This excrutiating piece of fanfiction was written for CuteLucca's Halloween Challenge, advertised at IcyBrian's forums, Before getting to the fic itself, here are the terms of the challenge:
1. The fic CANNOT exceed 7,777 words in length. (10 points)
2. One or more playable characters must die-- PERMANENTLY. (10 points)
3. The fic must be written from the following game choices: (10 points)
-Chrono Triggeror Chrono Cross
-Final Fantasy 1, 6, 7, 9, or 10
-Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom
4. You are allowed crossovers with non RPG games, movies, TV shows, books, real life, whatever you like. In fact, you are REQUIRED a crossover with a non-RPG world. (10 points)
5. It's almost Halloween! What craziness will result? (10 points)
Now for the BONUS POINTS.
#1: The character who dies has poetic last words. (1-10 points)
#2: A zombie. (1-10 points)
#3: A steamy love scene... (1-10 points)
#4: There's a half-used tube of cherry red lipstick in there somewhere. (1-10 points)
#5: The fic is GENIUNELY scary--or at least is as scary as a short fanfic can be. (1-10 points)
The love scene (not that it was particularly steamy; I'm too much of a prude) has been edited out of the FFN version for the sake of the story's rating. :P
From This Moment
by Spooky Shimegami
Marle saw a lot of wasted potential in her family's dark and dreary castle. Looming and gloomy, as a child she had feared every dark corner, frightfully explored every secret room. The terrible ghost stories whispered by the maids struck her with curious terror.
As she grew older and wiser, the giant castle released its hold, its fearsome power diminishing. Dank and darkened still, its chilled stones held plenty of secrets, but very few ghosts. Near All Hallow's Eve the staff didn't wish to walk about alone, though the stubborn princess continued to complain that it should all be decorated "for the holiday".
On this particular October 31st of the year 1001, Princess Nadia of Guardia was sulking in her room, waiting for rescue from the extreme boredom she was experiencing. In the village, the children of Porre cavorted in Mystic masks and colored cloaks, joyfully gathering candy from their neighbors, and hiding amongst the foliage to frighten passersby.
The children never came to the castle. Marle dressed in costume every year and ordered the door guards concealed, but it had been over a decade since any village children had dared to cross the Forest on All Hallow's Eve. As the years wore on, the vats of candy became increasingly smaller, and the Princess' costumes less elaborate. She hadn't even been out herself in nearly as many years – backed by a troupe of guards, she had trouble concealing her identity, and disliked the reverent attitude the villagers treated her with.
The huge knocker on the front door rattled.
"No way!" Marle leapt to her feet, the bells on her sheer pink gypsy costume jingling, and charged down the stairs. The entire castle was under strict orders to let her handle the door, though at least six foyer guards were concealed behind potted plants. Eagerly she threw the gigantic doors open, a wide grin on her face.
On the step were two tall, costumed teenagers, a ponytailed samurai boy and a violet-haired girl with taped-up glasses and a long white labcoat. Marle wasn't sure whether to be disappointed or elated. "Crono! Lucca!"
"Hey there!" Lucca said enthusiastically. "We were hoping you'd be home!"
"Of course. Who was I going to be out with?" She gestured them in and shut the door. Lucca eyed an ill-concealed guard trying to act like a wall hanging, but did not mention it. Marle waved vaguely at the bowl as she led them into one of the drawing-rooms. "Candy? There's plenty."
"We came because we thought you might want to join us in the village," Lucca told her. "We're going to all our usual Halloween haunts."
"They don't let me out of the castle alone on Halloween," Marle replied glumly. "Everyone's so superstitious, it's even harder to sneak out than usual."
Lucca looked thoughtful. Behind the monstrous, taped-up glasses, the effect was a little frightening. "We don't have to leave through the front door. Don't you guys have a back door or a low-placed window or anything?"
"Actually…besides the second-floor windows, the castle has a lot of secret passages. I found a map of them in the Treasury when I was ten or twelve…I hate going in them alone, but I'd be fine with you guys along. There's one in this room." She nodded at the brick fireplace.
"Then, what are we waiting for?"
"I never used this one before, but the buttons on the fireplace ones are all the same." Standing by the door, Marle held down two switches behind bricks and wedged her slippered foot into a corner of the back wall of the hearth. With a creak, the wall came free, swinging forward on ancient hinges.
Lucca peered over the tops of her glasses to watch. "Ooh."
"…" Crono said.
"It's easier to get open from the inside, I think," Marle told them, snatching an ornamental lantern from the wall and lighting it with a long match. She gestured at the gaping hole beyond the charred firewood. "Shall we?"
Marle, having traversed many of the under-castle pathways in her childhood years (more recently, however, she had taken to explosive departures rather than sneaking around), led the way with the lantern held high. This passage, she thought, was one of the furthest-reaching of the ones leading away from Guardia Castle, and its exit was concealed in one of the forest's many caves. "It should take us far enough that we can get back to one of the main paths without being spotted by guards. I think."
