The Story Of Magus Chapter 18

A Not So Happy Reunion

By ZealPropht

    The guard approached the floating cloak slowly, crawling as he was on his hands and knees, choosing his path carefully across dead leaves and dry twigs. It was quite a chore not to make noise. However, from his vantage point up in the tree, it only made the spectacle that much more amusing. Magus had to clasp a hand over his mouth to keep from laughing. Humans are so pathetic sometimes. But is it any wonder? By all reports, they are the descendants of the Earthbound colonies and that couldn't have helped their gene pool any. Too bad that no one here can match me in wits and strength. Ah, if only the Gurus could see me now! It would drive them crazy to see what spells I have mastered!
    The knight that was lurking below him had stopped and was studying the "figure" before him, judging the best way to attack. Not that it would do him much good, Magus snickered mentally. Finally the sentry decided that the direct approach would be best, for he stood up, sword drawn, and issued the standard military arrest. "In the name of his Majesty, I arrest you for the glory of the Crown! Turn around and keep your hands where I can see them, Mystic!" As could be expected, his words had absolutely no affect on the cloak. "Hey! Mystic! I said, turn around!" When again nothing happened, the knight warily poked the material with his blade. He took a step back in shock when it met with no resistance. "What the hell?" Grabbing hold of the material, he yanked, pulling it free of the magical floating ball that had been holding it up. Letting the cape drop, the man circled the ball and examined it. When he was sure that it wasn't some sort of explosive device, he raised his sword and slashed through it, leaving a white glowing line through the center. The white line grew brighter and spread till it engulfed the whole ball. In a matter of seconds, the magical creation exploded in a soft shower of golden sparks which fell harmlessly to the ground and quickly fizzled out. The guard uttered a soft curse and looked around him. "Damn your Mystic tricks! Stop these games and come out of hiding. I know you're out there, probably getting a laugh at the stupid Human who fell for your prank. Instead of being a coward, why don't you come out and face me? Or are you afraid?"
    Magus knew, as he drew a dagger from the top of his boot, that he was safe from being seen. Unlike his own magically enhanced night vision, the guard below him was not that lucky, and the shadows created by the dense trees would be more then enough cover to hide his movements. Dropping down lightly from the tree, he landed silently behind the sentry. Using one arm, he reached around the other man's neck and caught him in a choke-hold, dragging his head back so he could press the dagger's keen edge against the guard's exposed throat. "Be careful what you wish for, Human. You just might get it!" he chortled in the man's ear. "Now, I have a few questions I want to ask of you and you're going to be very cooperative with me, right?" Magus tightened his grip a fraction, making the sentry gag and gasp for air. "You'd better be, or else you'll be getting a second mouth where you probably don't want one." Faster then it seemed possible for a man who was wearing armor, the sentry reached up and grabbed the hand that held the knife, forcing it away from him. Magus growled and tightened his choke-hold. They struggled for a while, neither one gaining any advantage over the other. The guard managed to place a foot against a tree and push back, throwing his weight against the Mystic, slamming his back into a tree. Magus flinched and cried out, feeling the air rush out of him. He started coughing, trying to draw in lungfulls of air in great gulps. The guard dropped his sword and rammed his metal-shod elbow into Magus' stomach. The magician doubled over, loosing his grip, allowing the sentry to pull free. He spun around and backhanded the Mystic, his fist connecting with the side of his head.
    The blow was hard enough to send Janus reeling. He became so unbalanced that he tripped over an unseen root that was hidden by the ground mist and he fell onto his back. The back of his hand smacked down on a rock, bruising the delicate flesh. The sudden pain made his hand spasm and the dagger to slip from his fingers. The world was spinning and specks of colored light danced in front of his eyes as he tried to regain a standing position. He was only partially successful. Using a tree for support, he helped steady himself. Shaking his head to dismiss the dizzy feeling and the ringing in his ears, he swore silently. As he recovered, he noticed that the Human had taken no time at all to search for where he dropped his sword. Unclasping the scythe from his belt, Magus lunged at the sentry, determined to beat him down until the man had no choice but answer whatever questions were asked of him. As it happened, at that very moment, the Human found the hilt of his sword. He rolled under Magus' swipe and cut at the Mystic's stomach. Janus was faster, though, and easily dodged the move that would have disemboweled him had it been successful and scored him. The two combatants stepped apart, crouched into battle stances. They were about evenly matched, Magus noted, raising his scythe in a mocking Knight's Salute to the enemy. They were about the same height and build. The knight returned the salute gravely and thrust forward.
