Chapter XXV- For Love Eternal

Instantly the doors of the Dragon Tank burst open, and a host of soldiers shot out from hidden chambers to charge at Crono Zenan with blades leading. Crono braced himself as dozens of armed men and women shouted in bloodlust, and stormed at him in a fury that matched the weather. The Dragon Tank parted its maw, and unleashed an unfair advantage of brilliant red flames over the heads of the knights towards the three allies. As the wave of torrential fire billowed in Crono's direction, he quickly withdrew and felt a rush of heat and crimson brush against his body. Clouds of smoke dispersed amidst the backdrop of lightning that flashed in the skies beyond. With eyes that glared as fiercely as the dragon he faced, Crono regained his balance, jumped through a patch of smog, and spun into his attackers. The majority of his enemies died in seconds as he cut them down with the shining Blade of Lunaria, sliced through their heavy armor, and shattered their weapons to pieces.

Several guards halted before the dark figure in the rain, and cried out in fear of the blade that burned deep blue in the night. Lunaria seemed to rock the world in its thunder as shards of fire launched skyward, spread through the clouds, and protected its chosen wielder. Some soldiers tried to strike at the lunar force, but fell back against the light with mouths agape when their weapons suddenly exploded into fragments. On finding their chance, Crono and Crysta immediately rushed forward and tore through the guards in a whirlwind of steel that cast them from the bridge to fall hundreds of feet into the black void far below.

The two soldiers that survived this first onslaught fled back to the Dragon Tank, briefly waited for its doors to unveil, then retreated into its chambers. The machine revved in response, and its eyes gleamed red as the furnace in its great chest ingenerated flames anew. The three friends expected more intense fire now that the soldiers manned the inside.

Luca stood next to Crysta, reloaded another bullet clip, and fired both his guns while his black hair and leather jacket wildly flapped in the wind. He didn't appear entirely certain where to shoot as he yelled above the storm. "How are we supposed to beat that thing? I can't get through!"

"You're the smart one!" Crysta shouted back, and pulled free her katana. "Figure it out!" Flames zoomed towards Luca in a crimson inferno, but Crysta swiftly grabbed one of the fallen soldiers' spare shields, and lifted it just as the burst of fire hammered into the duo. When the danger subsided, they watched as Crono sprang into action and fearlessly raced for the heart of the Dragon Tank while a volley of bullets blasted to slow him down. But Crono immediately rolled sideways, regained his feet in the same fluid motion, and charged at the towering machine with a steady dash that surprised even the chancellor. The old man readied another blazing barrage, and the Dragon Tank's jaws spread to emit a new powerful attack. As a flash of lightning lit the Land of Guardia, Crono instinctively hit the deck just as more heated projectiles buzzed past his head. The Dragon Tank relentlesly fired its missiles, which forced Crono to lie low as the machine rolled forward to crush his body.

Thunder roared to deafening heights, and loudly echoed across the Mountains of Kelvenforge. Above Crono, a series of bullets pelted the air, and kept him grounded, trapped and unable to move. Massive chunks of the prison tower cracked and fell to ruin as the iron foundations shuddered under the reckless onslaught of the Dragon Tank's ammunition. An avalanche of stone and steel spiraled downward, crashed to the lower platform, and destroyed a major section of the bridge. The trio no longer had the option of retreating back into the prison tower. They would have to fight the machine or die trying.

The Dragon Tank towered over them with a metal-grating roar as it lumbered so enormously they couldn't possibly circumvent it, and escape into the castle on the other side.

All at once, Crysta noticed the massive machine steadily drew closer to the fallen Crono several yards away. She couldn't tell if he had lost consciousness or the debris wounded him. "Luca, make it stop rolling!" Crysta screamed.

