The Story of Tata Chapter 17

An Explanation

By The Man

Once, Tata had been a sweet, loveable child from Porre, loved by his town and admired by his peers.

Now, as far a Glenn, a limp body lying on the ground, could see, the lad he knew was a very big candle.

With a hand shielding his eyes, the man that was once a frog tried to make out what was happening in the blinding light that that washed over him like a tidal wave. The heat was unreal, like it almost wasn't there, like he was holding a numbed hand over an open flame.

Movement! Glenn saw a shape within the light. No, that wasn't quite right; the light was taking on a form. He could just make out a gigantic talon made of pure light. Lowering his head a little more, he saw a claw attached to it. Now there was two. Was it a bird? Glenn knew he was going to be seeing spots for hours after this. If he survived.

Then those enormous feet sprang up from the ground and into the air. The light faded slightly, and for a moment, Glenn couldn't see again. But then, as he looked up into the sky, his jaw practically dropped to his chest.

The light had become a bird, a magnificent winged animal with wings that burned like the sun. What was night had become broad daylight as its radiant light lit up every patch of darkness for miles. It was magnificent. It was as if the sun had come down to earth and taken on the shape of a great bird, its brilliant light that which it carried on its back. It opened its mouth and a long, deafening sound came forth from its great beak. Words could not describe the sound. The best way Glenn could describe it as was like all of the voices of every living thing combined into one, singular note of hope. Glenn felt calm and at peace all over, like he had dipped himself in a magic stream. It was pure magic, that note which rung throughout that land. But from something that large…

No, Glenn thought as his eyes began to water. That's impossible. Nothing that big can possibly fly.

But it did. It flew, burning through the sky like a comet at the roiling black owl-like shape in all of its fury. The black mass shrieked its call of death, but the great fire bird could not be stopped. It flew strait at the dark form at blinding speed, screaming its own cry all the way.

Their cries mixed together, creating one deafening sound that Glenn had to cover his ears in order to keep from losing his hearing completely.

Then, they collided.

Between the roiling hate of the dark owl and the blinding fury of the fire bird, Glenn was expecting almost nothing short of a miniature Armageddon. But from it all, there was no explosion, not that Glenn could see, no shockwave. There was one blinding flash, quick as lightning and ten times brighter. Then, it was night again.

For some reason, Glenn found himself panting, like he had run all day without stopping. He was sweating from head to toe, which was even worse in his Moon Armor, which absorbed heat very efficiently. But at the same time, he felt calm, and relaxed, like he had just taken a warm bath or had a very good massage, or both. He managed to get to his feet, the effects of the deadly note leaving him. He looked up in the sky, but saw nothing but the sickly orange clouds in the night sky.

Wait, Glenn squinted a little. Something was falling towards him. What's that?

Those were the last thoughts that Glenn remembered thinking before Tata came crashing into him, knocking him down on the grassy ground. Blackness began to cloud his vision and… NO!

Glenn slammed his fist into the ground and snapped his eyes open. That maniac was still out there, and with both him and Tata dozing, who would be able to stop him.

Glenn grunted as he pushed Tata's limp body away from him as a pain shot through his chest. He felt his ribs once he had Tata off of him and sure enough found two of them broken. Sighing, he concentrated and a blue glow enveloped his hands. He was an expert at healing; water magic was best at that. Within moments, his ribs were fully healed. He scrambled over to Tata, who was lying on his back. He pulled off one gauntlet and placed the palm in front of Tata's face. He was breathing. Barely. Unfortunately for Glenn, he was no doctor; he simply knew a wound when he saw one. Tata could be dead in two seconds or he could linger longer, or maybe even live. Glenn wasn't going to debate it though, closing his eyes, he pulled off his other gauntlet and dropped the pair on the ground. Placing his hands on each of Tata's shoulders, he concentrated and…

GODS! Glenn's eyes shot open and he stumbled away from Tata as quick as he could manage. What was in that boy? It had been… amazing. It was incredible. It had been like he had opened a book of infinite knowledge. For a brief moment, he had seen Beowulf's life, or rather lives. He had seen his first battles with Grendel. He had seen the nine dimensions, each one unique and amazing. He had seen the ninth dimension, a barren, blasted world forsaking hope, where Tata had battled Grendel for weeks without retreating. He had seen Tata's love, Elayne, with her red-gold hair cascading down her back, her beautiful face, her perfect form. He had seen weddings like the one at Maringhail, in the second realm where they had pledged their eternal love for one another. He had seen everything, everything in that one fraction of a second. What was this man? Was he even human? How could one soul fight for so long without quitting even for one breath?

Whatever the answers were, Tata had begun breathing better again. Glenn watched the lad's muscular chest rise and fall beneath his loose-fitted white shirt.

"Elayne." Tata breathed.

"Tata?" Glenn slowly crawled over to the boy. His eyes were still closed.

"W-Where's… Elayne?"

Glenn had already made the connection: Elayne had been Minka in this life. But right now, Beowulf was speaking, not Tata.

Suddenly, tears began streaming down Tata's cheeks. "Oh, Elayne!" He moaned. "I did not mean to come late! I had to save Avar from Grendel's army; the city would have easily perished without me! Oh, Fire, why did you have to die?! Elayne, fire of my heart, I didn't mean to let you-!"

"Tata!" Glenn grabbed Tata's shuddering shoulders in his hands. "Tata! Wake up! Wake up, Tata!"

Abruptly, Tata stopped crying, and began snoring. He muttered; "I don't wanna wake up, dad. It's Sunday morning."

He had become Tata again, Glenn saw. He had to put and end to this. But before he could, Tata sat strait up almost too quickly for Glenn to follow with his eyes. He sat up, wide eyed and gasping one word:


Glenn grabbed hold of him, thought he was unsure that he could possibly stop the youth should he decide to go after Grendel again.

"Tata!" Glenn held the boy's broad shoulders as still as he could manage. "It's okay, Tata. Calm down. It's okay."

Tata looked at him with bewilderment in his eyes. "Where's Minka, Glenn?"

Glenn grimaced. "She's… dead, Tata. She has been for years…"

Tata gritted his teeth as he fought back more tears. "You're right. She's… dead…"

The conversation died on that note for a minute or so, before Glenn broke the silence.

"Are you okay, Tata?" He asked. "What was that bird you became? And that black cloud! Was that Grendel?"

"Grendel!!" Tata yelled and stood up so quickly Glenn was knocked backward. Glenn looked over and saw the youth running to the edge of the ledge. He was quick to follow, and got there just in time to see a blue gate open off in the distance. He saw a shadowed man step into it and vanish, along with the gate.

"Damn!" shouted Tata.

Glenn sighed a heavy sigh. "Bloody monster survived, it seems."

"Of course!" Tata gave an exasperated sighed. "If I'm alive, so is he."

"I know, but that light-!" Started Glenn.

