Halftime

By Aaron Ziegler
spanner@visi.com

Chapter 22: Killing Time

There were subconscious portions of Ryoga's mind that realized that Ryoga was, in general, a man of passion, rather than reason. These portions were, perhaps, a little more intelligent than Ryoga himself was most of the time. It was these portions that worked hardest to get Ryoga out of the dangerous situations he regularly found himself in, usually by flooding his conscious mind with images that would trigger depression. Now, Ryoga's mind realized that he was, quite possibly, in greater danger than he had ever been in before. So, the logical portions of Ryoga's mind feverishly dug around in the blackest parts of Ryoga's psyche until they found the darkest possible image Ryoga could imagine.

Ryoga suddenly realized that, because he had gotten lost, Akane must have eventually been killed. Akane was dead, and it was all his fault. For a brief moment, Ryoga believed this fancy to the core of his soul.

The cry of grief that tore itself from Ryoga's throat was far more animal than human, and focused his depression with far greater certainty than the words 'Shi-Shi-Hokudan' could ever hope to match.

* * * * * *

On the surface above, Crono's mother was fingering a blank rock wall with some confusion. "There's supposed to be a magic gate here," she muttered. "It leads right down to Lavos."

"Obviously it learned of the arrival of the Blue Thunder, and has fled into hiding," Kunou announced.

"Kunou's right," Lucca said. "Well, half right, at any rate. According to Dalton, this thing knows that we can kill it. It probably wants to keep us far away, and that means destroying any paths down to it."

Suddenly, a sort of hideous alien squeal could be heard. Even muffled by tons of rock, Lavos's scream was a terrible sound. "It's Lavos," Marle announced, unnecessarily.

"But what's it doing?" wondered Lucca.

Suddenly, the earth began to tremble. A fissure appeared in the ground, and a beam of dark purple energy erupted from it. A similar fissure appeared farther away, and another; a multitude of cracks splitting the earth all around. After a moment, the lights and shaking faded.

Ranma looked pale. "That was a 'Full Shi-Shi-Hokudan'. A big one. Ryoga must be fighting Lavos."

"By himself?" demanded Marle. "That's crazy!"

"We've gotta help him!" said Akane.

"At least we've got a way down, now," noted Ranma, pointing at a particularly large fissure.

"That's insane! It has to be at least an eight kilometer drop down to Lavos itself!" Marle responded.

"Ten, actually," remarked Crono's mother. "But if you're lucky enough to be right above the shell, it's just one to the shell itself."

"I have a parachute," Mousse offered. Several people glanced at him curiously. "Lucca gave it to me!" Mousse said defensively. "It's big enough for two. Lucca?" Mousse offered.

"No, I'm staying behind, this time. I'm too drained from fighting Dalton. I wouldn't last a second against Lavos."

"Well, I'm going!" announced Akane. "Ryoga needs our help."

Ranma scowled. "What're ya always so concerned about Ryoga for?"

Akane smiled sweetly. "Why Ranma, are you jealous?"

"Of course not! But Ryoga can take care of himself. And if you're goin'," Ranma added, "I'm goin', too. Someone's gotta keep you from klutzing out and killing yourself."

As Akane began to swell up furiously, Mousse tossed the parachute to Ranma. "Here, you two can share this. I'll fly down myself. Just remember to bring my clothes along."

"Ranma you JERK!" Pow. Ranma was once again flattened, this time with images of he and Akane sharing a parachute during a ten kilometer drop. 'Mousse must still hate me,' Ranma concluded.

"Janus, you can fly, can't you?" Ukyou asked. "How many can you carry?"

Magus seemed to flinch with irritation. Evidently, he had been hoping that no one would think of him. Nevertheless, he gazed into the darkness thoughtfully, and announced, "Two others."

"Great. I'll come, too."

Crono indicated that he wished to join.

"Shampoo, too!"

"I'm afraid that three is a bit beyond my capacity for a flight like this," Magus said dryly.

"No, it's not," Ukyou grinned, "If one of the passengers were to lose a hundred pounds or so. Eh, Shampoo?" Shampoo grimaced for a moment, but nodded.

"Anyone else that wants to come has to climb," Ranma grinned.

"Of course," Kunou responded. " Tis a mere trifle."

"It was a joke, Kunou!" Ranma snapped. "Ain't no way you can climb ten kilometers down!"