    Sparks flew as the two weapons connected, lighting up their faces for a millisecond. Janus could see that his opponent's expression was one of grim determination in the instant that they stood face to face with only their weapons and wills in conflict between them. Again there was a stalemate as they tried shoving each other back. The knight finally relented and allowed himself a step or two in reverse. The sudden lack of support made Magus fall forward. As he straightened up, he raised his blade in front of his face, narrowly blocking the two-handed downward swing that would have cleaved his skull in two. There was a shrill sound of metal cutting through metal as the heavier sword began to shear through the weakened, rusting scythe blade. The sword bit deeply, creating a large slice that was on it's way to breaking the weapon completely. Magus fell to one knee, trying to wrest the weapons to the side so that the sword didn't cut through his weapon and drive downward into his body. However, the sentry placed boot against his shoulder and pushed. There was no way to avoid landing on his rear end. The knight was leaning his whole weight on the sword he held. Without his legs under him to help support that weight, all the force was suddenly placed on Magus' arms alone. He grunted, leaning back. The muscles in his upper arms screamed in protest to such cruel treatment as he strained them to their limits.
    "Damn it!" he muttered, being forced all the way down onto his back. He couldn't see the face of his opponent, shadowed as it was by his helmet and visor, but Magus was sure there was a smirk of triumph on his face. And then it happened. The scythe blade shattered into two pieces which fell onto Magus' chest. He twisted his head to the side as the sword point drove into the ground next to his left ear. Part of the edge cut into the soft muscles between his neck and shoulder. Warm blood stained his shirt and trickled to the ground beneath him, but the wound didn't seem deep. It just hurt like hell. Rolling to his feet, he broke into a run for his cloak where he had another dagger stashed. The one he'd used earlier was lost somewhere in the mist and he had no time to search for it. Guessing his intention, the knight took off after him, somehow managing to block the rumpled cloth before he could reach it. Magus skidded to a stop inches away from impaling himself through the heart on the knight's blade.
    "Surrender and I'll spare your life. You are without weapons and are defenseless, so you really have no choice but to do as I say. You do not strike me as so much of a fool not to realize how hopeless your situation is," the knight stated, bluntly. "I swear on my honor that if you give yourself over into my custody, you shall be treated fairly." Magus burst out laughing. The situation would look hopeless, he had to admit, if he had been a normal warrior. But he wasn't a normal foot soldier sent by Ozzie. He was, after all, a magician. He didn't need a weapon for his specialized attacks. The guard before him obviously thought he had gone insane with terror or something because he was utterly shocked the way his Mystic "captive" was able to laugh in the face of death this way.
    "I? Surrender to a mere Human? Surely you jest! I am not so helpless as you believe." So saying, Magus formed a ball of fire in his hand and threw it straight into the knight's face. However, the sudden light had blinded him somewhat after having fought in the dark for so long. His aim was off and so the knight escaped with little more then scorched armor. The fireball, however, went hurtling into the tree behind him. There was a "whump!" sound, quickly followed by a roar of flames as the whole tree exploded into flames. Both warriors stood agape, looking at the tree in amazement.
    "A little off on our aim, are we?" the knight asked in a friendly, yet sarcastic fashion as he ran a few paces away from the burning pine. "Not a bad try, though. You could probably hit the broad side of a barn now." Magus snarled a string of explicits almost as red-hot as the fire that crackled in front of him.
    "Shut up! No one asked for your opinion!" he retorted, a slight blush on his features. Grabbing his cloak off the ground, he faced the guard. "You just count your blessings that I did miss or you would have suffered a very painful death."
   "Shall we continue then?" The man held his sword at ready, preparing for round two. Magus tossed his cape around his shoulders, wincing as the movement pulled on his wounded shoulder. Already he could hear shouts of alarm, even at this distance, as the fire started attracting attention. That was the only problem with magic. It was simply too flashy to be reasonably concealed from people. There were always loud explosions or large displays that would attract attention for miles around.
   "You got off easy this time. Next time, you won't be so lucky!" Magus replied, tossing his blue hair out of his face. Closing his eyes, he prepared an image in his mind of Ozzie's Fort, from it's cold outer turrets to the gaudy finery of Ozzie's personal chambers. His concentration was distracted, however, mostly from the need to hurry before any more Humans arrived. He had almost gotten the image perfect when...
   "Wait a minute! Janus? Is that you?"
   The voice startled him enough to cause him to open his eyes. The guard was staring at him in a peculiar way. "I beg your pardon?" Magus responded, coldly. The sentry rubbed his eyes with one hand, leaving a smudge of dirt across his nose. He hadn't sheathed his sword, yet it hung limply in his hand. The man started walking forward, the expression on his face betraying the shock he felt inside. Though all his instincts screamed not to let the man narrow their distance between each other, he had a nagging feeling that this knight wouldn't hurt him. He trembled with the urge to flee as the man stopped right in front of him and reach out a hand, gently taking a lock of hair between his fingers and rubbing it, a look of wonder on his face. Instead, he studied the armor the knight wore. It was old, antique even, and had been repaired many times over. There was an especially nasty scar in the metal over the heart that spoke of something high-powered being launched, striking that area with enough force to create a gaping hole that had since been mended. Slightly above that area was a large round medal bearing the Guardian royal crest. It looked battered, as if it had been through a lot. Must be some sort of rank insignia or something, though I haven't seen many officers who wear this type of badge.
