Unlocking the chains that held up the amphibian knight errant, Meridio let the inventor and Marle set the unconscious swordsman on the floor.
“Stand back,” the princess said, furrowing her brow in concentration. A faint white aura appeared around the Guardian heir, but quickly grew in intensity when she spread her arms and held her palms out.
A swarm of ethereal sparks materialized and settled serenely on the body of the comatose frog-man. He acquired a greenish, rippling glow as his wounds steadily closed up and his bruises dissipated.
Wincing, Frog opened his eyes and breathed his first steady sigh since being shackled up on the wall.
“Lady Marle,” he declared weakly, “How good to see you. Fortune hath smiled on me this day.”
“It’s good to see you, too,” she replied with a smile.
Fatiguedly pulling himself to his feet, the diminutive fighter wiped the blood off of his face with the back of his glove and regarded his comrades.
“Crono, Lucca, my thanks to thee extend beyond time.” Then, noticing the stranger among his friends, he pronounced: “I’ll assume thou art an ally of Crono; I bestow my gratitude to thee as well.”
Proffering an unsteady hand, Meridio stated: “I was hired by the Chancellor of Guardia to find you. My name is Meridio, sir… uh, sire.”
“Do not address me thusly, I implore,” Frog responded gravely with a frustrated wave of his hand.
Crono stepped up to the swordsman and presented the legendary Masamune to its proper.
“Th’ Masamune,” Frog said, almost in a whisper, as he took hold of the blade’s handle and slowly unsheathed, inspecting it as if he was not sure that it really was the legendary sword. “If Fate had any compassion for me, I knew she would entrust thee with its return to my possession, Crono.”
From the doorway to the prison cell, Lucca called out: “I think they know we’re here,” and indicated a collection of torches approaching from down the shadowy hall.
“I guess they heard us ‘unlocking’ the door,” Meridio smirked.
The group hesitated, for upon looking down the other end of the hall they saw an equally numerous groups of figures charging after them. Unanimously deciding to stand their ground this time, the fighters drew their arms and filed out into the hallway, where they would have more room to fight.
Snarling the two battalions, made up of thick-skinned Grimalkins and hairy, drooling Flunkies, barreled towards the cabal at the jail. But, just as the two mobs closed in on the troop, a voice boomed through the halls of the prison:
Obediently, the Mystic forces abated their assault and stood as much at attention as their slovenly builds allowed. Crono and his friends, unable to locate the source of the voice, tensed and prepared for some sort of surprise attack. Instead of attacking, the Mystics gave way as four figures stepped through the mob to the group’s collective right and approached the young conspirators. Two of the figures held torches, and flanked the other half of the foursome.
As the forms neared the adventurers, the centermost figure was instantly recognized by all but Meridio; it was the green mage, Ozzie.
“Well, well, well,” he sneered. “It seems as though we have a jailbreak on our hands. Crono is it?”
The boy tightened his hold on the Rainbow Sword and prepared for a fight. When Ozzie and his three strange associates neared the group, the robed sorcerer hopped up and assumed a seat in mid-air, rubbing his ample chin with genuine interest while he regarded the troop assembled in front of him.
“I was sincerely hoping that you’d come,” he admitted, clasping his hands together, “Which is part of the reason why I abducted your green friend. He’s been very helpful to me, as far as telling me what I need to know about you.”
Leaning in towards the fighters, the fat Mystic leader shielded the side of his mouth with the back of his hand and whispered “If you ever want him to tell you something, all you have to do is threaten him with the Queen’s murder; he’ll say anything.”
Straightening his posture again, Ozzie continued. “Anyway, it appears that you and your little friends have some amazing powers; unfortunately, we can’t have a force like that running around messing up my plans.
“I must say, you’ve caused me a great deal of trouble, boy. First, you throw me down a hole; then, you make our own Sir Magus turn on us and throw me down another hole. Then, you come into my home looking for a frozen worm and humiliate me by siccing that… animal!”
Stepping forward angrily, Marle objected. “Ayla’s no animal! She’s more civil than you’ll ever be!”
“Don’t patronize me, girl!” Ozzie threatened, pointing a clawed finger at the princess. “I’ve finally constructed the perfect plan to infect this world with darkness and destroy the lot of you in the process. And, if you’ll follow my three colleagues, Cossack, Bodhran, and Tzuris, I’ll show it to you!” he finished proudly, vanishing in a scorchingly white after-image.
The three figures flanking Ozzie, two of whom had been carrying torches, menacingly stalked up to the group. The torchless Mystic, an extremely tall, cloaked man with a hooked nose and long, black ponytail, barked a command of attention to the slouching, distracted Mystic ranks.
“Hut, General Tzuris!” the horde recited in unison.
“Don’t even try to escape, you whelps,” he sneered at the children in a low, gnarled voice. “I don’t care if you die before knowing Lord Ozzie’s plan.”
Marle, Lucca, and Frog all snuck a glance to Crono; just as he was about to confirm their surrender with a commanding nod, Meridio piped up:
“We should go along; it’ll be easier to stop them if we know what their plan is,” he whispered very informatively.
Leading the fighters through a conglomeration of hallways, the three lieutenants brought Crono and his allies to a large, poorly lit room; the Mystic guards filed off to commence their labor on another wing of the rebuilt citadel.
Ozzie sat waiting on a throne in the middle of the immense chamber, encompassed by the only four lit torches in the alcove. Initially resting his head on his thick hand, he righted himself upon seeing the group.
“Well, you certainly took your time,” he mocked, launching himself into the air once more and floating towards them. “I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve called you in to see this. You see, I know that you kids live in the future; but, it’s kind of hard to kill you when you won’t even be born for another few centuries.
“To that end, I’ve devised the perfect plan which happens to utilize an old acquaintance of yours. I don’t believe I need to introduce you again,” he said, waving his hand and magically lighting a score of torches throughout the room.
The fighters raised their heads and gaped at the form that filled the room behind Ozzie. Snaking around the alcove and holding its head up in the air like a cobra, the creature wheezed steadily and calmly flexed its twisted mouthparts. A few paddle-like limbs twitched, but the beast remained largely motionless, as if commanded simply to stand in place. Although it looked much bigger than it did the last time they faced it, the group unmistakably discerned what the monster was.
It was Helminthes.
To Chapter Eleven
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