Memories: Beholden

By The Last of the Zealians

The lands about the former fortress of the Mystics were all but barren. First tainted by the energies and activities of the primal Mystics and their war effort, then being overshadowed by the Black Omen for so long. No one dared venture near it while in the Omen’s shadow, but even afterward, tales circulated among the remaining Mystics that the spirits of the dead were hostile and violent to the living. Few Mystics indeed had dared journey across the blasted lands to the abandoned castle, their former seat of power, and even fewer had survived to tell the tale.

One, however, dared. No one would warn him, for it would be wasted. It was he who had once sat upon the throne in that castle. He, who created everything that had made the Mystics great, and by the same token, he who nearly destroyed them. Magus strode along the battlements of his ruined castle, his gaze playing over the blackened stones, reliving the memories of that fateful day, when Destiny claimed him for its own.

Clearly, he recalled standing in the center of his arcane sanctum, scythe at hand. His magic flashed like fire through him, the rush of it a physical force, whipping his hair and cape about him in a fury; and the long-awaited chance at revenge had filled him with a surge of power beyond any he had felt before.

Then everything fell apart.

A meddlesome irritation he’d thought finished with long ago smashed through his chamber door with two others at his side, battle cries leaping from their throats. That was no bother, but what nearly cost him his concentration, was the Winds. The winds of magic that had been swirling in a mighty vortex at his command only moments before had suddenly lashed erratically about, and one above all, the black wind, swirling with a darkness beyond the deepest shadows. Thus, the battle of a lifetime had begun.

“That Frog…” he mused, “if not for him, we might all have perished. Wish I’d known that at the time though.”

He’d fought them, of course. What else could he do? Turned, drew his weapon and summoned the magic to his command. Everything he could spare he hurled to drive them out, so he could return to the task at hand, the much more difficult battle still ahead of him. But the minor interruption had turned into a furious fight to the finish. The ancient blade the Frog had wielded brought back memories of pleasanter times best forgotten when on the battlefield, and the blade itself, the Masamune, drained his magic as it scored his flesh, wounding him on every level, mind, body, and soul. Much as he hated to admit it, that blade, wielded by a swordsman of Frog’s caliber probably would have bested him even on his own, to say nothing of the power those two others possessed.

As the battle was joined, the clash of steel resounding, and words of magic echoing round the room, his magical senses had perceived something odd. Each of those facing him possessed magic as well. The peculiarity of that was enough to throw him off, even if their magical abilities were relatively minor in comparison, and his magical shields wavered. In all the time he had lived in the Middle Ages, it had always been the Mystics with the magic, never the Humans.

In the heat of battle, weapons dancing and their magics flashing back and forth, he had come to realize that the magic they possessed, though no match for his own in finesse, or even sheer power, somehow complimented their inherent abilities, turning their relatively weak attacks into something different altogether. He had staggered under an immense gout of flame hurled by a young lady, and then the last of his magical shields shattered with the power of the frog’s mighty sword. A greater pain surfaced as the ancient blade struck home, and the blood flowed bright and crimson. Frog had then leapt back as a bolt of lightning leapt from the spikey-haired boy’s hands to strike the sword lodged in his flesh, sending him twitching to the floor. He had fallen, all his years of careful study, planning, and training wrecked by a foul twist of luck.

The creature that had shattered his life so long ago had showed his face again at last. His timing was nothing short of impeccable.

“I was the only one with any idea of that thing’s power, and I wouldn’t have wasted the little breath I could have drawn to warn them anyway, half dead as I was.”

Magus picked his way farther along the ruins, absently thinking out loud “At least the Black Omen’s out of the sky,” and he took some small satisfaction in knowing his mother was at peace at last, mind no longer clouded with thoughts of Lavos, and her tortured soul laid to rest. Thoughts of his mother sparked thoughts of his sister, and in turn, of home. Sighing soundlessly, he let his mind range as he slowly traversed the fallen stones.