After they had been walking about ten minutes without incident, a subtle blue glow became visible some distance ahead, and Crono cautioned them to stay alert. Holding an arm up to ward off a possible attack, Marle advanced upon the source of the light, and stopped short when she observed what it was.
"How on Earth would a Gate get down here?"
"I wonder where it goes." Marle stared at the portal, setting the lantern down. "Wish we had the Key."
"I never go anywhere without the Key," Lucca said, almost irritably. "But that doesn't necessarily mean I care where it goes."
"Well, you should," Marle retorted, hands on hips. "Shouldn't we be keeping track of these things?"
"Come on, Lucca," the Princess coaxed. "If it goes somewhere dangerous, we can seal it off. We can come back through another Gate."
"I guess," Lucca said dubiously. "It might be helpful to know where it goes, I suppose."
"Great!" Marle enthused, watching Lucca expectantly as she withdrew the Key, which was kept on a chain around her neck. Crono rolled his eyes and put his arms behind his head.
Wordlessly Lucca activated the Gate, which grew in size and doubled in intensity before swallowing them up. Marle felt the familiar, dizzying tempest of wind she had come to associate with time travel, flinging her curled ponytail skyward and rifling the sheer fabric of her costume. The Gate contracted again and deposited the three travelers upon a flat, shiny surface, causing Lucca to stumble and swear.
"Well." Marle crossed her arms over her chest. "I suppose it's safe to assume we're in the future."
Guardia Castle had been transformed. Instead of a giant, concrete behemoth residing over the forest, the structure had tripled in size and was composed of hundreds of golden podlike apparatuses. The forest itself was completely gone. Lucca groaned. "What did we do, shoot right into the 30th century? There isn't even any soil on the ground anymore."
Marle knelt to touch the smooth surface they stood on. "It's like metal."
Beside Crono, the gate glowed ominously. Lucca eyed it with suspicion, bringing it to the attention of Marle and Crono as well.
"Yeah. What's with that? There's a gate right out in the open, and nobody's ever done anything about it? It has to have been here for hundreds - no, thousands of years."
"Chrono Trigger warp zone was created in 1995." said a robotic voice behind them, causing the trio to jump. The source of the sound was a huge, rectangular robot that floated in the air, with frighteningly large pixelated eyes. Marle froze in shock.
"Er." Lucca cleared her throat, peering over the Coke-bottle glasses to get a better look at the monstrosity. "Hi there."
"Hello!" the robot greeted enthusiastically. "Outside is dangerous you know. You are humans."
"Yes...yes, we are that, aren't we?" Marle laughed nervously.
"You are from Chrono Trigger, Mr. and Misses Humans?"
"No," Lucca replied blankly. "We're from Earth."
"Chrono Trigger Earth?"
"Game Boy suspects 'yes'. Chrono Trigger Warp brings many time travelers. Come! To the Palace." The robot - Marle realized suddenly that it had probably been referring to itself as "Game Boy" - turned and floated off toward the golden palace, leaving the three confused teenagers staring behind. Marle took a step forward after it.
Lucca caught her by the wrist. "You're going with that thing?"
"What, you were expecting us to walk right back into the Gate? It seems harmless enough. And I want to know more about what's happened here!"
"That's true..." Lucca followed hesitantly. Marle didn't think she needed to point out what had happened the last time they had accidentally time-traveled to a post-apocalyptic Earth. Fortunately, this future seemed a lot less ominous than 2,300 A.D.
Just inside the golden doors of the Palace was a huge control room-throne room hybrid, outfitted with ceiling-high video screens and computer consoles, but also lined with plush red carpets and a raised, golden throne. Upon it sat a woman who seemed dwarfed by the huge seat, a young royal with curly brown hair and a bored expression on her face. The room was otherwise devoid of occupants. Game Boy trilled loudly to catch the woman's attention. "My Queen! There are visitors, visitors! From Chrono Trigger warp!"
"From Chrono Trigger Earth?" The Queen stood up, looking interested. She wore a long purple dress trimmed with blue, the sides of which had thigh-high slits. Lucca was almost relieved to note - not that she had expected it - that the Queen bore zero resemblance to Leene or Marle. "Time travelers?"
"Er, yes. Do you get them often?" Marle stuttered, pleased and a bit taken aback by the informal appearance of the woman.
"No, not so many, but almost everyone who's come since the warp was installed has been from far in the past."
Lucca scratched her head and sighed. "This seems like a good time to ask what year it is, in that case."
"The year is 1995. A.D., if that is the calendar system your world uses as well."
"Before the Day of Lavos? Something isn't right here," Lucca said with a frown. "This place is way too different from what we saw in the videos of 1999 A.D."
