The Story Of Magus Chapter 11
Tails! I Win, You Lose!
Janus ducked Slash's cut and swiped at the Mystic's legs. Dancing out of harm's way, he aimed a blow at the young man's shoulder. Janus blocked the singing Slasher with his own blade. The metal on metal made a grating sound, sparks flying as they connected. Janus winced. Slash laughed and twirled his sword, knocking the young man's sword away. Though the former prince still retained his grip on the hilt, he knew that he had little chance of deflecting a fatal blow. Slash lunged. Janus parried. Again the blades locked.
"Yield!," Slash chuckled into Janus's face. The youth gritted his teeth and shoved Slash backward. "You have no choice, kid. You couldn't win this match to save your soul. I could have spitted you on my sword had I wanted. Why don't you give it up?"
"Never! I won't yield to the likes of you!," the frustrated teenager shouted. A black rage was welling up in him. No matter what he did, Slash always found a way to defeat his carefully planed tactics. And to make matters worse, his Mystic sword instructer laughed at his efforts as one does to a dog chasing it's own tail.
"Sticks and stones, kid. Sticks and stones," Slash laughed cruely. Even though Janus was eighteen and stood slightly taller than Slash, the infernal blue-skinned swordsman still called him "kid" which caused the youth no little irritation. "I guess I've toyed with you enough. Perhaps I'll just finish this game." Slash slowly waved Slasher from side to side, immitating a cat swinging it's tail before it pounces.
Janus watched the blade carefully, waiting for a a wrong move, a hint of an attack. But when it came, it wasn't from Slash at all. A sharp kick caught him in the rear-end from behind. Janus went sprawling, his face hitting the saw-dust that had been spread on the cobble-stones of the courtyard to soften falls. His sword went flying. Chocking on the grainy substance, Janus coughed and rolled onto his back, trying to breathe and sit up. The cold tip of a sword pricked him lightly where his heart-beat throbbed in his neck. Slash and Flea loomed over him, grinning mockingly.
"Give up yet?," Slash asked, buffing his nails on his shirt-front. Janus assumed an arrogant smile.
"Cut my throat if you will, but yield I will not," he whispered. Raising one hand, he ran a finger along the weapon's keen edge tauntingly, inviting them to do their worst. The grins on the two Mystic's faces slowly slid off, like water down a pane of glass.
"Don't act so brave, Janus," Flea advised. Casualy, she her placed her hand over her companion's and leaned a slight bit. A warm trickle and a razor's edge of pain slid down the former prince's neck, into the collar of his shirt. "Slash may have qualms about killing you, but I most certainly don't."
She's serious, Janus realized. But how far could he push the insult? Lowering his hand, he shrugged slightly and looked away. "Like I said, kill me if you wish, it doesn't matter to me." He felt the weapon tremble slightly. Who's hand had shook, Flea's or Slash's? He couldn't be sure. Both wore identical masks of mocking coldness.
"You brat! I'll finish what I should have finished years ago!," Flea growled. Janus clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth.
"Keep talking and you will! I'll be bored to death!," Janus shot back. "Or maybe you'll add another wrinkle to that sagging face of yours!" Flea went dead white with rage. A pink froth seemed to touch her bloodless lips. Janus swallowed hard. I think I went overboard on that one...
"I'm going to kill him. I'm going to KILL HIM!!!!!," she howled. A smooth voice interposed, however, before she could take action.
"You harm him, Flea, in anyway, I will visit it back on you two-fold." Ozzie floated out of one of the many glass doors from the castle, arms crossed over his stomach, since he had no chest to speak of. Flea carefully reigned in her anger and bowed stiffly.
"As you wish, Ozzie," she mumbled, glaring daggers at Janus who was still sprawled helpless on his back. Releasing her grip over Slash's hand, she stomped away, white cape trailing behind her, braid bouncing angrily on her shoulders. Slash stepped back, allowing Janus to roll to his feet. The teenager dusted himself off, wincing as his fingers brushed the small cut on his neck and came away stained with blood. He gave Slash a black look which was returned with a shrug. Ozzie floated up and stood between them.
