Author's Note: It's Chrono Cross cameo time again! And also time for SCIENCE. Or at least excitingly mangled pseudo-science mashed up with Chronoverse cosmology.
Also, silversword drew me awesome fanart of Chapters 4 and 12. It's linked in my profile, or take out the spaces here: silversword. dreamwidth. org/ 1233. html
It felt like a very long time since Lucca had woken up surrounded by papers. For a moment her brain supplied flickering expectations of frying bacon, a half-completed invention on her desk, and a scolding from her mother, who might or might not have had walked in to deliver it—but there was nothing familiar here but the ache in her neck and the need to fumble for her glasses.
The candles hadn't gone out the night before, no matter how creatively she and Nadia tried to snuff them, and now they appeared no shorter. Cold seeped up from the floor through the bedding. Nadia was still curled up snug against her back, snoring.
Deciding that any impending negotiations with Magus would better be conducted while not huddling in a mound of blankets, Lucca wriggled carefully free of Nadia and the bedding. Nadia shivered but did not stir.
The floor sent a frigid shock through Lucca's bare foot. After putting her boots on, she went to peek around the curtain, where the darkness of the sky made her frown. The moon and stars were gone; apparently Magus cloaked his lair in thick clouds by day, no doubt because sunshine ruined the evil ambiance. She pressed her cheek to the cold glass for a better view of the cloud coverage.
The slam of the deadbolt startled her into knocking her head against one of the iron supports. Lucca cursed under her breath as she darted out from behind the curtain, nearly tripping over the fabric. The blanket-mound made various noises of disoriented alarm.
Lucca managed to don her helmet, almost not askew, before the door opened on Magus. The shadows under his eyes suggested that he had foregone sleep, most likely in favor of pressing various combinations of buttons on the Gate Key. Rest advantage: Lucca.
His silent looming was obviously meant to intimidate, so Lucca put her hand on her hip and said, "What, you didn't bring breakfast?"
"You'll eat when you've demonstrated that you're not an utter waste of resources." Magus turned back to the hall before adding, "Follow me. The other one will remain here."
Lucca straightened her helmet before starting toward the door. Nadia reached out of the blanket cocoon to catch her tunic and whisper, "Be careful."
"You too." Lucca brushed her hand briefly against Nadia's before continuing on. The door slammed and locked behind her.
Once upon a time, ten years later, Lucca had taken it for granted that the summoning chamber was the highest room in Magus's tower; now she passed through a hidden passage in the back wall, crossed a short hall lit blindingly bright, and ascended a tightly spiraling staircase that rose far above the range of that light. Twice she nearly tripped against Magus when her feet misjudged a step.
The steps ended without warning, sending her flailing in the dark for a handhold. She caught a handful of fabric on her way to finding a wall.
After a silence that oozed irritation, Magus snapped his fingers.
Rumbling jerked Lucca's gaze upward. Daylight sliced in through a rapidly widening gap in the roof until she stared, squinting, into the cloudless sky, broken only by the hind talons of the castle's massive gargoyle.
"This is the Orrery," Magus said with audible capitalization, drawing her attention back down. Lucca suppressed a gasp; the light glinted from orbs of varying sizes and metals, attached by curved rods to a sphere that dwarfed the rest and glittered gold. The construction filled most of the floor, leaving a narrow periphery and an empty area near the stairwell, which housed several smaller devices, along with stacks of books, scrolls, and parchment. A stilled pendulum accessorized with levers and paper put her in mind of a seismograph, and a large, finely detailed globe looked to made of something that mimicked the red sheen of Dreamstone.
Lucca approached the orb nearest her and farthest from the center of the Orrery. Lead, if she had to guess. Past it, three smaller orbs appeared to be made of tin, iron, and copper.
Magus cleared his throat. "Do you understand the purpose of this?"
"Well, if you want to summon something across space, you have to be pretty precise with your locations. Given the technology around now, you can't get much more reliable than astronomy." With a glance at the possibly-a-seismograph, she added, "And you're worried about earthquakes."
His laugh pulled his lips back from his teeth. "You will not leave this room until you can explain the function of the Orrery. Surely this won't prove a challenge to one of your purported abilities."
"I'll have it all figured out before lunch-ch-ch." The last sound tripped back and forth on Lucca's tongue as her magic woke and tingled under her skin. When she had caught her breath, she said, "Well, it's about time."
"Your magic will be unlocked here, and here only. Attempt to descend the stairs, and the walls will crush you."
