Dark Winds Chapter 2
Dawn approached swiftly, fingers of light rising from the horizon to stab at the darkness. Night gathered her shroud about her tightly to flee west, till the sanctity of time allowed her to reclaim the skies yet again. Janus' castle reflected the sun with awe inspiring beauty, golden and pink eddies sparkling off obsidian black architecture. It was small, in comparison with the castle he had maintained in the middle ages, barely the size of a keep, but Janus had no use for anything larger now. Then he housed an army of Mystics, now it was only he who called this place home.
Crono leaned against the window frame, admiring the castle coloring until the sun finally lifted above the forest that surrounded the keep. Janus had chosen an excellent spot for privacy, the forest at the front of the keep, the mountains to the back. Difficult to invade, if anyone were to attempt such a feat in this age. Always thinking like a man of eternal war, that was Janus.
The latch turned with a click and Crono twisted his neck to peer over his shoulder as Janus silently entered the room. He nearly asked if the man ever knocked first, but decided against it. Janus' powers were well known, he would never have walked in unless he were sure his guest was awake and coherent, as well as dressed.
"You surprise me. I had thought it would be several hours before you awoke." There was a touch of humor to his words, a ghost of a smile crossing his lips. Crono was well known to sleep in as long as possible.
Twisting around to lean against the window frame, Crono shrugged, "I found it hard to sleep last night. You promised to explain all of this today, and I would like to hear it."
Janus' eyes glittered darkly, reluctance barely masked in his eyes. Crono watched as the Magus crossed the floor to the polished oak table near the fireplace, easing himself into a chair with all the grace of a loping cat. "So be it. Have a seat." He gestured to a chair across from him with a gloved hand, his arms then descending to the armrests. His bearing was regal, as though this common chair were transformed to a gilded throne simply by the power of his presence. Crono claimed the seat, arms crossing over the top of the table as he leaned in to listen as Janus began his tale.
The palace gates opened wide, Mystics marching back into the courtyard, chanting the name of their master and leader, The Magus, a man to be feared now, his crimes innumerable, his legacy a mystery. Janus watched from the highest spire of his castle, an arrogant smile upon his lips. These were his, and soon all that he could see would belong to him. The people of Guardia were weak, their King obsessed with creating a world free of fear, of evil. He would understand the error of his ways. Or he would be made to kneel before the Magus himself.
The battle had gone well, the entire continent conquered, those humans who had not perished in the fighting had been enslaved for the use of his army. Let them know how fatal their decision to attack his castle had been. His entire goal was not in ruling their petty world, but in calling out Lavos to send the creature to its final doom. If the local villages had not sought to weed the Mystics out from the forests, he would never have indulged their fancies of destroying the human settlements.
Long chain gangs filed into the palace, faces of pain and terror passing into the gates of the Magus. The Mystics brought servants for the palace with them. From his vantage point, he regarded them with the cool grace of a predator taking stock of his prey. Men, women, children, all ages and states of health. They would be put to work in the most menial tasks, and some would only become meat for the Mystics' celebratory dinner.
He caught sight of her face out of pure luck. She happened to gaze upwards, perhaps to the sky originally, but instead her eyes fell on the man standing at the highest balcony and her breath caught in her throat. Leaning forward, the wind whipped at his hair, spiraling it above his head to mingle with the folds of his cloak, suddenly fascinated with this woman, so bold as to lift her face. His keen eyes, enhanced by magic, drank in her features like some kind of rich, heady wine. Dark haired, as many of the region were, her skin was pale as the moonlight, her eyes a sparkling green. Even in chains, she moved with a delicate step, perhaps a dancer before the war.
An imp broke the moment, snapping the whip in her direction to strike her flawless skin and mar it with red streaks. She cried out in pain, a muted shriek, and her eyes snapped down immediately, shut tightly as she rubbed the growing red welts. Janus hissed, hardly realizing his sudden infatuation with this woman, hurling himself over the spire to drift down, using the wind currents to guide him safely to the ground.