"Then, you are from the past as well. Come - I will explain things to you." The Queen gestured them forward to one of the consoles, bringing it to life with the touch of a button. "You see, you are no longer on the planet called Chrono Trigger Earth - or just Earth, to its inhabitants. This," she waved vaguely at the air, "is Videoland, a vast system in which your Earth is just one tiny part. My name is Lana, and I am the Queen of Videoland."
"I'm Marle," the princess introduced with a quick bow.
"Very nice to meet you all. Fortunately, we have had visitors from your world before, so we've almost been able to completely discover the workings of the Chrono Trigger Warp. Here in Videoland, portals we call 'warp zones' connects hundreds of different worlds like your own. Most worlds have several warp zones leading to and away from them. Yours came into existence just this year."
"But I've never heard of anything like that," Lucca argued, shaking her head. "Not Videoland, and I've never seen a Gate turn into one of these 'warp zones' before. The Gates, we thought, could only be used for time travel."
"You say the same things as previous visitors from Chrono Trigger Earth have," Lana explained gently. "Time travel is a possibility on your Earth, but the warp zone was constructed only in 1995. So, if you had come from a time previous to that, you would not know of their existence."
"But we came through one from 1001 A.D." said Marle.
"The rest of what I have is just theory," Lana continued. "As I understand, time travel in your world is done through energy portals - I believe you called it a Gate, Lucca? - that appear seemingly randomly. We believe that when the Warp Zone you came through was built, a Gate was attracted to its energy and manifested itself within the warp. Instead of time traveling through the Gate, however, the stronger power of the Warp Zone brought you here."
"Gates do seem to gravitate toward high-energy places," Lucca mused.
Marle nodded. "And they transcend time. So the Gate pretty much brought the warp zone back in time to 1001, or even further back."
"Probably further back," Lana agreed. "As I understand, it's well-hidden for centuries. But we're never had anyone visit from as far back as 1001."
Lucca thought about the thrilling technology she had witnessed in Robo's time. "That's not really a surprise. The keys that allow us to travel through Gates are pretty innovative for our time."
Marle laughed suddenly, drawing the attention of Lana and Lucca. "What is it?" the former questioned.
"Well, I was just thinking about how glad I was that this isn't Guardia after all. I want to know more about your time, Your Majesty - about Videoland. It's absolutely amazing!"
"Ah." Lana's expression was forlorn. "I suppose you wouldn't know it just by looking at the Palace of Power, but Videoland has been at war for quite a long time. We've being steadily losing battles for control for thirteen years."
"Yes." Lana sighed. "At one point, five years ago, it looked like we were finally winning, But the champion who had come to save Videoland was put out of commission, and since then things have been slowly going downhill. Without Captain N it's pretty much all we can do to protect the Palace as well as try to help the areas under siege."
"Captain N was your champion?" Marle was rather impressed with the heroic-sounding name.
"Yes. He was brought here with the power of the Ultimate Warp Zone - it was foretold that he would be the savior of Videoland. But he was captured, or at least we think so. A mysterious villain began aiding Mother Brain, and he has incredible magical powers. We're almost certain he's behind Captain N's disappearance." Something in Lana's face told Marle that she shouldn't prod further. Instead, the Princess withdrew and looked first at Crono, then at Lucca.
"Absolutely not," Lucca started to reprimand Marle before she could even speak. "I know what you're going to say, and we simply can't. This isn't a war that can be won in one battle."
"I was just thinking we could help a little," Marle said with a shifty glance towards Crono. "I know I could use a little excitement."
"Oh...thank you for your kindness, Marle, but I couldn't ask that. Surely your world's battles and your normal lives come before helping someone you've only just met." Lana smiled gratefully at the young princess. "Though you are very welcome to stay the night in the Palace before you return home, if you wish."
Marle had not yet given up. "This is more than just saving a world. We'd be helping hundreds of them, right, Your Majesty?"
"Just 'Lana' is fine." The Queen smiled.
"I've decided, then," the princess announced. "I'm staying here and helping with the fight. Even alone I'm sure I can do some good."
"Dammit, Marle!" Lucca glared at her friend. "Don't volunteer us for stuff like this!"
"I'm volunteering me."
Lucca sighed. "And we're obviously not going to leave you here alone, stupid."
"That was not out of character. I'm angry. You should be too!"
"Well," Lana interrupted, her cheeks reddened, "I would hate to cause a fight between friends. You are welcome at the Palace anytime regardless, and if you want to think about staying, please take your time to decide."
"Thanks," Lucca managed through gritted teeth.
"I have some business to attend to with the N-Team, but pleased, make yourselves at home. Game Boy, could you show them to a room please? And Marle, consider it carefully before you decide. You'd be a welcome addition to the team."
