1999 A.D.—The Day of Lavos

Hidden miles beneath surface life where sunlight never reached, it waited. Where neither wind blew, nor rain fell, nor life endured, it slept within the planet's heart. As centuries passed amidst the enthroning shadows, it dreamed every moment of its attack. The slithering pipes from this grim and solitary parasite siphoned life from the earth like veins that stole blood, and its black tendrils greedily drank every living aliment.

Vibrations of its presence resonated through the soil as it sluggishly drained life from bodies of water, even the ocean and all life beyond. Already it surged with nutriments taking root within, and its power grew with the dawn of each day. The humans inhabiting the planet remained tragically unaware. The time has come, it thought. But suddenly the creature stopped funneling, and uncertainly froze as a strange intruder somehow penetrated the lair it established long ago.

For the first time in centuries, the creature stirred from its resting place. A single maddening eye snapped open in outrage to behold a sharp metal point that bore a hole through its stone wall, then a giant rotating screw that shattered its domain. The creature glared as a boy with flame-red hair came to stand before it. This tiny speck of mortality challenges me? He arrives too late. The earth bends before my power. But first, I will deal with him!

"What's going on out there?" the general roared as he stormed into the command center.

The huge, sparsely furnished structure with several entries on each side held broad desks and large double-paned windows that gleamed in the faint light. Doors opened by sliding into walls, and pillars rose up from the tiled floors to support the ceiling. Backed against the polished chamber, monitors dimly blinked blue, and displayed men, women and humanoid robots patrolling the base. Some rode in jeeps. Others marched along the gravel roadways near the training grounds. A few policed the gates whose signs read "Authorized Personnel Only." Within the domed steel structure, the soldiers stood at attention. The metallic sheen of their silver uniforms shimmered in smooth contrast with the computer lights of the headquarters.

"Sir!" Hector, a principal scientist, civil engineer and firearms designer, stood up from his computer desk. "We don't know exactly what it is, General. Our seismographs have detected a series of unnatural earthquakes. They erupt infrequently, in different areas across the world. Each measures stronger than the last and then sometimes they vibrate all at once. They seem to come in a pattern and I believe our area will be next. It's as if something in the ground causes the tremblers, something we cannot identify."

The stunned general studied Hector. "The earthquakes . . . do you have any other data? Leave out nothing, Hector."

The younger man faced him grimly. "Call me crazy, Sir, but I believe the earthquakes are being caused by a cre—"

"General!" The sliding doors opened to admit a soldier with disheveled hair. His eyes flashed wide in terror, and his entire body shook as he rushed from the faint afternoon sunlight into the metallic interior. He disregarded the customary salute. "Sir, Truce City's under attack! What are your orders?"

"Who's attacking us?" the general sharply snapped as he wheeled around in outrage.

The panting soldier uncertainly shook his head. "Their identity has not yet been confirmed, Sir. But buildings have already fallen from upheavals and irregular tremors destroy the land at every turn. Sections of the surrounding countryside have ruptured, some parts of the city. The attacks seem to occur from under the ground. It's as if the devil rises."

"What's happening!" the general shouted, then angrily turned away from his men. He shifted his attention to surveillance screens that monitored every major area in the city. The soldiers joined him and stared in deathly silence as the downtown shopping center crumbled into the broken concrete. On another screen, the citizens that lined the streets of Truce City watched in stark horror as a mastodonic vessel, fifteen miles wide and twenty-four kilometers high, sundered the earth in fissures as it torpidly ascended from the depths. The surface ground shattered in seconds as the nameless shadow rose from the land and buried alive the residents under the depths from whence it crawled. Ringed by fire and black spikes, the monster blocked away the sun, and hauled with it the scent of aromatic death. Poison filled the air and leached the very breath from those consumed in its wake. Skyscrapers, stores, homes and warehouses shook violently between tremors and fell to ruin as the creature broke through the earth and catapulted several large boulders into the heavens. A unit of soldiers that carried several firearms and heavy artillery began to fire missiles at the creature. But the monitors had shown it came from the earth, and the general suspected if the heat of the world's core did not harm the beast, then weapons would not stop it.

In a hailstorm of fire, huge dark rocks vehemently plunged downward from several hundred feet in the sky, then rended the earth and split the sea. Waves of fiery crimson and coal black crushed and seared thousands of people beneath. The nightmare that spawned from the blackest pits of the netherworld destroyed the totality of Truce City and several countries on the same continent. In a single day, doom reached all across the Eastern Sea and the lands beyond the horizon. Landscapes rattled, the skies hazed into gray, and the world began to end. The military base shuddered, and a headlong explosion shattered new cracks in the walls and pillars each time the headquarters shook. The world beneath mankind's feet ceaselessly rumbled.

"We're hit!" the soldiers screamed. A moment later, the ferocity of a detonation ruptured everyone's hearing. Deafness struck them all, and blood leaked from their ears and dripped to the floor to hotly steam as the temperature in the room steadily increased. For them, life turned deathly quiet. And under the shadow of Lavos, the northern isles collapsed.

The general hopelessly stared into the ruin as his own body buffeted. Furniture and wooden desks caught fire, and flames burned and hungrily spread. In the heated glow of the firelight, sweat poured from the general's face as he gawked and tried to fathom what he saw.

"Everyone underground!" Hector sharply ordered, then gestured as he ran for the securing airlocks that led into an underground bomb shelter. Because no one could hear him, he beckoned and flailed his arms in the flickering crimson light of the fire alarms. Even though their bodies uncontrollably shook, several men and women retreated for shelter. An explosion lit the sky, and the lights in the headquarters rapidly blinked before going out.

"Sir, are you all right?" yelled Hector as he turned back for his commander and friend, who stood as if frozen on the other side of the wall of flames. The general glanced at Hector just as huge chunks of the ceiling broke apart and crashed to the floor. When the floor buckled, Hector lost his balance but caught himself against a doorway. "General, come with me!" he screamed, and tried to reach across the rubble. "We have to get out! We've lost the city! We must seek shelter!" But the general could not hear him. To the general, the world seemed only a silent dream from which the aged veteran knew he would not wake. He had fought many wars in his time, but death proved an inescapable hunter. He knew it was over.

"What's wrong, Sir?" Hector asked as his eyebrows knit in confusion. "Tell me, Sir. What is it?"

"The end." The general spoke his last words, for even as he drew his next breath and Hector tried to respond, the ceiling caved in and the entire weight of the building collapsed upon them.

After the initial attack, the spiked entity known as Lavos carried the bodies of the dead back down to the depths with him as he continued to eat away at the planet from within. The world of green forests, blue oceans and silver rivers became a gray chunk of rock that mirrored the cold emptiness of Lavos' grim design. This day, every waking found the path to eternal rest. But what if this future could in fact be changed?