    "It is you," the guard breathed, a smile crossing his face. Janus studied him, from the eyes that were too young for his careworn face to the stubble that shadowed his cheeks and chin. There was something familiar about him...Suddenly, it dawned on him. Magus' eyes opened wide and his mouth moved without sound. Cyrus saw this and nodded. Nothing more had to be said. The two young men regarded each other in silence for a moment, just savoring their reunion, before the shouts of soldiers approaching shook them both from their reverie. Magus took a step backwards in fear. If he was captured, there was no way they would let him live. They'd execute him on the spot. He had to escape this very minute. Teleportation took time to do so running into the woods and lying low for a few hours would be his best bet. Before he could follow up on that plan however, a rough hand grabbed his wrist. He stared into Cyrus' eyes and saw that all the former friendliness had vanished from his companion's face. Janus swallowed hard and contemplated casting another spell.
    "Come with me," he said harshly, dragging the magician behind him. Together, they managed to flee into the bushes and just in time too. For at that very moment, dozens of troops bearing buckets of water appeared on the scene. The two warriors ran deeper and deeper into the forest until only a faint, dim glow could be seen above them in the sky that peeked through the trees. Once they were a safe distance away, they stopped to rest. Cyrus bent over, placing his hands on his knees, puffing. Janus was less winded, probably because he didn't have all that armor to carry around, he thought to himself.
    "Cyrus...I can't believe it!" he gasped out, trying to slow down his own heaving chest.
    "I might say the same thing about you...Janus," Cyrus replied in a hurt tone, still panting. He raised his head and gave the magician a glare. "Why didn't you...tell were alive?"
    Having calmed down at last, Janus leaned against a tree and crossed his arms over his chest. He looked down at his feet, gloomy. "I...couldn't."
    "Why? What was preventing you from letting me know you were still alive? How could you let me think for all these years that my own father had killed you?"
    "I'm sorry, Cyrus. I really am. I wanted to let you know. I really did. But there were...circumstances beyond my control that prevented me from doing so."
    "Circumstances," Cyrus repeated, mockingly. "What circumstances? Tell me!"
    "I can't."
    "Because I just can't!" Magus exploded at last, beginning to pace. "I'm not the person you used to know. I've changed."
   "Yes, so I see. You're one of them now, aren't you?" Cyrus spat in disgust. "I thought we were friends."
    "We are friends."
   Cyrus snorted. "Some friend you are. You run off to join the Mystics and leave me to mourn the death of not only my friend but of the love I bore for my father as well." He straightened up and sheathed his blade, having forgotten to do so in the heat of the moment earlier. "You have one hell of a priority complex."
    "What do you know? After your father left me to burn to death, the Mystics rescued me. They took me in, taught me how to control my magic so bad things wouldn't happen, and more importantly, they accepted me for who I am. Your kind would never have seen me as anything more then a blue-haired freak!"
    "Janus, you don't understand! The Mystics are our enemies!"
    "They are YOUR enemies!" Janus shot back, vehemently. "They are the only family I have had in this Gods-awfull kingdom. They made me someone important. They took me in when no one else would. You're the only one who doesn't understand."
    Cyrus lowered his head into his hands and closed his eyes. "You're right. I don't understand. I don't understand why you turned your back on everything good and decided to live in darkness. I don't understand why you chose the Mystics as your allies. I don't understand why my father had to die." He paused. "That would be reason enough for me to take you to my commanding officer, but I won't, simply because there has been enough killing and I don't want your death on my conscience."
    "Sir Cedrick brought it on himself," Janus responded in chilly tones. "He tried to murder and innocent boy because of some stupid prejudice. It is the curse of the weak to destroy what they don't comprehend because the unknown frightens them. Rather like a child that is afraid of monsters under the bed but is afraid to light a candle and explore if there really is anything there at all. Instead, they lay there all night shivering in dread, for no reason other then stupidity and cowardice. They don't face their fears because they don't want to understand the nature behind them. They don't want to see their own failings. They have to demolish everything that makes them nervous or frightened because it makes them feel big and powerful when in reality, they are nothing more then ants."
    "And because of that you sent that butcher...that Magus after my father as an act of revenge?"
    With his head in his hands the way they were, Cyrus missed the flash of confusion and disbelief that crossed Janus' face. Was it possible that he wasn't aware that Janus and Magus were one and the same person? It wasn't as if it couldn't happen. With his hood up to conceal his hair and the smoke and battles raging around them both, it was entirely possible that Cyrus had never gotten a really good look at the Magus. In fact, with so many Humans and Mystics fighting, he could have mistaken half a dozen people for the famed magician. "The Magus...he is nothing more than a pawn of Lord Ozzie's. He does what he is told to do. He's a soldier, not unlike you or...or myself." At least part of that was true. "From what I know of him, he has a sense of honor. I don't think he really meant to kill your father..." Of course he hadn't meant to kill Cedrick. But the man had tried to kill him three times in very dishonorable ways. Janus wasn't sorry he was dead, and he had no regrets about the deed. Of all the people he'd killed, Cedrick was the only one where he knew he had been in the right.