"Thank you." Marle gulped, suddenly wondering what she'd gotten herself into. "I will."
"I can't believe you're trying to rope us into this," Lucca complained half-heartedly as she inspected the thermostat in their huge room. Crono was already sound asleep on the bed. "I was just getting used to living the peaceful life."
"Yeah, well, peaceful is boring. At least in Guardia Castle it is."
"You should spend more time in Truce, then," Lucca said absent-mindedly, prying the cover off the device. Inside, the components glittered invitingly.
Marle lay back on the bed, her expression disgusted. "I would if I could. Now that Daddy knows about Crono, he wants to make sure that nothing 'indecent' is happening, so unless I want to leave through the window I have to go through a lecture every time I visit the village."
"You never seemed to care much before."
"I wasn't at a marrying age before." Marle sighed. "He's been worse than usual. And Crono never comes to see me at the Castle…I think he's probably scared of Daddy, but it feels like he just doesn't care enough to bother. It's so irritating."
"Did you talk to Crono or your dad about it?"
"I tried to talk to Crono, but…" She trailed off with a grumble.
"A bit. I'd rather not talk about it." The young Princess glared at Crono, blissfully asleep. "He's just so…dense. It drives me crazy."
Lucca frowned and rummaged in her pocket, taking out a multitool and a magnifying glass. She used the instrument to closely inspect the tiny glass tube that monitored the temperature of the room. Marle got the feeling that the young scientist wasn't even listening to her.
The lights blinked out.
"...I didn't do that," Lucca said immediately with a huff. "I'm sure this thing has nothing to do with the lights."
"Oh, great. I can't even remember where the door is, much less get back to the throne room for a candle."
"You think they still have candles in this era? I didn't even recognize those things that the light was coming out of. I'd love to get a closer look at them. If I could see."
Marle groped her way to the doorframe and jabbed at the button to open it. The door stayed put, without even emitting the chiming noise it had made upon entry. She continued to press the button, using her other hand to feel around the panel for other switches. Her fingers encountered nothing.
"Here - I have an item that might be of some help--" Lucca was fishing about in her huge pockets again when the lights blinked back on. "Oh."
Marle put her hands on her hips and sighed greatly. "You'd think that this far in the future they'd be able to prevent things like that!"
"Huh?" The princess turned round to look at the bed where their companion had been sleeping. "He was right there. Crono? Crono!"
Somewhat predictably, the red-haired boy did not reply. Lucca checked behind the bed. "Did he leave when the lights were out?"
"No way. The door wasn't working, remember?"
"You pressed this button?" Lucca pushed the large red square on the wall panel and the silver doors whooshed apart. "It seems to work fine."
"But I'm telling you, it wasn't working when the lights were off," Marle huffed.
"Well...let's go look for him. Maybe he went down to the throne room without telling us." Lucca put her tools back in her pocket and adjusted her glasses, Marle took a last look around the large room before she shut the door, taking stock of the furniture, unable to shake the feeling that there was still something not-quite-right.
"I've been here all along," Lana assured the girls, pointing a finger at the floor. "And the lights were definitely on the whole time."
"Well, why did our lights turn off, then?" Lucca protested. Marle glared at her.
"I'm not sure," Lana admitted. "Our security systems really aren't set up to watch the guestrooms, nor monitor the electric activity in them. All I can tell you is that the rest of the Palace definitely did not lose electricity, even for a moment. We would have noticed."
"What if Crono got lost in the Palace?" Marle said worriedly.
"I'll have Game Boy keep an eye out for him," the Queen replied. "Game Boy can communicate with all the computer systems. If you want to look for him yourself, I can also send some of my guards to accompany you."
"That would be wonderful, thank you."
While Lana summoned her guards, Marle wandered over to a huge videoscreen that seemed to simulate a window. She wished their room had a window or at least an image of one, like the Throne Room did - she wanted to look out over Videoland and just see as far as she could. She supposed that, like much of Guardia Castle at home, windows were considered a security risk. She wondered if Videoland would be brightly lit by thousands of electric lights like the Palace of Power was.
Lana's guards had arrived through a strange elevator in the middle of the room. Turning, Marle left the "window" and approached the two people - one a tall, muscular human, the other a short being in greenish armor. Though the shorter one seemed like he could be a robot, he had a human appearance. Lana introduced them each in turn. "These are the two other members of the N-Team, Simon Belmont and Mega Man. They have been this Palace's protectors through all its time of strife. Simon, Mega Man, these are my visitors from Chrono Trigger Earth, Lucca and Marle."
"Hello there, ladies!" Simon said with great enthusiasm, taking Marle's hand and kissing it. "A pleasure to meet you, Miss Marle...it's been a while since I've met someone nearly as beautiful as I! Except the Queen, of course." The tall man shot Lana a brilliant smile.
