The fire in the stone hearth threw flickering shadows across the walls, staining the old wood with blue and black tints. The table was cluttered with mugs and bowls, though only his mulled wine still steamed in a small draft. Ayla curled, fast asleep, in one of the high-backed chairs around the hearth, while Robo stood patient watch beside her seat. Lucca and Marle huddled their heads together, Crono on Marle's left succumbing to a snuffling doze.
Frog found it fitting they had mustered in Crono's era, with its bright and pleasant air. It wasn't as foreign as the rich, wild atmosphere of Ayla's bygone home or the bitter, dust-ridden future. Places had changed, but he might still recognise names and structures. The facts of his own time had become the legend and hearsay of this one.
Time flowed onwards, even when they had the power to leap across it.
He was pulled from a halfway thought by the children - perhaps it was wrong to think of them as such, when he had been squired at their age. He stood from his seat, patting Marle's shoulder as she was the last to part from their circle of chairs. The three youngsters waved their good nights and escaped to their beds in a cluster of muffled chatter. He'd be glad if they could find rest tonight.
The cooling evening greeted him with the last glowing blues of a sunset fading behind the woods. Epoch nestled under the trees; they had all agreed there would be little sense in bringing such an outlandish wonder into the square of Porre Town.
No one said what they all knew. Far above the sea to the north and east, the lights of the Black Omen gleamed above the first sliver of the young moon. The great floating fortress seemed to birth little fuss. The moment it had risen from the sea in the faraway past, time had rippled to place it in the skies of all future eras, Lucca had reasoned. Why fear something that had always been there, stolid as the mountains themselves?
Turning away from the ill glint in the sky, he drew the Masamune. The sword was straight and true as ever, lightened by the groove that ran down its length. It whispered against the air as he swung it round, testing the strength that dwelt in the blade. The still town square made as good a practice yard as any.
It was a fine weapon. Finally he felt blessed to carry it into the battle to come. The legacy had been set in his hand and he had grasped it with all his heart.
Lavos stirred, and even with the Wings of Time flying them across the eras, they might not wait forever. Frog had looked at his comrades around the fire and felt pride at each face: clever Lucca, gentle Robo, fierce Ayla, spirited Marle, loyal Crono. They were the bravest people that he knew, boon companions the likes of which he had not dared imagine finding again.
Their company was such a simple thing. He had long been a stranger to hope.
For a while, he fought his own shadow on the street cobbles. He found himself reaching for the stillness of mind that swordplay could bring: a sharp and clean attitude, open to change and ready to act.
With a firm snap, he lodged the sword in the scabbard again. One by one lights in windows went out or were blurred by curtains all around the square. Only the fountain warbled softly in the breeze.
There was a rustle of sound over the drone of the water. Frog halted and looked up at the roof of the inn's veranda. "That be a more comfortable perch than one by the hearthfire, then?"
No answer came right away, and then only a huff of breath.
"A less kind soul might find thy antics amusing. Fighting beside us, thou still may not take rest along us?"
"My rest is my business." He could make out the silhouette now, leaned in the lee of the inn wall against the wind from the sea. It was a peculiar thing to be speaking so with the man he had sworn to slay in vengeance for his mentor and friend. Perhaps it suited his foreboding mood.
"Every living thing demands it," he said, "but perhaps thou art the exception to prove the greater truth."
"I will be ready," said the man on the roof, "and your concern should end there."
"Mistake not curiosity for concern." Frog stepped to the smooth-worn stairs that climbed to the veranda, and seated himself on the uppermost one. He'd surrendered revenge to the greater cause of Crono's recovery.
Above him the glass lanterns on either side off the inn's front door still burned, casting fluttering firelight onto the veranda.
"I didn't make it a habit to tell fireside tales with the Mystics, either."
"Dost thou mean to suggest to rule us?" He fished in his belt pouch for a whetstone, then drew the sword again. "We are an oddball band, to be sure, as Lucca would say, but if 'tis thy desire to conquer..."
The dull thump of boots striking the cobblestones interrupted him. Frog did not look up at the noise, but stroked the whetstone against a tiny scrape in the blade, only visible as the lantern glow rippled across the otherwise flawless surface.
"What is it that you want, Glenn?" Venom licked at the edge of his voice now.
"Do me the favour of not using that name. 'Tis someone I was a long time ago." It was not the sound of that name so much as the sound of it from this particular man. Cyrus had been right about his soft heart, but the years had toughened, if not hardened it. Glenn was wide-eyed with youth and hope and awe of the stalwart knight. Frog bore other burdens.
"Hmph." The veranda railing creaked as Magus angled himself against it. So, he had descended from his lofty solitude to wage a war of words. The bared blade across Frog's lap did not seem to bother him, even as the magic-sundering edge of it hummed against the whetstone.