Chapter I—The Millennial Fair

Sunlight slowly descended below the mountains west of Guardia, and formed soft shadowed pools that lengthened across the festival grounds. From the Eastern Sea, cool wind blew and brushed the valley floor. And within a grassy bowl ringed with low hills, Crono Zenan, Nadia and Fritz elbowed their way through a dense crowd that agitated before a wide stage. Steps leading up at its right side, the makeshift platform of rough wood stood only four feet off the ground, and had been constructed specifically for the fair. In the exact center of the stage, two tall objects hid under separate tarps. To the left, a heavy curtain flowed down from its own stand. To the right, beyond the steps, sat a heavy desk covered in gadgets. A gathering of trees and then the darkening sky backdropped the stage.

Crono, tall, solid and roguishly handsome with long red hair and mischievous green eyes, used his arms and size to open a path within the crowd in the direction of the stage steps. Nadia, mostly hidden beneath a dark hooded robe, and Fritz, lanky and blonde, followed behind.

Crono turned his head so his allies could hear. "Come on, guys. Let's get up there. As friends of the inventor, we deserve more than a seat in the back!"

As they passed through, they overheard some of the talk from the crowd. "I'm glad the boy displays this at night, because when it explodes into the sky, it'll look even more spectacular!" "At least we won't miss any fireworks!"

"Yeah, this will sure be one of the great failures of a lifetime. That boy Luca makes quite the character. The best clown this town's ever seen!"

Crono's eyes darkly fixed on the last commentator for insulting his best friend. Luca's ten times smarter than you, he wanted to shout, but thought better of starting a fight in this excited crowd. Instead he barreled on toward the stage.

When the trio arrived within feet of their goal, a burly man reacted to Crono's push by shouting, "Hey, no shoving!" He then propelled Crono back in the direction from which he came and almost toppled Nadia and Fritz in the process. Crono recovered, then instinctively made a fist and aimed it at the man's head, but a voice stopped him.

"Hey!" Everything quieted as a boy appeared from behind the curtain. Luca Devir slowly approached the crowd. Darker than falling night, long black hair fell away from his face, and his eyes flickered the color of lake water. He wore dark jeans, an unzipped leather jacket, and a silver cross necklace that shimmered in the moonlight. A strapped backpack and tool belt seemed welded to his body. He stepped up and pointed a screwdriver at the large man. "Nobody tells Crono what to do but me! As I failed to address in the forms I left in everyone's mailbox, I need Crono, my assistant, for the test run." Luca seemed undaunted by the man's three-times-larger size. "Might I suggest expressing a bit more enthusiasm for the little guy? Now that he's finally arrived, we can get this test underway."

Crono knew everyone liked Luca, even riled up, and the burly man's eyes softened. He didn't appear mad despite some shrimp poking him in the gut with a pointed tool.

"I apologize," the man stated. "I thought he tried to cut in line."

"It's all right," Luca smiled. "Tonight should be interesting for our little hamster." Luca winked in Crono's direction.

Crono sighed. "So you lied to my mom and told her you wanted to show me the invention and now you expect me to—what—ride inside it?"

Luca carefully studied his friend. "I didn't lie to anyone. I simply requested your presence at sundown. In any case, it will all be over soon. Come this way."

Crono awoke that day to his mother's smiling face and amber hair caught in a fragment of light. Even in their faraway farmhouse, Crono could clearly make out the ringing of Leene's Bell. In the north from Town Square, it echoed all across Guardia Kingdom. Songbirds twittered outside the open window, where forest leaves sparkled in their coat of silver dew as the new day took shape.

But the uncaring Crono closed his eyes, and fell back asleep.

"Wake up, Crono," his mother said. She received only a grunt in response. Crono turned over and covered himself in his blankets. Rhea caressed her son's hair. Then Crono felt the bed rise as Rhea arose, and heard the shuffle of her slippers across the hardwood floors. He suddenly groaned as she opened the curtain to admit the morning light, and a sharp wind extinguished her candle flame. "Ah, Leene's song wakes me up everyday."

Crono yawned and leaned partway up on his elbows. "Sounds more to me like a kid banging on pots and pans. Can I go back to sleep now? That bell's an annoyance."

"That bell, as you so respectfully call it, reminds everyone of our history, and gives thanks to the heroes who died fighting to save Queen Leene four hundred years ago. Because of Queen Leene, Guardia Kingdom still stands."

"A dimwitted forest imp knows when the sun rises, Mom."

Rhea held up a finger. "But King Guardia's law states that all people must rise when the sun does."

Crono responded by thoroughly nestling himself under his covers.

"In your excitement about the Millennial Fair, you didn't sleep well, did you? Well, that's all right. You can just sleep all day while I go enjoy myself. I might bring you back a balloon."

Crono shot up and tossed his blankets to the floor. "The fair! I forgot!"

Rhea smiled. "It's New Year's Day, January 1, 1000 A.D."

"The New Millennium," Crono whispered as his eyes fixed beyond the timbered acres to the horizon outside his window.

After his mother left to make breakfast, Crono quickly exercised, showered and dressed in a black tunic with matching pants. He then covered those with a deep blue robe his father once wore and tied a leather belt to hold his weapon. Crono rummaged around on his desk—cluttered with maps used to find and kill the orcs and imps who raided farms and stole crops—for his money pouch.

Then he lifted his wooden sword from the wall, sheathed it at his hip and headed downstairs.

Their dining area boasted clean tabletops, baskets of wildflowers and fruit. Light poured in through windows curtained with bright cloth. Across the room, a low fire crinkled in the great hearth. The mother and son sat down to breakfast together, Crono hurriedly, but Rhea slowly sinking to her chair and folding her slender hands on the table.

"It's almost your birthday," she said as if to herself. "Soon you'll be eighteen. Then you can join the . . ." She choked on the next word, and couldn't say it. She instead reached across the table and placed her hand over Crono's. "Are you sure you want to be a knight?"

Crono stopped eating and met his mother's eyes. "I'm sure, Mom." His words hung in the air. Light from the dying embers flickered across the walls, and the tinkle of utensils went quiet for a moment.

Crono remembered that last day with his father ten years earlier, when they camped in Darkwood Forest. There Rhodri Zenan, a knight of Guardia and weapons master, taught his son survival skills every season. One dark morning, a dozen savage orcs and imps stumbled upon them in the forest and attacked when light faintly shone and sleep heavily lay in their eyes. Crono would never forget the creatures' slime-green scales, crimson eyes and horned helmets. He could still hear the evil in their gritty voices when they charged through the morning gloom with giant rusty swords.

Rhodri attempted fighting them off by shielding Crono between himself and a great tree. He killed most, but the onrush of enemies could not be turned, even by a weapons master. The beasts kept advancing, and quickly filled in the gaps that the swordsman made in his slaughter. When an entirely new squad stumbled toward them, Rhodri knew they must flee.

