In a blaze of light, the Epoch materialized in the year 600, right between the Magus’ fortified castle and the floating Black Omen. The three adventurers opened their eyes, for they had been accustomed to shielding themselves from the blinding lucidity that accompanied bending time itself. Crono, at the controls, paused for a moment, keeping the jet hovering in place above the ocean.
Frog spoke up. “Forgive me, Crono, but I recognize that we are able to attack both the Omen and the dark mage’s fort from whence we stand. Will we in fact challenge Magus’ so-called beast?”
The lad gave Frog an affirmative nod.
“Then how shall we find such a creature, should it indeed exist? We traversed most every inch of Magus’ castle previously. Whereabouts could he hide a monster rivaled in power only by the Black Omen?”
Ayla spoke up. “Fat green man know?” she asked, in reference to Magus’ right-hand sorcerer, Ozzie.
“But--” Frog started to protest. He stopped himself as he remembered the battle in Ozzie’s own fort. As was the case in their encounter in Magus’ castle, Ozzie was defeated when a trapdoor was opened underneath him. “Hmmm; if that cur couldst survive one fall, than a second might not have done him in. It may behoove us to start our search where he lives.”
Crono nodded in agreement and turned the Epoch to the northeast.
“To Ozzie’s fort, then?” the amphibian declared.
In moments the trio had landed outside the Mystic’s stronghold and cautiously crept through the front door. A rank, musky odor greeted them as the entered the castle. Apparently never known for being well-kept, the green mage had not taken very good care of his home. Dingy walls, fetid pools of stagnant rainwater (gathered through various leaks in the roof), and a great, mossy staircase constituted the foyer of the citadel. Of course, the rest of the castle maintained the front hall’s putrid facade.
The two swordsmen were familiar enough with him that to know that, if he was in fact alive, Ozzie could be hiding anywhere, especially if he was aware of their arrival. Ayla, who had only heard about Ozzie and the Mystics through stories that the other adventurers told, and who herself had never been inside the fort, whispered: “Where--?”
Crono raised a hand in a halting gesture and hushed her as he listened to the various creaking, dripping, and shuffling sounds produced by walls settling and creeping vermin and the like. He then beckoned for his comrades to follow him as he navigated through the filthy, winding halls and humid, stinking rooms of Ozzie’s fortress. The three snuck past various gadgets and spent traps. The green mage’s fascination with mechanics was all too obvious; cranks, conveyor belts, and huge sickles dangling from the ceiling on chains populated much of the castle.
Eventually, the team reached a room with only an entrance door. Rusty switches lined the back wall of the chamber, and a large hole opened the floor up before the group; it was the trapdoor through which Ozzie had been sent, screaming, in his last skirmish with Crono and his friends.
The boy stepped lightly up to the edge of the cavity and peered into it. He could not see to the bottom. Frog approached the hole and stood next to Crono.
“’Tis black as pitch,” the diminutive frog-man observed. “Perhaps ’twas too deep for the scoundrel to survive. This search may truly be in vain.”
“Perish the thought. I’m glad to have some visitors again,” called a voice from behind the trio.
All three spun around to see the robed wizard floated menacingly in the air between them and the door. “What brings you kids here? Come for one last beating, eh?” Ozzie cackled, shoving his fists onto his fleshy hips.
“We desire information and nothing more,” Frog explained while cautiously gripping the Masamune’s handle.
Winding his arms up to cast a spell, the Mystic answered, “I don’t care what you want, Frog Legs; I’m going to make sure you three never leave he--”
The green mage’s words were cut short when Ayla pounced on him, tackling him to the ground and shoving him into the next room. Panicking, the sorcerer scrambled backwards away from the cave woman, but she leapt again, grasping Ozzie’s robe in her left hand and smashing her right forearm against his fatty neck. Slamming the wizard against a wall, she hissed:
“You talk now!”
Shocked, Ozzie stumbled as he said, “O-Ozzie’s in a jam! Wh-what do you want?”
Just catching up to the spot where Ayla had the magician pinned, Frog said, “Magus spoke of a beast trapped in ice within his castle; it is for this beast that we search. What canst thou tell us of this creature?”
“It’s, uh, a worm of some sort. I never saw it; nobody was allowed to see it. I only know because I found notes on it in some of his books. It’s called Hel-something... uh... Helminthes; that’s it. Magus took a flatworm from the ocean and fused it with Water Magic. It’s sleeping... uh, dormant... in his secret cellar.”
“Magic worm?” Ayla asked, relaxing her hold slightly.
“Yes, a magic worm,” the Mystic sneered, jumping at the chance to gain the upper hand, “and... uh... you’ll never find where it’s hidden!”
The Iokan flashed the sorcerer a feral glare and pushed her arm into his neck all the harder.
“Ack! A chair! Flea’s chamber! A chair in Flea’s chamber! Flea’s chamber’s chair! Help!” he gasped as his windpipe was slowly and steadily crushed.
Ayla looked to Crono and Frog. “That’s fine, lass,” the medieval swordsman stated. The prehistoric fighter released her hold on the fat wizard and he fell to his knees. Struggling to breath, Ozzie cast the only spell he could muster at the time: a teleportation spell. Disappearing and leaving a white after-image, the green mage left the trio in the dank, empty room.
Turning to her compatriots, the cave monarch assumed a fighting stance and declared, “Ayla no scared of worm! Come, Crono!”
“Helminthes, eh? Shall we make haste to Magus’ castle, then, lad?” Frog asked.
Crono answered with a simple nod and followed his comrades back towards the entrance of the fortress.
But, as he left the foyer of the stronghold, the boy could have sworn that he heard a low, hoarse laugh echo outward through Ozzie’s castle.
The trip to Magus’ citadel was facile for the Epoch; the futuristic time jet took only a few minutes to reach the fort once it has risen to the proper altitude. Upon exiting the craft, the troop paused for a moment and gazed on what was left of the towering building. Even though Magus’ attempt to summon Lavos to his castle had destroyed most of the back end of the fortress, the facade remained, replete with fancy stone ornaments and topped with a huge gargoyle shaped like a winged wolf. Ayla (who had also never been to Magus’ stronghold) gazed on the statue and remarked, “Wow; how doggy climb to top?”
“It’s a fake, lass,” Frog answered dryly as Crono led the group inside.
The youth led his friends through the dusty, yet clearly better maintained, halls of the dark wizard’s fortress ruins. Taking a right-hand turn at the top of the foyer’s staircase and traversing the lengthy hall that opened up thereabouts, the trio came to the room in which they had first battled Flea, the gender-confused mage. Sorcerer or sorceress, Flea had put up a good fight, and the team had spent little time exploring the room after finally winning the scuffle.
Frog approached the chair that sat in the back of the alcove and began examining it. “Ozzie mentioned the chair,” he remembered. “Mayhap a switch lies upon it? Or nigh?”
The three persisted to search the generously ornamented seat and its surroundings, but no switch or indication of any hidden switches could be found on the furniture. Ayla deduced: “Maybe on bottom of chair?” and pushed the seat over.
A wooden snapping sound crackled through the room as the chair was apparently severed from some sort of secured base. Immediately, a large floor panel, covering half of the area of the room, gave way under the trio and, swinging loudly on a huge rusted hinge, opened up a pit down which Crono, Frog, and Ayla fell.
To Chapter Three
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