"Nevermind." Tata rolled right over Glenn's words as if they were not even being spoken. "We have the Epoch now, right? Let's go!"

"Slow down, Tata!" Glenn said firmly. "Where are we going?"

In response, Tata took hold of Glenn's arm and there was a blinding white flash. Then, as quick as it had appeared, the whiteness vanished and Glenn found himself staring at the nose of a machine he knew like a friend.


"Well, don't dawdle! I do recall you seeing this thing before today!" Tata growled.

Glenn looked over and saw the youth climbing into the driver's seat. Glenn quickly followed suit and sat in the seat behind.

"Hang on, Glenn." Tata's said as he turned on the machine. The engine made a peculiar whirling sound, which Glenn knew to be life returning to the amazing device which had saved his life countless times.

The hatch closed and sealed. The vents opened and cool air rushed into the cockpit. It felt good against Glenn's skin as the aircraft lifted into the air at high speeds.

He turned back to Tata. "Again I ask; where are we going?"

"There is a man in this realm that is equal to… Kane… himself." Tata barely got the name out, like it hurt to say it. "He can defeat Grendel as well as I can, if not better."

Kane? Who was Kane? "So where are we going, then?" Glenn asked for the third time, leaving the question to wander in his head like a blind rat.

"12,000 AD." Answered Tata before hitting the time gauge. And the Epoch, the world's only time machine flew into the timestream once again.



The man who called himself Magus, at least as his namesake, slowly turned away from his writings at the solid oak desk that he sat at with a matching chair. The desk and chair were both intricately carved by a master's hands, with vines entwining around the legs of both chair and desk. The top of the desk was perfectly smooth, as was the seat of the chair, without a dent in either. It had been a gift from a man named Jeke Laro, one of the surviving Enlightened. The man named Magus had to practically threaten the man's life in order to make him stop worshipping him once the man found out that the man called Magus went by a different name.

"You know that I prefer to be called Janus, Flea." He said quietly. He had been working on some new laws for the village. He had been elected as their leader, as he would have been if the kingdom of Zeal had survived. He always hated speaking of the place, the place where a spoiled brat was torn from his beloved sister by an unspeakably evil monster summoned by his tormented mother. He had never forgiven her for it, or Lavos. But now both were dead, and he had found respite from his never-ending battles. Or so he thought.

"Sorry, Janus." The girl named Flea apologized politely. Janus often wondered if that was her real name. Fleas were little, annoying pests, not beautiful women with enough strength and courage to nearly match his own.

Janus gave a small nod. He had not been in Zeal long enough to pick up any skills on how to rule a kingdom, making it exceedingly difficult to be these people's ruler. Fortunately, with Shala's help, he managed to keep everyone happy. She at least had been a princess…

"Do you need something, Flea?" He asked.

"Oh. Well, actually, I was just checking on you and making sure you weren't working too hard." She said looking at the floor. Her crimson, intricately braided hair went a good foot past her waist. How long does it take to grow hair that long? Janus wondered silently. He fingered his own mane of blue hair, which went past his shoulders in long, thick strands.

"I see." Janus responded quietly. He kept his dark gaze on her. She wore a white coat that was embroidered with gold flames on the shoulders and gold-colored buttons. It hugged her small body fairly tight, but flared outward as it went lower. She wore baggy red pants with the ends of the leggings tucked into her boots, which were the only items she wore from her other wardrobe, the one she wore when she commanded part of Janus' army of Mystics. The Mystics. He had ruled over them to, if not more harshly than he did for the people of this village. He had hated the responsibility, but loved the power. But he had gotten away from them after he was defeated for the first time he could remember by Crono and his companions, only to end up ruling another group of people. It seemed he was going to always be a ruler, whether he liked it or not. Some people are just like that, I suppose. He mused silently to himself.

Now he looked upon one of his former generals, now a friend. She still fought for him, like she had as his general. She had changed more than he had though. Once a bloodthirsty killer, reveling in the pain and suffering of others, now aiding him to keep the last group of humans alive as best she could. How could a person change so much?

There was something more, though. Janus could tell she was holding back something. "There's something else, isn't there?" He asked.

He looked up at his face with those beautiful, violet eyes and gave a defeated sigh. "I guess there's no getting around you, Janus."

Janus knew what was coming, but he let her speak. "I've been feeling… edgy lately. I don't really know what it is, but…" She trailed off.

Janus picked it right up. "You feel it too? That pull, like a coiled spring ready to bounce back again?"

She nodded agreement. "Yeah, something like that. I feel like I want to pick a fight with someone- anyone! - just so I can fight again."

Janus stood and walked slowly over to her and stood a foot in front of her. "It's a battle call. We've both been away from it for too long."

"Yes." She said softly.

Janus continued. "We're both born warriors. Without a battle to fight, we feel incomplete. Only a half of a whole. Without it, we can barely-"

Janus was cut off as a woman younger than he ran into the room. She wore thick woolen white over all except for her head. She wore fur boots that went halfway up her shins. Her hair was held in a ponytail, and was the same shade as his.

"Janus! Something fell from the sky! It looks like Epoch!" Shala said in a rush.

"Hold on; what is it?" Janus tried slowing her down, not quite understanding each word.

"Epoch!" she said again. "It just landed outside the village."

Janus wove small flows of air and his coat flew into his hands. He had all but left his violet cloak to dust ever since returning here. Not that he did not like it, or the way it looked on him; it was simply too cold here.

His coat was plain, stout gray wool, made in the same style as Flea's, if a little less glamorous. He ran for the entrance while he buttoned it up. Moments after finishing it up, he was outside in the biting cold. Flecks of sleet hit his face and stung, but he ignored it. His eyes were trained on an object partially hidden by the snow. He ran toward it at an easy, yet hurried jog, wondering who had come. Certainly not Ayla; the Epoch hadn't even been thought about, much less invented back where she lived. Was it Crono? They had left the Epoch in his era. Or maybe-

Janus' train of thought was cut in half as something black came hurling at him at blinding speed. He could see a sinuous, black blade pointing out from the form, which moved so quickly he had trouble following it with his eyes. It was pointing at his heart. Janus acted without thinking. Diving to the side and into a roll, he wove strands of air and flung them around his attacker. He was on his feet instantly, expecting his foe to be caught in his powerful weave of air.

But no. The thing, whatever it was, had landed on its feet and now stood facing Janus with a silent snarl on his face. Yes, it was a human, as far as he could tell from ten feet away. It was a man, darkly handsome, perhaps a little older than twenty, with pitch-black hair in thick strands looping down from the top of his head. He was garbed in all in black, with a black coat, black cape, black pants, boots-even his eyes were all black, not a bit of white in them!