"How have your fencing lessons progressed?," the Mysic leader asked. Before Janus could open his mouth, Slash made a rude noise.
"He fights like a girl, Ozzie! Look at this!" The swordsman poked the hard muscles that protruded slightly on Janus' arm. "Look at these biceps, wimpy as a noodle!" Slash ran his hands over the broad, straight line of Janus' shoulders. "A back like an old woman too." Stepped to the side and rammed a fist into the teenager's gut. The impac would have knocked the breath from a lesser man but Janus merely grunted slightly. Shaking his hand as if in pain, Slash grinned, "But it looks like the sit-ups paid off."
"Good, good. And your magic lessons?," Ozzie prompted casualy. Janus looked away breifly and when he locked gazes with the Mystic, there was no warmth to be seen in their lavender depths. Ozzie faught down the urge to shudder.
"Flea isn't very competant at teaching, though I have learned quite a few things from her. The meanings of quite a few dirty words comes to mind," he said dryly, the barest hint of a smile at the corner of his lips. Slash laughed nervously and put Slasher away into it's scabbard. "On my own I belive that I have managed to master not only the basic mental exercises used to help concentration, but I also have been working on learning some more higher level spells then the ones Flea gave me to study."
"Good, good!," Ozzie chortled. "However, don't push your limits too far too fast, my boy. Dreadfull things happen to a magician who loses controll of his spells." Janus didn't even blink.
"Ozzie, when have I ever lost controll?" The words were spoken in such a flat, dead tone that a block of ice might have given off more heat. Ozzie cleared his throat and nodded.
"Well, I'd hate to lose a bright pupil like you to spell shock or something. Just don't be so ambitious that you forget to watch your back," Slash interjected in the pause. His smile and friendly slap on the back were nervous and hesitant. Janus thought this was odd, and made a mental note to ask Ozzie about it later.
Ozzie nodded again. "Anyway, I was just comming out here to inform you that I'm going to be holding a meeting of Mystics in half-an-hour." Ozzie grimaced, his three chins rolling downward into matching frowns. I would have sent a flunky but the louts are getting insolent and, excuse the human term, rather bitchy at me so I decided to save myself a head-ache and come myself." Mopping his brow with his sleeve, he added, "Now I wish I hadn't. The exertion is killing me! Slash, Janus, I expect to see you two there."
Slash frowned. "What for? You know I usualy snore through meetings. What's going to be the topic?"
Ozzie rubbed his sweaty hands together. "Oh, I think you'll like the topic this time! Belive me, you won't be snoring!" With that cryptic message, Ozzie laughed and vanished. Slash said a bad word and crossed his arms.
"I hate it when Ozzie plays these games! I want to know what the meeting is about!," he complained. Then his eyes lit up and a wicked smile crossed his face. Janus rolled his eyes and smiled sarcasticly.
"I seriously doubt it's naked dancing girls, Slash." Correctly interpreting where the Mystic's mind had gone, Janus groaned in disgust. "You are so single minded, Slash!," he remarked when said Mystic gave him a menacing look. "Can't you think of anything but...that?!"
Slash thought for a moment. "Well, I could, but life would be so dull then!" Laughing at Janus who rolled his eyes once more, the blue swordsman clapped him hard on the back. "Wait till you find a girl, kid. You'll look all over for her and just when you're about to give up hope, BAM! You run into her and you know that for one brief instant you've tasted true happiness. Then you'll understand what I'm feeling." So saying, Slash walked out of the make-shift arena, whistling. Janus shaded his eyes and looked up at the hazy gray and yellow sun, obscoured through the misty clouds that were almost always in the sky.
"Sorry, Slash. I don't understand what you're feeling." Janus answered to the now empty courtyard. "But I will say one thing, though..." Touching the amulet that hung around his neck, hidden under his shirt, he traced the crest of Zeal with his thumb through the material. "There is only one girl that I'll be spending my time looking for."