"Because that's really necessary. Didn't I tell you I want to be here?"
Shrugging, Magus levitated higher to sit, legs crossed, as if on an invisible perch. His feigned interest in his gloves indicated that the conversation was over.
If I ever get the chance to do it all over again, I'm pushing your cranky ass off that cliff. With an annoyed sigh, Lucca settled in by the stack of reading material and skimmed the top layer of parchment. Mostly star charts and maps, she noted, mixed in with semi-coherent babble that reminded her of Belthasar's notes in illuminated manuscript form.
Her heart raced at "WHO CONTROLS TIME?" scribbled beneath a drawing of a enormous tree, but everything else on the page was a different handwriting's nonsense about astrology.
When she found a fanciful illustration of the heavens with a convoluted path drawn from a leaden outer planet to a golden sun, she wrinkled her nose and said aloud, "Alchemy? Seriously?"
"Power is power," Magus replied flatly. "Magic isn't particular."
"Chemistry sure is. At least that explains all the metals." Lucca abandoned the reading material in favor of exploring the Orrery, which at least was real. When she followed the variously colored rods inward to the large golden sphere, she discovered that it in turn was linked by a thick glass rod to an almost Dreamstone-red orb sitting atop exposed clockwork. She stared at it all for several moments before sputtering, "Geocentric? Weirdgeocentric?"
Magus's voice achieved crisp paper flatness. "Alchemy requires compromise."
Magic couldn't be less particular. With a weary sigh, Lucca bent down and examined the clockwork base. A moment's fumbling found the winding mechanism, and she watched with satisfaction as the gears began to turn. The rods shuddered as dimness descended in a canopy over the Orrery, then was peppered with thousands of miniature points of light. She stared up at them until she had to hasten out of the way of the speeding sun.
Once she had navigated her way safely clear of the solar system, Lucca caught her breath and watched it spin and loop beneath a field of flitting stars until everything slowed to an almost imperceptible speed. "Okay," she said, speaking her thoughts into order. "So it's apparent motion, not real orbits. And it's magic clockwork, so it syncs up with what the sky looks like right now. Handy."
A scratching sound behind her alerted her to motion of the pendulum, swinging steady as one of its attachments drew a straight line over the paper beneath it.
"I'm guessing that means I'm not about to accidentally pull Lavos out of my hat." If Nadia had been there, she would have bantered; all Lucca got was unamused silence. She tried not to worry about Nadia as she turned her attention to the globe.
Like the Orrery, it played fast and loose with scale; Guardia Castle was visible down to its tiny towers, and Magus's castle was roughly the height of the Denadoro Mountains, no doubt to allow for intricate details. With a sufficiently powerful magnifying glass, she wondered if she would see a tiny Orrery on the top of the tower, perhaps with a tiny Lucca scowling at it. She tried not to look at the miniature roofs and treetops that marked Sandorino.
Somehow this surely connected to the pendulum and the Orrery, despite the lack of any physical ties. After a moment's consideration, she pulled a thin line of fire from her palm and arced it into the Orrery's red heart.
For an instant it shone bright enough to half-blind her, but the brilliance quickly focused into a pinpoint beam that, in gleeful defiance of physics, bent around the planets before striking the globe in the middle of an ocean. Lucca blinked, scowled at the impossible light, and peered at the place it struck. Nothing important, as far as she could tell, though she had the sense that Magus was watching her with interest.
No guts, no glory. Forcing her hands steady, Lucca adjusted the globe until the pinpoint of light fell roughly on the location of the Gate north of Truce. The seismograph scratched a pattern like an erratic heartbeat.
The light bulb clicked on: "It's measuring energy. The kind that rips holes in time."
Magus made a noise of dry amusement. "The word you're fumbling for is 'thaumatograph.'"
"Am not. That's not even a word." Frowning, Lucca shifted the globe to illuminate her own location and watched the thaumatograph wobble frantically, threatening to fly loose. She looked up at Magus and added, "You built this first, or at least some version of it. Then you built your castle on top of Lavos."
He tugged idly at his glove. "Fortunate that the damned thing didn't burrow under a strategically inconvenient area, isn't it?"
Lucky it's not under Guardia Castle, or you'd actually be trying to win this war. Lucca tapped the globe, careful not to put her finger too near the beam. "So now you have to calculate its position underground. That's the hard part, right?"
"Difficult, but hardly insurmountable. Transporting something of its size is another matter."