    "You speak so highly of him," Cyrus accused, raising his head once more. Then he turned away with a bitter smile. "You must be very proud of your famous war hero. Look at all the glory he has brought to the Mystics by crawling over mounds of Human corpses."
    "No, I'm not proud. Not of him, not of any of them," Janus answered softly. "But don't you see? They are all I have. Without them, I am nothing."
    "That isn't true, Janus!" Cyrus stated firmly, coming over and placing his hands on the young man's shoulders. "You are a valiant fighter and you have magic, which is more than most around this place. Come with me! Leave the side of evil and fight by my side as my brother in arms."
    "And become a deserter?" Janus shook his head. "I may have lost a lot of my morals when I became a Mystic, but honor wasn't one of them. I made my decision long ago and I will not abandon my liege lord, just as I know you wouldn't abandon yours if I asked you to."
    Cyrus scoffed and let go of his friend's shoulders. "This isn't the same. You're talking about the Mystics as if they were feeling people!"
    "They aren't?"
    "Of course not! They are savage, brutal killers!"
    "As if you Humans are any better. It takes two to make a war, you know." Shaking his head in frustration, Janus adjusted his gloves and wrapped his cape around him. "I don't know why I bother talking to you about this. I can't expect you to understand. No one understands. There is no 'right' in a war. It's all academic, depending on what side you're fighting on." For a while they stood in silence, each absorbed in their own thoughts. Cyrus watched Janus as he stood there, surrounded by shadows. They cling to him, he thought. He's changed so much. I remember him as a sad boy who never seemed to fit in but did his best to act normal, like me. I remember how his eyes were so full of life. Now all I see is night in their depths. I see anger and hate and sorrow. I see death. He smells of it, the way the battlefield smells after each fight. He even looks like a Mystic now. I don't know how I even recognized him outside of his hair. That is the only thing that has remained vibrant about him. And indeed it was so. In the dim light of the smoldering tree, far away behind them, his skin was chalk white, his eyes like holes in his head, and even his ears now had a delicate point to them. Only his hair retained it's sky blue color. The Mystics corrupt everything they come in contact with. They have raped and murdered his sense of justice till he no longer believes in anyone or anything but himself, and even then, he still questions whether he should do that.
    "I need to get back," Janus said abruptly. Cyrus nodded and watched as his companion made sure all his possessions were in order before he teleported.
    "Will we ever see each other again, Janus?"
    The magician looked at his friend sadly. "I hope not. If we do, it will most likely be as enemies. Then, one of us will be forced to kill the other. It is best if we forget we ever saw each other. The Janus you knew is long dead, killed in a fire, leaving his friend to mourn and I am but a stranger." He gestured in the direction of the camp. "As it is, you'll have to explain why you deserted your post to help me escape."
    Cyrus waved it aside, absently. "Don't worry about that. But I can't just let you walk away like this."
    "I'm not walking, I'm teleporting, actually."
    "Be serious. I can't let things end so unfinished."
    "Well, what do you want? A duel?" Magus snarled. "I'm sure we can always pick up where we left off."
    "Not a duel," Cyrus disagreed. "A pact."
    Janus narrowed his eyes suspiciously and regarded the knight before him with guarded curiosity. "All right, you've caught my attention. What sort of pact?"
    "What I propose will benefit both of us and hopefully allow us to meet once this war is over and done with."
    "I don't understand," the young Mystic said impatiently. Cyrus gave him a dark look.
    "If you would give me a chance to speak without interruption, everything will be made clear." Cyrus waited to see is Janus would say anything further but all that greeted him was an irritated silence. "As I was saying, I'm asking that we both make a vow not to harm or conspire to harm each other during this war. I know that my request is a lot to ask of you, I said earlier...I don't want the death of a friend on my conscience."
    "That is a hell of a lot to ask of me, considering who it is I work for," Janus stated incredulously. He watched as Cyrus removed the gauntlet from his right hand, attach it to his belt, and draw his sword. Switching the sword from his right to left hand, he carefully drew his hand down the keen edge of the blade, creating a line of crimson across his palm. Then, he held both the sword and the wounded hand out to Janus in a gesture of friendship. Magus looked between the offered hand and the sword for a moment. "You're really serious about this, aren't you?" he asked at last.
    "I've never been more in earnest. I ask you to please make this vow with me. If not for our future, then for the sake of the friendship we once had."
    Janus hesitantly removed the glove from his own right hand and grasped the blade of the sword, tightly. The metal was razor sharp, slicing his flesh. He gritted his teeth at the sudden sting and swiftly placed his bleeding palm against Cyrus'. "This better be worth it," the magician said in an undertone. Cyrus merely smiled.