"Easier said than done!" Luca returned, and suddenly bolted forward. "Watch out!" He tackled Crysta, and managed to shove her from harm's way just as another breath of fire and cascading rock spiraled towards them. An idea came to mind as Luca regained his feet, and pressed a button on the side of his glasses. With a sharp click, a vivid green crosshair spread over the lenses, and transformed them into a deadly scope with night vision. With the enhanced optics of his invention, Luca dodged the flames, pulled free both guns, and fired as many bullets as he could at the tank's wheels.

His projectiles barely damaged the dragon, instantly glanced off its steel frame, and only impeded the tank's progress for a few seconds, but time enough to do what he needed. He reloaded his pistols, shot once more, and gritted his teeth as if to drive his own will and determination into their firepower, then successfully dented the front wheel. Crono noticed what happened, and managed to elude the flames and bullets once more as he rolled to safety just when the machine closed in.

The Dragon Tank spat fire, unleashed a hail of missiles, and backed the trio closer to the shattered bridge opening that formed when sections of the prison tower collapsed. Crysta knelt into a defensive crouch, and searched through the haze of rain and smoke for her brother, but found Crono nowhere in sight. As the machine rolled closer and attempted to drive them from the bridge, Luca suddenly recalled its weaknesses, and repositioned himself. On the wheel closest to him, he carefully used the scope to aim and blast out one spoke at a time. When only the final remained, he fired at the axle, and his bullets struck home. The wheel instantly plinked off, rolled from the heights, crashed into the mountains far below, and rendered the tank incapable of movement. As Luca expected, the machine's weight constituted its flaws, and it fell and screeched against the iron bridge as it ground to a booming halt.

The chancellor visibly panicked from high atop the mechanical beast as he barked orders to the soldiers below, and hastily stoked the flames of the Dragon Tank to full power once more. Though he couldn't move, he seemed determined to incinerate his enemies with one overwhelming strike.

Then Crono appeared out of nowhere. With astonishing speed, he jumped on top of the tank, and nimbly darted through flashes of lightning and blue trailers of his glimmering sword. As he gained the summit of the vehicle's iron face, he attacked hard and fast, and struck the flaming jaws with Lunaria until a volley of bullets forced him to pull back. The chancellor watched in stark horror as Crono's sacred blade somehow broke through the Dragon Tank's seemingly invulnerable defenses, and shattered its armor apart with impossible sharpness.

Livid now, the old man rotated the tank's head, and stoked another powerful wave of flames to end Crono forever. But Crono instantly retreated, avoided the fire as it shot towards him, and dropped from the machine's body to stand near Luca and Crysta.

When the fire subsided once more and the smoke cleared, Luca's face lit up with another idea. "Look on its back! See that smokestack?" He pointed between two spikes where a column of smoke puffed into the air, and released the heat generated by the inner furnace.

"What about it?" Crysta asked, but Crono knew exactly what Luca intended.

"Take it out, Crono!" Luca yelled. "Only your sword can pierce that metal. We'll buy you some time to do it! I don't know how you got up there before, but go again and plug its mouth shut!"

"I got it!" Crono shouted as he darted away. The Dragon Tank unleashed another burst of missiles that flew in all directions, struck the prison tower, and broke off more chunks from the walls.

Crono charged for the smokestack, but his target stood on the tank's backside, and he saw no way to sidestep the machine without precariously stepping onto the bridge's iron railings. He recklessly took the one chance he had, clutched onto the Dragon Tank as he used his feet for stability, and refused to gaze down at the hundreds of feet he would fall if he slipped. Above the edge of the chasm, he cautiously shuffled and found solid holds on the lubricous metal in the pouring rain as he kept his eyes forward. The great engine surged with flames once more, but Crono lost his footing when he sidestepped to avoid the fire. He quickly gripped a slippery handle on the huge contraption just as the heated breath rushed past him. Luca watched in terror as Crono's left foot passed over nothing but air as he hung onto the edge of the bridge, and nearly fell to his death.

"What are you doing?" Luca screamed. "Are you crazy?"

