The Story Of Magus Chapter 15
MAGUS! Part 3
Ozzie paced back and forth before his throne, uneasy and irritated. Drek had reported in many hours ago close to the end of the battle...and hadn't reported since. What was happening? Were the Mystic armies winning? Were Janus and Flea still alive? How Ozzie hated relying on lackies to do his dirty work! If only he were a few years younger...! Pausing to look down at his rotund body, the Mystic leader realized that a few years still woudn't put a dent in his flab. That was the whole reason he'd given up a general's position to the last Mystic war-lord and went into politics.
The throne room was filled to almost over-flowing with Mystics who impatiently awaited the army's return. They shifted and talked. And walked and moaned. Some ate the refreshments and gulped down the punch till they couldn't walk. Some snored loudly untill their neighbor elbowed them or moved...or silenced them permenantly. At least a chair was vacated after that. Some simply left. After all, when the army arrived, they'd most likely hear about it. But the way things looked, it wouldn't be soon. How long did it take to kill a bunch of humans, anyway? The whole day had gone by. Where was everyone?!
"Lord Ozzie! Lord Ozzie!"
A large Hench in the customary blue uniform came hurrying through the crowd, shoving aside all who got in his way. The room fell into a hush as they watched the Hench struggle to the throne. Running up to his master, the he stood on tiptoes to reach Ozzie's ear, since he was hovering off the floor like usual, and started whispering franticly. The Mystic's face went from intense concentration to utter joy and relief. The waiting hoards looked at each other and muttered amongst themselves, wondering what the commotion was. Stepping back, the Hench awaited orders. Ozzie rubbed his chin and cackled.
"Send them in," he commanded. The Hench bowed and scurried through the crowd again. "Make way! Move over! Watch out, bub!" Finally, he made his way to the large double doors on the side of the room that led to the gardens. "Hey you!," he called to a silent group of Decedents. "Get your bony butts over here and help me open these doors!" The skeletal minions shuffled into place and reached out with cold, fleshless hands to pull the emormous handles of the double-doors with all their undead strength. The un-oiled hinges creaked and screamed as the doors were slowly opened. The torch-light fell upon worn Mystic forms as the army walked into the throne room. The crowd was silent and parted for Flea, who was leading, and Janus, who trailed sullenly behind, to approach Ozzie.
Flea marched right up to her superior and executed a flashy bow. Janus seperated from the others and stayed near the wall behind the throne. Flea, he knew, was about to launch into an impossibly fantastic tale of how they swept upon the humans with a vengence and beat them to a bloody pulp in a few seconds. Everyone would cheer and the punch would be replaced with wine and beer to celebrate the victory. In the chaos, the young magician hoped to sneak away and retreat to the quiet safety of his room where he could nurse his wounds and fragile emotional state in peace.
"O Great Ozzie, Divine Head-Honcho of our race, I, the Magician Flea, have returned from the heart of battle to tell you of the fight." The woman waited for a response of some sort, perhaps a flowery oration of her title, as she had done for him. Ozzie was in no mood for her theatrics, however, and crossed his arms over his stomach.
"Yes, yes! Get on with it already! What happened? Did we win?"
"We faught like devils, Lord Ozzie! The humans were weak and didn't expect the attack, as you said they wouldn't. Oh, you are so brilliant!," Flea fawned. Ozzie rolled his eyes and tapped his foot on the air.
"That's why I'm the Mystic leader and not you," he commented uneasily. "Get to the point already! Did we win?" But Flea was lost in her own little world of glory and grandeur and would not be put out.
"The humans tried to defend against us with their pathetic Knights of the Square Table. Sometimes it looked as if the humans might overpower us, but our Mystic strength saved the day, once again, and they were forced to retreat. Wave after wave of attacks we fended off! It was a glorious battle! Our names will go down in history after today's triumph!"
"So we beat them?," Ozzie asked yet again, rubbing his eyes. What was SO difficult about this yes or no question?
"We nailed them! We pulverised them! We creamed them-"
"We beat them," Janus interjected from his position against the wall.
"Wonderfull!," Ozzie crowed. "Spectacular!" The room, which had been listening this whole time, erupted into noise as everyone clapped and shouted. As Janus had predicted, the sounds of corks being popped resounded above the din and barrels were rolled into view. The Mystics practically attacked these on sight and soon, half the room was vacated as they clawed each other to reach the booze first.
"Where is Slash?," Flea asked, caning her neck. "I rather hoped he'd be here."
"He said that he had better things to do then to wait for you to come home and gloat in his face," Ozzie responded wryly. Flea coughed awkwardly and shuffled her feet at having been read so easily. Ozzie laughed. "Don't worry your pretty head about that, my dear. I'm sure you'll get the chance soon enough." Taking a seat in his throne, he smoothed his robes over the great expanse of his belly. Looking around, Ozzie wondered where GrabbleDrek had gotten himself to. The Mystic leader was especially anxious to ask about Janus' performance durring the battle. Catching sight of him at the back as he managed to snag a glass of wine, Ozzie whistled to catch Drek's attention. The Owtlaw turned and waved that he heard and was coming.
