It was late in the night when he awoke. Crono wasn't sure at first what had disrupted his sleep. One moment he was lost in his dreams, the next his eyes were open and he was staring at a silvery sliver of moonlight on his wall. Then he heard the cry. It took him a moment to place it but quick enough he realized the baby was wailing from the back room.
"Nadia," he said softly. "Nadia, the baby's crying."
A second later he realized his mistake. Nadia didn't like to talk about the baby. Thankfully, she stayed asleep. Crono crawled out of bed as quietly and gently as he could and left the room. The hallway outside the room was dark and Crono had to feel his way down it with one hand against the wall. The baby continued to wail as he came closer. He knew that his mother, who slept with the child, would be already tending to it. Still, he decided he could lend a hand. After all, it was his child. Again Crono wondered how old the baby was and whether it was time to start showing him how to work the fields. That is, if it was a boy. He wished he could remember that, too.
As Crono came closer to the back room where his mother and the baby resided the pitch of the cry changed entirely. It grew lower and more plaintive. It no longer sounded exactly like a baby crying. It sounded more like a woman screaming. Crono quickened his pace. He reached the door to the baby's room and halted. A light was on in the room, he could see by the thin line of light that splayed across the wooden floor from underneath the door. Something was moving there, squeezing its way out from underneath the closed door. Crono looked closer and saw the large black beetle from the fields. Logically, Crono supposed it couldn't possibly be the same bug, but somehow he knew it was. Crono wanted to crush it again, but he was barefoot and he loathed to touch the beetle with his bare skin. Crono regarded the insect's struggle for a moment. Then the scream came again and Crono was moving for the door handle, opening it, and stepping past the beetle into the room.
The room was at once foreign and familiar. It was not part of the farmhouse, but Crono recognized it nonetheless. He couldn't recall when he'd been here last, but he knew it was a tower chamber. Night came through the one large window along with a hot summer breeze that did nothing to warm his suddenly clammy skin. The middle aged woman sitting in the chair he recognized as a midwife. In the bed... Crono had to lean over the midwife's shoulder to see the girl. Though it had been tied back away from her head, strands of her hair fell in golden lines across her strained face. She was screaming, but not in pain. It was a sorrowful, angry, cry of torment. Each scream led into another one with barely a pause for breath, as if she would never empty her lungs of the cries. The midwife was gathering something up in a bundle of blankets at the girl's groin, which Crono now saw was filled with blood along with the sheets underneath it. The mass of disfigured flesh inside the bundle looked little like a human baby, just like the woman on the bed with her screams and strained features little resembled the love of his life, Nadia. Yet inside the bundle was his child, born dead and disfigured.
Crono was running then, with Nadia's screams fading behind him. If only he could make it back to his bed, he thought, then maybe this nightmare would end. The farmhouse was dark and the hallway longer than he remembered, though, and he couldn't find the door back to his bedroom. Suddenly the screams grew louder again as if they were coming from right behind him. Crono tore open the first door he found, desperate to escape the screams. He rushed into a new chamber. It was a bedroom, but not the meager homely one of the farmhouse. This bedroom was grander, with a bed that could fit a whole family. Everything was touched with wealth, whether it be a golden side table set with a jewel-encrusted wine cup or a full standing mirror of gleaming silver. An old man was standing by the mirror when Crono came in. The man turned to face him, showing him a white beard beneath a drooping mustache and spectacled eyes. Melchior, Crono thought, without knowing where the name came from.
"My lord, I am sorry," Melchior said, his voice breaking on the words. "Your queen, Nadia... she will never bear children again. You mustn't blame yourself. The king doesn't blame you, son. And neither does Nadia."
Crono backed out of the room only to feel himself bump against something. He spun around to find himself behind a pillar in the castle's great hall. His body felt heavy and he looked down to see himself wearing a king's regal cloak. From the other side of the pillar, he heard voices and he peered out to listen. Two soldiers were having a conversation. Crono concentrated on their faces and the names came to him. The skinny one with the messy brown hair that hung in his eyes was Redmond. The other one with the harder features and the bright blue eyes, the one who was talking, that was James.
"I'm just wondering, is all," James was saying. "If the Queen can't make the King heirs, then the line is broken."
"The King could take a new wife," Redmond responded in his recognizably sonorous voice. "It's been known to happen before."