Crono regained his balance as he slowly made his way over to the machine's back. Even in the cold rain, he felt the intense heat radiate from the forge's metal chambers. He climbed to the tank's neck, aimed for its head, and struck the dragon's fire-breathing jaws with such force he thought he might topple forward. But with an upward thrust, he deeply drove his sword into the tank's lower jaw, then dug inward to tightly seal the iron mouth and prevent it from casting any more flames. Immediately Luca sprang to action as he repeatedly fired at the small smokestack. Crysta safeguarded the inventor with a spare shield, and knocked away the missiles that launched from the machine's wings. Luca fired as fast as he could, and knew Crono could not hold shut those powerful jaws for very long. The barrage continued as Luca and the Dragon Tank exchanged blows.

Crono's skin slowly ripped under the strain to hold shut the jaws of the Dragon Tank, but even then he refused to let go. Lunaria could not shatter, and he resolved to remain as strong and unbroken as the blade that chose him. He felt the sword grow hotter as it reddened against the heat of the tank's powerful furnace, but his thick gauntlets allowed him to hang on. For several moments, he maintained that position at the edge of the chasm with his hands firmly locked to the blade. His muscles knotted, and the veins in his forearms surged with blood as he held firm in the eye of the storm. It took nearly all of Luca's ammunition, but eventually the smokestack collapsed. With its ventilation closed off, the machine violently rumbled like a volcano about to burst. Crono still clutched his sword as fire welled within, and flaming bolts shot out from the choking pressure of the Dragon Tank. This time, the intensity of the temperature permanently welded the mouth shut, and Crono watched in alarm as his sword began to sink beneath the metal that melted around it. With a mighty roar across the skies, Crono screamed the name of his sacred weapon, pulled it free of the enclosing jaws, and delivered three more powerful blows against the attacker's head.

The Dragon Tank turbulently shook as the chancellor yelled in sudden desperation and fear, and tried to maintain control. Steel cogs and gears shot in all directions as the machine broke apart, and smoke rose in dark currents through ruptures that spread from outside to core. As the final echo of Lunaria's name erupted from Crono's voice, he lifted the burning sword to the raining heavens, and slammed it deep into the Dragon Tank's gasket.

At that moment, a bolt of lightning swept from the clouds and lanced into the blade as blue flames sprang to life and burned inward. The sword's undying light speared through the storm, and lit the skies over Guardia Castle greater than the approaching dawn. As the Dragon Tank quaked with a crushing groan over the Mountains of Kelvenforge, Crono twisted Lunaria deeper into the machine's metal heart, and destroyed it forever. Lightning, blue flames and showers of sparks snaked across its melting walls in small explosions that rivaled the thunder. As smoke billowed under Crono, he pulled free and resheathed his weapon, and leapt off the dangerous vehicle to join Luca and Crysta on the other side.

"Duck down!" Crono warned, tackled them both to the ground, and covered them from the impending explosion.

The chancellor and the two remaining soldiers emerged from the Dragon Tank, and flailed around in horror. Malfunctions derived from everywhere at once as flames and lightning ceaselessly ensnared and consumed.

"How can this be?" the chancellor demanded. "Fix it, damn it! Fix it now!"

"Y-yes sir!" the soldiers replied, but the old man may as well have asked them to stop a flooding river. They all fearfully skittered onto the tank's back, and didn't appear to recognize the danger as they attempted to quickly repair the machine. The first guard leaned away and must have found the growing heat of the tank unbearable, and the other simply teetered in panic. Just as they realized their mistake, the tank suddenly exploded in a sonic boom that rocked the canyon.

The castle itself shook as an unleashed wave of fire and shrapnel nearly knocked all of them from the bridge. The Dragon Tank's chest erupted first as it spewed out its innards, and melted another section underneath it. The machine convulsed, created a massive hole in the bridge as if fire through paper, and then fell to the mountains below with an explosion that spread its parts across the chasm.