"Later, I want a full account of exactly what happened today, Flea," Ozzie said absently. "Then I can decide wether you get a bonus for your troubles."
"There is something I wanted to discuss with you, my lord Ozzie," Flea replied.
"If it has to do with money, it can wait."
"It isn't money I wish to discuss."
"Then what?," Ozzie demanded, tired of playing guessing games with this vain creature who called herself a magician.
"Merely a simple little matter of...cowardice."
"Cowardice?!," Ozzie exploded in shock. A few people truned to see what the problem was. Ozzie hurriedly lowered his voice. "Cowardice?," he repeated in softer tones. "By whom?"
"By your prescious little Janus, that's who," Flea replied matter of factly. "He is a disgrace to our name!"
"I don't believe this load of hog-wash!," Ozzie snapped. "Janus, I know you would never-" He stopped and did a double take, noticing for the first time that the was no longer in the room.
"Left in view of these accusations, no doubt!," Flea snorted. "It figures. A coward will flee at the first sign of trouble."
"I knew you were low, Flea, but stooping to this....!" Ozzie left it hanging in the air. "I'd say you were the coward to use this round-about way of taking revenge on the poor boy."
"Indeed, lord Ozzie. She is right."
"What?" Ozzie stared at Drek who had finally managed to push his way over to them.
"Janus didn't do so well out there today."
Flea pounced on that triumphantly. "You see?"
"I wouldn't go so far as to say it was an act of cowardice," the Outlaw added with a pointed look at the smug magician, "but it did pose a problem for a while."
The Mystic leader drummed his fingers on the armrest of his throne. "That bad, huh, Drek?" The spy shifted uncomfortably. The bird-man really wanted revenge on Janus for the way he'd been treated. First losing that shiny medallion then the humiliation afterwards...But, he knew that Ozzie was attatched to the slimy urchin and he didn't want to jeapordize the bonus on his way for bringing Janus home in one piece. Still, if there was a way to dispose of the nuisance AND keep the bonus...
"Yes sir, that bad," Drek replied with no further hesitation. "For a while, it looked as if he was totally unable to fight. I thought I might actually have to stick around to defend him."
"That was what I was paying you to do, GrabbleDrek," Ozzie retorted dangerously. The spy didn't even blink.
"Begging your pardon, Ozzie, but in the middle of a fight, it's every Mystic for himself. To tell you the truth, the odds were not in our favor when the Knights showed up, despite what some may say. If Janus had suddenly decided to side with the humans, we might have been wiped out completely."
"You don't think he'd honestly turn traitor do you?" Ozzie feigned that he was appalled by the very idea. In reality, the twisted gears of his mind were working overtime. This was obviously a set up. Either Flea had somehow managed to buy off Drek or they both had reasons for seeing Janus' downfall. Flea's reason wasn't hard to guess. She had always hated the boy. Drek on the other hand...This must have been a personal affront, and recently too.
"Traitor or not, Ozzie, he is definitely a liability to us," Flea spoke up, determined to get a word in edge-wise. "He's a threat to our goals and our very lives." By this time, other Mystics had gathered around to listen in on their conversation. Pretty soon, almost everyone was nodding in agreement with Flea. Seeing this, she felt confident that she would win this discussion. "He chickened out on us, didn't he boys?," she asked of the assembly. The room muttered a variety of responses.
"Well, it was his first battle," someone chimed.
"Maybe we should cut him some slack," another called.
"So what? He's weak! I saw the whole thing! He kills a human and blubbers like a baby!," a harsh voice rang out.
"Yeah!," cut in a fourth voice. "If I'm going to fight for this cause of ours, I want reliable comrades at arms, no pansies like Janus who I could never trust to watch my back!"
"Exactly!," Flea shouted jubilantly. "Janus acted like a coward, didn't he? You all saw it!" The room rallied to her call. Even those who hadn't been present in the battle were joining their voices to the others. "We don't want a human loving coward in our ranks, do we?"
"No!," the room bellowed back.
"What should be done about him?"
"Kill 'em! Kill 'em! Kill 'em!," the Mystic hoards began to chant. Over the din, Flea laughed. Ozzie did not look very happy with the circumnstances at all.
"I think you're blowing this way out of proportion, Flea," he said. Her laughter stopped and she sneered openly at him.
"What's this? Can it be you're protecting the runt, Ozzie?" The Mystic hoards sensed the tension between the two. Drek backed away slightly. The feeling of two wills creating such friction was decidedly uncomfortable.
"Of course not, my dear," Ozzie chuckled easily, though his cold eyes belied his anger as he continued. "Why should I defend someone you so obviously despise?"
"Oh, no reason. I'm glad to hear it. I'm not sure how popular you'd be with everyone if you sided with the enemy on this descision." Flea motioned with her eyes to the crowd behind her. They all looked to Ozzie with faces that showed they would not take kindly to any person who defended Janus. Flea had cleverly backed him into a corner by getting public support. Any move against Flea would result in the lack of support for his leadership, giving the magician yet another card to play when it came time for her to make her move to usurp his position as leader.
"I propose a challenge, me against the rabbit," she said, reverting back to her old slang term for Janus. "I'm feeling lucky tonight. I'll show to you and the rest of the world just how pathetic he is. And when I do, I'll finally be rid of the brat once and for all!"