"Not like this. Remember that the King isn't of the Guardian line. He married into the family. The true blood of Gaurdia, that lies with the Queen. If she can't bear heirs, then the line is broken. Gaurdia is finished."
"What's your point?"
"Like I said, just wondering is all."
"Well, it doesn't seem a safe sort of thing to wonder about inside the castle walls. How about you do your wondering away from me. If they take off my head for treason they're likely to cut my hair and you know how I hate to have my hair cut."
Yes, that was right, Crono thought as the two laughed and walked away. Crono remembered this conversation. The kingdom had hated and distrusted him the minute he'd put that crown on. Why pretend to chide, Redmond? Crono thought. James is just wondering for all of you. He'd fixed these men, though. He'd sent them to Truce to oversee its traitorous inhabitants. Traitors watching traitors. Crono saw a sort of humour in that. One day he'd put them all to the sword. Someday soon.
Thinking of Truce brought more memories, each one wiping away the last in a blur of visions and sounds. He turned his head one direction and he was fighting Bill in the Choras ruins. He turned another and was watching Bill bow the knee to him, quietly swearing to serve him and to "make his kingdom the strongest in the land." Behind him there was a sound, it was Nadia's voice pleading with him to recall the troops from Truce and, beyond that, the sound of Sariah, his captain of the guard, mirroring her words, saying they were only making the rebellion gain support. Crono refused them both and waved away the sounds, wishing an end to this. Things were becoming entangled now. Nadia was dancing with him, but every time she opened her mouth, a scream came out. Sariah was trying to save him from a mob that roared louder than the evil that had once tried to destroy his future. Briefly he thought he saw Schala, being devoured by some dark beast, but that image was gone quickly, leaving him in almost total darkness. Only one light shone in the darkness, illuminating an old man sitting against a lamppost lost in time. He tipped his hat and called himself Crono's father.
"Well, what did you expect?" the old man asked incredulously at the look of surprise on Crono's face. "A woman?" Then he pulled out a music box and began to juggle a stillborn baby. Lucca appeared suddenly, approaching the both of them wearing a ridiculous cape several sizes too small for her and wielding the Masamune in one hand.
""My hopes and dreams and those of Robo are held within this sword," she said. "I must wield it. The sword leads me. That is my sacrifice." Then she giggled and stabbed herself through the throat. Instead of blood, wine came out and the old man got on his knees to lap it up off the cobblestones while Lucca laughed and adjusted her glasses.
Crono turned away from the display. Ahead of him he saw a door and made for it, willing it to stay in focus as people and places long ago visited shifted in and out of the periphery of his vision. It was a difficult test of his will, but he held the door stable long enough to reach it and wrench it open. He rushed into the lighted room beyond and found himself facing the body of his mother, dead upon the floor of his banquet hall. Vomit trailed down out of the corner of her mouth, leaving a purple and red wine stain on her neck and the edge of her white dress. Sariah bent over the body, sobbing.
The door closed behind Crono with an audible click as everything fell into place. He remembered now. His mother was dead. The traitors in Truce had poisoned her. Crono was going to make them pay for their crimes. He was going to... what was he going to do? With a frown, he realized he hadn't thought that far ahead yet. Melchior and Bill, his must trusted advisors, were in the room with him but they gave no advice. The captain of his guard called no soldiers. Nadia was nowhere to be seen. His subjects had failed him and his wife had abandoned him. Even his mother's corpse seemed to be taunting him, telling him how he'd failed to avenge her. To block out her dead stare, he shut his eyes...
... and felt Truce burning. The fire on his face was warm. The glow seeping into his closed eyes was the light of justice being done. The tension left him instantly. This was right. This was the way it would be. He had once controlled the power of this purging light, though he'd forgotten how good it felt. A comfortable throne and too much rich food had robbed him of the memories. Now he had found it again and nothing was going to take it away. He breathed a sigh of relief. Truce would burn, yes, by his will.
Yet, when he opened his eyes, it was not the purging of Truce he saw. He stood, not upon cobbled streets, but upon a wooden floor in an unfamiliar home. Light came in from the windows of the room, but it was just the setting sun. No fires burned here. He heard a cry and suddenly he realized there was a bed in the room. On it his wife and another man made love. The cry had been Nadia's and it was one of passion. As she gave another cry, the man moved and Crono saw his face. It took him a moment to recognize the captain's son, Ghetz; the man he had put in charge of Truce. Crono didn't think beyond recognizing the man. His hand was on his blade; his one thought was to slash at the young man's back until the skin had been stripped to the bone.