Who's this monochromatic fool? Janus wondered angrily. He did not take kindly to being attacked, but this man didn't look like he was too fond of missing. How did he avoid my flows? I didn't miss

Whoever it was, he had just picked a fight with the wrong man. Janus flicked his hand and his Doom Sickle was in his hands. He saw Shala and Flea trying to catch up to him; he had apparently gotten pretty far ahead of them, but he was already twirling the scythe in his hands, waiting for the next attack. It came. The man threw back the arm that did not hold his black blade and thrust it forward. A streak of black flew from his outstretched arm and hurtled at Janus. Janus rolled under it and got back on his feet before the other man realized he had missed. He bared his teeth, each a razor sharp point, and lunged at Janus again with his blade. Janus turned the blade aside and twirled on the balls of his feet to meet the next blow. The long, curved blade on his scythe met the black blade. They continued to block one another, thrust at the other man, and block again, quicker than any normal eye could follow. They were a whirlwind of steel and arms, each moving as one with their weapons. Janus recognized the movements the man was using with so much perfection, yet he could not recall where he had ever seen it. He had a double-ended weapon to work with, whereas the other man had only one, but Janus had just backed up a step.

But when he saw his blade catch the other in the crook of it, he yanked upward with it and the black blade was pulled out of the dark man's grasp. He also saw the point on the top of the curve had drawn blood on the man's left cheek. The man looked startled for a second that he had just been beaten in a duel, then fury contorted his dark face to ugliness. Janus grimaced. He had added insult and injury, however small, to the man. It would have made him angry too. Now, with the curved end held just above his shoulder, he had the other end pointed at the dark man's throat. He held it there, stone steady as he observed the other man closely. The man did not even look afraid.

"Lucky shot." The man spat furiously. "Had I been trying my best, you would be writhing on the ground like a worm."

"Fool." Janus said simply. "Only a fool enters combat only half trying, even more so in blade battles. And lucky shot or no, I still have my weapon, whereas you do not have yours, and it is millimeters away from giving you a more… elevated navel in your throat. If I were you, I wouldn't be pressing my luck, especially after it just ran out. So are you going to shut up or do I have to let my scythe do the rest of the talking for me?"

The man smirked, a contemptuous quirk of the mouth, but didn't move.

"Janus!" Came Flea's voice from behind the man. "What… who is this?!"

"Not a friend, obviously." Janus responded, not taking his eyes off of his attacker. "Go behind me, Flea. There should be a black sword somewhere back there. Shala, go to the Epoch and see if anyone is hurt."

The two women obeyed, but each kept looking back in wonderment at the man in black. Who was he? Clearly a dangerous one, to put it mildly. Could he use magic? And if so, was it anywhere near as strong as his skill with a blade? If so, then they would be in some serious trouble. Real serious; Janus had nearly lost the initial confrontation with the mystery man, and he was a master at his weapons. And he had nearly lost…

Janus heard a pained cry, a woman's cry behind him, but he stared straight ahead at the man before him. "Flea?"

"I cannot touch this weapon, Janus." She said with more than a touch of pain in her voice. "It is like an open flame; it's warded somehow. I cannot touch it."

Janus' nod was meant for her. "Can you lift it with air? Unless it is an exceedingly complicated warding…" So the man could use magic. A warding took some considerable strength, which meant this man was to be taken with caution.

There was a pause as Flea tried Janus' suggestion. "No." Came a final reply.

Janus grimaced. He did not like the idea of just leaving that thing out in the open, but he didn't want anyone hurt over the matter of moving it either. He was just about to reply, when he sensed the resonance of magic. It was coming from the man in black, and it was very, very big. Janus couldn't block it in time and the next thing he saw was a beam of black, nearly as tall as he washing over him. As soon as it hit him, he felt dirty, cruel, and vicious. He felt like the whole world was at fault for all of his worries, which was partially true anyway. The black light washed over him like an ocean of miseries, and Janus thought he might scream from the pure hate in it all. But the beam of hatred faded away and he was still on his feet. Not only on his feet, but also hardly budged from the position he had been in. He felt no pain. None. The black beam may have not existed as far as he was concerned. Janus' astonishment was nothing compared to the half insane look on his attacker's face.

"IMPOSSIBLE!!" he roared. "No one could've survived… only Kane and…" a look of total fear and shock washed over the dark man's face. He began to shake his head slowly in disbelief. "No," he said in barely more than a whisper. "It cannot… you… how can you…" Then the rage was back again on his face. He threw back his head a howled a howl that was more animal than human, like a cross between a lion's roar and an owl's hoot. It curdled even Janus' blood.

The man then sprang like a spring uncoiling at him and shrieked something almost inaudible. Janus picked it up, though. "DIE, SHADOWDANCER!!"

Janus hesitated. Shadowdancer? He had never heard the name. His hesitation cost him though as the man plowed into him so hard Janus couldn't breathe. He hated suffocating. He would rather be stabbed than die without air. Fighting back his fear, as he knew how to do almost automatically, he grabbed the man's throat and sent a charge of lightning into him. Nothing. They landed and Janus kicked into the man's stomach. It felt like kicking stone. Ignoring a punch to the face, he grabbed the man and flung him over his head. Janus got one his feet in an instant. He spared a second's glance to look for his scythe and saw it lying six feet away. He looked back just in time to leap toward his weapon as the man in black leaped at him with his black blade in hand. Janus' hand closed around the shaft and he rolled to his feet. Assuming a defensive position, he turned his gaze on where the man landed, and…

He wasn't there. He had vanished into thin air. Janus looked around, but saw only the Epoch with Shala trying to pull someone with a red cape out and Flea helping her out. But he felt something. Magic couldn't be whipped out of thin air. It was always there; there were just people who could refine it and use it. And Janus could see that some had been used moments ago where the man should have landed. Teleported. Janus thought wryly. Coward. Why not face me like a-

Janus had a half of a second. In that half a second, he felt the resonance of magic above him. He looked up and saw the man in black falling toward him from no more than ten feet up. He saw the man sneer and point his blade at his heart. Janus shifted his feet to more of a crouched position. His scythe's end point went up to welcome the attack. It all seemed to happen in slow motion, like they were in water. Janus had come face to face with death countless times, and each time, the moment had been stretched like rubber. It was a terrifying moment of almost absolute stillness.

Then, time snapped. Janus felt a weight on his scythe and he toppled over onto his side. He realized his eyes were tightly shut. He opened them, and stared into the still-sneering face of his enemy. His eyes did not look right and he was very still. Janus looked down and saw the shaft of his scythe in the man's middle. Janus heaved a sigh of relief. He felt no pain; he was not injured. The man, however, was not bleeding.

"Janus!" Flea's voice sang over his heavy breathing. He looked over the man's corpse and saw her running to him, away from Shala, who was still helping two familiar men along on their feet.

Janus couldn't quite place the names on them, though. They both had their heads low and were trudging along, looking worse for wear.

"I'm alright, Flea." He said as he got to his feet and released his tight hold on the scythe shaft. No sooner had he done so than he was almost knocked back onto his back by Flea, who hugged him so tightly he almost could not breathe. He put his arms around her as well, though lighter than she had to him.