Slash found Janus outside at the top of the fort, looking down from the battlements at the waves that surrounded the island, visible even from this far away, and the hazy smudge of the mainland in the distance. The setting sun shone it's last bloody rays along the horizon, tinging each white cresting swell pink. The sky above was clear and the stars shone like diamonds scattered over blue-black velvet. Janus let his hands rest on the low stone curtain that spilled a hundred feet to the jagged rocks and brush below that was nearly hidden by the incoming ground mist. Deciding to play a joke on the young man, Slash snuck up behind him and grabbed him in a strangle hold. With a fast movement, Janus grabbed Slash's arm and yanked, tossing the Mystic over the edge of the wall. His back hit the stone and the breath was knocked out of his lungs. The dizzying expanse of open space under his feet prompted him into action.
"Wait! Janus it's me!," the swordsman shrieked as he dangled over the perilous drop, his wrists, held by Janus, the only thing keeping him from pummeting to his death. For a second, it felt as if the youth might let go. Then with a heave, the young magician hauled Slash up onto solid ground. The swordsman sank to his knees, feeling the urge to kiss the ground in thanks. Glaring up at his pupil, he snarled, "What the hell's the matter with you?! You don't just throw people off the fort like that!"
"I do when they try to sneak up and strangle me!," Janus shot back. Slash opened his mouth but found he couldn't argue with that. However, a day ago, his pupil would never have been able to pull off a move like that. The battle today must have really hardened him, Slash thought. He didn't know weather to be please or irritated. He hadn't been so easily outmaneuvered in at least ten years. The thought that this novice had succeeded where others, more experianced, had failed was not a comforting thought.
"So, how was your first battle, kid? Was it everything you expected?," Slash asked as he got to his feet, changing the subject to one he was able to deal with easier. Janus went back to staring off into space and didn't answer. Slash chuckled and placed a hand on the youth's shoulder...only to snatch it back as Janus drew away with a snarl, his rusty, blood-stained scythe leaping to his hands as if by magic. The Mystic swordsman hadn't even been aware of it's presence. You're slipping, Slash, he thought to himself, a nervous sweat breaking out on the back of his neck. That's a danger to your continued good health. I trained this whelp too well... "Easy kid!," he soothed, raising his hands, palms facing away from him. "Don't get your back up. I wasn't going to do anything this time."
"I don't care if you were. I'm not about to let you get close enough to have the chance. Don't touch me again, if you value your life," Janus responded darkly, replacing his weapon to his hip. Slash noticed that he had no holster for it and that he merely stuck it through his belt. The young magician's pose relaxed slightly but remained tense, coiled like a snake that is ready to strike upon the first hint of danger.
"Sure thing, ki...er, Janus," Slash amended hastily. "So spill. How was the fight?"
"Horrible. Bloody. I hope I never have to go through that nightmare again."
Slash's mouth dropped. "You mean...we lost?!"
Janus looked at him sharply and frowned angrilly. "No. We didn't lose. We slaughtered dozens of the humans as if they were nothing more then sheep." He looked down. "No," he murmmered. "I slaughtered them like sheep. I did. Me. Janus...prince of Zeal...Prince of death!"
"Huh?" Slash was looking at him strangely. Realizing he must have spoken that out loud, he amended his words.
"Yes, we defeated the humans today."
"Really? This is great! Of course, Flea will want to rub my nose in her victory." Slash slammed a fist down hard on the low stone wall. "Oooh, that burns me up! I can't believe Ozzie let that scatter-brained peacock go on this mission instead of me. It's not fair! It should have been my victory! Flea will never let me live this down."
"Oh, Slash! Shut up!," Janus finally exploded. "Who cares about your petty little power trips against Flea? People died today, on both sides! Don't you care about that? It could have been you out there lying on that battlefield today! Not only humans died, but Mystics too, your own people, you fool! Don't you care that your kinsman and your comrades gave their lives today for a stupid cause?"
Slash took a step back in shock. Never had he seen his pupil in such a fit of rage before. "Well, of course I care. I'm sure they did not die in vain. I'm sure Ozzie will dedicate a plaque to them, or write a speech-"
"Is that all a life is worth here in this filthy kingdom? A piece of paper or some stupid slab of stone?" Slash moved his mouth like a fish, unsure of how to respond. Janus threw his hands up into the air in disgust and started pacing furiously. "No, of course you wouldn't understand. How could you? You're the same as the rest of them! All you care about is glory and honor for yourself, nothing for anyone else." Trembling with the surge of pent up emotions, Janus stormed away,leaving the baffled swordsman gaping after. Entering the fort again, the youth marched towards his room. He shouldn't have stepped out for a breath of air on his way. Now that he did, his emotions were surging again. Before he encountered Slash, they had been covered by an icy layer of calm that had just been melted away by his anger. As he walked, he past a mirror covered with dust. He might have mistaken it for part of the wall had someone not written "Wash me" along it's surface with a finger or claw. Using the hem of his torn and bloodied cape, he dusted the glass off just enough so he could see his face.
