The Diary of Doctor LEA

chapter 1 | chapter 2 | chapter 3 | chapter 4 | chapter 5 | chapter 6 | chapter 7 | chapter 8 | chapter 9
chapter 10 | chapter 11 | chapter 12 | chapter 13 | chapter 14 | chapter 15 | chapter 16 | chapter 17 | chapter 18
chapter 19 | chapter 20 | chapter 21 | chapter 22 | chapter 23 | chapter 24 | chapter 25 | chapter 26

1. Conditions

When I was a little girl, something terrible happened--something that really hit my family hard.

At the time I blamed myself for not being able to stop it, and out of the shock and guilt I withdrew from the world and stopped talking to anyone, even my parents. A doctor tried to tell them I had autism, though my mom and dad refused to believe it. I was just starting grade school, too, which was the perfect time to develop a social disorder, as you can guess. The other kids tormented me or ignored me altogether, which only fueled my introversion.

During this time I started reading a lot of books, anything to escape from reality. I still love books and science for this reason, even if my situation has changed. I would read anything, fiction or not--pirate stories, Mystic War manuscripts, ancient poetry, cookbooks, schematics--even the dictionary. I was a glutton for the written word, and I turned my whole house upside-down looking for reading material. That's when I found a strange, dusty old book in our attic. I had never seen anything like it; it was full of arcane illustrations, and written in a language utterly alien to me. Headstrong little genius that I was, I was determined not only to decipher its text, but to create a hand-written translation of the entire book. It wasn't pretty, but I did it, and as far as I know that book still has my handiwork inserted between each page.

I can't recall much about its contents anymore. Like most childhood memories, it's fuzzy around the edges, and meddling with my own past probably didn't help things. The book is no longer in my possession, besides. Eventually I met Crono, found my voice again and moved on with my life, and the book was returned to obscurity in my house's attic.

Over the years, I forgot what that book was about--or that it even existed--but I'll never forget the day I found it again...

---

It was the summer of 1003, and it was raining.

I had stayed up all night in my room sketching down an idea for a new invention--well, not new, exactly. Perhaps it was ironic that I was dreaming up modifications to my Telepod, the very device that had ripped open a hole in the fabric of the fourth dimension and sent us on our time-traveling adventures in the first place.

It had been three years since my friends and I defeated Lavos and restored peace to the time-stream, and we had all gone back to our normal lives. Marle went back to being the amiable (if rebellious) Princess Nadia, although she was more supportive of her father's work than she had been before she ran away. Crono continued to stay at home and help support his mom, doing odd jobs around town. He and Marle visited each other all the time, and it was obvious that they were smitten, although their relationship didn't move too fast--I figure that was more Crono's doing than Marle's. All the same, people around the castle considered them an "item" and had big expectations.

I went back home too, of course, and invested my time helping my dad with his contract work. I could only imagine how my other friends were faring--the gates had vanished and the Epoch was history, so-to-speak. With Lavos out of the picture, I liked to imagine a bright past, present and future for them all. I was happily oblivious to the cogs of fate, even as they started turning against us once again.

'Fate' is a funny word. I don't like using it. It implies a lack of control over one's own life, something every man (and woman!) covets almost more than life itself. As a scientist, I'm not allowed to believe in fate. It's not academic--it can't be put through a formula and tested, therefore it can't exist.

But as a dreamer, sometimes I wonder... because it couldn't have been mere coincidence that made me wake up that morning, a piece of paper still stuck to my face from where I fell asleep at my desk, turn around and find the Magus standing in plain sight in my upstairs bedroom.

Magus was always an... unreliable comrade, at best. He only helped me and my friends as long as we were fighting Lavos--as long as we had a common goal. He definitely wasn't our friend, and we never asked him to be. As soon as our mission was accomplished, he took off without another word. Marle, with her heart of gold, liked to believe that Magus--the scourge of the Middle Ages and an all-around jerk in every other time era--was reformed by our wonderful influence, but I was never that naive. I knew the atrocities he was guilty of, and comrade-in-arms or not I knew his loyalty to us wouldn't last any longer than we were useful. He would always be a dangerous wizard and a wild card.

That's why, when I saw him standing not three feet behind me, I freaked out a little. The man had appeared as if by magic (a likely explanation), panning his typical scowl around my cluttered room as if I weren't even there. He was tall, huge--bigger and more imposing than I remembered--all pale muscle, dark blue cloak and war-beaten leather armor. And he was positively soaked, dripping rainwater all over my floor and looking like a pissed-off cat in a storm.