Kunou smirked. "Do not judge the mighty Tatewaki Kunou by your own shortcomings, Saotome."

Ranma bristled, but before he could argue further, Akane grabbed his arm. "Come ON, Ranma!" Akane was waiting impatiently by the edge of the pit. Mousse splashed himself, allowing his clothing to crash noisily to the ground. The white duck struggled free of his former clothing, and waddled over to the edge of the pit. Ranma gathered Mousses clothing with a grunt. "Man, this stuff is heavy!" he exclaimed.

Mousse quacked with amusement, and then launched himself into the darkness. Ranma handed Mousse's clothing to Akane, and reluctantly scooped her into his arms in preparation for the drop. Akane, eager to go, endured Ranma's touch without complaint. Ranma stepped off of the edge.

Akane found herself unable to suppress a brief squeal of exhilarated terror as they dropped, and she tightened her grip on Ranma. Ranma himself didn't mind, but his mouth had other plans. "Geez, Akane! If I'd known you'd be grabbin' me and stuff, I woulda took Ucchan."

Akane glared at Ranma for a moment. Then, she grabbed the ripcord and pulled. "Hurk!" grunted Ranma painfully as the straps of the parachute suddenly jerked tight.

Just as Ranma was about to say something particularly untactful to his passenger, Kunou dropped past, crying, "Tally-ho!"

Ranma gawked at the freefalling swordsman. "Is he NUTS?" Akane, equally shocked, had no response.

As the two of them watched, Kunou, with the skill only a kendo champion of his caliber could muster, stabbed his wooden sword into the rock wall he was falling past. The sword cut a long gash in the solid rock, and the drag slowly halted Kunou's headlong descent. Ranma blinked. "I must admit. I am impressed." Akane, equally astonished, nodded her agreement.

Kunou yanked his bokken free, and once again began to fall. "HA! I'll see you at the bottom, Saotome! Oof!" Kunou slammed into an inconvenient outcropping of rock.

Ranma rolled his eyes. "I WAS impressed," he snorted. Akane, equally disgusted, merely sighed.

By now, Lavos had come into view. At least, a large expanse of its shell had. The sheer size of Lavos boggled the mind; it was hard to imagine that anything so large could be a living creature.

Near the end of their descent, Akane and Ranma were treated to another awesome sight--a tremendous chunk of the front of Lavos's shell was, quite simply, gone. The areas around where the missing shell must once have been were blackened and scorched. The cavern floor was littered with rubble, ash, bony chunks that must have previously belonged to Lavos...and Ryoga.

Ryoga was kneeling on the ground, staring in apparent shock at his hands. He had apparently been at it for quite some time, and he didn't even seem to notice when Ranma and Akane touched down. Ranma approached, somewhat concerned. "Er, hey, Ryoga! Are you alright?" There was no response. "Ryoga!" Ranma waved his hand across Ryoga's eyes. Still no response. "HEY P-CHAN!!!"

Immediately, Ryoga's hand shot out and grabbed Ranma by his shirt. "Who're you callin' P-Chan?" he snarled. Then he blinked twice and shook his head, apparently just regaining his senses. Absently, he released Ranma and asked, "What happened? Where the heck am I?" Then he looked at Lavos, just over Ranma's shoulder. "Oh, yeah," he whispered hoarsely. He began to stare at his hands again. "I did that." Then his eyes widened with fury, and swivelled to focus on Ranma. "And it's ALL YOUR FAULT! YOU'RE HER FIANCEE! YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO PROTECT HER!!!"

Ryoga lunged sloppily at Ranma, who, though surprised, was easily able to dodge to the side. Ryoga stumbled and collapsed at the feet of Akane, who had just returned from dropping Mousse's clothes behind a few large boulders (Mousse had, of course, reached the bottom first). "A-Akane! You're alive!" Ryoga gasped.

"Well, of course I am," Akane said, a little puzzled. "We were afraid that you weren't! What on Earth were you thinking, trying to take on Lavos all by yourself?"

"I, er-"

"Don't ever try anything like that again! Don't you know how much it would hurt me to lose you?"

"Y-you really mean that, Akane?" Ryoga asked, heart filling with joy.

"Of course! You're one of my best friends, Ryoga!"

Ryoga slumped inwardly. "Right. Friends. Of course. Heh, heh."

Abruptly, there was a crash, followed by some irritated quacking. Mousse rolled into view, still in duck form, wrestling with a thermos, whose cap seemed to have become stuck. Akane sighed, and walked over to help Mousse with his thermos.