I'm changing, Janus thought absently to himself as he looked at the pale skinned, dark eyed, haunted-looking young man that stared back at him. Even his reflection seemed to hold a look of contempt for him. I'm not the person I always thought I was. Yesterday, I had a clean conscience. But now...One gloved hand reached out and traced the reflection he saw. For a moment, he saw himself as he used to be back in Zeal. He had always been so sure of his actions, and while they had not always been right, they had never been bad. No, never really bad, not like today. Even as he stared at his reflection, it seemed his vision distorted and it wasn't his face that he was looking at, but Schala's.
What have you done, little brother?, the phantom asked. Janus lowered his eyes, ashamed. His cheeks felt warm and he knew that his humiliation must be showing.
"I'm...sorry, Schala. I didn't meant to...to do...those...things," he stammered in a choked whisper. "I was so scared...and I couldn't help it! I wanted to run away and hide. I didn't want to be there. But Drek took my amulet, and I didn't...I didn't know..." Now that the words were flowing, his emotions started to break free. His shoulders shook in a silent sob.
You know that is no excuse, Janus. You have done something very terrible.
"I know. I'm sorry, Schala. So very sorry!"
"Janus! Am I glad to have caught you!"
The former prince of Zeal started at the voice, hurriedly drawing his stained, gloved fingers acrossed his eyes. It was Drek. Slipping out of the shadows with the ease of his trade, he came to a halt in the shadow of his taller companion. "You have no idea how big this place is! I just spent the past ten minutes searching for you. I tried your room, the sparing grounds out in the courtyard, the lab, and I was on my way to the fortress battlements. Boy, am I lucky to have finally run into you! Whew! Why were you up here anyway?" The Outlaw finished his explination somewhat breathlessly from his apparent exertion. Janus was surprised. Drek had nearly said the whole speel in one breath.
"I'd rather not discuss why I choose to go anywhere in this place. It isn't your business anyway." When Drek merely stood and waited patiently, Janus snapped, "I needed some time to think in silence."
"Ah. Did it help?"
"It did, a bit. My thoughts are a little more clear."
"Good, 'cause I have a feeling you're going to need a sharp mind really soon."
Janus narrowed his purple eyes. Something in the way Drek said that made his skin crawl in dread. "Why were you looking for me in the first place?"
"Ozzie sent me to find you. He wants an audiance with you."
"More formalities?," Janus sighed wearily. He raised a hand to rub his eyes in irritation, but recoiled from his hand as he remembered exactly what covered it. He said, "Tell Ozzie that whatever honors he has to bestow upon me he can keep. The last thing I need is to be weighed down with medals and bored to tears by some long droning speech."
"My, we are vain aren't we?," Drek leered unpleasantly. "I don't think Ozzie has any plans to pin you with gold, my fine moppet. More likely he will brand you instead."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, that Flea has started some very disturbing rumors about you that don't sit well with Ozzie or our fellow Mystics."
"Flea always talks trash about me. What's so new about that? It will blow over like it always does," Janus replied, dismissing the conversation with a barely concealed yawn.
"That may be the case, Janus, and for your sake, I hope that you are right." In all actuality, Drek didn't care if the upstart died on the spot. However, Ozzie would be upset and delay that bonus he was sure would be comming his way. Plus, if Flea killed Janus, Ozzie might take it into his head that Drek dispose of her himself and that meant putting his feathery butt on the line. "In any event, Ozzie is awaiting your presence in the throne room."
"I'm sure he won't mind if I change first. These clothes are a shambles."
"No!," Drek argued forcefully. "Ozzie wants to see you right now. He mustn't be kept waiting."
"Oh, very well!," Janus relented at last. The spy nodded and led the way, occasionaly looking over his shoulder to make sure Janus was still behind him. It struck the young magician as nervous. Perhaps it was because of their earlier tiff over his medalion...
Llana sat in her rocking chair before the hearth, moving back and forth while knitting. It was getting dark out and Cedrick wasn't back yet. That wasn't unusual. Sometimes he stayed late at the castle and conversed with his fellow knights and shared a few drinks before returning home to her. Living outside of the town limits and so far away from the castle made it a longer journey then others might have to travel. Cedrick would be home soon, she kept telling herself. And he would laugh at her fears.
"Mother? Is father back yet?"
Llana looked up from her work to smile affectionately at her son. Cyrus gave her a worried look and knelt down beside her. "No, my love. He is not back yet."
"I hope everything is alright. Remember the smoke we saw? I'm sure something really bad has happened."
"Now don't go borrowing trouble, Cyrus. I'm sure it was nothing more then some farmer burning his compost heap." She didn't sound very convinced, though. Cyrus sighed and layed his head against the arm of the chair. His mother set her work aside and stroked his hair gently. "Don't fret, my son. It pains me to see you when you're unhappy."
"I'm sorry, mother." Cyrus closed his eyes and savored the love he felt coming from her. They had always been close. Not like Cedrick. He always kept a distance, especially after Janus was killed. Cyrus never forgave his father for that. Perhaps it was that uneasiness between them that made their lives together so unbearable. At times, Cyrus knew his father was proud of him in a wistfull sort of way that always made him feel confused. Other times, he felt so distant that besides blood ties, they were complete strangers. It was a bitter pill to take.