Meanwhile, in another part of the world...
"Leene! There you are! I've been looking everywhere for you!"
The lovely young woman pushed a strand of golden hair behind her ear and looked up at the aproaching figure. She smiled in surprise and held out her arms to him from her position on the grassy hill that over-looked the ocean. The young man knelt swiftly beside her and she embraced him warmly, giving his cheek a tender kiss.
"Claudane! When did you get back?," Leene gasped in pleasure. "I've missed you so much!" She hugged him tighter and then drew back, taking his face in her hands. "Oh, you havn't changed since I last saw you. The same messy hair and the same sparkling brown eyes."
"Hey! I brushed my hair this morning!," Dane answered with a playfull smile and a soft punch to her arm. "We were allowed a few days break from training and I decided to take my leave back here with you and..." His face grew somber then. "And father. How is father, Leene? Any change?" Leene smiled sadly at her brother.
"He hasn't been the same since the accident."
"Don't I know it."
Leene reached out a hand and brushed another strand of hair behind her ears. "Let's not talk about father right now. You're home and I want to be happy." Claudane smiled and nodded. "So, what was the castle like? Is it truely as big as the rumors say it is?"
Her brother shrugged. "I suppose so. It looks much the same as any castle is said to look like. It's big with grey stone walls on the outside and lush, rich tapestries on the inside. The knight's barracks aren't too shabby either."
"What is it like? Being one of the Knights of the Square Table, I mean?"
"Oh, I'm not a knight yet. I'm still a trainee. It will take several more months of work to even be allowed to fight in a battle."
"Then what do you do all day? Sit around and polish your armor?," Leene giggled. Dane looked offended.
"Of course not! It's not easy being in the military. Up at dawn to train in the sparring ring, a cold soggy egg and burnt toast for breakfast. Field training in dew-wet grass untill it dries at noon. Sliced ham and a crust of bread with naught but water to wash it down with is a soldier's lunch."
Leene shook her head. "That sounds harsh!"
"It is, but I suppose it's worth it. If I want to advance up to a better paying rank, then I have to work my hardest. It's really not so bad. The chance to work near the king is very exciting."
The girl clapped her hands excitedly. "Oh, tell me Dane! Did you see the king?"
"I did. I even talked with him a little bit."
"Really? What was he like? Is he tall and handsome like in the fairy tales?"
Claudane shifted uncomfortably. "I'm not a very good judge of male beauty you understand," he began with a blush and a clearing of his throat. "I suppose a girl might go for him."
"He's ugly then?"
"No!," Dane replied hastily. "No, he's just, um, well you know."
"I'm sorry, Dane, but I don't know. I've never seen him before, remember?"
Leene's brother squared his shoulders and blurted out, "Okay, okay! His Magesty is alright in looks I guess but he's not what one would call dashing. He's not really strong nor very tactfull or brilliant. He's got no backbone."
"So, he's a wimp then, is that what you're trying to tell me?"
Dane winced. "You make it sound so harsh, Leene! Remember that we are talking about the ruling monarch of Guardia, here." His sister shrugged non-commitedly. "So what have you been doing all this time I've been gone?"
"Oh, not much. Just keeping house and weeding the garden. That's about all I do these days."
"What about that Margret girl you used to hang around with?"
"What about her?"
"Don't you two talk anymore? I used to have the biggest crush on her last year."
Leene chuckled ruefully. "Well, I'm sorry to burst your bubble, Dane, but Margret got married to William Shire a couple months ago."
"She did? Wow! I have been gone a long time, havn't I? Last time I heard, he'd stolen her bonnet and she pushed him in the mud, swearing she'd hate him forever."
The siblings laughed over the memory. "Yes! William called her an old nag and Margret was so upset that she stomped all the way home." Leene put her hand to her side where she'd gotten a stitch. "Well, what happened was that Margret's little sister Molly caught the measles and father, well, he was out of commission and out of tonics. But William went off in search for some and he found it. It was lucky he'd acted so noble because the tonic saved the little girl's life. Margret was so gratefull that when William blurted out that he'd always had a crush on her, they got married that very same week."