Hence the vast summoning chamber beneath. Lucca wondered how it connected to the devices on the roof; perhaps he intended to lug everything downstairs, perhaps the floor opened like the ceiling to let the summoned object fall, or perhaps the same magic that bent light around obstacles redirected matter, as well, through tiny gaps in the floor. Her early plans for the Telepod had involved a barrier to impress the audience, but open space guaranteed a much lower rate of exploded test fruits.
"And time just has you stumped." Lucca feigned casual curiosity: "So the actual summoning part—"
"Is alchemical, and therefore beyond your interests and comprehension." Magus straightened his legs and drifted back to just above the floor. "Time is your affair. I expect to see some measure of progress when I return to escort you back to your cell."
"What about," Lucca began, but the door to the stairs had already slammed behind him before she finished, "lunch?"
Only the tick of clockwork and the scratching of the thaumatograph broke the silence.
"Bastard," she muttered, tilting the globe to a quieter place before sitting down amid the reading material. She opened the book with the most occult-looking cover, fished a pen from her pocket, and prepared to take notes on a blank piece of parchment.
After some consideration, she set the pen down and spent a few minutes juggling fireballs, just because she could.
By the time the shadows lengthened, Lucca was beginning to suspect that alchemy was a grand practical joke carried out by dotty old men with entirely too much time on their hands. So far she'd learned that the color and metal scheme of the Orrery had a definite purpose behind it, though the purpose seemed to be playing along with people who thought that lead would turn into gold if enough fanciful verbiage was thrown at it.
They also took the special nonsense of magic—fire, water, lightning, and shadow—and inexplicably added salt, which Lucca's experience in being hit with spells suggested was not a secret fifth element. She scribbled a frowny face over the cubes she'd been doodling on her notes and went over to poke at the Orrery, which at least was reassuringly physical.
A little fumbling turned up a series of cranks underneath the Earth, the largest of which which reversed or accelerated the motions of the heavens, depending on which direction and how quickly she turned it. It also required her to lie flat on her stomach to avoid the rods whizzing by, which she counted as a serious design flaw.This needs a nice chronometer hooked up to it. Give me wire and gears, and magic instead of electricity...
An hour later she had sketched out plans for a crude variation on the Time Gyro she had once copied from Robo (whom she couldn't think about now, not without admitting that she remembered him like a character in a book). On a fresh sheet of parchment she listed the materials and tools she lacked. This, she decided, would be enough to earn dinner.
She settled back by the cranks with an astrolabe and a set of charts to do preliminary calibration work. Smaller cranks effected smaller motions, down to the tiniest that only seemed to control the rotation of Earth's tiny silver moon. This was the only satellite represented, fastened to its planet by a thin white rod. Other planets' moons apparently did not interest alchemists.
A lever reset the Orrery to the present when she pulled it. Lucca got up and adjusted the globe so that the beam of light struck the Gate north of Truce, sending the thaumatograph into a state of mild agitation.
She turned the cranks carefully this time, with a rough idea of what constituted a year. As she wound the heavens backward toward a guess at when Magus had dropped out of Zeal and into the Mystics' lap, the pendulum shuddered, slowed, and stilled.
Well, then. If the Orrery understood time as a variable, it failed to pass this on to the rest of the equipment. Perhaps Magus had constructed the Orrery when he still hoped to find a way back to Zeal, before he poured all his efforts into getting revenge against Lavos, and the mechanical overrides were relics of his failure. Whatever his reasons, only half his creation could look beyond the immediate moment.
Something clanged in the direction of the door. Lucca instinctively hit the reset lever, sending the heavens whirling forward while the Earth remained still.
After a dull snap, the beam of light vanished along with the starscape. "Have you accomplished anything?" asked Magus, in a voice that tried too hard for bored disdain.
"Plenty." Lucca extricated herself from the Orrery and pushed her notes aside with all the casualness she could muster. She approached Magus with her list held out: "I need these to build a chronometer. I don't care what alchemy wants it to be made of, as long as it's not salt."
He studied it with narrowed eyes. "And how does this fit into the grander scheme of pulling objects through time?"
"As step one." When his glare focused on Lucca, she added, "What, did you really think I was going to set you up for the whole 'You're of no further use to me, mwa ha ha, now die' thing?"
With an annoyed gesture, he locked her magic away. Lucca scarcely managed not to shiver.