"Chrono Trigger Earth! That's mega-awesome! It's so great to meet you guys!" Mega Man shook Lucca's hand, an action which was so powerful that it caught the scientist off-guard.
"Lucca and Marle are looking for the companion they came here with," Lana explained to the N-Team. "He's tall, with long red hair. He's dressed kind of like someone from Samurai Shodown...we think he wandered off into the Palace somewhere."
Lucca blinked. "Samurai what?"
"So long as he didn't go outside," Mega Man said worriedly. "Well, I'd be happy to look for him."
"But I will accompany Miss Marle," Simon announced, still down on one knee. "Come along now!"
Marle allowed herself to be dragged out the door, her eyes wide. Lucca watched them go. "Wow, usually she doesn't get that kind of treatment until after people find out who she is."
"Simon's like that with all the girls," Lana said exasperatedly.
"I don't know how I should take that."
"I would be happy to help you mega-look, Lucca." Mega Man looked up at her, his expression serious. "If you want me to."
"Sure," Lucca agreed.
"Contact me if you find him, then. I'll let you know if he ends up at the throne room." Lana waved them off. "Good luck."
Mega Man led Lucca through the ornate double doors and into a long hallway lined with video screens and high ceilings. "The Palace of Power is mega-huge," he explained. "It's got hundreds of warps leading to other worlds in Videoland, and hundreds of warps just leading to other areas of the Palace. Watch." Stepping into a glowing circle with Lucca just behind, Mega Man somehow transported them to an entirely different area, a part of the Palace with plush blue carpets and crystal chandeliers.
Lucca tried to make conversation. "So, you're one of Queen Lana's protectors? You're small, but you seem pretty strong, judging by that handshake."
"I used to be a robot," Mega Man said proudly. "I was built to be the strongest ever. Then I was turned into a human by the Warp of Life, but I'm still just as strong as I used to be."
"I...see." Lucca supposed it wasn't any more farfetched than the things she had seen in the Kingdom of Zeal. "Then, tell me more about Videoland, and about the N-Team. How did it come to be? Why are there so few of you? Surely a Queen as powerful as Lana must have many supporters."
"She does," Mega Man replied. "Lana is an excellent ruler. The problem is that the enemy knows where to strike - Mother Brain and her minions have eliminated most of the heroes in Videoland. Not all of the Worlds even bother with Videoland affairs, you see - your own world doesn't, am I right?"
"Not in my era, no."
"The Queen has many subjects but few champions. The heroes have all been taken out or are mega-occupied with issues on their own Worlds. A lot of them will help her, but don't have time to be part of the N-Team."
"So you and Simon defend the Palace by yourselves?"
"Us and Game Boy. It wasn't always like this...Captain N disappeared, and just a while ago we lost Kid Icarus too. His world was destroyed in one of the Purgings."
"The what?" Lucca looked down at the top of Mega Man's helmet.
"It's a strange phenomenon that's being happening all over Videoland. Worlds that just...mega-disappear, taking all their inhabitants with them. We lost a huge number of Worlds in the past few years, but it seems to have mega-stopped now. Mount Icarus was one of the ones gone, though, and Kid Icarus was there at the time."
The hollowness of his voice made Lucca cringe inwardly, and she hurriedly changed the subject. "This Captain N guy...he must have been really powerful," she said with genuine interest.
"He was. We thought we'd win with him here - he knew everything about the Worlds and the weak spots of nearly every enemy we'd face, even when we'd never seen them before. He was mega-awesome."
"How'd a guy like that end up getting captured?"
"We don't know. One day when we were helping out some friends in the Mushroom Kingdom, he went into a warp with us and never came out on the other side. We thought Mother Brain had taken him and would try to brainwash him or something, but we never saw him again, and she mega-ignores us whenever we ask about him. She has to know what happened, but we can't figure it out."
"The Ultimate Warp Zone told us that Captain N would be the one to save Videoland, so we never stopped looking for him. We keep fighting, but bit by bit we lose." Mega Man sighed. "Even with all the new Worlds, more villains are joining Mother Brain to make mega-trouble here, and hardly any of the new Heroes seem to care about helping Videoland. They're wrapped up in their own problems. Don't they know that if Mother Brain gains control, their Worlds will be ruled by her too?"
Lucca frowned. The attitude Mega Man was describing was the exact one she had been endorsing until about two minutes previous. What good was happiness for a few when so many others were suffering?
"Someday, Videoland will have peace again," the little ex-robot told her, his face still turned away. "That's why I'm going to keep fighting to the end."
"Who cares about Captain N? That guy is a has-been. The real hero of Videoland is right in front of you." Simon displayed his best ladykilling smile.
"That isn't a very nice way to talk about your friend," Marle lectured, already wishing she had went with Mega Man instead. "Particularly one that something terrible has happened to."