As soon as she was out of earshot, Ranma leaned down and whispered. "Nice try, pig-boy."

Calmly, Ryoga muttered, "If I wasn't so exhausted, I'd kick your teeth in, Ranma."

Ryoga's exhaustion reminded Ranma of why Ryoga was in that state. "By the way, that 'Shi-Shi-Hokudan' was amazing!"

Ryoga nodded. "I think I blew its head off."

"Then it's dead?" asked Ranma, a little disappointed.

"Hardly," snorted Magus, having finally touched down. He set Ukyou and Crono down. Ranma, noting that Ukyou was carrying Shampoo (as a cat) retreated to a safe distance of about a hundred yards. "All this," Magus gestured at the tremendous mass of Lavos's shell, "is merely a protective housing. Lavos itself resides within.

"Within?" Ranma repeated, eyes following Ukyou and Shampoo as they moved behind another cluster of boulders (a 'Full Shi-Shi- Hokudan' tended to leave many places to find privacy). Once they were out of sight, he took a second look at Lavos's substantial wound and saw that Ryoga's damage had revealed a path leading in. Unfortunately, the tunnel-like passage soon curved, preventing him from seeing how far it led. Once Ranma was fairly certain that the area was cat-free, Ranma returned to the area before the opening.

"About a mile within, to be precise," Magus answered Ranma's unspoken question. "Assuming, of course, that this Lavos is built like the last."

"Well, then, what are we waiting for?" Ranma asked self-confidently.

"That," Magus answered, pointing up.

"Huh?" Ranma looked up, just in time to receive a faceful of plummeting Kunou. Ranma kicked Kunou off of himself, sending the kendo champion flying into the cavern wall. Kunou fell limply to the ground, and then immediately stood up.

Kunou's eyes narrowed, and he pointed his bokken at Ranma. "Truly you are an honourless cur, Saotome, to attack an opponent without warning."

"Waitaminute, you attacked me!" Ranma protested angrily.

Kunou, of course, ignored him. "Were my time my own, I would take great pleasure in thrashing you for your insolence. But for now, Lavos awaits, and outweighs more...pleasurable endeavors."

"I'll give you a pleasurable endeavor," Ranma snarled, stepping towards the arrogant upperclassman. He was surprised to feel a hand grab his shoulder.

It was Crono. He told Ranma that, much as he hated to admit it, Kunou was right. Lavos took precedence, and Kunou could, feasibly, be a valuable companion in the coming battle. Ranma looked extremely skeptical. Crono merely shrugged. But, he had succeeded in his intent, as Ranma decided to leave Kunou for another day.

By this time, Mousse and Shampoo were both changed and dressed. Ukyou and Shampoo moved possessively close to Ranma, while Akane pretended not to care. For once, Mousse, too, seemed unconcerned by Shampoo's proximity to Ranma, and this fact did not go unnoticed by Shampoo. A little guiltily, she stepped away from Ranma, and studied Mousse for a moment, hoping to catch his eye. Mousse did glance her way, but merely smiled sadly before looking away again.

"This silent drama is most amusing," Magus began dryly, not sounding particularly amused, "but Lavos is waiting."

"C'mon then, Ranma," snarled Akane, grabbing Ranma by the shirt and stalking towards Lavos's opening. "As much as I'm sure you'd like to spend some quality time with 'Ucchan', we've got work to do!"

Ryoga staggered to his feet, and then fell to his knees again, "Ranma you fiend! You can't put Akane in danger like this!"

"You want to try to stop her?" Ranma asked helplessly.

"Don't worry about me, Ryoga. I can take care of myself. You just wait here." Akane grinned. "You couldn't fight P-Chan now, let alone Lavos."

Ryoga paled for a moment, before realizing that Akane had no idea of the significance of the statement she had just made. "Oh, right," he answered nervously, "Heh, heh."

"Fear not for Akane's safety," Kunou told him, "for no harm shall befall her while the mighty Blue Thunder remains vigilant!" Somehow, Kunou's announcement was accompanied by a bolt of lightning and a crash of thunder, even eight miles underground.

A moment later, he realized that he and Ryoga were the only ones still outside. Almost sheepishly, the Blue Thunder slunk after them, leaving Ryoga to contemplate the likely efficiency of Kunou's vigilance. Weakly, he raised a clenched fist into the air. "Ranma Saotome," he swore, "if anything happens to Akane, I will make you pay!"

