The Story Of Magus Chapter 17

Old Friends, New Rivals

By ZealPropht

     Two years have passed since the Mystic raid on Truce. The damaged homes have been repaired and the wounded are healed. But the memory lives on, burning in the minds of the men and women who live there, fueled by their fear and anger. Around them, a war rages. The Humans have not taken this affront lying down. Gathering their most able bodied men, the ranks of the Knights swell, but not nearly enough to outmatch the Mystic forces. The bloody path the Magus leaves behind after each battle is more than enough to deplete the Human armies. The knights have come to dread going into battle, much more than ever before, each one knowing that they might encounter the pale Mystic captain with his flashing scythe and powerful magic attacks. Yes, two long years pass have passed...
     And yet, despite the horror and death surrounding them, the Humans are still able to enjoy some small glimpse of hope and happiness. The King of Guardia has chosen a bride. She is a lovely young woman from a distant province. Her brother is serving in the army. Her name is Leene, soon to be Queen of all Guardia, though everyone already acknowledges her as such. And on an even lighter note, a Hero has arisen! He is strong and virtuous with a heart of compassion and a driving need to eliminate the evil from the land, starting with the Mystic hoards. But more importantly, he has declared that he will not rest till the scourge known as the Magus is defeated...

     "So, a Hero has been born, eh?"
Slash nodded his head. "Yes, Lord Ozzie. I was not able to determine his name, but he is apparently a great warrior who has impressed many of the sub-commanders under the Knight Captain." The blue swordsman paused. "He also defeated your cousin and won back the Hero's Medal."
     "WHAT?!" Ozzie exclaimed. Slash hastily dropped to one knee and bowed his head. "Are you saying that the Frog King has been slain? The Lord of the Mires, the Emperor of the Swamps, my COUSIN?!"
     "Not slain, my lord. He managed to escape with his life, but the Hero's Medal was forfeit in the battle."
     Ozzie sank down into a pile of cushions and rubbed his temples. They were in his private audience chamber with it's deep feather-filled cushions and plenty of snacks and wine for him and his guest to stuff themselves with. Since Drek's untimely demise, the Mystic leader had been forced to rely on Slash to do his scouting for him. He couldn't be trusted the way Ozzie had trusted Drek, but the swordsman was more reliable then the bumbling Henchs or the sly Naggettes. "So tell me, what is this so-called hero like?"
     "That I can't say."
     Ozzie stopped rubbing and looked at his kneeling lieutenant with a dangerous glint in his eyes. "What do you mean by that?"
     "Only what I have said. I did not see this hero for myself, though many speak of him."
     "Hmm." Ozzie rubbed his chins thoughtfully. "This is disturbing news. Could this Hero be a ploy to get us to act rashly in an attempt to thwart their plans?" Slash didn't answer and it was just as well. Ozzie hadn't really expected any sort of reply from the man. Drek would have been able to tell him all he had wanted to know. That bird had really known how to do his job well! Too bad Slash was too much of an idiot to be a good spy.
     "A Hero, huh? Well, I hope this one is more of a challenge then the people I've been facing lately."
     At the sound of that low, sarcastic voice, Ozzie nearly jumped out of his skin. "Damn you, Janus. How dare you come into my private rooms without permission!" Walking so smoothly that his cape barely moved, the young man came up to the seated Mystic leader and bowed.
     "Ozzie, you should know by now that I will come and go where and when I please." Ignoring the waiting decanter of wine at his elbow, he seated himself and instead conjured up a glass of cold water with a twist of lemon in it. Tossing it back with gusto, he drained the contents of the glass and spit the lemon rind back into it before setting it aside.
     "Hmph! Fine words for a child," Slash growled, moving from his kneeling position into one of the cushions. "You should respect your elders."
     "And you should learn to respect your betters."
     "I will if I meet one."
     Janus snorted. "I am the Magus. How much better can you get?" Slash ground his teeth together at the man's arrogant tone of voice.
     "You don't really believe all the propaganda our troops are spreading, do you?" Janus didn't respond. Slash shook his head. "Sweet Darkness! And here I thought you actually had some brains."