Suddenly, a noise caught his ears. Lifting his head he listened intently. Llana opened her mouth to ask what was wrong but Cyrus held up a hand to hush her. There was no noise save for his own heart beat and the crackling of the fire. "I could have sworn I heard horses," he murmmered, puzzled. And then, "There it is again! I think it is horses!" Jumping to his feet, Cyrus snatched the small glass lantern off of the mantel and used a piece of kindling to light the wick inside.
Llana reached out and grabbed his arm. "Cyrus, where are you going?"
"To go see who it is, of course," he replied, trying to shake his mother's cold clutching fingers from his arm.
"No, stay inside. Hand me the lantern. I'll go." She reached for the illuminated object, but Cyrus stepped back.
"Aww, mother! I'm not a little boy anymore. I won't be a moment, trust me." Turning on his heel, he walked to the front door and opened it, peering out into the darkness. At first, he saw nothing. The mist was very thick and dense, as if it had secrets that it wished to conceal. Stepping into the night, he felt a shiver move down his spine. Looking down the road, Cyrus could see two black silohettes weaving in and out of the thick white mist. As they approached, the lantern light revealed the Knight Captain, his armor catching the glow, making it appear as if he were a radiant god, decending from the misty barriers of reality and fantasy. Dismounting from a sturdy war horse, his aid remained seated, his face concealed in a standard metal helmet. He apparently wasn't very high ranking, for he waited for orders. Finally, the superior knight motioned to his companion and he swung his leg over the horse and sild down the side, landing with a soft clank. "Captain, good evening. What brings you this way tonight?," Cyrus asked, confused.
The gold knight strode up to the door and removed his helmet. His face was weary and drawn from great sorrow and bitter lines creased his mouth. "Is your mother at home?," he inquired softly. Cyrus nodded soundlessly, his eyes getting large with fear.
"Cyrus, who is it?," called his mother from inside as she came out the door and stood beside her son. She looked first to Cyrus, then to the Knight Captain. Her lips went bloodless. "Something is wrong. You are here about my husband, Sir Cedrick, are you not?"
"Yes, my lady." Taking a deep breath, the man uttered, "Your husband is dead." Llana swayed in the doorway and would have fallen had Cyrus not supported her. Using the doorframe for balance, she managed to steady herself.
"Let me see his body," she whispered. Nodding, the knight stepped aside for her to pass. "Cyrus, hand me the lantern." The youth obeyed instantly. The captain led her around the horses to the litter they had attatched to the mounts. The aid slid off his horse and reached for the shroud covering Cedrick's body. But Llana stayed his hand with her own. "Nay, let me do this. I will only believe if I can truely see for myself." With trembling fingers, the woman drew back the black cloth.
Cedrick's face was forever frozen in a mask of astonishment and hate, his glazed eyes glaring unseeing at the stars that peeked through the ever-present mist. Though his armor had been cleaned of blood and dirt, the gaping slash in his armor and the single deep puncture where the accilerated knife had pirced him remained. Llana choked and turned away when she saw Cedrick's body, nearly dropping the lantern. Cyrus caught it up and hugged his mother, leading her back into the house, leaving the aid behind to replace the shroud.
Cyrus helped Llana into her rocking chair again, drawing up another chair beside her to hold her comfortingly as she began to cry. The Knight Captain stood before the stricken family and gave an appologetic shrug. "I am truely sorry for your pain, my lady. It grieves me to see you weeping thus. I wouldst have it be another way, but alas, tis a futile wish on my part."
"Who...who...?," she managed to mumble through her wracking sobs.
"T'was a Mystic."
Cyrus' eyes gleamed with anger. "Was the murderer of my father slain?"
The gold knight shook his head, casting glitters of reflected fire-light over the floor as his armor moved. "No. T'was no ordinary Mystic he battled, lad. The demon had more magic power then probably even the notorious Flea."
"Does this monster have a name?," Cyrus demanded.
"We have taken to calling him 'The Magus' in respect for his abilities. Besides that, little is known about him. He must be a young ambitious Mystic to have suddenly become one of Ozzie's leiutenants."
"My father's murder must be avenged!" Cyrus leapt to his feet and raised his head proudly. "By right of succession, I am head of the household and therefor eligable to join the ranks of the Knights as my sire would have wished."
"Cyrus!," Llana gasped, raising her face. "Do not speak foolishly in your anger! You are too young to throw your life away to war and death. Stay with me and-"
"Mother, someday you will realize that I am no longer a child, but a man. I am able to take care of myself now, as well as you. But first I must prove myself worthy of becoming a knight." Turning to the older man, he gave a look of defiance. "And I know that I am ready for the burden."
"Your mother is right, lad. Do as she hast said. Stay here and comfort her. Find a handsome wench and raise a family. Do not seek to join our ranks." The Knight Captain looked away and stared into the fire.
"But, why? I am as fit as any soldier in the army! My courage and honor is surpassed only by my accuracy with my blade," Cyrus replied, indignant.
"Arrogant words from the hot blood of youth," the golden knight answered with a slightly dry upward curl of his lips. "But it takes more then courage and a good sword arm to be a Knight of the Square Table. It takes honor."
