Magus waited at the edge of the forest, occasionally glancing at the castle doors to see if they'd opened. None of the guards noticed him lurking in the shadows. The dark ages lived up to their name, providing the wizard plenty of hiding places even at the castle's doorstep. He yawned. Glen had said he'd be out at three o'clock, but Magus didn't trust medieval clocks to be all that accurate.
Finally the doors swung open. Magus watched Glen kneel, kissing the Queen's hand before rising and coming down the steps. He looked like a real nobleman now, dressed in fine clothes with a heavy cape, but he betrayed a lack of nobility's arrogance by taking the shortcut to the forest and stepping through muddy puddles in his leather boots. The Masamune hung at his hip, a hint of the gleaming metal showing just above the sheathe.
Glen walked into the forest until the trees comfortably blocked him from view. He looked around uncertainly, then yawned and crossed his arms.
"I know you're here," Glen said to the shadows.
"Just making sure you didn't have any tagalongs," Magus said.
Glen didn't show his surprise as he looked up. Magus lounged in the tall oak above him, but he didn't wear the armor Glen was used to seeing him in-only the tunic and trousers he'd worn under the armor. He didn't look any less imposing, but he no longer looked ready for war, either. Magus braced himself in the branches with his boots against the trunk and one gloved hand holding the limb above him. His cloak dangled temptingly in front of Glen, but he didn't yank it.
"She knows I'll come back soon," Glen said. "I have no need for a bodyguard."
"Or a spy to keep an eye on you?"
Glen shook his head. "I admit, the way we left made my explanations difficult, but I merely explained the truth."
"'Truth'?" Magus echoed. He didn't like the sound of that.
"That you were trying to save the world yet again," Glen said, his grin growing as Magus's look grew darker. "And that you died heroically saving a princess and transforming me back."
"Pond hopping, fly eating..." Magus growled.
"But," Glen laughed, fearlessly staring back, "the way you fought the mystic army and brought me to Leene's side at the cost of your own health is what truly convinced the queen and the guards, when they thought back on it."
"Lying little-" Magus said, dropping out of the tree and drawing himself to his full height.
"Ah, but is any of that a lie?" Glen asked.
Magus glared at him. "I should go change the castle into frogs."
"And then Marle would be a frog," Glen said.
"Just one of several possible timelines," Magus grumbled. "I'm sure the entity would adjust."
Before he let Glen comment, Magus turned and led the way through the forest to the Epoch III. He threw off the camouflaged netting and rolled it up, tossing it into the backseat as Glen hopped in and fastened his seatbelt. Magus climbed in and sealed the top, then started the turbines and revved the engine to full power.
"I'm assuming you've flown this before," Glen said, grasping the arm rests.
"Of course," Magus said. "I'm much better than Lucca at flying this crate."
"That is a relief," Glen said.
"She never opens it up and really lets it go," he added.
Glen had enough time to take a deep breath as they shot forward, exploding branches out of the forest as they went into the clouds and circled the earth before he even realized the ocean had gone by. In a second, there was a familiar flash of light and then they were slowing down, coming to a jarring stop in the forest.
As Magus jumped out, Glen shook his head and slowly came out, groaning as the trees blurred in front of him.
"I take it back," Glen mumbled. "You're as dangerous as ever."
"There's an hour or two before the wedding," Magus said, handing over an engraved invitation. "That'll get you past security into the cathedral. Your seat should be reserved, too."
"You aren't coming with me?" Glen asked, looking over the golden script on immaculately white paper. "Oh, you probably need to pick up Ayla."
"She and Kino are already here," Magus said. "You were the last one. Don't get too drunk at the reception, though. Ayla brought the drinks from her time."
"Headsmash, was it?" Glen smiled, remembering Marle recounting the story. "Very well, then. I'll see you there."
It was only as he was heading up the steps, past the crowds gathered at the entrance, that he realized Magus hadn't told him why he wasn't there. An usher read his name on the invitation and led him down the aisle to the front pew, where found Ayla and Kino seated next to Robo and Atropos. Indeed, a quick look around showed him several people he recognized-Doan and Tomas the XIII, Melchior and Gaspar, and even a nu. How strange they must have seemed to the rest of the guests, especially on the opposite side of the king and his retinue.
As he sat down, he counted himself lucky that he wasn't a frog for everyone to stare at. Instead they seemed focused on Ayla and Kino, in their best furs, as they both leaned back in their seats with wide stares at the ceiling. Glen would have thought they were impressed by the immense building but he recognized the dizzy spinning of their eyes.