     "Gentleman, gentleman, please!" Ozzie reproached as Janus smiled evilly and started reaching for his scythe. "Slash, lay off the boy! He has done us a lot of good these past two years. Does it really matter if Janus has a nickname? At least it keeps those Human scum in line." Slash hesitated, then nodded reluctantly in agreement. Ozzie noted that Janus still hadn't removed his hand from the pommel of his weapon. During the past two years, he had proven himself a daring and powerful warrior. Despite earlier protests that he would never again fight for the Mystic army, Ozzie's prodding had finally managed to convince the young man that the more he killed, the easier it would become. Janus still looked on the thought of killing with revulsion, however. Yes, the murders, as he saw them, became easier with each fresh victim until he barely hesitated in a confrontation. He tended to avoid a one-on-one battle if he could help it. Janus much preferred to stay in the back and toss his magic into the fray. This damaged not only the Human armies but the Mystic troops as well. Not that he cared if his side lost. It didn't matter if he hurt the faceless masses. It was seeing a face before his, screwed up with anger, then watching the anger melt into fear and pain as his magic or blade severed their link to the living that he hated. After each battle, his nightmares would grow more vivid and terrifying. Many times in a cold sweat, he'd awake screaming in Ozzie's arms. Janus could never bring himself to turn away from the small amount of comfort Ozzie would offer, in between begging the young man not to accidentally blow up the castle in his delirium.
     Those moments of weakness made Janus hate himself and hate Ozzie for catching him with his inner barriers down. But in the darkness, a darkness that was and was not Lavos, with the screams of his victims ringing in his ears and their bloody faces leering at him, those small, flabby, green arms holding his shaking body tightly were a welcome relief. He would rest his head against Ozzie's shoulder and clench his teeth to fight back the hysterical sobbing that choked his throat. Through the layers of blubber, the steady drum of the Mystic's heart, slightly agitated by his concern, would drown out the screams he could still hear. The gentle way Ozzie would rub his back and whisper meaningless words about how it would get easier with each new kill comforted him. Ozzie was living, a life-vest in a sea of blood that flooded his mind in which he was drowning. After the shaking subsided, Ozzie would push Janus back down against the pillow, wiping the sweat from the young magician's face with the sleeve of his robe, and cover him up again with blankets. In the singsong words of magic, he would lull Janus into a deep, healing sleep, one mercifully free of dreams.
     The next morning, Janus would be so terribly cold towards everyone. Standing near him, one would actually feel a chill to the air that was not entirely a figment of one's imagination. He would always make a vow that he would no longer fight in this war for the Mystic's cause. But Ozzie's cajoling always won out int the end. It would be good for him, Ozzie had said, and would raise the moral of their troops while weakening the courage of the Human warriors. Even Slash had added that it would help the training Janus had received, since using a scythe was different then using a sword. The blue swordsman hadn't been too thrilled when Janus stubbornly insisted that he would keep the rusty farming tool as a weapon.
     "It just fits so easily in my hand," Janus had stated, giving the scythe a few swings.
     "A sword is easier to handle, though," Slash had grumbled in response. "You have more control of the movements it makes. There is less drag because the blade is thinner than with a scythe. The flat of the blade isn't fighting against you as badly. Besides, a sword is much more elegant." Janus had merely scoffed. He didn't want elegance, he had said. He wanted a weapon that wouldn't force him to hack at the enemy to accomplish his goal.
     "Well, whether it keeps the Humans in line or not, your precious Janus seems to believe that what everyone is saying is true," Slash muttered, snapping everyone back to the present. Ozzie merely shrugged.
     "Who would dispute his claim to that name?"
     "No one, and I would deeply appreciate you not speaking of me as if I wasn't here," Janus said softly. Ozzie looked flustered and quickly patted the young man's arm.
     "Of course, my dear boy. We didn't mean to give offense. Sometimes, Slash and I get carried away in an argument and we ramble." As Magus' gaze coldly stared at the hand the Mystic had dared lay on the magician's arm, Ozzie snatched it back and wrung it nervously as if it had been burned by the contact.
     "So, what are we going to do about this self-proclaimed hero walking the land?" Slash drew out a dagger from somewhere on his person and tested the edge before carefully cleaning his fingernails. "I don't like the idea of some idiot out there stirring up the stinking masses into thinking they have a chance of defeating us." Magus snorted and crossed his arms over his chest.
     "According to your own report, this person has already defeated your forces several times. It seems to me, you might want to turn command of the field over to someone more competent if you can't handle it yourself," he stated bluntly. Slash turned dark purple as blood rushed to his cheeks in anger.