Wounded and drawing on the last of his failing strength, Rhodri clutched Crono to him and ran as far and fast as he could. With distance between himself and his attackers, he fell to the ground in a small grove. He clenched Crono to him, then placed his sword in his son's hands. "Fight them, Crono. You must live."

Crono held his father's head as death claimed him, but Rhodri's words awoke a power in his son he had never imagined. An explosive wave of anger erupted from Crono's heart. The torment of his father's death reinforced a sudden killing frenzy. With the sword in his hands, he thirsted for vengeance. His green eyes turned venomous and drained of all mercy and fear. When the demons assailed him in the grove, he cut down four orcs and six forest imps. In the storm of his fighting fury, he sliced into their hearts, hacked off their heads, and ended their wretched lives.

Later rumors sprouted, half whispered in taverns by village men over glasses of cold ale, that the blade had not been forged that could kill Crono Zenan. Some even boldly regarded him as the reincarnation of Lord Cyrus, a legendary knight who lived in the time of Queen Leene.

As he hiked home to Guardia to tell his mother the wrenching news, Crono vowed to become a knight and great swordsman like his father. That's why Crono always carried a sword with him. Someday, he knew, he would replace his wooden blade with a real one.

"Oh, Crono, I almost forgot!" Rhea exclaimed as she bolted up from the table. "Earlier this morning, Luca stopped by. He wants you to check out an invention he's setting up at the festival. He'll present it at sundown, so make sure you go see it."

"Okay. Thanks, Mom." Crono arose then, reached for his aleskin from a shelf and headed for the door.

His mother met him there. "Here. Hold out your hands. I have a gift for you." When she smiled, her face lit up. Crono made his palms into a cup and Rhea poured two hundred drakes there, the small gold coins tinkling as they fell. Then his mother hugged him.

"I love you, Crono," she said. "You're going to be a great knight. I'm so proud of you for avenging your father. Have a great day at the festival. I'll arrive in the evening to watch the fireworks, okay?"

Crono hugged her back. "You're the best mom in the world. You deserve to have an honorable knight for a son." He set the coins on a table, pulled out his leather pouch, and flicked the drakes into it. But his thoughts remained occupied by what awaited him at nightfall. Nightfall. The word reverberated in Crono's thoughts. In that hour, Luca Devir would uncover his newest invention.

Crono, Nadia and Fritz cleared a path to the steps of the stage and climbed up. They followed Luca to the curtain on the far side and disappeared behind it. Once there, Luca grinned and glanced at Crono. "Glad to see you made it, punk head."

Crono chuckled. "What, alive? That crowd is vicious."

"No fun getting tangled up in that war zone. Luckily, I came to save you from our little friend back there. You can thank me later."

"So what did you invent anyway?" Fritz asked. "Does it sit under that tarp on the stage?"

Luca nodded yes, then peeked out from the curtain to view his creation at the center of the wide platform. "Yep, that's my baby. But you'll have to wait like everyone else." Suddenly he turned and glared at Crono. "So I heard you destroyed my Battle Trainer." He shook his head in disgust. "That's really nice, Crono. I appreciate you breaking the one thing that worked after I spent months developing it."

Crono first learned of Battle Trainer's readiness earlier from the old man under the tree.

Crono's friend Fritz, a tall slender blonde who liked dressing in ponchos, had given Crono a ride in a horse-drawn wagon that also hauled merchandise to the event. Now Crono approached the gate marking the fair entrance. There, an ancient man sat cross-legged and completely still in the shade of a hickory. He wore a threadbare gray-brown robe over his tunic and pants.

Crono glanced back at Fritz, who still sat in the wagon. "That crazy old man owns the fair?" he asked.

"Don't misjudge him, friend. He's sharp and very mysterious. Some say he's not even human." Fritz nodded. "I'll see you later tonight, Crono." He waved and drove off in the direction of his father's tent.

As Crono neared Old Man Melchior, he noted eyes as gray and petrified as stone that seemed somehow hardened by decades of study. He possessed a long hoary beard so thick that not even the outer hairs waved in the breeze. Thin white scars of battles fought and survived traced his wrinkled skin. Crono knew that only this old man could defeat the legendary knight Cyrus. Melchior held the title of weapons master just as Crono's father had. In front of him, a collection of beautiful swords, flawless and untouched by time, glistened on a quilt covered in strange markings.

"Excuse me, Sir, do you charge admission fees?"

"Aye, that I do, me lad," the old man replied. "But seein thatch yer eyes mark yer such a fine young man, I be lettin' you go in fer free."

Crono hesitated. "Wow. Seriously? I don't have to pay?"

The old man impatiently raised his hand as if he might slap Crono. "Not if ye don't shut up and keep yer voice down, lad!"

Crono brought his hand to his mouth. "Sorry."

The man grabbed a pipe and leaned back to study Crono as he smoked. "Aye, but ye'll definitely be wantin' to earn yerself some Silver Points for the fair, me lad."

"Silver Points?"

The aged fighter scratched his beard. "Where did I buy this pipeweed's the question! Tobacco from God's garden, I say!" He glanced at Crono as if noticing him for the first time. Then he continued. "Ye can bet on the races, chug soda and fight that crazy Luca feller's Battle Trainer. But I would not suggest a fight on one so young as ye."

"Wait. Luca finished the Battle Trainer?"

"Aye, that he has, dear boy! A fine piece o' work that chunk of metal! Could tear a full grown man from his limbs, it could!"

Crono grinned. "I want to fight the Battle Trainer."

The ancient warrior chuckled. "Indeed, many a few young folk might, little fellow," he said, even though Crono doubled the man in size. "But as yer elder, I warn ye not to fight such a beast."

"You should warn the Battle Trainer."

The weapons master set down his pipe and studied the youth. "Fighting mindless orcs and imps doesn't make ye invincible, lad. A hero's strength runs deeper than brawn. The Battle Trainer is a deadly machine. It boasts fists of metal and no heart. It could break ye in two. I see that ye don't even have a weapon to . . ." The elder paused as Crono withdrew his wooden sword.

The aged man shook his head. "Dagnabit, boy, I said it's dangerous! That piece o' crap won't harm any machine! Even a steel blade does little! I speak this not from doubt, but concern, lad."

Crono peered into the man's eyes. "I'm not afraid of anything. This challenge will make me stronger."

The old man shrugged and waved his hand to dismiss the boy. "Well then, have a blast! I'm done speaking with ye insane children."

Crono smiled. "It's funny you tell me to avoid danger when you're covered in scars. I bet you didn't listen, either." He stepped closer. "I know all your stories. You handle swords as if they're attached to you. I want that skill. Will you teach me?"