Simon smoothed his blonde hair back. "Friend? Pah. He was only my rival And as you can see, the better man won."
"Why, you...you jerk!" Marle cried, turning on him. "I've never even met Captain N and already I like him a lot more than you! What kind of person are you to say things like that?"
Simon blinked in confusion. "Shouldn't I?"
"Shove off," Marle snapped, her jewelry clinking as she spun around. Leaving the vampire hunter staring dumbfounded after her, she stalked off down the nearest hallway, breaking into a run as he called her name. I don't need any help from a jerk like that! Why does Lana keep him around?
She darted around a corner and into one of the elevator lifts, allowing it to bring her down a floor until she could no longer hear Simon's protests. The basement level was darker than the luminescent main floor where the throne room was; rather than being lined with white and gold it was dull metal, and the floor was set with flagstones instead of carpet. Her gypsy slippers slapped loudly on the hard surface.
I don't need his help. It's not like I can't take care of myself! Marle thought, still boiling with anger. Even without a weapon, if anything threatening arose, a quick Ice spell would take care of it. And the Palace couldn't be so big that she wouldn't eventually encounter Lucca and Mega Man or Game Boy, or find her own way back to the throne room.
Why did I get so worked up about Captain N? She had never met or even heard of Lana's mysterious champion until today. Even if they were rivals, Marle didn't think Simon should have been saying such terrible things about the missing N-Team member. I bet Simon was happy when he disappeared. I bet he didn't even help look. He was probably going to lead me off somewhere so he could hit on me and I'd never be able to find my way back…
….where the heck am I?
After a thorough search of the upper levels of the Palace, Mega Man and Lucca returned to the throne room without having found any sign of Crono. Though she hadn't quite believed it before, Lucca was starting to suspect that something terrible really had happened to the red-haired boy, and despite herself, she was starting to get very worried. Marle and Simon hadn't returned yet, either.
"I'm sorry, Lucca," Lana apologized over and over. "I really have all the security I can afford to have looking for him. The best thing to do is wait here until we hear from Game Boy or Simon."
"I understand, Your Majesty." Lucca sat down on one of the padded chairs, her back and neck aching. It had been many hours since they had left Guardia Castle, and her empty stomach was resentful that she had not been able to collect even a few candies before going into the warp.
She was mostly-asleep with head rested on the table when the doors banged open again and in strode a man dressed like a clown, with a ruff about his neck and his eyes lined with red makeup. Lucca thought that perhaps he was the court jester. "Hello there, you little worms!"
"What...who on earth are you?" Lana leapt to her feet, one hand in a fist. Mega Man took up a defensive stance in front of her. "How did you get in here? You're one of Mother Brain's minions, aren't you!" Lana accused.
"Hell no, Queenie. I'm Mother Brain's successor. So if you'll just come along quietly, girl, you might get to see your boyfriend alive." He beckoned to Lucca.
"Me? You're the one responsible for Crono's disappearance?" Lucca's eyes narrowed and she wished she had the Wondershot tucked safely into a holster at her waist. Magic would have to be enough to take this guy - but alone? She didn't want anything to happen to Queen Lana. Had this clown taken Marle too?
"Enough talk." With the flick of a finger, the man literally lifted Lucca off her feet. The young scientist held back a shriek. Turning, the strange man sneered at Lana before disappearing into a warp portal that had seemingly appeared out of thin air. "My regards to the Queen."
"Wait! Stop!" Lana cried, and Mega Man fired a well-aimed shot at the place where he had stood, but the man had vanished, taking Lucca with him.
Something flashed in the hallway up ahead.
Marle stopped short. Had she imagined that? It had seemed almost like the glint of metal under a light, yet the illumination was dimmer still in the hallway up ahead. With both hands poised in front of her to cast a spell if necessary, she slowly came forward and stood in the place where she thought she had seen the sparkle. It was the end of the hallway, it seemed, and just beyond was a huge mirror with a scalloped gold frame.
Marle leaned forward to inspect her reflection, noting the flash of her pendant in it under the low lights. Something about the mirror gave her the creeps.
At home, something like this just screams 'secret'. Why would the hallway just end here where there are no doors around? Intrigued, she ran her hands along the metal frame, feeling for a button or switch somewhere. Just pushing against the glass didn't seem to do anything to budge it.
-eal...br--k th- se-...
-ou must...br-k the -eal...
There was no reply. Marle stepped back hesitantly, uncertain what to do. Try to break the seal? Or would that be opening some sort of terrible Pandora's Box upon Videoland? What could be sealed within the mirror? Marle laid her hands against it, watching her own eyes in the reflection. "Who are you? Why should I help you?"