     "Are you saying I'm unfit to lead the Mystic armies into battle?" the blue man sputtered. The hand that clenched itself around the dagger he held trembled in barely contained fury as he resisted the urge to plunge nine inches of cold steel into the youth's left eye. "You had best watch your words, kid. Greater men then you have died for less."
     "Down boys!" Ozzie chuckled. "As much as I'd like to see you two go at it one on one, I'm afraid you're both far too valuable to me alive right now." Looking thoughtfully at Magus, he rubbed his triple chins. "Since you expressed so much interest in this particular subject, perhaps you'd be willing to go on a scouting mission for me."
     "I told you last time, Ozzie. I'm not helping you out with this war anymore. You want something done, use your lackeys like Slash to do your dirty work. Or send pathetic wretches like Flea who are expendable. It would be a mercy if she were to be killed, anyway. Send a useless creature like her to gather your information, but leave me out of it."
     There was a strangled cry which was the only warning that Magus had to prepare himself for the attack. Slash bowled him over and had the dagger poised above Janus' heart. "Bastard! Take it back! You made Flea the way she is today!" the blue-skinned man screamed in rage. One hand was locked around the magician's throat, choking the life out of him while the other sought to stab the dagger deep into the other man's chest. Ozzie reached out with his mind and wrapped his power around Slash, pulling him off and holding him immobile. He held out a hand to Janus who slapped it away.
     "I'll eat his liver for breakfast!" Magus choked out between coughing and gasping for breath. He made a lurch towards the frozen Slash who growled.
     "THAT'S ENOUGH!" Ozzie's sudden temper was not uncommon, but the force of power he suddenly excreted made two sets of eyes give him a look of respect. "You two are like rams, butting heads at every turn with no regard for the feelings of others! What about me? I don't want to sit here and listen to this bickering. We're in the middle of a war, gentlemen. Infighting amongst ourselves will not assure us a long rule over the Humans." He looked at Janus who was rubbing the livid finger marks Slash had left on his pale throat. "Magus, this is an order. Go out there and find me that Hero these humans are speaking of. I want as much information as you can find. Now go."
     "As you wish, Lord Ozzie." The cutting edge in Janus' voice told Ozzie that he wasn't thrilled about being ordered to do something, let alone the type of assignment it was. The arrogance in the magician couldn't stand to take orders and Ozzie considered the command to be a suitable punishment for the headstrong young man. Bowing, Magus wrapped himself in his cape and vanished without so much as a ripple in the air to tell he'd ever stood in that spot. Looking at Slash, he walked up and poked a finger in his chest.
     "You idiot! Why do you keep baiting him like that? Don't you realize that you're toying with a player out of your league?" Ozzie snarled. Slash could only blink angrily and make inarticulate sounds of rage, frozen as he was. His eyes said what his voice could not. I can take him! In a fair fight, I could beat him! "You're so stupid, Slash," Ozzie remarked acidly, releasing the warrior from his spell. As if reading the blue man's mind, he said, "Flea was the toughest and meanest Mystic I have had the occasion of knowing and even she wasn't a match for the Magus. What makes you think that you, with almost no magic at all, could even stand a chance against the likes of him?"
     "I'm not so weak as you might think! My swordsmanship is beyond compare! That boy won't stand a chance against me!"
     "Are you blind or do you just refuse to acknowledge the truth? Your sword skills won't mean a thing in a one-on-one confrontation with Magus! I doubt that he'd even let you draw Slasher from it's scabbard before he'd send you to the next dimension." Taking a breath to help calm himself, Ozzie couldn't resist the last jab. "And there are worse things then death, Slash. Remember what happened to Flea, after all."
     Slash bit his lip and cast his eyes down. Those words hurt and Ozzie knew it. While Flea and the warrior had never been what humans would call an "item," they had a sort of love-hate relationship that let them work well as a team as well as be occasional lovers. Their ambitions were the same. Both Mystics wanted to be Leader of the Hoards but there was an almost friendly rivalry between them. Each one knew that a knife in the back would not be taken as a personal offense, only as another maneuver to get ahead in their political chess match. Such a move would even earn the other "player" the respect from their partner player. It was expected. The more intricate the scheme, the greater the humiliation or fall from favor, the greater the "score" to the player who had caused it. It was all one very big, and rather enjoyable, game to the two Mystics. At least, it had been...