The old man chose his words carefully. "We weapons masters, when we die, leave dark memories that mark our way. We live apart and die alone. It's not a path I wish ye to take. I will never again train another man to kill. My last student met with a sorry fate."

"Well, then, fight me. Let me prove my worth. I will become a knight one day. If I learn from you first, maybe it will save me from that same demise."

The elder man's eyes darkened. "Ye play with fire, Zenan. Don't push yer limits. Fight a battle with me and ye'll not wish to fight again."

Crono slowly sheathed his sword. "Would you bet one of your swords I won't beat the Battle Trainer?"

The old man chuckled. "Courage in youth faded a long time ago. I thrill to find bravery again. Perhaps death never sapped the courage of Lord Cyrus."

"Do you know of him?"

"Aye, long before yer time, lad. Few men today remember the greatest knight ever to walk the Land of Guardia. I trained him as a child. When I look at ye, I remember him."

The stunned Crono stared and wondered about the rumors. Did this man really train Cyrus four hundred years earlier?

"A shame ye weren't alive to fight the armies of Magus four centuries ago," the man continued.

Crono seated himself at the edge of the quilt. "What else do you know?"

"The wars are legend. With Guardia's armies nearly defeated at Zenan Bridge, Queen Leene foretold that an alliance of men and women would come from the mountain north, out of a blue dawn, and rally the knights and soldiers of this land to victory." The old man set his pipe on a nearby tree stump. "Here, lad, I'm going to show ye something." He removed an old blanket from his belongings behind him, unfolded the fabric and uncovered a broken sword. Despite the weapon's shattered edge, its sheen brightly glowed in the shade. It appeared centuries old. On the blade's surface Crono made out the word Masa.

"All that remains of the shattered blade of legend, the Masamune. During the battle that took place right here in this field, a hero chosen by this blade crossed Zenan Bridge. He journeyed straight into the heart of Magus' castle and single-handedly rid Guardia of the Dark Lord and his demon spawn forever."

"So where's the rest of the sword?"

The old man glanced into the trees. "Ye know, I've searched many years. I never found it." He sheathed the blade once more. "Nobody really knows what happened to Magus. No one ever found his body in the ruins of his castle after the Black Fortress cracked. The people fear and mystics pray that Magus will one day return, so humans never mention his name. It's all nonsense! Turns Magus into a bogeyman for the kids. But one thing's true. Even four hundred years after the war, ye can still hear his name echoed from the caves where the Black Fortress once stood. Magus, Magus. It sounds like snakes chanting."

"I want people to remember me as they do Cyrus."

The old man grinned. "Ah yes, I would not concern myself with that, dear boy. Not many lads yer age walk up to this tree and threaten to beat me old face in!"

Crono stood. "If you'll excuse me, I've got some death to defy. The Battle Trainer's not going to defeat itself. Sure you don't want to bet one of those swords?"

Suddenly the old man turned irate. "Now, yer sure you don't want a broken wrist if you don't get away from me tree in about ten seconds? Shoo, lad! Go on. Come back in the future!"

Confused, Crono turned to leave, then looked back and waved goodbye. The weapons master watched him go for a long time as he sensed a familiar strength in the boy. "Something different about that one," the elder whispered. "I can feel it."

"You build a machine meant for combat and expect it not to get damaged?" Crono asked Luca as they stood behind the curtain on the stage.

"Combat? You mean shattering Gato's chest with your sword and then prying off his head to parade it in front of the crowd? No, I call that obliteration." Luca glanced over at Nadia. "And who might you be?"

"Oh, I'm sorry," Crono stepped in. "This is Nadia."

Luca offered his hand in greeting. Then he both removed and replaced his glasses to focus on Nadia more clearly. "I've seen you before. Somewhere, I could have sworn you . . . I think guards asked about you."

Nadia cleared her throat and quickly changed the subject. "Crono and I bumped into each other earlier this morning right under Leene's Bell. Funny story."

After Crono passed through the fair's gate and onto the grounds, a strong breeze blew out of the barren mountain pass and whisked the green forest canopy beneath the expanse of azure sky. The trail that led into the festival followed the Zaida River. A menagerie of color beneath the sweeping shadow of the great hills, the fair extended the length and breadth of the base of Kelvenforge Mountain.

Crono, still thinking about Luca's Battle Trainer, followed the road as quickly as he could, and barely noticed all the bustle around him. Merchants behind the vibrant-colored stalls in pitched tents, laid out in a grid pattern on the valley floor, sold snacks and trinkets. Giant balloons floated into the sky. Children laughed. Vendors cooked meat on their iron grills. Beyond the stalls, participants played every kind of game. The scents of fried snacks and candies and sounds of festive music from performers on a stage saturated the air.

Luca built a fighting robot, Crono pondered and felt proud of his best friend but also disgusted as he envisioned Luca's gloating. He increased his pace, rushed across stone intersections, and darted past brightly colored tent flaps onto a wide lawn.

Then bam! He collided with something so suddenly that he hit the ground like a rock. "What the?" He leaned up on his elbows and glanced over at the most stunning girl he had ever seen. She also leaned up and rubbed the back of her head. Her eyes twinkled like sapphires beneath a dark pond. Long waist-length hair shimmered down in strands of gold, even brighter against her dark robe.

"Hey! Watch where you're going!" she exclaimed, then noticed her hood had fallen off. She hastily reached back to replace it, stuffed her hair back in, and pulled the sides closed to half shroud her face.

Crono stood and strode over to her, and offered her his hand.

Just then the bell of Queen Leene started ringing as it echoed beyond the field and chimed seven across the Land of Guardia. It resounded so loudly that both Crono and the girl spasmed with it. They looked in the direction of the chime, and surprisingly discovered they'd landed right under Leene's Bell. Humans and mystics alike occasionally passed by and admired the beautiful landmark.

"Are you all right, Miss?" Crono asked her.

She reluctantly took his hand and Crono lifted her to eye level. Then she quickly reclaimed her hand and used it to dust off her brown robe.

"I'm fine. I was heading to the races when . . ." Her hand stopped at the middle of her chest. "My pendant!" she shrieked, then inspected the ground and dropped down to crawl over it. She glanced up at Crono. "It must have fallen off when you bumped into me!" She bit off the words one by one and widened her eyes as if to say Crono should look, too.

He joined her on the ground and soon spotted, a few feet away, a solitary and beautiful sterling silver necklace. A radiant gemstone shone brightly amid the cluster of smaller diamonds that lined the gem's depthless blue heart. Crono picked it up and carefully studied the sapphire.

"Ahem!" The girl, now standing again, interrupted him, and held out her palm for the pendant. "Thank you, Sir! My mother gave this to me before she died. It's my only remembrance of her."

Crono handed it over. "But how did it fall off your neck?"

The girl studied the pendant's chain. Solid and without a fastener, it looked whole. "How mysterious," she said as she slipped the necklace over her head.