Recounting this moment later in her memory, Marle could not quite describe what happened next. Her reflection transformed slightly, almost unnoticeably at first - what she noticed initially was the fingers. Superimposed on her own slight, pale hands were a ghostly, translucent pair of larger ones, unmistakably a male's, with fingertips pressed against hers on the glass. Mouth open, she stared at the phenomenon, raising her eyes to meet a pair of soft brown ones in the reflection. "Who are you?"
The pendant around her neck began to glow. Shocked, Marle stepped back, her hands breaking away from the mirror boy's. The pendant has allowed me into locked doors before...but nothing like this. Does the Pendant have such power even in Videoland?
She came forward again and gently laid fingertips against the mirror, which had taken on a watery rippling effect. The surface felt like gel, cold and sticky, but her hand slid through it with little resistance, and gingerly she inched it further in, trying to feel around.
Something caught hold of her wrist. Marle yelped and tried to draw back, but she was pulled right off her feet and into the torrid surface of the mirror.
"You lost her?" Lana stared dumbly at Simon. "You've got to be kidding. How could you let that happen?"
"I'm sorry," a mollified Simon squeaked. "She just disappeared."
Mega Man bit his lip. "Disappeared...all of them 'just disappeared'. Can we be sure that there's not some other mega-force at work here? An enemy? A spy?"
Simon coughed. "Er, well, that is..."
"We can't rule out that possibility." Lana rose from her throne and hurried to the computer console, bringing it online with the touch of a button. "Game Boy, I want you to put all systems on high alert, and also keep an eye out for Marle. Something may have happened to her."
"I'll look for her too," Mega Man told the Queen as she reseated herself.
"I'll...stay here and protect Lana," Simon said with false bravado. "In case something sinister really is lurking in the Palace of Power." He thought it was best to omit that Marle's initial disappearance had been decidedly un-sinister, but who knew what could have happened to her in that span of time?
Somewhere behind glass, Marle was having the most interesting experience of her life. She was seated upon a flat, floating chunk of rock with an extremely attractive young man named Kevin, who was excitedly telling her how he had just fallen into a place that he thought was called the Mirror World and he couldn't find his way out, when lo and behold she had come along to rescue him! It must be fate, thought Marle as she returned his eager smile. Tall and chestnut-haired, he wore denim pants and a loose-fitting yellow sweater.
The Mirror World - Kevin said he wasn't really sure if this was the Mirror World or some bizarre "video game" dimension he'd never seen - was an expanse of essentially nothing. Both above and below the levitating rock that supported them, Marle could see nothing but blackness, not even lit with a single star.
"I threw some coins down there a few moments ago," Kevin told her. "I couldn't hear them hit bottom, so I wasn't really keen on the idea of jumping down there!"
Marle peered out into the black. "I can see why not."
"It's so great that you managed to find me, though," the boy said enthusiastically. "I don't even know how I got here in the first place. A pipe up there," he pointed into the darkness above their heads, "spit me out here from a Warp Zone in the Mushroom Kingdom. I thought the mirror there might be a way out, but I couldn't seem to break or pass through it. I've been stuck here for hours. And I'm starving."
"No problem, we'll use my pendant," Marle said excitedly. "That's how I got through the first time." She put one hand around the blue gem and the other on the surface of the mirror, thinking back to the actions that had prompted the stone to shine moments before. Almost immediately it came to life, transforming the mirror into liquid once again, and her hand slid easily through.
Kevin picked up a jacket and belt from where they had lain on the stone, took Marle's hand, and allowed her to guide him through the mirror. They both cringed as they passed through the gel-like substance, stepping gingerly out onto the flagstone floors.
Shivering, Marle tried to wipe the mirror substance from her hair. It was blue and slimy, and coated both her and Kevin from head to toe. Frowning, the brunette tried to assist her in unsticking the stuff from her ponytail. "Here, let me help you with that."
"Thank you." Despite the coldness of the mirror's coating, when his hands touched her hair a tinge of warmth spread through her. She stood there complacently as the tall boy pulled handfuls of the gook away from her skin and flung them to the stone floor. This has to be the most unromantic situation ever, a guy cleaning mirror mucous off me...but it's sweet of him, I can't help blushing a little. And DAMN, he's cute.
As if he were reading her thoughts, Kevin smiled. "Er...wow. So I must be pretty far from home - relatively speaking - since I've never met you before. What World are you from?"
"Chrono Trigger Earth," she told him.
"Really?" He moved around to her front, gently brushing the blue substance from her face. "I've never heard of that world before. And I thought I knew them all."
"We're a special world," she said, not even realizing how breathless she sounded. "It's a special Warp Zone that travels through time."
"I see, special...then, is everyone on Chrono Trigger Earth as pretty as you?"
Her heart sped up and the blush went from pink to magenta. "Ah..."
"You're covered in this stuff too, you know," she said half-accusingly, trying to detract attention from her flaming cheeks. She cleared the stuff away from his face with her fingertips. "What a mess..." Gently, she brushed two fingers across his lips, restoring them to their rosy pink color.