    "I swear by my honor as a knight and by this Hero's Medal upon my chest that I shall not break this vow," he stated solemnly. Janus barely managed to conceal the sudden shock that went through him. It felt as if his heart had dropped into his stomach and someone had forced all the air out of his lungs. His brain ceased to function on anything other then one thought: Cyrus was the Hero that everyone had been speaking of! Sweet Darkness! This couldn't be happening! Of all people, why did it have to be him? Somewhere in his amazement and horror, Janus remembered how to breathe. It was too late to back out of the pledge, not when his blood had already mingled with that of the man before him, now his blood-brother if he was to believe this ritual correctly. Swallowing to try and wet his suddenly dry mouth, he closed his eyes and finished the pact.
    "I swear by my honor and on the memory of my sister that I shall not break this vow." Though Cyrus regarded him funny, since he had no idea what sister he was talking about, he nonetheless shook hands firmly before letting go. Tearing a strip of cloth from his cape, he bound the wound. Janus merely touched his with a finger, sealing it shut with a word.
    "That's handy," Cyrus noted, nodding at what Janus had done. The other man shrugged. It was no big deal if one happened to be the Magus, but he wasn't about to tell Cyrus that. Not yet. Someday maybe, when things were more at peace. When he was more at peace with himself. "I guess this is it, then."
    "I guess so."
    "Hey, if you ever need to get in touch with me, for any reason at all, I'll meet you at the tree your magic burned down."
    Blushing again at the mention of his blunder, Janus asked, "But how will I reach you? It's not like I can send you a letter or anything."
    "I'll come back every few days to check if you're there." Replacing his sword in his sheathe, he gave his friend one last look, memorizing his features. After all, it's not every day that someone you thought was dead comes back to life. "Good bye, Janus."
    "Good bye, Cyrus. May the Black Wind never blow your way." Placing two fingers to his forehead, Janus called up a mental image of Ozzie's Fort. In seconds, he was gone. Not even a breeze marked his passing. Cyrus regarded the spot where Janus had stood only an instant before with a regretful smile. Too bad he hadn't been able to tell Janus the anterior motive behind the pledge he'd been talked into making. It was obvious that Janus was under Magus' protection, despite his protestations on the contrary.
    He's just another soldier, like you or I, Cyrus recalled Janus saying. As if a man as evil and wild as the great Magus could be a simple soldier. More like Ozzie's personal assassin. He's got his hooks into Janus deep, all right. It's no wonder the poor guy doesn't want to desert the Mystic army. One wrong step and he could find himself on the receiving end of a lightning bolt through the head. Turning on his heel, the knight sprinted back into the direction of his unit's camp. That will soon change, though. Once I get rid of the Magus and revenge my father's murder, Janus will be free to walk in the paths of light once again. He'll finally see the error of his ways and how, in a moment of weakness, he allowed himself to be misled into believing the lies those dirty Mystics told him. He doesn't need them. He's strong enough to break free of their tyranny. He just needs me to show him the way. A devious smile, one that spoke of plots and intrigue, crossed Cyrus face. Just as he will show me the way to the Magus. I'm sorry that I have to use him in such a fashion, but he'll understand, when it is all over, that what I am doing, I am doing for him. With the Magus gone, he will be out of Ozzie's control and then, with him on our side, we can end this war by obliterating every Mystic scum that dares to cross the Kingdom of Guardia! The glow of the camp fires soon came into view, along with the still smoldering, blackened remains of the once proud pine tree. As he neared the outskirts of the enlisted barracks, he was greeted by a familiar voice, hollering at him from across the way.
    "Cyrus! Ho, Cyrus! Where hast thou been?! I have searched near and far for thee and have found nary a trace of thy whereabouts in any of your usual places." Glenn sped up and skidded to a halt, falling into step beside his taller companion. "Didst thou see the commotion of late? A tree exploded into flames and-"
    "I was there, Glenn," Cyrus replied in patient, yet weary tones as he cut off his younger friend's chattering. The green haired youth closed his mouth and cast his eyes down, making Cyrus instantly regret the harsh tone of voice he'd used.
    "Forgive me, Cyrus. I was worried about you. I couldst find you nowhere and my first thought was about you standing watch. Alone, with no soul to guard your back...''Twas not a comforting thought. I do not know how I shouldst have explained it to her Majesty if you had left us. Permanently."
    Cyrus looked over at Glenn who was doing his best to keep his face emotionless, as if he were discussing the weather or the condition of the roads. But under the cracked mask, the older man could see that his lack of attendance had truly scared the boy. He's still so young, so fresh from the crib that the thought of losing one of the few friends he has in the camp shakes him up. I can't say as I blame him, though. If anything were to happen to him...I don't know what I'd do.
    "It's all right, Glenn. I understand. I know that these things can really unnerve a person, especially when a friend is involved." Cyrus placed his arm around the boy's shoulders in a brotherly fashion. Glenn leaned into him, savoring the small amount of comfort. It was hard, knowing that his best friend in the whole world could have been lying out there, in the dark forest, bleeding to death with some Mystic's spear point driven through his guts. But he wasn't, Glenn told himself firmly, pushing the morbid image aside. Cyrus was here, walking beside him, comforting him, being the caring person he had come to admire and respect.