Crono, Crysta and Luca stood back to their feet, and watched as the two soldiers fell to their deaths along with the Dragon Tank. The chancellor had disappeared.

"Let's move!" Luca ordered as he took hold of whatever iron rungs still attached to the sides of the bridge. "We can still reach the other side, and escape."

Crono and Crysta followed after, and edged alongside the recently formed opening. Beneath them, the Dragon Tank's head lay in ruin, and the last of its smoke plumes faded into the storm. Crono trailed his companions as he carefully placed his feet onto solid holds, clutched the steel fastenings, and slowly crossed the bridge. Suddenly something barbed and hot stabbed into his ankle and pulled. Crono sharply cried out in pain, then immediately gazed down. The chancellor stared up at him with madness and bloodlust, and his hateful red eyes pulsed with inner fire as his clawed hands dug into Crono's leg.

"I will not let you live!" the old man's inhuman voice angrily rasped through the mist. The hunched attacker slinked from the lower recesses of the bridge, and used Crono's leg to pull himself up and stand before the red-haired youth. Tentacles shot from the demon's back as he began to strangle Crono with his talons and shape-shift back into the winged Yakra. "History will not repeat itself, boy! You will die tonight!"

The two struggled over the gaping chasm with harsh pivots and shouts of defiance as their limbs locked in fierce combat. The ancient demon sought to pull Crono off the bridge and join his fate as the red-haired youth fought to break free of the old man's unnaturally powerful grip.

"Crono!" Luca cried as he watched his best friend and the Yakra hang from the side of the bridge. The wind and hammering rain threatened to shake them loose as the sudden explosions of thunder briefly drowned out the cries of the two combatants. Crono dangled with one arm still clutched to a section of the metal while the terrifying gray-skinned demon towered over him. Within the haze of mist and shadows, the dark creature's face still appeared as the old man as it deeply inhaled and seemed to savor the scent of blood. When the monster's grimace twisted with sickening pleasure, its mouth creased into a threatening cackle while its stone-rending claws tore into Crono's flesh. Crono began to lose his grip on the damaged platform as the winged demon continued to soar alongside him, slice into his body, and attempt to send him hurtling to his death. Then Crono brought up his free hand to swing Lunaria, and cast away the demon.

"This kingdom belongs to me!" the monster shrieked as it skulked in mid-flight, and hatefully hissed at the glowing blade. Its leathery wings wildly flapped as the demon circled Crono like a beast at hunt, sniffed the air, and searched for a chance to strike. "It's no use! Why do you fight? Drop the sword, boy. Fall!" The Yakra fought harder as it launched at Crono with unexpected speed, and fiercely bit his neck. Crono screamed as blood leaked from his skin, and dripped onto the demon's forked tongue.

Just as Crono nearly fell from the bridge, Luca Devir shouted Crono's name, and jumped off the side of the bridge to land on the Yakra's back.

"Get off my friend, you disgusting bat from hell!" Luca commanded, and gripped the Yakra as it hovered hundreds of feet above the mountain. The demon shrieked in fear and confusion as Luca shoved a gun into its mouth, and began firing bullets down its throat. "Climb, Crono! Get out of here! Now!" Luca yelled as instinct ruled his reason, and he attacked with all the force he could muster. He dug his screwdriver into the monster's crooked spine, bashed in its fangs with a wrench, then bent its wings to cripple its flight, and gave no thought to his own safety. Crysta reached out her hand to pull her brother free of the chasm, and stood back up to help Luca. But Crono and Crysta grimly watched as the demon's clawed hands sliced into Luca's chest, clamped him by the neck, and held him suspended over the black abyss.

"And now for the final experiment," the demon mocked as it leered into Luca's eyes. "Your death. Will it end time travel as we know it? Let us test! Farewell, Luca Devir! May the doors of time close with you!" Then he tossed Luca into the chasm hundreds of feet below.

