Don't give up yet," Lucca consoled him. "If Janus is successful, then both Schala and the Epoch should return, just like Marle did. And then we can use the Magus's Epoch to get home. In the meantime, we'll just sit tight."
          "Yeah, I guess you're right," he conceded.
          But maybe he had cause to be concerned after all, Lucca thought after a moment, her brow furrowing. If Schala had suddenly disappeared because of a change they'd made to history, then why were they still here? Especially considering they were in the 'future' this time.
          When Marle had been thrown back to the middle ages, she'd changed history in a way that didn't allow for her continued existence. But she had remained there for a time before being removed, similarly to Schala; apparently history didn't change instantaneously relative to someone from the future who was in the past. Lucca had explained it to Crono as temporal inertia, a term she'd coined to describe the observable time it took for the time change to ripple through four hundred years of history and catch up to Marle, even there in the past.
          The problem was that that led to a paradox, which would have ended up affecting her and Crono, had they not acted in time to correct Marle's actions. Despite the fact that the change affected Marle sooner than them, in effect giving them more temporal inertia, they still would not have been immune to the change. Fortunately, they'd steered history back onto its original course, doing away with the paradox and bringing Marle back.
          But that wouldn't have been possible had they not already been in the past. If they'd remained in their era, the time change would have appeared to be instantaneous, and the paradox would have become inescapable. A sobering thought, one she had pondered over many times.
          So the question was, why weren't they trapped in a paradox now? The change obviously was in the 'past'--like the middle ages--which meant this was the 'future'--like their own era. So why weren't they being affected by it as well? Was it because they were again in the same time period as the change? Or something else altogether?
          Or perhaps, despite what Crono might think, I don't have all the answers, Lucca thought sardonically; a bit too egotistically as well, she realized with chagrin. Or maybe I'm thinking about this too hard, and we're not being affected because the time change is already being reversed.
          Which was, she remembered, the whole point in Janus's departure. Either way, the situation was out of their hands. All they could do now was wait.
          She turned to Crono, opening her mouth but stopping when she saw him frowning, as though trying to remember something.
          Abruptly, he looked up at Gogo. "You called my name," he said slowly, as though he hadn't been certain before. "Back when the Epoch started moving around, you called out to me." His eyes narrowed accusingly. "How do you know my name?"
          The other drew back visibly, then seemed to sigh reluctantly, realizing that the deception had been caught. "What's the old saying? 'The jig's up'?"
          "Who are you?" Lucca asked, confused as well now.
          Her confusion evaporated, though, to be replaced with shock as Gogo reached up, peeled away the shawl and removed the bandanna.
          Hair the color of flame, speckled with grey, pulled back into a rough ponytail; equally red eyebrows bristled over eyes the same color as Crono's; a nearly full beard, giving the man an air of age but also wisdom and kindliness. And with a gasp that she didn't even hear, Lucca realized she recognized him.
          It was someone she and Crono had both thought dead.
          It was Emit Turiga.
          Crono's father.

          It was like looking into a mirror of the future. The man looked every bit as Crono had imagined he would himself twenty years from now, his eyes sparkling with restrained emotion.
          For Crono, it was the day--the reunion--he'd dreamt of for longer than he could remember, that he'd imagined would never come to pass.
          "Hello, Crono," Emit said softly, as though afraid to shatter the silence that had fallen, the corners of his eyes betraying his nervousness. For as difficult as he knew this would be for Crono, it would be that much harder for him.
          Crono found he couldn't speak for the lump in his throat. He swallowed, breathed deeply, willed his mouth to voice his stunned thoughts, all the while struggling to convince himself this wasn't just another dream--or a nightmare.
          "D....Dad?" he croaked, wincing inwardly at how weak and unsure he sounded.
          A single nod from Emit--a single glimpse of the glistening tears in the man's eyes--and the spell that had frozen Crono's body in place was broken.
          As he had when he'd been a little boy, Crono ran to his father, threw his arms around him and buried his face in Emit's chest. Emit closed his eyes and held his son tightly as tears rolled down his cheeks.
          "My boy..." Emit whispered as he kissed the top of Crono's head and nuzzled him gently. He smiled as he felt the strength of Crono's hug, proud of the man his little boy had become.
          Crono continued to hold onto his father, afraid to let go for losing him again, but eventually his curiosity grew too great. He pulled back, looked up at his father through puffy eyes, his cheeks stained with tears. "You're alive..." he whispered, feeling the knot return in his throat. "I thought--" he said, struggling to control his breathing, "--I thought I'd never see you again..."
          "Oh, Crono," Emit murmured sadly, then pulled his son to him again, stroking his head comfortingly. "I know. I know. And....I'm sorry..."
          Crono sniffled as he pulled back again. "Sorry?" he repeated, brow furrowing in confusion.
          Emit sighed deeply, sadly, as though burdened with a load he could not but had to bear. "I think I owe you an explanation."