"Are you questioning my statement? Are you implying that I have no honor?," Cyrus asked in quiet rage.
"Oh, I have no doubt that you do have honor, my young friend. I have often seen you spar at the castle and I know that you are all you have stated yourself to be."
"It is not a matter of your honor, lad. It is a matter of your father's."
"Just a moment, sir knight," Llana interjected. "What are you implying?"
"Your husband, madame, died after performing an act that ill-befitted his honor. He not only tried to kill and uncontious enemy, but he also was prepared to strike an enemy in the back with a dagger like a common thief." The knight spoke solomnly and gravely. He took no pleasure in the news he was imparting. "Cedrick's honor was lost when he commited those acts. It is strictly forbidden in the Knight's Code and he broke those rules. His name is now tarnished." Looking directly at Cyrus, he said, "And so is yours."
"Surely you cannot hold the boy accountable for his father's actions?," Llana protested, fishing a hanky out of her apron pocket. Dabbing her eyes and nose she said, "Cyrus had no part in this dishonor. Why must he be punished as well?"
"It does not matter. Though he is noble and a young man worthy of a knight's title, it canst not be. The Knight's Code strictly forbids it." When Llana tried to protest again, the golden knight held up his hand. "No, madame, do not speak. Nothing you canst say will move me. I pity your plight, but 'tis nary a thing I canst do for you. Forgive me, but that is how it is."
"Then it seems that you have no further business here, with us," Llana remarked cooly. "We will not detain you."
"Lady Llana, I-"
"Thank you for all you have done for us, Captain. Please leave now." The golden knight had started to raise his hands in a pleading gesture of suplication, but dropped them with a sigh. Bending to one knee, he took Llana's hand in his to kiss it, as was the ritual parting when in the presence of a woman. She withdrew it from his grasp and rose to her feet, brushing past him and into the next room. Seconds later, her soft footsteps were heard on the wooden stairs as she went to her room and shut the door with a faint "click." The Knight Captain remained kneeling for a moment, as if in prayer, and finally got to his feet with a clanking of his armor. He turned to Cyrus, who was sitting by the hearth, knees drawn up to his chest, staring blankly at the floor.
"For what it's worth, you would have made a fine Knight," the gold captain said. Cyrus looked up at him with pain glazed eyes. The older man cursed himself for such a stupid remark and bit his tongue, lest it betray him yet again.
"Thank you, sir. I appreciate that," Cyrus managed to murmmer through numb lips. Seeing that no further words were to be imparted, the Knight Captain nodded sadly and departed. Cyrus never heard as the front door opened and shut as he left. His mind was clouded with the shattered fragments of his once bright hopes and dreams. All that he had saught after and trained for, all the inner struggles that he alone knew of, had become so much wasted time in a matter of moments.
"Curse, you father!," he whispered, slamming a fist down hard on the stone inlay of the fireplace. The it was warm under his skin. He sat there for a moment, rubbing his hand where the impact had bruised him slightly. Getting to his feet, he went to one of the cabinets and rummaged around till he found a bottle of some hard liquor. Popping out the cork, he took a long swig of the stuff. It burned his throat, brought tears to his eyes, and made him cough, but he wiped his lips on his sleeve and resumed his seat. Maybe getting blissfully drunk would help, he wondered. He'd never had spirits before, since his father and mother had judged him too young. But now...
Cyrus took another drink. It wasn't so bad when you got used to it, he realized. The more he drank, the less feeling he had in his mouth from the initial firey sting. About an hour or so later, he was still sitting there, with the bottle near empty. It was in this setting that Llana found him. She knew her son was suffering greatly, and his pain would become worse before the night was through. Such things were never easy.
"Hello, mother," Cyrus said, taking a drink. "Come to join in on the festivities?"
"Cyrus, what are you doing?," Llana asked quietly.
"Can't you see what I'm doing? I'm getting drunk."
"Why not?," he countered with a grin, laced at the edges with cynism. "I feel the need to celebrate."
Llana eased herself down into her rocker and leaned forward towards him. "Celebrate what, Cyrus?"
"Why, everything!," he replied, making a grand, sweeping gesture with the bottle. "Father's death, the destruction of my life-long hopes..." He paused and scratched his head in mock thought. "I'm sure I could think of other things as well, but unfortunately, I'm a little dizzy right now."
Llana reached out. "Give me the bottle, Cyrus. Don't do this. Getting drunk will not solve your problems, only amplify them." Cyrus held the alchohol close to him protectively and shook his head.
"No way. This little bottle, here, is the only thing keeping me from thinking about my life and how much I really hate it right now."
"Maybe you should think about it," his mother replied. Cyrus sighed and gave her his most patronizing look.
"Don't you get it? I don't WANT to think about it! I'm trying to FORGET the fact that in one feel swoop I am fatherless and disgraced with no way to redeem our name. All my life I have dreamed of the day I could take my place amongst the best as a true Knight of the Square Table and now look at me." Angrily, he gulped down the last of the contents of the bottle and set it aside, fuming.
"I am looking at you, my son. I see a handsome young man who is capable of doing whatever he sets his mind to."