"I sorry." She said against his chest. "I'm sorry I couldn't get to you. They were barely breathing- they were going to die-but…" Her voice trailed off.

"Who is 'they?'" Janus asked quietly, not really caring what the answer was; he was mostly enjoying the feel of Flea leaning on him, and the feel of her heart beating against his body. It beat hard, with the long, steady rhythm of an athlete. She was so warm, he felt like melting into her forever and… no, keep your mind in the present. He scolded himself. He almost laughed. He was truly in love. It used to seem so impossible, as distant as the stars some time ago. But now… Stay in the present!

"Tata and Glenn." She said, pulling away from him enough to look up into his red eyes. "They look… older, though. Tata looks like he hasn't shaved recently, but they are-"

"NOOOOOOOO!!" A scream of anguish rose to Janus' ears and his head snapped around to the source of the yell. Tata was indeed looking older, with whiskers forming around his mouth.

He wore a white shirt with loose sleeves and laced collar. He wore a belt of made of leather with a plain, silver belt. His pants were slightly baggy and as white as his shirt. His red cape and spiky, lavender hair marked him as the wannabe hero everyone in Porre knew. Right now, though, he looked angry as he ran to the fallen man in black. Very angry.

"NOOOO!!" The boy screamed again as he fell to his knees beside the dark man. "You killed him! You weren't supposed to kill him! Gods, noooooo!"

"He attacked me." Janus said slowly. They couldn't be allies. Tata wouldn't befriend such a man. "I acted in self-defense."

Tata went on as though he had not spoken. "He was mine to kill. Mine! I was going to rip his heart out! He was always mine! I was supposed to kill him!" Now he looked up at Janus with a burning hate in his eyes. "Why, Shadowdancer? He was mine to kill! He was always mine! Oh, burn your mother for ever having thought of-"

That was all Janus was going to hear out of this boy. His full-armed punch sent Tata sprawling onto his back. Tata had not even see the punch coming, but he recovered from his initial shock. He got right back up to his feet and dove at Janus with a snarl. Janus caught him in the gut with another punch and Tata fell right past him. The boy landed in the snow with a hard thud and lay there, his shoulders shaking.

Janus walked over to him and picked him up by his arm. Tata shook it off violently and stood glaring at him. He was breathing hard, like a bull preparing to charge, angry and hateful.

"Listen to me boy," Janus said heatedly. "No one should ever not take an attack seriously. No one should ever allow error. And when a fighter as fierce as that one attacks, nothing should be held back, not a single heartbeat that could be used to attack. That is suicide, plain and simple. When fights occur, one person will walk away. The other won't. These are the rules of war, Tata."

Tata's look had not grown any more pleasant, but he dropped his head with a defeated sigh. Janus heard something uttered under his breath. He caught it, though. "He was mine." Then he raised his head with a look of shock on his broad face.

"But… if he is truly dead again, why am I…" He didn't finish, and instead, he dashed past Janus that he nearly didn't see him. He turned around so fast it hurt, especially after the fight. He saw Tata race toward the corpse of the dark man and stop a few feet in front of him. Janus was already moving to where Tata stood, but before he could get there, Tata threw out both arms and a gorgeous, white beam flew from his hands. It was as pure as the morning, as brilliant as the sun. It startled Janus and he halted, surprised at the boy's action. The white beams smashed into the corpse of the enemy. Why? What was he doing? The man was clearly dead. Why try to obliterate a corpse?

"Tata!" he called, but the boy continued to pour the tidal wave of light into the dark man. Janus moved in and pulled the boy away. The beams faded and disappeared as Janus pulled him back. For some reason, a little voice in the back of his head wished that light would never return. For all of their brilliance, he wished it did not exist.

"Back off, Tata! He's dead! You hear me?! He's dead!" Janus was pulling him by his arms away, but the boy resisted with surprising strength. It was all Janus could do just to keep him back. Then, Tata's boot flew backward and drove its heel into Janus' gut. Janus landed on the ground gasping for air. What was with that boy?

Tata had now thrown himself on the man and was fiercely punching him across the face. Janus, while still trying to get air back into his lungs, saw teeth fly with spurts of blood. He got to his feet slowly, then felt his legs go weak and fell back again, only to be caught in Flea's arms. He hardly noticed her; he was watching the boy he knew as hardly more that a child practically taking the dark man's corpse apart. Tata snapped the neck all the way around with his gloved hands, then proceeded to grab the man's throat. He squeezed tightly with one hand, then yanked hard and pulled the man's throat out.

"My… God," Flea managed as she helped Janus to his feet. "I have never seen such ferocity, not even during the war…" She trailed off.

It occurred to Janus that Tata would not let up on the corpse if he was just let alone. Pulling out of Flea's arms, he raced for Tata just as the boy had begun to rip the corpse's arm off. He grabbed Tata by his muscular arms, twisting one up his back so that it was on the verge of breaking. He was expecting another struggle from him, but the boy simply let Janus hold him.

"He's dead, Tata." Janus said in the most docile tone he could manage. "A dead man sleeps for good, Tata. He-"

"There's something wrong." Tata broke in suddenly as he stared at the mangled corpse. "He's dead, but I am still alive. That cannot happen. Ever. He and I are… linked. One cannot exist without the other." Tata moved his arms a bit, and in a blink of an eye, Janus no longer held the lad. He had just sort of slipped out of his hold. He now stood before Janus, looking calm, yet on the verge of violence. "He is not dead." He said quietly, like it was common sense.

"Well," came a voice from behind Janus. They looked to where the voice came from and saw Glenn standing straight and strong. Shala and Flea were beside him, looking slightly nervous and relieved at the same time. "He's gone for now." Glenn finished his statement.

"Yes." Agreed Tata, then added. "For now."

"Well, since we have finally calmed down, could someone please tell me what this is all about?" Janus asked quietly.

"We can." Responded Tata. "We can. But we'd best be getting inside now." He looked up at the clouds, which still dropped its endless hail of snow. "This isn't exactly where I would choose to discuss such things."

They all agreed on that and headed in the direction of the Last Village. Janus walked alongside of Tata, pondering on the words that threatened to break loose at any minute. Not now. Janus told himself. Not quite yet. He'll learn. Soon.

"Should we remove the body?" asked Flea. "I mean, not everyone is going to be entirely comfortable walking along here and happening across a corpse that looked like it was given to a horde of goblins, stomped on, crushed, and finally chewed up a spat out like an uncooked slice of meat. Frankly, it isn't really what someone wants their dog sniffing when they take it for a walk."

"Leave it." Tata said flatly. "I would personally like it if a dog carried it off and buried it. It would save me the trouble. Come on. I have much to talk about…"


"It is almost time."


"Tata is… still unaware."

"Oh, Tata. Why didn't you simply burn the body?!"

"He could not know…"

"Please, Tata. Please do it differently this time so I won't have to watch…!"

"There is nothing we can do. And it is almost time to leave."