          It started out exactly as Crono remembered his mother telling him what seemed like a lifetime ago: his father, a highly-respected captain in the Royal Guard, had been sent along with a small group of soldiers to investigate some unexplained events on a remote solitary island. But while the ship they were on did encounter a storm at sea and was destroyed, Emit, unlike the others, survived and made it to the island.
          It was there that he encountered deep within a cave a strange being, one unlike any other, and Emit could feel the power emanating from this person, more power than even the reclusive Mystics.
          He could also feel that the person was dying.
          Emit stayed with the person, watching over him and doing what he could, hoping that Guardia would send another ship soon.
          Just before the person died, he told Emit a tale so remarkable, he would not have believed it had he not seen this person, felt his power, for himself.
          The person told Emit that long ago, in his world, a great war had taken place among three beings known as the goddesses. This and the events surrounding the war, or at least the legends of it, were common knowledge in that world, and the person proceeded to recount it for Emit. What wasn't known, the person told him, was that the goddesses had, before turning themselves to stone, imbued a single, noble man with powers greater than any of the Espers, and given him the responsibility of guarding them. This person became known as Gogo, Master of the Simulacrum and Guardian of the Statues. After the war, and on down through the centuries, the mantle of Guardian had been passed from generation to generation, the powers and knowledge and responsibility handed down so that the Statues would be protected for all of time.
          The person--Gogo--now dying before Emit's eyes was the last in that line of guardians. He had come here as a last resort, to escape the vicious attack of a madman known as Kefka, who was bent on destroying mankind and building a monument to non-existence. Kefka had hunted down Gogo, who was, unfortunately, not yet experienced enough with his powers to defeat Kefka. The madman had eventually trapped him on Triangle Island, mortally wounding him and sealing him away deep within a mountain to die a slow and painful death. But unbeknownst to Kefka, Gogo had found a shard of Magicite, which contained just enough magic to prevent his death from being for naught.
          Gogo knew he was going to die, had already resigned himself to his fate, but he knew that unless the Guardian rose up, Kefka would have free reign over his world. As his last request, Gogo asked Emit to take the role of Guardian for himself, to receive from Gogo the powers and knowledge that were his...and the responsibility.
          Emit accepted.
          When the old Gogo at last died, his body somehow simply faded away, leaving his clothes to settle limply to the cave floor. Solemnly, Emit had donned the other's clothing, and after leaving a message addressed to his wife to be found by whomever came after his expedition, he picked up the Magicite shard the other had used to enter this world....and used the last of its energy to go to Gogo's world, to try and stop a madman.