"Thanks for the encouragement, but-"
"Oh, come now, my son. So the Knights are closed to you. There is always a position open for soldiers..."
Cyrus rolled his eyes and sighed. "Mother, it isn't the same. The soldiers make up the front lines. They're nothing more then sword fodder for the enemy to dispose of. No one talks good about them. They're made up of mercenaries looking for a quick pouch of gold. Criminals who want to earn an early release from prison if they stay alive long enough to enjoy the freedom."
"And you're in disgrace, so you'll have no trouble being accepted. Listen to me, Cyrus. Start off small. You say that the soldiers have a bad reputation, correct? Well, stand out! Make them notice your talent. Make sure that you survive every encounter and strive your hardest for recognition. You have indeed worked very hard to reach where you are now. This is just another obsticle to cross."
"Yeah, an impossible one."
"With an attitude like that, it will be."
Cyrus raised an eyebrow and half-grinned. "Gee, mom. It sounds as if you almost want me to go off and get killed."
"Now, you know that isn't true. I hate the idea of you in so much danger. But since you are determined on this course of action, I am trying to help you as best I can." Smoothing her dress, Llana stood up and went to one of the cubbards. She pulled out a copper kettel and filled it with water from the pump that Cedrick had cleverly had installed by Banta, the village black-smith. Placing it over the fire in the hearth, she reseated herself. "First thing I want you to do is drink some tea and then get a good night's rest. Things won't look so bad in the morning."
"How can you say that? My life will never be the same!"
"Things change in life, my son," she replied bluntly. "We can't always do what we want or prevent the changes from happening. But you learn to accept it like bitter medicine. Not wallowing in self-pity like you're doing." Cyrus bowed his head. His mother was right, of course. He was not behaving like a Knight in the King's service. But he didn't care. He was too heart-sick to think about anything besides his own misery.
The tea kettle began to whistle. Llana fetched a mug and poured some dried herbs into it, followed by the hot water to let them steep. She looked at Cyrus sitting on the floor, a degected lump of bitterness about how cruel the world is. "So, do you intend to sit here all night or will you face this obsticle head-on like your father would have wished you to?"
Cyrus looked at his mother with a woefull expression. "Leave me alone. You have no idea what I'm going through." At that, Llana's face darkened.
"Very well," she snapped. "Let it be on your head then, Cyrus. Instead of acting your age, you choose to hide in your own sorrow. Well, that is not for me." Sweeping past him, Llana paused in the doorway. "Perhaps it is for the best that you aren't able to become a Knight. You are obviously not cut from the right cloth to be a soldier, let alone a full fledged defender of the kingdom!" So saying, she walked away. Her footsteps echoed through the house as she climbed the stairs and forcefully shut her door.
Cyrus sulked. "What does she know?," he mumbled. "I'm better then any of them! It's all that Magus' fault!" And indeed it was. If Cedrick hadn't been trying to fight the Mystic off, then he wouldn't have gotten killed. It was Magus who murdered his father and crushed his dreams to become a Knight. And no one could understand that. "Well, I'll show them!," Cyrus promised, eyes flashing. He'd kill that Magus and prove to them that he was just as worthy to be a Knight as anyone else. He'd join the soldiers, he decided, and fight harder then all the rest to be recognized. He'd show to the world exactly what he was made of and rub their noses in it. And when the day fianally came when he'd face the Magus on the field of battle, he'd win. It would take hard work, of course, and more training then he'd ever done in his life to even have a chance of defeating such a powerfull Mystic. But the sacrifice would be worth it.
Drek came to a halt in front of the door to the throne room. He stepped to the side and motioned for Janus to enter first. The young magician felt uneasy as his gloved fingers curled around the handle and pulled. The door swung open and he was faced with a rush of silence. No noise could be heard, not even the sound of breathing. There was an air of tense expectation, like before a storm, when just the crackling of the lightning can be felt raising the hairs along the back of your neck. He hesitated in the doorway, examining the faces of the Mystics gathered. They were not looking at him in a particularly friendly fashion. Drek put his hand onto Janus' back and pushed. The youth was forced to take a few steps forward or stumble. The birdman stepped into the room and shut the door behind him.
Glaring over his shoulder at Drek, Janus began to walk through the crowd towards Ozzie's throne. The sooner he got this over with, the better he would feel. He was tired and disgusted. All he really wanted to do was go to his room, wash up, and sleep for a thousand years. Of course, that was impossible. He knew there would be nightmares and that no spell or potion would keep them away.
Janus finally made it over to where Ozzie was seated, his expression grave. Flea stood to the side, smiling in a very smug way, which only made the young man more guarded then before. Already he knew something was amiss by the feeling of the room. However, Flea's attitude only doubled his suspicions. She kept staring at him for an extended length of time, trying to intimidate him, he supposed. So, just to irritate her, Janus purposefully ignored her. "You sent for me, Ozzie?," he asked of the fat green leader.
Though the Mystic was highly displeased with this turn of events, there was really nothing he could do. Flea had cleverly backed him into a corner and tied his hands so securely, that the wrong move would topple hi from the throne so fast, his head would spin. So, instead of showing the rage he felt, Ozzie kept his face somber, looking like a judge about to pass sentence on a condemned prisoner. "Janus, I have summoned you here because certain rumors..." he looked at Flea who grinned wider, "have led me to believe that durring today's battle, you acted in a manner that brings shame to the Mystics."