Something caught his eye. A scabbard lay half-buried under some rock. Magus tugged it free, wiped the black leather clean, the silver tracings reflecting his dark visage. He knew this scabbard. “Slash. My instructor at arms, and faithful bodyguard.” Tucking the scabbard into his belt, he moved on, knowing he would not find the blade. The swordmaster had fallen with it gripped tightly in his fist, a grip so tight, that not even death would have relaxed it. And it hadn’t either, that long journey later, to Ozzie’s little fort.

Something else, standing out amongst the ruins. A long red ribbon. “Flea…” The way he’d always played it coy, comfortable in the clothes of either gender, but preferring the subtle advantage of fighting as a girl, weaving his magic to charm, confuse, and batter the minds and hearts of his foes until they didn’t know friend from foe, or image from reality. He too, had fought to the end, spells flaring bright, his mystic pride forbidding surrender or quarter. An honorable defeat.

All for him. So many dead or hurt because of him, and what he had become. A leader, a warrior, a general, a mage… A tyrant, a murderer, a rebel, and an adult, in the harshest way imaginable. After so long, it hadn’t seemed quite so harsh any more. Just the grind of normal life. Give orders, watch the army move, lead them, kill the enemy. Sit on his throne and give more orders, talk to his generals, his once-teachers about the how and why of everything, all the while… A voice he’d know anywhere suddenly sounded behind him, jolting him from his thoughts.

“Back to thine old haunts, Magus?”

He didn’t even have to turn around.

“Frog. Or should I call you Glenn? What are you doing here, so far from your friends and fellows?”

The frog smiled as he could, adjusting his sword belt.

“Call me what thou wilst. And the same as thee, I would suppose. Reliving memories, easing mine grief as it might be eased.”

Magus’s lip curled. “Why here, of all places?”

The frog shrugged.

“In truth, I know not. My body simply found its way here. It seeméd appropriate. What we all thought to be our final battle was only, in truth, the beginning.“. Frog turned to look at Magus, noticing, not for the first time, his sharp, pale features, strangely distorted, looking more mystic than human. “Thou wert human once, Magus. How didst thou become as thou art today?”

The blue-haired mage’s eyes widened in surprise, caught off guard by the question. “Why should it concern you?”

The green-skinned warrior’s face twisted into a smile. “Well, as I am, it should. I recall thy face as we fought ten years ago, on that mountainside. You looked much as I did, tanned from the sun, and strong-looking despite thy Mystic apparel. Thine appearance hath changed much in those ten years. When we faced in thine castle, thy face was a ghostly shadow of what it once was, and thy frame skeletal as those of thine undead servants. I at first thought you had been slain, my vengeance denied, and thy body but a pawn of the foul Ozzie” Frog’s face twisted wryly. “Thy magic disabused me of that notion quickly enough though. After our battle was halted, and we were flung into prehistory, I grew to wonder, what had twisted thee so.”

As though a cloud had gone over the bright sun, a near palpable shadow grew about the ruins. Magus’s face turned stony, and he turned to look at Frog. “I should think that’s obvious, green man. I was only a child when Lavos mastered Zeal, and flung the Gurus and I to places throughout time and space. Abandoned in the Middle ages, I wandered for many days about the Denandoro Mountains, searching for clues to my whereabouts. Finding nothing, but not giving up, I pressed onward. That’s when Ozzie and a band of imps found me. They took me prisoner, though I managed to roast one of the imps with the little magic I could dredge forth.”

*Not bad for a pampered princeling.* Frog mused silently.

“As I struggled under Ozzie’s fat heel, he laughed, saying he’d found a way to win some war through me. A magic using human was a find of finds, after all, or so I learned later. He took it upon himself to train me, with the help of Flea and Slash; to mold me into what they termed the perfect warrior. A lone human amongst the entire race of Mystics, being “trained” by the greatest, strongest, and most terrible of them all.” Frog’s attention was riveted on Magus’s face. The warlock’s eyes were dark and bitterly cold, but full of remembered pain. He continued on, holding the swordsman fast with his gaze.

