Crono circled the Epoch around the cave that connected Magus’ island with the Guardian mainland, not wanting to draw the attention of the mob that appeared to be congregated around the sorcerer’s fortress. A complex network of lattices surrounded the ruins, which were apparently being rebuilt by a crew of what would appear to be Henches. From the look of the scene, it would seem that a larger castle was being constructed on the location of the dark wizard’s former home.
Landing the time jet near the mouth of the Magic Cave, the trio disembarked and headed cautiously towards the site; Crono held the Masamune at his side, and kept a hand on his own Rainbow Sword. Night began falling as they neared the dead forest that enveloped the citadel; a few streaks of red stretched over the horizon. Breaking the silence, Lucca protested:
“This doesn’t make sense. Why are we going to this castle if we’re looking for Ozzie? Shouldn’t we leave Magus alone?”
“Magus is looking for his sister,” the boy replied. “He’s not here.”
“So you think... ” Marle began, dropping to a whisper as the trio neared the edge of the twisted, lifeless grove.
“... That this would be a good location from which to start a curse,” Lucca deduced as she snuck behind a tree just as Crono did.
“But do you think Ozzie kidnapped Frog, too?” Marle said, finishing her own thought and finding her own hiding place.
A voice piped up from behind all three.
“That’s exactly what he did.”
Shocked, the children whirled around; Crono drew his sword. The ethereal light that the Rainbow Sword gave off seemed to glow brighter with the boy’s elevated awareness. As it was, he was somewhat blinded and could not immediately discern the figure that had spoken.
The figure threw itself at Crono, tackling him and trying to pry the Rainbow Sword out of his grasp. Determined not to let go of his weapon, Crono swung the sheathed Masamune and smacked the broad side of the blade against the figure’s head. Whoever it was rolled with the blow and released the Rainbow Sword, but quickly sprung to its feet and jabbed an accusing finger at the swordsman.
“Put that light out! They’ll see you!”
Crono jumped to his feet and drew his sword away from his face so he could see who was speaking. It was a young man, not too many years older than Crono. He wore a long coat over his bland grayish togs, but kept it open so that it almost trailed like a cape. His hands and feet were adorned with thick leather gauntlets and boots, respectively, and his long blonde hair was tightly braided in the back, although a number of strands had escaped and hung precariously over his forehead.
“I’m not your enemy,” he rushed to explain, displaying his gloved but unarmed hands. As Crono slowly relaxed his battle stance, the stranger let a friendly smirk run across his face.
“My name is Meridio,” the man said, standing straight up and proffering his right hand.
Lucca rushed up to the man, shaking his hand first. “I’m Lucca; pleased to meet you,” she said enthusiastically, taking in another long look at the young stranger’s face and pausing to inspect his dark blue eyes.
“Charmed,” Meridio answered with a nod, turning smoothly towards the princess.
“I’m Marle,” she said, plainly offering her hand.
“Pleased to meet you,” the man said with a raised eyebrow, taking her hand and placing it close to his chin, as if he meant to kiss it. After waiting for a reaction, and getting none, the man turned once more to the young swordsman.
“Crono,” the boy announced simply, giving a single, firm but insincere shake of the man’s hand.
“I saw your craft in the air,” Meridio explained. “I thought only Mystics would be able do such things with vehicles. But you’re obviously friends of the legendary swordsman Frog. How are you able to fly? Do you know how to use Magic?”
“It’s really based on a few simple principle of science,” the inventor began, once again jumping in front of the man. “First of all, the shape of the wings manipulates air pressure so that there’s an imbalance--”
“How do you know Frog?” Crono interrupted.
“Well, I can explain it in more detail later,” Lucca mumbled quickly, stepping aside and nervously adjusting her glasses.
“The great Knight Frog is known throughout the country as the one who rescued Queen Leene,” the man answered. “I was hired by the Chancellor to find him after he failed to show up at the King’s request.
“I followed the trail through that cave to the south; the Mystics have obviously taken him here. I thought that Magus would be behind this, but according to you, it’s his lieutenant.”
“That’s what we think,” Marle replied, folding her arms.
“Well, I don’t mean to criticize, but you’ll need more than two swords if you want to penetrate this fortress,” Meridio warned. “Even though it’s not complete, the Mystics already have a good defensive force set up.”
The young ronin turned and surveyed the castle as well as he could through the winding branches of the defunct thicket.
“As long as we have the same goal, why don’t we help each other out by joining together?” the hired gun suggested.
“Sounds like a good idea!” Lucca blurted, almost forgetting their need to stay quiet.
“It couldn’t hurt,” the Guardian heir stated, turning a questioning glance to Crono.
“Why did the Chancellor hire you?” Crono inquired of the man as he continued scanning the outside of the fortress.
“I’m a mercenary of sorts,” Meridio responded. “I take missions from the allies of Guardia, but I’m no killer. The Chancellor told me that he wanted somebody qualified for the job, but that he couldn’t have a soldier do it because they would know that Frog might be in trouble. He also wanted to keep it a secret from the King, who would never approve of commando tactics.”
An awkward pause followed as the swordsman studied Meridio for a moment. Then, turning towards the fortress, he commanded: “Come on.”
“Just a moment,” the mercenary objected. “I’ve been watching this castle for a while now, and I know how the crew operates. I’ll get us in without any problems.” And with that he assumed the lead of the group towards the stronghold.
Crono and Marle stopped and stared at the man as he walked off to the fort, but Lucca hastily fell in behind him and beckoned to her friends.
To Chapter Nine
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