"You're very welcome. So what's your name?"

"My name? Oh, I guess you can call me Nadia. And what do you call yourself?"

"Crono Zenan." He bowed slightly and turned to leave.

"Wait." She hesitated. "I'm kind of new here. Would you mind showing me around?"

"Sure," Crono said and offered her his arm.

"Ladies and gentleman!" Taban, Luca's father and manager, roared across the crowd. A sudden hush fell not only over the audience but across the festival doings. Torches lit the backdrop of ensuing night. "Prepare yourself for the greatest invention known to humankind! The magnum opus of my handsome son Luca!"

A moment of silence elapsed before Taban shot through the curtain. "Luca, get your goofy butt out here and entertain these folks! It's your invention, after all." With that, Taban returned to the cloaked appliances on the stage.

Luca apologized to Crono, Nadia and Fritz. "My dad's a little drunk. He won the drinking contest but didn't stop guzzling even after he received the prize. But don't mind him. He can still help with the machine."

Crono, the unwilling participant in most of Luca's experiments, did not find this reassuring.

When Nadia and Crono departed Leene's Bell earlier that day and headed in the direction of Battle Trainer, they passed through Town Square and across park pavilions where families spread out their picnic lunches. Most of the families, mystics, had green and blue skin with long pointed ears, and sharp feral eyes as bright as lanterns. The great roaring Zaida Falls spilled down beyond the festival's lush fields. In the east, storm clouds slowly took shape and hinted at darkness amid the sky's ocean of light. The haven of trees echoed distant buzzings and chirpings of forest life across the festival grounds.

"All right," Crono announced. "I'm trying to earn a lot of Silver Points."

"What for?" Nadia asked.

"I want to buy something, something I've desired for a long time."

"How do you plan to earn them?"

Crono grinned. "By doing what no one else has."

"And that is?"

Crono's eyes gleamed like chips of emerald glass. "The Battle Trainer, that's how! It's a machine built for combat. And it's the most difficult game at the festival. If I beat it, I can earn a ton of Silver Points!"

Nadia frowned. "It's very dangerous, Crono. I saw that terrible machine grind someone into meat when I arrived here today." She visibly flinched. "You wouldn't last five minutes in the ring with that monster."

Crono shrugged. "It doesn't matter what anyone thinks. When I fight the Battle Trainer, I'm going to . . ."

"Get your butt whooped?" As they followed the packed dirt road, lawns on either side, heavy footfalls broke the silence. Taban, a great grizzled bear of a man who dwarfed even Crono, closed in on them. He grinned as if about to eat them. "How many times do I gotta tell you, boy? You will never beat the Battler Trainer! You're tough as nails, kid, but even nails fall short when the hammer comes crashing down!" The burly man laughed as though telling the funniest joke in the world.

Crono's eyes wickedly twinkled. "Speaking of inventions, Nadia, do you want to know how Taban lost most of his hair?"

Taban's eyes darkened and Nadia frowned as if she expected the giant to pound Crono into oblivion. "No, she doesn't need to hear about that!"

"Yes, she does. A few months ago, Luca asked me to help him build a weather sensing device. Then Taban came along and altered the wiring behind our backs to 'improve it.' His plan backfired horribly and the machine blew up in his face."

Nadia smiled while Taban rubbed his hairless forehead. "Even now, I don't understand why I welcome you into my home."

Crono laughed. "Where is Luca, anyway?"

"You'll see him later tonight. And just for your little smart-mouth story, you'll be first in the machine, hamster boy!"

Crono sighed. Long ago he concluded where he belonged among the Devir family—inside a tube. Taban approached him slowly. "We've tested the Battle Trainer countless times against soldiers. Soldiers, boy! You can't beat it."

"That robot's going down, Taban. Someone's got to best it."

"You know what? Let's make this interesting. I'll bet you fifty drakes you won't last a minute in the ring."

"You're on!" Crono grinned as he shook Taban's mammoth hand.

"You've got the blood of an ox, Zenan," Taban offered as he marched off towards the woods. "See you at sundown!"

Nadia turned back to Crono as her eyes filled with worry. "So you really mean to fight the Battle Trainer? Despite all the knights it conquered?"

"Yes. All the more reason to."

Nadia removed her robe then and withdrew a beautiful silver longbow. "Then I will help you defeat it."

After Taban introduced his son, Luca stepped through the opening in the curtain to face the people of Guardia. The audience cheered. "Ladies and gentleman, children of all ages, and all the people who snuck into the festival without buying a ticket, I give you . . . The Telepod!" Luca pulled off the coverings, and revealed devices that glimmered silver and blue in the night's flood of stars. They consisted of two cylindrical chambers broad enough to fit three people. Ten-foot pillars of iron and steel had been crafted with a linked metal platform inside each pod. A thick blue sliding glass door formed the entrance to the device, which Luca controlled from a remote desk situated to the back of the stage. Fat cords ran from the rear of the Telepod to a great engine in which vibrant liquids swirled behind clear windows.

"And now," Luca continued, and drew the crowd's attention. "My glorious volunteer, Mr. Crono, will stand in the left pod and I will immediately transport him through thin air into the right pod!"

From behind the curtain, Crono froze.

"He can't be serious," Fritz blurted out.

Just then Crono realized he did want something more than he wanted a sword: He wanted to escape that night. Yet somehow he amassed enough courage to step through the curtain with the crowd cheering him on. Fritz and Nadia inconspicuously retreated to the side of the stage to watch.

Luca placed his hand on Crono's shoulder and grinned. "Tonight your life will change, my friend." He faced the audience. "All right, folks, a moment of silence, if you will. Hop into the left pod, Crono."

Crono inched over to the left pod and took a deep breath. Then he stepped into it. The glass door closed him in, airtight, yet he found he could still breathe. The machine emitted a sudden drone as though fierce wind blew through a canyon. Crono offered Luca a thumbs-up.

"Give me the juice, Pops!" Luca ordered as he sat down at the desk to operate the Telepod. The engine revved to deafening heights as the powerful motor dispensed its energy. A moment later, blue lightning flashed between one pod and the next. A storm of intense thrumming echoed across Leene's Square.

The astonished crowd gaped and instinctively stepped back. Luca's voice rose above the clamor as he became surrounded by an ocean of deafening storms and flashing lightning. "Power, give me more power!" Luca Devir screamed. His facial muscles grew taut and his eyes appeared almost white. The machine shook and lurched as everyone fixed on the boy with the red hair, who stood alone in the pod.

Earlier that day, Nadia and Crono, equipped with bow and arrows and wooden sword, followed a gravel path to the open doors of the stadium where Battle Trainer dismantled its opponents. They signed in with the doorman and paid the entrance fee, then entered the tall circular building, open to the sky, and slid in behind the excited crowd. Benches had been placed at regular intervals around the rough walls, but the audience, unruly and energized, mostly stood so they could yell, jostle each other and root for one or the other of the combatants. Crono found he could not lean against the wall and relax, but instead paced back and forth in the small area.