"And all he had to do was save her sister." Dane shook his head with mock sorrow. "Courting a girl sure has gotten harder. Why can't we just go back to chocolates and bouquets of roses?" Leene gave a fake pout and slapped her brother's arm.
"Oh, you're no fun!," she complained, trying not to smile and failing miserably. "It looks like you've had enought to keep you occupied. I certainly envy you, my dear brother."
Pulling a dandelion puff out of the grass, Leene blew the fluffy white seeds off of the stem and they flew away on the wind. I wish I could be a dandelion puff, Leene thought to herself. You'd never catch me sitting still. I'd fly away on the breeze to see the world and find my destiny, not rooted to the place I grew up. But she was rooted, she admitted to herself, tossing the stem away from her. Rooted by her ailing father, by the laws that bound her to him till he was either dead or she was married, and by the simple fact that she was a woman. One of the biggest unspoken rules of the times was that single women did not go off traveling without an escort of other women, especially if traveling with armored guards. And once she was married, that would be the end of everything. She'd be at her husband's beck and call. No matter how much she might love him, Leene knew that she'd never be able to tolerate bing inferior to anyone. She'd have to be a man's equal, a person worthy of respect from anyone and everyone.
She felt Dane's hand on her shoulder. "Hey. You still with me, Leene?"
"Yes," she sighed. "Yes, I'm with you." But even as she said this, she looked over the ocean to see the hazy outline of the main continent and her eyes grew distant. Some day I'll be free, she said in her mind. Some day...
The throne room in Ozzie's fortress was hot and stuffy from the press of Mystic bodies in too small a space. Janus was glad he was already sitting down because the heat and the unpleasant smell of sweaty fur, scales, and slimy skin made him dizzy and sick to his stomach. The chair he sat in was made of collapsable metal and was very uncomfortable. His rear-end was practicaly asleep as well as his feet. To his right, Slash sat trying to flirt with an unresponsive Flea who stared striaght ahead at the podeum that had been errected for Ozzie's use.
Janus shifted in his chair and massaged one of his feet back to life. As the blood resumed circulation, it tingled and itched annoyingly. "Why can't Ozzie hurry his lard up and get here?," the youth mumbled under his breath. Almost as if that was a cue, Ozzie appeared in a brilliant display of pyro-technics that almost set his robes on fire. Once the laughter had stopped and the fat green Mystic had doused the smoldering hem of his attire, the assembled group slowly grumbled into silence.
Ozzie began, his voice low at first. "My loyal subjects! Today I have gathered you here to discuss a decision I have made recently, one that will effect not only us here at the fort but all over Guardia Kingdom as well." Ozzie raised a fist and shook it. "This act that we will undertake shortly will change history. No longer shall we be subject to the whims and the predjudice of the human race. No longer shall we be forced to hide our powers or cower in the thought of a mob stripping the flesh from our bones. After today, a grand scheme will have been set in motion, one that will undoubtedly bring us glory and supreme dominion over the world as we know it!"
"And exactly what do you propose, O Great Ozzie?"
"Yes! Tell us!"
"What are you trying to say?"
Anonymous voices shouted out questions of this sort from all over the room untill the whole gathering was ablaze, demanding what it was that their leader was talking about. Ozzie raised his hands for silence. The crowd subsided into quiet once more.
"I wonder what he's talking about," Slash muttered out the corner of his mouth to Janus who shrugged. He could care less. Mystic glory really didn't intrest him any. He gave a shrug and shifted to a more comfortable position so that his long legs weren't so cramped.
Ozzie leaned forward dramaticly. "I am speaking of none other than the event you've all been waiting for."
"Would that be the point to this whole meeting?," Janus called out, boredom making him daring. There were random snickers around him but he merely yawned. Had he been anyone else, he would have recieved a blistering retort, but Ozzie laughed instead.