* * * * * *

Deep within its shell, Lavos was very, very afraid. As it had feared, the creature just outside its shell-housing had, indeed, been another Lavos-destroyer. The evidence lay with the fact that Lavos's primary external sensory pod had been annihilated, along with nearly two percent of its protective housing. All of the sensors near the blast site had been fried inoperably, so Lavos had no way of knowing whether the creature had even survived or not. If it had survived, the damage it had caused had left it an entrance--a way to reach Lavos itself.

A quick check revealed that the digging members of Lavos's shell-housing were still hours away from operability. Precious hours that the Lavos-destroyers could use to close in for the kill. Lavos just needed a little time!

Suddenly, the internal sensors of Lavos's shell-housing alerted it to the presence of eight alien presences, close and growing closer. Two of the eight were confirmed Lavos-destroyers, and Lavos had no reason to doubt that the other six were as well. Lavos's fear rose to unparalleled levels. Outside of the shell-housing, Lavos might possibly have dealt with them (for a time, at least) by transporting them through time, away from itself. Unfortunately, it was unable to do so without the aid of its shell-housing's (now non-existent) primary external sensory pod. There was nothing Lavos could do now, but wait for its executioners to arrive--and try to destroy them personally, before they had a chance to return the sentiment.

* * * * * *

The interior of Lavos's shell was a unique, if extremely unnerving, environment. Tall, spongy-looking walls rose on either side of the path which the would-be Lavos slayers followed, broken by openings leading to either side at various intervals, many far too small to pass through. The walls, despite their appearance, were harder than stone, and produced an eerie, green illumination, lighting their way. The air around them reverberated with a rhythmic, hollow rush of wind, as Lavos's shell circulated vital substances throughout itself. The effect was very much like deep, heavy breathing--and the breathing became louder and louder as they progressed. Even Magus seemed nervous, and he had experienced all this before.

Abruptly, the tunnel widened into a large, cylindrical chamber. In the center of the chamber, with a number of tubes, hoses, and cords leading into it from the chamber walls, was a bio-mechanical monstrosity that could only be Lavos.

Oddly, it wasn't Lavos. "That is Lavos's inner shell," Magus informed them. "We must break it open before we will be able to face Lavos itself."

"Hmph. Shampoo know just what do with obstacles. AIYAAAHHH!!!" Shampoo lunged toward the hideous conglomeration of flesh and metal, a wickedly curved scimitar held in one hand, and a bonbouri in the other. She was still angry and confused by Mousse's 'betrayal', and was eager to take it out on the creature that had helped to bring her new rival to her world.

"Shampoo!" Mousse cried, rushing after her, a light-sword flaring to life in each hand as he ran. Lucca or no Lucca, Mousse wasn't about to let Shampoo remain in such danger alone. Kunou, eager to strike a blow before his hated rival Ranma, attacked as well, stabbing and slashing with his bokken faster than the eye could follow.

Magus smirked, and began to tug on his gloves. "Well, subtlety never was of much use against Lavos anyway. Might as well join the fun."

Shampoo, Mousse, and Kunou were actually able to slash through a few of the cables and tubes connecting Lavos's inner shell to its outer before a twisted, arm-like appendage lifted and blasted them away with a pulse of black energy. The monstrosity continued its retaliation by opening several doors around its base, unleashing a horde of tiny, crablike creatures with razor sharp claws. Magus merely smiled savagely as they approached him.

"Janus! Look out!" called Ukyou, who was approaching Lavos's inner shell from the rear.

Magus didn't respond. Then, just before the first of the murderous little creatures could reach him, he chanted, "Black Hole." A grey circle spread out from his feet, creeping along the ground to a radius of a few meters before halting. Then, the grey seemed to slip away, leaving a dead black opening behind. Magus grinned viciously, and clenched his fist. Abruptly, the black opening seemed to develop an intense pull, barely felt by Magus's allies and the securely restrained inner shell, but obviously quite strong for the crablike creatures. Tiny legs scrabbled to find purchase on Lavos's chamber floor, and claws gripped futilely for anchors, but each creature was drawn into the painfully black void at Magus's feet. When the last had vanished, the magical singularity was again suffused with grey before shrinking again to nothingness.