          "The rest, as they say, is history," Emit concluded at last. "I arrived here and eventually met up with a group of people called the Returners who were trying to defeat Kefka; that was two years ago. It's been six months since we defeated Kefka. Unfortunately, when he died, for some reason magic ceased to exist, and I lost my powers. I've been trapped here since then."
          He turned to his son, eyes crinkled once more with emotion. "Not one day has gone by that I haven't thought of you." Emit sighed sadly, deeply. "Sometimes I almost wish I hadn't accepted the role of Guardian..."
          Crono felt a hard knot forming in his stomach. "You mean....you chose to leave us? You weren't just...taken away from me?"
          Emit closed his eyes with not a little embarassment. "Yes," he admitted. "It was my choice. The Guardian coerced me in no way. But in a way....I had no choice."
          "What?" Crono demanded, feeling the heat in his cheeks, unable to understand why his father was saying this. "No! There's always a choice! You taught me that." He shook his head disbelievingly for a moment, mouth hung open in surprise. "What about me?" he pleaded, a hurt expression on his face. "What about Mom? Did you even think about us before choosing?"
          Emit regarded his son with equal surprise. "Of course I did! You were the first thing I thought of! Don't you think it tore me up inside, knowing that, by accepting that responsibility, I wasn't going to see you grow up, that I would never see either of you again? But after what Gogo told me, about all that hinged on defeating Kefka--which was more than simply deciding the victor in the war--I could not in good conscience turn him down. I knew that if I went, I would never see you again, but at least you would be okay. I knew your mother would be able to take care of you. But if I didn't go, if instead I was selfish and decided to stay--then millions would die at the hands of a madman."
          "But it wasn't your fight!" Crono pleaded, fists balled up in frustration at his sides. "It wasn't--isn't even your world!"
          "No," Emit agreed softly, closing his eyes and bowing his head, as though asking for forgiveness. "But it became my fight when I became aware of it." He opened his eyes, looked hard into his son's unyielding gaze, seeing for once just how alike they were--not to mention how stubborn.
          "Something else I know I taught you is this: with great power comes great responsibility. For me to have known about that conflict, to have the power to turn the tide of war but not do anything about it, would have been the height of irresponsibility."
          Crono crossed his arms and turned to one side, frowning at the wall as though doing so would knock it down. "So, what, that made it okay to leave behind your wife and son? Is that what you're saying?"
          "I'm not saying that at all," Emit replied, hurt that his son had misinterpreted him. "But what would you have had me do? What would you have chosen in my place, Crono?"
          For a moment, Crono was tempted to say what he felt, that Emit shouldn't have left them. But the more the thought pressed on him, the more he thought about his actions during his quest to defeat Lavos, the more he came to realize that, despite what either of them felt or said right now, he would have done the same thing. He would have put the greater good first, just as he and Marle and Lucca had all but given up their chances at normal lives when they'd accepted the responsibility of saving the future.
          That didn't, however, alleviate the hurt he was feeling right now.
          "You could have told me," he said at last, his voice all but a whisper. "You could have let me know..."
          Emit shook his head sadly. "Oh, Crono. I wanted to, so badly. But there wasn't enough time, not to say goodbye properly. I barely was able to write your mother that letter before I had to leave."
          "Then why didn't she tell me? Why was I given the same story everybody else was? Why did she me believe that Guardia had done something to you and then covered it up?" He felt his eyes tighten. "Why did she let me think you were dead?"
          Emit regarded his son through tired eyes. "When I took on the mantle of Guardian, I ceased to be just Emit and became instead Gogo, because for all intents and purposes, I didn't believe I would ever see you again. I thought it best if you were kept in the dark, to keep you from fool-hardily trying to find me, so I told your mother in that letter what happened and asked her to comply with my wishes. So what your mother told you was true...from a certain point of view."
          "A certain point of view?" Crono rasped derisively. He felt nauseous, betrayed.
          "Crono," Emit spoke gently, "you're going find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of view. And I didn't want you wasting your life searching for a father you'd never find. I wanted you to have as normal a life as possible."
          Crono turned unresponsive. He was angry now, wanted to hold onto it, but he didn't know what to do with it. He already held a grudge against fate for denying him his father, but to now find out that it was his father's doing instead...
          "If there had been more time..." Emit trailed off, not knowing what to say. He knew his son was hurting, he'd known it would turn out like this, but it still hurt him in turn all the same.
          Crono squeezed his eyes shut against the tears that threatened to fall, grunting at the irony of his father's use of that word, the irony of how much of an impact time had truly had on his life. "There's never enough time..." he whispered bitterly. "Is there?" he asked accusingly, turning back to his father. He breathed raggedly for a moment, trying to contain the anger swirling in his heart. "You never had enough time for us....for me...."
          Emit felt his heart turn in on itself. "Crono, I'm sorry.... I know I was away a lot, but I always tried to make time..."
          "But you never did," Crono replied softly, the resentment evident in his voice. "You never had time to come to my practices, my competitions. You'd come home late, you'd see my latest medal or belt, and you'd say, 'Sorry I couldn't make it, son, but I'm proud of you.' Yeah, you were so proud of me."
          "I was--I still am!" Emit replied emphatically. "I felt so proud of you every time I walked by your room, saw your trophies and awards." He couldn't help the grin that popped up on his face. "I know the other guardsmen got sick of hearing me brag about you."
          Crono sighed in frustration. "Don't you understand? It's not about the trophies, it never was! It was about you! I never wanted the awards, the fame, any of it. That stuff's not important in the long run, and it's never really mattered to me. All I ever wanted was to know that you approved and were proud of me. I wanted to know that you cared..."
          "Crono..." Emit said softly as he came forward. His son stood limply as he folded his arms around him, pressed his cheek to his son's head. "I do care. I'm your father; I love you. Don't you understand that that's why it hurt me so much to leave?"
          "Hurt?!" Crono exclaimed, pushing away from Emit angrily. "You wanna talk about hurt? I thought you were dead. I thought you were dead!!" he screamed, losing control of his emotions; unsurprisingly, he found he didn't care. "Do you have any idea what I went through? Day after day of searching for you, night after night of lying awake in bed, exhausted and miserable, wondering where you were, what had happened to you, whether you were alive or dead."
          Crono turned his back to his father, unable to even look at him any more. "Eventually I gave up. After the funeral, Mom was never the same. I had Lucca, my studies, my fencing to keep me occupied, to keep me from dwelling on the pain. But Mom had no one. She got up every day, went through the routine, but she never enjoyed it. It was like she couldn't enjoy life itself, like she was physically incapable of it. I tried to help, tried to make her feel better, but it wasn't the same. I was never as close to her as I was to you, or as you were to her."
          He turned back to his father, emotionally spent. "That wasn't fair, Dad. To either of us."
          "I didn't know it would turn out like this, Crono," Emit replied softly. "I'm sorry it turned out this way." He was quiet for a moment, then: "I don't expect you to fully understand my point of view right now, but someday, when you're a father, you'll have to make decisions that are very hard, but you'll have to make them anyway. I made my decision, and I can't go back and undo it. Please, Crono, can't we forget about this? It's been too long since we've seen each other to spend our time fighting. Can't we be father and son again?"
          Without saying a word, Crono turned, brushed past Lucca and headed for the engines, towards the end of the room opposite the one they'd come in, not caring where he was going, simply wanting to get away.
          "You're not my father..." Crono whispered bitterly, his eyes tight and glistening with tears, turning back just for a moment, long enough for Emit to truly realize the pain his son was feeling.
          "Remember? My father's dead."

To be continued...

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