I'd not advise reading this if you haven't read Chapter 1. But no one really needs me to tell them that, I hope.

Halftime

By Aaron Ziegler
spanner@visi.com

Chapter 2: Class Time

The next day, Crono and Marle, having nothing else to do while Lucca tinkered with the Epoch, decided to accompany Ranma and Akane to school. Ranma and Akane were happy to have the company, and promised to show the two wayward time travelers around the town of Nerima after school was over.

As they neared the school, however, Ranma and Akane became apprehensive. "Um, guys, if anything...unusual should happen, just let us take care of it," warned Akane.

Crono asked what she meant by unusual. "Oh, like a maniac carrying a wooden sword attacking me," said Ranma, cheerfully. "You know, that kind of unusual."

"What?" asked Marle, confused and alarmed.

Exasperated, Akane replied, "It's this guy named Tatewaki Kunou. He decided that I'm the girl for him, and he somehow got the impression that Ranma and I are a...couple."

"A completely baseless claim, of course," hastened Ranma.

"Of course," Akane was quick to agree. "But Kunou thinks so, and so every day, sometimes several times a day, Kunou tries to kill Ranma to win me."

"That's awful!" exclaimed Marle. "And he never gives up?"

"Nope, his ego's too big," answered Ranma.

"Almost as big as Ranma's," grinned Akane, earning a threatening look from Ranma.

They continued walking for a while. Soon, the school came into view. "So, where's Kunou?" wondered Akane. "He usually shows up by now..."

"You called for me, lovely one?" said a new voice. Ranma and Akane groaned in unison.

Crono and Marle turned to the sound of the voice, and saw someone who could only be Tatewaki Kunou. He was standing proudly, looking tall, dark, and handsome in his traditional samurai robes. He smiled at Akane. Then he noticed Crono and Marle. "Ah, I see that you have guests. A fair maiden, and," he scowled, "another young man. Undoubtedly another suitor. They seem to gather about you like flies around a lovely mare." Crono and Marle tried to correct him, but he continued on without waiting, "Fortunately, I am well trained in the swatting of such flies!" He glared at Crono. "What is your name, knave, that I may carve it on your tomb?"

Crono began to answer, when Kunou interrupted again, "Ah, but it is more appropriate that I give my name first." Crono was beginning to understand why Akane and Ranma disliked this fellow. Kunou drew his wooden bokken, and held it high. "I am Tatewaki Kunou, the undefeated-" Kunou faltered a moment in his speech with a hateful glance at Ranma, "the occasionally defeated Blue Thunder of Furinkan High!" A lightening bolt arced across the sky, accompanied by a crash of thunder. Kunou posed arrogantly for a few seconds more, and then looked down his nose at Crono. "And who might you be?"

Crono snorted, thoroughly unimpressed. He spoke his name, and then lifted his arms into the air chanting the word 'Lightning'. Another bolt of lightning lit up the sky. But this time, the lightning struck Kunou's bokken.

Smoke rising from his body, a blackened Kunou looked at Crono in amazement. He looked at his splintered bokken and blinked twice. Then, his eyes rolled back in his head, and he collapsed into unconsciousness.

"Wow!" said Akane. "Are you a sorcerer?"

Crono shook his head, but admitted that he did know some magic, as did Lucca and Marle.

"Can you teach me how to do that?" asked Ranma.

Again Crono shook his head. He explained that he had, more or less, been granted his magical abilities by a creature named Spekkio.

"Spekkio?" asked Akane.

"He calls himself 'The Master of War'," Marle responded. "But he really is a nice fellow. He lives in a wierd place called 'The End of Time', which is supposed to be sort of outside of time or something. Lucca could explain it better. Anyway, if we ever get the Epoch fixed, we'll take you to visit him."

Ranma chuckled gleefully, imagining the look on his father's face after Ranma blasted him with some lightning. Then, another thought struck him, and as usual, his mouth kicked in before his mind had time to examine it, "Maybe Spekkio could teach you how to cook, Akane! It would take really powerful magic to pull that one off."

Marle and Crono winced at the spectical of wanton violence which followed. With a sigh, Marle healed Ranma and dragged him, still groggy, to his feet. The three rushed to catch up with Akane, who was storming off toward the school.

* * * * * *

Later, Akane and Ranma were explaining Crono and Marle's presence to the teacher of their World History class. The teacher looked at the newcomers haggardly. A few years of teaching at Furinkan High had changed her from a promising young teacher into a wretched crone, and she had little tolerence for surprises. "Get to your seats then," she snarled. "Don't think that you'll get any special treatment in my class just because you're guests!"