A heavy mixture of sweat and blood assailed their nostrils. Above the heads of the crowd they could make out a raised platform roped off to repel intruders.

Crono and Nadia watched a couple of hefty men haul out, on a stretcher, Battle Trainer's latest victim, a burly armored knight who seemed not breathing.

Then a voice echoed from the dais and the duo heard the doorman announce "two more victims for the Battle Trainer." A deafening roar erupted from the crowd at this announcement.

". . . Nadia and Crono!"

Crono and Nadia waved and smiled at the audience as they jogged up the narrow pathway kept open on either side by attendants. The crowd, well aware by now of their choice of winner, loudly booed. As the pair ducked under the rope and entered the ring, they noted thick drops of blood splashed across the floor and walls, some recent, some not. And there, on the far side of the platform, stood the robot. It loomed nearly twice Crono's height, with a cat-shaped head, front paws and tail, but had the wide torso and thick legs of a human. Lighting up in various colors, it sensed their approach and spoke in a high-pitched digital voice, barely discernible. Its electronic circuits spun in quick metallic pangs within its steel body.

Crono raised an eyebrow, and listened to the steady beat of drums emanating from the robot, then realized the robot spoke in rap.

"I am Gato, Battle Trainer of Luca! If you fight me, be prepared to puke-a! This is not a happy day! If you want to fight, just say okay!"

"Okay," replied Crono, amused but feeling ridiculous. "Figures Luca would put some stupid song in it."

The robot's drums thumped in a steady primitive pronouncement of war. "Battle sequence begins in five. You should run and hide." Crono slowly removed his sword from its sheath. Nadia grabbed an arrow from her quiver. "Four! You better head to the door!" Nadia and Crono shifted to allow more space between them. "We're down to three! Maybe you should flee!" Crono took a deep breath. "The number is two! Doom on you!" Nadia nocked an arrow into place. They heard their hearts pumping in their ears. "We're now to one! Won't this be fun?" Crono gripped his sword until his knuckles whitened. "Ready to go! And on with the show!"

Instantly the giant robot sprang to life, and its piercing metal eyes flared with dizzying light. Its thick iron body rocked the entire stadium. Crono didn't hesitate. He charged at the robot, brandished his sword and struck viciously. Inspired, Nadia upturned her longbow and fired an arrow at the metal behemoth. Then Gato suddenly began to steam as he attacked Crono. The lad tried to strike it down or turn it aside, but its overwhelming bulk proved greater as its cannonball-sized fists bashed Crono so hard he lost his breath. Flying backwards three yards, Crono rolled into a crumbled heap.

The onlookers gasped as the blue-robed youth hit the cold stone floor with a vicious slam. Everyone thought him defeated. Nadia stepped forward to fire a volley of arrows at the iron beast, then darted back and forth to evade its reach. A series of options whirred through Gato's programs so that it shrieked a horrifying sound that sliced knifelike to the bone. Nadia plugged her ears against the mind-grating pitch and lost her grip on her bow. Lights flashed as the robot closed in for its assault on Nadia. But a moment later, Crono shouted a war cry and struck the robot from behind. Gato wheeled around with blood-red eyes. The robot did not abandon its goal but raised high its ponderous hands, and aimed to strike down Nadia with one blow. The crowd gaped but remained silent as a grave. As Crono stepped between Nadia and the robot, he caught Gato's huge fists in his hands and halted its attack. Shouting once more, Crono smashed his forehead into the creature's metal torso. The robot buzzed sharply with disturbance and veered off balance.

"I knew you had only rocks in that head of yours, Crono!" Taban Devir cheered from the crowd. "Bring it down, boy! You got this!"

With Gato's network in crisis, Crono reached out his hand and helped Nadia back to her feet. But Gato advanced again! Crono clenched his teeth and pushed Nadia behind him, then fiercely gripped his blade as the red-eyed monster towered over them. As it descended, it snatched Crono's weapon and cast it to a corner of the ring. Grabbing hold of the large iron screws protruding from Gato's chest, Crono scrambled up to the metal face, and wrestled the behemoth to the ground in a violent heave of dust. Gato struggled with the ferocity of a tornado to pry off Crono as it spun impossibly fast to loosen his grip. The arena floors shattered into fragments and splintered huge sections of the surrounding walls.

The audience members tightly grasped their children and backed away from the ring. Nadia herself coughed as dust swept up and obscured her view of the fight. When the ring cleared, everyone in the stadium, even Taban Devir, stared in stunned disbelief. For Crono crushed the behemoth's head with his steel-like hands and powerful arms, which had reddened with the surge of blood, and forced it to the ground. Nobody moved. Heartbeats slowed as every person there stared mutely at Crono's unfathomable strength. The great metal being slowly crashed underneath him.

Crono held his ground, his deadened nerves untiring as his fighting spirit broke free and he kept Gato pinned. But from some hidden reservoir, the robot reanimated, swatted Crono to the side of the ring and attacked once more. Its gears whirled and clicked, and its motor pinged. Gato targeted Crono, who appeared as a vague outline of static and corrupt data, and charged toward him. Crono crumbled under Gato's unsettling gaze. He felt pain course through his body, and a dizzying flow of weariness slowed him down. He half-raised himself on one leg, and turned only to watch the metal fists of the robot slamming down.

Crono barely evaded this attack by ducking and sidestepping out of Gato's line of sight. Knuckles swollen and bloody, the boy lacked the strength to counterattack. Then Nadia cried out, and the sharp rage in her voice caused Gato to hesitate. In a blur of silver, she readied her longbow and drew arrows to it in the same swift movement. Nadia consecutively fired three arrows, and knocked the beast away with her missiles. As the light from its crimson eyes faded, Gato's torso flickered with zaps and buzzes.

The audience swelled as fair participants bought last-minute tickets to behold the undefeated robot breaking apart from the inside. But the crowd's disbelief turned to horror as Gato hotly radiated with its terrifying eyes locked on Crono, then it attacked in a frenzy. The red-haired youth rose to his feet with a grim smirk on his face. He dodged yet another strike by tricking the beast in a veer to the opposite side. The robot realized its fatal mistake, left with only enough time to watch as Crono regained his weapon and with it shredded the machine's backside. The wooden sword remained unbroken as it slit through the machine and thrust all the way through its chest.

Nadia sprang to action at once, and fired silver arrows from her longbow as Crono held Gato down once more. Gato sharply cracked into pieces and fell to the ground in heavy thuds, unmoving. The hush in the crowd grew into a roar that shook the festival site. Applause, whistles and stomping feet resounded from the onlookers as they cheered at Crono and his friend. Smiling roguishly, Crono rose to his feet, then triumphantly raised his free hand to dangle Gato's severed head. The audience roared louder with sudden laughter.