She followed him down the stairs, which did not attempt to eat her, and back to her room in disagreeable silence. With any luck, he would be too busy keeping his Mystic army under control to go digging through the notes she'd stashed by the Orrery; nothing would necessarily give away that she was devoting more time to figuring out his summoning alchemy than she was to adapting his invention to search across time, but this would not be a difficult intuitive leap.
So I'd better hurry up and prove I'm the greater genius.
The door slammed so close behind Lucca that it nearly caught her tunic. She opened her mouth to complain about that and the lack of food in her life, but she found herself interrupted by a lung-compressing hug from Nadia.
"I'm okay," Lucca squeaked. "Air."
"Sorry! I've been worried." Nadia backed away a few inches, setting her hands on Lucca's arms. "Are you hungry? We've got bread and, uh, stuff. I'm pretending it's potatoes."
Lucca nodded, then found her line of thought frayed when she caught side of Nadia's hands. Her palms were a sore shade of red, and scratches ran along her index fingers and thumbs. "Your hands—"
Nadia pulled them back with a sheepish shrug. "I'm fine. I just got bored and messed around with some of the stuff in here. Food?"
Making a note to push the issue later, Lucca followed her to one of the desks, which had been cleared of enough clutter to make space for tin cups and a wooden tray. The latter was piled with crusty bread and a pale blob that muddled the normally stark line between meat and vegetable.
"I'm pretty sure—"
It didn't taste anything like potatoes, but Lucca didn't see any benefit to figuring out what it did taste like. She scooped up globs of it with hunks of bread and ate quickly to minimize the flavors' time on her tongue, then washed it down with faintly metallic water.
"So how's it going?" Nadia asked as Lucca wound down to crumbs and hiccups. "Do you have awesome magic machines from Zeal and stuff?"
"I wish." Lucca raised her glasses and rubbed the headache focusing itself between her eyes. "I've got alchemy."
"It's like if science had a creepy uncle. It's stupid, it doesn't make sense, and the worst part is that it seems to work."
Nadia patted her arm. "Lucca, you're a super-genius. You'll figure it out."
"I just hope I can figure it out before Magus gets impatient." Lucca took another sip of water, then headed for the darkness of the curtains and gestured for Nadia to follow. Once they were sheltered from the light, she whispered, "We're telling each other things now, right? What were you really doing today?"
After a moment's hesitation, Nadia addressed a dust bunny: "If I tell you, you'll tell me not to."
"And you don't think that means you shouldn't do it?"
"I have to." Nadia met Lucca's eyes. "It's important. Trust me?"
An argument fell apart in Lucca's head before it found the words to carry it outside. "Just promise you'll stay safe."
"As long as you do."
That's driving a hard bargain. "Doing my best," she replied. Outside the window, black streaks of clouds sliced through the stars. She rested her hand on the glass and felt the warmth seep out of her skin.
Nadia's fingers curled over hers. "Do you think Frog's still okay?"
"Probably. But sooner or later he's going to find a way to come after us."
"Then we've both gotta keep going. For Frog and Toma and everyone else. For Crono and Robo and the whole world." Nadia spoiled an exemplary set jaw with a stifled yawn. "And we can't keep going if we don't sleep."
If Lucca was tired, her body was doing a half-hearted job of communicating this to her brain. "You go ahead," she said, watching the stars appear motionless in the sky. A passing bat blotted out handfuls with each flap of its wings. "I'll be there in a few minutes."
Long after Nadia began to snore gently, Lucca hunched over one of the desks, annotating a scribbled drawing of the Orrery. Beneath her, the earth spun through space without her notice, unlike the motionless heart of the device.
Apparent motions, not actual ones; perception, not reality. And the worst part was that it worked. She turned to a fresh page in her notebook and scrawled out her thoughts in words and diagrams.
A few minutes spread themselves thin enough to reach all the way to dawn. Lucca blearily eyed the pale gray stripe between the curtains, then shook Nadia gently awake.
"I need to borrow your pendant today," she said. "I've got an idea."
Nadia frowned as she reached back to unfasten the clasp. "You didn't sleep."
"Couldn't." The pendant went deep in Lucca's pocket, where her tunic's folds disguised any hint of a bulge. She hopped in place to make sure it wouldn't clink. "Is Magus going to notice you're not wearing this?"
"Magus doesn't even look at me. And you can't just stop sleeping."
"I could if I had enough coffee." When this failed to soften Nadia's expression, she added, "If this works, I'll sleep all night tonight. Promise."