* * * * * *

While Magus was dealing with its tiny minions, Lavos had decided to deal with the Lavos-destroyer that was attempting to attack it's inner shell from behind. Lavos extended a small laser cannon from a more mechanical segment of its inner shell, and trained it upon the creature. The Lavos-destroyer noticed, just as Lavos had anticipated. Lavos fired off a blast, and the creature deflected it with the mirror-like sheen of the flat blade of the long weapon it wielded. Lavos fired off a few more rounds, intending to keep the creature distracted, while it attacked in another, more subtle way...

* * * * * *

Ukyou, eyes trained upon the weapon that was blazing away at her, completely failed to notice the harpoon-like projectile before it stabbed painfully, if not deeply, into her chest. Ukyou had just enough time to gaze in shock at the cord now leading into her chest before a lethal electrical charge began surging into her body. She tried to scream as the current ripped through her form, but found that her voice would not respond to her commands. The world began to turn black around her. Before she succumbed to the darkness, however, she remembered the technique she had practiced with Crono, and weakly tossed a spread of her special spatulas, each thunking into one of the many crevices on Lavos's inner shell.

* * * * * *

Lavos reeled as sparks began to fly from the walls of its inner sanctuary. This was not good. Lavos attempted to shut off the flow of power, but found that the feedback had fused the electrical conduits into a permanent loop. There was only one thing it could do. Lavos triggered a number of emergency explosives, and the inner shell collapsed to pieces around it. Lavos slowly unfolded itself, for the first time looking upon its hunters with its own eyes. Lavos screamed again, and its cry was no less terrible up close than it had been from a distance.

* * * * * *

This was an unexpected development. Magus studied the creature before them. This Lavos bore little resemblance to the one he had helped to destroy on his own world. That Lavos had evidently drawn heavily upon some avian genome, as it had possessed a beak-like mouth and scaly clawed feet. This creature definitely had a large share of reptilian DNA, as its skin was coated with scales, and its muzzle-like mouth was filled with needle-sharp teeth. But really, of major importance were the traits which this Lavos and the other shared: Each had drawn most heavily upon the genetic structure of homo-sapiens, possessing a bipedal shape, two arms tipped with long, manipulative members, and an especially large cranium. This Lavos, like the last, was clad in some kind of biomechanical environment suit. But why had Lavos shed its inner shell?

Magus's pale face drained even further of color when he finally saw the answer. Ukyou lay unmoving on the floor behind Lavos, steam rising from her still form. Wires trailed from her body, leading to and from the shattered remains of the inner shell. "Ukyou," Magus whispered in horror. His eyes hardened. "Crono. Help Ukyou. Now. I will deal with Lavos." Crono nodded grimly, and prepared to dash past the planetary parasite.

"Ucchan?" Ranma gasped, only just realizing what had happened. "WE'LL deal with Lavos, Magus," he hissed.

The two of them began to cautiously edge towards Lavos, who merely seemed to stare at them with a gaze entirely devoid of emotion. It wasn't until Magus withdrew his deadly scythe and Ranma began to gather his self-confidence that Lavos took any action. It lifted one hand, palm outwards, and then, in a clearly understandable voice which was, nevertheless, incredibly alien, spoke the words, "Lavos Ultimate Physical Attack: Lucifer's Hammer." The dust in the air seemed to coalesce, compacting and solidifying until a huge, stone mallet hovered in the air above Magus and Ranma. It didn't hover long. As the tremendous weapon hammered down, Magus and Ranma dodged desperately to each side, narrowly evading the attack. For the moment, that is. When the hammer impacted with the floor of Lavos's chamber, the floor rippled and trembled, knocking the two of them to the floor. On the other side of the chamber, Crono was knocked atop his dying patient. He quickly recovered, and began to cast the spell that would preserve Ukyou's fading life. On a brighter note, the shaking floor revived Kunou, Mousse, and Shampoo from the state of half-consciousness that the blast from Lavos's inner-shell had reduced them to. Indeed, the only one totally unaffected by the attack was Akane, and that was because she was in midair.

Akane's flying kick struck apparently caught the creature off guard, as she plowed into Lavos's chest even before it had a chance to lower its arm. Akane landed on her feet as Lavos staggered backwards in a most satisfactory manner. Then, Lavos recovered and blinked at her. It raised its arm once again, this time pointing it at the girl. Akane rushed toward it with an aggressive cry, fist poised and ready to strike.

"Lavos Ultimate Magical Attack: Anti-Matter Wave." For an instant, Akane could see a bright light. Then, some force collided with her body, knocking her...sideways?

