IN SEARCH OF THE PAST

Thanks for all the reviews! Sorry for the slow updates, because I immediately shut my word processor thanks to my 'inner critic' quite a lot of times.

DISCLAIMER: Chrono Cross doesn't belong to me.

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CHAPTER 4: Enter the Mansion, Part 2

I pulled my staff out of my left sleeve, preparing myself in case the animals I saw were ferocious dragons.

Walking with Serge towards Kid, I heard her telling us, "Ha! Those reptiles ain't gonna pose a problem for us!"

I looked ahead, where I could see the dragons glaring at us. Surprisingly, they were smaller than I saw before; about as large as stallions. With saddles on their backs, they looked even more similar to horses. Perhaps I had seen something wrong earlier because of the yellowness or the stench of this place. Seeing that the animals were merely wagging their scaly tails and humming, I tossed my staff into my left sleeve. They did not seem to be dangerous.

A man's voice suddenly called, "Hey there!"

I turned. It was a hunchback who had been calling us.

"Yes, how can I help you?" I asked the man.

"Oh," the man responded, "you must be the new helpers I was told about! Well, I'm expecting some help as my back has gone awry, and I can't feed the dragons as a result."

Judging from his words, I figured out that he was a worker in the manor. He should know a lot about the mansion if he were.

"Feeding the dragons for ya? Whatcha talkin' about?" Kid snapped.

Suddenly, Serge elbowed Kid on her gut and said, "I'm sorry, mister. This place has made her stressful!"

The man raised an eyebrow. "Hmm…?"

"Mister, we can help you, but I have a question," I said.

"Go ahead," the man replied.

"Could you tell us more about this mansion?" I asked.

The man gasped. "You're intruders!"

Kid, who was standing beside me, pulled out her dagger, "Yeah, of course we are!"

As Kid rushed towards the hunchback, I immediately reached out my right leg and tripped her. She fell flat to the ground with a thud. Before she got up, she turned to me and yelled, "Oi, bastard! Don't you hear what this guy has just said? We're intruders!"

I said nothing. I knew sweeping Kid's legs was not the right thing to do, but I felt that she was too overreacting…

Soon, I heard the man saying, "Well, actually there's no way you can enter the mansion without a key."

A brief pause. I then asked, "Mister, do you have the key?"

The man grinned. "Sure, and I don't mind giving it to you if you feed the dragons for me!"

Feeding the dragons for the mansion key… It sounds like a fair trade for me!

I turned to Serge, who was scratching his head. "What do you think?"

"Sounds good!" Serge answered.

I turned, to see that Kid had got up, looking at me with reddened face. I had a feeling that she had just realized her mistake.

"How do we feed them?" I asked.

"All you need to do is to bring the hay to the dragons," the man said.

Turning around, I saw a stack of hay was lying against the wall like a mountain. Five pails were neatly lined horizontally in front of the haystack.

"I understand," I said.

With that, I flew to the haystack, picked up a pail, and scooped the hay. As I turned with the hay-loaded bucket, the dragon inside the closest cage to the stack of fodder reached out its head through the gap between the steel bars. For one moment I gawked, but few seconds later, I realized that there was only a few strands of hay left inside the pail! I glanced at the dragon, whose mouth was bulging with a few yellow stalks on the sides of its jaws. Never had I thought that a dragon could have elastic jaws like snakes. This dragon could be starving or otherwise, gluttonous.

Soon, I saw Serge running past me, heading to the haystack. As he was scooping the hay with two buckets, I giggled. But then, my jaw dropped as he could carry two buckets of chaff without breaking a sweat! Well, I believed that I had looked down on him, only because he was shorter than I was.

With a hay-loaded bucket on each of his hands, Serge turned and walked towards me. "Hey, it's feeding time, you know?"

I smiled. "I'm just having a break."

After saying that, I felt something rough nuzzling the right side of my neck. I turned to see that it was the dragon earlier, with a smile on its face. I had a feeling that it was asking, "Please, sir, can I have some more?"

