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The Artificers

Chapter Text

“All who fear the night and stand against the darkness…please, give us strength!”

– Marle

The burst-whizz-whoom of Belthasar’s time machine woke Gaspar from a half-doze. He felt mildly disoriented. He’d been dreaming of very old times, before his sudden temporal eviction, before the Mammon Machine. In his dream, Queen Zeal ruled well and he and Belthasar and Melchior were just scholarly comrades. He felt melancholy as the dream slipped away. It had been real, once. He’d almost forgotten what sky-blue looked like, what with the eternal bland darkness at the End of Time.

The time machine – its new owners had christened it the Epoch – floated through the empty nothingness and up to the dock. Gaspar had assembled the dock some time ago, to make it easier for them to get in and out. It served the purpose well enough. Two of the passengers got out, the robot and the cavewoman. The woman’s name was Ayla. The robot was named Robo. The triteness of that name was lost on Gaspar, who knew nothing of robots. Lucca, who normally piloted, stayed on board as usual. After dropping off her passengers, she pulled the Epoch away from the dock. The machine vanished in a burst of light and sound. Gaspar winced at the noise.

Well, I’m awake now.

He waited. Once, she had shuttled her friends back and forth with the Gate Key (and what a piece of work that was, for someone with no natural magic). Now she did it with the Epoch. Gaspar watched Belthasar’s grand machine with admiration. To build a Gate where once was none, to the whims of its owner…My friend, you surpass me even in my own field, he thought.

It would still take a couple trips to bring the entire group back; the ship only seated three. After a few minutes, Lucca returned with the other young lady – Marle – and Frog. Gaspar did not understand why the others chose to rub Frog’s twisted form in his face by addressing him as such, but he didn’t seem to mind.

Frog, as usual, had Melchior’s Masamune strapped to his back. Gaspar mostly approved. It seemed to have found itself a reliable owner, if an unsightly one. The Wings of Time had found itself in good hands as well. Two artifacts from two of the greatest minds in history, and Gaspar was still startled that they had ended up together. Right where they could do the most good, or so they all hoped. It was enough for him to start believing in fate…almost. He had seen Fate changed too many times to go quite that far.

Frog got out of the Epoch, then turned to help Marle down. She stepped down to the dock slowly, not with care but with a sort of lethargy, and Frog nudged her down the walkway. He gave Lucca a casual salute; in his time period, that meant something like “Okay, carry on.” She nodded and turned back to the controls.

Frog stepped up to Marle’s side. She said something Gaspar couldn’t hear, and then put an arm around his shoulders. It wasn’t a hug. She was leaning on him. She had a stricken look to her, and Gaspar began to understand that something was not quite right. Marle was always the most cheerful of the lot of them, the most…indomitable was the word that came to mind, but it didn’t fit. That might fit Crono. A better description for Marle might have been this: She sometimes got knocked down, but she always got back up. Today she looked like someone who could not get back up.

Lucca returned again, this time with a new passenger. Apparently they had made a new friend, from another new era. This man had the characteristic pale violet hair of the Enlightened Ones. Interesting; perhaps it was someone he knew? The man stepped out of the Epoch, and Gaspar got a better look at his face.

He was thunderstruck. It was the Prophet!

No, not the Prophet. That name was a lie, a magnificent parlor trick. It was Janus.

The group of them approached, as they had so many times before. Lucca led them. That was wrong. Their little party always had a clear leader, the quiet young man with the bizarre haircut. The one who spoke more in deeds than in words, even when those deeds were reckless.

Gaspar spoke without thinking: “Hey. Where’s Crono?”

Lucca looked down. None of the others would meet his eyes. Janus, seemingly unconcerned, was ignoring the exchange.

Robo broke the silence: “He did not make it.” His voice was somber, but clear, as only a machine could manage. “Lavos rose at the Ocean Palace, somehow. We fought it. We lost. Crono is dead and the Magic Kingdom has been destroyed.”

Gaspar felt a ball of ice settle in his stomach. He should have predicted this. He knew they were going to Zeal! He knew how it ended! Like Janus, Gaspar had lived those days before. He had believed these six could change fate, undo a past that did not deserve to exist. How wrong he had been.

He looked at his feet. “I’m sorry,” he said, and meant it in ways they could never understand. “This is terrible news.”

“We’re looking for the Guru of Time,” Marle said.

Gaspar, blindsided, struggled for words. “The Guru of Time? Well, I’ve heard of him, of course, but what do you want with him?”

“He knows how to bring Crono back….”

What? I know nothing of the sort, he thought. But it was clear that she believed what she was saying. Where on earth had the girl gotten that idea? There was no magic that could return the dead to life, in this time or any other. He was silent for a while. He had nothing but despair for her.

“To bring back lost loved ones…it’s what everyone wants,” he said sadly. “Crono must be proud to have friends like you.”

She smiled at him and walked off. Frog offered her a shoulder again, but she turned him away. The others followed her. Janus went last. Did Janus recognize him? Probably not. He would have said something. And Gaspar looked much older now, after spending eternity at the End of Time.

Gaspar watched them go. As a group, they looked…broken. Crono was the glue that held them all together. Without that, how long would they last? They had crossed continents and millennia, together, in their quest to destroy the creature that would one day murder the world. And they had failed. But they had survived. Most of them. That was more than anyone else could say.

Could they try again, without Crono to lead them? Maybe not. Gaspar sat back and sighed. It was all for naught, after all. All his hopes rested on those six. A series of coincidences across the ages had brought them together; Gates that opened at just the right time, to just the right places, in the vicinity of just the right people. They were the bravest souls he had ever known. They were trained to use magic in war, by Spekkio himself. They knew Lavos almost better than it knew itself, having witnessed its path and its history from one era to the next. They held the greatest artifacts of his own era, which itself was the pinnacle of what human civilization had ever achieved, past or future. They should have been able to succeed. They deserved to succeed.

Reality did not care much for what people deserved.

A thought struck him. Gaspar stood up again, his eyes blank.

There was no magic on earth that could return the dead to life.

But what if he never died at all?

He felt around in his pocket. Warmth.

Miser. You’ve been holding out on them. Belthasar’s voice, dry and mocking, in his head.

Use the tools you possess. Melchior this time. The prey that saves its strength will not outrun the predator.

They had Melchior’s blessing and his masterpiece. Belthasar had given them the same. Why not Gaspar himself? He took the Chrono Trigger out of his pocket and looked at it. Its egg-shaped shell glowed with the hint of a promise. He brushed it with one hand and felt something almost like pride. He was not used to pride.

“My dear fellows,” he said to himself, too low to hear, “it seems that the gift we give to the world is not our knowledge or our deeds, but our creations.”

He cleared his throat and used a whisper of magic to project his voice, to call them back.

“Hey,” he said.

They came back.