Akane gasped for breath, and then glared angrily at Ranma. "Idiot! I was about to knock its block off!"

"No, you were about to lose a quarter of your body mass," came Magus's dry voice.

"What?" Akane glanced around, and then noticed the column of white energy cascading from Lavos's open hand. That open hand was pointing up at an angle, apparently because Kunou had struck the arm with his wooden sword just before the attack was unleashed. Judging by the width of the beam, it was apparent that even Ranma's desperate maneuver would have not been enough without Kunou's aid. Where the beam had struck the chamber wall, absolutely nothing remained. Akane's eyes widened. "I'm sorry, Ranma."

Ranma had been just about ready to voice a caustic response, but when Akane apologized, he somehow checked his automatic urge. Unfortunately, Ranma's imagination failed to come up with a replacement remark. "Um, well, OK," Ranma stuttered.

"Would you pull yourself together and help me finish this thing? Preferably BEFORE it thinks of something else to throw at us?" Magus snarled impatiently.

* * * * * *

Lavos began to rebuild its strength after its attack. 'Anti-Matter Wave' had been an attack it had hoped to avoid using. Its connection with its outer shell (a connection vastly weakened by the loss of its inner shell) informed Lavos that the stream of magical anti-matter had annihilated approximately .08 percent of its shell-housing (not to mention punching a respectable hole through the host-planet's crust). Worse, the intended target had escaped. Now that target, the two who had evaded 'Lucifer's Hammer', and the three that it's inner shell had temporarily incapacitated were readying an attack. Lavos again felt fear. But this time, it could see a way to use that fear.

One of the creatures was slashing at Lavos again and again with a rod of some primitive organic substance. Though the rod appeared to have no edge, each slash was leaving painful, if superficial cuts in its flesh and protective armor. It was time to retaliate. Lavos raised its arm again. "Lavos Ultimate Chi Attack: Terrorize." Lavos gathered its fear, just as it had witnessed one of the creatures concentrate its despair, and another collect its self-confidence, and unleashed a blast of energy in all directions. Each of the invaders was thrown against the walls of the chamber and held there, buffeted by wave after wave of terror-fueled chi energy. After a moment, the barrage ceased, dropping eight battered forms to the chamber floor.

* * * * * *

"Quickly," Magus rasped hoarsely, struggling to push himself up onto his elbows, "Strike now! Before it has a chance to recover."

"Shampoo need chance to recover," Shampoo whimpered, every inch of her body aching. Nevertheless, she forced herself up, and unleashed a spread of throwing stars. Each of the tiny metal bladed weapons struck Lavos, causing it to stagger a moment in pain. At that instant, Crono, Magus, Ranma, and Mousse struck as one.

Crono chanted the word 'Luminaire', and a dome of blinding, charged light spread out from his body to engulf Lavos.

"Dark Matter," Magus intoned, and black energy began to course through the room, focused onto Lavos through a floating triangular prism.

"Mouku-Takabisha," Ranma contributed, his shaking self-confidence bolstered by the anger he felt. Akane had struck the wall head first, and was lying limply a few paces from him. There was no telling how badly she was injured. Lavos had to pay.

Mousse had no vocal contribution. Instead, he propped himself up on one elbow, trained a medium-sized rocket launcher on Lavos, and fired.

* * * * * *

Lavos screamed once again as its body was dismantled by magic (both positive and negative), fighting spirit, and physical power. Desperately, it tried to tap into its reservoir of life energy, trying to call for help--perhaps one of its brothers could aid it in its time of need. But this was futile, and Lavos knew it. No Lavos would help another, even if it could. Genetic evolution was everything. If Lavos had shown itself unfit to survive, it would not. And so, Lavos died in a tremendous explosion--not within the four dimensions we are each so familiar with, but in the dimensions beyond, through which Lavos had once erected its portals. As it died, its remaining life energy flooded the ready channels it found there, and eight Gates flared to life.

* * * * * *

To Shampoo, Mousse, and Ranma, the only ones still conscious, Lavos's death was rather anticlimactic. When the conflicting light and dark glares subsided, and the smoke cleared, all that was left of Lavos were the echoes of its death cry. All was silent. Too silent. After a moment, they realized that the overwhelming breathing sound had ceased. It seemed that Lavos was finally dead.