"Still recovering from the trip with Magus?" he asked.
"Blue hair one fly dangerous," Ayla groaned. "Like Lucca better."
"Indeed," Glen said. "By the by, we missed you on this trip. Your strength and your insight would have been most valuable."
"Ayla miss fighting and saving world," she smiled. "But Ayla busy with Kino. Make new chief."
"'New'..." he echoed, noticing her hand on her abdomen. "Oh. Oh! That's wonderful!"
"New chief kick strong," she laughed, then groaned as her head swirled again.
Glen leaned back in his seat and followed suit, letting his faint nausea fade away. If he thought about it, he wasn't surprised that Magus wasn't here. Too many people, too lit, too guarded, and too far from his sister. Of course Schala should have been there...but he dismissed that idea quickly. She was only recently brought out of her time inside the Mammon Machine. Something like this would be too overwhelming. And Lucca! Why wasn't she-?
He nodded once as he remembered her talking in the castle, downstairs in the kitchen, as they discussed the past and the future and her struggle to create machinery in this era. She had not seemed happy with the thought of a royal marriage. Perhaps it wasn't surprising that Lucca was not here.
One eyebrow raised. If three three of them were not here...?
"You do recall," Magus grumbled, "that I warned you not to indulge her when she gets like this?"
Seated on the bed, Schala smiled and leaned back on her pillows, letting Alfador play with her sash. Her nightdress would pass for normal clothing with just a soft sash cinching it in, and she hadn't worn shoes once since arriving in her brother's castle. At first it had been dark and foreboding, all long corridors of black stone as he carried her inside, but then he brought her to the tower and there had been so much sunlight, such a grand view of Guardia and the royal castle, from the large window.
The window he was sulking on, resting a boot on her sill.
"I wouldn't dream of interrupting her," she said, "not when I don't ever correct your manners. It's such a pity none of your etiquette lessons sunk in."
He crossed his arms and stared out at the town in the distance, but his boot came off the window.
From the far wall, Lucca lay beside a nest of exposed cords, tugging slightly on each one to figure out where they went and then tie-wrapping them together. She bundled all of them into a mass and stuck them behind the row of extra stones that hid them against the rest of the wall.
"I just wanted to make sure the wiring didn't spark," Lucca grumbled as she sat up. "It's all so jury-rigged I was afraid it might burn the place down."
"That would be quite an accomplishment," he said, drawing out each syllable in sarcasm, "considering we've both cast powerful fire spells in here."
"Electricity isn't fire," she said too sweetly.
He frowned. He knew that, and she knew that he knew it. "What's wrong with lanterns and spells anyway? It's not like we need the lights and it's taken you away from your other projects."
"Because," she said, standing up and wiping the dust off her hands, "you liked that hot shower in the future, right?"
He didn't dignify that with a response. Beside him, Schala giggled behind her hand.
"Well, it's a package deal," Lucca said. "I like having a steady light source. Good plumbing is just part of updating this place."
Although she didn't say it, Magus heard her unspoken jibe. He wanted all the improvements if they would make life easier for his sister. An easy switch to flip for light instead of maintaining a spell or keeping a lantern going. A shower. An elevator between floors rather than endless stairs. So much to complete, and Lucca did it all without complaint. And while putting up with his surly attitude. And while slowly teaching him to do the same technical repairs and installations, even if she always checked the work later only to declare it satisfactory.
And always without teasing him that it was for his sister. To her credit, she never once held an improvement over his head, demanding a favor in return. It ensured that he did anything she asked, even if he grumbled about it.
"Anyway, it's done now," Lucca said. "Shall we?"
Coming to his feet, Magus went to Schala's side and extended his arm, ignoring Alfador as he used it to climb up his shoulder. She took her brother's hand gingerly, then stood and leaned against him, taking small steps as he walked her to the door. The past few weeks had been grueling and sometimes downright humiliating, but she was able to walk a little on her own again. And as they took the iron box that Lucca called an elevator to the first floor, slowly turning the crank that turned a wheel overhead that lowered them down, the inventor kept up a steady stream of conversation to make sure Schala didn't feel like she had to talk or that she was slowing them down.