    "You have the heart of the matter completely, Cyrus," Glenn replied, giving the man at his side a wide smile that was just short of hero worship. "But, come, tell me of thy watch. You say you were there when yonder tree exploded. What caused such a great calamity that nearly destroyed all this great and lush forest that surrounds us?"
    "A Mystic, as usual."
    "Ah, I see. Didst thou fillet the scoundrel?"
    "No. He escaped, unfortunately. I gave chase and we fought a bit. I received this for my pains." Cyrus held out his hand, the one he had cut earlier, showing the blood-soaked cloth of the crude bandage he'd made. Glenn gasped and took his friend's hand in both of his, carefully unwrapping the torn strip of cloth from the wound, trying not to cause the seeping slash any more damage.
    "This wound is very ugly indeed. Come with me to the medic's tent and we shall get this cleaned up." The boy took hold of Cyrus' arm in a firm grip and began steering him towards the makeshift infirmary that had been erected. Cyrus tried to disentangle his arm from Glenn as he protested that no, he didn't need to see a medic.
    "I'll wash it and bandage it up again and I will be fine."
    "I will brook no refusal. Do as I bid thee, Cyrus."
    "Hast thou knowledge of the medical arts? Doest thou think thyself capable of fighting one handed should that wound fester until thy hand needs must be removed?" Glenn had the small satisfaction of making Cyrus look sick to his stomach. "I thought not. Now, do as I have said." Propelling him into the tent, Glenn forced Cyrus into a rickety chair and, after making him vow to stay put, went to go find a doctor. Cyrus sighed and leaned back in his seat, slouching down so that his head could rest on the back of the chair. As he watched Glenn scurry between cots and nurses, he noted the number of wounded had increased yet again. The field medics were assisting the doctors who always stayed in camp and there was still not enough help to go around. So many men were lying in their own blood, unable to be helped by anyone because there was simply nothing that could be done for them. Medical supplies had been dwindling. The only consolation was that Guardia had been enjoying many years of bountiful harvests. Thus, their rations were not so depleted, which was a good thing for everyone concerned. After a long, hard day of fighting, all the soldiers really wanted to do was eat a hot, hearty meal and hit the sack.
    Glenn finally came back with a doctor on his heels. "This is the man?" the doctor asked, washing his hands in a nearby basin. Glenn nodded. The doctor adjusted his glasses and dried his hands on a relatively clean towel. Sanitation out on the battlefield was very hard, considering about the only cases that came in were emergencies. There was barely enough time to save that person's life before another came in. In between patients, the nurses would try and boil the bandages and medical equipment to sterilize it to keep from spreading infections. Even so, it was not uncommon to have to amputate a limb that had become infected. While the thought was stomach churning, it was either lose a limb or lose your life. There was no in between. The medical herbs that the doctors purchased from herbalists to make healing salves and potions were running out. The lands all around Guardia castle and Truce Canyon had been ravaged and the destruction was moving downward to Porre and Choras. Farmlands where those healing herbs were cultivated were destroyed, leaving only trampled patches of leaves that could not be used for anything. Not even the calvary mounts would eat them.
    "Well, let me see the injury," the doctor said. Cyrus held out his palm and made up a quick story of how he had received the injury. The doctor raised an eyebrow at him but didn't comment. Instead, he reached into a pocket of his stained white smock and pulled out a small needle and a box of thread. Calling a nurse over, he asked that she get them both sterilized. The woman bobbed a curtsy and hurried away to do as she was told. Cyrus looked at the old physician nervously. "It's not too deep, but it needs a few stitches. While the nurse is doing that, I'll get the wound cleaned up," the man stated, pulling up another chair and grabbing a clean basin of water, placing it on his lap as he sat down. "Boy, hand me that white wash rag over there," he directed Glenn. The small soldier picked it up and tossed it to the doctor who caught it with a grunt. Placing Cyrus' hand in the warm water, he gently began to clean the crusted blood off. By the time he was finished, the nurse had returned with the needle and thread, holding them both with a pair of tongs to keep them cleaner as she handed them to the doctor. He accepted them and gave Cyrus a look.
    "This is going to hurt, isn't it?" Cyrus grumbled. He could face onslaughts of Mystics, laugh in the face of death and live to tell about it, and even take on the cousin of Ozzie, but if there was one thing that truly scared Cyrus, it was needles. He felt Glenn's hands come to rest on his shoulders, gently rubbing the metal shoulder guards he wore, trying to ease his tension. He gritted his teeth and nodded the go ahead to the doctor. He closed his eyes as the thin bit of metal pierced the already sore flesh. The sting was sharp, but it was bearable. He moved his lips, counting to ten forwards and backwards until the doctor was finished. "Thanks," was all he could muster while still being civil. The doctor set the bowl of water on his lap aside and got to his feet.
