The Epoch raced eastward, almost reflecting the haste of its crew. A flock of seagulls scattered as the low-flying craft skimmed across the mainland and launched over the ocean.
“I don’t understand how things could have changed so much,” Marle admitted. “Everything here seems so... uncomfortable.”
“Something must have happened the last time we used the Wings of Time,” Lucca explained, showing much more composure than she had an hour ago. “The present didn’t change until after Crono took his mother home and came back for us.”
“But we hardly did anything,” the princess argued. “We just stayed at the inn and waited.”
“Well, maybe some little thing we did had a much bigger impact than we thought,” the inventor postulated.
After a moment of thought, Marle said: “What if somebody else has a time machine?”
“Let’s not consider that until we first find out what happened to change our history,” Lucca warned.
“We’re here,” Crono announced as the time jet approached the Mystics’ home continent. Inspecting the environs, he confessed, “I can’t find Melchior’s house.”
His friends scanned the area and affirmed his conclusion: Melchior’s hut was not in its proper place. If it existed at all, it was not within view. Landing the Epoch near the former locality of the weaponsmith’s abode, Crono led his companions out of the craft and paused for a moment of thought.
“What should we do, then?” Lucca wondered.
“Let’s go to Medina,” the boy said eventually.
As Crono ushered the group eastward, the young scientist inquired: “Are you sure this is a good idea? They were peaceful the last time we came here, but Mystics may not be the same now, especially if they’re being blamed for a curse.”
“Then we’ll take that chance,” the swordsman replied.
“Well, then, don’t say I didn’t--”
“I won’t,” the lad interrupted, frustrated not with his comrade but with the faint, nagging indecision he had about the course of action he was taking.
Nearing the village of Medina, the trio was puzzled to see that the town was surrounded by a large wall, replete with turrets and observation towers.
“This doesn’t look good,” Marle observed.
“Wait,” Lucca commanded, “Before we go any closer, let’s agree on one thing. Let’s not fight them unless they intend to kill us. That’s a pretty mean-looking structure, and with this ‘Curse’ accusation on top of that I think it’s safe to assume that these aren’t the same Mystics as before. We should be on our guard but not be willing to start an insurmountable fight of any kind.”
“Good idea,” Marle assented.
Crono gave a silent nod, keeping wary eyes trained on the fortification in front of him.
Shouts and gruff orders emanated from the borders of the walled city as the trio approached the huge double doors closing Medina off from the rest of the world. Slowly, the young swordsman walked up to the doors while watching the rampart above him.
Without warning, a score of Imps sprung from behind the stone parapets and pointed crossbows at the children. The boy jumped backwards and put his hand to the indestructible Rainbow Sword he had sheathed at his side. But, remembering Lucca’s warning, he forced himself not to draw his weapon.
“Halt!” one of the Imps barked. The rampart’s doors flew open and a quartet of Henches marched out and surrounded the troop.
A third cuff to the face drew a trickle of blood from the swordsman’s mouth, but failed to get Frog to divulge any information. The fat man, the same thug who had captured the knight errant earlier, stood in front of him and grinned widely at the damage he had done.
Ozzie, flanked by the other two Mystic mercenaries, gave a mockingly piteous sigh. “I’m sorry I have to do this,” he lied in an obviously falsely sincere tone, “But I need you to tell me where to find that kid.”
“Kill me,” the amphibian wheezed from his shackled perch, “And thou shalt never find Crono.”
“Crono, eh? Well at least now I know his name,” the green mage concluded as he floated up to his prisoner. Propping Frog’s head up by the chin, the sorcerer hissed: “Listen, you sorry toad. I’ve been humiliated by that punk once too often. My spy said that he saw... Crono... and those girls ride a metal bird and disappear off to the north. Now you’re going to tell me the rest of what I want to know.”
“Only I know of Crono’s whereabouts,” Frog explained, “And thine goons will slay me before I’ll tell.”
Bowing his head in thought, Ozzie informed: “You know, Cossack here is very good at straightforward, beat-you-over-the-head tactics...”
The portly, mustachioed thug, clad in a fur-lined jacket and spiked helmet, chuckled loudly and smirked proudly, letting the protruding lower teeth at the corners of his mouth rub his lips all the more raw.
“... But these two guys, Bodhran and Tzuris,” Ozzie continued, indicating the mercenaries behind him, “Are even better at sneaking into places and killing important people, like kings or queens.”
The thin man, Bodhran, whose face resembled that of a pointy-chinned lizard, adjusted his Arabian-style waistcoat and clicked the heels of his pointed shoes with a nasal chortle.
The third man, Tzuris, folded his arms and snorted contemptuously. His pitch black ponytail and layers of cloak-like garb shifted as he hefted his thick arms across his chest.
“You can’t pay for underlings like this,” Ozzie confided, “You have to promise them world conquest and the spread of eternal darkness. And my conquest begins with Crono’s death. Now are you going to tell me where he is or do I have to murder some royalty first?”
Slumping onto the cot hanging from the wall of the cell, the young inventor released a sigh of despair. Jailed and without their weapons and supplies, the trio had little hope of ever finding Melchior or discovering what the cryptic “Curse of the Mystics” was. She raised defeated eyes to the young ronin standing across the cell from her.
“You know, sometimes I wonder if your impulsiveness will ever get us into trouble,” she began. “Then something like this happens, and I stop wondering.”
Crono gave an apologetic smile and resumed his study of the outside surroundings. The jail had been built into the city’s fortification and faced inward towards Medina. The boy could see the various stone buildings and military-looking compounds; the village had definitely taken on a different atmosphere since their last visit.
“We need to find a way out,” Marle decided as she paced around near the barred door and the dozing, oblivious guards.
“Maybe they’ll let us go after a while,” Lucca hoped.
“But what if they kill us?” Marle countered. “Maybe they killed Melchior, and that’s why he isn’t around.”
A voice piped up from the neighboring cell:
“Oh, I don’t think you have to worry about Melchior.”
To Chapter Four
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