"How so?," Janus asked, crossing his arms over his chest, leaning back on his left foot, placing the right one forward in a casual pose while he waited for the reply. What had Flea said about him now?
"Flea, here, has made some serious charges against you. As of now, you stand on trial for them."
"I'm afraid I don't understand," Janus replied, narrowing his eyes. "Exactly what type of charges is Flea making?"
"Why don't you ask her yourself?," Ozzie suggested mildly, eager to get the youth's attention off of himself and where it belonged. Janus stared at him a moment blankly as if he hadn't been aware of the other magician's presence before turning to her.
"Well?," he demamned bluntly. Flea puffed herself up and managed to look down on Janus, even though she was shorter then him. "This better be good, and not the normal garbage you spout at me."
"Oh it's good," she assured him. Opening her arms to the gathered Mystcis as if to encompas them, she asked, "You think it's good, don't you my friends?" There was a gurmble of assent mixed with ugly chuckles. They knew what was coming and it wouldn't be pretty.
"Should we be charging admission to this trial?" Janus looked at Ozzie to do something, but all he got was a mere shrug.
"If they want to watch, let them watch," Ozzie returned, taking a sip of wine.
"Unless you have something to hide," Flea added. Janus gave her a sarcastic smile and said nothing. Flea returned the sentiment. "I, Flea, charge you with the act of cowardice in the face of the enemy."
"What?!," the youth exploded. He looked at Drek, but the Owtlaw was standing by Ozzie's right hand, looking into his own cup of wine. Where he had gotten it, Janus didn't know. But he knew the look of blandness on the feathered face was a carefully arranged facade. "Drek, what did you tell her?"
Flea grabbed his arm and spun him around to face her. "He didn't have to say anything. We all saw what you did out there. Don't bother trying to look so defensive, Janus. It only adds to you guilt!" Giving a laugh, she started pacing. "The facts against you are plain." She paused and held up her hands like a picture frame. "Picture this, if you will, my dear Mystics and esteemed Lord Ozzie. A firece battle between the humans and ourselves. Though the forces of the kingdom are falling, so are we. Here enters Janus, sword in hand." She made a bow and pretended to be Janus, stumbling nervously into the battle, sword arm shaking like a leaf in the wind.
"Along comes a crotchety old farmer waving a pitch-fork. The fool can barely walk, let alone hurt anyone, and yet our illustrious Janus," her contempt was clear as she said this,"showed signs of terror." Raising her hands like quotation marks, she continued. "Then, he bravely fought the man off." Flea snorted. "Fought him of indeed. As if he could in his condition. Tears were running down his face, making Janus look more pathetic then he really is, while the old man tripped and fell on his blade. Probably died of a heart-attack!" The room laughed appreciatively.
Janus was as stoic as a wall of stone. He knew that's not what really happned. He was really fighting for his life out there, even if it had been a farmer. The man was easily defeated, yes, but had he held a sword instead of a tool, the youth would have been hard pressed to match the rush of fury that had soaked the peasent's mind, making him twice as strong as he really was. Janus took no pleausre in his first kill, not that the likes of Flea would understand how he felt. It would be futile to defend himself against her rubbish, since as she had said, it would make him look like he was trying to hide his guilt in bluster. Best to wait out the speech and ajourn quietly to his room. Let Flea ramble. It would blow over as it always did.
"And then, once the deed had been done," Flea was saying, "he fell to his knees crying his eyes out. Drek," she pointed, "being the good comrade that he was, ran over to see if his companion at arms was wounded. And then what did Janus do? He attacked him! Janus attacked a fellow Mystic!" The room growled at that. It was bad enough to show weakness but to willfully attack a fellow Mystic amounted almost to attempted murder. "And now look at him," Flea said, circling around Janus like a cat playing with her mouse. "See how silent he is? Not a word in his defense? It proclaims his guilt!"
The court begane muttering darkly to themselves. Ozzie sat on his throne, chewing a fingernail, frowing like a thunderstorm. Drek finally looked up from his wine and made a toast towards Janus, smirking as he drank. And then, above the noise, a sound could be heard. Clapping. The room hushed and looked at the young magician as he slowly clapped his blood-stained hands. "Charming story Flea. You have it correct down to every detail. But there seems to be something missing."
"And that would be?," the Mystic in question gloated.
"Oh, let me think. Yes, I do belive you are missing a vital detail. How about...the truth?" The room made a gasp in shock. He had dared to challenge Flea's word by calling her a flat out liar with his statement.
"You dissagree with what I've said?," she asked, raising an eyebrow. "Can you disprove my story?" The youth tossed aside his cloak and drew his scythe in one fluid motion.
"Here is my proof!," he whsispered intensely. "Let's finish this Flea." The woman magician laughed and drew her own slender sword. Her favorite test was to combine magic with steel so she was bound to enjoy this.
"Bring it on, rabbit! Anytime you're ready!," she called. Janus nodded.
"If you so insist. I only hope you are prepared for the Void!"