"No!" Crono screamed as a strike of lightning lit the skies, and thunder blared across the Land of Guardia. His best friend dropped away into the shadows of the void below, and sunk into the swallowing dark. "Luca-a-a-a!" And in the ensuing silence, Crono and Crysta Zenan heard only the cackling of the Yakra as it winged off into the clouds and disappeared from view.

With Crysta, Crono charged through the doorway of the tower bridge and into the bright halls of Guardia Castle. The criminal's abrupt appearance caused immediate panic as disbelief crossed the face of every onlooker. Maidens trembled in doorways, and servants ducked under tables. The memory of Luca's death hung in Crono's mind as he emerged into the torchlit corridor like a wave of fire, and fought on as he never had before. At every turn, soldiers attacked him, but the power of Lunaria sent the iron-grey figures crashing against the walls, and every witness quailed in fear. The crimson-haired warrior lifted the sword, and flung its blazing azure light through the massive halls from beginning to end. The Yakra will pay for Luca's death, Crono vowed as he clenched the Blade of Lunaria until his knuckles bled. I swear it.

The two black-cloaked companions boldly rushed into the halls and past the guards that attempted to impede their retreat towards the castle gateway. Crono risked a quick glance behind him, and noticed gunfire blasting when soldiers appeared out of the gloom and between glares of torchlight that reflected from the polished walls. This time, he ran faster, dodged from side to side, and hoped the bullets would miss him as he turned his gaze to the exit of Guardia Castle. This final hallway represented their only escape. Knights appeared from every shadow as the two maneuvered as quickly as they could. Through the onrushing defense, the duo stormed and toppled guards to slow those that followed behind. They weaved and ducked, rolled and jumped, and raced for freedom that waited in the twilight haze of the wide-open doors only yards beyond.

The castle guards fought in a fury that transcended the patrols of the prison tower as they sought to avenge the king they believed murdered because of Crono's prison break. They charged in a sea of iron and grey, surrounded Crono and Crysta on all sides, and forced them to a halt. Standing back to back, the duo faced numbers they could not vanquish. The knights ringed them in a circle just a few feet from the gate that led to the causeway, and the wall of silver shields threatened to strike them down at any moment. Despite the odds, Crono and Crysta raised their swords, and waited for any guard foolish enough to step into their death ring. Crysta held her katana to her chest, and kept her grim gaze locked on every man. The final taut string of her patience and mercy seemed ready to snap, and she would unleash her killing frenzy. The soldiers attacked in a sweeping and organized rush, and Crono and Crysta realized their doom but refused to go down without a fight. Just as the clash of swords began, a voice from the halls froze everyone into silence.

"Stop this at once!" Prince Arthur roared, then marched through the crowd, and stepped in front of Crono to face the knights. "By my right as the Prince of Guardia, I order you to lay down your weapons. You will treat these two with honor and respect!"

The commanding officer stared at the prince in shock. "But sire, they are . . ."

"What's the matter, soldier?" Prince Arthur angrily cut him short, and stared down the man. "Can you not take orders?" Crono had never seen Arthur so riled before, and he didn't understand at first, but Nadia's tear-stained face made him suspect they had discovered their father's body.

"Yes, but . . ."

"But nothing!" The stinging echo of Arthur's voice matched his glimmering blade. "Let them go right now! You will not lay a hand on these people! Stand down, soldier!"

"No, you stand down, Prince of Guardia!" A ruffled, winded and clearly aggravated chancellor stepped into the room with his cane. Part of the chancellor's swollen face streaked with blood from Luca's wounds at the bridge, and he looked as though he had risen from the grave. Crono could not imagine how he shape-shifted back into his human form so quickly. "These warriors, terrorists and anarchists represent a menace to this fair kingdom! We owe the good King Guardia to dispense justice to these fiends! And I mean you, too, Arthur!" The chancellor gazed at the knights. "For did not Prince Arthur's treachery and betrayal lead our king to his death? Did not Arthur set loose Crono from his cell? Yes, Knights of Guardia! Just like the princess, he has turned his back on us all and disclaimed all mandates of royalty!"