“A dozen long years… My body was battered unmercifully by Slash, to make me a stronger, faster warrior, but also to teach the mercilessness of battle, and it’s lethal elegance. Just imagine a boy, lifting a sword for the first time, and wielding it against the greatest swordsman in the world. You doubtless learned your craft in much the same manner, though none of your teachers could have possibly matched Slash’s ruthless skill. Even now, I probably couldn’t beat him blade to blade. And my mind no less tortured by Flea and Ozzie’s magic. Flea’s illusions wreaked havoc on my young mind, my body too often not even obeying, caught with her charms. Their battle spells sent me tumbling through fire and ice, hurled me about with wind, scorched me with lightning, and took me to the limits of my strength time and again. They made sure that all my advantages were stripped away, and forced me to fight on.

The suffering I endured at their hands, more than anything else, is what changed me. The only thing I had that kept me fighting was my determination and desire for vengeance. Ozzie’d planned to turn me into the perfect weapon. And he had, just for a different target than he supposed. Every day, I trained with Slash and Flea, every night, I studied with Ozzie in his enormous library. But long after he retired, leaving me to the books, I searched tirelessly for information on one subject, and one subject alone. ”

Frog nodded, knowing exactly what he meant. The destroyer of worlds, the puppetmaster Lavos. It had cost Magus so much, from such a young age, it was no wonder he’d dedicated himself to vengeance. He’d not had the inclination to inquire about Magus’s past before, but now, as the magician spoke, he wouldn’t have interrupted if a Lavos twin had fallen from the sky.

“Being the ancient race they are, the Mystics have a immense amount of recorded information in their libraries, far surpassing the humans of this, or almost any period. Although it is almost completely random, there were small bits gathered that were extremely valuable, to one who had been through what I had...” Magus scowled, every word laced with bitterness. “First and foremost, the creature Lavos was one of many, but they are spread so far across the universe that the likelihood of another arriving is incalculably small. Still, one was enough to throw our world into chaos, past, present and future.” Frog’s eyes widened at the rather blasé statement that there were others, but remained silent. Magus continued, “We were fortunate, that the one that found its way here unknowingly helped to create us, sentient life, that has the ability to think for, and defend itself. Countless other worlds are not so lucky, life only evolving to provide mindless sustenance, at the Lavoid’s behest.”

“Then where shall we go from here, Magus? The Epoch doth travel the skies and timestreams, but the vastness of space must surely be beyond it still”

“Too true, Frog…” the usually impassive warlock’s face seemed almost… sad. Frog blinked in surprise, seeing for the first time the objects Magus held.

“The effects of your companions?”

“Far more than my companions, Glenn… they were the closest thing I ever had to… family.” Magus shook his head sadly, remembering. “Harsh, brutal, and conniving perhaps, but as vital a part of my life as Cyrus was of yours. They were always there when I needed their support most. A word of praise from Slash about my training would brighten my day, and the look of surprise on Ozzie’s face when I managed to rattle off something he hadn’t yet taught me would give me a moment of laughter, so rare, and so precious.” He slumped down upon a rock, eliciting a start from Frog. The blue-haired man had never so much as relaxed his haughty gait when traveling and battling at the companion’s sides. He remembered clearly the night they took Robo from Fiona’s Shrine; Magus had slept standing, of all things, wrapped in his cape, one with the night. And now here he was, relaxed, almost emotional of all things. Either not realizing Frog’s astonishment, or simply not caring, the mage continued.