     Then Flea had gotten obsessed. The game had taken a deadly serious turn when Janus had entered the picture. She hated him with a passion and wanted him dead. It was because of that obsession that she was now a mad wretch of a woman. Her insanity was not one of a violent or psychotic kind, but one where she constantly replayed the instant of her failure to defeat Janus in a battle of magic. The secret force that all magicians wielded was her life. She had trusted in it to get her through anything. But that trust had been betrayed, leaving a wound greater then anything a human or Mystic could inflict. Her magic hadn't been enough to defeat him and that betrayal was what had shattered her mind. Not any physical attack, but the spiritual demise of a belief.
     Ozzie watched the various emotions play across the swordsman's face, though the other Mystic was trying to keep them hidden. The fat green leader had a strong point which was his ability to read people like a book. He wouldn't have stayed alive so long in his harsh world if it hadn't been for this unique gift. It had helped him tell who his friends and supporters were and who would sell out on him at a moment's notice. Right now, Slash was as clear as crystal. Talking about Flea had put him back in his place, reminding him who was in charge here and that Magus, while still a force all to himself, was also a weapon Ozzie could unleash at any time. Still, Slash had never been one at open rebellion before. He had always left that up to Flea. Ozzie knew he would have to be twice as cautious now as when he had dealt with the female Mystic. He had years experience under his belt from competing with her for the throne. He knew all her tactics. Slash, on the other hand, was new to the game, as far as Ozzie was concerned, and he had no idea how this blue man worked. What were his styles of intrigue? A knife between the ribs in a dark hallway? Strangulation? Poison?
     "If that will be all, my lord, may I be excused?" Slash asked, interrupting his superior from his thoughts. Ozzie waved a hand in vague dismissal and cocked his head as Slash bowed and vanished from sight in a white light that dimmed the torches of the room. Perhaps he should employ a taste-tester for his food...

     The ground mist clung to his boots like pale, dead hands as he walked. Each time he moved, tendrils would tear off and merge again with the rest. Like the ghosts of the dead that can never be at rest until Magus is destroyed, he thought. They are pleading with me to put an end to their suffering. They want me to draw my sword and ease their pain with one swift stroke to the neck of that villain. Taking up his lookout position under a tree, Cyrus used his ragged cape to fan away the mist that was still creeping after his wake. Take comfort, wandering souls. Soon you shall be at rest. This solemn vow I pledge to you.
     "Thinking morbid thoughts again, Cyrus?"
     The young soldier didn't jump at the voice, even though it had snuck up on him with such stealth that, had it belonged to an enemy, he would have been dead by now. "I guess you could say that, Glenn." He looked with affection at his younger friend. Glenn was small, barely up to his shoulder, and looked comical in armor that was too big for him. His forest green hair was brushed back from his face and tied with a leather strip. A few economical braids were woven in as well. When let down, his hair fell in soft waves down his back with an almost feminine look. His face was youthful, without a hint of stubble that so prominently marked Cyrus. Days on the battlefield had a way of disrupting his normal habits of bathing and the like. But despite the dust and scratches from battle that covered them both, Glenn's boyish good-looks shone through like sunlight from behind rain clouds. Cyrus, on the other hand, while still retaining his handsome demeanor, had a new coldness about him, one that made him look older then what he was. His face was matured by grief and the ravages of war. Yes, he smiled affectionately at his younger companion, but it was a sad smile, one that longed for his own youth again and for the boy who stood beside him, wasting his own childhood on this stupid war as well.
     "What are you doing, standing here alone with naught but specters for company?" Glenn reprimanded him. "Come. Warm thyself by the fire and partake of some hot broth. 'Tis rich with beef stock and vegetables and will surely warm thy soul as well as thy innards."
     "Maybe later," Cyrus told him, leaning his head back against the tree trunk. "I'm on watch right now."
     "Ah, I see." With a resigned sigh, Glenn plopped down on the ground. "Then I shall stay and keep thee company and we shall take our watch together." Cyrus couldn't help but chuckle silently. The fancy, old-fashioned way Glenn spoke had always reminded him of his father. He spoke so charmingly that it was hard to find fault with the boy. The smile faded on the older warrior's lips. Boy. He was only twenty years old, three years older then Glenn, and he already thought of Glenn as nothing more then a child. War changes people, he mused, looking up at the stars. It makes them into people we don't know. It's frightening. Have I really aged so much? My spirit feels like lead inside me. Whatever happened to the enthusiastic child I had once been? It's only been two years and yet it feels like two hundred...