He would be the last to deny that Magus was a worthy addition to their ranks. The potency of his spells had already turned the tide in more than one battle. His sombre bearing concealed a cutting intelligence, even as he kept his own counsel for the greatest part of the time. Still, even now, a ghost or a shadow hovered there beside them, an armoured spectre whose sword Frog honed for the coming confrontation.
They would stand side by side then.
"Dost thou not find this the least part queer?" he found himself asking, perhaps to keep the silence from pressing too close. "I shall fight alongside thee with the same sword that near vanquished thee."
"You fight with the weapons at hand. I care little for the past," Magus scoffed.
"Thou hast built thy life on the past, Magus. It binds thee even unto death." That much he knew, pieced together from a few hard words the sorcerer had let slip past his stony shell. He had lost much to Lavos, and Queen Zeal's crazed attempt to control the otherworldly monstrosity.
The silence stretched, now crackling with a wary energy. Frog all but wondered if he'd been too bold. The shuttered windows allowed out only soft, slanted lines of firelight, but he could sense the warmth and quiet, cosy bustle of the common room. It seemed very cold on the veranda in comparison.
Then Magus spoke.
"I swore to destroy Lavos." He heard the swish of cloth as the man shifted his weight. "I was unable to do it on my own. That is the sole reason I joined you."
Frog kept his eye on his work, but would not have been surprised had Magus's eye strayed to the glittering shape of the Black Omen, now dark against the darkness save for its eye-like openings bleeding coloured light into the night.
"Vengeance seems a small reason for this fight," he said. "But if it will do for thee, then so be it."
"My purpose has never once changed. I will hardly change it for what you think."
"And far be it from me to assume thou wouldst," said Frog in turn. A weight seemed to lie over them both now; it had dulled the bite and contempt in Magus's tone even as it made his own motions aimless and lingering. There was no force in his fingers, but he kept sliding the whetstone along the sword.
The tasks laid out to them by Gaspar at the End of Time were now completed. They'd restored the Masamune, and equipped themselves with the most wondrous weapons Melchior's genius could devise. Only the last quest remained.
Tomorrow, they would lay to rest their dead and forge a new future, or then die in the attempt. Long ago, he had learned it was better to clean one's heart before any battle, let alone such a one.
" 'Tis easy to be blinded by revenge. I know this well." He turned an eye to Magus. "I sought to kill thee for the longest time. I would have struck the blow, had things gone otherwise."
Magus stood, shoulders stiff under the folds of his heavy cloak, chin angled high, but his expression was not entirely haughty, something shifting under the surface.
"What are you saying?"
He had to turn the words on his tongue for some time. In the end, they turned out the right ones. "Thou art not my enemy. I've fought beside thee."
The sorcerer drew back a step, as if gauging the worth of the words. "I never asked for your forgiveness."
"One need not ask for that which is given." Frog got up on his feet then, like a man gingerly lowering a burden he has borne for too long. "Let us survive tomorrow first."
They were both still for a moment, the frog who had been a man, the man who had tried to harness a god. The wind swept across the square, bringing the soft rustling of leaves from the hem of the forest. He did not shiver, but felt the crispness of the air like something fragile, chips of ice melting in the hollow of a hand.
"I agree," said Magus then, low and guarded.
Frog slid the Masamune slowly into its scabbard, watching as the light slipped and scattered along the blade. Cyrus had spoken to him and lifted some part of the sorrow he still carried.
"I am awaited at the castle, should I live tomorrow," he said, an offering. "My Queen calls me home."
"I haven't given it thought." A pregnant pause followed. Magus's voice was different as he continued. "There's... someone I would find."
That was sacred ground, there; Frog was no stranger to loss. As deeply as he had hated this man, he understood the underlying tremor in his aloof tone. The smooth chill of superiority was one thing, but sometimes, one went cold to protect what lay under the frost of pain and memory.
Albeit he had a guess, he would leave this matter alone.
"Art thou expected back on the roof?" Frog tilted his head in more casual inquiry. "A night this cold asks for a drink, unless it truly be the moonlight that sustains thee."
"Very amusing." Magus made a derisive noise.
"Outright ludicrous, I might say." His throat made laughter a strange sound, but he chortled in spite of it. "Come then, if thou wouldst. Thou hast made my wine go cold in the meantime, I'm sure."
"Their wine had best be palatable, or I'll see it dashed onto the street."
"Thou hast best be careful," said Frog as he let the door swing open behind him. "One might mistake that for a jest."
"Hm." His companion caught the edge of the door with a glowed hand.
One of the lanterns flared, light whirling across the veranda, and then guttered as the door slid shut on their heels.