A cacophony of gasps from the Mystics and wary stares, as well as muttered curses, from the slaves greeted his arrival. Everything stopped immediately, even the drum's cadence halted, leaving a profound silence in the wake of his appearance. He coolly glanced over everyone present, his face an emotionless, pitiless mask, flicking his dark cape casually about his shoulders.
He approached the woman with a purposeful stride, lifting her chin with his fingertips to gaze into her eyes. It was a struggle to maintain his outward control and dignity as he read the innocence, the utter fright in her eyes, and deeper still the stirring of darkness in her soul, the temptation of gazing at the Magus himself, to see him, no, to see beyond him, to understand the intricacies of this infamous man. She wished to know him, and struggled with the desire.
"What is your name," he asked, his voice a near whisper.
"Meoni," she replied, mimicking his hushed tone.
"This one will be taken to my private chambers. The others, do as you wish." His edict made, he turned to enter his castle again, before his ears caught fire with the whispering of his army. He well knew the rumors that would begin, and was sure Ozzie and Flea would approach him later to "discuss" this little change in plans. It would be no use, this woman intrigued him, and if she ever ceased to, she would be tossed in with the servants, of that he was sure... even if the voice at the back of his mind tickled him with doubt.
"Magus, surely you don't intend to keep this... human girl with you." Ozzie seemed flabbergasted at the concept, his hands constantly moving with excited indignity. Flea sat to his left, arms crossed over her chest, her legs crossed one over the other with her elevated foot bouncing slightly at the ankle joint. She silently gazed at Janus as if waiting for Ozzie's tirade to finish before interjecting her own words.
Janus leaned forward, each movement silently calculated. Body language kept his people in control as well as an open display of his powers, and he wanted both his henchmen to understand from the outset that his mind could not be changed.
"If I might say, Magus, you seem infatuated with this girl. That's all fine and well, a pretty face might do you good, but bringing her into your throne room... allowing her to accompany you wherever you go... it makes a bad impression." Flea's patience finally wore thin, and she bluntly stated her case.
"And what do you think I am, Flea, Ozzie?" he looked at each in turn, eyes burning with quiet determination. "Am I not myself human? Would you think it better if I took on a Mystic to keep at my side and share my bed?" Ozzie's cheeks turned blue, the common sign of blushing with chagrin. Flea regarded him dubiously, unconvinced and growing more irate by the intensity of her bouncing foot.
"Lord Magus, you mistake our intentions--"
Janus cut Flea off immediately with a swipe of his hand across his throat, "No, no excuses. Meoni stays with me, by my side." He leaned back and laughed suddenly, "I might even marry her."
Flea jumped to her feet, lunging forward to face Janus as close as she could from across the table, "Lord Magus, you do not understand, that woman is a human and your army does not see you as human, whatever you truly may be." Angrily, she tugged at her braid, tossing it over her shoulder. "So long as you keep her at your side, the Mystics whisper that you're going soft, favoring and coddling a human."
Janus glared at Flea in the silence thereafter, finally rising to his feet. He had feared this, feared it to the point that dread seeped into his chest, constricting his breathing even as he fought to maintain control. He had hoped the Mystics would see Meoni as nothing more then his slave, a plaything for the Magus, even as his infatuation for her turned to outright love. Not since Schala had someone accepted him so readily, loved him so freely without asking for it in return. And as he gave his heart to her, the masquerade grew more and more difficult to hold, and now it was apparent that it had unraveled altogether.
"Very well," his heart sank into the pit of his stomach as he forced the words out of his mouth. "I will send her away from here."
"No, Lord Magus... that's not enough, you must do more to win back the trust of your people. If you send her away, they will not be convinced." Flea smiled maliciously as she suggested, "Burn her at the stake... let everyone watch, and then they will know that the Lord Magus doesn't coddle humans."