"His name is Grendel, the Blackhearted." Tata spoke into the window that he was looking out of. He stared out at the snow with a sense of dread in the back of his mind. It had been a short while ago that they had returned to Magus and Flea's cavern. Everyone had settled down and had begun relaxing. Five minutes after that, Glenn had peered out the same window Tata now stood at and had stared out exactly where Tata stared, at the spot where Grendel's black katana had been when they left the almighty warrior's body. Yet when Glenn had looked out there, it was nowhere to be seen. No one could touch that horrible blade except for its master. Since then, Tata had begun his presentation of the situation at hand, but had stayed by the window where Glenn had discovered that the blade was missing. Tata didn't even want to think that Grendel was still alive, but then why was the blade gone? And more importantly, why was he still here, talking to his comrades?

"We were created at the same time on opposite sides of the universe, built for one purpose: to fight each other." He sniffed at that; he had begun to question that when he had first fallen in love with Elayne so long ago. "Three realms separate the afterlife. They are Ji'groo, Oske`, and Eimla. I was created in Eimla, the kingdom of the deceased heroes of ages long past, he in Ji'groo, the kingdom for those of evil mind and spirit. Oske` is for normal people, basically a place much like Earth."

Tata leaned against the stone walls and breathed hard out his mouth as he tried to recall all the information from the hero that owned half of his mind.

"Excuse me." Janus' voice filled the silence. "I know this is sort of changing subjects, but-"

"I know what you want to know, Magus." Tata cut him off in a tired voice. "You fought the ultimate Dark Warrior, as they are called. You fought against a foe that could ravage this world at his leisure. And yet you won." Tata turned to face Janus' stare, one that made most men even of the strongest will swallow their tongues. "You wonder how, though you are of great power, how a foe of such immeasurable strength fell to your scythe, to your wrath. I also know that he called you a name: Shadowdancer."

Tata leaned his back against the wall again. "Every person's soul is eternal. When a person dies, he or she will walk the Path of Nine, where the nine portals to the nine different realms stand open to them. He or she may choose to enter one, be born again with no memory of what they previously were, and live out another life. Or they may choose to enter the afterlife, which has been decided for him depending on his actions throughout his existence. If the soul decides to move on to the afterlife, a new soul is born and placed into a random realm."

Tata looked around the room, at the faces of his comrades, who blatantly looked overwhelmed and stupefied at the same time. All of this information was true, but it was extremely difficult for them to accept it.

"Most of you here are relatively new souls." His eyes went to Shala. "You are about two thousand years old. A very powerfully-willed woman." She arched an eyebrow. His eyes went to Glenn. "You're a bit older, but one of fantastic power. About five thousand, five hundred years old." Glenn's expression remained neutral. Tata's eyes went to Flea. "You are the youngest, about one thousand years old, but a natural warrior." She made a small grin, like a child who earned herself a compliment.

Tata let his head drop and he sighed. Well, if he is anything like he is known as, he should take this fairly well. Tata thought to himself. His gaze lifted to Janus. Here it goes.

"You had a soul brother, a brother who is bonded to you. A companion to constantly guard your back, one whom you dearly loved, and him you. His name, or at least his soul name, was Kane. You two were equally skilled warriors and powerful mages. No one could begin to match either of you. Together, you both fought and won every battle either of you ever participated in. Except one."

"He was the elder of you two, so he was usually in charge, though you were stronger of mind, body, and soul. The two of you were in the ninth realm, and had gathered a rebellion against an immense army of Dark Warriors, led by an evil king of great strength, named Tenathos. He had been the ultimate Dark Warrior then, but still human. You two had gathered everyone around the world to fight against these powerful fighters and mages. And you were winning."

Tata could tell that Janus was amazed by all of this, though he hid it behind his usual mask of cold severity. He continued.

"The final battle came, Behurm Hafuir, as it was called in the Old Chant, or the Ancient Language. It means 'The Final Battle.'" Tata said quietly. "You two headed the battle yourselves, charging valiantly at the head of the lines almost too fast for the rest to follow. You broke through the Dark Warriors' defenses and stormed the fortress, destroying any whom got between you and Tenathos. You both used the magic I use, the power of Life, the only way to combat the Dark Warriors, who used the magic Grendel constructs. You came face to face with Tenathos in the hall of his throne, where he had been using magic to aid his fighters from inside his walls. Enraged, he summoned his strongest forty one warriors into his vast hall. Forty-one of the darkest hearts, the strongest fighters, the most skilled Black Magic users, the most powerful Dark Warriors the world has ever seen, against the two greatest White Magic users ever at that time. The battle began and lasted for six hours strait with blood staining the walls and battle cries, desperate screams, and straining moans sounding amongst the clashing of steel and the smell of burnt flesh. It ended after those six hours, with a flood of your blood mixed with theirs covering the floor. But amid them you both stood, breathing hard, bleeding fatally in no less than sixteen different places, but alive, with the bodies of Tenathos' fiercest warriors encircling you. Neither of you had budged an inch from where you had been when the battle had begun."

Now Janus' mouth had dropped open slightly, as had those of every other person in the room. Tata himself marveled at it, but his emotions. He actually wanted to break down and cry in joy, yet he held onto his dignity.

"Tenathos, taking full advantage of your weakness, blasted you both with his almighty magic. He did this several times, laughing triumphantly the whole time. On your deathbed practically, you stood up and managed to avoid the next blast, which killed Kane instantly. You used a scythe, even in those days; it has been your master-weapon of a sort. So, while the Dark Warrior was distracted, you drew back your scythe and charged him. He saw you, but you were too fast. You ran the end of your scythe through his heart even as he blasted you with his last speck of magic, which was enough to end your life. Yet as you slumped to your knees with a deathgrip on the haft of your weapon, the one that held him to the wall, you gazed up at the mage, into his eyes, which were slowly fading away into death. He gazed into yours with distant emotions, but yours burned with hate. You gazed into his eyes and with your last breath said; "Life… will prevail." Then your eyes closed, and so did his. You both died at the same time, both locked in an eternal embrace of death."

Tata felt his eyes moistening from the words that escaped his mouth. It made his heart swell in pride each time he recalled it. Warriors, good or evil knew the tale like the back of their hand. But now came the part when the swelling ceased.

"Wait." Flea spoke up. Tata glanced at her. Her hand rested on Janus' shoulder. He looked pretty stunned, which was rare to see. Janus was nearly a master of his emotions, yet now he was in love with Flea…

"You said that they lost that battle. I mean, I know they died, but so did Tenathos and most of his army. It sounds like a victory, if you ask me."

Tata gazed at her with a slight grin on his face. She was nearly identical to her sister. Her scarlet hair, as soft as satin, her skin nothing short of perfection. How he wanted to see Minka one last time. He would give his life if he could just speak to her one more time, to feel her warm lips caressing his, and to gaze into her emerald eyes, which were like gem stones, and be perfectly content with everything. He would give anything to feel that peace again.