"Akane..." Ranma whispered, crawling over to the prone figure. "Are you all right?" He pulled the girl into his arms, gazing intently into her still face.

Shampoo merely stared bleakly as Ranma cradled his fiancee. She was too exhausted to fight. And what could she fight? The only battle here was one which Shampoo was slowly realizing she could never win by force. "Mousse?" she asked weakly, turning a moist gaze upon her childhood friend, the one who had told her time and again that he loved her, that he would never leave her. The one who had fought for her love and lost, perhaps to find comfort in the arms of another. But Shampoo had no other.

Mousse tried to meet Shampoo's desperate gaze with hard eyes, but found that he could not. He turned away, unwilling to allow Shampoo to witness the tears forming in his own eyes. He closed his mind to the quiet sobbing he heard behind him. He had made his decision.

Afterword:

Hooray! Lavos is dead, and there's only one chapter to go! And it's more of an epilogue, really, than a chapter. Have to tie up all the loose ends, and all that.

Mighty convenient, how Lavos's death opened up all those portals, huh? Gonna make it so much easier to send our tired heroes home. Before you complain that it's a little too convenient, I'll have you know that it makes a bit more sense than the solution given in Chrono Trigger. In the game, no explanation is given at all as to why Crono and all his friends end up back in 1000 A.D. after Lavos dies. Even worse, when everyone goes home, they all walk through THE SAME GATE to return them to their respective times! A gate that's supposed to lead to 600 A.D.! At least I made some effort to explain MY plot device.

Chrono Trigger Tip #22:

How do I beat Lavos?

Well, first off, you should choose a party. If you're Mindlessly Obsessive, and have already played through the game once or twice, pretty much any group of three characters will do (I generally finish Lavos off with Lucca, Robo, and Magus, just so I can use the 'Omega Flare'). If it's your first time through, However you need to construct a party more sensibly. Definitely take Marle. The first time you fight Lavos, her 'Life2' spell is gonna come in mighty handy. Her 'Haste' spell is wonderful as well: speed is really a factor while fighting Lavos. As a second character, I would suggest Crono. He has fairly powerful physical attacks, but, more importantly, can use 'Life' to revive Marle on those few occasions that she falls. To round off the group, Lucca is a good choice, particularly if you have the Gold Stud (an artifact which reduces magic point consumption to a quarter). Her 'Flare' spell is probably the most damaging Single Tech in the game, and her Wondershot (if you have it) is pretty powerful as well. Plus, the Triple Tech the three of them do together, 'Delta Force', packs a good punch for the cost in magic, and is cool-looking to boot.

If you're worried about Marle being, more or less, useless when no one's dead or slow (she really is pathetic as an offensive character), you might consider taking Frog instead. He can keep everyone healthy at once using his 'Heal' spell, or completely cure a critically injured character with 'Cure2', plus he packs a healthy physical wallop with his Masamune, particularly if you have the Hero's Medal equipped. However, I think you'll really come to miss the extra speed Marle provides.

Okay, now that you have your party, let's go kick some Lavos butt!

You have three options at this point. You can take the bucket-Gate at the End of Time to face Lavos, fight your way through the Black Omen and defeat Queen Zeal, or you can fly the Epoch to Lavos. If you use the Epoch, you will blast past Lavos's outer defenses, through his shell, and skip the first phase of Lavos altogether. The downside to this is that the Epoch is destroyed and you get only the second-best ending, once you beat Lavos the rest of the way.

If you've taken the Gate or destroyed the Black Omen (recommended), then you'll have to break past Lavos's 'primary external sensory pod' (as I've named it in the story). This pod will try to defeat you by imitating several 'boss' creatures that you defeated earlier in the game. You should mop up with the first couple without any trouble. Indeed, none of the 'bosses' should be too difficult by this point. Be somewhat wary of magic consumption. You'll have a chance to fill up again, but you have to face a number of 'bosses' before Lavos gets tired of taking abuse and starts to throw its own attacks at you. When it does finally stop imitating lesser bosses, make sure that you keep your hit points high. Every now and then it will attack you with a damaging 'Death from Above' attack, and you'll need to heal your characters (which is more problematic if some of them have died). On the bright side, this means that you don't have far to go, and that you no longer have to worry about conserving magic (save for healing purposes). After some abuse, Lavos will scream, and its head (primary external sensory pod) will disappear, leaving an entrance. Go in, and you will come upon a Gate. If your characters are low on magic and hit points, take it. It will take you to the End of Time, where you can heal yourself with magic water. Now, if you take the bucket-Gate, you'll appear before Lavos, and it's head will still be gone. Hop right in, and you can pick up where you left off.