"You'd better sleep all night no matter what."
Lucca made a non-committal motion that wasn't quite a nod. A critical glance around the room offered no hint as to what dangerous activity Nadia might be up to, but Lucca ruled out building bombs. A contingency escape plan didn't seem likely, either; even if Nadia could scratch her way through a solid wall, she didn't have nearly enough bedsheets to reach the ground.
The deadbolt slammed open. "Stay safe," Lucca whispered, and heard the sentiment echoed before Magus came to take her away.
Alchemy didn't care what the chronometer was made of, apparently, because an especially curt Magus left her with a variety pack of scrap and tools. A box stuffed with tiny gears suggested that Magus had either robbed a clockmaker or harbored secret ambitions of being one.
Even after a handful of exhaustion-fueled errors, Lucca had an ugly-but-functional chronometer hooked up to the Orrery in only a few hours. A little calibration, and she was confident that the numbers displayed over a series of clock faces reflected the year, day, and hour set by the levers. She steered the stars to Crono's birthdate as recorded in her notebook, then let the Orrery spin back to her, without him.
That was the easy part.
Magus had seemed especially distracted and curt when he escorted her upstairs; Lucca suspected she had plenty of time, at least, to attempt the hard part.
A jolt of fire magic woke the light of the Orrery's heart and sent it dodging between planets to strike the red globe. The beam was still aimed at the site of the Gate north of Truce; the thaumatograph stirred.
Just to be sure, Lucca sent the Orrery back ten years in time. As soon as it clicked out of the present moment, the thaumatograph stilled.
Okay. Striking fake Dreamstone doesn't work. But the real stuff...
The thought hesitated at the fork of "will somehow fix everything" and "will leave behind a smoking crater to rival Lavos's impact," so Lucca assumed a middle ground and approached the globe with caution. The pendant in her palm glittered under the sunlight spilling in overhead. Keeping her body as far away as her reach allowed, she held the pendant by the chain and lowered it, flush with the globe, into the beam of light.
The pendant guzzled the light and blazed like lightning in a jar. But it didn't explode, melt, or smoke, so Lucca held it steady. The gathering light swirled faster and brighter inside the pendant until it overflowed in strands that covered the globe like spiderwebs. These calmed into a gently glowing gossamer web.
"Huh," said Lucca. She half-expected her breath to disturb the web, but it didn't so much as flicker. The thaumatograph ran wild.
All strands began at the pendant and ended either in lonely spots on the globe or struck together in shining nodes. The brightest, thickest strands connected the pendant's position over the Gate to the location of Magus's castle, while fainter strands led elsewhere: the Denadoro Mountains, the Zenan Bridge, the old cathedral near the castle. The lines dimmed at varying rates as they arced farther from the pendant.
After a few seconds' deliberation, Lucca poked one of the bold strands striking Magus's lair and watched it go dark past the point of contact. Strands branching from the node it had been connected to winked out. For a bewildering moment, she felt a swell of protective affection.
The feeling passed when Lucca let the pendant slip out of the beam, dissipating the web. In the silence, her heavy breaths echoed in her ears.
As she assembled bits of scrap into a tripod to hold the pendant, she tried to build a theory out of what little she had to work with. Dreamstone solved the trouble of looking through time, obviously; so much light connecting the Gate to Magus's lair could only be related to the history-quaking event of Zeal's lost prince falling through time and landing in Ozzie's lap. And the web seemed to be a web of influence—bright and thick for immediate cause and effect, pale and thin for the butterflies who brought the storms.
Why touch triggered the echo of an emotion wasn't a question Lucca wished to pursue yet.
Once she had all three legs near enough to equal, she propped the pendant atop her makeshift tripod and cast a web over the world again. When she cranked the Orrery forward in time, she watched the strands dim as new paths gained light, either appearing for the first time or finally growing bright enough to be visible. As the Orrery's time caught up to the outside world's, a lightning-bright slab of a line led from Denadoro to Sandorino to the castle, leaving behind something sparkling in the mountains.
A dance around the edge of paradox blazed like fire; when Lucca adjusted the Orrery's focus to Fiona's growing forest, she found strands knotted into a conflagration, out of touch with the rest of the web except for a fat stripe arcing from the site where Lavos burrowed into the earth. Turning back time to Lavos's fall earned her sore arms and a planet washed in white.
