Author's Note : It's a trilogy! I'm sorry! This is probably going to be the last one – hopefully it won't stretch into a series - but don't count on it. I really am taking this too far, aren't I? Anyway, we will see. By the way, (I'm giving away part of the plot here) I have THE RETURN OF MAGUS (yay! Yay!) all planned so he won't be in it for ages! Sob! Anyhow… excuse me, I'd better get back to work… By the way, I swear, it will have more of a plot closer to the end. At the moment it's a little… slow… boring… well, see what you think. I'm sorry! If you can stick it through to the end, I swear it will be better! I swear!

By the way – this is a long introduction, isn't it? – this story later has some ideas about the game in it that are purely my own. You are welcome to disagree with them, and you can even argue your own ideas with me later if you like. I think I'm kind of twisting something the game said, but this is my interpretation of it. You definitely don't have to have the same opinion.

One last thing – and I swear this is the last! – unless I can get this story written and posted entirely in six weeks, there will be a break of a minimum of two months before my next post. I thought I'd let you know now that I won't have fallen off the face of the universe, I simply won't have access to my computer for that time. So I guess the pressure's on! And now I'd better stop wasting space and allow you to get on with it…

The Seventh Mage

Chapter One – The End of Time

The young scientist glanced up eagerly as someone opened the gate. Lucca's face fell and she looked down again. "Oh. Hi."

            "Don't be too pleased," Marle grumbled.

            "I'm sorry, I just hoped…" Lucca found her hands fascinating. "You know."

            "I do know," Marle agreed, exchanging a glance with Schala. "You hoped it'd be Magus. …We've been looking for him for two weeks now, Lucca. Wasting the time in which we could be preparing for the fight with Lavos. There are too many timeframes. Too many places. He could be anywhere, he could be moving continuously. We'd be lucky to find him, but we're not going to have that luck."

            Lucca shook her head slightly. "I guess we don't have to find him. He'll come back. He said as much. He took the Masamune and he said he'd bring it back." She felt warmth at her thigh, looked down, then hoisted the cat into her lap. "And we have Alfador. He'll come back for Alfador. And for Schala."

            "And for you," said Schala under her breath as she moved to the girl. "I agree, Lucca. He wouldn't have just abandoned us. He'll be back."

            Crono, Ayla and Robo arrived at the End of Time via the Epoch at that moment. There was only the seven of them now, counting Alfador. Namely, Crono, Lucca, Marle, Ayla, Robo, Schala and Alfador himself. Magus had left to do something and could be anywhere. Frog was gone. Probably dead. They didn't often think about him now.

            It had all been Magus' fault, Marle thought sourly as she went to Crono. He had been the target of the evil Mage, Kelke Peatsar. Kelke had attacked them, blocking Magus' magic, and the group had confronted Kelke in order to get him to return to Magus the use of his magic. However, Kelke's residence had been in another universe entirely. Lucca had modified the Epoch to get them there. Once in the universe, Marle had managed to get them mixed up with the Eight Mages – almost guardians of that universe, set on creating a shield around their world to cause Lavos (who was also coming there) to bounce harmlessly off onto an uninhabited planet.

            With the guidance of Tarreiz, a seemingly young girl whom Marle was convinced was one of the Mages, the group had located Kelke's castle and had gone in to fight him. They had won, and as a result, he had done his best to kill them in vengeance. Frog had stopped that by killing the Mage, although Kelke had taken their companion with him to wherever it was that he was going.

            A week or so after the return to their own universe, Magus had borrowed the Masamune and had promptly disappeared. Crono and his friends had been looking for the now-somewhat-good wizard since then.

            "Did you find him?" Marle asked softly, slipping her arms around Crono's waist.

            "No." Crono hugged her back briefly, and then moved away. "How is Lucca taking it?"

            Marle glanced at her friend, who was stroking Alfador and talking to Schala. "Not well, although she seems to be coping on the outside."

            Crono nodded. "I think your theory was correct. She was in love with him.'

            "It was fairly obvious, Crono. The only thing of which I wasn't certain was if he felt the same way."

            The End of Time was a small place, and Lucca had caught the end of the conversation. She didn't particularly mind. Marle was mostly right. Lucca wasn't even sure if what she had come to feel for Magus was love, but she had often wondered if he felt anything for her at all. He had kissed her. As they fled the Black Citadel, before Frog had given his life for them, he had kissed her. Two weeks after returning to their universe, he had disappeared without a word of his ultimate destination.

            Without a word of explanation. She presumed that he wouldn't have kissed her if he hadn't meant something by it, but he hadn't mentioned anything about it. Nor had she, but she hadn't known what to say. She had been desperate to talk to him about it but simply hadn't had a clue about what to do. She couldn't take Magus apart, find out how he worked, and then put him back together. Perhaps he had been waiting for her to do something. Did people take turns in love? Maybe she had missed her chance by not responding to his advances. If that had been an advance. Lucca wouldn't have known an advance if it jumped up and hit her over the head. Now machines, she understood. It was a pity that people weren't so easy.

            Still, she had his cat. And his sister. Magus would be back, she was sure of it, if not just to collect what belonged to him. When he returned, she would make sure that she spoke to him about how she felt. She turned phrases over in her mind, trying to work out the best one. "Magus, I love you", would, she knew, go down like a ton of bricks. There had to be a way. She would work one out.