No. Minka was dead. She had been for awhile now, and he couldn't change that. Flea stared so intently at him now, not Minka. It would never be her again.

"That is true." Tata responded in a quiet voice. "That was a victory. It was one of the greatest victories over the Dark ever recorded. It has been remembered so for a very long time."

Tata turned back to the window. Someone one in a black coat was strolling outside the cave. He wore a gray shroud to hide his face. No wonder, Tata thought. It's like a constant blizzard out there.

"But the real loss came afterward." Tata said gravely. "It was when Kane and his brother began to walk the Path of Nine once again that they were confronted. Not by Tenathos, who had entered one of the realms, but by another common soul. He told Kane and his brother that he was going to the afterlife, to see what is was like. He claimed to have seen all the nine realms and wasn't impressed. He beckoned you, Janus, and your brother to follow him, into Eimla, to the world of eternal peace and harmony."

Tata paused. He had felt a small… resonance of dark magic. It had been there for only a breath, but it was enough to put Tata on edge. It couldn't have been Grendel; he had seen the bloody monster dead and had taken him apart piece by piece himself. Tata knew no way to fake death that well, but…

"…And?" Janus said impatiently. He must have gotten over the initial shock, Tata thought. Too bad there is yet another.

"You both refused without so much as blinking." Tata went on. "You both knew of your powers, how great they were, and how much you could both help humanity battle the Dark Warriors that would come again. But this man was very persuasive with his words, a very eloquent speaker. He spoke of eternal peace and tranquility, of everlasting happiness and love. Kane did not answer right away, but you, Janus, still said no immediately. You would not be budged from your decision by a total stranger."

Tata turned to face Janus with a small grin on his face. "You know, you used to treasure life back then, more than any other Warrior of the Light. You loved it from the very depths of your soul, and would give up your life for its survival."

Janus stood up abruptly, his face angry. "So if I was such a great hero then, then why am I the dark soul that I am now? And don't tell me it is because I got out of bed on the wrong foot one morning, or-"

"That is just the part which I was coming to." Tata said calmly. "If you did not hear me before, I had said you brother hesitated. He was considering going with this man. The ancient histories all said that Kane was the stronger among you two. But they are wrong. You have an unsurpassed will, an unbreakable determination that could not be bent even by every Dark Warrior ever created."

"This was something which Kane lacked. He eventually was won over by the man, and told you that the two of you were going to Eimla. But you still refused to go. You wanted to continue the fight, insisting that if they did not stay, the Dark would win. The unfortunate thing was that the two of you were soul brothers, eternally linked to one another. Despite your refusal, Kane and the man tried to reason you out. In the end, you went when Kane threatened to go without you. You did not want to lose your brother even for a little while. You loved him very much, and he did you. So the two of you went with the man who was so persuasive with his words, to the afterlife you deserved: Eimla."

Tata's face could melt iron. This was where it got ugly. "But you did not go to Eimla. You journeyed through the portal that led to the afterlife, but you ended up in Ji'groo with the man who had convinced you to come. He was actually a henchman of the ruler of Ji'groo, who laughed in your face as you were pulled up the Eternal Tower."

"Ji'groo," Tata went on. "Is not a place of physical pain. You can not be injured at all there, just as you cannot in any other afterlife. Ji'groo is a place where the most villainous of souls go, to pay for their transgressions. Dark Warriors revel in the place, as it is their home. But Ji'groo is a place where you lose your mind. Ji'groo is simply an endless, black tower, shooting up into eternity. A person is strung from it, and slowly, little by little, their minds are driven insane. They are faced in their own minds with their worst nightmares, which causes them to eventually go insane, to turn into a babbling idiot who literally has no mind power left at all."

Tata ground his teeth at that. How he wished he could obliterate that horrible place for good. Of course that was impossible. No one could destroy Ji'groo, or any of the other afterlifes. Not even the Entity had been able to destroy the Eternal Tower, all those lifetimes back.

"We were hung on this thing?" Janus cut into Tata's thoughts again.

"Yes." Tata said darkly. "The ruler of Ji'groo had captured the two greatest Warriors of the Light ever, perhaps the greatest warriors from any side. Now he began his plan of transformation. His goal was to convert the two of you to the Dark, to make all-powerful Dark Warriors of you. So you both were placed on the Tower, where you minds slowly were torn apart while your powers, once so white and pure, turned to putrid Black Magic, the magic of evil."

Tata turned again to face Janus and the others. "Kane slowly faded away, his horror silent and still. But you, your will stayed strong and pure. Every time you faced a nightmare, you stared it down and did not blink. Your will is truly unbreakable, your bravery indestructible. Eventually, your mind awoke inside your body again, and you broke the chains that held you. You could not save Kane, so you escaped into the ninth dimension, where you had last lived."

He paused and turned away just as a grimace that could have been from pain settled onto his face. This was the painful part, for him, at least. He could not believe that so many people could have been killed so quickly…

"But what you found was not the war-wrought lands of Amonati, or the great Palace of Gold, or even the Great Lakes of Mahadel. Instead, you found the land you had fought so valiantly for, that you had shed blood and given up your life for, was nothing but a barren, charred world, totally devoid of life. Everything had been utterly destroyed."

A tear dropped from Tata's eyes. So much life being destroyed sickened him, but he continued on in a steady voice. "What had happened was a war beyond human comprehension. The ruler of Eimla had learned of Ji'groo's transgression against you and your brother. A battle had squared of between the two rulers, which toyed with the very balance of time, and life and death. It had been long and hard for both sides, as different time periods blended together and life escaped out of the living and the dead rose again from their graves. The finale to this battle was the obliteration of the ninth realm. It did not benefit either side, but your brother was still being torn apart in Ji'groo, your bond broken forever as his mind was wiped clean. Soon after, the news of what had happened to Kane drifted up to Eimla. He was losing his mind, but after that process was complete, the ruler of Ji'groo intended to corrupt his mind to that of a Dark Warrior, to that of evil, as that of the transformation of his magic. With a superior warrior like Kane on the side of evil, the Dark would reign in every realm. Kane was to be the one who imposed this among each world."

"So the ruler of Eimla devised a plan to create a warrior of his own, and ultimate Warrior of the Light to go into Ji'groo and destroy Kane while he was still chained to the Tower. This warrior was named Aladren, and he was given the ability not only to travel time, but also to travel between realms, and even to the afterlifes. The way this was done was that portals were opened in each realm, even in the ninth, which appeared every couple lifetimes and allowed a passage to a random realm. Aladren was supposedly as strong, if not stronger as Kane had been, and swiftly traveled through the realms, over the course of many lifetimes, and eventually wound up in Ji'groo, staring up the Eternal Tower, wondering where to start."