"The 'point' to this meeting is very simple, my friends. I am speaking of none other...than WAR!" Everyone gasped. "Yes! I said war! War with the humans. War to free our race from the eternal bonds of the hatred of our kind."
Slash grabbed Flea's arm and squeezed it joyfully. "Baby! This is what we've been waiting for! Isn't this so great?!" Flea nodded slightly.
"Yeah, great," was her reply. The blue swordsman gave her an odd look. She seemed pre-ocupied with something. He wondered what the demented little gears turning under that long braid were calculating.
"I plan to be sending a heavy hit-and-run attack against Truce to let the weakling humans know that we mean buisness. I need volunteers to join the command team. Do I have any nominees?," the fat green Mystic leader continued. Slash and Flea raised their hands simultaneously.
"I apreciate the gesture, you two, but I can't have you both go running off. I need someone to stay here with me in case things go wrong. One of you will have to stay," their leader stated. Slash looked at Flea who shrugged. With a long-suffering sigh, Slash lowered his hand.
"I hope that you will remember my sacrifice for the cause, Ozzie," he growled menacingly. The fat Mystic gave a sympathetic shrug.
"Will there be anyone else who wants to earn a place in Mystic history? Who wants to prove that they're worthy to be called a Mystic?"
Flea cleared her throat. "Lord Ozzie, I nominate Janus to be my second in comand on this mission." All noise in the room went dead still. Everyone, including Janus gaped at her in shock. The magician's face was calm and almost serene looking.
"As...as you wish, Flea," Ozzie managed to mumble. To Janus he said, "Here's your first mission, my boy. I hope you'll make me proud." Janus could only manage to nod dumbly. He was going into battle. Real battle! Looking up at his new comander, Janus noticed a glint of steel in her eyes. A cold feeling formed in the pit of his stomach. This hadn't been a spur of the moment thing, as he had thought. Flea knew what she was doing. She knew he was un-tried in battle, un-tested in his fighting and magical ability, and yet she wanted him to go on a dangerous scouting mission. Deep inside, the young man knew why. Flea wanted him dead. No question about it. If she couldn't do the deed herself, then she'd depend upon a human's sword to cut his life short.
Amidst the cheering as Ozzie layed out the plan, Janus managed to force his way out of the room and into the courtyard. His insides churned with aprehension. A shivery feeling ran up his spine as the Black Wind whispered acrossed his consciousness. He hadn't felt it's lothesome touch since childhood. Why was it coming back to him now? What doom was being predicted?
The youth looked around and finaly spotted Flea lounging in the doorway. She had an evil expression on her face. Janus swallowed hard and wrapped his arms around himself. One hand rested on her hip, the other clenched into a tight fist. Forcing a look of arrogance, the would-be magician shook his head. The enchantress laugh silkily and meandered up to him.
"You're not so brave. Under that mask is a frightened little boy, isn't there? You're no man, not yet! Not till you've felt the pleasure of a kill!" The way she said the words reminded the former prince of a cat purring while toying with her victim. "I have a gift for you." Opening her gloved hand, Flea held up a large gold coin. Turning it around between her fingers, Janus could see a picture of a flaming sword on one side and a skull on the other: victory and death.
"What's this for?"
Flea smiled. "Let's just say it's my little coming of age present from one friend to another." Tossing the coin into the air, it spun faster and faster untill it became a golden light. Grabbing it suddenly, the magician placed the metal piece into Janus' hand. Half expecting it to be hot, he almost dropped the coin. However, the metal was cool to the touch and no harm befell him. He was about to open his hand but Flea shook her head. "Heads, I win. Tails, you lose Janus." She leaned close to him, so close that all he could see of her face were her eyes. "Be scared, Janus. Be very, very scared." In a flash of light, she was gone.
Opening his hand slowly, the youth swayed slightly. Turning the coin over and over in his hand, the same picture met his lavender gaze: DEATH. It was the same leering skull on both sides. Clenching his fist tightly around the accursed coin, Janus closed his eyes and cursed softly. It's times like this that a friend would have been comforting. But as usual, no one heard his despairing sighs but himself.