Meekly, Crono and Marle walked to their indicated seats. Marle flipped idly through the history text, and suddenly realized that something was horribly wrong. "Look, Crono," she whispered, "the continents are all wrong!"

Crono quickly flipped his book open to the same page. Indeed, the geography was wildly different, not the least of which was that there were too many continents. Shocked, he remarked that it would have taken quite an catastrophy to cause that much change in a mere millenium. A catastrophy at least as devastating as the one they had witnessed in 12,000 B.C., when the floating continents of the Enlightened Ones had crashed to the earth.

"Think, Crono!" she hissed, "There can't have been a catastrophy! We saw the world in 1999, and it looks nothing like this! There's no way that they're gonna have domed cities and high-tech highways four years from now if there's ANOTHER catastrophy between now and then! We have to tell Lucca!"

Abruptly, two erasers, thrown with the olympean accuracy that could only be the product of years of difficult teaching, struck Crono and Marle in the head. "Into the hall you two!" the teacher snapped.

"Don't worry," whispered Ranma with a smirk, "You haven't really been shown the Furinkan experience until you've spent some time in the hall holding buckets of water!" He was rewarded for his ill-timed taunt with another airborn eraser.

"Show them how it's done, Ranma," cackled the teacher.

Soon, true to Ranma's word, the three of them were standing in the hall holding buckets of water.

"It's gonna be a long day," thought Marle.

* * * * * *

After a long day, school was finally over. Marle and Crono resolved to stay with Lucca rather than repeat that experience again. For now, though, they were willing to let Akane and Ranma show them around town. Soon, the foursome arrived at Ucchan's. Ranma, thinking with his stomach as usual, had made a beeline for the okonomiyaki joint. Akane merely sighed.

"This is Ucchan's," said Akane. "This is where Ukyou, one of Ranma's other fiancees, makes okonomiyaki."

This was the first time that Crono and Marle had heard about any fiancees at all. Crono asked Akane what she meant.

She suddenly colored, "Oh, that's right. You don't know. Usually it's one of the first topics that come up when we meet new people. At Ranma's birth his father and mine promised each other that Ranma would marry me or one of my sisters. So we were betrothed-"

"-against our wills, of course," interjected Ranma.

"Of course," Akane quickly added.

Marle recalled their earlier run-in with Kunou. "So, Kunou's suspicion that you two are a couple isn't totally baseless."

"Of course it is! exclaimed Ranma. "We're fiancees, but Kunou's a total idiot if he thinks I could actually be attracted to that uncute, violent, urk-"

A well-placed hammer quickly silenced that particular train of thought. Akane continued, "Anyway, Ranma tends to collect fiancees like most people collect pocket lint."

"Hey-" protested Ranma, rubbing his head.

Akane steamrolled on, "It was eventually discovered that he had another fiancee already, Ukyou, and it didn't take him long to pick up a third-"

"Hey, I wouldn't really call Shampoo a fiancee-"

"SHE certainly thinks she is," countered Akane.

Marle broke in, "Shampoo? That psychotic girl on the bike?"

Akane nodded. "Ranma beat her in a fight, and by the laws of her villiage, she must marry him."

Crono recalled how Shampoo had been draped over Ranma back at the Tendo home, and nodded with sympathy. Akane continued, "His other fiancee, as I mentioned, is Ukyou."

"Really we're just friends," assured Ranma. "We have been since childhood-"

"RANCHAN!" exclaimed a voice. Ranma turned just in time to recieve an armload of Ukyou. In Crono's opinion, Ukyou looked a bit more friendly than 'just friends', but he decided to reserve judgement. Getting a better look at Ukyou, Crono and Marle could see a pretty girl with long black hair tied with a red bow. She had some kind of shovel strapped to her back. When she released Ranma, they could see that she had a bandolier of sharpened spatulas strapped across her chest. They suddenly realized that the shovel was not a shovel at all, but a gigantic spatula. There was something familiar about her, though Crono and Marle couldn't quite place it. Ukyou noticed the two, and asked, "Who are your friends, Ranchan?"

Ranma introduced the two to Ukyou, and to their surprise, explained the whole time-travel situation to her. Evidently, Ukyou was someone in whom Ranma placed a great deal of trust. Ukyou took every crazy word with great solemnity, and when Ranma was finished, she asked them to come inside, so that they could talk over okonomiyaki.

Seated at a booth, Marle and Crono watched with great interest as Ukyou prepared the food. She moved incredibly fast, and in mere moments, five steaming okonomiyakis flew through the air and landed neatly on the table. Ukyou came over to join them.