I did the first reasonable thing I could think of: I screamed, scrambled out of my chair and picked up the nearest sharp, pointy object: a pencil. I don't know what I was thinking--maybe if I stabbed him hard enough with the thing he'd get graphite poisoning and become really annoyed. He didn't even look my way until my mother called from downstairs, obviously concerned, "Lucca, was that you? Is something the matter?"

Magus suggested with a tip of his menacingly pointy eyebrows that I do something. "Uh... no!" I shouted back down the stairs. "It was just... a spider!"

Mom sounded satisfied with that (she knew I was arachnophobic), so I got straight to business: asking Magus what the hell he was doing in my room, in my house, and in my time era. The man started to rifle through my things without a word to explain himself, apparently questing for something, and I practically had to shout in his ear before he stopped and addressed me.

"Where is it?" His voice was like molasses, thick and uncompromising in a way that sounded as if he were choking on his own rotten disposition.

"Where is what?" I rasped, fighting not to raise my voice and growing bold with sheer annoyance.

He kicked over a shoebox of spare parts--crushing a breaker bulb I was planning on using for my Telepod upgrade--and elaborated, "That key thing."

I straightened my glasses and glowered right back at him. "Nice terminology, there. That could only be anything. I'm going to assume by the fact that you're even standing here in front of me--which should be impossible without a gate--that you're talking about my Gate Key."

"You know what they say about assuming," he said flatly, and went back to rummaging. He toppled a stack of books and wiped a picture frame off a shelf.

If he was trying to be funny, his wit wasn't appreciated. "Would you quit throwing my stuff around??" I snapped. "You're not going to find it here anyway."

That, at last, caught his attention. "Well then? Where is it?"

I was shocked, scared, aggravated and about to say something I probably would have regretted (such as "Up your ass, right where my foot's going to be next if you don't get out of my room") but I thought better of it. I suddenly realized I had something that Magus wanted and couldn't find--and that was leverage.

I crossed my arms, leaned against the back of my chair and played it cool. "I don't think I'm going to tell you."

He stared at me with a squished gape, as if he were hard of seeing insolence. "What."

"You heard me. I don't see one good reason why I should tell you anything, much less where I keep my Gate Key. I don't even know what you intend to do with it. How do I know I'll ever see it--much less you--again? Forget it."

In half a stride he was towering over me, even more venomous up close. I could count the frayed strands of his hair, and smell lightning and mud on his clothes. "I'm not asking. If you don't tell me where you're hiding it, I'll find it myself--and you won't like my methods."

It was like being stared down by the Devil himself--his irises were bloody red and everything--but I wasn't about to let him see me shaking in my boots. I held myself tight, burying my clammy hands in the folds of my nightshirt. "If you'll try to be reasonable, we can both get what we want without you tearing my damn room apart."

"Who says I'll stop with your room? I'll destroy this entire house if I have to. I want that key."

"Ha!" I cracked. I must have sounded verifiably insane, which at that point, wasn't far off the mark. The line between bravery and madness is thin, indeed. "And you think your luck'll be any better that way? What're you gonna do? K--"

"Kill you," he finished my sentence. He sounded lethally serious.

I'd lost my grip on fear--now I was angrier at his gall than anything. "Oh really? And then what? Good luck finding the key after that! I'm sure as hell not going to tell you where to look if I'm dead. Maybe you'd better think again before you get all pissy and start throwing your magic or whatever around here."

"Lucca? Who are you talking to?" downstairs called again. I bit my lip; I let my voice rise too high again. Magus graciously held his thought until I tossed back, "Um... Alfador!"

I didn't realize how absurd--ironic, even--that reply was until Magus nailed me with a quirky, prying look. "My hamster," I explained, as embarrassing as it was. I glanced to the cage on my desk, where the poor little guy was stock-still, perhaps just as horrified by our visitor as I was.

"Well don't talk to your pets so much. It's strange," Mom chided, and her tone dropped as she went back to her business downstairs. I rolled my eyes; she had no idea.

When Magus wouldn't quit staring at me like I'd just plagiarized his life's work for naming a hamster after his dumb cat, I got defensive. "Yeah, I named him Alfador. I thought it was a good name. You wanna fight about it?"

Magus huffed and let it go, getting back to the matter at hand. "Perhaps..." He flicked his nose down the stairwell with a wicked suggestion. "You won't treat my demand so frivolously with someone else's life at stake."