     "Lost in thought again, I see." Glenn laughed a little and rested his hand on his sword hilt to reassure himself of it's presence. Suddenly he blurted, "I feel so strange."
     "Do you? Why?"
     "Remember that talk we had, on the bridge?"
     "Yes. What about it?"
     "I was remembering our conversation. I was thrilled when you said you were off to join His Majesty's army."
     "Oh, yes. I remember that. And I told you that I thought you should enlist too."
     Glenn nodded slowly. "That you did. I was thinking, earlier, about how odd it all seemed. I said I did not think I could be able to stand hurting people and yet, here I am."
     Cyrus pushed himself away from the tree and took a few steps forwards. "I was a fool. I should not have asked you to join. I was weak. I wanted revenge on the person who had stolen my dreams from me and splashed mud on my father's good name." He lowered his head. "But...I did not want to face the winding path alone. Ever since my...friend...died, I had been in mourning. Your friendship and that of Leene's brother have made this dark trip bearable. For that, I owe you both a greater debt then any I could ever hope to repay."
     "Do not give it a second's thought, Cyrus. 'Tis friendship given freely and unconditionally. We admire you and trust you, not only as our companion at arms but as a mentor and leader." Pausing, Glenn scratched the back of his head in awkward silence. "Forgive me. My tongue often speaks what is in my heart and not what is in my head." Cyrus looked over his shoulder at the boy and fixed him with a quiet stare. There was sadness in those eyes, eyes too old to belong to someone so young.
     "Don't lose that innocence Glenn. No matter what you do in this war, no matter what you see, if you value our friendship at all, don't ever lose that ability to say what you feel. Once you lose it, you will never find it again." Glenn gave him a sympathetic look. It hurt to see how the boy who used to stand up for him against bullies, who used to gently tease him about his hair and girlish looks, who taught him how to sword fight had become this bitter replica of what Cyrus once was. All he could do was nod mutely and extend silent comfort as he stood and departed, sensing that his friend probably wanted to be left alone now. Cyrus heard him go but he didn't call after him to stay. Not only did he need the time to clear his thoughts, but watches were best performed alone. There was less chance of distraction to miss something, like the sound of a light footstep on a dry leaf, heavy breathing that was trying to be concealed, or the jingle of mail under a cloak that could all mean an enemy was approaching.
     Drawing his sword, he sat down on some exposed roots and leaned his back against a tree, setting the naked blade across his lap, careful not to let it catch any light and give away his position to whatever could be out there. He had always hated standing watch. It was lonely and tense. While others in his unit might have found it to be merely boring, Cyrus knew the danger of letting the monotony get to you, causing you to lower your guard. He was lucky to be out here, anyway, on the battle field that he had so longed to see. All that time of hard work to impress his commanders had paid off when he had finally decided to go after the Hero's Medal which had been lost for many years to the Frog King and his lackeys. The amphibian lord was rumored to be a distant relative to the Mystics. All the slimy, lowlife scum in the kingdom stuck together it seemed. Winning the Medal back hadn't been too hard, as a matter of fact. It was a mystery why no one had tried to take it back sooner. Glenn had been with him at the time, he remembered. The boy had fought bravely against the toads and other reptiles that had besieged them. It was more butcher's work then anything, since there were so many unarmed amphibians attacking them, hoping to overwhelm them with their numbers. And all for a shiny bit of metal, he thought ruefully.
     While his mind toyed with that memory, his hand uncontiously went up to his right breast where the Hero's Medal itself was pinned to his armor. The royal crest of Guardia was emblazoned on the front. Underneath that very spot, protected under his breastplate and over his heart, was a silk handkerchief that Leene had given him before he'd come out here to the front and in gratitude for returning the Hero's Medal to the royal family. The King had been so ecstatic that he had proclaimed Cyrus a true Knight of the Square Table, an honor that he could scarcely believe. He had regained the family honor, at last. And yet, even this news couldn't outshine the radiance of his Queen.