"So you fried that pompous Kunou," she asked with a smirk. "I would have paid good money to see that. Of course you realize that he is now honor-bound to defeat you."

Crono shrugged indifference. He was confident in his ability to defeat the arrogant fellow, with or without magic.

"But more importantly," Ukyou continued, "you're stuck here in this time until you can get your machine fixed."

"Actually," said Marle, "it's not quite that simple. While Crono and I were in class today, we discovered that this world is all wrong! The geography is very different from what we remember, the history books had no mention of the great war against Magus in 600 A.D., and when we finally managed to find a book on dinosaurs, we found that they had all been extinct long before there were humans, and there was no mention of Reptites at all! I don't think we're even on the same planet as before. We were gonna tell Lucca when we got back."

Ranma and Akane looked surprised, as this was the first they had heard of this. Ukyou looked concerned. "This does sound serious," she said. "Maybe you should ask Cologne. She's a pretty wise old woman, and she might have some idea what went wrong."

Ranma groaned, and Akane looked apprehensive, but she nodded her agreement. Crono asked them who Cologne was.

Ranma answered, "Cologne is Shampoo's great-grandmother." Crono frowned, and Marle scowled. They had no real desire to meet Shampoo again. Still, if she could help...

"OK, we'll do it," said Marle.

The five finished eating, and stood up. As Ranma, Akane, Crono, and Marle left, Ukyou called out, "See you later, Ran-chan!"

As the foursome walked, Akane gleefully picked up their conversation from where it had been interrupted by Ukyou. To Ranma's dismay, she detailed how Ranma had ended up betrothed to Ukyou. When she finished, the two were barely holding in their laughter.

Marle turned to Ranma with a stifled giggle, "You really chose okonomiyaki over Ukyou? You really do think with your stomach, don't you?"

"Look, I was young," he grumbled. "I had no idea what Dad was talking about! I didn't even know she was a girl then."

Mercilessly, Akane continued, "That covers his fiancees, but it only scratches the surface of his suitors."

"Akane-" began Ranma desperately.

"To start with, there's Kodachi Kunou, Tatewaki's sister," Ranma seemed to shudder briefly at her name. "She's a sadistic psychopath. It's no wonder that she fell for Ranma."

Angry, Ranma taunted, "If that's so, then why haven't you fallen for me yet, you uncute tomboy!"

"Idiot!" returned Akane, but was enjoying herself far too much to smash Ranma. She continued, "Even better, she hates Ranma's female form, and never seems to be able to discover that she is the same person as Ranma! Which leads me to the best part of all..."

"Akane, PLEASE," Ranma pleaded desperately, now regretting his taunt.

"Tatewaki Kunou!" shouted Akane triumphantly. Ranma moaned. "Kunou's other love is his little 'pig-tailed goddess', who is none other than our dear Ranma in female form."

At this, Crono and Marle collapsed to the ground in laughter. It was a while before they could stand again, gasping for breath. Akane looked viciously pleased, and her grin widened as she saw Ranma scowling at her. "Are you finished," he asked her.

"Well, I could tell them about Mikado and Picolette, but they were really only one-night stands. Besides, they would be rather anticlimatic at this point. At any rate, we're at Neko Hanten already."

The four walked into the Chinese restaurant. It was fairly crowded that day, and Shampoo was working furiously. She ran from table to table carrying dozens of bowls of ramen at a time. Every now and then, without warning, another bowl of ramen would come sailing through the air out of the kitchen. Shampoo caught every one, and added it to the stack of bowls. When dropping a bowl of ramen off at a table, she would always leave the bottommost bowl, ensuring that none of the ramen she carried would get cold. It was an extremely impressive scene as far as Crono and Marle were concerned. To Akane and Ranma, it was just routine.

The wizened voice of an old woman, evidently Cologne, came from the kitchen. "Mousse, show our guests to the kitchen."

A young man with long black hair, wearing white Chinese garments came out of the kitchen. He had glasses thicker than Lucca's, but they were pushed up onto the top of his head. He wove his way uncertainly to the front door, and then addressed a potted plant next to where the four were standing. "Please come with me." He then turned, and walked into a wall. After standing again, he squinted and looked in confusion at the wall.

Again the old voice could be heard, "Idiot!" Cologne sighed, and called, "Guests, could you show Mousse to the kitchen?"

"Come on Mousse," said Akane, gently turning the befuddled boy in the right direction.

"Akane?" said Mousse, squinting at her. "You're the guest?"

"Not just me. Mousse, this is Crono, and this is Marle."