    "You'll get my bill," he replied, a twinkle in his old eyes. "Keep that hand clean and dry and try not to use it for five to seven days. Then come back here and get one of the nurses to remove the stitches for you." Cyrus grunted a nonverbal reply and it was probably just as well. His hand ached and he just wanted to go to sleep. Glenn led him out of the medical tent and back to his barracks, helping him struggle out of his armor so that he could sleep. The tent was warm because of a firepit dug in the center. Cyrus settled down onto his cot and drew up the covers around his chin.
    "I'll stay to guard thy rest and make sure no one disturbs thy slumber," Glenn stated, sitting on the trunk Cyrus used to pack his weapons, clothes, and armor in. He waited for a reply or rejection while adding another log to the fire but he received none. "Cyrus? Didst though hear me?" A soft snore was the only sound that parted from Cyrus. He was already fast asleep. Glenn smiled and shook his head, adjusting his armor so he could be more comfortable as he watched over his friend. He had promised to guard Cyrus while he slept and so he would. That was what good friends were for.

    Janus appeared in the same spot he had first teleported from outside Ozzie's Fort. He sighed and looked around. What would he tell Ozzie about the Hero? There was no way he could reveal that it was his old friend Cyrus without looking bad himself. After all, they had spoken together just now. He had orders that he should find out everything he could about the Hero and it was only common sense that if you got the Hero by himself, you should kill him. Oh, why did he go and agree to that pact? Walking up to the large doors that led into the main entry hall, Janus kicked them savagely, the force cracking them even more then he had earlier that night. The blow echoed all along the castle, making the Mystics inside stop and look around, wondering if the whole building was about to collapse. A disgruntled Imp took hold of the rusted metal rings and yanked hard, the veins popping out of the sides of his forehead and neck. The doors creaked open. Magus brushed past the Imp without so much as a glance.
    "Hey, buddy! You could have knocked, you know. There was no need to go kicking the damn door," the Imp shouted after him. Without turning around and without stopping, Magus cast a Lightning spell at twice the normal power. The Imp shrieked as the bolts ran through his body. He fell to the floor and twitched, his body blackened. "Hey...s'okay...No offense...intended...I'm...sure...," he stuttered out between convulsions. Magus noticed the lights getting dim as he walked, an instant foretelling that he was about to have company. A white outline formed, filling in as it grew brighter, until Ozzie floated along beside him.
    "Magus, my boy! How are you?" he chortled in an easy going, friendly voice. "What tasty bits of gossip have you gotten for me, eh?"
    "You need a new doorman."
    "Nevermind. Leave me alone, Ozzie," Magus snapped, looking at the fat green Mystic out of the corner of his eyes. Not one to be discouraged, the Mystic Leader merely laughed.
    "Oh, come on now. No need to be so surely with me, my dear boy. I'm only curious as to what you found out about this Hero person that the Humans are raving about."
    "Ozzie, I have served you for many years, have I not?"
    The Mystic blinked at the sudden change of topic. "Why, uh, yes. You have."
    "And in all that time I have rarely failed to meet your expectations." It was a statement, not a question. Ozzie nodded, puzzled. "Then let me say that this is one of the few times I have ever failed you."
    "What do you mean? I...I don't understand what you're trying to say," Ozzie commented, shaking his head from side to side like a giant pendulum.
    "What I am trying to say is that I was unsuccessful. I found nothing of significance about the Hero. All I got were rumors and idle chitchat as to his great deeds and how fortunate the Humans are to have him on their side."
    "That's all?"
    "You got it." Magus stopped and closed his eyes for a moment as a sharp pain lanced behind his eyes. Reaching out, he grabbed Ozzie by the throat. "Don't even think about trying a mind probe, you fat lump of slimy green filth!" Ozzie squirmed and choked.
    "Okay, okay! Sorry!"
    Magus dropped the Mystic who hovered a safe distance away, coughing and rubbing his neck. "You try that again, I'll kill you. No one is allowed inside my head, understand? You'll hear what I want you to hear and if you don't like it, tough. Don't you ever think it's acceptable for you to go into my thoughts and rummage through them as if they were your personal library."
    Ozzie drew himself up to his full, unimposing height. "And why not? You're nothing more then a servant, oh high and mighty Magus! Remember your place! I made you what you are! If it weren't for my kindness, you'd have been dead a long time ago."
    "And you better watch your place, Ozzie, or you could find yourself missing an empire," Magus threatened quietly. He watched as the Mystic went from bright green to pale pastel as the blood drained out of his face.
    "You...inconceivable...stuck-up...nobody!" he shrieked. "You wouldn't dare!"
    Magus threw back his head and laughed. "You're so wrong! I am the Magus, I dare anything!" He leaned forward to speak softly as if they were speaking of something confidential. "Have no fear, though. I have no interest in your little position as Mystic Leader. However, if you don't watch yourself, I might start to take an interest, and that would be very bad for you, wouldn't it? Without me, Flea and Slash would have carved you into kibble by now."