I closed my eyes and smiled as I thought that the dragon was as docile as a house cat. Stroking its head, I felt like I was petting a real cat. It was just warm and furry… But wait! Dragons were reptiles and they did not have fur. I snapped my eyes open. Fortunately, I saw a dragon, not a cat. Otherwise, I would blame myself for dreaming too much.

"Guile! Whatcha doin'?"

I blinked upon hearing that voice. I released the dragon's head and turned around, only to see that Kid was standing with her arms folded.

"Stop dreaming! Serge is really quick in feeding these dragons, while you're a slowpoke!" Kid yelled.

Sometimes I wondered whether Kid had ever learnt what respect was. I would like to see her helping Serge and I feeding the dragons but… it was impossible. Truth be told, I was sure that Kid would refuse to do this manly job.

Without saying anything, I walked back to the haystack and scooped the fodder with the pail I was holding. As I was about to turn around with the hay-laden bucket, I heard a man's voice saying, "That's just about right! They may get sick if they eat too much!"

Soon, I saw Serge walking past me and putting down his pails on the floor. I asked, "Is the feeding time over?"

Serge turned to me and smiled. "Well, yeah, of course! Can never satisfy their hunger, you know?"

So, when my thoughts were running wild, Serge had fed the rest of the dragons… I might consider not letting my mind drifting away anymore, but there was just something that disturbed my mind… Perhaps it was something that was related to my past; something that I had been searching for all this time. But it might be wiser if I put that thing aside for now. There was something more important at this moment.

I put the pail on the floor and turned around. The hunchback was now smiling while holding a brass key in his right hand.

"Just remember to keep silent about this key," the old man said.

Before Serge and I could even move, Kid had run towards the man and snatched the key.

"Thank you, mister!" was what I heard from her.

Serge and I walked towards Kid. I looked at the old man, who was looking at me.

"Sir, if you have the time, can you teach this girl some manners?" the old man whispered.

I chuckled and nodded. Honestly, Kid's audacity was annoying, so I might need to teach her to act like a fine lady one day.

"Let's go now, mates!" Kid said, turning around with the brass key in her right hand and running towards the entrance.

Serge and I bade farewell to the old man before walking towards the entrance, following Kid.

The iron door was still wide open, which was something I was hoping for. As I was getting closer to the entrance, I could feel the coolness of the night wind. A bead of sweat ran down my temple as I felt the breeze blowing across my face. Soon, the noise of the humming dragons and the stench of the barn were non-existent as I walked out of the door. The shades of dark blue outside too, had replaced the yellowness of the stable. Now, it was much like a sound void, except that the noise of leaves rubbing together was audible. It was a windy night.

Walking together with Serge and Kid to the T junction of the rocky pathway of the yard, I tried to look at the brass key Kid was holding. There was just suspicion growing in my mind. Why did the man give us the key without any qualm? Was he just being lazy or giving us the fake key or such? Although I was hesitant to ask Kid…it would not be wrong if I asked, would it?

"Kid, I'm just wondering if this key is fake or such…" I muttered.

Kid stopped and said, "Stop being meddlesome, will ya? We barely know each other and you're being such a pain in my arse!" She then brought her right palm closer to my face while pointing at the flat circular end of the key with her other hand. "Don't you see this dragon picture? There's no fake key that has this kind of drawing, ya blithering idiot!" She turned away.

Being snapped so harshly; it was just the response I had predicted. But I would rather swallow up whatever she had said, because getting angry would only lead to something worse now. We continued walking to the junction and turned right, where there was a pair of pillars standing on the sides of the stone pathway.

This must be it. We were about to reach the mansion door soon. As we walked, I could see the towering shadows of palm trees and the mansion. Unlike the yard, I could hear sounds of clattering metal nearby. They were loud as if the metal was directly in front of me.

"Oh, chickens!" Kid said, running towards the junction of the rocky pathway. There, she waved her hands while shouting, "Oi! Come here and let me kick yer sorry arse!"

"Kid! Come back here!" Serge shouted, chasing Kid.

A fierce shout followed, "Intruders! You won't get away from our wrath!"