     He could still imagine the smell of her perfume and the way his heart had beat like thunder in his chest as she had reached into the bodice of her gown and removed the square of material with her initials on the corner. Their hands had touched briefly as she had handed it to him and even though he had been wearing the standard battle gloves of all soldiers, it felt as if he had touched some alchemist's rod that was charged with electric energy. "Take this small token of Our esteem," she had said in her soft, musical way that always had a way of making his breath catch and his knees weak. The way she inserted the "Royal We" into the sentence was not in the least condescending. He had carefully folded the creme colored silk and placed it inside his mail shirt, fully aware that the Chancellor was glaring at him with impotent fury. It was a mark on his private scorecard that he had managed to one-up the old man in the Queen's eyes. Cyrus had dropped to one knee and taken Leene's hand in his, bowing over it. "Go with Our blessing, Sir Cyrus," she had continued, smiling. Nothing could have compared to her perfection at that moment and as his lips reverently placed a chaste kiss on the back of her hand, her perfume once again washed over him from her inner wrist. Later, in the privacy of his room in the knight's barracks, he had removed the handkerchief and rubbed it against his face, reliving the moment. He still remembered with crystal clarity that the Queen's skin had felt the exact same way as it passed over his lips. Soft, like rose petals warmed by the sun, that's how it had felt like.
     A smile passed over Cyrus' face. He liked Leene. Very much. And he knew she returned the sentiment. It was unfortunate that she was married to the King. Not that he begrudged his monarch a wife, but it was such a pity that it had to be the woman that he was attracted to. A small bit of him felt ashamed to admit that he was having an attraction to another man's wife, but try as he might, he couldn't dismiss the feeling. Oh, well. As long as nothing came of that attraction, he would be fine. But even as he thought this, he felt again the velvet of her skin on his lips and his mind wandered to whether her lips felt the same way...
     Sitting up straighter, the warrior tensed. He scanned the darkness slowly and listened intently. Had that been the sound of a twig snapping? The wind was blowing softly and it drowned out little sounds as it passed through the forest, stirring leaves and the like. Yes, he confirmed silently as he heard the sound yet again. And there it was again! Now, it could be some animal, but that was unlikely. Most of the wildlife had been scared away by the fighting that had been going on in and around the woods the past few days. And whatever was creeping through the brush was big. Smiling a bit in amusement, he had to marvel how loud Mystics could be when they were trying to be quiet. Getting onto his knees he quietly began to track the sound to it's origin, keeping hold of his sword firmly in his hand. After a bit, he saw a shape that blended almost perfectly with the darkness. They were wearing some sort of dark colored cloak that covered them from head to toe and the hem was apparently caught on brambles. I have you now, Mystic, he thought to himself, getting ready to spring.

     "If Ozzie thinks I'm going to do manual labor for him like some common lackey, he's dead wrong. I have better things to do with my time then waste it on his stupid war," Magus fumed. The double doors at the front of Ozzie's Fort blew open and crashed against the stone wall with enough force to crack the hard wood as he approached them. A part of his mind reminded him that he really didn't have anything better to do with his time but he firmly pushed the thought aside. Damn that fat green blob of a Mystic, he thought angrily. Who did he think he was to order him around? Didn't he realize that with a single burst of power, Magus could destroy his precious little fort and all the Mystics within it? That would end their war on a sour note, to be sure. That would teach them to treat him in such an undignified manner.
     For a moment, Magus stopped and actually thought about doing it. Who would miss a bunch of dirty, evil Mystics? He'd be doing those humans a favor. The King would probably call him a hero for it. Appalled at the thoughts of such casual slaughter of innocents, even if the were Mystics, made him shake his head in disgust and keep walking. What an animal he'd become. He was no better then the Mystics were. The King wouldn't care if he obliterated every last Mystic from the face of the planet. All the Humans would see is the Mystic war hero, Magus. They wouldn't see him as some grand savior who had delivered them from the war and death that was plaguing the land. They would see their loved ones cut down by his blade and their homes destroyed by his magic. Their form of thanks would be his body tied to a stake in the middle of a blazing bonfire.