Now, eventually, you'll come to the inner-shell. This thing is big and nasty and has two arms. You're first priority is to destroy the arms. The torso is practically indestructible as long as the arms are up. The left arm (er, your left, not Lavos's left) has less hit points, so that is a good place to start. Once you destroy the left arm, the right arm is your next target. After that is gone, the torso is at your mercy. Once the arms are gone, try to avoid using attacks that strike a large area--you only have one target left, after all. Chances are that they will use a lot more magic than is efficient (for instance, Lucca's 'Mega Bomb' does about as much damage as a 'Flare', but in a smaller area, and is much cheaper). You might want to consider equipping Marle (or Crono, if you decided to take Frog) with Red Mail, as the inner-shell will occasionally cast a massive fire attack. Perseverance will carry the day.

After the inner-shell is gone, Lavos itself appears before you. Lavos is composed of three 'Lavos Bits'. The most dangerous one is the center bit (which is Lavos itself). This bit knows all of the Lavos Ultimate Attacks, a nasty lighting attack which is all but guaranteed to kill any character it is used on, and an insidious musical attack that inflicts status ailments like Chaos, Poison, and Stop on your characters. Nevertheless, that bit is not your primary target. The bit that you really need to destroy is the small floating bit on the right (again, your right, not Lavos's). This bit, while rarely attacking on its own, has the nasty capability of reviving either of the other two bits, should you manage to destroy them. Fortunately, if you kill this bit, the other two will die as well. Unfortunately, this bit has a barrier that protects it very thoroughly against both magical and physical attacks. The left bit is more of a nuisance than anything else, but it is totally immune to magical attacks (in fact, it gains life from any magic cast at it).

Lavos, like a few other enemies in the game, also has a few double and triple techs. The most insidious is a triple tech that casts Slow on all of your party members. If you don't have Marle, make very sure that one or all of your characters have Haste Helms on!

So, how do you kill the right bit? You need to make it drop its barrier. The right bit is forced to drop its barrier before it can bring its companion bits back to life. So, kill one of the other bits. Probably a good one to start with is the left bit, which, in spite of its immunity to magic, only has a few hit points, and will quickly die under a physical assault. After it bites the dust, pound on the center bit while you wait for the right bit to drop its barrier. Once it does, though, hit it with everything you've got. The right bit has a whole lot of hit points, and it will only lower its defenses long enough for it to restore the left bit. It won't hurt to use area attacks at this point--damage that you do to the center bit as well as the right bit is a good thing. With good timing, you can kill the center bit right after the right bit restores the left bit, in which case the right bit will have to spend some more time with its barrier down while it prepares to restore the center bit--plus, you won't have the center bit breathing down your neck while you're trying to pound on the right bit. Be careful, though, with bad timing, you'll kill the center bit just BEFORE the right bit restores the left bit, in which case the right bit will restore both of the other bits at the same time. Basically, that's all you have to do at this point. Keep that barrier down, and nail that right bit with everything you've got.

You might want to use a Megalixer at the beginning of your battle with the Lavos bits. Chances are that the inner-shell hasn't left you in top shape, and Lavos won't go easy on you. If you have Marle, have her administer the Megalixer while Crono and Lucca take down the left bit, and then have her start casting 'Haste' (first on herself, so she can cast it on the others sooner). If you have Frog, have Lucca do the Megalixer, as Frog will be more likely to do significant damage to the left bit.

One final tidbit of advice. If you have the FrenzyBand, an item which causes a character to counter-attack 80% of the time that he or she is hit, be sure that Crono's wearing it. During the course of your battle with the Lavos bits, the center bit will frequently change the background scenery. Even though this does no damage to any of your characters, it still counts as an attack, and Crono will be likely to counter-attack. If Crono has the Rainbow (the ultimate Katana, with an 70% chance of a critical strike every time it's used), he'll rack up some major damage. It's a cheap shot, but every little bit counts. (For the Mindlessly Obsessive, by the third time through the game, you can have picked up three of these babies. Put one on each character, and you can sit back and watch all three lay into Lavos every time it feels like a change of scenery. It's especially amusing when all three of your characters are powerful physical fighters--say, Crono, Robo, and Ayla.)

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