I froze. If that man hurt my parents, or worse... I nearly panicked and broke down, right there. Petty as it was, however, I didn't want to lose this battle of wits--not to the damn Magus, the epitome of 'kill first, ask questions later.' I couldn't just meet his demands and let him walk away without ever knowing what he was doing or how he got here. I couldn't be left in the dark, after everything I'd seen and done with the time gates. Besides, what if he went and did something completely irresponsible with the Gate Key and ruined the fragile balance of time and space? It was my responsibility to make sure that key stayed out of the wrong hands, and few hands were as wrong as Magus's.

When I didn't meet his eyes, he must have thought he got me. But then I gathered up all my courage with a deep breath and said, "Well then. Have it your way. Kill us all if you want. I haven't changed my mind."

"You feign to negotiate with me? Do you know who you're dealing with, little girl?"

"Little girl??" I fired back. He was meaner, but I was crazier. "I know exactly who I'm dealing with; I remember who you are. I also know it's going to be pretty damn hard to find that key without my help." Before the man could churn out a retort, I slipped out of range of his death-glare and started to casually rearrange some books on a shelf. "You know, Magus, you've got to learn to deal with people. Not everybody's going to just bow down and let you do what you want all the time--that's why I've got conditions. If you play fair and agree to them, I'll let you use the key."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his head tick to the side--he was considering it. "And these... 'conditions' are going to stop me from killing you and burning this house to the ground once I get what I came for?" Or maybe he was just amused.

I whirled to him, hands on my hips--I must have looked like my mother, for a second there. She would say I was playing with fire. Too bad that's what I do best. "Have you ever been a civilized human being, like, ever? Or have you just killed and blown up everyone and everything in your way?"

Whether or not I struck a chord, he didn't answer.

"Do you want the Gate Key or not?" I pressed him.

He then did the scariest thing yet--he smirked, looking creepily like a cat toying with a mouse. "What are your conditions?"

"Ah yes, that's the spirit," I chimed, pretending to clean my room some more. "The first condition is that you let me come with you."

"What."

"That's right, I want to come along. I think I have a right to know what's going on around here."

"Don't be ridiculous. This is none of your concern."

I deployed my favorite weapon: sarcasm. "Oh, that's right, it must not be. That's why you've come through a gate to my time, showed up in my house and demanded that I give you the Gate Key I created. If this doesn't fall under the category of 'my business,' I don't know what does."

"It'll be dangerous."

"And your point is...? You say that as if I'm some lightweight. If you'll care to remember, I was right there next to you when we took down Lavos. I think I can handle a little so-called 'danger'." I smartly turned away and began sorting the papers I was working on the past night, before Magus caught me grinning. I was starting to feel pretty pleased with myself, but I didn't want to sound too obvious about it. "Although your attempt to talk me out of this is commendable."

I knew I was getting under his skin when he growled, "This is not a game. I don't have time to baby-sit some brat."

"That's funny, you didn't seem to mind putting up with some brats the last time. Don't think of it as 'babysitting.' Think of it as..." I rolled a wrist, playing through the best phrase in my head. "Taking on a traveling companion."

He stood as stiff as a post, not budging for the world. "I work alone. I don't want or need company."

I turned my back, feigning indifference. "That's too bad... I guess you might as well kill me and be on your way, then."

"You've got some nerve," he darkly spoke, thirsty for a violent resolution. I knew he could--and would--make it happen, but the question was, how far could I push him? "You must not value your life very much. Who says I won't do just that?"

"Oh... just a hunch," I quibbled.

"For a so-called 'scientist' you're not being very reasonable."

Sometimes I'm more of a gambler than a scientist--it's all about statistics and probability, either way. He would probably kill me, but there's still the possibility of survival... as long as he didn't call my bluff. I winked and wagged a finger at him. "Ah-hah, you think? Perhaps there's a method to my madness. So, what do you say?"

Outside, lightning flickered closer, diverting our attention for just a second. Magus looked right past me and out the window, as if reading the storm clouds for some divine input--hell, maybe even a flash of conscience, though I knew better than to expect a miracle like that. "...Fine," he answered, curiously distant. "Come if you wish. It's your funeral."

I couldn't believe my bid paid off. I covered a sigh of relief with a loud cough. Magus thankfully moved on without comment. "What's the other condition?"

Now that the deal felt secure, I started to get serious, taking my travel satchel out of a drawer and packing it with the essentials: a pen and pad of paper, a spare set of clothes, my air gun and a screwdriver (hey, a screwdriver always comes in handy somewhere.) I wished I had a more powerful weapon on hand, but I had disassembled my Wonder Shot for parts and out of a spirit of peace that was starting to look very foolish, in hindsight. "Well, the second ties in with the first. Since we're going to be traveling together, the key might as well stay in my custody--at all times. I don't want anyone else handling it. Call me paranoid if you want."