A mini form of Gato rolled out from a door in the stadium wall, approached Crono and Nadia, and stated, "You win! Round time 4 minutes and 34 seconds. Score 2000. Silver Points awarded 50." Then it spun around in a little dance and wheeled back to the chamber from whence it came.

The doorman jumped onto the stage, shook Crono's hand, and awarded him the fifty Silver Points. "Thank you, Sir," Crono said. "But I couldn't have done it without my friend." He glanced at Nadia where she stood at the stage edge. She grimaced when he mentioned her, then hooded herself and hid her longbow and quiver inside her robe once more.

On their way out of the stadium, onlookers continued to applaud, cheer, and pound Crono on the back. A couple women winked at Crono and sidled up to him, but Nadia quickly pulled him through the great open doors and back to the gravel path.

Outside, Taban waited as he leaned against the rough walls. "Descending from the battle ring to join us mere mortals, Crono? You did it, kid. I am simply humbled. Here's your fifty drakes." He handed over a bag bulging with coins.

Crono gazed at it. "I don't want your money. I just wanted to prove you wrong."

Taban scowled. "Dammit, kid! Take it! A bet's a bet." His voice softened. "Escort this young lady to a feast. You both deserve it."

Crono smiled then, bowed his head in thanks and took the bag.

"No way," Fritz said, more to himself than to Nadia as they stood to the side of the stage. Their eyes stayed glued to Crono inside the Telepod.

Nadia frowned and chewed her lower lip. She watched as a radiating silver-blue light descended upon the left pod, then ran up and down its sides before shooting several hundred feet into the sky. Crono braced himself, convinced the machine would explode and the glass shatter, Luca's usual safety considerations far from his mind. Then suddenly, Crono's muscles relaxed and a feather-light calm spread through his body. He felt a momentary brush of soft wind caress his skin in a warm flush of light which flooded through him, and then everything stopped. Even Luca and Taban froze.

When Crono opened his eyes, his view had changed. He no longer stood in the left pod. He stood in the right one.

"God in heaven," Taban whispered, suddenly sober. "It works! For the love of God, it works!" He roared with sudden laughter and rushed over to grab his son in a strong loving clench. "You're a freakin' genius, my boy! A genius!" Taban hoisted Luca and shook him. Then applause erupted from beyond the stage as the people of Truce shouted and cheered Luca's name.

After accepting Taban's fifty drakes, Crono continued with Nadia along the gravel path. With the Battle Trainer audience dispersing, fewer and fewer people approached to shake their hands, pat them on the back, or unabashedly ask them on a date. The stadium doorman leaned against a nearby tree and waited for Crono to approach.

"Say, kid. What's your full name?" he asked. "I've heard of you before."

"Crono Zenan." He extended his hand in greeting.

"Your last name's Zenan? Like the bridge?"

Crono nodded yes.

"That's the strangest thing. You seem just like him."

"Like who?"

"That bridge on the western shores has stood in this land since long before you were born. It's been maintained by people who remember the heroes who died fighting upon it." He chuckled. "I'm quite a history buff myself and I've never discovered an event that chilled my blood until today." His words hung on the air and Crono and Nadia felt compelled to step closer. "This bridge was dedicated in memory of a boy who banished a witch's curse there four hundred years ago. A boy who bears your name." He paused dramatically. "And this boy had red hair and a blue robe. He looks just like you."

A chill ran up Crono's spine. "Coincidence," he offered. "Maybe I resemble one of my ancestors."

"Remarkable that no one else in history gets described with red hair and a blue robe." The attendant reached into his tunic and pulled out a folded page, yellowed and crinkled around the edges. He handed it to Crono. "Read this."

"A large bridge spans two islands where a great castle towers over the land. Two armies vast and deep as the nearby sea battle on the bridge. The Dark Lord Magus leads the mystics. A golden knight rallies the soldiers. And a red-haired warrior cloaked in blue raises aloft a sword of azure fire whose rays reach for the moon." Crono's eyebrows lifted a notch. "Wow. That does sound like me. But, of course, I didn't live back then." He returned the page to the attendant just as a bell echoed in the distance.

"That late already?" the doorman asked. "Have to go tidy up the stadium. You two have a great day and stay safe." He strolled off in the direction from which Crono and Nadia had just come.

Nadia took Crono's hand and led him along the path. Crono seemed deep in thought. They left the path to cross a meadow between the stadium and the square. There they came upon a young girl, who cried as she gazed up into the branches of a tree.

Nadia crouched down to her. "What's wrong, honey?"

The girl sniffled. She pointed up the short tree. "My kitty's in the tree and won't come down."

The duo craned their necks up, squinted and followed the small mewlings to a crook in the branches where a tiny tabby sat. Crono positioned himself as close to the cat as he could and carefully lifted it down, then handed it to the girl. "There you go, kid. Keep it safe."

The girl cradled the kitten in her arms and traded her tears for a toothy smile. "I will! Thank you!" She trotted off toward the square.

Crono and Nadia headed back across the busy fairgrounds, where mystics and humans came and went. They briefly marveled at balloons that rose in vivid colors against the afternoon sky. Studying Nadia, Crono suddenly realized he didn't really know her. Why did she hide her face in that hood? Perhaps she was running from something. Was she a criminal? Crono pushed that thought from his mind. She did wear a pendant more valuable than any treasure Crono had ever seen. But he refused to believe anything negative about someone so beautiful.

The sun brightened across the canvas of forest leaves that gleamed under the shadow of Kelvenforge. Throughout the festival grounds, the music of mystics echoed in lively waves. As Crono and Nadia followed one of the empty roads that crisscrossed Leene's Square, they came across a big fellow, maybe Crono's age, and a younger kid who had bumped into one another. The prize the older boy carried had broken on collision and now the angry bully shoved the smaller boy, swore at him and got into his face. The younger boy apologized, backed away and clearly didn't wish to fight. But the older boy punched him in the face, and sent blood spurting from the kid's nose.

"Stop it!" Crono commanded as he marched into the middle of the fight with fists clenched tighter than steel. When the older kid swung at the smaller kid, Crono grabbed him by the collar, spun him around, and struck him in the mouth so hard it took a moment for the bully to figure out what happened. Crono pushed the older boy away. "So, you think you're brave hitting someone smaller than you?"

The bully swung at Crono, but Crono easily sidestepped the hit and punched the kid in the gut, then again in the head with two lightning-fast jabs. The bully fell heavily to the ground. Slowly he stood back up, and grasped his stomach. "Stay out of other people's fights, you idiot! This doesn't concern you."

Crono's eyes challengingly narrowed. "You're the idiot if you think I'll stand back and watch you attack a younger kid. I should downsize your face for even touching him. What happened was an accident. So grow up!"