    "If you even think about taking things over, you'd be in for a rude shock. You have no supporters. No one would listen to you. Even though they hate my guts, Slash and Flea would side with me against you because they dislike you more then they do me."
    Magus shrugged. "It doesn't matter to me that no one likes me. Fear is as strong an emotion as love. Your followers fear me and most of them are greedy enough to join me because they know I would lead them to victory in whatever I choose to do. Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to go pick out a suitable room for myself since my current one has far outlived it's usefulness to me." Bowing mockingly, Magus vanished without a trace.
    "I hope you shrivel up and die, you ungrateful upstart boy!" Ozzie called after him furiously. Slash materialized out of the shadows. Ozzie glared at him. "Did you hear what he said to me? Can you believe his nerve?"
   "Ozzie, I was here the whole time, remember? Of course I heard what he said." Slash rubbed his chin in thought. "He's hiding something, you know."
    "Don't be an idiot! I knew that from the moment he walked through the front door," the green Mystic grouched. Actually, he hadn't, but he wasn't going to let Slash know that. But now that he thought about it, it made perfect sense. "By getting me all worked up that way, he succeeded in backing out of the conversation about the legendary Hero. He talked circles around me so that I wouldn't be able to see the truth." He floated back and forth in a form of pacing while Slash leaned idly against the wall. "The boy has definitely become a Mystic, all right. He's learned the art of political maneuvering much faster then I would have thought. He never seemed interested in politics, but I should have watched him more closely. He's had too much freedom. I indulged him, encouraging that mean streak, his arrogant, proud side in hopes of nurturing a killer's instinct within him. I succeeded. But at what cost to myself, I wonder?"
    "Want I should go spend twenty minutes with him? I could have him spilling his guts for you when I get back. You'd learn everything you want to know, and then some," Slash chuckled, cracking his knuckles and patting Slasher on the hilt. Ozzie shook his head.
    "No, he's expecting something like that. Instead, let us indulge him a little while longer. Let us make him feel as if he has us all in check and that we really do fear him. This way, he'll never suspect that we're secretly plotting his downfall."
    "We are?" Slash inquired, raising his eyebrows to his hairline. Ozzie favored him with a withering look.
    "Of course we are, stupid! He's too wild to control. I used to be able to handle him, but now I can't. He's out of my level of magical skill and there is no way you could possibly defeat him alone. He's crossed the line between useful and a threat. He's concealing things from me, things that he shouldn't be. That is dangerous for not only you and I, but for the whole Mystic population as well."
    "I see your point." Slash ran a hand lightly over his bald blue head. "What are we going to do then? If neither I nor you can touch him, who can?" A light gleamed in Ozzie's eyes.
    "How about...the Hero?"
    "What hero?" Slash asked in confusion. "Oh! You mean the Human Hero!"
    "Precisely. I have a feeling that Magus knows more about that person then he is letting on. I want you to watch him carefully these next few weeks and see what he does, where he goes, things like that. Think you can handle this job without being to obvious?"
    Slash laughed. "Don't worry. My middle name is Subtlety."
    "You don't have a middle name. In fact, you don't even have a last name, either!" Ozzie crossed his arms. "Somehow I'm not convinced." Slash continued to laugh, this time in a nervous fashion, placing an arm behind his head.
    "So, um, anyway...About that attack on Zenan Bridge?"
    "Let us postpone that attack for the time being. Instead, let us concentrate our efforts on the cargo routes that are supplying the Human armies. If we cut off their supplies, the lack of food will weaken them and send the Kingdom into a panic. It will be simple to defeat a bunch of hunger-crazed peasants." And, if I play my cards right, Ozzie thought, I can even turn a tidy profit. He pictured himself standing up on a podium, holding a withered carrot in his hand saying, "We'll start the bidding at one hundred gold pieces for this delicious, nutritious carrot. Do I hear one hundred anyone?" The thought made him laugh out loud. He caught Slash looking at him funny so he quickly stopped.
    "Do you want me to employ our troops or borrow some?"
    "Get the best you can borrow from my cousin, if you can. A dozen Gnawers and maybe a couple of our Grimalkins, if you can talk them into volunteering, that is."
    Slash smiled widely. "I can be very persuasive. All right. I'm on top of it." Bowing, he faded out in a flash of white light. Ozzie looked around himself at the hallway. It was really a large room with stairs running straight down the center that led up to a balcony. Right now, he stood near the archway to the next room, trying to distinguish what it was lying next to the front door. It moved slightly.
    "Hello?" the unfortunate Imp called out. "Can someone come and give me a hand? One of mine seems to be detached." Ozzie rolled his eyes. When Janus had said he needed a new doorman, he hadn't been kidding. Sending a telepathic link to some Henchs, he waited expectantly for them to come and clean up the mess Magus had left behind.


Chapter 19

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