“And when I was very, very young, when I would stagger into my bare cell, battered black and blue, scorched and sobbing, Ozzie was there. He would comfort me, bind my wounds. He reminded me that no matter how much it hurt, I could depend on him for help, if no one else… Those hands that hurled magic at me with ruthless intent, and hefted countless tomes to teach me the ways of the world, were gentle on a young boy’s battle wounds.” He trailed off, lost in the memory of times long past, memories with no one left to remember them, except for him.

*So, mage, thou’rt not entirely bloodless. No heart of stone is without its flaw, I see…* Not realizing, he added out loud, “Not so different, are we Magus?” The mage remained silent. “Was that why I chose not to fight, on the cliff overlooking the fallen kingdom of Zeal? That I saw in thee something of myself?” Frog pressed on, his voice gaining firmness. “Losing what was most important at a young age, and even the trivial things, like my… appearance, swept away. Thine by Lavos, and mine by you. Perhaps in changing me thus, more hath passed between us than magic, bitter words, and bloodshed.” Frog fiddled with the Hero’s Medal that shone on his chest, dinged and scratched, but still radiant in the bright sun that streamed from the sky, warming the dark stones on which they stood.

Magus turned his gaze to Frog, thoughts on his own keepsake, the Amulet, the last gift from his sister, the one link to his paradise lost. The Dreamstone pendant sparkled with its own inner light, needing no encouragement from the sun. Clenching his fist tightly, he spoke words he never thought he’d say. “Perhaps indeed, Frog. The times have changed, to say the least, and we are no longer what we once were, for better or for worse. While some things may be lost forever, past changing, some might yet be salvaged from the darkness.”

He rose, his cape swirling about him, and, as Frog watched, puzzled, removed his darkly stained leather gloves. He looked at his hands for a moment; They were even paler than the rest of him, hidden so long from the sun, then raised them high, and summoned the magic from within himself. Most times it would be sufficient, with a bit of energy from the nearby area to fill in any gaps, or if he felt like being a magical miser. Not so this time. This called for purer magic, straight from the heart. The energy flickered about him at first, then grew to a warm glow, pulsing softly. Frog’s eyes went wide as the energy flared, and the Masamune cleared its sheath in a single fluid motion, preparing as best he could for whatever might befall.

“Lay down your sword, Frog.” Magus’s voice was faint but insistent. Not entirely at Frog’s behest, the Masamune’s tip bit into the earth, and Frog stared at the mage, eyes filled with confusion, but also a faint tinge of curiosity, and far fainter…hope?

Magus’s eyes weren’t on him. They were closed tight, looking deep within himself, for a time ten years past, when a snap decision had shattered a life, and locked two people together in the coils of destiny.

*Why not? There’s always time for a little fun…* his words came back to him, as clear as if he’d said them yesterday. He saw himself calling down the spell, saw the bolt of force strike home, and the agony that tore across the boy’s features as his body twisted inside and out. This time, instead of vile satisfaction, the expression filled Magus with a deep disgust. To see himself gleefully performing such an act of wanton cruelty to another was inconceivable now, and he hurled the image from his mind.

*The one creature I sought to truly destroy is gone now, leaving me empty inside. But, somehow, I realized what this feeling is… this strange feeling of… obligation. To set right the wrongs Lavos created simply through his existence. To change the past to brighten the future, on large scales and small.* He smiled, a long-forgotten feeling surfacing: the feeling of doing something right.

Opening his eyes, he glanced over at Frog, noting the changes in his spell over the many years. Frog’s skills and powers had increased manyfold over the course of their journeys, his consciousness merging with the amphibious one until it moved and reacted as naturally as his old one had. This would be difficult.

“Perhaps, Frog, in answer to your question, I changed because I forgot what it was to be human.” His hands swept down, the magic coalescing into a bolt of energy that hurled, crackling with power, straight at Frog, who had time for a single step back before it slammed home, flinging him off his feet in a flare of light. Hanging in the air, hidden by the aura of power that enveloped him, Frog’s mouth opened in a silent roar of pain, his thoughts a panicked jumble.