Tata sighed. "Unfortunately, he was too late. Kane, standing tall and dark was already waiting for him, his mind and powers fully converted to that of a Dark Warrior. The confrontation was quick and brutal for Aladren, even with every last ounce of power he could call upon, that which could shake the world. He lay on the ground with Kane standing triumphantly over him. No one is sure how, but before being completely annihilated, Aladren escaped to from Kane's wrath to Eimla. The ruler welcomed him, but was astonished to learn how easily his ultimate warrior had been defeated. He had created Aladren with more than enough strength to destroy Kane for good. It was realized that a much stronger fighter was needed to combat Kane, someone who could strike at even the ruler of Ji'groo if he chose to."

Tata turned back to them. "The power needed to create such a fighter was beyond the current abilities of Eimla's ruler. So, in a desperate move, the great ruler drained as much life energy as he could from the ninth realm. When this happened, though, your soul and body was taken as well. You wound up in Eimla, staring at the Creator of Life himself."

Tata sighed. "Never before had Black Magic entered Eimla. You had been in Ji'groo long enough that your magic had been fully corrupted to dark energy. The Creator recognized you, and nearly turned human enough to cry. His finest soul, now a Dark Warrior. You pleaded with him that you were still righteous and good of heart, but he turned his back to you and told you to go. But just as you sighed and turned to leave, you had an image of Ji'groo, of a Dark Warrior, nearly as powerful as Kane, striding contemptuously toward Eimla's gate. Then it was gone, and someone stood before you, staring at you. He was a Warrior of the Light, and one with enormous amounts of energy flowing from him. 'His name,' the Creator said. 'Is Beowulf, the one that shall combat evil. He is the Phoenix.'"

Tata gave a small grin. "You were the first person I saw after I was created, Janus. And what you had saw in your vision was my soul brother, and my complete opposite, Grendel. He was created by the ruler of Ji'groo at the same time I was born. Aladren and I journeyed to Ji'groo for my first battle. We encountered Kane and his accomplice in Oske` and dueled until we all lay exhausted on the ground. Both sides withdrew, knowing that there would be other battles. We had all found our matches, our ultimate rivals. Grendel was Kane's accomplice, if you have not realized by now. He was my opposite and ultimate enemy, Kane being Aladren's."

"Both Aladren and myself knew though that Kane was still stronger than Aladren, which gave them the edge. Had they known that, they very well may have annihilated us. But you, you, Janus was and still are the brother of Kane, and still more powerful. You could combat him and defeat him, drive your weapon through his heart and stand triumphantly over his body. But your powers were as dark as his, and while that remained true, you could never combat him."

"As you left Eimla, a great warrior that you had known named Tristan asked you if you liked dancing with shadows. It was meant as a joke, but you told him; 'Maybe I am a shadow dancer, then.' From that moment on, you have carried the title in every afterlife as the One Who Wed the Shadow. They called you the one who stood on the edge of darkness, the one that stood mere steps from being a Dark Warrior. They called you the one who spat and laughed in the face of darkness. They called you Shadowdancer."

Janus closed his eyes and lowered his head into his hand, which he propped on his knee. Tata continued. "Eventually, Aladren sacrificed his current life and sealed Kane away into an area between dimensions, where he was sure Kane could never escape and harm Life ever again. But not before bearing two sons to a woman who lives in our realm. One boy was lost; no one knows where he is, except that he is still alive, if he has not been killed yet. The other grew into a strong and resilient fighter, a natural warrior and a powerful mage. He fought with you against Lavos and struck it down with his own blade."

"Oh my God…" Shala brought a hand to her mouth, which hung open in stupefied shock.

"It would be him." Glenn said quietly. A small grin broke his stunned face. "He killed Lavos with his own sword. The monster truly feared him and Janus."

Tata nodded slightly. "Only Aladren and I are stronger in our own right. Aladren's second son's soul was completely new, yet was powerful enough to break the world in two. I've always thought that if he could be taught how to use pure Light Magic, he would be even stronger. That is my theory, at least."

"I was wondering," Flea spoke up. Her hand rested protectively on Janus' slumped shoulder. "What is 'Light Magic?'"

Tata smiled a small, warm smile. Minka. No, Flea. Forget Minka for now. "I'm glad you asked, Flea. I really am. Because I know that what you know of magic is only a tenth of the real thing. As you may already know, magic is all around us; it holds everything together, gives life and death. People can learn how to harness these flows of energy and use them in ways to their liking. For instance, Glenn uses water magic. When he uses it, he simply pulls the water out of the air or whatever source is closest at hand and uses it. But you all know that. That is the magic the entity named Spekkio taught him. Flea, you magic is mostly what you call 'shadow magic,' as is Janus' own magic. Unfortunately, Spekkio in reality knows very little about magic. He has been able to create fire, and water, and lightning with his magic, but he assumes that that is magic in its raw form. Well, it's not. Magic is divided into only two parts, Life and Death, or Light and Darkness. Most magic users, since Dark Warriors and Light Warriors are all but extinct, are what are called 'Grays.' They are called this because they blend Life and Death to make other elemental magic. Fire, for example, is mostly Life with a bit of Death in it. Lightning, on the other hand, is almost half Life and half Death."

"Life magic is not really magic, per se. Life magic is Life." Tata pointed at the ground and a thin stream of light streamed from his finger. It penetrated the ground and then vanished. Moments later, however, a small, red flower sprouted from the ground. Red, like Minka's hair. Forget her for now, he thought. "I am the strongest Light Warrior alive, if not ever. My power is Life, the energy that our very souls are made of. This energy constantly surrounds us, and binds us. I can make things live and flourish. That is the opposite of what Grendel's magic does. It is Death, that which eradicates Life. Death surrounds us as well as Life. Death is not a force that overtakes us, but a sort of non-energy that contradicts Life. That is why you were not harmed when Grendel blasted you, Janus; you are nearly pure Shadow, the opposite of what you once were. Darkness begets darkness, light begets light. When you draw upon magic flows, you are drawing on these the very energy of nature."

That left no immediate comment. Tata knew that the four people he had spoken to felt like their worlds had been tipped on their heads. After a few minutes, Janus stood and walked over into a corner of the room and stared at the wall.

"I suppose it makes sense," he said quietly. "But why didn't Spekkio say anything about this?"

Tata gave a small snort at the thought of the egomaniac. He had met him once, when he went by another name, and had been quite unimpressed with the powerful magic user. "Spekkio is not one to ask for reference on magic. He told you that magic is divided into fire, water, lightning, and shadow, if I am not missing any, and that everything was based upon these forces. In a sense he was correct, but for the most part, he is completely off the mark. How can lightning be a creating force of nature when it is only a product of our atmosphere, for instance? It does not make any real sense. Spekkio hardly knows the first thing about real magic, however powerful he is in using it. He may be as strong as most of you, if not a little weaker, but he is surely no 'Master of War.' He is simply a strong Gray with a bloated ego."