"Don't get too far ahead of yourself now," a strangely melodic voice said from somewhere behind him. Crono felt a tug on his body; then the room was receding and pain was shooting through his leg, the leg he now remembered injuring in a fall from his horse. An instant later, he was standing again amidst the broken fountains and chipped bell of Leene's Square, awkwardly placing his balance on his good leg. He turned around as quickly as he could to see the bard appraising him. Her green eyes were narrowed into a hard stare and her bright red lips tightened in a grimace of disgust. Crono took the look as a challenge and left a hand on his blade. When he had felt Truce burning and knew he was the cause, he had felt powerful. Now he wasn't so sure. He felt his injured leg and his lack of balance. He couldn't remember the last meal he had nor did he know how long he had spent in this strange other world. The bard had tricked him before; how was he to know what else she might be capable of? He felt a need to speak, to state some challenge to the bard, some assertion that he was still in control. When he did speak, though, what he said surprised him.
"Nadia," he said. "She so wanted to be a mother."
The bard looked away from him. When she spoke there was pity in her voice, but also disdain.
"You humans are so funny," she said. "You could have stayed in that reality for as long as you liked but you couldn't let go. Your mind kept searching for its pain."
"Where did you send me? Where was that home?"
"The farmhouse? I showed you how the world could've been."
"No," Crono said with a laugh, though there was no humour in his sharp bark. The farmhouse hadn't been what he'd meant. Though, now that she'd brought it up... "Nadia was never the daughter of a farmer."
The bard shrugged. "Nothing's perfect. I filled in the gaps with scenes from your memories and desires."
"You would trick me with illusions, then," there was more hope in his voice than Crono had meant there to be. If what he'd seen had just been an illusion, then his suspicions could be dismissed.
"I would only show you what's in your heart. I want you to know what it is you stand to lose."
"Bitch," he said, feeling his face turn hot with his anger. "You think in my heart I want Nadia to lay with another man? I have no time for your false dreams."
The bard gave him a hard look, as if seeing him for the first time. "Oh, but it wasn't all illusions," she said softly. "That last part didn't come from me. That was a glimpse of the future."
"What do you mean? What future? Explain yourself."
The bard's smile was a cruel sneer. "I thought you had no time for me."
"Don't play games with me. Tell me about the future!"
The bard giggled demurely, raising a hand coyly to cover her mouth. "Why should I? You'll get there soon enough."
The skin of Crono's knuckles broke across the bones of her face, leaving a smear of red on her alabaster skin. Crono hadn't known for sure what he would feel upon hitting her or whether his fist would even meet anything at all. It was satisfying to feel flesh under his hand. If she is made of flesh, he thought, then I can defeat her. A second later he winced in pain. In reaching out to strike the bard, he had leaned his weight upon his injured left leg. It gave out and he was forced to stagger backwards, groping for a seat on the stone bench that faced Nadia's Bell. He sat awkwardly and looked to the bard, who was standing with her head down, her hat covering her features. She was standing very straight and very still. Crono wished she would react. It would be easier to feel that he'd been right in hitting her if only she would attack him or at least berate him.
"I'll change the future," he prompted. The words sounded good to his ears. The words of a righteous man.
"You can't change this future, my lord," the bard said, so quietly that Crono had to strain to hear her. She smirked suddenly. Though most of her face was concealed by her wide hat, Crono could see the smiling red lips from beneath its brim. Her voice grew louder and defiant. "You already had your chance and you gave it up. You didn't even realize it, did you? The future is here, great king, and you're too blind to see it."
Crono's throat tightened. He felt a pressure in his head and saw red creeping into the corners of his vision. "You lie," he spat at the bard. "I have not yet lost her. I can still save her."
"The person that needs saving is you."
"You would threaten a king?" Crono roared. "You wish to do me harm?"
"I only wish to keep you where you can do no harm to others."
Crono stood, his pain forgotten in his anger. His hand went to Rainbow and in one motion it was drawn, sending a metallic ringing across the square as it scraped against the sides of its sheathe. He pointed the blade at the bard.