*Wh... what’s happening to me?! This light...* Then all thoughts disappeared as his body contorted savagely inside and out. Consciousness vanished abruptly as the agony of his body seemingly melting overpowered his will to fight.

Magus’s face was locked in a rictus of concentration as he let the magic unfold, and watched the resulting change. But it didn’t stop a single tear from trickling slowly down his face, the memories of their past rushing to the surface as his magic crescendoed in a brilliant fury, then ceased. No longer held in the air, Glenn fell to the ground in a crash of armor. Magus nearly followed, slumping to one knee, drained by the titanic effort. Staggering to his feet, he advanced on the unconscious Glenn, and felt for the lifebeat in his neck. Still strong.

“Tough as ever...” Rising once again, Magus picked the Masamune up from where it had fallen from Frog’s nerveless grasp. Staring long into the blade’s depths, he caught two other sets of eyes staring back at him from within. A timeless pair of voices chimed softly “Yes, your highness?” Magus smiled wryly.

“Always prince of something or other... I have restored your wielder's human form. You’ll recognize his spirit, but you might have to help him with the rest. Some of his powers will doubtless have changed. Help him to adjust. He’s earned this.”

“As have you, Prince Janus” an impish voice replied. “You have our thanks as well.”

“Yes indeed,” a slightly older voice replied. “Thank you, my prince. It’s good to see you turned out for the best. You have been strong at the cost of everything. Now you have the hard part to deal with: gaining back what you lost. Don’t worry though... between you, and the two of us, the legacy of Zeal is secure.”

The eyes faded back into the blade’s heart, leaving only Magus standing there. He jabbed the Masamune into the earth within easy reach of Frog- no, *Glenn’s* hand, he mentally corrected himself. Casting a long look at the castle’s crumbling ruins, he gathered the scabbard and ribbon and walked back to Glenn’s now human form. “A great blade deserves a great home,” he intoned softly. It was the work of a moment to fling Frog’s old scabbard away, and to dexterously weave the ribbon into the leather of the scabbard, the red of it favoring the black leather and complimenting the silver trim. Pulling the Masamune free of the ground, he slid it into the scabbard he now held. Laying it down in Glenn’s hand, Magus smiled as his fingers clasped the well-worn hilt. He rose, whispering a few words, and took to the sky.

Mere moments later, Glenn’s eyes opened as the sun, no longer blocked by Magus’s shadow, struck him in the face. “Unngh... what hath befallen?” Levering an arm under him to heave himself to his feet, he saw not the slimy green skin he’d known, but the healthy, tanned skin of a normal man. First he did not comprehend it, and rose to his feet, only to fall back on his knees in disbelief as the shock hit him. The voice of Magus resounded in his head.

*Once, we were both human, but we wore other faces for so long, that we forgot how. Let’s see if we can remember what it was to be human again. Masa and Mune will guide you.* Glenn simply nodded, in a haze of disbelief. Almost as an addendum, the voice went on, *And take care of that scabbard. Better you have it than that wallflower Crono.*

The voice faded, leaving Glenn staring at nothing. For a long time he simply knelt there. Then, slowly he rose. In wonder, he flexed his arms and legs, normal again. Hooking the scabbard to his sword belt, he drew forth the Masamune to take a look at his reflection. Bright eyes and a strong face stared back, framed by a luxurious wave of emerald green hair.

“My body... ‘Tis just as I remembered... ‘Tis true! I am human once more!” The world before him shimmered suddenly as tears of joy filled the fierce eyes. Then, something else reflected in the blade caught his eye. An image of Magus high in the air, raising his arm in a soldier’s salute, and smiling warmly. Glenn turned to return it, be the mage was gone, as though he had never been there at all. Glenn grinned, saluted the air where Magus had been proudly with the Masamune, then started the long walk back to Guardia Castle. The Queen was never going to believe this.

The Last of the Zealians' Fanfiction