Mousse attempted to focus on the two newcomers without a great deal of success. Finally he gave up and just said, "Pleased to meet you." He then tried to focus on the fourth member. "And you are...oh, it's you, Ranma." Mousse scowled.

"RANMA?" said a familiar voice. Everyone winced at the sound of a dozen ramen bowls crashing to the ground. Shampoo callously punted Mousse out of the way, and grappled Ranma. "Ranma come to visit Shampoo?"

Marle walked over to where a battered Mousse was lying. She healed him, earning an awed, but grateful look. Then Mousse's face hardened, and he shouted, "Get away from her, Ranma!"

Ranma was trying, without much luck, to do just that. Then the old woman's voice came from the kitchen, "SHAMPOO!!!" Shampoo cringed, and let go of Ranma. "They did not come here to see you! Now, what happened to that ramen?"

Shampoo looked guiltily at the large ramen mess on the ground. "Sorry, great-grandmother," she said woefully.

"Sorry isn't good enough! Now, clean up that mess, and get back to work." With a longing glance at Ranma, Shampoo went to get a mop.

"I'll help you, Shampoo," offered Mousse, earning a hateful look from Shampoo.

But before Shampoo could answer, Cologne snapped, "Leave her alone, Mousse, and get back here with those guests."

The four guests carefully manuvered Mousse back to the kitchen. There, they finally got a good look at Cologne. Crono and Marle were surprised to see what looked like a two-foot tall wrinkled old gnome with long white hair and large round eyes, balanced easily on a four-foot staff. Then they realized that it was no gnome at all, but just a very old woman. "I was wondering when you two would show up." She addressed Mousse. "Leave us. What we are about to discuss is not for your ears."

Slightly irritated, Mousse turned and walked into a broom closet. A second later, he walked out of the broom closet with a scowl, and left the kitchen through the proper exit. When he had left, Cologne turned to her guests and asked, "So, where is the frog-man?"

"Frog-man?" gasped Marle. "How did you know about-"

"When you get to be as old as I am, you tend to know many things," snapped Cologne. "So, Frog is not here yet? No matter. He'll be along eventually. I assume you have come here to ask me what went wrong. You want to know what world you're on."

Crono nodded. The old woman seemed satisfied, "Well, I cannot help you." Crono and Marle looked crestfallen, though still awed by Cologne's knowledge. "In my time, I have seen many, such as yourself, who came to this world from another. In every case, the method differed. You are the first I have seen to have arrived in a silver bird. When I saw the silver streak in the sky, I knew that I would be seeing you soon."

Crono asked if there was nothing that she could do to help. "Don't be insolent," the crone snapped. "I am helping! Knowlege is power. Rest assured, that with the proper knowledge, you shall find your way home. But, you must realize that you are going to be spending quite a bit of time on this world before that happens."

"Now, I have a few things to tell you, so listen carefully. First, beware the Sorcerer of Jusenkyo. Second, remember that the laws of the Joketsuzoku tribe are not to be ignored. Third, and most importantly, remember this: the child can be found to the west of the villiage. Remember it!"

Dutifully, Crono and Marle consigned the information to memory. "You may also find it useful to have Lucca create a water pistol, one with both hot and cold water. The uses for such a thing should be obvious. One more thing. I have found that when travellers such as yourself visit our planet, it is rarely by chance. You were sent or brought here. For what purpose, I cannot guess. That's all I can tell you, for now," said Cologne. "I wish you luck on your journey. Now, unless you have further business here, you may depart."

The four of them made their way out of the restaurant, past a dejected Shampoo. When they were outside, Marle said, "Wow."

"I know what you mean," replied Akane. "Cologne really knows her stuff. I think that she likes you," she added.

Crono looked at her in astonishment, and remarked that Cologne had been rude, insulting, and short-tempered. "Actually, she was much nicer than usual today," answered Akane with a shrug.

Crono found that hard to believe, but didn't press the point. Then he suggested that they should return to the Tendo home. They had much to discuss with Lucca. They could see the rest of Nerima later. Ranma shrugged, "Sure. Anyway, Ucchan's and Neko Hanten are probably the two most interesting places in Nerima."

Akane looked at him, "You only say that because you can get free meals from Ukyou and Shampoo!"

"It's the only way I can hope to survive on nights when you cook!" Ranma shot back.

Crono and Marle rolled their eyes, as another fight ensued. Life in Nerima was going to take some getting used to.

* * * * * *

None too soon, the four arrived at the Tendo home. Lucca was peering intently into the guts of the battered Epoch, while Nabiki looked on. The expression on Nabiki's face was an odd mixture of fascination, confusion, and greed. Lucca had removed her helmet to prevent it from getting in the way of her work. Ranma and Akane could now see that she had straight, shoulder-length reddish-purple hair.