"We're not really gonna go with gas power, right?" Lucca said. "I mean, I know they work really well, but I keep worrying about potential explosions, especially since I can't create decent valves for the boilers. I just don't have the fine tuned equipment and it makes no sense to keep flying back and forth to the future for spare parts, especially since I'm trying to establish precursors for that technology."
"Unless you want to keep burning wood for hot water," he said, "I see no alternative. Now, if you've made improvements to that stove idea, then perhaps there's some merit..."
Schala smiled. Janus hadn't changed at all, not on the inside. Insufferably intelligent and childish, and now he had someone to match wits with. She hoped Lucca learned to tame that attitude of his, but from the reactions of everyone she met, her brother already behaved much more civilly than he had before. If so, she wondered what years of living as a mystic had done to him.
The floors of the castle were so cold, but heavy carpets lined the path to the main door, and she luxuriated in the feel of them until they reached the grass. The feel of each blade, the touch of wind in her hair, the warm light cascading onto made her look up at the clouds in wonder. As a princess, she had lived her whole life watching them float below and beside her. Now having them above her made her feel as if the world had turned upside down just to set her free.
One thing had not changed, however. She still lived on an island, and the upside to that was having a private beach. Lucca's boat was moored nearby, although Lucca only ever used it if she wasn't in the mood to use the Epoch. And if Magus needed to visit the mainland, he flew. Schala knew she'd have to have him teach her that trick later on, after she wouldn't feel tempted to rely on it instead of walking.
"Here looks good," Lucca said, setting down the basket and bringing out several covered plates, all the dishes she'd stolen from the royal kitchen as they prepared for the wedding feast. Alfador sat and gave a plaintive mew until he received his share.
A decanter of blood was also set aside for Magus, and they all wordlessly treated it like wine. Watching her brother drink, and the occasional outbursts of anger that brought his fangs into view, made her wonder what mystics were truly like. She knew that they despised sunlight and counted their lives not in days but nights, but it was also true that mystics ate humans. Had Janus-no. She would never ask. She didn't need to. He'd developed a taste for blood, the extra vitality that gave him such raw power and shadow magic. There was no need to eat anything else.
Distant bells rang, their sound clear if miles away. Schala smiled, even if her brother and Lucca didn't. Crono and Marle were married.
"You two don't want to go to the party?" she asked. "Probably be fun."
"I'd rather fight Lavos again," Magus said. "Besides, Lucca has a robot she's been working on."
Next to Schala, Lucca grinned. "You saw it? It's just like Gato, but I have a hand-held cordless control system that interfaces remotely."
"A remote control?" Schala echoed, piecing together the words she'd understood.
"Ooh," Lucca said. "That sounds good. 'Remote control'."
Magus leaned back, drowsing as the sun went down and the moon started to fade in. Seeing Frog...Glen again had put him in an ill temper he was still pushing away. So much of his life had been spent working toward killing Lavos, and that had crumbled. Then he'd struggled to find Schala. Now that she was found-he took a moment to revel in having her there, safe, sound, happy-what was he supposed to do? He'd hunted for Lavos, for her...what was left to look for?
Several dozen yards out into the ocean, a pod of dolphins surfaced for air. A couple of young ones leaped out of the water or spun around, throwing a spray of water into the light, and then dove back under the waves. The air was full of playful squeaks and clicks, and then the pod faded from sight again.
"So pretty," Lucca said, resting her head in her hands. "I wonder if I could make a submarine based on their shape."
"I think a dragon is much more suitable," Schala said. "They go down farther."
"Really?" Lucca asked.
"Mm-hmm. When the Black Omen was underwater, I only saw dragons."
Lucca went back to thinking.
Magus wondered. The world was saved. Lavos was dead. He had his sister again. He even had his cat. And there were dozens of ideas brewing in Lucca's head that he knew he'd be roped into building alongside her. The future was in constant flux and imperfect. The only solution to improving the future was to improve the now. But did he want to? Did he care enough about the planet to bother when he had what he wanted right here?
If the future was to change, let it change. If this was his world now, so be it.
"I think I could make a dragon submarine," Lucca said slowly. "But I'd need some more gold for the wiring, and I'm fresh out."
"The king has gold," Schala offered.
"Yeah, but he spent a ton on that wedding," Lucca grumbled. "I'd have to get in there and steal...um, borrow some."
As if they both had the same thought, Lucca and Schala both glanced at Magus. He noticed their looks and grinned.
If the fate for the Dark Lord Magus was to cater to the whims of these two women forever, he could only laugh.
Always time for a little fun.