“What I don’t understand is how you knew that we would come looking for you,” Crono stated as he rested the Epoch in the middle of the Guardian plain just fifty yards away from the city of Truce.
“First things first,” Melchior insisted. “I’ll assume, since you let the Mystics capture you, that you don’t know about the situation with them.”
“We know about a curse of some sort, or at least claims of one,” Lucca declared.
“Right. Well, because of the Curse, the rift between humans and Mystics has been growing steadily. Occasionally, a human army tries to penetrate the city of Medina and destroy the Mystics, hoping that doing so will lift the curse. That is why Medina is surrounded by a fort.”
“But what is the Curse?”
“Oh,” the wiseman said, startled, “You don’t even know that much?”
The swordsman and his inventor friend shook their heads.
“Well, then, I’ll give you the abbreviated version. In accordance with the Curse of the Mystics, a monster rises every five years and advances through the Kingdom of Guardia, destroying all that it can within two weeks’ time. After that, it buries itself for another half decade.
“The people survive by moving their cities and scattering their numbers. But the creature hunts down civilization instinctively and can’t be killed by any means known to us.”
“So that monster... my mother...” Lucca concluded.
“While I don’t know what the monster’s weakness is, I’m sure you will be able to find out if you go back in time four hundred years to the year everything started,” the Guru explained. “After you discover how to beat it, I may be able to help you.”
Placing a comforting hand on the young scientist’s shoulder, Crono stated plainly:
“We’ll find this monster and destroy it.”
“Now go,” the weaponsmith commanded. “You’ll put the people here in danger should the Mystics catch on to your ruse and come looking for you.”
With a nod of agreement, the swordsman escorted his childhood friend into the time machine and leapt in, sending the Epoch soaring through the time stream once again.
A brilliant flash of light and thunderous crash heralded the Epoch’s arrival in the Middle Ages. Night persistently marched westward as the sun hid itself behind the horizon, leaving a foreboding redness in its place. Hovering in front of the Guardian Forest, Crono and Lucca pondered how to start their quest.
“Whoever set this monster loose could be anywhere,” the boy pointed out.
“Why don’t we stop at the Castle first?” Lucca suggested. “The King and Queen may be able to tell us something, and we need to wait until all three of us are ready to go,” she finished, indicating the still-sleeping Marle beside her.
“Right,” the swordsman admitted, steering the time jet over the dense forest and placing it next to the immense, gray stone palace.
Carrying the princess, Crono led Lucca up to the towering portcullis; the guards eagerly welcomed the trio and led them straight to the King’s chamber.
King Guardia XXI stood enthusiastically and stretched his arms out, fanning his regal cloak out like a pair of wings. “Welcome, Crono and friends! So good to see you again.”
Upon seeing Marle unconscious, Queen Leene stood and put her hand to her mouth. “Gracious! What happened?”
“She’s fine,” Lucca explained, “But we’re all a little banged up. We were wondering if you could spare a few beds for the night.”
“Only the best for the friends of the Kingdom,” Guardia said with a snap of his fingers.
“We shouldn’t impose,” the inventor insisted. “The Knight’s quarter’s will be fine.”
“Well... as you wish,” the King relented, a little confused.
Still, attendants came and guided the trio into the basement lodgings, helping to carry the dozing Marle and taking the group’s tattered outer clothing to be repaired. Crono was also offered a new pair of boots, which he wholeheartedly accepted.
After having their wounds treated and settling into their beds, the two wakeful compatriots discussed their plans.
“In the morning we should ask the King what he knows about this monster,” Lucca proposed, “Then I think we should look for Frog.”
Crono blinked. Recalling Lucca’s first encounter with the amphibian swordsman, he was pleasantly surprised at her request to once again join the knight errant. An affirmative nod ended their conversation, as it was rather late in the evening and the adventurers wished to conserve their energy for the next day.
“Wh-what? Where am I?!”
The ponytailed heir jumped up in her bed and vainly scanned the pitch black surroundings. “Hello? Is somebody out there?! Crono?!”
“Shhh,” said a voice, “You’re safe.”
“Crono?” she asked, straining her eyes in the direction of the familiar voice. “Is that you?”
“Yes,” Crono answered quietly. Marle was slowly adjusting to the deficient amount of light in the dungeon and could barely make out the torch of hair that crowned the youth’s head.
“Where are we?” the princess whispered.
“Guardia Castle,” the boy replied, “Four hundred years ago.”
“What are we doing here?”
“I’ll tell you when we leave tomorrow morning,” the ronin promised. Marle could see that he was sitting in a small wooden chair, arms folded, his back to her. Although he leaned his seat back slightly, his posture was not relaxed; he looked more statuesque, like a sentry posted in front of a citadel, tirelessly watching the ever-suspicious surroundings.
Smiling at her protector, the princess lay contentedly back on her pillow and drifted naturally off to sleep.
A frail shaft of sunlight poked into the basement through a minuscule window on the back wall of the alcove. But by then, maids had already come down to light the torches in the Knight’s quarters. They gently shook the two young ladies awake; the boy was already up, having never actually fallen asleep the previous night.
After briefing Marle on the situation, the trio requested and was granted a quick audience with the still-sleepy King, who assured them that no monster had attacked any part of the Kingdom and that no Curse had been invoked by the Mystics, to his knowledge. They moved for the entrance of the Castle, physically healed but frustrated at their lack of any sort of lead on the Curse.
“It must not have arrived yet,” Lucca deduced. “That could help us out a lot if we only knew where to find it.”
“Wait a moment,” King Guardia said, catching up to them at the portcullis.
“I see that you have other things on your agenda, but I have a request, if it’s not too much trouble. You see, as wary of him as I was when I met him, I invited that swordsman called Frog to be the Captain of the new Royal Guard. I think he is a very reliable ally.
“The problem is, he should have been here days ago and I haven’t heard from him. If you could find him for me and escort him to the Castle, I would further be in your debt.”
“No problem,” Marle replied with an encouraging smile.
“Thank you,” Guardia said with a bow.
As the three left the palace, the inventor piped up once more. “I was about to say that Frog might know something that could help us find this monster.”
“So it looks like we’ll be searching for him either way,” the princess declared.
As the troop boarded their jet and prepared to head for the amphibian’s woodland home, Crono could not shake the sense of foreboding that played relentlessly in the back of his head.
To Chapter Seven
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