Kevin seemed unable to move his eyes from hers. Marle paused, her hand still on his cheek, matching his gaze. Really...REALLY cute. What's holding me back from a little flirting, anyway? It's not like Crono seems to care much about me these days. He probably only visited tonight because Lucca made him...
So why not...?
Elsewhere in Videoland, the other members of the party were having much less of a good time.
"Wonderful, wonderful! He certainly is a handsome one, isn't he? What grand little puppets you naïve children make!" The jester cackled to himself, more intent on his voyeurism than paying attention to his other captives. Lucca wondered what he was watching.
She had finished lamenting quietly to herself about listening to Marle one too many times, and had also stopped ranting aloud at their captor, settling for being quietly and thoroughly pissed off about the situation. This particular villain, whose name was Kefka, was apparently very in control of the entire World from which he hailed, and intended to go after the entirety of Videoland next. He was typical in that he gleefully told them about his plans for them. However, Lucca had seldom encountered a tormentor so sadistic as this.
"I never thought someone would free Captain N just at the same time an item like the Gate Key fell into my hands. Well, I don't know what Mother Brain was so worried about, he's got as weak a mind as the girl does. They'll be wrapped up in each other for hours. And your boyfriend here…even worse. I really only took this guy out first because it was so damned easy. Would you like to hear about what we did before I came after you? No? Well, I'll tell you anyway…"
Since Crono, his face pallid and his jaw slack, was wandering listlessly about the room, Lucca decided she really didn't want to know.
"I do so love the Zombie status effect. Maybe I'll kill him by casting healing spells until he slowly dies over and over! Wouldn't that be grand? Are you listening, Little Miss Lucca?"
Lucca supposed she really wasn't surprised that he was after the Gate Key. How he'd known about the Key was something different altogether, though she suspected it had a lot to do with the fact that the bastard seemed to be absolutely omnipotent. Either he had Mother Brain under his thumb already, or he was more powerful a magic user than even the royalty of Zeal had been.
And he wouldn't. Shut. Up.
Lucca had long ago tuned out the clown's irritating soprano voice. Earlier she had confirmed that Kefka was indeed the mystery villain who Lana had mentioned Mother Brain joining forces with, and had taunted him about being afraid to show his ugly face. That has resulted in some nasty spells being directed her way, until he had finally simply snapped the Key off the chain around her neck and proceeded to mess about with a nearby Warp Zone, completely ignoring both her and the zombiefied Crono.
She noticed with horror that Crono's body had turned a translucent hue, as though he was simply fading out of existence. Maybe it was a result of the Zombie status, but she couldn't help but liken it to when a disrupted flow of time had almost torn Marle out of existence. It must be the Gate Key, she thought. Maybe he uses it to destroy our World! But why would Crono disappear…?
Suddenly something clicked. Lana said that the Warp spans all of existence in our world…so if Chrono Trigger Earth is destroyed far enough in the past, we'll never exist.
Her own body was also fading in and out.
The Gate…the Gate key will never exist if our ancestors die! I have to stop this psycho!
"Perfect!" Kefka pronounced from his position across the room. Finishing his primping, he placed a half-used tube of cherry red lipstick down on the table and picked up the Gate Key. "This is exactly what I need to completely rule! Thank you so much for your help, little girl. As a reward, I'm going to let you go."
Yes! Once her hands were free, a little Fire magic would surely stir things up enough for her to grab the key back. She couldn't allow it to fall into the hands of a guy like this, no matter what! "R-really?" Lucca choked out, relief sweeping through her.
"Well….no." Kefka cackled maniacally. "I'd rather see you fry." He held up a hand and released a fireball, watching with great interest as she screamed, imprisoned in the flames upon the rack.
"…" Crono the Zombie grunted without even turning her way.
This can't happen, Lucca thought, her mind rational even in agony. If he gets away with this, we're vanishing, it must be as I thought…a paradox…
"You mustn't!" she gasped. "You'll destroy this very world! You'll be consumed by the paradox too!"
Kefka waved her off with a smile. "Yes, yes. Whatever you say."
Aloud, she whispered with her final breaths, "Someone, please hear me, come for me…count your nights by stars, not shadows. Count your lives by smiles, not tears. And with joy throughout your lifetime; Count your age by friends, not years…"
"How sweet. Best wishes to you too, my dear!" Kefka laughed gaily in the darkness, and Lucca knew no more.
The point of no return had been breached with the untimely death of Lucca Ashtear. With no one to stop him, the altered timeline that destroyed hundreds of the Worlds disobedient to Kefka's rule was forced into existence, and at the exact same moment forced directly out by the obliteration of the Gate Key. The citizens of Videoland never knew what hit them.
"I just want to stay in this moment forever," Marle had whispered to Kevin, snuggling close.