     Stopping in the last puddle of light from the castle behind him, he pulled up the hood on his cloak and made sure that his scythe was properly attached to his belt. It was best to make all last minute checks now before he encountered a Human. How unfortunate it would be if his cover was blown and his weapon was stuck. Not that he would let them take him alive, that is. If worse came to worse, he'd die in his magic and take his captors with him. In some ways, part of him almost wished for the chance to do that. Then the images of his failed suicide attempt came back to him, even if it had only been in his mind. Coward, he hissed at himself. Bloodstained, murdering coward! Closing his eyes, he formed an image in his mind of the place where he wanted to go. Tugging at his power, he felt a lurch as his body dissolved in the darkness and teleported to where he wanted to go. When he opened his eyes, he found himself standing in another forest, very similar to the one outside Ozzie's Fort. However, this one was the camping ground for the Guardian armies. Immediately he fell into a battle stance, scanning the area around him. The problem with teleports was that you could never be certain that you weren't appearing smack dab over a cliff or in the middle of someone's house. Luckily, he knew exactly where he had wanted to go. The only problem was whether there were enemies around. Using his power a little to heighten his night vision, he looked over the immediate area. The smell of cook fires was on the wind. So was the smell of horses and more unpleasant,the stench of the latrines. But then the breeze had passed and all that was left was the lingering smell of death and blood that had soaked into the very ground upon which he stood. He was sure that both sides hadn't buried and burned all their dead yet. There were just too many casualties on both side to have cleared the bodies up in one day. The ground mist made walking dangerous, since it was hard to tell where there were dips and roots in the ground. Well, he'd have to take a chance of a broken ankle if he stepped wrong but it couldn't be avoided. He'd just have to deal with it. Using his cape, he fanned away the mist as best he could to clear a path for him to walk.
     Magus carefully kept near trees when he could and darted across open spaces as fast and silently as a cat. Each shadow could contain a sentry with a crossbow that was just waiting to sniper him as he hurried from clearing to clearing. The trees themselves could be hiding an unseen guard who could sneak up behind him and attack him that way. Though the Knight's Code forbade backstabbing, it didn't mean that the person could sneak up from behind, startle the enemy so that they turned around, and plunge their sword into the enemy's guts. Speaking of which, Magus realized that he would have to be doubly careful, now that he was this close to the enemy camp. It was one thing to be trying to sneak by without detection. What he was trying to do was sneak into camp and learn the latest gossip of the troops. Magus' lip curled in a sneer as once again he was reminded how menial a job this was.
     In the distance, the light of the campfires made the mist take on an orangish-pink glow. Getting as close as he dared by walking, Magus dropped to his stomach and crawled towards the light. It was painfully slow going because dead leaves covered the forest floor and they would crunch with all the loudness of a thunder clap, amplified by the mist. Eventually he wormed his way up to the tents that were stationed for the commanders. A ring of guards was posted all the way around each one, preventing him from even getting close. Discouraged, but not daunted, he moved on. As he went, a smell started assaulting his nose. It was earthy and foul. Eventually he saw the reason why. The stables. Lines of cavalry horses were feeding and drinking from troughs that had been hastily erected. Some hapless young man was shoveling the horse dung onto a growing pile. This was getting him nowhere. Teleporting a safe distance away from the camp, Magus got to his feet and paced. The whole camp was swarming with people. There was no logical way he could get close enough to hear anything important. As he paced, he fanned his cape around himself, irritably shooing away the mist that clung to him. As he did so, the material accidentally got snagged in a thornbush. Pausing, he absently tried to shake it free but only succeeded in making it more tangled. This only aggravated his already thin temper. Magus took firm hold and yanked, pulling part of the cloak free and taking part of the bush along with it in a loud crackling of branches. Freezing dead still, he mentally kicked himself in the pants for having let emotion cloud the dangerous situation he was in. All that noise would probably attract a sentry. As he tossed ideas around in his head about what to do, a sudden idea hit him. What would happen if he was able to corner a lone guard and question him?
     Reaching out his powers, he felt for the presence of any approaching danger. He brushed against something coming his way. He had little time to put his plan into action. Untying the drawstring under his throat, he used his Shadow magic to create a dense black ball that levitated about where his head should be. Stuffing it into the hood of his cloak, it pulled the material upwards making it look like a person stood before him, rather then a disembodied cloak and magic ball. Assuring himself that everything was in order, Magus levitated up into the branches of a nearby tree to watch and wait. As he had hoped, some lone guard was sneaking up on his empty cloak thinking it was containing a person. Grinning to himself that his plan had actually worked, he thought smugly to himself, I have you now, Human!


Chapter 18

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