The jet spun crazily as it plunged earthward. Struggling to right it as his friends tumbled around the cockpit, Crono barely managed to level the Epoch before it slammed into the ground. Clumsily, the craft skidded across the Guardian plain and kicked up a fair amount of dirt in the process.
Once the plane lurched to a halt, its crew urgently and painfully filed (or fell, in some cases) out of the hatch and raced the rest of the way to Sandorino village. As they ran, Frog hastily threw as good a healing spell as he could muster at the time over his comrades. Bluish light washed over the troop, and all but the mercenary were accustomed enough to pay little attention to the spell as their various wounds set themselves.
Nearing the outskirts of the town, Meridio, leading the quintet, caught sight of the Mystic horseman, Cossack. He drew his mace and called out: “You there!”
The portly Mystic, having just dropped heavily off his large, woolly, thick-muzzled ride, turned in barely enough time to see the hired gun swing his deadly black ball.
However, the weapon bounced harmlessly off of the thug’s face, flying out of Meridio’s grasp with a bone-shaking jerk.
All five fighters stopped in their tracks and gaped as the undamaged Cossack laughed a hearty, arrogant laugh at them. Gritting his teeth, the fancily cloaked Mystic taunted, in a gruff, scratchy voice: “You wish to challenge Cossack? You should be worrying about other things, children.” Sweeping a hefty arm eastward, he pointed his lucid scepter at the great flatworm Helminthes, looming over the edge of Sandorino near the hole in the ground from which it had attacked the Epoch.
Down the main dirt road of the town, a few people could be seen running towards the other end of the village. The area in which the fighters had gathered was ominously quiet and empty; most of the townsfolk had apparently spotted the giant worm and fled before Cossack arrived.
“You yourself should worry, Cossack,” Meridio replied, picking up his mace. “You don’t know who you’re up against here.”
“Relinquish that scepter,” Frog ordered, “Or face our combined wrath!”
“You want to fight? Good, then, fight the Worm!” the horseman called, raising his jeweled staff into the air.
“No!” the mercenary interrupted, throwing a halting arm across the path of the other four adventurers, who had assumed battle stances in preparation for facing the monster. “We’ll settle this without ruining the city. I challenge you to a duel, Cossack.”
“I don’t think--” Lucca began.
“A duel? I accept!” the Mystic answered, twisting his protruding lower fangs into a fiendish grin. Planting the luminescent rod into the dirt street running through the center of the borough, he drew a thick-handled pike and, for the first time since the fighters saw him, stood straight up.
“You want a duel, then? Cossack will give you a duel; I come from a long line of Mystic nobles, and am the last heir to the Hussar legacy. We are among the greatest Mystic warriors in the world; we are never beaten!
“But, I will not fight just anybody. You must first defeat my familiar,” he declared, and, turning to his sizable horse, he commanded: “Farcy, destroy that man!”
The steed broke its statuesque posture, twitching its head and jerking to life with a sickening gurgle. Aiming a heavily contracted pupil at Meridio, the filthy, mottled black animal trotted towards him and paced around in front of the man, as if sizing him up.
Gripping his weapon, the mercenary waved his compatriots back and focused a grim stare on the zombie-like horse. Braying, the stallion charged Meridio, but the man easily sidled the attack and swung his mace down and to the side, like a golf club. The studded ball connected with the animal’s right front knee and caved the joint inward.
Shrieking in pain, the horse staggered and tried vainly to pull itself up, succeeding only in crushing its injured leg further. Meridio walked to the side of the beast, whirling his mace smugly at his side.
“Farcy, is it? Hardly a worthy opponent for me,” he professed as he circled the crippled steed.
Gnashing its teeth, the animal uttered a low, ferocious growl; its eyes procured a reddish glow that the man failed to recognize. The creature’s muscles tensed in unison; Lucca yelled to the hired gun:
“Meridio! Look out!”
Before the man could react, a wave of crimson energy flew from the horse’s mouth. Like a flamethrower, the animal swept its head around and aimed the blast of Fire Magic at its enemy. Meridio was enveloped in the conflagration, but responded swiftly by rolling and dragging his burning overcoat through the dirt.
While the man extinguished the blaze, Farcy stood as well as it could and pushed itself at him, administering an ungainly headbutt to Meridio’s side. Barely catching sight of the attack, the mercenary rolled with the blow and scrambled away from the stallion, jumping up and readjusting his strategy.
Wheezing from the pain, the hired gun regarded the zombie horse bitterly, then grasped his mace in both hands. Glowering, the mercenary clenched his weapon tightly, arms trembling.
The audience watched as Meridio appeared to be concentrating on his weapon. Waves of heat, like those that rise from desert sands, seemed to radiate from the man just before he rushed the beast.
“Morning Star!” he yelled as he swung his weapon over his head, and, for a moment, the worn studs on the metal ball appeared to grow into menacing spikes. Meridio hurled the mace downward, striking the horse square on the top of its head and crushing its skull.
Letting the ball rest on the pulverized cranium of the beast, the mercenary let out a sigh and relaxed his body; a puddle of viscous blood seeped out and surrounded the animal’s face. The Mystic horseman and the four fighters gazed, speechless, at the sight of Farcy’s shattered head. Quickly becoming furious, Cossack stalked up to the body of his familiar and muttered:
“You dare kill my steed? I will make you humans pay for this.”
Standing defiantly in front of the mercenary, the Mystic announced, “Now you face Cossack! Try your best to attack me!”
“Gladly,” Meridio smirked, whirling his mace once more and casting it towards the noble’s visage.
Again, however, the strike merely bounced off the horseman’s form, as if he himself was made of metal.
“You wish to harm me? No weapons can harm Cossack!” the Mystic declared, and with a wave of his large hand he magically cast Meridio’s weapon from the man’s grasp and stuck it into the ground. Twisting his spear in his hand, Cossack jabbed the mercenary in the gut with the blunt end and cuffed him across the face. Twisting in the air, the man fell to the ground and landed on his stomach. The horseman put a foot on the back of the fallen soldier and raised his pike, aiming the pointed end at Meridio’s heart.
Lucca quickly trained her Wondershot on the Mystic, yelled “Get him!” to her friends, and sent a volley of projectiles towards Cossack. Although the first two missiles hit their mark (albeit without harming the noble), the rest were deflected by some sort of spell that the horseman channeled through an outstretched palm.
Crono and Frog rushed towards their adversary, but Cossack quickly faced them and stabbed two meaty fingers in their direction. Instantly, the Masamune and the Rainbow Sword froze in mid-air, locked in place by the Mystic’s silent command. The two swordsmen jerked backwards, as their respective iron grips bound them to their weapons just as their weapons were bound in place under Cossack’s control.
Laughing heartily, the stout noble razzed: “Have you not learned? I command metal like a circus man tames a lion!”
“Metal?” Lucca pondered, studying the horseman’s powers and defensive capabilities. “Of course: magnetism!” she concluded. Turning to the boy, the inventor yelled: “Crono, try hitting him with electricity!”
Still held in place by his stubborn grip on the Rainbow Sword, Crono stretched his free hand upward and, channeling his inner energies and concentrating on the Mystic noble, sent a wide column of lightning onto Cossack.
The bolt split through the air and encompassed the horseman. For a moment, it crackled around him, as if trying to push through his protective barrier. But, without warning, Cossack suddenly began convulsing violently; a lucid yellow coating seemed to cover him as he heaved backwards with a nauseating gag and crumpled to the ground.
To Chapter Thirteen
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