"Silence!" Arthur stated. "Crono kidnapped no one. It matters not what you think, what the courts decide, or what you've been told. The fact of his innocence remains."

The chancellor pointed at Arthur. "You brought the death of your father to pass! You cut down your own people to save this convicted felon! You allowed these criminals to escape! Our king died because of this!"

The gates that led to the causeway suddenly burst open, and lightning shot out of the gloom, and illuminated the entire castle as Luca Devir stormed into the hallway with a glare. "You lying snake!"

"Luca!" Crono gasped. How could he have possibly survived the fall? Luca did not acknowledge Crono, but as Luca stepped forward so the crowd could see him, Crono noticed the jetpack attached to Luca's back. "Everyone listen. Neither Prince Arthur nor any escaped prisoner killed King Guardia. In fact, the prisoners never made it out of the tower. The chancellor murdered him last night during the storm. The king died in one of the hidden chambers after the guards left him to help in the prison tower. And what a perfect time to murder the king, steal the Dragon Tank and attempt to destroy the king's children, don't you think? The chancellor knifed Lord Guardia when you all hunted Crono. He's trying to convince you of the prince's and princess' betrayal because who else would reign when all three have died? Only the chancellor himself could have possibly reached the king last night."

The soldiers hesitated, then slowly turned to gawk at the chancellor.

Luca pointed. "He's not even human. History has repeated itself. This shape-shifting demon mimics the very same that kidnapped Queen Leene four centuries ago."

The old man glared at Luca, and nervously faced the crowd. "Do not believe such nonsense! The king died because of the actions of these traitors and felons!"

"How could my father have been murdered in a chamber only you could enter?" Nadia demanded.

"Even doorways masked by walls can be unlocked," the chancellor replied. "Perhaps your brother is responsible for this treachery! The prince is, after all, next in line to become king!"

Arthur stared down the chancellor in outrage. "I did not kill my father. I set Crono free for justice!"

"You stand for justice, do you?" the chancellor mocked with a laugh. "Tell me then, oh man of justice, why did you kill so many soldiers of your own kingdom? Out of justice? So that women of this land will live in despair over husbands they'll never see again? So that all the prisoners in the tower escaped? So that numerous lie dead under the wounds of your sword? Where will your leadership guide this kingdom, Arthur? You killed your own people. How do we know you did not murder your father? Oh yes, I know your heart, Arthur. You would do anything for power. You mastered the blade for it. You crave greatness, and your need for it wavers on betrayal because you will kill anyone to have it, even family!"

The knights and maidens murmured among themselves, and their eyes filled with confusion and uncertainty.

Arthur shook his head no. "I did not strike down the soldiers in the tower without cause. They left me no choice. When I ordered them to release Crono, they attacked me for entering the forbidden tower without authorization. Everyone knows that trespassing there against the laws of the king will be punished by death. Even a prince must follow these laws in the name of Guardia, and I was willing to risk my life to ensure the freedom of an innocent man whom my sister calls beloved. But I do not answer to you. I banish you from this kingdom, Chancellor. Get out of my castle, and my people will settle this matter alone."

Suddenly the old man cackled as the guards shook their heads in the negative and started to inch toward the chancellor. "You have no authority to banish me from Guardia. The kingdom belongs to me and I will reign until we choose a new heir!"

The prince calmly stared as he watched the soldiers draw their weapons against him. Instantly Prince Arthur grabbed a torch from the wall, and threw it into the midst of the knights. Then he sprinted across the room, and pointed his blade at the chancellor's neck. Murmurs and stunned looks elicited from everyone in the room. "Should you bear the power here, old man," Arthur menacingly stated, "then you will release Crono and his friends or I shall cut you down. I will knife your back as you did my father's, you bastard!" The prince glared at the soldiers as his blade firmly pressed against the chancellor's neck. "Stand away, all of you, or I will behead your new king!"