The noises of metal beating the stone floor were faster than the clopping of horseshoes now. I immediately inserted my right hand into my left sleeve and pulled out my baton-sized staff. Holding it, I flew towards Serge and Kid.

"Kid, what have you-" I asked.

But Kid interjected, "Shut yer trap!"

Kid's attitude was getting on my nerves. I clenched my jaw, but then I felt that getting angry would not be a good idea. I had better keep quiet now and focus on the coming combat!

Looking to my right side, I saw two guards running towards us, raising their swords. Before I could start casting a spell, Kid had run towards the men. Was she always that daring and insane?

I placed one hand near the top of my staff and one under the handle. Then I pulled it, lengthening it into about half a meter.

Looking ahead, I saw both of the guards were swinging their swords. But Kid ducked and slid, both dodging the slash and sweeping the guards' legs. Crash resounded as the guards' iron armor hit the ground.

Kid got up, turned back, and looked at us. "Follow me!"

Serge immediately ran towards Kid. Unfortunately, the guards had regained their balance and got up.

Raising their swords, they roared, "Go to hell!"

A swing of their swords would be fatal for Serge. Fortunately, he managed to jump over the heads of the guards. But of course, problems might come if the guards were not killed or put to sleep… Apparently, they had completely ignored me at this moment, but they were chasing Serge.

I closed my eyes. My right hand was now hot and burning. Slowly, I could hear crackling noises, but also followed with steady clatters of metal. I snapped my eyes open and saw blue electricity dancing along the shaft of my staff.

Aim carefully… My heartbeat rose. Sweat was running down my neck. I had to kill both of the guards only with a spell. Otherwise, everything would be more complicated.

One…

Two…

Fire!

I swung my staff and unleashed a stream of blue lightning.

Soon, there was an explosion followed with a painful scream. Looking ahead, a guard had collapsed. Threads of smoke were arising from his charred armor.

I failed… Now, the surviving guard was running towards me, holding his sword two-handed.

No more time to cast a spell. The guard would reach me faster. I looked at my staff. It was the end, was it not? No! The forked end of my staff was sharp. I could probably throw it like a javelin. But if it did not kill the guard, I was done for.

"Good night, intruder!" was what I heard. Loud and clear. The guard was certainly close to me now. Perhaps he was only about a meter away from me.

I leant back. Then a war cry left my lips as I bent ahead and threw my staff.

A crash. Raising my head, I saw my rod transfixed on the guard's stomach. Blood was dripping from the shaft near the pierced iron armor. The man was trembling but silent. The sword dropped from his hands. Soon, he fell. As his body hit the ground, my cane tore out of his back and landed softly on his metallic armor.

After picking up my bloodstained staff with my right hand, I smacked the handle below with my left palm. It was now about twenty centimeters long. With that, I tossed it into my left sleeve. But the feeling was strange. I could feel something wet trickling down my left forearm. I looked at my left sleeve, which was now red and slightly wet. Stench of rusty iron emanated from it and disturbed my senses. However, it was useless if I let such minor thing be an obstacle. I would put aside this problem first because once I had settled our business in this mansion, I would have my garment washed.

I flew towards Serge and Kid, who were standing further in front of me, right under the protruding canopy of the mansion. The night breeze blew as I flew. My heart was beating slower now. Also, I was no longer sweating excessively like earlier.

I stopped in front of Serge and Kid. While Kid was inserting the brass key into the keyhole, Serge was standing still.

"Guile, what took you so long?" Serge asked me, scratching his head.

"I dispatched all the guards. I'm afraid that they can trouble us if they are still alive," I answered.

Serge smiled. "That's definitely a good idea! You know, you're really a good addition to our team with your intelligence."

"That's my ability." I chuckled.

Serge was quite a nice person I thought. While Kid... She was just brash, but I believed that she was not that brusque. Serge was too friendly to tag along with a girl like her. Perhaps Kid had the heart of the girl that I saw earlier. That blue-haired girl... She looked gentle and kind…

Suddenly, there was a creak. Also, I heard Kid saying, "Booty! I'm coming!"

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