That brought about another stretch of silence. The being that had unleashed most of their abilities had just been revealed to be a phony. Tata thought that if the ruler of Eimla had been shown to his face as a guy with a disturbing sense of humor, he wouldn't be too pleased either. The truth hurts, Tata thought bitterly. He realized he was staring at Flea again. Images of Minka floated in his head reminding him of better times, when the weight of the universe didn't rest on his shoulders. Would he ever be free of the pain of her death? Probably not, chances being what they bloody well were. She was off, away from him, either starting a new life or living in Eimla, where he was never to enter so long as Grendel's dark spirit roamed the nine realms. How he sometimes hated to fight! Why did it have to be him? Why hadn't the ruler of Eimla simply made Aladren strong enough to destroy Kane without any problem? Now because of his condemnation to fight Grendel forever, Elayne had died again. He might not see her again for many lifetimes. Enough of this, Tata thought sadly. Snapping back to reality, he realized that Flea was meeting his gaze.

Tata held those violet eyes in his stare for only a second longer before turning his sight to Glenn. The green-haired man was staring silently out the window, obviously lost in thought. Even under the dull light of the cloudy skies, his Moonstone armor shone like the sun. It was a near-replica of Cyrus' uniform, save for the cape. Melchior must have made it, he thought idly. The long-dead hero was obviously unforgotten in Glenn's mind; he completely resembled his former mentor and dear friend. Tata could still conjure up images of the fifteen-year old boy with the green hair and natural feel for battle, the same boy who had nearly worshipped Cyrus and tried his bloody hardest to be just like him. He had succeeded, as it turned out. Now he was a battle-hardened warrior and a master swordsman. Tata himself had looked up to both of them with dreamy eyes in his younger years, before his life had gone to Ji'groo and back again. But Glenn had had his fair share of pain in his life too. He had been a frog, a resented and hated freak of nature. His heroics on Denadoro Mt. were forgotten and just recently he had lost Lucca, who had obviously had a thing for him. The thought that he was not the only one suffering should have made him feel better, but it only made it worse. It was just another reminder of his failure to protect Life, and those who held it dearly.

Tata didn't think Glenn had noticed his gaze on him, but he cleared his throat and Tata moved his eyes away to Shala, who sat straight-backed in her chair. Tata always sensed great amounts of energy radiating from Janus' sister. A strong Light Warrior, that one, Tata thought to himself. He wished he knew her better, but he really did not know her at all, save for her name and her relationship with Janus. She was very beautiful, with her sky blue hair and smooth face, her small, pale lips and deep, dark eyes. He was reminded of that feeling of security and comfort that had washed over him when he had first met her, or rather when he first touched her. It seemed so long ago now, even though it was not that long ago to him. Tata wondered if he touched her again, if he could feel that comfort again, if he could feel happy again, as he had not been for what seemed like eternity. Happiness came hard when you were constantly at war, especially if everything that was good and true rode on each battle. Fate always seemed to have a tendency to be holding you above the clouds while at the same time ripping you limb from limb.

Tata knew where his gaze would go next. Shadowdancer always attracted many an eye when he was present. Janus, standing alone in the corner of the Last Village's conference room, had just had his whole existence, his horrible transformation, and finally the loss of his soul brother laid before him in the sternest of manners. Once he had been a kind, gentle Warrior of the Light, not to mention the strongest of them at the time. He had raised armies from common folk and fought against the Dark with his dying breath. He had conquered lands and brought peace to many a nation. Now Tata looked upon one of the darkest souls alive, one who could level the world at a thought. If the two of them squared off, Tata was not sure he would win, especially after Shadowdancer had supposedly killed Grendel. How had the Blackhearted fallen to Kane's former brother when Tata could not destroy him himself? Maybe Kane and Shadowdancer had always been the most powerful warriors, even after Grendel and Aladren and even Beowulf. No one had ever escaped Ji'groo except him and Aladren, and anyone who could do that was to be reckoned with. What if Kane ever escaped and came into contact with Shadowdancer? Would they fight? Would they both die together as they had at the end of Behurm Hafuir? Or would Shadowdancer finally take that last step that would fully submerged him in the Darkness forever?

Tata noticed that it had gotten dark outside but the snow was coming down harder than ever. He hoped the rest of the tents were holding up in the village; frostbite was the last thing anyone needed now, even with Grendel dead. Abruptly, Janus whirled around on his heels, his face a mask of steady discipline.

"All of you listen." He said in a quiet yet firm tone. "As far as I am concerned, I have always been a dark person. It is not by choice. It is my nature. Now you tell me that once I fought for a greater purpose other than myself, which is not a great purpose at all. You say I one used this so-called 'Light Magic.' You say that I fought for the good of humanity, for Life itself. You even told me that I had a brother named Kane who is now pure evil. In essence, you have laid my whole existence out in front of me, my whole history, and given me the choice to either accept or reject it."

He sighed. "My name is Janus. I was born is the city above the clouds. I was born in the sky. My mother was the ruler of this wondrous city, but she was corrupted by an otherworldly being that had crashed and burrowed its way into the earth's core, where upon entering, he began manipulating evolution to his own purpose: to be like us. He rose above the earth's crust and dropped a rain of fire upon the earth and the city I lived in. He created a time portal that sent me far into the future where two different races of beings were at war, away from my sister and everything I loved. I was taken under the arm of a greedy lord of one of these races, one which wielded magic, and taught how to fight, and how to kill. I took over this race and raised an army that wreaked havoc on the human race. All in an attempt of revenge on the being that had sent me away from my family and my home. Because of my insufferable hate for this monster, I became almost completely evil."

"Maybe it was destiny for me to turn out this way, since my soul is stained so heavily black, or maybe it was simply circumstance. Either way, I do not care. I have dealt with my hate and suffering and made peace with my soul. But I am who am, and nothing more. I am the Magus, Prince Janus of Zeal, the city that once looked down upon the earth from above the clouds."

He looked hard at Tata, who kept a tranquil face. "I do believe your explanation, Tata, because I know I can trust you. Whatever battles will follow these moments from here to the end, we will be at you back. But know this of me, Beowulf." The name sliced like a razor in Tata's ears. "You call me Shadowdancer, the One Who Dances the Shadows. I accept the title openly, for I am nothing less now or before now. When I faced men on the battlefield, they prayed before fighting me. I was the harbinger of most men's doom. To them, I was the Reaper. There are some men in this world that adhere to death as naturally as breathing. It is our nature. It is my nature."

Tata's response was quick to fill the resulting silence after Janus' speech. "Grendel will shiver in his boots upon learning you want his blood." He said darkly. "The question is, does he live? And if so, when will he attack next?"

Silence followed. Everyone looked grim but determined to stop the dark monster that wore human skin. Flea stood up and went over to hug Janus and talk soothingly and quietly into his ear. Tata tried not to take notice. It always made his heart clench when he looked at Flea. It always reminded him all too much of Minka.

A single, solitary tear rolled down Tata's cheek. It was the first tear he had shed in a very long time.


End of Chapter 17


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