Lucca held out an arm, and said, "Hey, Beeky! couldja hand me that 15 mm manual torque driver?"

"Er," replied Nabiki, surveying the bewildering array of tools Lucca had dumped onto the ground.

Lucca sighed, looking up from her work, "The third wrench-like thing from the left, Nabiki!"

"Got it," said Nabiki, handing the mechanic the requested tool.

As Lucca accepted the wrench, she saw Crono and Marle approaching with Ranma and Akane, who were pointedly ignoring each other. "Hey! How was school, guys?"

"It's a long story," answered Marle.

"Just let me make a few more adjustments, and then you can tell me all about it." Lucca attacked the Epoch for a few minutes with her 15 mm manual torque driver, and then she and Nabiki pulled a tarp over the vehicle. Lucca grabbed and donned her helmet, and followed the others inside.

Akane, despite her anger toward Ranma, became conscious of the fact that Nabiki was watching them all carefully. It wouldn't do for her to overhear what they were discussing. So, Akane led the others up to her room. Ranma was surprised for a moment, but then caught on. Akane carefully closed the door. She tapped her foot for a few moments, and then abruptly opened the door. Nabiki collapsed into the room, holding a glass, which she had evidently been using to listen at the door. "Do you mind, Nabiki?" asked Akane, glaring at her sister. The others in the room snickered.

Nabiki stood up with dignity, and said, "I was just picking up dishes around the house! You really shouldn't leave glasses lying around in the hall," she added.

"Yeah, right. Beat it, big sister," said Akane. Nabiki left, and Akane waited a few minutes more. She opened the door again, but Nabiki was nowhere in sight. "Good, she's gone," said Akane.

Crono and Marle, with interjections from Ranma and Akane, related that day's discoveries to Lucca. Lucca listened carefully, and with growing astonishment. "So we're not even on the same planet anymore?" Crono nodded.

"This is very odd," said Lucca, half to herself. "The Epoch just was built for time travel, not interstellar travel! Still, if Cologne is right, and we are here for a purpose, we really should find out what that purpose is."

Crono remarked that they really had no idea what to look for. "True," replied Lucca. "I think that we should probably just stay put until we manage to get the Epoch fixed. I still don't know how long that's gonna take. The Epoch was built well, but it just wasn't built against bicycle damage. Speaking of which, I think I'm gonna get back to work." The group adjourned.

Meanwhile, downstairs, Nabiki carefully folded the stepladder that she had been using to listen to the group through the ceiling. 'Time-travel, huh?' Nabiki thought gleefully. 'What a gold mine! I'm sure that Crono and his friends wouldn't mind if I made a teensy little fact-finding expedition with their little toy...' Another newspaper headline blazed its way through Nabiki's mind: NERIMA RESIDENT MAKES KILLING ON THE STOCK MARKET! BECOMES WEALTHIEST WOMAN IN JAPAN! 'I've just gotta bide my time, and help Lucca with her repairs.'

Afterword:

I've noticed an interesting phenomenon as I've been reviewing what I've written. I have become, in my opinion, a much better writer over the past year. I keep finding little mistakes, and badly written phrases that I would never make now, and the overall writing quality is somewhat lower than it is in later chapters. Bear with me! It only gets better from here.

Chrono Trigger Tip #2:

Okay, I've put a mindlessly obsessive amount of work into this, and I now have eleven cats. Is there anything else I can do at the House of Horror?

Well, until Crono kicks the bucket, not much. You can get a musical Poyozo doll, a Crono clone, a cat, and cat food. After he's toast, however, you can get other Fabulous Prizes. If you play the Find Vicks, Wedge, or Piette game with someone other than Crono leading your group, you will win another Poyozo doll. However, this Poyozo doll will play the theme music of the character that won it, and it will be located at that character's home (Princess Nadia's room in Guardia Castle in 1000 A.D. for Marle, Lucca's room in her house in 1000 A.D. for Lucca, the forest den in 600 A.D. for Frog, Proto Dome in 2300 A.D. for Robo, the Chieftain's Hut in 65,000,000 B.C. for Ayla, and the barren snowy outcropping in 12,000 B.C. for Magus). Similarly, you can win a clone of that character by playing the Imitate the Clone game (not to mention win a replacement clone for Crono once you rescue him). The clone, like the doll, will appear in the home of the character who wins it. Again, none of this serves any real purpose, it is just fun to do, and is a further exercise in mindless obsession. (Naturally, I can't win the game without getting all of the clones and dolls.)

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