Then the bully pulled a knife from his tunic and pointed it at Crono.

Crono sighed and rolled his eyes. "Put the knife away," he warned. "You become more ridiculous every moment."

But the bully lunged at Crono. Crono sidestepped the boy easily and grabbed his wrist, then twisted it so hard that the boy sharply shrieked in pain before dropping his knife. Crono towered over the kid, pulled him up by his shirt and slammed him against a tree. "You had your chance," Crono whispered darkly. "I won't report you, but I'm keeping your knife. If you ever come near this boy again, I will hunt you down and hurt you. Now get out of here."

Crono let go, and the bully rubbed his head where it hit the tree as he quietly limped away.

"Thank you," choked the younger boy before he headed off back to the festival tents.

Crono retrieved the knife from the ground and inspected it. Sharp and crafted of blue iron, the blade's surface modeled the emblem of a silver flame. It looked more like a dagger than a regular knife. Crono tossed it into the air, caught it again in the same movement, then placed it on his belt. "This should bring me a few drakes," he said to Nadia.

"I think you should keep it," Nadia said. "It suits you."

"What does that mean?"

"A blade needs a holder as true as its edge. Old Man Melchior said that once."

Old Man Melchior? thought Crono. How does she know him?

"The gleam of a silver edge does not shine so if not for the courage that burns inside the one who holds it." She stepped near and closed Crono's hand over the knife's handle. "It's no different with you. Keep it close."

Crono emerged slowly from the Telepod and glanced around as if experiencing everything for the first time. "Whoa. How cool! I didn't feel anything!" Fritz and Nadia scrambled over, patted him down, and inspected him all over.

Luca came over too and gripped Crono's hand firmly before turning back to the crowd. He lifted his face to the sky. "Thank you for your praise, but this honor belongs not only to me. Crono is the wind in my sails. And he deserves your applause as well. Let's give him a big round!" Another roar exploded from the crowd as everyone clapped and cheered.

Luca turned to Crono. "We share at least one more thing, punk head."

"What?"

"This day of the Millennial Festival, everyone who doubted us now cheers us. Remember when we, as kids, made that promise? You held your wooden sword and I held up a science book, and we vowed to become our dreams? Well, those dreams have become real. Thanks for helping me down the path, Crono."

Crono shrugged. "Anytime, buddy. What else would I do with my life if not risk it in one of your crazy inventions?"

After the fight with Battle Trainer and the run-in with the bully, Crono and Nadia followed sunlit paths, and admired the colorful pitched tents and balloons that floated in the sky. Then Crono's stomach growled so loudly even Nadia turned toward it and laughed.

"Yes, I'm starved," Crono admitted. "Those two fights drained me. Maybe we should take Taban's advice and get a bite."

Then, right in their path, they came across an open bag from which wafted the most delicious smells. Crono lifted the bag and peeked inside. "A couple sandwiches," he said, then looked around. A few families sat on the lawn or at tables. Some kids tossed a ball yards away. "Doesn't look like anybody wants it."

"Might belong to someone who's coming back for it."

"I prefer to eat first and ask questions later," Crono said. "Maybe one of our Battle Trainer fans feels too shy to approach us and so left us this offering."

"Whatever. Eat it or don't eat it."

"Would you like some?"

"None for me, thanks."

So Crono scarfed down one sandwich and stuffed the second in his pocket for later. "We've quite some time before sundown and Luca's unveiling. Shall we spend the day together?"

Nadia grabbed Crono's arm then and squeezed it in answer. They joined in some of the games and visited the Tent of Horrors. Crono bought Nadia some ice cream and a pair of funny glasses. When they took a long walk along the beach, Crono led Nadia to the mouth of his favorite cave. There they sat in the sand, and leaned back on their hands with their long legs crossed. The distant swells of the ocean and the cave's sloshing echoes washed over them.

"You know, I found something today. Something that's passed me by ever since I was a child."

"What's that?"

"Friendship." She smiled and gazed out at the ocean. "We lead such different lives, you and I, but we share a bond that transcends our ranks. My father won't allow me to speak to commoners. He thinks a rich man's life holds more value than a poor man's. Yet I consider your freedom, Crono, a treasure just as you consider my pendant a treasure. I promised never to become like my corrupt family."

That was the most Nadia had said about herself all day. Crono sat forward and put his arm around her. She leaned her head on his shoulder. A symphony of feelings surfaced, so powerful that for a moment everything in the world seemed to stop. Nadia gazed up at Crono and Crono gazed down at Nadia, and then they kissed. Then the Bell of Queen Leene chimed seven times in the silver twilight.

After Crono's successful transfer from one pod to the other, Nadia approached Luca. "That looked like so much fun! I want to try it."

Luca quietly studied her, and still wondered where he'd seen her before. Then he shrugged. "I don't know if it's safe to rerun the machine. Not after all the power it endured."

"Nonsense!" Nadia brushed off his objection with a wave of her hand. "You built it, after all, Mr. Inventor! I'm sure it'll be fine! Throw the switch, Devir!" She ran into the left pod before Luca could disagree.

Down below the stage, the audience started to disband.

Luca sighed. "Ah, well, let's not ruin her fun. If anything goes wrong, we can always turn it off." He sat down at the remote. "Start the engine, Pops."

Taban sidled along the machine. "What, again? We're doing a second test run? Shouldn't hamster boy be in the left pod?"

Luca shook his head no as he pressed a few buttons. "Blondie wants to give it a shot this time." But as Luca studied the control buttons, he started to frown. "Something's wrong," he said. Behind him, Crono shouted. "Look!"

All eyes fixed on Nadia. The radiant blue glow that teleported Crono earlier appeared once more, but it did not surround the Telepod. The glow, drawn to the gemstone, focused on Nadia's sapphire pendant. Nadia screamed from inside the glass, but that same glass muffled her cries of desperation as she clawed at her pendant and yanked it over her head. The necklace hit the glass and fell to the floor, but the lightning ceaselessly radiated from the gem.

"Turn off the machine, Luca!" Crono yelled. His blue robes and crimson hair waved wildly as he sped to the pod.

Fritz ran up to take Crono's place behind Luca. "Turn it off! Now!"

"I can't!" Luca cried as he frantically hit several buttons. "The Telepod won't stop! I can't control it!"

The blue light pinpointed Nadia's pendant, then immersed itself in the glow from the gemstone. Suddenly a portal the size of a small lake emerged from the lightning, adjacent to the pod where Nadia pounded on one side of the glass and Crono the other. The light surrounded Nadia, and turned the pod into a magnetic prison that prevented her escape. Then without warning, she passed through iron and steel as if made of the blue light that steadily enveloped her. The last thing Crono heard before she disappeared entirely was the cry of his name.