            Lucca glanced up as six little columns of coloured sparkles appeared and jumped to her feet, reaching instinctively for her gun. The others had reacted in a similar way, Crono drawing his sword, Marle readying her crossbow, Ayla lifting her fists. They had not anticipated the violation of their sanctuary, the End of Time.

            Six people appeared, one for each column of light. The first, from the yellow sparkles, was garbed in a robe of gold. His eyes were gold too. Even his hair was yellow. He wore a necklace with a pendant of intricately twisted gold that seemed to glow. The second was a woman dressed in blue, a strand of her long dark hair falling before her blue eyes. The man who appeared from the red light was, predictably, wearing red. His eyes and hair were dark, and he looked similar to the second. The fourth was a familiar man, wearing green, his hair a dark, almost grey blonde and his eyes a vivid green. Marle smiled with recognition; they had all encountered Tarkyn before.

            Familiar also was the fifth person, a girl of about sixteen years. Fair-haired and pale-skinned, her eyes were literally like dark pools of water. Clear, almost. Schala and Marle traded glances and smiles. Only Lucca didn't look particularly impressed. Everyone, with the exception of the scientist, was fond of Tarreiz.

            "We are the Eight Mages," announced the first man, "although, as you can see, there are only six of us. This is partly your fault."

            "I don't – " Crono began indignantly.

            The man held his hand up for silence. "I am Jandegar, the Mage of the Sun." He indicated the woman next to him. "Kerrelei, Water-Mage. The next is Jhyskar, the Mage of the Fire. Tarkyn the Forest-Mage is the fourth. I believe that you have previously encountered the fifth, Tarreiz, the Mage of Vision. The Sixth Mage is the Mage of the Moon, Ciaruse."

            "How's that?" Crono queried curiously.

            "See-ah-rus," explained the sixth woman. "The 'e' is silent." She wore a silver dress that showed off her figure in a way that actually seemed unintentional and a silver cape. Her slightly wavy, thick blonde hair fell to her thighs and her eyes were the ever-changing colour of the sea. Crono, who had eyes only for Marle, would never have noticed her beauty if she had remained silent. Her voice was relatively low-pitched, rich and melodious, and he was instantly entranced.

            "The Seventh and Eighth Mages are not with us," Jandegar announced, and Lucca thought, 'Duh.' The young scientist caught Tarreiz rolling her eyes with exasperation and her opinion of the Mage instantly rose.

            Lucca tuned back in as Jandegar continued. "You are responsible for the disappearance of the Seventh Mage, and you will recover him for us."

            "We will do nothing of the kind!" Crono protested. "He tried to kill us!"

            "Nevertheless, it is your responsibility."

            "The Seventh Mage is dead," Marle said evenly, keeping her crossbow trained on the First Mage. "One of our companions killed him."

            Jandegar's look was pitying, almost as though he felt sorry that she didn't understand. "The Mages cannot be killed. They are only sent to an Otherworld."

            "You mean he could come back?" Lucca demanded. "Damn it all! I thought he was finally dead!"

            Crono was the only one to have noticed Schala's expression. "You knew, didn't you?" he asked. "…Schala?"

            "Yes," the princess admitted finally. "Janus and I both knew."

            "Then maybe…" Crono let his voice trail away. Maybe Kelke had taken Frog with him. Perhaps their companion wasn't dead after all! If they found Kelke, it stood to reason that they would also find Frog.

            "You will come with us," Jandegar stated.

            "Oh, hey!" Marle protested. "I don't mind helping you, but we have our own battles to fight. Literally."

            Tarreiz said calmly, "In return for your aid, the Mages will each give to you an item to aid you in your fight against Lavos."

            "Oh will we now?" demanded Jandegar, turning on her. "That's certainly news to me!"

            "They fight the same evil as do we, Jandegar," Tarreiz pointed out. "Besides, you would not do something for nothing. How badly do you want their help?"

            "We're not all so convinced that Kelke will find his own way out of the Otherworld."

            "Then perhaps you ought to learn to have more faith. Until then, it is this way or it is nothing."

            "In order to collect the items from the Mages," said Jandegar smoothly, "you will require a guide. I am quite sure that Tarreiz would be more than happy to suffice."

            The Mage of Vision started to say something, then backed off with an annoyed sigh, sensing that she had already pressed Jandegar too far. Smirking slightly, Jandegar turned back to Crono and his friends. "It will be as Tarreiz has said. Will you give us your assistance?"

            "I'm in," was Marle's response. "I mean, if they're going to give us these items…"

            "We need all the help we can get," Crono agreed. "Robo?"

            "I would be pleased to assist the Mages," Robo answered. "Especially in return for some things that may help us against Lavos."

            "Then that's a yes. Ayla?"

            "Ayla help funny hungry man!"

            "…I suppose that's a yes, too. Lucca?"

            The young scientist considered, nodded. Crono smiled and turned to Schala. "You're the last. Do you agree to help the Mages?"

            "It's not really my place to say…" began Schala.

            "Schala, I'm asking your opinion. You're a part of this group now, too."

            "Then yes. We should do this."

            Crono nodded, glanced at Jandegar. "We'll help you in return for these items."

            "Excellent," was Jandegar's response.

            "Wait!" cried Lucca. "Can we have some time – " But she was too late; their world was already fading.