Just as the mercenary had predicted, the Hench workforce took its break at the turn of a fifth hour. Although it would seem that the crew would end its workday at so late an hour, they merely stopped for a quick meal and a mug of ale. Leading the three children, Meridio crept around the foundation of Magus’ castle. While the Henches greedily teared at their raw mutton chops, the four adventurers searched the outer walls of the stronghold for an ideal place from which to begin their assault. Meridio stopped underneath a small second-story window.
“We can get in from here,” he claimed. “We’ll climb this wall.”
“But there aren’t any footholds,” Marle protested.
“Don’t worry about that,” the man assured. With a wink aimed at the princess, he produced two thick metal hooks attached to handles. “I’ve climbed many a wall in my work.”
Without stopping to take a breath, Meridio leapt as high as he could up the wall and planted the hooks into the stone. In a quick hand-over-hand fashion, he scaled the fort and squeezed into the remarkably cramped window. After a moment, a rope fell out of the portal, trailing down to where the trio stood. Having secured one end inside the building, the mercenary stuck his head out the window and gave an imperative beckoning gesture to the three.
“Let’s hurry,” Lucca said as she grasped the cord and arduously pulled herself up.
Once she had climbed a sufficient distance, Crono took the bottom end of the rope and pulled on it in order to keep it steady. He then waved Marle onto it.
Gripping the line hesitantly, the Guardian heir looked up to the second story, then proceeded to gingerly scale the wall. She and Lucca easily slipped trough the miniscule window.
After allowing both of his friends to reach the top of the rope, the swordsman clasped the line and hauled himself up the cord as expeditiously as he could. Cresting the window in a few breaths, Crono hurdled the sill and rolled once across the floor before righting himself. Stumbling as he tried to rise, the boy took a moment to catch his breath, as the hasty ascent left him lightheaded.
Standing just a few paces from the lad, Meridio observed: “Your friend seems to be a little out of shape.”
Walking to his side, the princess declared: “He hasn’t had much sleep,” and helped the ronin to his feet.
“I’m fine,” Crono said, somewhat bitterly.
“Well, we’re in the Mystics’ prison area,” the mercenary stated as he began to search one of the deeper pockets of his overcoat.
“Again,” Lucca added with a smirk.
As Crono surveyed their surroundings, he noticed that the group was actually inside a jail cell that very closely resembled the one that held them in Medina. It was quite possible that Medina’s fortification was an updated version of the castle that was currently being erected.
Checking to see that the Masamune was undamaged, the swordsman readied his own weapon to cut through the barred door again. But before he could unsheathe his blade, the door swung open. Standing near the lock, Meridio showed off the bent metal spike that he had used to pick the lock.
“And now we’re free,” the man announced, signaling for his allies to exit the cell.
Inspecting the poorly lit halls of the brig, Meridio picked an arbitrary direction and directed the children down it. As the foursome snuck through the dungeon, they noticed that there were no guards posted in the area that they had traversed.
Nearing a corner, Crono, from the back of the crowd, felt a strange vibration near him. Initially startled by the odd energy release, the boy soon realized that the legendary broadsword that he carried for his amphibian comrade was quivering from within its sheath. Holding the Masamune out to his friends, he deduced:
“We’re getting close.”
“I know,” Meridio asserted. “I can hear guards breathing around this corner.”
Halting the troop for a moment, the mercenary neared the corner and stopped to listen to the barely audible sounds of the Grimalkin patrol. “There are five; let’s be careful.”
Slowly, the children drew their weapons. But, as Crono uncased his lucid Rainbow Sword, Meridio turned around and hissed:
“Put that away! They’ll see us!”
Sourly, the lad returned his blade to its sheath. Knowing that the Masamune would only respond to its rightful owner, he resigned himself to unarmed combat. While thinking of a strategy, he almost missed hearing the mercenary suddenly yell: “Now!”
Catching all three children by surprise, Meridio charged around the corner. By the time all three had rounded the corner after him, the mercenary had reached the fifth guard and knocked it out, leaving a line of lifeless Grimalkins. Running through the bodies, Lucca queried:
“How did you do that?”
The man smugly displayed his own weapon: a small, steel morning star. Its thin handle and closely-knit chain supported a dense, pitch-black ball, covered with word studs that may have been sharp spikes at one time. Spinning the mace around him, the mercenary showed off his technique before clipping the weapon back onto his belt, tucked neatly beneath the long coat.
The princes marveled for a second at how quickly-- and stealthily-- the man had dispatched five opponents. Crono, keeping his mouth tightly clamped, proceeded to inspect the cells to find the one that held Frog.
“There aren’t any other prisoners,” Meridio deduced, quickly scanning a few other cells. “All five of these guards must have been watching--”
He was rendered speechless when he found the cell containing the frog-man.
“Good Go-- ah, I didn’t think he was actually a-- I didn’t know if I would ever get to meet him in person,” the man stumbled.
Promptly surrounding the door in front of which Meridio had frozen, the trio peered inside and beheld their captured friend. The amphibian swordsman hung, unconscious, from his wrists, bound by rusty shackles. Several bruises and streams of dried blood marked his face.
“What did they do to him?” Marle gasped as Crono speedily brandished his sword and sliced through the bars of the jail, pushing the door inward and letting it slam heavily on the cell floor.
As he neared the restrained swordsman, Meridio stopped the boy and flaunted a ring of keys, taken from one of the dead guards.
“Let’s use these this time,” he suggested, “They’re safer, and less noisy.”
To Chapter Ten
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