After a long frown at the globe, Lucca picked up her notebook and began a fresh page with "Unhelpful Discovery: Everything is Lavos's fault." On second thought, she made "Discovery" plural and added under it, "I'm making a huge mess."
As the Orrery reset itself to the present, she optimistically created a column for "Helpful Discoveries." If she got one solid line from Sandorino to Truce, she would have something to pick apart. Something to find a way to pinpoint. Something to summon, as she soon as she figured out how to rip open the space-time continuum between herself and it.
Details, details. Lucca took a deep breath and guided the Orrery ahead to the summer of 758 AD, from which she crept ahead day by day until the globe's web blazed wildly around the pendant.
Her heart leapt into her throat and fluttered under her tongue. Thick ribbons burned between Sandorino, the forest, the site of Lavos's impact, and Truce. Crono was important; time froze for him, as it would have frozen for any of those who rampaged through time to the planet's rescue. Tilt the world at a different angle, and it was Marle hatching from an eclipse, or Lucca coughing at the sudden shock of frigid air.
When she poked the light arcing from Sandorino to Truce, a horrible alien keen exploded inside her head.
She could no longer remember hearing Lavos's cries, but the sound shook her from the inside out and bathed her in a cold sweat of certainty. With unsteady hands, she picked up her pen and underlined "Everything is Lavos's fault."
The sky above purpled with dusk, and Lucca came no nearer to finding a connection from Sandorino that didn't scream of Lavos. After 758, even the faintest light from the town carried its echo. Geez, get mixed up with one alien parasite, and history doesn't care about your old ladies with orphans.
Assuming Lavos didn't have a secret origin in an eighth-century mishap, there had to be some reason its influence radiated from the day of the fire. Perhaps Lucca's Red Gate had sucked in a fragment of it from another plane; perhaps Lavos's spawn had hatched from Ozzie's corpse.
Perhaps Lucca's speculation had already gone too far afield. Whatever the case, the noisy interference turned a quest for a needle in a haystack into a quest for a needle in a haystack that Lavos was sitting on.
She doodled on her notes, poked at the same screaming strands of light, and tipped her head back to watch stars wink into the darkening sky. Magus was late, probably just to keep her hungry and on edge.
Worrying about Nadia would accomplish nothing.
Lucca settled in on the floor to form a triangle with the globe and the Orrery, notes and texts spread around her. There had to be some way to magnify the web created by the pendant, or some way to filter out unwanted historical influences.
If Nadia hadn't been locked away elsewhere, potentially getting herself in lethal trouble, she could have offered encouragement and a sounding board. Most likely she would have latched on to the idea that Lavos was Renaldo and bantered appropriately, and somehow Lucca might have come away with the kernel of an idea.
Trying to banter with the wall only depressed her, so Lucca resigned herself to trying to tease sense out of an alchemical treatise written by someone with unnecessarily curly handwriting.
Over the ticking of the Orrery's clockwork came a hum. She dismissed it as the drone of electricity, then recalled that she now predated electrical generators by a few centuries. The hum grew louder, lilting and insouciant, as the shadows in the corner bent around a splinter-thin slip of a girl. She looked human, but so did several species of Mystic.
Rising into a crouch, Lucca readied fire under her palms.
The girl sauntered into the light, her blond plait swishing over her nape, and inclined her head at the Orrery. "This's pretty. Didja make it yerself?"
A glance at the door confirmed that it remained closed. The ceiling was open, but Magus obviously considered that route secure. Frowning, Lucca pinched her leg and found the results inconclusive.
"Oh, yer dreamin', all right." Despite the night's chill and an outfit that suggested she taken a tropical vacation with a frisky pair of scissors, the girl showed no signs of discomfort, and her exposed limbs were free of gooseflesh. She rested her elbows on the globe and her chin in her gloved palm. Where she touched the web, it did not break.
Work completed during a dream counted for nothing. Lucca let her spell dissipate and asked, "What are you?"
"A fragment o' somethin' lost, maybe," the girl replied, her attention focused on the glittering Orrery. At Lucca's impatient cough, she made eye contact and added, "Or maybe I'm just what ya get for goin' without a wink o' sleep. You still tryin' to live on coffee and instant noodles?"
"Noodles aren't instant yet." Something else had been wrong. "Do I know you?"
"Nah. Ya ain't really mine, see."
Bracing herself for further nonsense, Lucca pushed her glasses up and rubbed at her eyes. "What are you doing here?"