He snorted. "Forget it. You're pushing it. I don't need some kid laying down rules for me. It'd take a fool--"

"Hey," I cut him off, not chancing him any more room to speak, "You're free to kill me and take it from my cold dead fingers anytime you want, but that's my condition, so agree to it now or get bent."

Magus paused, drilling me with a mixed look. At a glance I could tell he was ruffled--vexed, even--but at the same time utterly confounded by my rebuff. He had to be thinking I was either suicidal or absolutely out of my mind, which was luckily the reaction I was aiming for. If he thought I was truly insane--and hell, I would never rule that out--then he'd never be able to predict my next move, and I needed every advantage against this man I could get.

"Fine," he relented, not wishing to reason with madness, after all. "But I'm still in charge. We're going where and when I want to go. Got that?" he insisted, stressing the double entendre time travel introduced.

I shrugged in turn. "Fine, you're the boss. As long as you agree."

His expression was smoldering, but I seemed safe--for the time being, at least. I picked up a footstool in the corner and stepped around his raised hackles, carrying it out to the indoor balcony. I glanced over the rail to make sure neither of my parents were snooping around the living room, set the stool down, stood up on it and reached for the hatch to the attic. I propped the thing open and then hoisted myself up on my elbows (normally I'd use a ladder, but I didn't want to attract attention from the parentals by going downstairs to fetch it.)

"Well? Com'on," I huffed when I looked down and saw Magus staring blankly back at me. "It's up here."

I shouldn't have been surprised, but I started a bit when the magician simply levitated straight up through the hatch, not even stirring the wind. He landed in a soundless crouch next to me, like an owl swooping onto a perch, and I repressed the shiver that ran down my spine. I hated having him that close, but our attic didn't exactly have a lot of headroom.

A murky little window at the opposite end gave all the light I needed, so I went straight for the storage boxes and began digging around. Magus generally lurked nearby, poking around suitcases and dusty corners like a nosy bastard, but as long as he wasn't breathing down my neck I honestly didn't mind.

At one point I glimpsed a crack of preternatural sunlight, and when I looked around I caught him peeking into the chest where we kept the Sun Stone. He must have wondered why it was there. It was the only magical relic I elected to retain once our adventures were over. The others were either returned to their respective time eras or locked up in Guardia Castle's vault, as was reasonable, but I kept the Sun Stone more at my dad's inclination than anyone else's. The old man got a kick out of helping me modify its energy to forge the Wonder Shot, and we had even planned to study it and build a conductor that would emulate its sunlight-conversion properties. Regrettably, once we put it in storage, the Sun Stone went out of sight and out of mind...

Before I could explain any of that, something with eight legs skittered over my hand, and I jumped back with a shriek. I might have (amazingly) managed to startle Magus, because the chest he was inspecting abruptly snapped shut while I shook all over and blathered, "Oh geez! Spider, spider! Eek!"

I watched the spider scurry right up to him (evil attracts evil, I suppose) and he squished it under his toe without as much as a grimace. Magus stared dully at my little fit, and if I were any less spooked I would have felt like a ripe idiot.

"I hate spiders," I grumbled, compelled to justify myself. He didn't respond, much less care, so I swallowed my shame and went back to searching, while he went back to browsing.

While shuffling boxes I caught him again, this time with a book. The gold stamp on the tanned cover winked at me across the gloomy attic, though I was more intrigued by Magus's hypnotized expression as he sifted through the pages. "Impossible..." he breathed.

"What?" I pried.

He pursed his lips into an inscrutable frown and shut the book. "...Nothing."

"If you say so..." I shrugged off his odd look and the pang of familiarity. The cloud of dust I turned up made me sneeze thrice, but at the bottom of the stack I finally found what I was looking for--symmetrically imperfect, scuffed and broken-in, but never broken. When I picked it up, it was like shaking hands with an old friend.

"Aha!" I held up the Gate Key with a flourish, admiring the warping colors of its draw-stones in the dim light. "Here we have it, sir."

Magus leaned towards it hungrily, but I quickly stuffed it into my bag before he got a better idea. His frown turned sour, but his hands kept to himself.

"All right!" I clapped eagerly. "Now just let me get ready, and we can go and pick up my third condition."

If I were really crazy, or suicidal, or both, I would have laughed outright at the stern flare of his eyes; it was a look that could have made rocks burst into flame. Instead I offered a grin that was hopefully more mollifying than infuriating.

"Last one, I swear."

---

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