"Release me from this place," he commanded.
Crono strode towards her and rammed her in a body slam that threw her to the ground. He lowered his blade as she fell, opening his mouth to make another threat. But his voice caught in his throat. As she fell, the bard's feathered hat came off. Golden hair poured out from beneath it and then Nadia was looking up at him, tears in her blue eyes. In a moment, Crono realized he held the sharpest blade in the three kingdoms to the throat of the one thing left in the world that he loved. A shudder ran the length of Rainbow. With a sound like a thousand windows breaking at once, the blade shattered. Crono dropped the hilt and threw up his hands to cover his face where a hundred pinpricks of pain coursed across his skin and through his nerves. A second later he dropped his hands and stared at the world through a lake of red that dripped into his eyes and ran down his neck to pool beneath the clothing he still wore from the night's feasting. In front of him knelt a vision of horror. Nadia's hands were reaching out as she implored him between sobs to help her. Her palms glistened. Where her eyes had once been were pools of red and black shining with more of the sharp slivers of rainbow shell and folded steel. She cried tears of blood as she got to her feet and lurched at him.
Crono screamed. He was still screaming as he reached for Masamune on his back. Crono had thought he'd known fear in his life, but now he realized he never truly had understood the meaning of the emotion. Now he realized he hadn't been afraid when he'd climbed The Magus' tower of death traps and monsters. He hadn't been afraid when fighting the Reptites in their castle of stone and bone. He had known only slight trepidation when faced with his own death at the infinite maw of Lavos. It wasn't until now, as he pulled the Masamune free from its scabbard, that fear moved his arm; not until now that fear made him strike the blade into Nadia's collarbone, shattering it in a spray of blood and gristle. With a scream to match his own, Nadia collapsed into a heap on the ground, her face pointed towards the perpetually dying sun of this place. Then she began to change. Her fine features lengthened and elongated. Her beautiful blonde hair turned coarse and a sickly green and began to sprout over her face and arms. The shards of rainbow shell pushed themselves out of the skin and fell tinkling to the ground. Within seconds, Nadia no longer lay before him. Only the bloody wound where Masamune had struck and the look of pain on her face remained the same. Otherwise, it was a monster with a face like a fox dressed in the gaudy robes of the bard it had impersonated. With a gasping cough that sent a trickle of blood down its chin, the creature spoke. Its voice was just as melodic as before.
"Brothers, why did you let him bring the Dream Sword here?"
As she spoke, Crono realized he knew this creature. "You're Melchior's little dream stooge," he said. "The imp sister. Doreen, I think your name was." He chuckled with a spasm of his body. He was shaking uncontrollably. "So Melchior was against me, too?"
"Leave the blade here. Do not take it back into the world, I beg you."
"I think not. I'm short a blade these days." Ahead of him, Crono heard a sound like the tearing of a sheet of paper. Looking up, he saw a shimmering in the air beyond the square, the sure sign of a gate. He knew where this one led. He could already smell the flames of the future. In a distant corner of his mind he could tell that blood ran openly from the wounds in his face and that his leg was barely supporting his weight, but he limped towards the gate all the same. He had to escape this place of lies. In his mind ran the images of those who had betrayed him in his life. His father had died before Crono could ever get a chance to know him. Chaspin had selfishly taken his own life never thinking it was worth something to those around him. Lucca had abandoned him to her machines and her orphans. His kingdom had plotted rebellion and killed his mother. Melchior had sent his imp to trap him in a world of nightmares and false dreams. Now even the future threatened to take away Nadia from him. He wondered if she would enjoy lying with a man like Ghetz. He decided he would never give her the choice. From now on he wasn't going to let anyone betray him ever again.
"Stop, Crono!" Doreen called from behind him, her voice a wail of desperation. "You still have the chance to turn back! Do not go through the gate!"
Crono turned with a wide crazed smile on his face. He said nothing. He spent a moment watching her blood pool in the cracks of the ancient stones of Leene's square. His only coherent thought was that the blood would probably wash some of the dirt and grime of the stones. Then he turned and strode into the shimmering gate and was gone.
Doreen sobbed on the ground. "You could've saved your mother," she cried. "Time takes you where you want to go, Crono. In your heart, revenge was more important to you than the life of your mother."
The sky turned dark around her. The sun was finally setting on this timeless place.