Janus' fists clenched, his sneer openly displayed on his features. Damn Flea for this, damn her. For even as every fiber of Janus' being screamed against this, he knew it was the only rational way to win back the faith of the Mystics. "Very well." he hissed, glaring at Flea until she meekly returned to her seat, fear evident in her eyes at the wrath she may have incurred. "She burns tomorrow." With a flutter of his cape, he stormed from the room, leaving Flea and Ozzie alone to fear the Magus' anger.
He ran to his chambers, throwing open the doors without touching them, his skin glowing with the magic of his temper, uncontrolled now in his rage, and his grief. Meoni jumped from the vanity drawers, rising to her feet immediately at her lover's entrance. She gazed at him wordlessly, waiting for him to explain.
"You must come with me now... there is little time to waste..." he nearly choked, holding back the storm of emotions from this fragile creature. For two months now she had shared his heart and his bed, and no race of damnable creatures was about to force his hand.
She stared at him for a long moment and he waited for her to question him, to demand an explanation, or to weep at the intensity of his emotions. Instead, she merely nodded. "I knew this day would come... what do you intend to do, my love? Am I to be sacrificed to please you people?"
Stunned, Janus nearly felt his jaw drop. How could she have possibly have guessed this outcome. Staring into her eyes, he could see nothing but utter and complete acceptance of his duties, and perfect love. All the things Schala had given him, and oddly it made him wonder, would his sister have done the same for him? Breaking himself from the shock, he forced his voice into steadiness before responding, "They want you burned at the stake, to prove my loyalty to them... to show that I am their leader still in mind and body. I will not sacrifice you, Meoni. Come with me now, I know what I must do."
Wordlessly she followed him, down deep into the castle's catacombs, through narrow tunnels that dripped with condensation and ankle deep waters. To a room so secret, Janus shared it with no one, not even his lieutenants. Lifting his hand, fingers outstretched, a blue glow emerged, flashing toward a hidden lock and the door opened with a protest of heavily rusted hinges.
The room beyond resembled nothing of the surroundings Janus had left it in, a purposeful deception, meant to keep anyone from becoming curious about this strange locked door. Clean swept tile floors stretched out before them, leaning to a small pedestal upholding a glowing rectangle of reddish light. A condensed room, where time was frozen, keeping its prisoner intact until freed. With a sweep of his hands and a few choice words chanted, it sprang to life, a doorway sliced into mid-air before them.
"This is where you shall stay for now, no one will find you here, none know of this place but me." He drew her into his arms, his fingers trembling with the amount of power required to hold the door open. She smiled at him sadly, already accepting her fate without complaint. Such courage... he returned the smile to her, leaning forward for one last kiss.
"It will not be long, I promise, I will come for you," he whispered into her ear, holding her close to take in her scent, feel the softness of her cheek against his. One last caress. Silently she stepped through the door, tentatively testing her footing. He watched her disappear into the red glow and began the careful closure, one mistake and he would crush her, losing her forever.
When at last the pedestal again held his doorway, he crumbled to the base, denying the tears even as they streamed from his eyes. He'd only cried for one woman in his life, until now.
The Magus' tale finished with an unprecedented misting of his eyes. Crono had since leaned back in his chair as he listened silently, unwilling to interrupt. This was a rare moment, to witness the emotion on Janus' face, the struggle to retain his outward composure as he continued describing the past events. He had seen this only one other time, in person, the night Schala saved them from Lavos, never to be heard from again.
"And so, that ends the beginning of my tale." The sadness was quickly replaced with the usual pitiless gaze his face maintained. "I'm sure you wonder what it has to do with the foreboding winds of today."
Crono nodded. "Though I'm also curious to know how you managed to keep the Mystics in line, and if you ever returned to break her out again."
Janus chuckled lightly, a bemused expression creating a dark humor in the angles of his face as he replied, "Magic is ever the wonderful thing. I turned a maid from the kitchens into her likeness and burned her. No one was ever aware of the switch. As for returning to reclaim her..." he rose from his seat slowly, stretching his gloves over his fingers. Crono looked toward the window to realize that the sun was in its zenith, noontime. They'd spent all morning at the table.
"First, I must show you where the door is."
(To be continued...)
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