The guardsmen did not question Arthur. They glared at the prince as if he truly were a traitor of the kingdom, then slowly put distance between themselves and Crono, Luca, Crysta and Nadia, all of whom gaped at Arthur.

"Your foolishness will be the end of you, Arthur," the chancellor dared to say with a grunt. "You cannot protect Crono Zenan forever. This choice will spell out your doom. You no longer hold the title of prince and everyone knows it. Kill Crono and all your crimes will be forgotten. Join me and your life will be spared."

Everyone studied Arthur as the silence deepened. "If I side with you, I have already died in my heart. Go now, my friends! I will buy you the time you need to escape. Watch over Nadia, Crono. Keep her safe to the end of time."

Crono nodded in acquiescence and then glanced at Nadia, who headed for the door. "Arthur," Crono said as he turned back to him from the doorway. "I never knew a better king." Arthur gratefully smiled with a bow, but kept his blade aimed at the chancellor's neck.

Crono's small group jogged the last few yards, and just breached the final door of the castle when the chancellor suddenly bolted free of the prince's grip. The soldiers sprang to action at once, and disarmed and detained Arthur as they hastily strapped him in irons. He struggled for a moment, but a guard knocked him unconscious with the handle of his sword, and the prince lifelessly fell to the stone. Nadia turned back for her brother, and knew they would kill him if she did not save him.

Crysta grabbed her by the arm, and immediately halted her advance. "No, Nadia! We have to leave! There's no time!"

"Let me go, Crysta!" she shouted in outrage, then slapped at her hand and pulled away but could not break free of Crysta's strong grip. "They're going to kill him! I have to stop them."

"Come on, Nadia!" Crysta shouted as she struggled with the princess, and forced her to look at her. "They'll kill you too. Arthur wanted you to live. Don't rob him of his sacrifice." Nadia gazed into Crysta's eyes, and noticed they reflected a deep green pool of sincerity she had never expressed before. Nadia wiped the tears from her face as she tentatively nodded in agreement, and Crysta released her hand with a reassuring smile. Then they both ran ahead to catch up with Crono and Luca.

"Don't just stand there, you fools!" they heard the chancellor scream. "After them! Do not let them escape! Kill them all!"

The four dashed across the causeway, and ran for the refuge of the Darkwood Forest border. Behind them echoed the heavy footfalls of the knights of Guardia as they poured out of the castle in a relentless swarm. Luca glanced back and discovered the squadron closing in on them fast, then quickly warned his companions. Gunfire blared through the empty trees, spears rained down, and angry shouts mingled with their own labored breathing. They knew they could not stop and fight against so many, and so attempted to lose their pursuers in the maze of woods. As they raced through the trees and thick underbrush, they fled to no particular distance or destination. They only knew they must end up as far away from this place as possible. Crysta led them onward as Crono followed behind with Nadia while Luca brought up the rear. Above a tiny stream, they crossed a small bridge, and ventured deeper into the wilderness until they reached a clearing that ended in a solid wall of rock and trees.

"A dead end," Luca exclaimed. "Figuratively and literally." They caught their breaths in the glade as they considered what to do. Before long, they heard voices.

"Run!" Nadia shouted as she dashed into the heart of the glade, and took a new path.

As Crono ran without looking back, he felt his chest constrict in pain, and didn't know how long his friends could outrun their pursuers or even where they could flee. The forest deepened, and the roads disappeared beneath their feet as the floor of the woodlands darkened with each step they made towards the east.

At first Crono thought he imagined it, but the shadows of the forest seemed to swirl with blue. Lunaria remained sheathed so he knew the light originated from somewhere else. The thunderous footfalls of the storming squadron continued as the two girls ran ahead while the boys trailed, and shouts dogged them each moment of their harrowing flight. The ring of swords, spears and clinking armor pierced the silence, and grimly reminded them of their deathly fate should the guardsmen catch up.

