As the three cautiously approached the ladder that stuck out from the hole behind the huge brown bush in the Cursed Woods, Marle voiced what all were thinking:
“Something doesn’t feel right here.”
“I wish you hadn’t said that,” Lucca confessed, even though she sensed it as well. For all the monsters there were lurking throughout, the Cursed Woods had become a familiar place for the trio; they felt almost comfortable walking among the twisted trees and poisonous-- but easily spooked-- reptiles and frogs that populated the forest.
This time, however, an eerie timbre wafted through the grove, almost like an odor. To breath in the atmosphere of the Woods now was to fill oneself with its alien semblance. Leading the two young ladies, Crono kept his hand poised to draw the brilliant Rainbow Sword should the need arise.
The boy stopped at the mouth of Frog’s dwelling and silently halted his companions. Peering into the darkened hole, he drew his weapon, and with it a magically luminescent aura. Quietly, he descended the wide ladder.
The princess dropped to her knees and watched the boy as well as she could in the shadowy cave, illuminated only by the light that the Rainbow Sword emanated. Lucca stood and surveyed the area, wary of anything that might be watching them.
After a minute or two, Crono emerged from the dank hole with his sword sheathed and two large objects filling his arms. One was a pack filled with metal tableware and a few pots and pans, among some towels and a couple changes of clothing. The other was--
“The Masamune!” Marle recognized.
Crono nodded as he displayed the broadsword in its tanned hide sheath. The princess peered once more into the hole, hoping that the boy’s grave countenance meant something other than that the medieval swordsman was not about. The ronin hefted the pack over his shoulder and headed southward, towards the parked Epoch on the outskirts of the forest. Marle and Lucca followed.
“What do you think happened?” the inventor queried.
“Well, he wouldn’t intentionally leave this behind,” Crono explained.
As they neared the time jet, Lucca asked: “What do we do now, then?” She expected the boy to jump into the machine and take off in some spontaneous direction, as was his tendency.
Instead, the youth swung the pack around and tossed it into the back seat of the plane, then closed the hatch. With a beckoning gesture, he led his friends further southward.
“Maybe someone in town can help us,” the swordsman said, toting the legendary blade with him as he headed towards the village of Porre.
Shaking her head in disbelief, Lucca observed: “Even thoughtfulness seems to be an impulse for this guy.”
The more they walked towards Porre, the more hurried Crono’s gait became; he was nearly running by the time the trio reached the town’s border. Pausing only to regain his bearings within the medieval hamlet, the youth led his friends into the cafe at the east end of the town.
Shoving the door aside, the boy marched up to the counter and ordered a cider. Ignoring the mug of ale as soon as he paid for it, Crono stabbed his eyes at every one of the customers until he spotted the one man whom he recognized above all the other patrons. Standing at the end of the bar was a man clothed in a filthy, off-white headband and a tattered vest, hefting a large metal stein. Crono approached the man, whose eyes were hidden behind the tilted mug, and loudly cleared his throat.
“Whoa!” Toma exclaimed, nearly dropping his glass at the sound. “Hey, it’s Crono! Lookee here, it’s Crono!”
The swordsman gave a quick smile and nod of acknowledgement and was about to speak, but the adventurer cut him off.
“I want to say something to you, kid,” the man started, slamming his mug onto the bar and jabbing a clumsy finger in Crono’s general direction. “You had to go and find my Rainbow Shell, didn’t you? I saw them taking it to the castle, not too long before I’m here today. In this bar.”
“Well, I didn’t--”
“You know what I’m gonna do now?” Toma asked fiercely, leaning a heavy elbow on the counter. “I’m gonna... go and find me another. And you know what I’m gonna do with it then?”
An uneasy head shake answered the man.
“I’m gonna sell it,” Toma finished with a triumphant gash of a smile. Crono replied with an awkward chuckle and looked back to his companions, both of whom were standing a few yards away, having chosen not to get too close to the man.
“Yup, that’ll put me among the tall and wealthy,” the adventurer concluded with another hearty swig of his drink.
Uncomfortably trying to change the subject, Crono hefted the Masamune in its sheath onto the bar, making sure to set it far enough away from Toma’s grasp and to keep one hand on it.
“Hey!” the man exclaimed, almost through a mouthful of ale. “You know who has a big old sword just like that one?”
“... Glenn?” Crono suggested.
“No no no,” Toma argued, “That guy. The one with the face. The green face. Like a big old frog.”
“... You mean, Frog?” the boy guessed.
“Yeah, Frog,” the man replied. “That’s what they should call that guy.”
As Toma pulled one last gulp from his mug and ordered another round with a boisterous slap of his hand on the counter, the young swordsman, growing somewhat impatient, asked: “Have you seen him lately?”
Pausing to taste his new serving, the adventurer answered, “You know what? I did. Yeah; it was just the other day, or yesterday, or someday. It’s nighttime; I’m on my way here from Sandorino and I see him being carried away by these three guys. They see me, and they all kind of vanish into thin air.”
Crono pondered what the man had said, and was about to give a weak “Thank you” and leave when Toma interrupted him. Raising his mug high above his head, the man called out to his barroom compatriots:
“Hey, fellas! Lesh drink to Crono! And to my poor mommy; may she resht in peace on those wooden beds they give you at the old folksh home. And to Crono; may he resht in peace.”
Leaving the conversation where it stood, the boy slowly backed away, and, with a death grip on the Masamune, hastily led Marle and Lucca out of the cafe.
“I could smell his breath from the front door,” the princess exaggerated as the trio shuffled away from the bar.
On their way back to the Epoch, the group considered what they had heard. Lucca was the first to speak on the matter.
“I know Toma’s helped us out before, but I’m not sure we can trust what he said this time. I don’t think he was really in any shape to remember anything correctly.”
“But it would make sense that Frog was kidnapped, since he left the Masamune behind,” Marle observed.
“Yes, but who could--”
“Mystics,” Crono answered. “Ozzie is still around.”
“What?” Lucca exclaimed.
“Get in,” the boy said, opening the Epoch’s hatch. “I’ll explain on the way.”
As the children headed off towards Ozzie’s fort, Crono told them about his encounter with Ozzie while he, Frog, and Ayla were searching for the giant flatworm called Helminthes. But, as the time jet headed past the Magus’ ruined fortress, Marle saw and brought attention to a large amount of activity near the site of the dark mage’s stronghold.
“Umm, guys? It looks like somebody’s in Magus’ castle, too,” she pointed out.
To Chapter Eight
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