"Bugger if I know." The girl shifted her weight and knocked the world askew. "Don't go askin' for me name, either, 'cause that's a mite tricky right now."
So are you something I forgot, or something I broke? The question gave too much credit to what was probably just evidence of ergot in the bread. Making a mental note to check the alignment of the globe later, Lucca folded her legs beneath her and frowned at the girl, who drummed her fingers on a forest and stubbornly refused to disappear.
"We got things in common, you and me." The girl smiled with what could have been sympathy or smugness, then straightened up and wandered over to the Orrery, where she passed planets and sun to reach the faux-Dreamstone Earth. She rose up on the balls of her feet to peer at the little silver orb attached to it. "Must be weird," she said, "only ever havin' the one."
The hourglass of Lucca's tolerance chafed under the rapid flow of sand. "I really don't need any extra crazy in here. What the hell do you want?"
"Heh." The girl turned and arched an eyebrow. "Guess it took a whole pack o' kids to make ya patient. I ain't even real here, ya know. We're just two dreams crossin' like daggers in the dark."
"Uh-huh. I'm waking up now." Lucca pinched her thigh again and frowned when the world did not dissolve.
A look of second-hand urgency passed over the girl's face. "Oi, not yet! Listen. Once you walk down a path, it's a path. Nothin' ya do can make it stop bein' one." She ran her finger over the little moon and sent it spinning through a score of phases. "Ignore it and let the weeds eat it up, but ya can't ever unwalk it."
When Lucca declined to comment, the girl slipped out of the Orrery's workings and tugged at her own earlobes. "Oi, mate, listen! You can put yer cobblestones down and pave a new road around it, but it goes on bein' a path. It ain't in the ground, see. It's in yer feet."
Tinny, high-pitched sounds intruded on Lucca's consciousness. She flashed unpleasantly back on her parents' efforts to involve her in a children's marching band.
"You need a few windows up here, mate," said the girl, turning to face the western wall. "How else can you know what yer missin'?"
"Shh." Not a marching band, exactly—the notes sounded more like the product of an antique music box wound for the first time in a century. The melody rang maddeningly familiar, echoing in the depths of a memory hole. Lucca stood and cocked her head. "Do you hear that?"
Something collided with her helmet with enough force to make her teeth chatter. With a startled curse, Lucca whirled around to watch a wooden jack-in-the-box hit the floor beside her. On impact, the music cut off mid-note, and the top popped open to reveal a live frog, its legs tethered to the box by a pair of springs.
The girl whistled. "Yer brain's bloody weird, ya know that?"
The same sequence of notes began anew, now chiming brighter and clearer, and Lucca sidestepped just in time to avoid another falling jack-in-the-box. This one was made of ceramic and shattered against the floor, releasing a faded photograph of a dead tree.
I'm never sleeping again. A black rubber box landed at her feet and bounced twice before spitting out an assortment of tiny bones, strung together on silver wire.
As the boxes rained down faster, crashing against the Orrery and blotting out all other sounds, Lucca grabbed a sturdy book and dove for cover in the corner. The girl remained near the wall, untouched.
From beneath her makeshift shield, Lucca shouted, "Are you doing this?"
"Pointin' that finger the wrong way, mate." A cardboard box burst open not far from the girl and scattered diamonds over her shoes. Eyes glinting, she stooped to pick up a handful, then scowled and let them fall through her fingers. "Tch. Glass."
Something rebounded from Lucca's book and quacked. "So how do I make it stop?"
"No, no, ya got it all wrong again. Listen." The girl stamped her foot, crushing diamonds to dust. "I ain't yers. Whaddya think that means?"
It means that it hurt a little when I pinched myself. It means that half the time I think I'm dreaming awake. It means that I'm lost here. Lucca winced as something especially heavy struck the book, then took a deep breath and struggled to project over the din: "It's not just my dream!"
A dissonantly gentle smile spread over the girl's face. "She's always dreaming."
A thick splat came from atop the book, and Lucca recoiled as something red oozed over the edge and onto her cheek.
She woke in a puddle of drool, her cheek imprinted with the pattern of the stone floor. The room was silent save for the mechanical pulse of the Orrery's clockwork and the steady swing of the thaumatograph's pendulum.
She knocked the globe out of alignment herself when she went to check it, and she hated that she couldn't fully absolve herself of intent.
Author's Note: Haaa, remind me never to put any bullet point as enormously vague as "Invent Chronoverse alchemy" in an outline ever again.