"Over here!" Crysta exclaimed, then quickly guided them into a narrow path where they might hide.

"There they are!" the soldiers shouted. "Don't lose them!"

Stray branches whipped at Crono in willowy strikes as he unconsciously took the lead. A sudden tingle of fear wormed into his heart as he recognized this as the location of his nightmare. This familiar landscape of blackened trees loomed before him in stark lines against the pale skies of dawn. Here he witnessed his father's murder. It seemed somehow cruel that the whims of fate led him back to the place where he should have died a decade ago.

Yet . . . Crono stormed on, and remembered he had prevailed against the impossible when his father fell. "I will fight as strongly as I did that day," he softly whispered as he unsheathed Lunaria, and promised to protect his friends. "All of us will survive."

The route abruptly led into a clearing, but beyond lay trees and a river too wide to cross. The intertwined oaks grew so tightly in this region only a squirrel seemed capable of navigating them.

"No!" Luca shouted. "We're trapped!" They heard the pounding steps of the large squadron as the soldiers cut through the trees in a wall of swords and shields, and jogged across the grounds. Soon armored knights filled the clearing. Crono hatefully glared as the chancellor appeared, and sensed his innate demon abilities allowed him to keep up with the knights. Crono knew if he killed anyone today it would be that monster. Luca readied his guns while the girls raised their weapons, and the silence deepened as each side stared down the other.

"It ends here, boy!" the chancellor said to Crono. "Embrace your death!"

Nadia drew forth an arrow, nocked it, then fired at the old man, but missed his face by scant inches. "Go fall in a hole and rot there, you old fossil! We fight until death!"

"I don't think there's a need for that," Crono stated as he suddenly realized the source of the blue light through the forest, and stared at the ground. A smile crossed his face.

Luca caught sight of the same thing, and stepped forward in wonder. "No . . . it can't be! That's impossible! I destroyed the Telepod! That shouldn't exist!"

"A gate!" Nadia exclaimed. For above the forest earth glimmered the small spherical blue tear of reality. They had found another gateway through time. "Please tell me you have the Gatekey, Luca," Nadia asked the inventor.

Luca reached into his pocket, pulled out the timeline key, then shook his head in stunned realization. "I never destroyed the Gatekey. Could that be why the gates remain?"

"What is that?" the chancellor demanded.

"Good, let's use it to escape!" Nadia stated. "Only the gate can save us!"

"What are you talking about?" Crysta asked. "What gate?"

"But we don't know where it will take us," Luca argued, and ignored Crysta for now. Only by opening the portal could he hope to answer her question.

"Who cares?" Nadia shouted. "Anywhere's better than here! And we don't have any time to choose!"

The soldiers advanced. "Attack!" the chancellor yelled. "Kill them now!"

"Luca!" Crono screamed, and lifted Lunaria. "Decide now! Use the Gatekey! We have no other choice!" The soldiers charged across the grass, and shouted in victory.

But Luca Devir's timing perfectly arrived. The events echoed like a faraway memory the moment Luca closed his eyes against the blades that arrived to kill him as he brought forth the Gatekey.

As the soldiers charged in, time slowed to a crawl, and life seemed to fall away beneath a curtain of blue light that cloaked the forest before their eyes. Voices cried out from the mysterious portal, and echoed in their minds as though to silence the events of earth. A spear lanced through the air, and impaled Crysta's heart, but it careened away from the vortex the moment it struck her skin as she ceased to exist in that one moment, and simply vanished. Crono closed his eyes against the feeling of falling off the edge of the world, and the harsh embrace of timeless wind rushed over him as he felt Nadia take his hand. Then the forest gateway closed around them with blue light that shone greater than dawn as Crono Zenan and his friends exited the glade and disappeared into time.